Bella Rosa Coffee Company: Building Santa Rosa’s Perfect Cuppa Joe

Bella Rosa Coffee Company in Santa Rosa is an artisan roaster with big plans for Sonoma County -- and the world.

Jon Bixler, Cynthia Buck, GIacomo Bixler and David Greenfield of Bella Rosa coffee company (Christopher Chung/PD)

Four years ago, Jon Bixler and Cynthia Buck didn’t know a thing about coffee, but they did know David Greenfield. A bear of a guy with a shaggy gray goatee, piercing hazel eyes and a penchant for welding together brilliant contraptions for roasting coffee, Greenfield had a million-dollar idea without a home.

David Greenfield of Bella Rosa Coffee Company. (heather irwin)
David Greenfield of Bella Rosa Coffee Company. (heather irwin)

With more than 30 years in the java business, this quirky Coffee Whisperer had a plan to revolutionize industrial roasting. Well, not exactly a plan, which is where Bixler and Buck came in, with a solid business model and entrepreneurial experience. The three joined forces in 2012, and Santa Rosa’s Bella Rosa Coffee Company was born. Specializing in organic, fair-trade and shade-grown coffee, the trio are forging a new path to your cuppa joe, one bean at a time.

“We’re doing this from scratch and evolving,” said Bixler.

After three years of explosive growth, the artisan coffee company is on track this year to roast 200,000 pounds of coffee. By comparison, Starbucks will roast an estimated 400 million pounds, while tiny micro-roasting businesses may do as little as 10,000-30,000 pounds per year. Bixler said they have more than 120 accounts and growing in Sonoma County, with restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and cafés.

“There’s a renaissance in artisan roasting,” said Bixler, sipping a latte in the small café Bella Rosa operates in front of its manufacturing area. “We’re seeing in coffee what has happened to craft beer in the last few years.”

But it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. The trio is admittedly a bit different than the usual coffee magnates, forging a very personal path for the company. “We are unabashedly who we are,” said Bixler, who rarely minces words. “We want to have fun, and we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Bella Rosa Coffee Company Cafe in Santa Rosa, California (Heather Irwin)
Bella Rosa Coffee Company Cafe in Santa Rosa, California (Heather Irwin)

With mismatched chairs and hand-drawn signs strewn about (including one over the recycling bin that touts itself as “The Most Ineffective Sign in the World”), it’s not a place for plugging into your Wi-Fi and tuning out the world. Instead, the Bella Rosa crew, who purposely don’t offer Wi-Fi, encourage having an actual conversation over your cup. Adding to the homey atmosphere, the son of Bixler and Buck, Giacomo, colors and makes Play-Dough shapes in the corner while an oven full of bacon perfumes the café .

It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay,” said Bixler.

Giacomo in the Bella Rosa Coffee Company Cafe (Heather Irwin)
Giacomo in the Bella Rosa Coffee Company Cafe (Heather Irwin)

The coffee also reflects their unique perspective. In a world where bitter, acidic coffees are often the norm, Bella Rosa uses a unique hot air roasting method, rather than conventional metal plates, that creates a balanced blend they call “Sweet Medium.” Think air-popped popcorn versus popping it in a pan.

“We believe the sweet spot is right between dark, smoky coffees and light, acidic coffees,” said Bixler.

They also won’t give you the stink eye if you choose to personalize your order with creamer, Splenda, agave, sugar or CoffeeMate.

Jon Bixler of Bella Rosa Coffee Company in Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)
Jon Bixler of Bella Rosa Coffee Company in Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)

“I want people to put their two hands around a mug and say, ‘Ahhhhhhh, coffee’,” he adds, “not, ‘That tastes like lemon grass and burdock root’.” But selling their coffee around the globe isn’t the goal. Bixler said his primary focus is Sonoma County. “I don’t want to ship coffee to Florida,” he said, referring to buyers who would like to wholesale his product. “It isn’t eco-friendly or supportive of their local businesses.”

