Unless you’re a die-hard coffee snob, you probably don’t know that some of the most award-winning coffee in the world is roasted and brewed in the tiny town of Rogers, Arkansas. Based on a foundation of “Never Settle for Good Enough,” the folks at Onyx Coffee Lab hold two first-place awards from the national U.S. Coffee Championships, and they’ve reached the final round for all of the competition’s 5 categories countless times. Their headquarters “The 1907” a three-story, 30,000-square-foot, 110-year-old building, is equal parts playground, business park, and serious coffee lab.
Inside The 1907, you’ll find a slide for the owners’ daughter, an upscale bar, a taqueria/mezcaleria, a seasonally-inspired restaurant, a french pastry shop, a world-class coffee bar, and, of course, a high-tech roasting area. The clean aesthetics and open concept of The 1907 are more than just a pretty face because Onyx Coffee Lab does incredible business with clean energy and total transparency. “The concept was basically to try to show as many cogs in the supply chain of coffee to the customer so that they don’t just see a menu and order a latte and walk away, but they can see our roasters roasting and see every batch and how that works,” Jon Allen, co-founder, and co-owner of Onyx, told The Business Download. “Watch the quality control team, take samples and cup each coffee sampler as coffees work on green grading, all the different aspects of the coffee industry that we do, just sort of like putting that on some sort of display and hopefully adding to the validity and also just the amount of work it takes to do high-end specialty coffee.”
It’s not just in their HQ that Onyx is transparent. Everything from the owners’ modest salaries to the high prices they pay coffee farmers to how well the team “scored” their own coffee is readily available on the Onyx website. Select any of the coffees on their website, such as their Ethiopia Bombe Natural, and Onyx will tell you how it was processed, how to brew it, and that it should taste like strawberries, sugarcane, and lavender. Scroll a little further and you’ll read a story about Onyx’s personal relationship to the coffee producers who grew the beans: “The producers of Bombe live high in the lush and lovely Bombe mountain valley. They are part of a member organization consisting of 667 producers in various parts of the mountain range, which also includes producers from Bombe and Shantawene. We’ve worked with this group since before it was officially founded.”
Scroll a little further, and you’ll find Onyx’s transparency button. This is where Onyx publishes information about the coffee including the Fair Trade Certified minimum cost of the green (unroasted) coffee: $1.60, what they paid per lb: $4.90, and how much they purchased: 1800kg. Then they list the transportation cost: $0.24, the production cost: $4.85, and the commodity cost: $0.96. Along with the dollar amounts, they also share the score that their own Quality Assurance team gave the coffee, in this case, a highly respectable: 87.5 out 100, and how accurate their transparency score is: A-. That’s right, they are even transparent about how transparent their transparency reports are scored.
It’s enough to make your head spin, but this level of transparency is extremely important because it ensures that everyone involved in the coffee process is treated fairly. That’s why they developed their “Relationship Coffee” with an emphasis on building a relationship with the farmer. Onyx pays at least double the Fair Trade minimum price. “We are careful not to minimize what Fair Trade and other certifications have accomplished through the years, viewing a set minimum price as a stepping stone to a larger conversation about how the industry treats valuable producing partners,” they share in their transparency report. “As we avoid settling for the bare minimum, we always pay at least double Fair Trade minimums based on the quality of coffee we purchase.” Onyx publishes this detailed information on every coffee they offer because they find the best way to hold themselves accountable is to share their process with the world.
Knowing you can sit back and sip a steaming cup of coffee with a clear conscience means you’re free to enjoy the unique, complex flavors as well as the ingenuity of the operation. All the latest in hi-tech coffee toys are on display and in use including a pneumatic-powered color sorting machine to ensure quality, a small army of coffee grinders, and a score of espresso machines. If that wasn’t good enough, The 1907 went carbon neutral in 2020 with the installation of a Stitt Solar array on the roof of the facility. The solar panels power the entire roasting and brewing operation as well as all the small single-purpose machines that help the team at Onyx take their coffee to the next level. Jon shared, “We’re finally at the size and had enough capital from last year’s growth to bring the roastery on full solar and make all these changes that we’ve always wanted to do, the right way.” The same attention to detail and commitment to quality is involved in their packaging as well.
Most orders come in a durable Noissue “mailer” made of plant fibers that will break down over the next 90-180 days if composted correctly. A 10oz order of coffee arrives in an artful, recyclable cardboard box made from repurposed fibers made by WestRock. They’ve taken labors to ensure that even the moisture-resistant laminate on the exterior of the box is widely recycled like normal paper. Inside these boxes is a compostable Biotre 2.0 bag with a recyclable gas valve so the bags don’t explode from the pressure of the beans. Yes, you read that right, their beans are so fresh, they need to have a one-way valve so their bags don’t burst from the buildup of CO2 released from the beans.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the entire Onyx Coffee Lab is that their entire approach to coffee is to teach others about the art and science of coffee. “We run as a lab, every aspect of the industry from farmer evaluation, to roasting, to the final product and we’ve just started kind of opening consulting to cafe design,” Jon shared with The Business Download. “We think we have the best staff in the world here and for a lot of different talents and specialties. So the lab really comes from the beginning when we first started, even before we were roasting for ourselves we were helping others.” Whether you’re brewing at home with their brewing tip videos, or you step into their welcoming coffee shops, Onyx is there to serve you and to give you the tools to make the perfect cup of coffee.