The nostalgia Coffee Roasters coffee cart set up to serve at the Ocean Beach Farmers Market
Taylor Fields started small in 2018, parking her compact Nostalgia Coffee trailer at weekly outdoor markets and corporate campuses, to sell coffee by the cup.
The former CPA says she “decided to leave the audit world,” to pursue a growing obsession with specialty coffee, the sort of single-origin, direct-trade brews she would drink in third-wave coffee shops while studying for accounting exams. Even the name of her business reflects the lightbulb moments most coffee aficionados reminisce. “I’m so nostalgic for that moment when I fell in love with coffee,” she says, “And when I talk to other folks, they all have that story.”
Inside the trailer, there’s barely enough room for a water filter, brewing equipment, and single group espresso machine. But she’s found ways to make the cart inviting: by playing music, framing its service window with potted plants, and putting out a large welcome mat. That sense of welcome is paramount to what she’s trying to accomplish. Nostalgia might serve high quality coffee, but it’s trying to do so without the specialty coffee attitude that can intimidate potential customers.
“Most third-wave coffee shops, if you’re not a coffee snob you can feel alienated,” she says. Even asking for cream and sugar might earn a barista’s scorn. Whichever plot of land her little cart found itself parked, she didn’t want that to be the case. “If a customer wants an ice caramel macchiato?” she insists, “No problem!”
The approach seemed to work. In the weekly market setting the Nostalgia cart would outperform other mobile coffee shops. And when she took it to the local offices of financial company Intuit — her former workplace — workers there would line up to pay full price for Nostalgia coffee, even though they could get cups of coffee for less than half the price at the subsidized company café. As spring 2020 approached, Intuit invited Nostalgia to show up five days a week. Fields managed to buy and squeeze in a larger espresso machine to handle a rise in volume.
Of course, we all know why that didn’t end up working out.
Nostalgia secured an EIDL loan and PPP grant to help the business overcome the shutdown, but by July Fields had started to brainstorm new revenue sources. The first one: accelerating her plan to turn Nostalgia into a roasting company. She lured friend Brandt Rakowski away from his job roasting for Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, and bought a small arc roaster for him to cook, a pound at a time.
They tasted through a multitude of beans to assemble a medium roast blend of Brazilian and Guatemalan beans, dubbed it Memory Lane, and received a 92-point score — putting it in the top tier of blends judged by coffee rating site CoffeeReview.com. Their next efforts scored 93, and 94 points. They started selling beans directly to customers online, and as things started to open back up, out of the trailer, which is now back to operating seven days a week, including at farmers markets, UCSD, and on weekends at the REI in Kearny Mesa.
But Nostalgia’s biggest move is yet to come. Fields and her growing team (up to four people now), have been developing a product that will allow customers to brew a single, 9-ounce serving of Memory Lane much like they would a cup of tea. “We’re taking our roasted coffee and placing it in tea bags,” says Fields, “Add hot water and a mug, and you’ve got a 92 point cup of coffee.”
The burgeoning market for this type of product is dominated by a Northern California company called Steeped Coffee, which packs its coffee brew bags by partnering with coffee roasters across the country, including San Diego’s Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.
Fields is banking on Nostalgia’s established quality to gain a foothold in the category and has plans to develop brew bags with dark roast, single origin, and even decaf coffees. But for now, she’s invested in the first batch of one thousand, ten-bag packs to establish proof of concept.
Nostalgia will debut the brew bags within the next few weeks, and launch a half-million-dollar Wefunder campaign to bankroll expanded capacity. Then the 28-year-old former bean counter hopes to pursue a series A round of venture capital to take the product national. All while the little coffee trailer she spent a year building, continues its circuit of San Diego outdoor venues, bit by bit building a corporate culture hoping to make an impact while promoting values that include sustainability and paying a living wage.
“We’re a woman-owned, gay-owned coffee company,” she says, “making waves.”