Mostra: Micro-Roasters of the Year and Plans for Expansion
They’ve achieved the highest honor when it comes to coffee, 2020 Micro-Roasters of the Year and the Mostra team is not slowing down. Jelynn Malone, Beverly and Sam Magtanong, and Mike Arquines have created a company that not only boasts delicious signature drinks like the Camp Fire Latte or Choconana Cold Brew, but it also sustains farmers in the Philippines therefore changing the lives of some many for the better. Risen applauds their vision, loves their drinks, and sat down with the team to learn about the process leading to the prestigious award as well as their plans for expansion.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: On top of all the fulfilling success, you were nominated and won 2020 Micro-Roaster of the Year for North America. Congratulations and share the process to this prestigious honor.
Beverly Magtanong: Thank you! Back in 2012, when we first were tasting specialty coffee, our fourth partner Mike took us to Bird Rock Coffee and they had just won the award. It’s like a lifetime achievement award for coffee because you can only win it once. So, once you win it, you can’t win it again.
Sam Magtanong: I believe we’re the 15th winner of the award since it started in 2003. When you look at some of the past winners, these are the best companies and players in coffee in the country, or have grown to that stature. Locally we’re the second winner in San Diego since Bird Rock won it. But companies like Stumptown Coffee Roasters out of Portland was a previous winner, to Intelligentsia out of Chicago, Counter Culture out of North Carolina, Portola Coffee in Orange County, Klatch Coffee in Riverside/San Bernardino – you see it’s quite a list.
Jelynn Malone: So to us it was just this really far-fetched goal to aspire for, maybe one day – especially since Roaster of the Year is an all-encompassing award. They take into account everything about your company from company culture, to mission and vision, to employee practices, to sustainability. Then on top of that, you need to actually roast good coffee because it gets blind tested. I’ll let Sam explain because he’s the one that literally went through that process.
SM: It’s a two-part application process that is open to roasters all over the country and all over the world. In the written application, you have to address around ten different topics – what is your company mission and vision? What are your employee practices? What are your best practices? How have you contributed to the growth of the industry, and so forth. Once you submit a written application, three finalists are selected based on the strength of the written portion. Then the three finalists have to roast three different coffees. Those three different coffees are sent to three independent judges in Seattle, Portland and Vermont. Those coffees are graded naked on the table with no backstory, it’s a blind cupping. Those coffee scores are combined with the written score and whoever has the most points between the written application and the coffee grade is named the Roaster of the Year.
RM: So how did you find out you were the winner?
SM: Well, we actually applied for the 2019 Roaster of the Year and were named as one of the three finalists, but we lost by less than a point.
JM: It was devastating for us.
SM: We reflected on that and thought, how do we improve and how do we make adjustments and changes to our coffee program, and to our story, so that we can be in a better position to win. I think that was the best thing that happened to us, being selected as a finalist but not winning the first time.
Once you submit the written application, if you’re a finalist you’re getting a phone call within a week, followed up by an email. Then you have a week to submit your coffee to be graded. Then after the coffee grading is done within 24 hours you’re getting a call to find out if you won or not. If you won, you would get a call saying that you were the winner. So, we found out in late August we had won and then it was released publicly in October.
RM: Who comes up with your drink creations?
SM: Mike, is a fine dining chef by profession. For some context, he was the only son of a long time, thirty-year nurse, for Kaiser. As an only son, his mom insisted that he become a nurse and he was enrolled in nursing school and he was a semester away from graduating and getting his degree to be an RN when he really had a moment, or an epiphany, where he realized that’s not what he wanted to do. That’s not what his calling is; his calling is to be a chef and to cook. So he dropped out of school, he broke his mom’s heart, and she refused to talk to him for years – that’s an exaggeration. But he was the only son and he was going to do something different. He enrolled in the Culinary Institute in San Diego, graduated with a degree in Culinary Management, with emphasis in French Cuisine. Then left home to go to New York and he worked for a restaurant called Le Bernardin, then Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and really refined his craft. For years worked for Michelin-rated restaurants and came back to California and opened up his own business called The LAB: Dining Sessions which was private dinners and collaborative work.
We met Mike on the charity circuit. He was a chef that would participate in local charities to cook and that’s how we touched base with him. He was also a passionate coffee drinker. He wanted to roast coffee and it just made sense to partner with him in 2013. The way he approached roasting coffee was through cooking, it’s application of heat, to a raw ingredient. After you get a good baseline of what the coffee should be, then he can get creative and try different things to be innovative and meet the needs of the customer. The Camp Fire latte and the Creme Brulee latte are all from his imagination and his approach to coffee by melting flavor and different things together to inspire the taste buds.
RM: You have two physical locations in San Diego, are there plans to expand?
BM: Yes. We’re going to be in Mira Mesa, probably the end of 2020, those contracts are literally being finalized right now. Then we’re looking at San Francisco. There’s an opportunity there as well.
SM: We’re interested in expanding in retail locations and strategic spaces that makes sense for us. Why San Francisco? It was upon the invitation of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco, they own their buildings in the heart of the district there and they’ve asked us to consider looking into that space. It aligns with the Filipino vision of being able to help and promote the Philippines, so there’s an opportunity. We’re continuing to expand our wholesale program with a line of specialty instant coffee, and continuing to collaborate with different businesses across the country.