The Equiano tasting room is tiny, calm and slow. I enter and am embraced with the redolence of expertly roasted coffee. Two older gentlemen sit in a corner, nailing down the answers to life’s mysteries over espresso. Dave Harney, having driven across town from his auto body shop, waits expectantly for a couple of Americanos, a latte and a half-pound of beans.
“I love this coffee,” he says simply.
Regular patrons satisfied, roaster and owner Okon Udosenata makes me a cappuccino, moving with scientific precision and talking easily about the family, experience and love that have made Equiano a cult favorite throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Artisan and Accessible
The goal of Equiano is to bring specialty coffee to the people. The company strives for simplicity with style, hoping to make specialty coffee approachable for its patrons.
“Specialty coffee is not the most approachable idea,” Udosenata says. “We want people to feel comfortable, and offer them a unique coffee experience.”
This approach seems to work for Harney. “I’m a big fan of quality coffee,” he says. “I was super stoked to find that Equiano sets the bar with their nuanced roasts, quality shot pulls and drink crafting, as well as their consistent and friendly service. I like the stripped-down, non-commercialized, artisan approach that focuses on quality.”
But beyond coffee aficionados like Harney, even the least experienced coffee customers begin to learn over time. “That is my aim with Equiano tasting room,” Udosenata says. “For customers to pick up some tips on how to brew coffee at home and to hopefully become excited about the process or ceremony of making coffee. “
Udosenata finishes making my cappuccino and sets the tiny cup in front of me. I take a sip. It is amazing. I take another sip. I start to feel amazing.
Last year, Udosenata traveled to Colombia to meet with small farmers in pursuit of the single-source bean. “The small farms that I buy from do not blend their varietals, and this will give you a unique flavor,” he says, noting that the coffee varietals that produce a lot of fruit often will lack in flavor.
So that explains bad hotel coffee once and for all.
Another trick that large roasters pull is to “blend a high-producing coffee varietal with one that has an amazing flavor that is not a high producer of fruit,” and thus Udosenata explains why mass market coffee is … fine.
Udosenata hopes to find the best unadulterated fruit with unique flavor to serve his customers. The trip to Colombia was a huge success. “There were so many cool things I was exposed to,” Udosenata says, relating stories of bulbous beans, knowledgeable farmers and the beauty of coffee culture in Colombia.
Udosenata is now working with four small farmers in Colombia. “At my retail location I offer coffees from a farm that I visited called Manantales Del Frontino. I carry three different varietals from this farm. A varietal called Red Bourbon (it tastes like milk chocolate, pomegranate, and raspberries), a Maragogipe varietal and a Geisha varietal,” he says.
My cappuccino gone, Udosenata places an adorable cup of the Red Bourbon in front of me. It really does taste like chocolate, pomegranate and raspberries, but also like the best coffee you’ve ever had. I begin to dismiss all ideas I’ve ever had about drinking too much coffee at one time.
It strikes me as Udosenata speaks about the farmers and beans in Colombia that he sees himself not only as a roaster and barista but as an agent of taste. He has the skills and knowledge to match up the coffee of growers he knows personally with specific customers.
Equiano is a family business, and coffee runs deep in their veins. Udosenata says: “My ethnic heritage is Ibibio from Nigeria on my father’s side and Mexican on my mother’s side … growing up in Eugene with two older sisters and a younger brother, I was the designated coffee maker for my mother at a very young age.”
Coffee-making skills sparked Udosenata’s career as a barista. He and his wife, Gloria Udosenata, began home roasting years ago. Their interest translated into a roasting business and now, this tasting room.
Choosing the beans is only the first step. The Udosenata family then roasts them at the Equiano facility on Wallis Street, deep in west Eugene. The entire industrial block smells incredible.
As a roaster, Okon Udosenata has competed on the national level. “Going to the national competition was an eye opener,” Udosenata says. “To see what everyone was doing on a national level gave me a better idea of how I would define my style and … develop my brand.”
Last year he took sixth at the U.S. Coffee Championships and plans to return next year. “My aim is to have fun with it,” he says.
The next generation, Okon and Gloria’s two boys, have grown up in coffee shops.
“Do your boys drink coffee?” I ask. “Chocolate,” he says.
Love Breeds Love
The charm of Equiano moves past the roasted and prepared coffee so thoughtfully chosen. It is a quiet little shop, with most of its seating outside. Glass jars serve as take-away cups. A vintage turntable plays an album from the eclectic collection leaning up against the wall beside a grinder.
Udosenata and I are finishing our discussion, along with several coffees. I am beginning to think I can actually fly when the door opens and a woman bounces in, breathless.
“You’re here!” she says, beaming at Udosenata. Her name is Heidi McBride, and she proceeds to gush on about how she has been out of the state and returned to find out her beloved Equiano beans now had their own tasting room.
What is it about this coffee that inspires this reaction?
“There’s just something about Okon’s coffee,” McBride says, pausing thoughtfully before adding, “You can just tell it’s been roasted with love.”
Equiano Coffee, 300 Blair Blvd, is open daily 8:30 am to 4 pm. Closed Sunday.