Create Good Days: Josh Cosio and Cala Coffee
Josh Cosio is on the cusp of opening a cafe-roastery in a renovated warehouse in Vestavia Hills, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. After a year of leasing time on a colleague’s MCR-10, 10 kilogram roaster to roast Cala Coffee’s orders, he’s looking forward to the open roasting schedule and increased space that will come along with his very own brick and mortar.
Setting the Scene
Josh Cosio grew up in Northern California, where he spent a lot of time at coffee shops like Temple Coffee and Philz Coffee in Sacramento and San Francisco. When he left California to attend college at Oregon State University in the early 2010s, he frequented Stumptown and Barista.
Josh, who has ADHD, loved the calming effect that a cup of drip gave him. And from spending so much time in specialty coffee hubs, he picked up a thing or two about brewing quality coffee at home too. Every week, he would buy and brew only locally roasted coffee.
It wasn’t until 2020, four years after Josh and his wife Melanie moved to Birmingham, Alabama, that he considered coffee roasting as a hobby or a career. While he always loved coffee for its routine, it was Birmingham’s up-and-coming food and beverage industry that got him thinking of the career potential of roasting.
At the time, both Josh and Melanie had full-time jobs, so their hobby roasting happened during off-hours. But as they spent more time on the craft, their interest in it started to grow. “I got the itch,” Josh says. “I wanted to be my own boss and own a company.”
The Way Up
The first Cala Coffee roast sold in March of 2021. Their early sales came from pop-ups like farmers markets and private events.
His first roaster was a 500g air roaster from Sweet Maria’s, which was returned soon after Josh found a used Behmor on Facebook Marketplace. After a year of roasting on the Behmor, he upgraded to a 1K Aillio Bullet roaster, but it wasn’t long before he realized that more capacity was a necessity for growth.
Scaling up out of their home roastery would also allow Josh to move past Alabama’s cottage food laws. “We wanted to grow as much as we could,” he says.
At the end of 2021, Josh signed a lease for a building in Vestavia Hills, a suburb of Birmingham. Right away, he got to work on renovating, preparing to open the Cala Coffee cafe as soon as possible. In the cafe, he decided, an MCR-10 would be installed.
The growth he sought with the cafe and bigger roaster, however, wouldn’t be possible without bigger partnerships with other commercial businesses, so Josh started to look for a solution that would serve as a stepping stone during construction.
In January of 2022, he found his answer by reaching out to local cafe Seeds Coffee. He knew the Seeds Coffee founder because they attended the same gym, and often talked coffee when they crossed paths. Josh brought up the idea of leasing time on their machine–an MCR-10–and the owner of Seeds agreed, even adding in some barista training.
Later that month, he also attended Mill City Roasters’ Roasting 101 class in January, clocking extra time on the exact machine that will soon run in the new cafe.
The agreement worked exactly as planned: in February, Josh landed Cala Coffee’s first wholesale partnership with Piggly Wiggly, marking Cala Coffee’s ascent into a recognizable Birmingham coffee brand.
In April of 2022, Josh quit his job to run Cala Coffee full-time. “When you first start, it seems really simple,” he says. “But you’re constantly learning.” Once Josh realized that there’s no such thing as autopiloting through a roast, he started to see roasting as an ongoing project with a goal of learning, rather than perfecting.
Now, alongside the weekly roasting, Josh also oversees the construction of the Cala Coffee build-out, which should be done by December of this year. Along with opening up opportunity for collaboration with other roasters, the cafe will also give Birmingham residents a new venue to experience specialty coffee. “We’re looking to add to the coffee scene,” Josh says.
The buildout has been this year’s toughest challenge, although its completion will bolster Cala’s credibility as an established and trustworthy brand. As soon as it’s done, Josh will have a base from which he can scout further wholesale accounts with new cafes.
The Cala Coffee Menu
Cala Coffee offers four single origins, sourced from Balzac Brothers in South Carolina: an Ethiopia, a Brazil, a Guatemala, and a Sumatra. They also sell two blends, one Brazil-Guatemala and one Guatemala-Ethiopia blend. Cala Coffee also offers canned cold brew.
They’ve partnered their blends with a local radio station and a local independent film festival, which has helped them integrate their brand into Birmingham’s culture.
As Cala Coffee has grown, their coffee selection has also grown. At first, with just one or two single origins on the menu, Josh’s biggest hurdle was doing as much as possible with the fewest amount of coffees. He had to limit variety due to space constraints and the work it took to haul everything to Seeds Coffee every week.
Now, he has more leeway when it comes to the ingredients of his blends. And with the buildout nearing completion, he’s hoping the extra space for storage and packaging will lead to a few more menu items, although he’s expecting the menu will still keep below ten total selections.
To keep the core menu steady, Josh is looking to expand further into seasonal and limited release coffees, rather than adding more core products. He’s also dedicating time and energy to new wholesale partnerships that might lead to custom blends.
Josh loves the routine and the ongoing project of giving customers something new to try while also playing on predictable and well-loved flavors that they’ve come to expect from medium and dark roasts. He’s learned that Birmingham coffee-drinkers prefer coffees that come in aesthetic bags; they care less about the details of the coffee and more about how it looks. In response, Josh has limited the specs listed on the label and opted instead for a simpler design to appeal to his audience.
With the cafe-roastery buildout nearly complete, Josh is now considering the kind of extra help he’ll need to keep the shop’s hours. His wife Melanie will continue to help out on the weekends with the shop’s events, as well as in the cafe when her schedule allows. The success and scaling of Cala Coffee will decide whether or not she will split her time more equally between her job and the business.
Otherwise, Josh has already lined up a manager to help him create a barista team by the shop’s opening in December. He also sees potential in hiring a second roaster to help him in the roastery.
Long-term, he envisions the roastery and cafe splitting into two distinct spaces. If the MCR-10 could eventually land in a warehouse, even more floor space could be dedicated to storage, which would allow for more flexibility with the company’s growth and forays into direct trade.
Bring Cala Coffee Home
You can find Cala Coffee in a variety of different Birmingham stores: five different Piggly Wigglys, two New York Butcher Shoppes, Crestwood Pharmacy or Homewood Pharmacy, Local Source 5 Points, or Magic City Organics. The Cala Coffee coffee cart is also still available to rent. Once the brick and mortar is open for business at 3950 Autumn Lane, you’ll be able to drop in and say hi, order any of their coffees, or take a bag to go. You can also follow them on Instagram or Facebook, join the monthly subscription box, or order cold brew on the Cala Coffee website.