“All I had to do really was call somebody,” says John Matzek matter-of-factly, as if it makes perfect sense for a customer at a coffee shop to get its phone and Internet service hooked up a couple months after it has opened. Matzek lives near the original location of Savaya Coffee Market in the Williams Centre and has been “religiously going there” since it opened in 2009. He’s one of a big group of folks that Savaya owner Burc Maruflu calls the “original Savayans,” a tight-knit, rag-tag bunch—among others there’s a firefighter, a musician, a technical sergeant in the Air Force, and even a rabbi—who Maruflu credits with making Savaya possible. “It was kind of open-source. Everybody came and contributed in their own way,” he says.
Since then, Savaya has expanded to employ about 30 people, serving organic, single-origin coffee from around the world at four locations in Tucson. Savaya works with a handful of local wholesale accounts and offers monthly classes on topics like brewing methods and tasting. Matzek says that one of the things that keeps him coming back to Savaya, besides the coffee, is that they’ve “grown while still keeping their philosophy and all their values.”
Maruflu—who came to Tucson from his native Turkey more than 10 years ago for his wife’s work—admits that Savaya’s origins were unusual. At first, “there was not a cup of coffee sold in the store,” he says. “There was no seating in the store … You could only talk to me, but you had to stand up.” There were no set hours: sometimes the doors would stay locked for months at a time or for a few minutes when Maruflu had to go pick up his kids from school. The space was lined with burlap bags and barrels of coffee. There was no register, just a disheveled cash drawer.
Savaya’s Williams Centre location started as a place for Maruflu to put his roaster. He didn’t want to put it in his garage, he explains. “I designed the store like a classroom and it was a place where I could roast the coffee and teach people about coffee and share cups of coffee with people so that I could make friends. It was a shop that only sold coffee beans … but coffee beans from different places around the world.” Before opening Savaya and continuing through the early days of the business, he taught entrepreneurship classes in Turkey, traveling back and forth from Istanbul to Tucson.
Starting Savaya feels like both a practical and inevitable move for Maruflu. “Coffee is very important to me,” he says, “and what kind of coffee I drink is very important to me. I couldn’t find the coffee that I am comfortable with drinking in Tucson. So … I had to get a roaster.” He wanted coffee done right, so he did it himself. However, his connection to coffee goes far beyond being a connoisseur. Maruflu traces the history of coffee preparation in his family back for centuries. He credits his grandmother Neriman with teaching him to roast and prepare coffee with precision and care.
“She was roasting the coffee over wood in a chamber. At the top level, she had a layer of sand and she was brewing the coffee over sand, so it was getting the heat from roasting below,” says Maruflu. “She was very different than anybody else because she really brewed the coffee to taste, whereas everybody was just turning the sage-colored coffee beans to brown, sometimes burning them.” Neriman’s expert hand garnered significant attention. As Maruflu tells it, “She was a famous person for her coffee serving skills.”
Neriman died in 2006 at the age of 92 and her tombstone reads: “The girl who served Atatürk’s favorite coffee.” Maruflu compares Atatürk to George Washington; because of Neriman’s reputation, she was asked to serve coffee as part of a welcoming ceremony when “the father of the modern Turkish republic” visited her hometown of Izmir. He proclaimed it the best coffee that he’d ever had. “Years later, when he was visiting Izmir again, … he specifically asked for my grandmother,” says Maruflu. At that time Atatürk gave her the title of “the girl who served Atatürk’s favorite coffee.”
Maruflu learned roasting, brewing, and tasting from his grandmother and although he’s clearly serious about quality coffee, Savaya doesn’t take coffee too seriously. John Sims, a fire department captain who moonlighted as a volunteer roaster and teacher in the early days of Savaya, says, “It was a playground. We were going to get a deep fryer and deep fry coffee beans.”
Sims describes an environment of collaboration and play. “You couldn’t tell who was an employee or customer because we were all coming up with ideas … teaching back and forth,” he says. They were constantly experimenting—“hot and cold, slow and fast, every single thing that you can think about coffee”—a process Maruflu calls “a rich experience.”
As Savaya has grown, talking and teaching about coffee has remained central. “It wasn’t like he had a good product and was going to keep it a secret,” says David Ortiz, an Air Force technical sergeant with a passion for coffee. Ortiz helped out Maruflu and early baristas Jeremy Cooper and Leah Cento free of charge. Ortiz recalls customers coming in to waste time while they were waiting at the cell phone store next door. They would end up leaving with two pounds of coffee and a French press, remembers Ortiz, “and the knowledge of how to make a great cup of coffee.” Maruflu says, “I constantly teach about coffee.”
Although Maruflu’s influence is clear in all aspects of Savaya, particularly the focus on education, he’s quick to step out of the limelight. “If you ask me who I am or what I do at Savaya, I am the coffee buyer,” he says. However, with the high standards for sourcing that he maintains, being Savaya’s coffee buyer is no small feat. “Organic coffee is the only way for me,” says Maruflu. In addition to being organic, all of Savaya’s coffees are also single origin, meaning the beans come from a specific geographic region to preserve their terroir. According to Maruflu, Savaya was “one of the pioneers of single origin coffees.”
He travels to and stays at the farms during their harvest seasons, tasting the coffees at their origins. “I buy coffee according to its taste,” says Maruflu. “I have to find that unique taste. Unique means the coffee has to be representative of its region, but also coffee that will really have an impact on my palate.” Because Maruflu has connections to every one of the 50 or so organic coffee growing countries in the world, coffees from all over the globe rotate through Savaya’s menu based on seasonality and availability.
When asked to pick a favorite, he responds, “The best coffee is the one that you like.” It only makes sense, he says. “We all like different vegetables and fruits, and coffees are just like that.” When pressed, he says, “I like Brazilian a lot because of its caramely, honey, chewy taste. I taste some marzipan type of flavors in this coffee. So, that’s my favorite.” He favors different coffees for different brewing methods—Mexican and Peruvian for cold brew, Ethiopian for Turkish or Greek-style coffee, and Brazilian for espresso.
“We are changing all the time and pretty fast too,” says Maruflu on Savaya’s rapid growth in the past year or so. He has plans to add a fifth and sixth location in 2016 to the roster of stores at the Williams Centre, La Encantada, Dove Mountain, and Oro Valley. Although now customers can buy a cup of coffee in Savaya stores in addition to the beans, there’s still just one size of cup and a roaster in every store, as there has been since the beginning.
Jason Morris has been a customer at the Williams Centre location since it opened. “It’s more than coffee. It has sort of become a lot of people’s living room,” says Morris, who is the first to admit he didn’t even like coffee before he set foot in Savaya. Savaya was one of the first places he and his wife took their infant daughter outside of their home after she was born. “I keep my own cup there,” says Morris. “A lot of us keep our own cups there.”
Savaya Coffee Williams Center. 5350 E. Broadway Blvd. 520.747.3200. SavayaCoffee.com
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Modern Farmer and Punch. She’s the author of Beyond Canning: New Techniques, Ingredients, and Flavors to Preserve, Pickle, and Ferment Like Never Before.