North County Coffee: Manzanita Roasting

The Manzanita tree thrives on the western coast of North America. It grows from Vancouver, Canada all the way down to Southern California.

So when Sam and Wes Nawrocki decided to start the Manzanita Roasting Company, they chose this magical tree as their namesake. Sam, the self-proclaimed SoCal wine diva, is from San Diego and comes from a lineage of wine makers. Wes is a former chef and sommelier from Vancouver. The two met over their love of wine. Eventually Wes, who is also a coffee aficionado, introduced Sam to his other passion: the art of coffee. After traveling up and down the West Coast, on a mission to find the perfect cup of coffee, they decided to open their own roastery. Thus, the manzanita became the perfect emblem for their new venture together into the coffee roasting industry.


Manzanita Roasting Co. is located inside Bernardo Winery. In Rancho Bernardo. And yes, it’s a suburb in North County, San Diego. And yes, it is an unlikely choice for such an artisanal venture.

Sam’s family runs the 125 year old winery, and has been doing so for over 3 generations. The place is enchanting. Stepping onto the premises, I was instantly taken back to the late 1800s. Old clay cottages and original wine making equipment scatter along the the path which takes you throughout the winery. The history of the place is inescapable, and is a living place that the Rizzo family has thrived off of for generations. Thus, it became the perfect place for Sam and Wes to continue the family tradition and open their new business on the historical winery.

The roasting room is located in a small brick cottage located near the winery’s entrance. It’s one of the first things you see…and smell. From the outside you can hear the low rumbling of the giant roaster inside, seductively wafting the smoky perfume of coffee into your nose. Shiny and sleek, this thing is not only pretty to look at, it’s also one of the first environmentally friendly roasters in SoCal.

Traditional coffee roasting machines emit smoke which clouds the chamber and which affects the flavor profile of the coffee beans. The Loring roaster emits only hot air. Zero smoke, zero emissions. Not only is the machine energy efficient, the lack of smoke allows Wes to isolate the factors that go into a specific batch. Roasting beans is definitely a science. Just about anything can affect the taste. The temperature that the beans are roasted at, the length of time, the varying caramelization that’s achieved at each stage of roasting, the beans themselves, and where they come from–it all matters. A lot. He shows me his Macbook, where the screen displays a line graph and a chart with lots of numbers below it. He tells me that this is a graph that tells him “what’s going on inside the roaster, every 6 seconds.” Now that’s precision.


It is clear to see that for Wes, coffee is his passion. Using his sommelier skills, he is able to taste the varying degrees of flavor between each roast. His cupping station is lined with scribbled notes, vital in his process of tasting and roasting to determine which batch will make it to his customers.

Right now he’s roasting beans from El Salvador, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Brazil. All the beans are sourced directly from small farms who get a fair wage for their crops. Social responsibility is key here. Wes tells me that much of the coffee sourcing industry today is dominated by the wealthy coffee farmers who have formed cartels, leaving the poor famers forced to sell all their crops to them for barely anything. Companies like Thrive Farmers are working hard to provide farm to cup retail channels which will allow the farmers to earn “10x more than they would through unpredictable commodities markets.”


Manzanita’s signature blend is the El Gaucho—a blend that will make you feel like you’re wrapped in a “warm woolen poncho.” As a coffee drinker myself, it’s a blend that hits my tastebuds in all the right spots. It’s a darker roast, with notes of dark chocolate permeating the palate, followed by roasted bing cherries, hitting a high note of starfruit, and finally ends with a warm banana bread finish.

North County is an artisanal coffee desert, a land where there’s a Starbucks located in every strip mall. I ask him if the suburbs will be able to appreciate the artisanal craft that goes into Manzanita’s coffee. He replies confidently that it’s all about educating the consumer, and producing a consistently great cup of coffee every time that his customers can rely on.

Manzanita Coffee Company will soon be opening their brick and mortar location to the public. For more updates visit For any inquiries, please email Sam at

Category: San Diego


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