Bella Rosa lavender white chocolate mocha at the cafe in Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)
Bella Rosa lavender white chocolate mocha at the cafe in Santa Rosa (Heather Irwin)

The next step for the business is to build and license versions of their roaster, which has a tiny footprint, a state-of-the-art-computer and can be adjusted to specific parameters (and checked for consistency) via an internal computer network. The new energy-efficient models are in prototype and will be able to roast 60 pounds of coffee in four minutes.

“Artisan production doesn’t have to stop at larger production,” he said. The new roasting technology will ensure a consistent product, consistent temperatures and consistent quality no matter what the amount produced, he said. It’s an ambitious plan, but one Bixler said his team is ready for.

“Either it will work or it won’t, and that’s fine as long as it’s on our own terms,” he said.

Bella Rosa Coffee Company, 5491 Skylane Blvd, Santa Rosa, 542-6220. Hours are 7 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays. Coffees also are available online in 10-ounce cans; 1-, 2- and 5-pound bags.

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14 thoughts on “Bella Rosa Coffee Company: Building Santa Rosa’s Perfect Cuppa Joe

  1. Hate to rain on this feel good parade but it appears that what we have here is an example of something being excessively overrated. As anyone knows, who has experience within the coffee world “Fair-trade” is not fair trade when it comes to the compensation actually paid to the farmers who grow coffee. Usually a very large privately owned corporation using the nomenclature “Coop” purchases green coffee for less than a $1.00 a pound from small struggling farmers and then re-sells it as a brand elevator (fair-trade) to companies like Bella Rosa who use it as a marketing gimmick. What Bella Rosa needs to consider is “Direct Trade” green coffee where the money ends up in the hands of those who grow it. In the article the word “artisan” was used. Wow, whats artisan about the “white chocolate” used in their mocha. Has anyone done their homework at Bella Rosa on what unhealthy chemical compounds go into manufacturing white chocolate? I will stick with the likes of Brew, Acre and Blue Bottle when I need a great authentic coffee experience. I could go on but its just another company over-roasting coffee and selling it as special……

  2. I haven’t tried the Bella Rosa coffee, but I know I hate all these acidic bitter coffees you get in most places. Based on this article, I will definitely give it a try. I’m actually writing to commend Heather Irwin for discovering so many new places and trends in our community. I think Heather is doing a great job for Bite Club!

      1. Thanks for the input, John! Bitter coffee is an interesting problem. A study released by Dr. Shibamoto at the UC Davis coffee laboratory suggests that Chlorogenic Acid (in various manifestations) are the culprit. We had our blends tested and found they are magnitudes lower in Chlorogenic Acids. In addition to eliminating the “bitter” flavor, coffees lower in Chlorogenic Acids tend to be easier on your digestive system. We have had hundreds of customers report back that our coffee does not give them heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, etc. We obviously can’t make health claims that haven’t been thoroughly vetted, but I would encourage you to see the study. Very interesting read.

    1. Thanks Anthony. It’s nice to get a compliment. I love this community and I’m a tireless cheerleader for the local entrepreneurs that are making Sonoma County the best food community in the world IMHO.

    2. Bella Rosa is the only coffee I have found that literally does not turn my stomach. I don’t know what the chemical voodoo is that makes this possible, but I am so grateful to be able to enjoy a morning cup of java and not burn a hole in my stomach. The only other place this has been possible is Italy . . . . Much cheaper to go to Oliver’s or the Farmer’s Market!

      1. Hah. No voo-doo, Nancie. It’s our proprietary roasting process. I won’t bore you with the tech, but suffice to say this is about the hundredth time I’ve heard this feedback. Thank you for he lovely comments.

  3. Coffee is spectacular (of course) and the cafe also has great sandwiches. I strongly recommend the turkey, havarti and bacon on a dutch crunch roll.

  4. LOVE their coffee. I just discovered it a few weeks ago while having breakfast at a restaurant in Healdsburg. I tried the Morning Star and I am now drinking the Italian Expresso. Both are delicious.

  5. Heather, that is so well-written! I enjoyed every sentence and the conversational way you put things. It really captured a sense of the “quirkiness” of the owners and their philosophy without making them seem “over-the-top.” Rather, they come off as dedicated to their beliefs and determined to apply those beliefs to their craft. I must try a cuppa Joe there!

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