“Coffee is about connection [. . .] Connecting people from different places and in some respect shrinking the distance between us.”
Standing in a large warehouse, surrounded by bags of green coffee beans and possibilities, Ryan Jensen describes how the name Small Planes came to be. It’s about taking people from different planes and connecting them through coffee.
Small Planes Coffee has been operating since the spring, but truthfully it’s something that’s been in the works for a while. Ryan and his wife Jill, owners of Peregrine Espresso, have long considered opening a roastery. After success with their three Peregrine shops (Eastern Market, Union Market, and 14th Street), they figured the time was right to begin their next adventure.
Though it might appear difficult to distinguish at first, Peregrine and Small Planes are two separate businesses. However, Peregrine is Small Planes’ first wholesale account, and they’re hoping to secure several more wholesale customers by the end of the year.
I met up with Ryan and head roaster Evan Howe a couple weeks ago at their headquarters near the Arboretum. They’re located in a strip that also includes a cidery that is soon to launch and a catering company. The space is huge, giving them a lot of room to grow (and kick around the soccer ball in their downtime). While Small Planes currently only operates as a roastery, they are juggling different ideas for the future of the space, including opening up the garage door and establishing a coffee bar.
Evan previously worked at Peregrine with Ryan, but venturing into the art of roasting was almost an entirely new challenge. He received training from Coffee Lab International in Vermont as well as friends in the industry such as David Stallings of Passenger Coffee. A lot of it is trial and error, and he admits it can at times be frustrating, but once you dial in on the perfect setting for a bean, it all becomes worth it.
When it comes to quality control, they do not settle for anything less than perfect. Small Planes uses a trustworthy importer in Lancaster, PA, to secure their beans. Their machine can roast up to 25 pounds at a time, and they cup each batch and conduct quantitative analysis to ensure top notch quality.
My visit ended with a cupping of four of their coffees: two Guatemalans (La Ensenada and Hunapu), an Ethiopian (Kochere), and a Kenyan (Gichatha-ini AB). I was amazed at how different the two Guatemalans were, and while I would normally gravitate toward the Ethiopian, it was the Kenyan that most intrigued me. To be honest, it’s pretty intimidating to cup alongside two pros, and I want to thank the guys for not judging my mediocre slurping skills.
I am beyond grateful to have met Ryan and Evan, two of the nicest guys in the coffee biz, and learn more about Small Planes. Right now you can find their coffee at Peregrine, so be sure to drop by and try it out!