in partnership
(Image: Fulcrum Coffee)

Seattle coffee roaster puts the city's history, culture straight into your coffee cup

In 2012, two iconic Seattle coffee roasters, Silver Cup and Urban City Coffee - joined forces to create Fulcrum Coffee and launch a full-service wholesale business catering to coffee entrepreneurs primarily in the Seattle-area and the farmers who grow the product.

Recognizing the need for a change in the coffee industry, founders Lee Falck, Blas Alfaro, and Brian Jurus chose the name Fulcrum — the pivot point of a lever that helps lighten the load — to represent their goal of leveraging their customers and the coffee industry.

More than just about fueling Seattle’s caffeine addiction, Fulcrum Coffee seeks to operate sustainability, build relationships, and support the community.

The company takes the history, culture, and taste of some of Seattle’s original coffee blends produced by Urban City in the early to mid-90s and remixes them for modern tastes. Each blend is inspired by Northwest flair and culture while still maintaining the traditional flavor profiles.

“We wanted to capture the essence of the city in the early 1990s, like grunge and Microsoft, with our Urban City roasts,” said Falck. “With Silver Cup, we cater to the deep traditions around nature and the Native Americans, as well as the origins of the city as a frontier town.”

The packaging is reflective of the Northwest, featuring hiking boots, salmon, the Space Needle and tells the story of the culture and hard work it took to build the city.

Alfaro, a fifth-generation coffee farmer from Costa Rica, managed the roasting program at Silver Cup for nearly two decades. Under the Fulcrum label, he can really take the time to focus on his craft to create modern takes on traditional blends.

Alfaro painstakingly ensures that the products they sell are exceptional. Rather than let the machine do the work, he perfects each roast through dozens of experiments, using the skills he learned from his grandfather who inherited the knowledge from the three generations before him.

In addition to perfecting each roast, Alfaro also travels the world far and wide, in search of the best beans, building long lasting relationships with the coffee farmers.

Rather than follows the masses, by roasting the same beans as the successful coffee shop across town, Fulcrum instead follows the bean.

“We lead the market with original, excellent, and exclusive coffees,” said Falck. “Most roasters have coffees from similar regions," say Kenya. "We’ve been working in and exploring Kenya for a decade to find a coffee that meets all of our criteria."

Fulcrum is also taking the lead on combating climate change within the coffee industry. Outbreaks of diseases and pests have been threatening cultivated coffee crops in recent years, a direct result of climate change. In 2017, the National Coffee Association reported a 27% increase in demand for speciality coffee, putting a demand on the Arabica bean, which is more susceptible to disease and pests and requires dedicated care and attention, as well as toxic pesticides to keep up with demand.

Working with the Speciality Coffee Association of America and World Coffee Research to design hybrid plants that are resistant to the diseases and pests ravishing coffee farms around the world. Fulcrum saw an opportunity to pioneer sustainability in the coffee industry by moving from the traditional Arabica variety, a monoculture crop, to a hybrid variety. This new plant can not only withstand the diseases and pests, but also produce 30-40% more coffee in the fourth and fifth years, in the same amount of space, while also maintaining the traditional flavors and more importantly, the same price point.

“The perception is that hybrid plants are not true coffee,” said Alfaro. “Hybrids are not GMO, they are a combination of varieties that are completely different, which is why they are resistant to diseases.”

Alfaro planted one of the first hybrid coffee varieties on his family farm in Costa Rica and brought it to Seattle eight years ago. Fulcrum is among the first roasters to bring these new varieties of coffee to the US. The Fulcrum team also invests in the livelihood of the farmers by committing to three year contracts, something unheard of in the industry. Most small companies don’t do long term contracts, instead renewing every six months.

To date, the company has invested in 20 hybrid microlots around the world, including woman-run farms in Kenya and Rwanda. Hybrid coffee makes up close to 10% of Fulcrum blends, with 50% as the eventual goal.

Without a roaster to buy the coffee at an acceptable price, the farmer has little incentive to continue cultivating the hybrid.

“We really want to make a commitment over the long term to make a great product, great flavor and make a big impact on sustainability,” said Falck. “This is a game changer. The farmer is healthy financially.”

During COVID, Fulcrum has taken the opportunity to help their customers, fellow coffee entrepreneurs, stay afloat during the economic turndown by continuing online barista training, offering consulting services, and helping them negotiate terms with landlords.

“A lot of what COVID has been for us is helping these entrepreneurs through the storm,” said Falck. “We get a lot of strength by being in that struggle together with [them].”

Consumers can purchase Fulcrum coffee blends on their website, at the flagship café at 590 Bell in Belltown, or find them in a number of coffee shops throughout the Seattle area.

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