In 2011, a small group of friends met in their basements over the course of that year, dreaming up the perfect coffee company. They had little more than those dreams, a sample coffee roaster and plane tickets to El Salvador. Today, Chromatic Coffee operates out of a massive warehouse, produces hand-packaged coffee and tea, and serves a cafe clientele and adoring startups throughout the Bay Area.
James Warren, an expert in the mechanics and selling of espresso machines, stepped away from Barefoot Coffee Roasters to start his own business that would reimagine the coffee roasting from equipment to operations. Warren approached Hiver van Geenhoven, then a colleague and coffee roaster at Barefoot to join him in founding Chromatic Coffee. Later more colleagues, friends and associates joined in: Patrick Martin, Otessa Crandell, Rosa Warren, and Ben Henderson – all as co-founders. Today, you'll find Chromatic products in cafes and specialty grocery shops throughout the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest.
What makes the company unique? Chromatic uses handbuilt machines, works only with the most-skilled baristas and roasters, and fairly compensates and acknowledges the work of its producers from overseas. Chromatic currently partners with producers in Central and South America, Yemen, Ethiopia, and beyond.
"We take a high pride in the quality of our coffee and how ethically sourced it is,” said Donald Miguel, the company’s chief brand officer and operations specialist. “We are close friends with a lot of our producers that are all the way from Brazil to Honduras to El Salvador. We check in with them often."
Chromatic is also a hit with critics. Some of its accolades include the "best coffee roaster," from Metro; top Bay Area coffee company, from Thrillist; and a high ratings from Coffee Review.
Chromatic’s headquarters is befitting its name. Guests roll open a large, colorful door that reveals an immense warehouse with an industrial feel. You’ll see a lot of metal, reclaimed wood, high ceilings, and “weird angles,” Miguel said. Visitors will also spot a stainless steel, spaceship-like bar on wheels, a roasting operation, and production team filling bags and shipping them out.
When COVID hit, they panicked, Miguel said.
"Before COVID, we were servicing restaurants, cafes, and all sorts of tech campuses in and outside of the bay area,” he said. “When COVID struck, our entire wholesale program disappeared completely. Luckily, online orders and cafe customers allowed for us to keep the team together."
Chromatic took its customer experience to the next level after BigCommerce, the e-commerce platform the company uses to host its website, introduced it to Fast, a one-click login and checkout service that allows customers to make purchases in seconds instead of minutes. With Fast, customers avoid the tedious process of adding credit card and shipment information with every order.
"We had a long checkout process. I never really liked it,” Miguel said. “You had to enter in your information twice. It wasn't great. It wasn't a fast experience. It didn't feel good to buy something. It was kind of a chore. The Fast Checkout made that really easy, and I appreciate the service."
Chromatic Coffee's mission goes deeper than making and serving a great product. This team of 18 wants to make a difference on an international stage.
"We seek to create a more just world through trade, not aid," they say. "We seek to honor, promote and elevate those voices that go unheard and unrecognized. We seek to collaborate with the entire coffee community worldwide to raise the public's standards of how coffee is produced, traded, and consumed."