Beyond the cup
Tulsa coffee shop offers an elevated brew
Fair Fellow coffee owners and barista recently traveled to El Salvador to see their coffee’s origins
Four friends found themselves in a crater on the side of a volcano in El Salvador. This crater, El Boquerón, formed over a century ago between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, at about 4,000 feet above sea level. The coffee-growing sweet spot is home to Loma La Gloria, a coffee farm and mill, and our four protagonists were here on a quest: to discover the best coffee in the world, pay a fair price for it and bring it home to their shop in Tulsa.
Fair Fellow Coffee is owned by two college pals and their lady loves. Andrew Unruh and Jeff Pelt are two country boys who grew up on farms north of Amarillo, Texas. They both discovered the world of coffee and dreamed of owning a shop one day. Pelt met Kaitlyn in 2008 and Unruh met Danielle Wyman in 2016. The four of them are now celebrating one year since they opened the doors to their spirited coffee shop and roastery in the Kendall Whittier district. Part of their anniversary celebration was treating themselves to an up-close encounter with a coffee farm in El Salvador.
One of the group’s most enduring relationships has been with Anny Ruth Pimentel, owner and proprietor of Loma La Gloria estate coffee in El Salvador. Pimentel traveled to Fair Fellow in the summer of 2016 to share more about her farm, her family and her coffee. After serving her coffee in Tulsa and communicating with her almost daily, the Fair Fellow crew decided it was time to return the courtesy and pay her a visit.
“It was more eye opening than I planned on it being,” said Wyman. “You’re surrounded by these huge leaves and bright coffee cherries; it’s like you’re in Wonderland. But more than that, we got close to the people at the mill, on the farm. We made each other laugh even though we don’t speak the same language.”
Beyond the exotic El Salvador terroir—which imparts the beans with hints of caramel and citrus, along with a mineral complexity drawn from the volcanic ash—there is a serious human element to the coffee trade.
“We want to make sure the coffee we buy comes from a farmer who was paid fairly; it wasn’t a hold-up, it wasn’t a sharecropping thing,” Unruh said. “Unfair practices like this will continue if you keep giving disreputable farms your money. If you aren’t paying the legitimate farmers better, there is no way for it to be a sustainable industry. For example, there’s an estimate that around 2,000 man-hours go into one cup of coffee. It takes me 12 minutes to roast 30-lbs of coffee and I get paid way more than the farmers did.”
Consumers don’t always consider the work that goes into producing a simple cup of joe. Farmers, often located in volatile countries like Rwanda, Kenya or Burundi, must maintain large swaths of farm land and pay a fair wage to employees, implement security and navigate politics in third-world countries, fight crop-threatening maladies and cope with ever-increasing prices of farming necessities like fertilizer.
“Yet, the U.S. keeps demanding more without wanting to pay more,” Unruh said. “Eventually, what you start to see is farm workers leave the coffee industry to grow coca because it’s a lot cheaper and the profit yield is somewhat better.”
The result of supporting a farmer instead of a mega agribusiness isn’t just a feel-good endeavor. The effort produces a better-tasting cup of coffee.
“A businessman will look at the bottom line; a farmer will look at the quality,” Pelt said. “I know that when my money goes into putting a roof over my farmers’ heads, food on their tables, they are going to produce coffee that not only tastes great, but that I can feel good about drinking and serving.”
The crew at Fair Fellow fancy themselves caffeinated raconteurs, telling the story behind the cups they serve in a laid-back space that is perfect for whiling away a Saturday with friends or for concentrating on a project. They often host special cuppings where they showcase new coffee in an interactive, heady tasting experience. Their legendary nitrogenated coffee is a frothy blend of caffeine-infused bliss. But, at the end of the day, Fair Fellow Coffee centers on the simplicity of combining a few precious beans with some hot water.
“We want to be a little more innovative with our coffee – from sourcing to roasting. But we want to keep it simple,” Pelt said. “We want you to come in and feel at ease and ask questions, not feel intimidated. After all, we go a long way for people to enjoy a cup of coffee.”
Fair Fellow Coffee is served at several restaurants and shops around town, including Dwelling Spaces and The Bramble, and local distribution continues to expand.