Harry with his new brew
“As a customer,” says Harry Ryan, “what’s your concern when you go to buy a cup of coffee?”
He answers his own question.
“You want to have a fresh, hot, quality brew.”
Harry is one of the three Ryan Brothers, along with Carmine and Tom, who started in 1994 with coffee carts in La Jolla and Old Town. Today, they have seven brick and mortar outlets, and a reputation as innovators in the coffee world.
“As a producer,” continues Harry, “my concerns are: when was it brewed, has it been sitting too long in the urn, if they grew it right, did they grind it too soon before they brewed it, is it dried out, are the urns clean, on and on.
“The beer industry has a brewmaster. The brewmaster brews. And they do it well, because they don’t want to throw out, they don’t want to have mistakes. If you throw that [crucial job] over to a multitude of hourly workers, as happens in the coffee world, the chances of bad brews goes way up.”
Harry’s invention. Keeps coffee fresh.
But it’s the wastage that gets Harry really exercised. “Let’s look at Starbucks for instance. They have a brew standard. They brew every 30 minutes, is what I’ve been told. Same in the hotel industry, and whatever’s not consumed is dumped.”
He contrasts this with the beer industry, the wine industry. “They’re not dumping. You’re paying premium. In our [coffee] industry, we don’t really want to say how much they’re throwing out, because the customer’s paying for it all.”
What to do? Enter Harry Ryan, inventor.
“My method solves that. Because what I do is I keg all my coffees. I use cooler temps to get better extraction, then I keg it, I nitrogen gas flush it — like beer, except it’s nitrogen — but then I put it through my patented hot draft technique, which is a tankless heat coil, so, as the coffee comes up, it gets heated on demand.”
He’s tinkering with a chrome box on a little tower. “Hot Draft,” says the sign. “US Patent 10,092,132.”
“This is where my heat coil is,” he says, “and look what you get. It pours like a Guinness.”
He’s right. It comes out creamy, incredibly smooth-looking. It turns out he has made a batch of coffee, stored it in an oxygen-free tank, and only heats my cupful as he pours it.
“Think about it: That keg does not need refrigerating, because there’s no oxidation going on. Also, and this is just as big, every ounce of the coffee is going to be used. Taste that! No cream, no sugar. That’s my heaven. Stored in room temp. It’s not sitting there heated. I could store it for a year, it’d come out as fresh as the day I brewed it.”
Ryan Brothers’ historic building on Main Street
So why aren’t the big boys like Starbucks using the same methods? “I’ve taken out a lot of patents.”
I’d always remembered Ryan Brothers’ coffee place in Barrio Logan because inside, they have an Indonesian rickshaw to remind them of their childhood which they spent over there. And also a bar top at which outlaw Jesse James drank, though probably not coffee.
As you wait to have your coffee, you have to ask yourself: is Harry Ryan about to stir up the coffee world?