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Wake Up And Smell The Wilson

Wake Up And Smell The Wilson
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Wilson Coffee has ruined us. Game over. We’re done.

Time was, we’d happily guzzle anything from thin, quicky-mart joe to a murky, corporate-espresso pull. As long as we hit that caffeine quota, who were we to complain? Leave it to a longtime Costa Mesan to politely – but soundly – prove the error of our tasteless ways with the most delicious, fresh-roasted elixir to ever grace mug or mouth.

The man responsible for our brewing ruination is none other than one Jim Schwartz – Eastside Costa Mesan and owner of Wilson Coffee – quietly concocting the most unbelievable beans over on Costa Mesa’s Westside.

Wilson has all the depth-of-flavor you want from a nice, organic coffee – with none of the acidity, bitterness or burnt-notes we’ve (unfortunately) come to expect. Adding sugar or milk almost feels like a sacrilege; the rich bouquet invites you to drink it black.

Hard To Find But Worth The Search: Wilson Coffee At 1651 Placentia Avenue, Suite L, in Westside Costa Mesa

photo: b. young forever photography

100% Organic Wilson Coffee
Levi Tovar Roasting Coffee at Wilson Coffee in Costa Mesa, California

The story of Wilson Coffee Roasting goes back over 30 years, starting way back in 1984 on nearby Newport Peninsula. That is where Schwartz’s Aunt Patti began operating as Alta Coffee Roasting (and later, partnered with Tony Wilson to open Alta Coffee Shop which still exists today).

“Aunt Patti named the thing after my grandma, Alta,” said Schwartz. “They started roasting down in Newport in the mid-80s and eventually it became a coffee shop. A decade later, they sold the shop, moved the roaster up here to Costa Mesa and became ‘Wilson Coffee’. But they kept supplying Alta Coffee’s beans; actually, we still do.

“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been drinking good coffee. I spent part of my 20s working here and Tony Wilson mentored me, taught me everything I know about roasting. But I was heavy into music back then, being out late. I was actually a terrible employee. I left for New York for a while and went through the ringer out there. After five years, I came back different. I was hardworking and ready for responsibility.

“So when Tony decided to sell Wilson Coffee – and I asked if I could buy the company – I really had to convince him I was responsible now; that I’d grown up and could take it on.”

Bags of freshly roasted whole bean coffee, and bottles of cold-brew coffee, at Wilson Coffee in Costa Mesa, California.

Clearly Schwartz was ready to step up and step in, because these days Wilson Coffee is busy serving beans two ways: by the bag to customers and by bulk to local establishments.

“Like I said, we’re in Alta Coffee,” said Schwartz. “But you can also find us in places like Grower’s Ranch on 20th Street and at the Orange Inn in Laguna Beach.”

So what is Schwartz’s secret to staying a local favorite for so many years?

“Freshness,” he said. “So much of the coffee people drink these days has already gone bad by the time they brew it. Everything we do here is super fresh; at the very most, two days old. Most times you’re going to walk out of here with a warm bag of beans straight from the roaster.

“Obviously a great cup of coffee also needs to start with a good quality bean. We work with a team that does cuppings every day and they’re really on top of it. They source the beans and I mess around with them a bit, come up with the roast I think best compliments each variety.

“Our actual roaster also sets us apart; we use a Sivetz-style, fluid bed roaster. It blows hot air at a high velocity through the beans so you end up with a really clean roast.”

Red coffee-bean grinder at Wilson Coffee in Westside Costa Mesa, California.
Owner of Wilson Coffee Roasting, Jim Schwartz, in Costa Mesa, California
Bags of freshly-roasted, whole bean coffee at Wilson Coffee in Costa Mesa, California.

Piping Hot: Schwartz Serves Up Beans So Fresh They’re Still Warm From The Roaster

photo: b. young forever photography

So if Costa Mesans new to Wilson Coffee want to give it a try, what does Schwartz recommend?

“Our Bali has been a long-standing favorite of mine,” said Schwartz. “If you like darker roasts, you’ll like it. I drink it a lot. But then the other day I had our Columbian for the first time in a while and was like, ‘Oh damn, this is good!’ So now it goes between that and the Bali. But really, it changes everyday. I’m lucky to have so many choices.”

If you’re going to swing by in person, make sure you go before 1pm. They’re usually out on deliveries most afternoons. Also, the selection and availability of the beans are always changing at Wilson Coffee – so be ready to try some new varieties or call ahead to find out what’s in stock.

And if you’re feeling adventurous – or especially parched on a hot, summer day – give a bottle of the Wilson Coffee Cold Brew a try.

“In Costa Mesa, you can find our cold brew at Fermentation Farm and The Water Brewery,” said Schwartz. “There’s some places in Santa Ana, too.”

Jim Schwartz and his adorable son, Cassius, at Wilson Coffee in Costa Mesa, California

One lucky kid: Schwartz grew up drinking excellent coffee, and we’re guessing his son, Cassius, will too!

photo: b. young forever photography

Organic coffee beans at Wilson Coffee in Westside Costa Mesa, California.

“It was so fun growing up here,” recalled Schwartz. “There used to be all these boatyards on the Westside. My uncle had a boat on the hill around the corner, with a view of the ocean. Beautiful location, right? He used to have this piece-of-crap boat there and we would fiddle on it. That’s the kind of stuff I love. But that boatyard is gone, now; it’s Coastline Community College.

“Honestly, I’m not super stoked that the Westside is changing; but I guess boatyards with an ocean view weren’t going to last forever. Who am I to say what’s best for the future of people? I just have a lot of memories from when it was different. I personally like the funkiness. So even as it changes, I say, ‘Just keep it funky.’ Keep Costa Mesa cool.”

Schwartz is definitely doing his part to “keep it funky.” His local band, Kandi Jones, makes the rounds, regularly, at the Wayfarer and other local spots.

“There’s a pretty fun music community in Costa Mesa,” said Schwartz. “That’s cool about the city. It adds to the character of the place.”

So on that note, we’ll leave you with an outro of Jim Schwartz and his band, Kandi Jones, adding character live at the Wayfarer. Rock on, Costa Mesa. ♥

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support I Heart Costa Mesa, here is our Patreon.

About The Author

The Mesa Maven

The Mesa Maven is a writer, entrepreneur, community organizer and - most importantly - Costa Mesa Superfan!!! She's simply mad for this Mesa On The Coast and all the creative, independent, amazing, everyday things happening in our sunny backyard. The Maven lives with her husband, two kids and guinea pig...in Costa Mesa, of course!

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