Room for Cream – The Art of the Bean at Boulder Creek’s Goble Coffee Roasting

By Julie Horner

What better time to savor the divine than to head out on a gray mountain morning to Boulder Creek’s Goble Coffee Roasting outpost tucked neatly and oh-so-welcome inside Burger 9 across from Garrahan Park. I arrived in tandem with a couple of guys in a pickup stomping in from the damp for the daily grind. Americana and a drip. Another couple of guys arrived right on their heels, “Do you guys have Wi-Fi?” The woman manning the nozzles steamed and frothed, whirling among her cups while Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers danced on the flat-screen behind her. In short order everyone was settled, upper lips tipped with foam, tapping away on their handhelds and laptops, connected to the world.

Owners, Michael Goble and Kendra McQueen opened the outpost quietly several months ago. I noticed that buzz was building on the Nextdoor community website, so I asked to come out to sample a sip when they were ready.

Some might remember Michael as the ebullient barista at Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley. Musician friends and I had a regular Tuesday evening carpool over the hill for a gig and we’d meet at the Cat for a jolt. Mike artfully prepared our drinks, cheerfully exulting beans and grind.

Kendra remembers when the inkling occurred to start their own coffee roasting company. “I was in my third trimester and Mike said, ‘Let’s buy a roaster!’” When the opportunity opened up to share the space with the folks at Burger 9, they jumped on it. Kendra says she and Mike take turns running the shop and taking care of the kids, “It’s been great for our relationship and great for business, a way to find balance.”

Mainly it was an opportunity to be in control of their art. “The more you can make things by yourself, the better enjoyment-wise. It’s nice to have control of every little detail.”

They purchased the coffee cart from an old couple in Truckee, “totally mom and pop.” Now we’re The Coffee Lady and The Coffee Guy, just us two, and feeling very comfortable. The whole effort is as bootstrap as it gets – it’s all very organic – everything you see here is us.”

“We have so many ideas, we love the community. A lot of energy is going into that little cart, we don’t want to jump into anything and not finish it.”

Kendra and Mike make their own syrups, sauces, and flavorings from scratch. Mike is the master roaster. “Mike is the scientist in the family, he can tell you anything about coffee – he really gets into it.”

Mike knows what he’s doing and prioritized in the right places, like investing in a specific grinder. “That’s where it all starts, the grind. Mike’s dream is the beans – he wants you to ask him about the beans.” They buy the highest quality beans and roast them in incredibly small batches, hand processed from beginning to end. The drinks become an excellent way to “showcase the coffee.”

He points out that Santa Cruz has become known for its coffee, like its cannabis and craft beer. The concept of the “California coffee house” got its roots in the Bay Area from the folk music and politics of the 60s. “We live in an area where you have the time and resources to craft the product; the region really feeds on the slow foods movement. We get a lot of comparison to the wine industry with its appeal to the distinguishing pallet.”

“Once you elevate your taste for excellent coffee, the term ‘coffee snob’…it’s not a thing,” Mike says. “Anyone who drinks highly cared for coffee for a week will discover that it’s hard to go back to lesser quality.” GCR coffees are track-able and non-GMO. The coffee beans are selected from around the world, “down the mountain on a donkey to the docks, to the Port of Oakland and into your cup.”

When you bring beans home, “you don’t’ want to settle for off-the-shelf, for ‘dead coffee,’” once you realize what good coffee can do for you and how your body reacts to it. “My whole goal with this business, with this roasting: If you’re going to make coffee at home, why not make the best cup that you can.”

For folks on the go, Mike observes, “People are taking their time and being realistic about the time it takes to make the commitment to the commute. That’s what I love about living in the mountains. It’s a kind of meditation, we’re like-minded people. Commuters are obviously in a hurry, but a bad cup of coffee will ruin your day. Don’t settle. Let me bring you a pound – make the effort and it will change your day.”

Goble Coffee Roasting 15520 State Rte 9, Boulder Creek, CA 95006 (831) 205-9651
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(c) 2015 Julie Horner

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: On the Web:

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Living for Goosebumps – Justin Mayer at Bear Creek Recording Studio

By Julie Horner

The inspiration came while he was reading the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin at Felton’s White Raven, savoring the morning ritual with a cup of Larry’s Famous Chai. I got the invitation that day: Would I like to visit local recording engineer/producer, Justin Mayer, owner of legendary Bear Creek Recording Studio, for a tour and a chat? I thought I could find the time.

