In Moksha's Mountain View office on Old Middlefield Way, canvas bags packed with coffee beans from around the world are piled against the walls. A towering industrial roaster rests in one corner and small silver bags sit nearby, waiting to be filled.
Started in 2004 by coffee lovers Rekha Shivapa and Vikram Shrivastava, Moksha is a customized roasting company that helps customers find the right bean and blend, and works to bring business to small-scale sustainable coffee growers.
The two founders met in 1994 when working at LSI Logic, a semiconductor company in Milpitas. Shrivastava, who describes himself as a "coffee fanatic," oversees the roasting and sourcing. Shivapa, who grew up on her family's coffee plantation in the Mysore District in Southern India, manages business development and customer relations. The name Moksha is a Sanskrit word, they said, and refers to a state of bliss or nirvana.
Since its inception, Moksha has supplied beans to companies like Google and chain stores including Whole Foods Market, but more recently, the focus has been on collaborating with local businesses. Today, establishments that buy from Moksha include Palo Alto's ZombieRunner, La Bodeguita del Medio, Ada's Cafe, Bistro Maxine, Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels and Esther's German Bakery in Los Altos.
Izzy's owner Israel Rind said he recently chose Moksha as a supplier because of its competitive pricing, custom blending and capacity to guide him through the nuances of different roasting profiles.
In Moksha's industrial roaster, coffee is roasted to order, Shrivastava explained. The beans are roasted in small batches of around 15 pounds and delivered within 48 hours, emphasizing quality over quantity, he said.
Buyers can either select a pre-designed roast, like Moksha's popular "Dancing Shiva Blend," or create a custom one. Shrivastava works closely with his customers to help them identify the profiles they want, whether it's bold and smooth with low acidity or a dark roast with high acidity.
"Everyone says Breakfast Blend. What is Breakfast Blend? It's different for everyone," Shivapa said.
The coffee beans are roasted in a drum using varying amounts of heat, which is what creates the different flavor profiles. A critical aspect of the process, Shrivastava explained, is stopping the roasting at the right moment during the caramelization of the sugars.
To maintain consistency and detailed profiling of the batches, the founders designed their own computer control system, which is hooked up to the roaster.
Outside of the roasting process, Moksha's attention to detail extends to its energy use and sourcing ethics. Over the last two years, the founders developed a roaster that minimizes the use of gas through the recirculation of hot air. This will reduce emissions by 90 percent, according to Shrivastava. The company also delivers 75 percent of its beans via electric or clean diesel cars.
Moksha collaborates directly with small coffee operations in Brazil, Columbia, Indonesia, Yemen, India, Ethiopia and Kenya to source its beans, saving growers money by providing a more direct connection with buyers. It also primarily sources from shade-grown coffee plantations in order to do its part to discourage deforestation, the owners said.
Shade is also a more relaxed growing environment and produces well-hydrated beans that are higher in sugar, Shrivastava said. Moksha aims to buy from "micro lots," where the beans are grown separately from the main crops and cultivated more carefully, resulting in higher quality beans that fetch higher prices.
Moksha also runs a "Vision Program" through which it identifies growers in need of financial support and offers premiums above the fair-trade guidance pricing.
"I always wanted to help and promote shade-grown coffee and the social cause of the coffee, (like) how the people are treated," Shivapa said.
Attentive from the beginning to the impact of Moksha's business, Shivapa continues to keep an eye out for ways that can make the company sustainable environmentally and socially, both locally and around the world.
Maev Lowe is an editorial intern with Palo Alto Weekly.
Moksha Coffee Roasting