San Diego, CA

James Coffee Co. is San Diego's Best Kept Coffee Secret

Michael Beausoleil

If you’re walking around Little Italy, North Park, or Banker’s Hill in San Diego you’re likely to find some great coffee shops. Many of these locations are trying to give you innovative new drinks, but one chain is trying to create great coffee while reducing their environmental footprint.

Recently, I walked past the trendy location in Banker’s Hill. I didn’t purchase anything there, but I saw the owl logo again when I was walking to Little Italy. This time I decided to give James Coffee Co. a try, and I was surprised by the experience. I enjoyed my drink, and the barista seemed really confident I would return.

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James Coffee Co.James Coffee Co. / Instagram

James Coffee Co. Green Initiative

If you buy a 12 oz. bag of James Coffee Co.’s coffee, it will come in all recycled packaging. The 1 kg bags are still working on finding sustainable packaging, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. James Coffee Co. was established in 2013 and slowly began to grow. As the brand has expanded in terms of locations, they also focused their efforts in different causes. Sustainability was one of the big ones.

James Coffee Co. joins other companies in their quest to rid the world of damaging material. Like other coffee shops, you won’t find plastic straws, and they’re phasing out plastic packaging. However, the biggest innovation came at the start of 2021. This year, they’re no longer offering single-use cups.

When I got my cold brew, I was surprised to see a branded koozie and reusable jar. I’ve come to find out I paid a $1.25 deposit on my coffee, which brought the initial purchase price to about $5.50. However, the next time I get coffee I can bring in my jar and get a replacement. This time, I don’t need to pay the deposit.

In most cases, I don’t see this being an issue. If you’re someone like me, you’re nearby and intend on taking advantage of the program. If you’re not a local, you get a reusable jar and souvenir from the coffee shop for the cost of $1.25. Even if these conditions don’t apply to you, getting cold brew for $5-$6 is fairly standard in the area. This is the type of price I’d expect to pay at Better Buzz, and I throw everything away when I’m done.

Innovating Where Starbucks Can’t

When it comes to coffee innovations, you’d expect the big dollars to make the biggest moves. Undoubtedly Starbucks has the power to make a bigger impact on waste reduction, but they haven’t really found their stride in the crossroads of mobile orders and reusable materials. James Coffee Co. may have established a model they’ll envy.

In fact, Starbucks tested their Borrow A Cup program in five Seattle stores. The two-month trial has not produced concrete results yet, though there has not been any announcement of an expansion. Every Starbucks I’ve been to has given me one of two options. Either I bring my own cup and get a 10¢ discount or I order ahead with the mobile app. In theory, you can do both at James Coffee Co.

Of course, Starbucks has a huge menu and multiple sizes for each of their drinks. James Coffee Co. has a much smaller menu and can consider their glass jar program when it expands. The process of designing a seamless program for the thousands of Starbucks stores is an infinitely larger task.

It is clear Starbucks has some interest in implementing a sustainable program allowing customers to use their mobile app. As they work toward this objective, they’re going to need to look to smaller coffee chains like James Coffee Co. They have a small collection of shops and customers willing to experiment with their new program.

How’s The Coffee At James Coffee Co.?

The menu is fairly basic, but that’s not a bad thing! You’ll mostly find coffee house classics at James Coffee Co. such as drip coffees, cold brews, espresso, teas, and lattes. There’s not a lot of food options either: mostly croissants with a few quiches. While you might not be too adventurous, the selection they offer is done really well.

When I went I ordered the Single Origin Cold Brew. It was a bold roast, but had some hints of sweetness and wasn’t too overpowering. If you like drinking coffee black, this was an easy drink to sip. Of course, you can add cream, milk, or sweetener if you’d like. They have everything you need and they let the beans speak for themselves.

If you want to try the coffee, James Coffee Co. is focusing on eCommerce and small coffee vendors. You don’t need to be in San Diego to get a taste. You can start online and have the beans shipped to your house. While it’s unlikely anyone will make a special trip to San Diego just for coffee, James Coffee Co. is certainly a good option for anyone nearby. Going into a store will give you the full experience and allow you to see what they’re doing.

The James Coffee Co. Experience

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James Coffee Co. on India Street in Little ItalyJames Coffee Co.

When you walk into any of the James Coffee Co. locations, you’ll immediately be hit by a trendy atmosphere. It’s clean and minimal, but it holds a very cozy coffee shop feel. You’ll also find the silhouette of an owl all over the place. That’s the logo.

In researching the company, I’ve come to find it was created by David Kennedy. While I didn’t know him by name, I recognized the bands Angels and Airwaves and Boxcar Racer where David played guitar. YouTuber Peter McKinnon has also collaborated with the brand. While I’m not a consumer of his content, he’s big enough that I recognized his name. Both of these resumes should give you an idea of the culture at James Coffee Co. and their target audience.

I absolutely intend to keep using my jar. I like the concept, love the coffee, and feel good supporting a local business. The coffee should be enough to bring in customers. If they execute their jar program correctly, they’ll be getting some attention from bigger names in the coffee world.

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San Diego, CA
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