States Coffee & Mercantile

08/12/2015

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Resting high atop a custom built shelf at the center of States Coffee & Mercantile is a framed piece of art bestowing the advice, “work hard and be nice to people.” If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Keith Gehrke, the owner of States, you would understand how accurately this simple screen-printed pronouncement summarizes him and all of his many endeavors.

While Gehrke’s resume in coffee is quite long, he is probably best known for his company Able Brewing. Able, just one of several coffee brands founded by Gehrke, is responsible for creating the reusable Kone and Disk filters that offer a paperless method of brewing pour-over and Aeropress coffee, along with other original accessories. Since leaving the Pacific Northwest and returning home to the East Bay a couple years ago, Gehrke has worked even harder by consulting alongside his personal projects. Last year he helped set-up a roasting program for the former Local 123 cafe (now owned by Highwire Coffee) and then proceeded to launch his own mail order coffee subscription called Pony Brand Coffee, while the plans for States Coffee took shape.

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The former post office in downtown Martinez, California had been undergoing renovation for the past 5-years before it was selected by Gehrke to become home to this latest project. The history of the space is unique enough on its own, but it also symbolizes one of the virtues reinforced by many of Gehrke’s business decisions—that everything he sells is made in the U.S.A.

The space, once used to connect the residents of this East Bay town through its postal service, has been reborn as a community hub where the neighbors, young and old, were stopping by to congratulate Gehrke on his first week of business. As with everything Gehrke creates, he has a way of making them approachable. From the flavor profile of the States-branded coffee, roasted exclusively for the shop by Gehrke, to the minimal aesthetic one might find on the pages of Kinfolk magazine. Within the space, a balance is maintained that adds warmth to simplicity and offers quality without pretension. While a place like this would thrive in Portland or Brooklyn, it has been created with such care that a smaller town like Martinez will surely embrace this new addition to the town with just as much enthusiasm.

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The shelving, coffee bar, and redwood furniture was custom made by a James Mackessy in Boulder Creek, outside of Santa Cruz, while the round standing-height table was designed and built by Sean Woolsey in Costa Mesa—insuring most of the features of space were built in California. The coffee bar itself is full of custom details to maximize its function and even doubles as a fully mobile cart that can be moved from its position at the front of the space and continue functioning with its onboard water tanks.

At the center of the space, stacked to the ceiling on custom shelving, is a curated collection of products covering a range needs and wants and all of them made in the United States. You’ll find everything on the wall from skateboards, soaps, flasks, blankets and candles to a selection of ceramic cups and coffee brewing gear. The mercantile side of States offers Gehrke a way to supplement the income from a coffee shop that will never be as high volume as one in a major city. The customers of States Coffee also have a great place to come and buy American-made housewares and unique hand-crafted gifts.

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There are very few places I visit where I immediately want it to be my local shop, but States Coffee definitely makes that list. This spot represents an assemblage of Gehrke’s passions, values and work ethic all in one place, with additional highlights of inspiration picked-up elsewhere. Before I left, Gehrke offered me one of their non-caffeinated drinks, a bottle of house-made fizzy hibiscus tea. It was absolutely delicious and unashamedly inspired by the fizzy hoppy tea served at G&B Coffee in L.A.

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After handing me a freshly opened bottle of the bright red concoction, Gehrke explained how the best coffee experience he had during a recent trip to Los Angeles. was that glass of tea and it had lingered on his mind ever since. He wanted to create something similar, along with his other house-made syrups, that would offer a non-caffeinated alternative showcasing the same attention to flavor and quality as the coffee. The whole store is a showcase of quality with an atmosphere of classic American hospitality. Not only has Gehrke succeeded in the work he set out to do, but he was incredibly nice along the way.

States Coffee & Mercantile
609 Ward St
Martinez, CA 94553

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