At Black Oak, we talk a lot about community. It’s more than a warm, fuzzy bit of lip service. It’s our town. It’s our county. And we’re serious about this place and its people. I was born and raised here. I love it here. I count amongst my neighbors a world of lifelong friends and lots of family.
“Did you evacuate?”
“Is your family safe?”
“What’s going on up there?”
I woke up to texts from friends around the Bay Area, not yet aware of the historic wildfires ravaging our neighbors just a few miles north in Redwood and Potter Valleys, taking homes, memories, and lives. Seeing the mayhem of flames and suffocating smoke, I jumped into high gear, doing what I could to help my community. What should’ve started with a routine Monday, the week unfolded to see my family ranch hosting more than a dozen folks evacuated in the fires. My family and I are looking around at what we have and seeing what we can share to ease the burden, offer some shelter, and bring some relief. But there’s only so many we can help.
Turning my attention to Black Oak, Jon and I agreed that we had to do as much as possible. But, what can a small coffee company do for its hometown? How can we help our neighbors when they need it most? At our core, we do two things at Black Oak: roast quality coffees and prepare good drinks for customers at the café. While we believe those things are important, and bring joy to lots of people, it was clear that the exceptional fire devastation required an exceptional response from us all.
...what can a small coffee company do for its hometown? How can we help our neighbors when they need it most?
That first day, standing in the café, I saw confusion, anguish, and exhaustion. I saw folks wandering in the parking lot, checking their phones for messages from friends and family. I saw hurt, and I felt it too. While most of us at Black Oak escaped any real loss, a member of our work family had her home, and all in it, taken. She showed up for her shift as scheduled, barefoot, but ready to serve beautiful coffees to people that could use a little break. She’s passionate about what we do, but more than loving her job, she needed a distraction from her new reality. Of course, we ran out and got her some shoes, but that’s only the beginning of her getting back to normal, and it’s only the beginning of our support.
Jon and I talked, and we knew we had to do more than just keep serving coffee, even if we were a welcome oasis for many of our regulars. So, we started collecting all brewed coffee sales for that first week and donated 100% of the proceeds to the Mendocino Foundation Relief Fund.
While all this was happening, we were slated to head to Portland, OR, for a trip we'd been planning for months. A coffee mecca, Portland was playing host to Coffee Fest, a big industry conference, and the America’s Best Espresso Competition. I’ve always believed strongly that you can tell a lot about a town by it’s coffee. In the last few years, we’ve brought our coffees far beyond Ukiah, and come back with accolades for the work we do at Black Oak. These competitions are a perfect place for us to really represent our passion for coffee and our hometown. The spotlight is a nice reward for our efforts, but in our little way, we’re bringing a taste of Ukiah to folks who couldn’t find our town on a map — and that’s pretty great.
We’d been planning this trip, to participate in this prestigious competition, but of course, the fire didn’t care about that. As wildfires raged throughout Mendocino and Sonoma counties, we had to make the call, and we decided we’d honor the hard work and dedication of our roasters and baristas by making the trip to Portland.
And we won.
Black Oak is Ukiah, Black Oak is Mendocino County. To take home top honors, having our Ethiopia Chelelektu named America’s Best Espresso, is to bring some much deserved attention to all the good stuff that comes from this place. At every coffee event, we meet tons of new people, and in turn, they meet Ukiah too. Going head to head against the best coffee roasters in the U.S., our team showed what Ukiah is all about: great people, great talent, and great craft.
Going head to head against the best coffee roasters in the U.S., our team showed what Ukiah is all about: great people, great talent, and great craft.
Steve Cuevas (our head roaster and key ingredient in our win), and I had the idea to donate the prize money and help out our neighbors back home. Combined with our drip coffee sales, we’ve raised $4,179 for the Disaster Fund for Mendocino County. I’ve never been more proud. I’m proud of my colleagues for their victory, I’m proud of Black Oak for its commitment to quality, and I’m proud to be a part of this remarkable community. All of them.
Our work isn’t done and Mendocino County is still reeling from the fires, but all of us at Black Oak will be here helping out until we’re all whole again. If you have something to give, contact Disaster Fund for Mendocino County at (707) 468-9882 or online at communityfound.org.