🏆 It's true! WE'RE A 2023 ROASTER OF THE YEAR FINALIST with Roast Magazine, Micro Roaster Category. What an honor!
Massive congrats to the other finalists and winners...
Micro Roaster Finalist - Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters
Micro Roaster WINNER - Rabbit Hole Roasters
Macro Roaster Finalists - Dean's Beans Coffee & Colectivo Coffee
Macro Roaster WINNER - Cafe Kreyol
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Here's some excerpts from our application to give you a behind the scenes look at some of our business practices.
When it comes to the environment, we are locally certified through rigorous standards set by GreenSpaces, a non-profit dedicated to caring for the environment in businesses and the community. We’ve implemented a coffee bag recycling rewards program for our customers, and our coffee grounds go to a community garden for composting, as well as being repurposed in a coffee scrub with Divine Purity Aurapothecary Co. And our burlap coffee sacks and chaff go to Crabtree Farms of Chattanooga, a local urban farm! They use the chaff at the farm to add helpful nutrients, like nitrogen, to the soil, to speed up the growth of vegetables and to ward off harmful slugs and snails. The burlap sacks are being used as a weed barrier in the pathways of the farm's garden beds.
We also believe strongly in a sustainable coffee program. We choose our importing partners very carefully, and attempt to work with them and the coffee producers long term. We aim to purchase coffees annually, sometimes contracting one to two years out. We’ve worked with partners like Caravela since the beginning of our company, and have been buying some of the same coffees the whole time. A lot of this developed from conversations with producers and importers, and adapting our goals to ensure we were actually impacting the global industry and growers. We don’t just want to buy the new cool thing or have different coffees every 2-3 months just for the sake of bouncing around. We anticipate our coffee purchasing and sourcing to continue to grow and become even more intentional as we ourselves grow and can make even better/bigger purchase decisions. But for now, we do what we can to ensure it is done well and with intention.
Education has always been at the forefront of our company since day one, and is even expressed in our mission statement. When we began in 2015, we started with two Counter Culture Coffee certificates, and within our first year received SCA Roaster & SCA Green Buyer certifications. We are always asking how we can learn from the best and those who have been doing this way longer as we build a strong education and development program.
Each year, we plan out how we will continue our education individually and as a team. A few specifics we do include going on origin every year (except for 2021 due to Covid), taking staff to SCA Expo every year (and attending classes there), participating in other online coffee classes, taking part in Cup of Excellence juries, and more. Our leadership team has a separate intentional development program (with an annual bonus upon completion) which includes three main areas of coffee education, leadership development and financial literacy. All retail & roasting staff participate in weekly cuppings to train on coffee and palate development.
Beyond this, we are committed to continually educate ourselves not just about coffee, but about issues of injustice in our world, so that we can make more of a difference locally and globally. Yes, it’s risky as a business to speak out on social injustice, unless you’re massive like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But we want to use this platform that we have built to do more than just roast good coffee. This year we have taken our passion for justice and education to a whole new level with our “Get Mad Crusade” - six months of conversation with experts in six subjects (coffee inequality, Christian Nationalism, the refugee crisis, the drug war, incarceration & economic inequality), interviews, resources, special coffees, merch and more. For us, the “Mad Priest” in our name isn’t just mad crazy from drinking too much good coffee. (The name originally came from the character in the book “The Count of Monte Cristo” but now it means so much more to us, too!) There is also a righteous anger-madness about the injustice in our world. Learn more here.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION
On the social side, we are righteously indignant about racism & inequality in our country as well as the current unprecedented global refugee crisis. Interestingly enough, as you know, many of the coffee growing regions of the world are also places of past or present conflict and displacement. We “champion the displaced” by partnering with Bridge Refugee Services to hire refugees resettled here in Chattanooga (our COO, Cherita, is on the Bridge board as well). But displacement doesn't just happen in other countries, it's in our own city. That's why we work alongside our non-profit & community partners on larger issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion through advocacy, donations, and using our platform to educate.
This year, during the “Coffee Inequality” topic of our “GET MAD Crusade”, we partnered with Phyllis Johnson and CCRE (Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity) for discussion about coffee inequality as well as giving back 10% of our proceeds during that month to CCRE. We always strive to invest internally in the business with our hiring practices, locally & nationally within the U.S. with non-profits that are doing the work of fighting inequality, and internationally (through our coffee sourcing & more).
Another way we strive to pursue diversity, inclusion and equity, is how we source our coffee. We try to source from places all over the world, but specifically places with less “press”, such as Myanmar, Yemen, Vietnam & Rwanda. We are developing relationships in places like Bolivia and Ecuador too! So we seek to source from unique origins, with the goal to play a role in their development, and especially focusing on supporting women producers (our new lot from Mexico is Las Tejedores, an all women co-op).
THE COFFEE INDUSTRY
Our commitment and involvement with the coffee industry runs deep. For us, our involvement in the national and global coffee industry is non-negotiable. We continue to find ways to be integrated with the industry – as well as challenging it, because we want to see it evolve and change for the better. We’ve been part of the SCA Expo since 2015 (volunteers, lead assistant for classes, etc), volunteered at Roasters Guild, competed several times at regionals, and taken many many classes. This last year alone, we were a GCC (Global Coffee Center) for Alliance for Coffee Excellence for three auctions, and our owner Michael, was an observing judge for Cup of Excellence in El Salvador.
