Ryan Brown

Entrepreneur, Coffee Buyer

San Francisco

As the director of coffee and the green buyer at Tonx.org, a coffee sourcing, roasting and subscription service for home buyers, Ryan Brown travels the world tasting coffee. He started in 2005 at San Francisco’s Ritual Roasters where he built the coffee-buying and roasting program, and introduced San Fran to the light roast concept. Three years later, Brown became one of the first certified U.S. Q graders, cuppers accredited by the Coffee Quality Institute to identify specialty coffee. After time in Portland, Oregon, at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Brown went to Bogota, Colombia, to learn the supply side of the industry — he built Virmax Coffee’s Central America sourcing program. He continues sourcing coffee for Tonx, seeing it as vital to establishing price sustainability by selling directly to the coffee drinker.

  • On April 8, 2013
    Jordan Lawson is now following Ryan Brown
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    Jennifer Kester is now following Ryan Brown
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    Rebecca Reynolds is now following Ryan Brown
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    Tom Flournoy is now following Ryan Brown
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    Andi Berens is now following Ryan Brown
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What are the best bars in San Francisco?

    There’s a restaurant in SoMa, Bar Agricole, that has a really good bar. I think that Alembic in Haight has made me some really awesome cocktails. Those are the two spots that I’ve been to lately that I can recommend.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What are the best restaurants in San Francisco?

    I really like the Delfina and Locanda family of restaurants — there’s the original restaurant on 18th and Guerrero. It’s also put a pizzeria next to that and then another one in Fillmore. Two or three years ago, it also opened Locanda on Valencia Street. I really like those restaurants — all various Italian. I think Locanda is meant to be Roman style.

    Probably my favorite restaurant in this city is a German place called Suppenküche. I really like it because when I take people there, they think it must be three or four years old, but it’s actually 20 years old. I feel like there’s a dearth of restaurants that are old but still seem refreshed and new, and are constantly crowded. I really like everything that it has on the menu. It rotates beers and stuff like that — stuff that it was doing before it was necessity or standard.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What are the best coffee shops in San Francisco?

    I really like Ritual Coffee Roasters. It has a container that’s mere blocks from my apartment, and it’s extremely good quality. I worked for Ritual Coffee Roasters for a long time and kind of built its buying program, but I also truly think it’s doing an awesome job with coffee.

    What’s great about San Francisco is that there’s three, I think, exceptional coffee roasters. Those are: Ritual Coffee Roasters, Sightglass Coffee and Fourbarrel Coffee. Those, to me, are kind of like the top-tier roasters in the nation, and I have the benefit of having all three of them right here. They all roast in a very light manner that coffee buyers prefer because we’re used to tasting coffee like that all the time.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What are the best neighborhoods in San Francisco?

    I've lived in San Francisco a couple of different times and moved around a bit. I'm very happy with what's happening in the Intermission, or the southeast corner of Hayes Valley, as it's known. Lots of walking traffic, cool container pop-ups from the Proxy project, cafés, a great wine shop and even a travel supply shop.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    How does Ryan Brown stay ahead of his competition?

    What we’re offering is unique. The sort of status quo in coffee is a roaster, and we believe that there is a large class of customers who are unaddressed. Basically, we feel that there is a very high-interest class customer in coffee who is fortunate enough to be extremely overserved by a growing number of options. Then we also feel that there’s this extremely low-interest class that just thinks of coffee as nothing more than the most disgusting possible caffeine boost; we think that that represents a very small group of people in the world. But there’s this large number of people who take coffee and don’t necessarily want the worst but don’t necessarily want to deal with the pretention of the very top.

    The Tonx team — myself, Tony Konecny and Nik Bauman — all come from that top crest. We feel like there are a lot of people who want very good coffee and that they should be able to have that in their home and not have to go deal with some of the café situations.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    How has social media changed Ryan Brown’s business strategy?

    Social media has changed this whole thing. I can direct message with coffee producers — from Indonesia to East Africa to Latin America. Something that I’ve been doing on a daily basis is uploading a photo to Instagram a day, at least. I’m kind of showing people the people, the processes, the things involved in us finding our coffees. People seem to get pretty excited about that.

    Certain things are more explanative — for example, I uploaded a photo that was the cherry pickings in Ethiopia. They were not the most beautiful cherries: There are some that are slightly less ripe, some that are more ripe and some that clearly have splits in the skin. But it’s okay because it’s the first picking of the season. Usually, you do that and the subsequent pickings will be much cleaner and we’ll have those lower qualities out of the way — it’s just part of the process that surprisingly happens everywhere.

    I would definitely say social media is a big thing right now and especially relevant to what I do.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What is Ryan Brown’s favorite coffee region?

    I love Central America for what we would call the cleanliness or transparency of those coffees. They’re not necessarily the most exciting, but what they offer is just stability, balance and exquisiteness. They’ll have a little bit a spice, some will have a little bit of citrus and a little bit of chocolate. It’s not extreme in one way. 

    Then East Africa will have those coffees that will just be intensely fruited or just have this incredibly juicy acidity.

    But in South America — particularly Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador — you’ll get coffees that are between, that are maybe perhaps the most intensely sweet. They are just simply sweet sugars like sugar cane and cherry coffees.

    So to me, I see it as kind of different paints in a palette or something like that.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What’s the most difficult part of Ryan Brown’s job?

    When something doesn’t taste good and you’re with the coffee farmer. But I’ve honestly found that it happens once or twice. It doesn’t usually happen after years of it. And even when it does happen after years of it, you’ve established that you’re serious and that you’re ready to take and pay handsomely for the really good coffee. When you look at them and you’re like, “You know, this is not working,” they respect it. The most awkward moment is when you have to tell someone that that lot is not good. Fortunately, that’s one of maybe dozens of coffees. I haven’t had too many situations where tables and tables of different samples are all bad.
  • On April 8, 2013
    Ryan Brown answered the question: Ryan Brown

    What is Ryan Brown working on in 2013?

    This is the first full year that I will be with Tonx sourcing coffee — I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve been doing this for years. I just got back from our first trip to Central America. I went to Kenya for the first time for Tonx. I’ll be going back to Central America. At this point, fortunately, I know a lot of the high-quality producers and suppliers throughout the world. But this is all new for Tonx, and I’m kind of setting it up. It’s exciting to set it up from scratch.