Hidden Fortress Coffee is brewing up business one organic, fair-trade cup at a time
By Tara Fatemi Walker
When Amelia Loftus and her husband, Patrick, bought a house on 3.5 acres in Royal Oaks in 2010, they jumped at the chance to start a garden and build a chicken coop. Their burgeoning homesteading efforts grew the following year, when Loftus left her job of 15 years and her father passed away, leaving her a small inheritance.
“Suddenly I had time and a little seed money, so the desire to start a small farm took hold,” says Loftus, who has nurtured a passion for organic, local food since spending time on a Vermont farm in her youth. “We built chicken coops and planted fruit trees, and started our micro farm.” They christened it Hidden Fortress after a movie by the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. “It suited our tucked-away location,” she notes.
Selling pasture-raised eggs and fruit from their trees yielded meager revenue, but Loftus had an idea for fortifying the budding farm. “Fortunately, I had the foresight to invest in another venture at the same time: I bought a small commercial coffee roasting machine,” she says. “Roasting coffee had the potential to generate enough income to make a small farm with value added products viable.”
Hidden Fortress Coffee was born in 2012, when Loftus began selling at local farmers’ markets utilizing a solar-powered coffee booth. “As a market vendor, I became a part of the local farming community, and the relationships I have built with local farmers are incredibly important,” Loftus says.
In November 2016, she opened Hidden Fortress Café, Watsonville’s first coffee roastery/café. It was the product of Loftus’ determination and nonstop work, and a supportive community of family, friends and business backers who donated to her Kickstarter fundraising campaign.
The cafe features an intimate, comfortable atmosphere and stocks a variety of coffee, snacks and items including waffles, quiche, sandwiches, salads, and soup. Loftus uses vendors such as The Green Waffle, Second Street Café, Kelly’s French Bakery and HOME Restaurant. “Opening a cafe with a food menu gave me a new way to work with local food producers, as a buyer,” Loftus notes. “Our business is still quite small, and the volume we purchase is pretty low, but as we grow we hope to be a better source of business for local farms and food artisans.”
The café’s most popular coffee drink is a traditional hot mocha made with high-quality organic cocoa, organic milk (or alternative milk), and organic sugar if the customer wants sugar added. At farmers markets, the cold brew mocha is the top seller. The espresso blend, which Loftus fine-tuned over the course of several years, is one of Hidden Fortress’ bestselling bagged coffees.
At the heart of it all is coffee with values that her customers can get behind: Loftus’ coffee is organic and fairly traded, and produced by small-scale micro farmers who often do all of the processing by hand or with co-op facilities in their own community. Loftus roasts the beans in small batches and packs them in environmentally friendly bags. Giving credit to farmers is important to her. “I really love coffee, and knowing that it is mostly produced on small farms and is a very labor-intensive crop has given me huge respect for these farmers,” she says.
“When I roast coffee, I am making my best possible effort to do honor to the farmers who put in the lion’s share of work to produce that pound of coffee,” she adds. “On average, it takes me about 10 minutes to roast and bag that pound of coffee that took more than 2.5 hours of farm work to produce.”
For Loftus, all of the effort comes back to the pleasure found in a simple cup of coffee. “I love the look on a customer’s face when they experience a great cup of coffee,” she says. “I am lucky to see this quite often. There are still so many people that have not really enjoyed good coffee. It is almost a knee-jerk reaction to dump a bunch of cream and sugar in the coffee before actually tasting it. I always encourage taking a sip of fresh brewed black coffee, then adding extras if wanted. I’ll never forget the woman at the farmers market who took this suggestion, and after tasting asked me to fill the cup to the brim. She spent 20 minutes at a nearby table with that cup, and the look of enjoyment on her face was a huge reward.”
For the café location, where to buy, farmers market locations and more, visit hiddenfortresscoffee.com.