"Someday, I want Philadelphia to be the biggest coffee port in the U.S.," La Colombe founder Todd Carmichael told Eater. "And this decaffeination plant is the first step in that plan."
Carmichael recently locked down a 15,000 square foot warehouse in Port Richmond that will become home base for the new operation. Currently, there are no other privately owned decaffeination plants in the U.S. All of the coffee beans roasted domestically get shipped to plants in Europe or Vancouver to go through the decaffeination process, and incur excessive financial investment on the part of the roaster. Carmichael says this is why decaffeinated coffee costs more.
"Americans drink the most decaffeinated coffee in the world, yet there aren't any plants like this in the U.S.," said Carmichael. "It doesn't make sense. So, we're going to do it ourselves."
Ultimately, Carmichael said he's starting the project because he feels he can make a better decaffeinated product than the ones currently available. He plans on using a modified version of the Swiss Water Process (currently only used in one plant in the world) called the Philadelphia Water Process. The first locally decaffeinated product will see the light of day in early 2013.
"We've been talking about this for years, but neither the state nor the city have been able to help us out financially," said Carmichael. "But, that's not really their fault. It's a pipe dream I have to make into a reality. Once it's up and running, I am sure it'll garner their full support."
Carmichael said the plant will bring jobs into the Port Richmond area, and more importantly will force the New York Stock Exchange to recognize Philadelphia as a port for coffee. Right now, all beans must come through the New York port, as it is one of only a few official coffee ports in the U.S.
"Getting on the stock exchange will allow us to have our own Philadelphia pricing, and in turn will allow Philly to do it's own thing without needing relationships with other ports," said Carmichael. "I'm a dreamer, I know, but I think we can make Philly the biggest coffee port in the U.S. in time. When domestic roasters realize we're the only decaffeination plant around, they'll start sending product to us. It's good for the city, and good for the coffee culture."
As with most of La Colombe's endeavors, the plant will be green and not leave much, if any, of a carbon footprint. Carmichael also mentioned that the Tioga port, which is a deep water port, is no more than a stone's throw from La Colombe's roasting plant on Thompson Street.
"This whole thing is very do-able, and we're excited to get started," said Carmichael. "It's pretty awesome if you think about it, right? Becoming the biggest coffee port in the U.S. is a lofty goal, but that hasn't really stopped us before."