Food & Drink
Talking Healthy Obsessions with Mike Ralls, Founder & CEO of Addictive Coffee Roasters
Addictive Coffee Roasters Founder and CEO Mike Ralls loves the way coffee can inspire people to pursue their passions, and he is eager to share the power of small batch, single origin coffee with customers in the Bay Area and beyond. We reached out to Ralls to learn more about his growing business, how he makes the perfect cup of coffee, and the healthy obsessions that fuel him forward.
After a successful career in tech, what drew you to the coffee industry?
I’ve always had an addictive personality, which is where the name comes from. I grew up boating, skiing and doing outdoor sports of all kinds. I lived in a van with a friend after college and surfed for a year in Australia. Then I moved to Colorado, where I spent my days snowboarding, paragliding and mountain biking. I also worked in the service industry at the Ritz-Carlton and learned what it means to deliver great customer service. Then I moved to S.F., where I worked at Pac Bell, Oracle and New Relic, but started to lose touch with some of the outdoor things I loved so much.
After working in the tech world for years, I decided to make a lifestyle change and got sober more than 15 years ago. I started drinking coffee and loved the ritual and connecting with friends, and saw how it could power all of these positive, healthy obsessions. So I started learning everything I could about coffee and began roasting out of my garage at my home in Marin, then expanded and moved our operations to an airplane hangar, and that’s really how the brand was born. I now have a production facility at the base of the Richmond Bridge in San Rafael.
What is your favorite part of the roasting process?
I love the whole process of roasting coffee, which starts from sourcing the green (raw) beans from countries around the world, but it also entails learning about the farms and what makes them unique. The origin information is important because all of the elements — elevation, farm size, type of soil, location, weather, water source — come together to formulate distinct tastes in the beans themselves that come out in the roasting process. Then depending on the profile I’m trying to achieve, I select specific beans and then roast them to a particular level to achieve distinct flavors.
For example, Rush is a Colombia-Guatemala blend, roasted to the medium level, which brings out the natural flavors of the coffee and where the beans originate instead of just getting a dark-roasted or burnt flavor with no specific tasting notes. There is a whole science to it that I really enjoy and we spent years tasting different beans roasted at different levels as we were developing the profiles for Addictive to get just the right blends and single origins. Other Addictive coffees include Morning Fix, Anonymous and Lighten up, and we offer single origins from Guatemala-Huehuetenango and Ethiopia-Yirgacheffe. We wanted unique flavors, where you could taste the difference in each blend and single origins, but also wanted to provide high quality specialty coffee that was approachable to all.
What was the most important lesson you learned when you still were running operations out of your garage?
Roasting coffee started as a hobby and I absolutely loved it. I was focused on roasting the best quality beans that had a story from around the world, but then I started having colleagues, friends and family ask me to send coffee to them so I knew the coffee was good. We had already started to think about the brand, so I started thinking, I could really turn this into a business. I knew it needed to be something different since there are so many specialty coffee brands out there today. So I narrowed in on the idea that I could provide a better quality product that was accessible to people, and pair it with my thirst for adventure and the concept that Addictive could help power and inspire people to go after their passions. So far, this is what is drawing people to Addictive and what has contributed to my success.
I launched addictivecoffee.com in September 2018, and at first sold direct-to-consumer. By March 2019, I won LinkedIn guest roaster of the quarter as my first enterprise customer. A year later, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Addictive whole bean and nitro cold brew were being served at nearly 50 employers, retailers and restaurant locations across the Bay Area, including Facebook, Fitbit, LinkedIn, Mozilla Firefox, Netflix, Oracle, Pinterest, Survey Monkey and Twitter, showing how much people loved the combination of the Addictive brand plus the quality of the coffee.
Why is only working with fair trade companies important to you?
Addictive is focused on quality and all things pure and positive, so that’s in everything we do and all the products we deliver to you. We want to help people find what they love to do and power them to do it with the highest-quality, sustainably grown and ethically sourced coffees. Addictive sources and roasts 100 percent arabica specialty coffees grown in very high elevations in countries including Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru, Rwanda and Sumatra. We work with smaller farms and importers that source coffee beans from a supply chain that is transparent and source organic and fair trade products whenever possible.
In addition, since our coffees come from the earth, we feel it’s important to be as responsible as possible when it comes to the environment so our latest 12 oz coffee bean bags are plant-based and fully compostable. We have reusable stainless steel kegs for cold and nitro brew offerings, and our single-serve coffee packs are fully compostable.
In terms of giving back, we have joined the Pledge 1 percent movement and encourage staff to volunteer 1 percent of their time to orgs of their choice. We donate 1 percent of our products to nonprofit organizations of choice that align with Addictive. Since Covid-19 for example, we have regularly been donating bags of coffee to the Marin Food Bank, San Rafael Fire Department and St. Vincent de Paul Society.
What is the secret to brewing the perfect cup of coffee?
For the perfect cup of coffee, it’s not just about the quality of the coffee itself. You need to pay attention to the water temperature, water quality, grind size, freshness, and to the brew method, all of which are essential to achieving the perfect cup. This is still subjective based on your personal taste. Take your time and keep track of what coffee to water ratio works best for your preferred taste. This varies as well depending on if you are using a pour over, French Press, coffee brewer/electric drip, Chemex, espresso machine and the list goes on.
Take pour over for example: as a general rule, I follow a 1:15 coffee to water ratio, so 40 grams of coffee with 600 grams of water brews about 2 cups of amazing coffee. I typically grind the beans right before, at a medium grind size, and set my water temperature to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Decrease the ratio if you want a stronger cup of coffee. Then remember or write down your formula as each type of coffee may have slight adjustments depending on its origin and roast level.
I also love trying different brew methods, as you get a different cup of coffee with each one. For example, French Press will bring out more intense flavors because it doesn’t filter out the fine coffee particles. Pour over produces a cleaner, intricate flavor extraction — the slower it filters through grounds, the more flavor is extracted and this is harder to achieve with an electric drip or brewer. The key is to have fun with it, experiment and try different methods until you find the ones you enjoy most!
What made you choose Marin as home to your business?
We live here and love Marin County. The climate here lends itself very well to roasting coffee —not too hot, not too cool and it has low humidity. More importantly, living and working here allows us to do all the activities that we love and that keep us inspired, like mountain biking, paddle-boarding, boating, fishing, surfing, hiking, skiing and really any outdoor adventure. We naturally live the mission of the brand, which is to power all things addictively pure, positive and really damn good.
Will we ever see an Addictive Coffee Roasters coffee shop in Marin?
Right now, we are dedicated to providing Addictive Coffee and excellent service to companies and stores in the Bay Area and beyond, so we do not have plans for a brick and mortar location this year but we do get asked this a lot. It’s been a challenging year for small businesses in the current environment, but this is a natural extension for coffee brands so stay tuned!
In the meantime, you can find Addictive Coffee online at www.addictivecoffee.com or at local retailers and restaurants, including all Andy’s Markets, D.G. Café, Farmshop Market at Marin Country Mart, Jessie & Laurent food delivery service, Lagunitas Brewing Company’s TapRoom (Nitro Blisserin’ Hard Coffee, Cappuccino Stout), Matt & Jeff’s Car Wash, Pond Farm Brewing Co., Scotty’s Market, and Sundry in Mill Valley.