How green is my coffee
Los Altos company brings organic, free-trade, eco-friendly coffee service to work
From Atari to Zilog, Silicon Valley companies have changed the face of technology. Duh. But what are the enduring innovations that affect just about all of us, every day? I vote for casual business attire, first, and free coffee at work, second. And now, the coffee is going green.
With traditional Silicon Valley speed, two tennis buddies started talking on the court about office coffee in August, formed a company in October and got their first customer in December. Now the company, Green Java, delivers certifiably organic, free trade, eco-friendly coffee to Acterra, Stanford, Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, Roche Corp. and two other nearby offices.
The two delivery vehicles are — what else? — Priuses.
Naturally, founders Sam Tramiel and Simon Brafman have big plans for Green Java. The fledgling company is based in Los Altos, with a roaster in Mountain View and a grinder in Palo Alto. Most of the roasting is done by a master roaster in Austin, Texas, which is where Tramiel and Brafman plan to start selling coffee next.
Silicon Valley companies traditionally provide free coffee and tea at coffee stations, and subsidize the hot drinks in their cafeterias, so that employees don't have to leave work to get a buzz. The coffee used to be industrial dreck, but recently some micro-roasters as well as Peet's and Starbucks have made their way to the office. As of this writing, Green Java is the only 100 percent organic and fair trade coffee service in the Bay Area. It is certified as a Green Business by Santa Clara County.
The idea, says Brafman, percolated out of a running argument with his teenage daughter. As he says, "She's 16, and always harping on my generation's ruining the Earth, leaving a mess for her generation to clean up. She's very vocal."
Eco-friendly coffee was a small effort to right the balance, and restore peace in the house. Brafman, Tramiel, and Tramiel's son, Mark, who does the grinding, are coffee fanatics.
For freshness' sake, Green Java (www.greenjava.biz) guarantees delivery within 24 hours of grinding. Rather than having a large quantity delivered, say, every Monday, customers call Green Java when they're running low. For morning delivery, Mark Tramiel grinds the night before. For afternoon delivery, that morning. There is no warehouse for coffee to sit around and get stale.
Brafman worked in Electronic Design and Automation, marketing hardware and software tools for designing and testing chips. Sam Tramiel, former CEO of Atari, is a principal of Tramiel Capital. They apply the Silicon Valley concept of just-in-time production to coffee service.
Customers get glass jars with sealable lids to store the coffee, biodegradable filters and a recipe sheet (14 grams of coffee per eight ounces of water) to keep at their Green Java coffee stations. The coffee is delivered in biodegradable bags. Green Java helps at the waste end, too, encouraging customers to set up buckets for used filters and coffee that can go to mulch for the companies' landscape.
"It's not how we recycle paper but how we help other companies become green," says Brafman of Green Java's greenness.
Other eco-friendly aspects include buying beans from countries relatively close to the United States — to minimize fuel use — and only from growers' co-ops that invest in health care and education, and that ensure children don't work in the fields.
The co-ops also are certified as "fair trade," which forbids the practice of charging workers exorbitant fees that put them in debt to the company — like the "company towns" in U.S. mining history.
Specialty coffee drinkers in the past have been derided as "latte liberals," talking a good game but actually perpetuating poverty in the Third World by purchasing coffee from countries that exploited children or were ruled by dictators.
Green Java currently delivers coffee to two buildings at Roche, at the old Syntex site in Palo Alto's Stanford Industrial Park, and is trying to contract with the lab as well. The resistance there, says Brafman: "Scientists don't want to be responsible for making coffee."
The coffee also is for sale to individuals in small amounts, and for special events. Specialty grade is the highest grade of coffee, above premium, with bigger beans and fewer rejects. Beans come from co-ops in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru. Also Kona, Hawaii.
Brafman's bottom line: "We're trying to capture a coffeehouse experience rather than a coffee shop, in a work environment."