Ed Bert

World Cup Coffee & Tea

WORDS Justin Fields | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden

Thirteen years ago, Roastmaster and Green Coffee Buyer Ed Bert discovered his passion for coffee in the remote jungles and farms of Papua New Guinea. It was there that he decided to eschew his training as an engineer, and start over in an industry that reaps great business profits, while simultaneously helping people in small villages around the world in a substantive way.

For over a decade, Ed worked for Portland Roasting Company, becoming a reliable and well-respected member of the coffee community. He then spent a few years working at a coffee farm in Hawaii, where he learned about the plant husbandry needed to produce quality coffee. But Ed’s journey seemed destined to lead him back to Portland, where a chance event led him to his new role with World Cup Coffee:

“At times you have a serendipitous moment in business when you wonder how you are going to replace a key employee,” says World Cup Owner Dan Welch, who remembers getting notice that his roaster was leaving to pursue a different career. According to Dan, it was just then that, “Ed Bert came to us upon a recommendation of an industry friend.”  After a walk around the warehouse and a productive talk, the two shook hands, and Ed started the next day.

“Part of what makes Ed a great fit is his willingness to share information and collaborate with staff and others in the industry,” says Dan. He also points out that every year Ed attends the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) trade show and the Roasters Guild Retreat. Both are considered crucial events to pass along knowledge as well as learn from other members.

Though Ed avoids the limelight, Dan proudly boasts that Ed has passed the Q Certification, a test of coffee knowledge on a variety of sensory levels that helps you select the best coffees. “Ed truly cares about how his coffee is handled, cared – for and delivered,” says Dan. “Nothing comes out of the roaster unless he feels it is perfect.”

I met with Ed on a particularly bustling day at World Cup at their NW Glisan location, where shade-grown and house-roasted beans result in a superior cup of coffee, offered alongside a great selection of tea and pastries. Ed gave me a tour of the facilities and discussed his career in coffee, while continuing to go about his daily duties, roasting beans.

What is the advantage of roasting your own beans?  The real advantage is choosing your own beans and not relying on someone else to make the quality control decisions and all of the flavor profile decisions.

Can you tell me a little bit about the roasting equipment?  We use two different kinds of roasters. The drum roaster has a drum that rotates over a bed of flame, using convection to radiate heat and cook the coffee. It’s a little bit longer process, but it works out really well in the development of medium to light roast coffee. The other machine we use is a fluid bed machine, or air roaster. That machine is similar to an air popcorn popper – it uses mostly hot air, and ends of being a lot shorter roast time. The shorter roast time is really nice for darker roasts because it preserves the integrity of the coffee.

How much do import and you roast on a yearly basis?  We import 200,000 pounds of green coffee a year from places like Sumatra, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Brazil. We roast 150,000 pounds of that, which is pretty modest compared to a lot of other companies around.

What is your personal connection with coffee?  I got into coffee on a trip to Papua New Guinea for Portland Roasting Company. The trip was before I was really into coffee, and it was a real eye opener. I visited a farm where an entire tribe depended on the coffee crop for their subsistence for the whole year. At the time I was an engineering student, but I realized that I really liked the idea of being able to work in a business that’s profitable, where you also get to help people and do something you love.

Tell me more about the impact of that trip. How do the actions of businesses and consumers stateside affect these small villages? 

I just found it really interesting that a coffee company could afford to send people to visit foreign villages, pay to have a school built, and pay teachers a salary to teach on the farm so that they will have a brighter future. To me that was just amazing, because I didn’t realize that was possible. Businesses can make money, be successful and feel good about it at the same time. The coffee industry really helps the farming communities in a very tangible way.

Do you guys buy directly from farmers?  The coffee we buy we almost always go through an importer because the taxes and tariffs and international shipping requirements make it very difficult to buy direct. But there are other ways. Bean from Columbia for example is brought in by the farmer to Portland, and we buy it from them directly. In other cases, we use an importer and find farms that we really like, and we will work with the farmer to create a relationship and buy their products year after year.

Is sustainability an element of how you choose your products?

We try to support causes, and we work directly with a few farmers. For example, in Columbia, we help with a scholarship program that sponsors students seeking an education to work in the coffee industry. Some of our other coffees have certifications from organizations that do great work, like the Rainforest Alliance, and Audubon Society.

How does World Cup Coffee help promote the local coffee industry?

We are members of the Oregon Coffee Board, so we support that and host events that are part of an educational series for anyone who wants to be a part of the industry. We also support the events of other coffee companies, like Portland Roasting Company.

Is there something about Portland that makes it particularly suitable for being a coffee roaster?  Just that other people in Portland are so passionate about coffee. The Oregon Coffee Board is a great example of that, bringing all kinds of roasters and baristas together to have conversations about coffee, and that pushes the industry forward. It’s helpful having discussions about what’s important to your customer, what’s important to your business, and getting a lot of support from other people in the industry. I think in other places, they’re less passionate about the coffee, and more competitive in a sense. In Portland it’s not like that – here there’s a unique culture surrounding the coffee industry.

And that also results in an excellent cup of coffee?  Yes. Really what we strive to do is produce very high quality, high flavor, very consistent coffee products. Most of our customers are in an office environment, and it’s the consistency and quality that allows them to enjoy drinking our coffee throughout the day.


The Genesis of World Cup Coffee

To understand better why Ed Bert ended up at World Cup Coffee, it helps to know more about the company and its history in Portland.

Way back in 1985, four years before the first Starbucks even opened in Portland, a small company called Diversified Refreshment Systems was selling brands like Folgers and Yuban, along with products like cream, sugar and cups, to offices throughout Portland. Owner Don Welch and his team quickly garnered a reputation for excellent customer service, reliably fueling Portland offices with traditional coffee for the corporate set.

By 1993, the demand for a higher quality of coffee in the office environment dramatically increased, and the new trend of bringing coffee from a micro-roaster into offices took hold. It was that year that the company changed its name to World Cup Coffee, and Don’s son, Dan Welch, took the company reigns.

Dan set out to provide that higher quality of coffee, while simultaneously continuing their high level of customer service to offices. The demand for freshness and quality of specialty craft coffees continued to grow rapidly, and they opened their first retail location inside Powell’s Books in 1999.

At that time, Dan was roasting all the coffee, reading books on coffee, attending coffee classes and learning from industry mentors. Soon, World Cup was named one of the top 10 coffee roaster/retailers in the US by USA Today. They continue to innovate in office, hotel and restaurant environments with the latest in equipment and products for both coffee and cold drinks.