Last July, Espresso Vivace co-founder David Schomer brought actor Jeff Goldblum to Seattle’s Interlaken Park, a place he planted thousands of trees 15 years before. With National Geographic cameras rolling, the duo planted more trees and discussed Schomer’s innovations in the coffee industry for an episode of The World According to Jeff Goldblum, available on Disney+.
I’m not a Disney+ subscriber myself so I haven’t seen the episode, but I caught wind of this collaboration through a Capitol Hill Seattle Blog post on Twitter. Admittedly, the words “Jeff Goldblum” and “Seattle” were enough to earn my click, but I was drawn in further by a mention of Espresso Vivace’s “Carbon Sequestration Program.”
After a little poking around, I decided that Jeff Goldblum was the less interesting person in the woods that day. You know those lattes with the heart designs in the froth that are so trendy and apparently mandatory to post on Instagram? David Schomer literally wrote the book on that – in 1995. He also pioneered technology to make “perfect espresso” (which Tea & Coffee Trade Journal claimed he achieved in 1997) and is responsible for training thousands of baristas worldwide.
Schomer’s gourmet coffee is available at Espresso Vivace’s three Seattle locations: Brix (532 Broadway E), Alley 24 (227 Yale Ave N), and Sidewalk Bar (321 Broadway Ave E). Vivace’s website features an online shop with a few products including roast coffee and Schomer’s book, and an education tab, where Schomer shares his espresso expertise.
Tricia Romano wrote a wonderful profile on Schomer for The Seattle Times in 2015, focusing on his immense impact on the coffee industry and unearthing his background as an United States Air Force member, a classically trained flutist, and Boeing metrologist (one that specializes in measurements, not the atmosphere). However, she failed to mention his efforts to cover his carbon footprints along the way.
“I need to put in ten thousand dollars of cedars”
Remember that newly formed King County Forest Carbon Program I wrote about last fall? Well, Schomer created his own carbon sequestration program to offset Vivace’s coffee roasting emissions in 2004. In partnership with Cascade Land Conservancy (now Forterra), EarthCorps and Friends of Interlaken Park, he planted around two thousand native conifers in Interlaken Park and has been watching them grow ever since.
“Gene Duvernoy was running Cascade Land Conservancy at the time and I told him I needed to put in ten thousand dollars worth of cedars,” Schomer said. “He said, ‘Let’s do it.'”
The 2004 planting suffered a high mortality rate due to an unusually dry spring and some disagreements about watering techniques. So, Schomer doubled down in 2005 with another $10,000 planting of around 4,000 Sitka Spruce. Duvernoy estimated the two plantings would sequester enough carbon to offset Vivace’s roasting emissions by 2014.
Schomer said he was inspired in part by a Robert Kaplan article he read in The Atlantic in 1979 predicting the rise of global carbon dioxide emissions. His approach to sustainability was also influenced by his brief tenure with Greenpeace.
“I started with Greenpeace out of college and didn’t really agree with their politics-first approach,” Schomer said. “I told them they were singing to the choir, that they need to put their demands in business terms. I was not overly pleased with the group, and they weren’t overly pleased with me.”
While a younger version of himself (Schomer called himself an “original hippy”) may have wished to burn the system down, over time he’s realized economic development plays a role in providing resources for people to accomplish their climate goals.
“Do the best you can, but enjoy this life”
Schomer said his primary goal is “pushing the technology to make espresso an art” and he’s been able to pursue it without sacrificing sustainability. All of the materials used to serve coffee at Espresso Vivace’s three locations – Bix, Alley 24 and Sidewalk Bar – are compostable. Schomer even tracked down compostable coffee bags from a manufacturer in Montreal to package his coffee beans in, which Vivace delivers to local retailers in an electric van.
His crowning achievement, however, is having over 95% of Vivace’s 50 employees walk, bike or bus to work.
“It’s something that other businesses don’t think about, but it’s huge,” Schomer said. “Driving to work is so destructive to the waterways and air. We have a business plan that encourages our employees to be closer to where they work, physically.”
Around 86% of Vivace’s roasts are made from shade grown arabica beans, which grow best in diverse eco-systems with mature trees. Schomer admitted that flavor more than anything else drives his sourcing decisions, but recognizes the role of Mother Nature in growing the best tasting beans.
“Like most progressives I’m in love with the beauty of nature and think it’s perfectly obvious that you have to live in balance with Mother Nature,” Schomer said.
The 64-year-old seeks that balance in his painstakingly precise espresso-making processes, which rely equally on technology and nature. His efforts are conveyed both in the product and atmosphere of his coffee shops.
“Don’t forget the ancient role of coffee shops as a place for discourse and exchange of ideas,” Schomer said. “We do have small announcements about being compostable and such in the shops, and we encourage our customers to discuss those things.
“I’m a big fan of individual action. Do the best you can, but enjoy this life. Generations have dreamed for this quality of life and there’s no use wasting it worrying about things out of your control. Don’t waste it on hand wringing.”
Feature photo: Schomer and Goldblum having what could very well be the most interesting conversation of all time. Photo from Facebook.