Roaster receives a toast
Food & Wine Magazine first took a comprehensive look at American coffee culture in 2018, publishing a list of the Best Coffee in each state.
That list, the magazine said when it revealed its list of Best Coffee Roasters earlier this month, “is mostly useful as a reminder of how much has changed since then.”
Noble Coffee Roasting is the exception. It is on both lists, named the best in Oregon in both 2018 and 2022.
In honoring the Ashland roastery in its April 11 edition, Food & Wine praised the company’s stamina as much as its coffee.
“Portland may have been the Seattle of the aughts and teens, but now appears nearly as complacent as its predecessor,” the magazine wrote.
“This oft-awarded operation,” it said of Noble, “from the other end of the state is the same age as some of the biggest names from that era, but manages to still feel as exciting as it did a decade ago.”
Noble owners Jared and Carolyn Rennie are elated.
“We were ecstatic to be part of that first list,” Jared Rennie said. “Needless to say, for them to mention us again now in 2022 puts us over the moon, especially in a state with such an excellent coffee industry.”
Customers in the coffeehouse last Friday weren’t surprised. They said they enjoy the atmosphere as much as the coffee.
“They’re careful about the coffee they select and their roasting is great,” said Ashland resident Ken Kempner, enjoying a cup with a friend visiting from Tahoe.
“And I’m a tough customer. I’m a coffee roaster myself,” the retired SOU prof said.
Noble might be the most award-winning roaster anywhere. Since the Good Food Awards began in 2011, the roaster has had 13 finalists and eight winning coffees. An annual competition for craft food producers and farmers, Good Food Awards is particularly notable in the coffee industry.
Jared and Carolyn Rennie founded Noble in their garage in 2007 with the goal of offering the best coffee they could find and making sure it was sustainably produced.
“There was a belief in the coffee industry that organic agriculture and high quality were mutually exclusive,” Rennie said. “I’ve been out to dispel that myth for 15 years.”
Jared and Carolyn were both high school Spanish teachers before taking the coffee roasting plunge. They earned master of arts degrees in the teaching of foreign languages from Southern Oregon University, then taught in Medford high schools for many years before starting Noble Coffee Roasting.
Their first and only coffeehouse, at 281 Fourth St. in the heart of Ashland’s historic railroad district, opened its doors in 2009.
They began offering their coffees to wholesale customers from day one. Some longstanding local customers are Brickroom, Larks, Brothers’, Wild Goose, Market of Choice, Ashland Food Co-op and Great Harvest Bread Co. in Medford. They serve additional wholesale clients across the region and around the country, and have a robust online business.
Two new Ashland businesses also serve Noble coffee — The Handlebar, selling high-end mountain bikes; and Moxie Café + Market.
“It’s been really fun to help them get up and running,” Rennie said.
Before the roastery was opened on Fourth Street, all of the beans were roasted in their garage at home and packaged on their ping-pong table.
It was when Rennie became involved with the Cup of Excellence program in 2008 that the company gained access to some of the best coffees in the world.
Cup of Excellence is a 20-year-old competition for premier coffees where national winner finalists get sent to the Alliance for Coffee Excellence to participate in an auction.
“I’ve been invited to judge for the competition a bunch of times,” Rennie said, “and it has been extremely rewarding, both personally and professionally.”
Today, Noble sources its coffee far and wide, from Costa Rica, Peru, Kenya, Brazil and beyond.
In the Food & Wine listing of 2022 state winners, the magazine recommended readers try the Kenyan Muiri Estate Peaberry coffee at Noble.
“This lovely coffee was a finalist for the Good Food Awards this year,” Rennie said. “The Kenyan Muiri Estate is run by the Muigan family, a fantastic farm we’ve been supporting for years, and the only organic farm that we know of in Kenya.”
What is a peaberry?
Coffee beans typically form with the flat sides of the seeds facing each other inside the fruit. When they grow as just one round seed inside the coffee cherry, they are called peaberries.
“This year’s crop is particularly delicious,” he said, “with delicate floral and fruit characters such as orange blossom and boysenberry, matched by an underpinning complexity with notes of cinnamon, basil and dates.”
Coffee aficionados can be just as ardent with in describing their favorites as wine enthusiasts.
A new offering at the Noble’s is an award-winning coffee from Peru called Finca Belén. The roastery also recently added two flavors — raspberry and ginger — to its original Noble Tonic line of carbonated drinks made from the fruit of the coffee plant.
Noble revenues are about 50% from coffeehouse customers, 15% from web customers, and 35% from wholesale partners. At the coffeehouse, about 50% of the revenue is generated by hand-crafted drinks, 20% from house-baked pastries, 20% from packages of freshly roasted coffee and 10% from a lineup of home-brewing equipment.
Noble’s mission is to source high-quality, organic coffees grown by producers working in economically and socially sustainable conditions, while paying growers a dignified price for their product.
“We’re currently planning our next origin trip to Bali,” Rennie said, “where we purchase quite a bit of coffee. Every trip to visit our producer partners makes us more motivated to represent their beautiful coffees to their utmost potential.”
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.