Source, Roast, Brew
In late 2011, Insight Coffee Roasters first opened their doors in the Southside Park neighborhood. From the get-go, their purpose and uniqueness in the Sacramento coffee scene was obvious. Not only did they accomplish dishing out the highest quality coffee in Sacramento and beyond, but they ensured that every step taken to produce and distribute that coffee was of the highest caliber possible. Insight has given Sacramento an enhanced and more thoughtful coffee experience.
I remember those very first pours of coffee at the Insight Southside café. The café filled a huge void in that part of town, and brought a great business to a diverse neighborhood. Their huge, notable front windows and hand-built wood interior were welcoming and crafty, and early Insight pioneers Lucky Rodrigues (who remains a partner), and Benza Cox-Lance were always bringing the coffee experience to a whole new level with a knowledgeable and approachable presence. In fact, the painting on the side of the Southside café shows Rodrigues at the roaster and Cox-Lance pulling an espresso shot. The smell of coffee roasting, especially on Tuesdays, was enough alone to wake you up. Then there was the constant sound of steam coming out of the gold-plated espresso machine and, for some reason, the faint sound of a boombox blasting in the roastery in the back. Sometimes, you would catch a glimpse of someone breakdancing to the tunes if you were lucky enough. Insight has evolved rapidly since those early days at the Southside café, but the strong aroma of roasting beans and the exhale of the espresso machine still thrive.
In four years of existence, Insight Coffee Roasters has multiplied to four locations, with the most recent opening up in the 16 Powerhouse, a new LEED certified development across the street from Fremont Park. The building was built with materials and processes intended to leave the smallest carbon footprint possible. The building is a mixed living/retail space. Chris Ryan, one of the owners of Insight, says that this was a large factor in wanting to place an Insight café at the location, even with a Starbucks right across the street.
“Despite that, we have been doing quite well,” says Ryan about the new location. “Starbucks is a completely different business and the menus are completely different. I think a lot of diverse coffee drinkers have been exposing themselves to our menu. People are coming in and wanting to learn more, and from there they learn to appreciate coffee more.”
The 16 Powerhouse Insight follows suit with Insight’s older cafés, with the exception of also serving Sun and Soil fresh juices. Ryan adds, “This is a bustling part of town, and our way of approaching coffee is really catching on.”
Insight started, and continues to grow, with three principals of focus: source, roast and brew. “Our goals are straightforward; to source quality seeds directly from producers, roast to accentuate inherent flavors and brew to highlight different attributes,” reads the company’s website.
“One of the main goals of Insight has been to spread our passion for coffee education.” says Ryan. “Education is key. Hence the name Insight. We want to offer the customer an insightful coffee experience.”
Insight’s Southside location, where beans are roasted, offers various coffee education courses, including home-roasting classes to those more interested in doing it themselves. The café openly sells home-roasting supplies, too. Almost every resource needed for the most amateur of coffee novices is readily available. Also, every second Saturday of the month, they hold a sourcing course. As the course description explains, coffee lovers of all levels can “Explore the origin of coffee and its journey from seedling to processing and roasting,” and, “Learn about our work directly with coffee growers to process quality sustainable coffees.” All courses are provided at an unbeatable price: free.
You will notice that the menus at Insight cafés lack options that have unnecessary additives. “We believe that if the coffee is roasted properly and produced correctly, then sugar and a ton of cream shouldn’t be necessary,” says Ryan. “Coffee should be produced in a way that should accentuate its natural flavors. You will never find a frappuccino or anything caramel on our menu. There are great nutritional aspects to coffee. We roast it in a way that you drink it straight up black.”
The roastery maintains a tight-knit relationship with the coffee plant farms that produce the source of seeds for the café. On a regular basis, an Insight rep—usually Lucky Rodrigues—will travel abroad to regions where the coffee seeds are grown. Rodrigues travels mainly to central America, to stay with and work side-by-side with family-owned farms that sustainably raise coffee beans. The purpose is essentially finding the best coffee before anyone else does and building a lasting relationship with their growers. This ensures that the coffee buyer gets very specific pickings, and the first and best picks at that.
“The desire for the highest quality coffee is higher now,” says Ryan, “Especially in a time where people are more interested in the whole farm-to-fork movement. It is truly about learning more and appreciating more. If you go to the source of the product and believe in that source, you believe in your product and are proud of it.”
To take the education factor to another level, the coffee company has somewhat recently come out with a quarterly newspaper. It is a small and informative collaborative effort, full of diverse coffee news and profiles. The free papers are available at every location, and go in depth about everything from the sourcing and producing of coffee, to the health benefits and groundbreaking scientific research surrounding coffee.
Ryan says that Insight plans on expanding even more in the coming months. They anticipate an expanded coffee program with the new Edible Pedal in West Sacramento, where Insight coffee has already been served in limited forms. Ryan hopes to make the full experience available to that side of town. On top of that, a new café on the 700 block of K street is in the works.
“It will be pretty close to the new arena,” says Ryan, “We are working close with developers and it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
To keep abreast of future Insight Coffee Roaster developments and other info, go to Insightcoffee.com.