It would be an understatement to say I have a coffee crush on Cat & Cloud coffee of Santa Cruz, California. This post is actually less about the coffee and more about the people. But I’ll definitely talk about the coffee.
Led by the trio of Chris Baca, Jared Truby, and their business partner Charles Jack, Cat & Cloud is not only delicious coffee, it’s a mentality. The two front-men, Baca and Truby, are two courageously candid and spontaneous slang-slinging Cali dudes who have fulfilled on their dream to do specialty coffee their own way – to create a unique and meaningful experience for customers and staff. I first became familiar with C&C when La Marzocco’s Seattle cafe featured them in January of this year.
For the record, the coffee was legit. I took home a bag of the Honduras and it rocked my world until it was gone. Also, they had a milkshake-like beverage with espresso that was so good I woke up thinking about it. For two days in a row, I literally rolled out of bed and down the hill to La Marzocco for a Creamy Beige first thing in the morning. Did I mention it was January and this was an iced beverage? Yeah, it was that good.
Their coffee game is strong. For starters, they invented the 1 & 1 which consists of a solo shot of espresso and a solo macchiato served together but separate on a saucer. Kind of like a business casual coffee beverage or get-your-feet-wet, then-jump-right-in coffee experience. Their flagship blend is called The Answer, because when you’re questioning to get a coffee to either sip or slam, something solo or with sugar, The Answer will just hit you. And their signature espresso is called The Truth. If there’s any doubt whether this espresso can compete with the other big name Cali roasters, just sit back and relax… The Truth is out there.
The Truth is an embodiment of their roasting philosophy. Coffee should be sweet and juicy with clarity of flavor and a nice finish. Plain and simple.
Moving on to what I really dig about these dudes. Although I haven’t been to Santa Cruz, what I know about them comes from listening to every single one of their 120+ podcasts and several instructional videos. The philosophy of Cat & Cloud rose like a phoenix from the ashes of their own restless spirits’ interactions with ‘third wave’ coffee shops. Both Baca and Truby had previously worked in coffee and were finalists in multiple US Barista Competitions. But something was missing… In the spirit of, ‘if you don’t like something, then do it yourself,’ Chris, Jared, and Charles teamed up to do specialty coffee on their own terms. And they’re crushin’ it down in Santa Cruz.
They pump out positive vibes like they’ve got a couple of buddhas in their pockets. Their mission is to touch people’s lives through coffee – to make everyone feel special in their shop whether they’re an over-caffeinated teenager looking for something sweet or a coffee pro with an eye for single origin zingers. One hundred percent energy is directed toward the customer and it starts with the staff.
If you take care of your crew, they will take care of the customers. Baca and Truby emulate new-hire training tactics from theme park giant, Disney – who has a 1% employee turnover rate. Since professional development is most effective when necessary skills are front loaded during new-hire training, Baca and Truby invest time in teaching the core values, philosophy and their mission during an employee’s first days. Coffee comes later. By emphasising that commitment to community is paramount to Cat & Cloud’s identity instead of basing their image on latte art with insane espresso, they create a culture of sustainability which lies at the heart of their dream. By the way, their espresso is still insane.
These guys stand out because sometimes it doesn’t seem like many specialty coffee shops espouse the motto of putting the customer first, but some do. Starbucks does. And another reason I get behind C&C is because they don’t hate on Starbucks. I think it’s unbecoming of a coffee professional to hate on other coffee shops, regardless of who they are or what they do. As a former Starbucks partner I appreciate what Starbucks does for communities, minorities, the environment and the future of coffee. And as hip as these cats are, they’re not haters. Full stop. Rant over.
Furthermore, they’re smart business people. Aware of cost leaks and cutting waste while maximizing profits, C&C have systems that not only work for the business but allow the employees to buy into the company. As coffee rockstars, Baca and Truby are not strangers to receiving free drinks when they visit other cafes. There’s several things at play here: first of all; it’s no secret free drinks happen, but those drinks need to be accounted for; and secondly, when people patronize your shop, let them support your business by paying for coffee instead of just giving it away.
C&C have solved this phenomenon by allotting their employees $20 a month to give away in free drinks. They are free to use the money at their discretion to either friends, family, rando coffee celebs or just someone they have a crush on. Instead of trying to stop a nice gesture, C&C embraced the freebee drink and accounted for it monetarily.
Moreover, they set a precedent for all business owners by standing in line when they visit the shop on a day off. Instead of cutting the line and asking for free stuff, which not only looks bad to people who don’t know they’re the kings of the castle, they also pay for the drinks and baked goods – because after all, it’s their own business they’d be stealing from.
Another attractive quality of C&C is that these guys haven’t had anything handed to them. It’s in their struggle to succeed on their own terms that makes them so appealing. From lugging around green coffee and bagging supplies in their hatchbacks over an hour away to roast on someone else’s roaster, to living with friends and relatives while they got their feet on the ground, these guys have drive, passion, and commitment.
And because there’s a million more things I love about them, here’s a rapid fire list of things they do that makes my crush list: They drink water first thing in the morning. They journal everyday for what they’re thankful. They’re big into education and don’t hoard knowledge. They listen to podcasts that make them smarter. They communicate and listen to their team. They give four weeks paid vacation to full time employees. They make a fund for employees to visit origin. They skateboard and surf. They say ‘amped’ a lot. They promote what others are doing unselfishly. Their clothes and body language do not define them. They do CrossFit. They serve their version of bullet-proof coffee. They totally nerd out on coffee gear and technology. They are free thinkers and aren’t doing what others are doing because it’s cool. They have a kickass podcast and they have kickass coffee.
On a personal note, what I love about Chris and Jared is their authenticity. I haven’t always felt comfortable being myself at specialty coffee gatherings. Most of the time I feel like the potato in room full of carrots. My outward appearance resembles a frat bro who just came from the gym. My story is that I stick out because I don’t wear black from head to toe and have tattoos on my knuckles and gauged ear piercings, so I’m not cool.
But when I saw how Chris and Jared – two laid back surfer dudes in bright hoodies and crooked ball caps – exuded confidence and rained down positive vibes for all people, it changed the way I saw myself. If they were solid with being themselves in specialty coffee settings, then so should I. Although they have big personalities, they focus their energy on the people around them. They’ve taught me to take the spotlight off my insecurities and shine it others by being present to what we have in common – love for coffee and one another.
We can all learn something from these natural leaders who know that they win when the people around them win. This level of awareness is what will make drive our industry forward – when we take care of everyone from origin to cafe – making positive connections with people and leaving them better than when we met them.