David Perreira stands in the narrow back room at Yellow Brick Coffee that’s filled with burlap bags of raw coffee beans from around the world. A chalk-paint strip at eye level shows where the beans came from: Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Guatemala.
It’s clearly one of Perreira’s happy places.
Reaching into a bag, he hefts a handful of the green beans, letting them trickle through his fingers. The pea-sized beans have a grassy, herbaceous scent, but until they’re roasted, the beans are hard enough to crack a tooth.
“I look for beans that are grown and processed with intention. Our coffees are traceable to the farm or co-op that produced them,” Perreira says. “When they get here, they’re roasted with intention.”
For beans like that, Perreira has traveled to visit coffee producers around the world. He honors producers’ work in growing their crop by roasting single-variety coffees. By doing so, Yellow Brick’s customers can appreciate each bean’s individual flavor profile.
Kenyan coffees are big in flavor, with lively acidity, for example, while coffees from Ethiopia may taste of berries or floral flavors, depending on how they were processed. At any given moment, Yellow Brick has a minimum of four varieties plus a decaffeinated variety on offer. The only blend the company sells is its Destino espresso roast.
But even the best, most carefully-sourced beans can be ruined by inexpert roasting. Perreira credits Zoe Zibolsky’s skill and almost alchemical art as a roaster for Yellow Brick’s coffees. Working with a six-pound San Francisco Roasting Co. machine, Zibolsky controls each batch’s roasting time and temperature. Her hours at the roaster may be eased by the beauty of the brass-trimmed roasting machine, which gives the roaster a steam-punk character.
Since its founding in 2012 by Perreira’s sister, Anna, Yellow Brick Coffee has been in its current location tucked away in an office plaza at 3220 S. Dodge Blvd. #1 for five years. But the company has humble beginnings. “At first, we were roasting in our parents’ garage,” Perreira recalls.
Anna stepped away from the business in 2017 to take a position as development director for the Arizona Trail, the 800-mile trail that runs from the Mexican border north to the Arizona-Utah border. After her departure, her brother became the CEO of Yellow Brick.
With a bachelor’s degree in Spanish linguistics from the University of Arizona and a degree in hospitality management from Northern Arizona University, Perreira brings a wealth of knowledge to the business. But much of his business and coffee knowledge has been self-taught, he says.
Yellow Brick’s coffees are sold at the brick-and-mortar store, as well as several other locations around town. A.J.’s will carry the coffee soon, and both Ren Coffeehouse in St. Phillip’s Plaza and Big Heart Coffee in Mayfair Plaza carry the brand. You’ll also find Yellow Brick at The Food Conspiracy Co-op on 4th Avenue, and at the Rillito Park Heirloom Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. “Online is our biggest sales outlet, though,” Perreira says.
If coffee desserts appeal to you as they do to me, you’ll surely love this Vietnamese Coffee ice cream recipe. Its preparation is quick and simple. If you don’t have an ice cream maker of your own, ask your friends if they have one you can borrow. On Tucson’s broiling afternoons, a scoop or two of this ice cream provides both a pick-me-up and a cooldown.
Vietnamese coffee ice cream
Makes about 1 quart
You’ll need an ice cream maker to create this luscious, deeply flavored coffee ice cream. It’s rich and refreshing at the same time. Be sure the custard is completely chilled, and you’ll need to freeze the churned custard for several hours to firm it up. Laying plastic wrap directly on the surface of the freezing custard helps prevent ice crystals.
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup ground espresso-roast coffee beans
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
Combine cream, coffee, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from heat; let steep 20 minutes.
Strain cream mixture into saucepan and return to medium-high heat until heated through. Beat sweetened condensed milk and yolks in a medium bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk in hot cream mixture until smooth; cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the custard. Chill custard mixture at least 8 hours or overnight.
Pour custard into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions until churned and thick. Transfer to an airtight storage container; press plastic wrap on the surface of the churned custard and freeze until set, at least 4 hours.
Next week: Mesquite flour adds a uniquely Arizonan sweet, nutty flavor to baked goods, but it can be tricky to work with. Gather mesquite pods from local trees now for milling Oct. 19 at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market. Learn more about how to harvest mesquite and use the flour.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and the author of “The Feast Nearby.” Follow her blog as she writes her third book, “The Feast of the Dove,” at www.thefeastofthedove.com.