Martin Diedrich is only salt-and-pepper, but he’s still the éminence grise of Orange County coffee. Not that his influence is limited to O.C. The coffee business is by its nature global, and the Diedrich family has been involved on every level from the ground up for decades. Today, Martin and his wife Karen own Kéan Coffee houses in Costa Mesa and Tustin.
Diedrich works on coffee close to home, too—literally. Lush, tree-like shrubs, some with clusters of small, fragrant, white blooms and others with shiny, juicy-looking dark red berries, make up what amounts to a small coffee farm in his Costa Mesa garden. They’re ornamental enough, but have a greater destiny. The other day I tagged along with a group from the local chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier who gathered to hear Diedrich speak about coffee from bean to cup before harvesting ripe coffee berries ourselves.
Fresh off the tree, the flesh of a coffee berry is filled with sticky, sweet juice. Washed and gently crushed, the recognizable beans are exposed, in the beginning of a long process, during which at any point, Diedrich says, a thousand things can go wrong. Fine coffee is shepherded through the process with lots of human oversight, and a surprising amount of hand work, from initial picking, to sorting, drying, and fermenting. And that’s all before roasting and all of its variables. It takes 20 pounds of fresh coffee berries to yield just a single pound of roasted coffee beans. Diedrich makes the analogy to a relay race—each step is a segment, with the handing of a cup of coffee over the counter to a customer crossing the finish line.
The berries we picked in the Diedrich home garden—something over 8 pounds—are undergoing the preparation process under the watchful eye of Martin himself. He’s calling this hyperlocal coffee blend Costamaica, and after a few weeks of sun-drying will roast and brew. I’m really looking forward to trying—and while I didn’t take coffee for granted before this, in the meantime I’ll look into each cup with even greater appreciation.