Bicycle Coffee is an Oakland-based coffee roastery and distributor, founded in 2009 by Cameron McKee, his brothers Brandon and Matthew, their cousin, Brad Butler, and a family friend, Mikael Kirkman. The idea to start a coffee company came from a several month backpacking trip in Central America, during which they spent time visiting coffee cooperatives and building relationships with farmers. Inspired by the high degree of work that goes into producing quality organic coffee, the group set their sights on attaining jobs that would allow them to marry this new interest with an existing one: riding bikes.
Bicycle transport for business is not uncommon. Many companies and organizations, even large ones like the City of Emeryville, City CarShare, and UCAL Berkeley, sometimes utilize bike messengers. This is especially common for rush, intra-city deliveries. Cyclists can zip by traffic and through gridlock more quickly than cars. It is also economically efficient, low maintenance, and “makes for less noisy and congested streets,” says McKee. It also happens to be a zero-emissions, fully sustainable mode of transport.
To McKee, riding bikes is just the best way to get around a city, and he is “looking forward to the day then the novelty of using bicycles wears off.”
That said, the business is not 100 percent sustainable. The company’s fairly traded Arabica beans will always come from organic cooperatives, but the first leg of their journey – which can begin in Central/South America, Africa, or Indonesia – is made by cargo ship. Although it is a little-disputed fact that maritime shipping is the most carbon-efficient method of transporting goods, total carbon emissions from this industry still equal those of a major national economy.
The founders don’t pretend otherwise. The fact is, however, that Hawaii is the only place in the United States that can successfully grow coffee. Otherwise, anyone that consumes the beverage outside of a coffee-growing region is supporting international maritime shipping. While this is not meant to be an excuse, it is necessary to acknowledge the broader implications of the industry, and the practices many coffee consumers unconsciously condone. Despite this, although the founders don’t deliver by bike to be green, their passion for cycling and efficient urban navigation does make Bicycle a notably sustainable U.S. coffee company.
At present, Bicycle Coffee serves businesses and consumers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, but they are obviously limited by the distances that a bike can cover to deliver fresh goods. Given this, and the fact that they are committed to always delivering by bike, the founders are planning to set up chapters in other cities. Like Cameron McKee, I am also looking forward to the day where bicycle transport will no longer be a novelty, and more companies like Bicycle Coffee will prosper due to the simple sustainability and intuitiveness of their business models.