We have begun to invest heavily in coffee supply chain issues. We partnered (and frankly have become dear friends) with Karl Wienhold for our “Get Mad Crusade” and have started discussing ways to bring more awareness to his book “Cheap Coffee” and the issues the coffee industry faces – as well as the global supply chain. Our “Get Mad Crusade” goes into much more detail on our investment in this, which you can see here: https://madpriestcoffee.com/pages/coffee-inequality
We also work closely with Faris Sheibani of Qima Coffee and his team to be more intentionally partnered with Yemen coffee farmers to create equity across the supply chain. We first got connected with Qima when we bought a lot of the newly discovered coffee mother species, Yemenia, from the auction hosted by Alliance for Coffee Excellence and imported by Qima in 2020. Not only was it amazing to be a part of the first annual auction of a new genetic discovery in the coffee world, but since we have grown to become friends with Qima (we’ve now been on the International Jury for the “Best of Yemen” Auction twice). This last April we worked with them in their booth at the SCA Expo, and are currently working with them on an opportunity to discuss the story of Yemen with the masses!
When we first began roasting commercially in 2016, we were idealistic and approached coffee with the typical “light roast” mentality to “roast to the bean”. We incorporated a lot of Scott Rao tactics alongside that, and felt we were meeting the industry standard, at least to the “third wave” standard. But we quickly developed our own focus which was more about balance than it was being “light” - which meant sweetness and sugar development, whether it be in the malliard phase or in the first crack stretch. But since then, we’ve also begun to appreciate how much more complex roasting is beyond reading a few books. There are a few specific things we think of regarding our roasting innovation since we began:
- Balance. We focus our attention on the balance between sweet and acidic. This isn’t always easy, but instead of focusing on one variable, like drop temp only, we watch all variables we can control and try to seek that harmony of flavor, body, sweetness & acids.
- Consistency. We cup weekly, and have a rigorous QC/QA program that evaluates our weekly production & all new coffees, to ensure we’re always maintaining – and more importantly – improving.
- Equipment. We started on a San Franciscan 6lb, and quickly upgraded to a Probat P12/2. But a few years ago we got ourselves a 500g San Franciscan and IKAWA for samples and better R&D profiling opportunities. This changed a LOT. We were able to really explore new ideas and test theories we couldn’t on the larger roaster, exploring more nuance.
- Blends. We have been doing blends since our inception, but what makes us proud of these (other than the inclusivity it poses for many coffee consumers) is that it opens the doors to more growth opportunities in our skills. Maintaining flavor profiles despite varying harvests, or creating blend profiles based on a companies need, or even, a dark roast! We recently launched our genuine Mocha Java Blend as an ode’ to the ol’ days and the original Mocha Java.
- We’ve won numerous awards including “runner up” for Food & Wine’s “best coffee in every state”, several Golden Bean Awards, and a 2022 Good Food Award (with a coffee from Yemen). We’ve also been featured many times in local and national press regarding our unique coffees, cultural events & pop-ups, our all day cafe & bar (that closed during Covid), and more.
Innovation in marketing? Well, Mad Priest is pretty much, well…Religious Satire meets Social Justice meets Specialty Coffee. And our roastery and retail locations are located in the “buckle of the Bible Belt” of America.
And we can also say….We are committed to reaching a wider market than specialty coffee tended to focus on in the past. Specialty coffee is a gift that should be accessible to everyone, and that can only be accomplished through seriously innovative marking. Diversity and inclusion have become major buzzwords in recent years, but what does that actually mean for the future of specialty coffee and how we market it?
For us that has meant being curious & creative in our marketing strategy, and collaborating with folks of all backgrounds to help us spread the word. We’ve done collabs with rappers, non-profits, and had fun particularly with the “religious satire” of our brand which gives folks a little something to smile about amidst the craziness of the last few years.
Over the last six years we have done promotions across all marketing mediums, including radio, tv, social media, web, styled print magazines, newspapers & more. We’ve also run two successful grassroots Kickstarter campaigns.
Our brand alone has been the root of our creativity and accessibility, all beginning with our name. “Mad Priest” comes from the incredible novel “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. In the story, Edmond Dantès was ready to give up and die in prison. Just then, the "Mad Priest" (or Abbe Faria) came on the scene and gave him a reason to hope again, along with the practical skills he needed to win at life. So the Mad Priest is a fictional character that embodies the fight for justice, freedom, and opportunity. Instead of wrongly-accused fictional Frenchmen, we champion real-life people displaced by war, disaster, tragedy, and gentrification. #GetMad
Simply put – we are imperfect humans, trying our hardest to roast the best coffee possible that wins awards…
…and pays their employees fairly…
…and converts Folgers coffee drinkers into specialty coffee drinkers…
…and contributes to the actual well being of coffee farmers…
…and educates the consumer on their coffee…
…and uses their business platform to speak out against inequalities in the world today.