Monday, September 16, 2019

Go Get Em Tiger - Serious Fun in LA

Charles Babinski & Kyle Glanville, GGET co-founders

A few years ago I got an email from one Charles Babinski, asking me about roast styles and my work at Starbucks and Allegro. This was a guy who clearly cared about coffee history, and who knew that lasting innovations tend to come from those who have already mastered their craft. I didn't know much else about him and his business partner Kyle Glanville, but that just reflects my ancient curmudgeon status, as both of them have been key movers and shakers in West Coast specialty coffee for a long time now. 

I encourage anyone who wants to be inspired by state-of-the-art coffee retail to read this recent article which captures the unique combination of passionate excellence, care for the customer's experience and joie de vivre so perfectly embodied in the company's fun-loving name. 

While both founders got their start at leading Third Wave roasters (Victrola and Intelligentsia) they're certainly not members of the rebel-against-Starbucks/how light can we roast this? sect whose undrinkable coffees are so depressingly easy to find. The roasts I've seen from them have all been extraordinarily balanced, reminding me of the best California craft roasters from way back (San Francisco's legendary Freed, Teller & Freed and Pannikin in San Diego in particular). And yet the best of Third Wave practices is also front and center, with exemplary sourcing from small producers and far more credit to (and information on) farms and farmers than was ever the case a decade or two ago. 

It occurs to me that one of the really good things about Third Wave coffee is its multifaceted impetus towards transparency. At its best this means transparency in trade practices and pricing, giving the farmer credit by sharing his or her story, emphasizing the taste of place that only single origin coffees moderately roasted can provide, and so on. On the other hand, most newer Third Wave places I've been in offset such admirable clarity with great insularity in the way they relate to their customers. At its most extreme one finds places that don't offer milk or sweeteners at their condiment bars, brew "fresh-squeezed" coffee that isn't roasted dark enough to even cup test through their espresso machines, and in general seem to view their customers as merely an unfortunate but necessary inconvenience to be endured as long as their money can be used to fund the next "direct trade" origin trip. 

Go Get Em Tiger is so much the opposite of that approach, even though the two principals know exponentially more about coffee than 90%+ of their competitors and could easily justify a bit of arrogance if they so chose. Instead the model here seems to be two-way transparency, with Charles and Kyle infectiously sharing the joys of the cupping room and origin travel while eagerly engaging with and listening to their customers. It's a mandala in which every stakeholder in the complex journey of coffee is honored - and no one forgets that at the end of the day it's the customer who makes the whole thing possible, meaning that value matters as much as excellence and consistency in the cup and kindness from the staff are far more important than coffee quality.

Here are a couple of especially delicious new crop coffees I recently tasted. These are just phone photos but I hope the beauty of the classic full-city roast and the care they take with their descriptions shines through. The Ethiopian is indeed a "fruit bomb,"  while the Guatemalan is the epitome of elegant balance - simply as good as it gets. 

Check out the innovative coffee visuals on GGET's web site and then get lost in their educational videos and online store. Charles Babinski writes and talks about coffee with a fun-loving eloquence and unpretentious passion that is as rare as it is refreshing. 

Go Get Em Tiger has quickly grown to 7 stores, with more on the way, and interestingly is 100% focused on sales through its stores and online - no wholesale. That is truly the road less traveled in building a brand, but it is the right one if you care about quality and want to be in charge of your own destiny. 

I look forward to visiting these folks next time I'm out in LA, and have put them at the top of my list of recommended mail order sources. 

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