All images are courtesy of Pacific Crest Coffee.
This post is part of our Faces of Aegis series. We're spotlighting our clients, the people and businesses who are making an impact in our Tahoe-Truckee community and beyond! Read more of our client spotlights here.
At Truckee's Pacific Crest Coffee, the perfect brew is both an art and a science. Pacific Crest Coffee's story begins with two athletes and an unforgettable gift. Coffee aficionados and casual sippers alike will love learning more about this Aegis client.
5 Questions for Pacific Crest Coffee
What is Pacific Crest Coffee?
Pacific Crest was founded by Ralph Backstrom, a former pro snowboarder, and skier Travis Ganong. They consider themselves a bean-to-cup business, with a drive to make each cup better than the last.
Pacific Crest's Truckee location sports a small tasting room where you can enjoy a cup of coffee or pick up roasted ground coffee, whole beans, cold brew, and kegs. Their coffee is also available wholesale or through their eCommerce website.
What led you to create Pacific Crest Coffee?
Ralph grew up in Seattle, but he didn’t develop a passion for coffee until later in life. He moved to Tahoe in the early 2000s and was a professional snowboarder until 2016. During his athletic career, Backstrom enjoyed traveling and meeting new people, but he was already thinking about his next move and what his future would hold.
"For Christmas 2009, my brother gave me green coffee and an Aeropress, a little coffee brewing device invented by the same guy that invented the Aerobie frisbee. We roasted the green coffee on the stove, but it didn't really taste that good. It didn't really inspire me to keep roasting or start a business.
In June of 2010 [my brother] died in a skiing accident in Peru, and I slowly started thinking more and more about coffee. I finally brewed some coffee with the Aeropress that he gave me and I noticed a different flavor and was like 'Woah, this is really good, I've never experienced this before. I didn't know coffee could taste like this.' And then I started roasting a little more, I learned what my roast tasted like… I really just learned how to improve my flavors. Learning how to make a cup of coffee from scratch was a slow process."
What was the process like to start the coffeehouse?
Ralph has been working on Pacific Crest since 2012 when he first began considering coffee as a career.
"The first step was asking 'Is this a business I want to start?' I know once this business starts there's no pause button. I really thought about it -- there's cold brew, there's roasting, there's equipment, maybe someday I could go to the coffee origins to pick up the green coffee. There's a lot of reasons to say yes to starting a business, and once I got to that point, it was really about figuring out how to actually run a business."
Ralph's business partner Travis is also a pro-athlete. They began working together on the heels of a great World Cup season for Travis; Travis had tried the coffee and knew he wanted in. The two founders came to an agreement -- Travis bought the roaster and the espresso machine, while Ralph did the build-out and manages day-to-day operations.
"There's just a lot of stuff that you can never be prepared for when you start a business. I had a lease in my hand for a place down in Reno, but I could not be happier that we did not sign that lease down there. We wouldn't have had any retail operation, it would have just been roasting. At the last minute, we met our landlords [in Truckee] and they said ya know, you can have 25% retail and a tasting room up here. We took the bait.
Now we have a retail window and roll-up. When COVID hit we were able to offer window service, which was super helpful. It was safe; people felt comfortable. We didn't have to close again or change our operations, we kept it consistent, and to this day we haven't changed, we're still serving out of the windows."
What advice do you have on making a great cup of coffee?
The number one key to a great cup of coffee? Consistency. At Pacific Crest, Ralph uses data logging software to track the time and temperature checkpoints throughout the roast, so if he tastes something good he can recreate it. He recommends that people use this same scientific process with their coffee at home.
"When I brew at home I have a temperature-controlled kettle and a grinder that has a numerical setting on it so I know exactly how fine or course I'm grinding. I know exactly what temperature my water is, I even time my brew because I know time is another variable that impacts flavor.
A scale is one of the most helpful pieces of equipment. If you're brewing on a scale, you can know exactly how many grounds of coffee and milliliters of water you have, so you can replicate your ratio or concentration of dissolved coffee in your water. A scale is what chefs use to replicate their menus. Any time you want consistency, you have to do it the way the pros do."
When you track the settings used to create a cup of coffee, you can make minor adjustments when something tastes off to improve the flavor.
Do you have any projects or new specials coming up?
If you're already craving a cup of Pacific Crest coffee, you can visit them at their location or their new trailer in Tahoe City!
The Tahoe City trailer can be found stationed at the Pepper Tree Inn downtown. They carry espresso, coffee, and even ice cream! Enjoy a summer afternoon with a delicious affogato or float.
You can also pick up cans of Pacific Crest cold brew in the next few months from their Truckee location, the trailer, or on their website.
Are you ready to discover your favorite cup of coffee? Visit Pacific Crest.
"Our agent Steve, aside from being a super friendly guy, is the type of guy that would trade a commercial ice machine to me for a few hundred bucks in coffee. I didn’t know Steve before I started Pacific Crest. He’s talked me through a lot of situations that I have been frustrated with or having issues with. He’s been really helpful and has assured our success, he’s always had our back." - Ralph Backstrom, Pacific Crest Coffee
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