The East Bay’s legendary punk rock band Green Day is going green in a very different way from its pot-smoking roots, this time in a business venture tied to the Gen-X bandmates’ current passion for, of all things, coffee.
The Oakland-based coffee company, Oakland Coffee Works, formed by Green Day rockers Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, is partnering with San Francisco Bay Coffee, a brand under the larger Lincoln-based Rogers Family Co., to launch coffee bags and coffee pods made from completely compostable materials.
“The goal is to provide exceptional coffee that is also sustainable,” said Dirnt, a self-proclaimed “coffee fanatic.”
He and Armstrong started exploring making their own coffee around the time their hit album “American Idiot” debuted in 2004. After years of making small batches for themselves, they decided about three years ago to launch a coffee company, Dirnt said.
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“We said, let’s do it, but let’s do it in a great way. Let’s get educated,” Dirnt explained. “There was a lot of humility in learning about things like packaging.”
Out of concern for the environmental impact of the usual packaging used for food and coffee, Dirnt and Armstrong went searching for a better solution as they built their company. Their search led them to the Rogers Family Co., which had been developing sustainable packaging, and a partnership was formed with the company’s San Francisco Bay Coffee brand.
“It’s not the sort of thing we usually do – we’ve turned down celebrities and programming,” said John Rogers, vice president of sales for the Rogers Family Co. “But when we met with them, it was clear there was a lot of passion, and that they knew a lot about coffee.”
Teaming up with Dirnt and Armstrong, Rogers said, is also a good way to draw attention to the issue of sustainable packaging.
“We thought it would really help both our goals: to improve people’s lives and the planet, and to make darn good coffee,” he said.
Oakland Coffee is selling the coffee (in packages and single-serve pods) online through Amazon and at Bay Area Costco stores. The team hopes to grow the list of retailers and locations.
The coffee is also served at the Green Day members’ other food and beverage establishments: the popular Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe locations in Emeryville and Oakland.
Dirnt said the choice for running their food and beverage concepts in the East Bay was an easy one. As East Bay natives (Dirnt spent time in high school cooking for Crockett restaurant The Nantucket), they support Oakland’s food renaissance, Dirnt said.
“Oakland just has a cool thing,” he said of choosing Oakland to be both the location and brand of the coffee company. “We’re just really Oakland guys.”
He calls Oakland Coffee Works part of the “fourth wave” of coffee. The first, he said, was basic “diner” coffee, which expanded into chains like Starbucks and Peet’s with a variety of espresso drinks, and then to third-wave artisan coffee makers. The newest wave, he said, is about making good coffee but in a sustainable way, with support for the farmers who grow the coffee beans and care for the environment.
To help with that, Oakland Coffee brought on Kate Kaplan, who has a background in urban agriculture and sustainability, as executive director, and launched a branch of the organization called Fueled by Love, which provides support and funds to the communities in which the coffee is grown.
Dirnt spoke passionately about his hope that more sustainable practices will extend across the coffee industry.
“It seems to be that complacency is what kept a lot of companies from doing this,” he said. “We have little patience for the status quo.”