A quick drive from Boulder Creek via Jameson Creek Road, I found the red barn off a short gravel lane, tucked among the trees along a serene stretch of Empire Grade on the western ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was warmly hugged by an energetic guy wearing a ponytail and flip-flops and welcomed into the uncluttered quiet of the studio. I immediately felt like playing music.

I’ve known of the studio for years and the record label often associated with the recordings, Gourd Music. I’ve even played music with or just plain admired many of the local artists who have recorded at Bear Creek: Guitarist Bill Coulter, Barry and Shelley Phillips, Lee Ann Welch of the all-woman bluegrass outfit, Sidesaddle, piano player Paul Machlis, bagpiper David Brewer, eclectic composers Laurel Thomsen and Dan Frechette, to name just a few.

Justin has been engineering and producing fine recordings in and around the valley for over three decades. When he started recording, he was living in a rental cabin at a Christmas tree farm off Bear Creek Road in Boulder Creek. He bought some equipment to record his own music, then a friend asked to have his music recorded, too. He said, “I didn’t ask the landlord…I put a window between the two rooms and away I went.”

Not wanting to rent anymore, he bought the land in Bonny Doon about 20 years ago and designed and built a new studio. “I got some friends together and said, hey, let’s build this place, and went at it!”

On Justin’s Bear Creek Studios website, Rick Walker, former Arts Commissioner for the City of Santa Cruz wrote, “Bear Creek is in one of the most beautiful and serene locations one could imagine, nestled on a mountain top amidst the pines and redwoods and yet a scant 15-20 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz. To my knowledge it is also the only studio in the Monterey Bay area that was built from the ground up as a recording studio and as such, has beautiful natural acoustics in the main building that was specifically designed for acoustic recording.”

Sound isolation is built by design between three recording rooms, one big one and two smaller ones. Justin points out that different room sizes make certain sounds better. The control room where the music is digitally recorded and mixed contains a tidy central console featuring state-of-the-art equipment where Justin says he “controls the mix from day one, mixing as I go.”

He’s recorded everything from electric jazz to acoustic folk. I asked him his favorite genre. “I get into all of it…and I do like well-crafted songs. I’ve had a long relationship with acoustic instruments…also electric…as much of that as acoustic guitars and penny whistles.”

“I have 36 years of experience working with people doing their art, who push themselves to do well…I’m here to help them in a relaxed yet efficient atmosphere.” He likes to say that he creates “painless, awesome recordings.”

Justin works with seasoned professionals and people who have never recorded before, straddling the differences in experience by being a good listener. “I listen on all kinds of levels…who they are, what their vision is, how good a musician they are…the technical end.” He might say, “Hey your G-string is 3 cents sharp,” or “You’re in tune, on time, but I don’t believe you.” He likes to get inside the character of a song to support not only the individual playing but also to support the song itself.

I asked Justin where an artist might start to make a professional recording to sell or to use as a demo. He said, “Come in with your favorite tunes, what you’re best at to represent the whole sound…be as rehearsed as you can be.”

Some sessions are recorded old-school, live in their entirety, for a vintage sound. With other sessions, “You are crafting something and taking your time to do it. So you can go in and record a foundation, then build on top of that. You’re basically adding textures, like a painting, adding color to it…I love doing that.” You can add an instrument to embellish the emotion, “to push it over the top…make the emotion even more present…I live for goosebumps,” he says.

And there are techniques to account for mistakes…we’re human, there are going to be mistakes.” Maybe the band might have liked it to be better, he can work with that.

Justin maintains a steady recording schedule at Bear Creek but in his down time he enjoys reading biographies. He just finished one about Janis Joplin, which left him heartbroken, he said. He also spends time getting back to nature in Oregon (“I love Oregon, I’m such a hippie”); hiking the “worlds where nobody goes” in the Santa Cruz Mountains; or letting it all hang out at Harbin Hot Springs. “I’ll lay there in my tent and let the impulse to go to breakfast go…no cell phone, no laptop, I’m just here in my tent, the river’s right there…”

Justin is an electronic tinker, an inventor and song writer, and he plays the traditional music of Zimbabwe with Kuzanga Marimba of Santa Cruz. “What blows my mind about it is the polyrhthyms.” They have a CD called “Living Life, Free from Fear” and perform throughout Santa Cruz and beyond.

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(c) 2015 Julie Horner

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: On the Web:

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