Collaboration Mentality: CJ Porter Born and The Get Down Coffee Company
CJ Porter Born roasts on an MCR-20 in a warehouse in St. Paul, Minnesota. As Director of Coffee for The Get Down Coffee Company, he’s in charge of supplying the fast-growing company with coffee, yes, but also the details that customers are now coming to expect on their bags of specialty coffee. While third-wave roasters have long cared about coffee specs like altitude, certifications, and processing method, consumers wanting that information is newer. CJ’s all for it: “I don’t have to tell people why it’s important,” he says.
Setting the Scene
When CJ was a young teen, he was a regular at The Bean Factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. As the neighborhood coffee shop, it gave him a place to be; he felt comfortable there. He befriended the staff and owners, and he soon became familiar with the ecosystem of a cafe.
He figured that if he hung around long enough, he would get a job there. And he was right; he started as a barista in 2009, then quickly became a manager and trained on the roaster.
When he left The Bean Factory in 2015, he sought out coffee work to keep him on the roaster. Bariasting had been a way in, and now that he had the know-how, he didn’t want just any coffee career–he wanted a roasting career.
He worked for a variety of roasters in the Twin Cities area before coming to The Get Down Coffee Company in October of 2021.
The Way Up
For CJ, the main focus of his career has always been unlocking and opening doors for others.
When he first started roasting, he was surprised that so many roasters erred on the side of caution and competition, rather than sharing their craft and methods. “All I wanted to do was buy someone lunch and pick their brain,” he says.
While others gatekept the industry, CJ wasn’t dissuaded. He practiced and applied his own theories to find what worked and what didn’t. “Now I make it a point to share everything I can with anyone who wants to know,” he says. That mindset is what brought him to The Get Down Coffee Company: their mission is diversity and cultural collision, and their business practice follows that mission.
The Get Down Coffee Company was founded in 2020. The company has a tight-knit relationship with Dogwood Coffee Co, and up until this summer, they shared a roasting facility in Minneapolis: each company operated separately but used the same physical space and equipment.
This summer, after the shared roasting warehouse expanded into two spaces, CJ started roasting on a MCR-20 exclusive to The Get Down. The collaboration between The Get Down and Dogwood is still very much active, but now it’s more focused on sharing resources and knowledge. “We all do better when we all do better,” CJ says.
With the combined brainpower of both companies, logistical challenges that arise are often easier to manage. Still, The Get Down Coffee Company faces its fair share of trials, although CJ is eternally optimistic that every experience is a learning experience.
Since The Get Down Coffee Company cafe is less than a year old, it can be tough to order greens. Without enough data to reference, CJ’s been flying blind. “We didn’t know what a summer would look like,” he says. He must tow the line between ordering too much and wasting both greens and money, and ordering too little, and losing out on sales.
The same goes for The Get Down Coffee Company’s merchandise. In both cases, supply chain issues have also affected the logistics of ordering and drawn out expected delivery times.
The good news is, by this time next year, there will be enough referential data that CJ will be able to tweak his greens orders and limit his margin of error. Less guesswork means more time for CJ to focus on education, collaboration, and single-origin experiments.
Being part of The Get Down Coffee Company team means working to make specialty coffee a more diverse and welcoming place. For CJ, that work happens in the roastery. While he has a soft spot for the smell of the Maillard reaction–like driving by the Malt-O-Meal cereal factory, he says–his favorite thing about roasting is the development phase.
It’s a space for roasters to express themselves. “That’s where everything happens,” he says. “That’s where people put their signatures.” In his time in the industry, he’s learned to recognize roasters by their flourish in the development phase.
Highlighting the individuality in each roaster’s craft is one way that specialty coffee can become more diverse. Focusing on this aspect as well as representation in the industry is how CJ hopes that the specialty coffee narrative can become more inclusive.
The Get Down Coffee Company Menu
The Get Down Coffee Co has three main blends available in Target and other retail stores. A cafe exclusive cold brew is also for sale, as well as a rotating menu of single origins.
The bestselling blend Turntables is available as a bulk cold brew keg, an instant coffee pouch, a subscription, and a classic bag.
For blends, The Get Down Coffee Company goes through Cafe Imports. For single origins, CJ looks for small importers with niche sources. “Not everyone can do everything,” he says. He would rather go to a variety of importers–and do the extra work of correspondence and organization that requires–to get a better product with a traceable history.
For Rwandan greens, CJ goes to Higa, which specializes in East African coffees. Higa supplied the current single-origin Rwanda, which comes from a group of farmers at the Shyira washing station in Nyabihu.
Cosescha Traders, a social-impact importer focusing on southwestern Colombia, supplies CJ with any Colombia greens he might add to the lineup.
With more space to work in in the expanded warehouse, CJ is looking forward to keeping two or three single origins on all the time. If time and money weren’t constraints, he would up those numbers.
As it is, sourcing and roasting single origins is CJ’s favorite part of the job. Blends like Turntables carry the weight of the Get Down brand, so they aren’t as easily rotated; but CJ alone decides which single-origins to order and sell, so some of that menu rigidity loosens up. He has the room to experiment and play without alienating any Get Down regulars.
By the end of this year, CJ hopes to finalize relationships with a variety of specialty importers, making it easier to find single origins from many different regions.
With his ongoing goal of specialty coffee education, CJ hopes that the near future will allow him the time to train a mentee on the roaster. “I would have benefited so much from that [help] as a kid,” he says. He would also love to build and teach a curriculum for roasting class, opening doors to more community collaboration for new roasters as they start out.
On a personal side, CJ wants to pursue a future that includes roasting competitions. He also wants to become a certified Q grader. “You can never really hit your max [in this industry,]” he says; there’s always something new to learn.
Bring The Get Down Coffee Company Home
If you’re in St. Paul, stop by The Get Down Coffee Co 7-5 on weekdays or 8-5 on weekends. You can buy their coffee retail from Target or any one of 46 local shops in the metro area, including Minnyrow Market and Lowry Hills Meats. A full list of vendors will be available soon on the Get Down Coffee Company website. Otherwise, you can follow CJ and the rest of the Get Down crew on Instagram or Facebook.