The Royal Standard

Royal Cup’s H.C. Valentine Coffee Company is setting a new standard.

By Joe O’Donnell

Photography by Beau Gustafson

Real excellence lies in doing the ordinary extraordinarily well. That is a paraphrase of something that Booker T. Washington once said about the nature of achievement.

In one sense there is nothing more ordinary than a cup of coffee. H.C. Valentine Coffee Company, a specialty coffee offshoot of Birmingham’s Royal Cup Coffee, has taken that notion and infused it with a sense of purpose and craft and created a line of coffee that is anything but ordinary.

Royal Cup has a proud tradition in Birmingham and a glowing reputation nationwide as one of America’s premier coffee roasting companies. Over the past 100 years, the privately held, family-owned Royal Cup has grown from its small, hometown roots to become a major importer, roaster and distributor of premium coffees and teas. Serving customers in the food service, office and specialty coffee markets, Royal Cup now reaches markets throughout the United States, into Mexico and the Caribbean.

Royal Cup roasts about 45 million pounds of coffee beans each year and also serves customers with tea products and other specialty beverages. The company is a major vendor in the North American hotel and resort industry, as well as the restaurant trade and office markets here in the Southeast. Tracing its roots back to 1896 when Henry Batterton opened a coffee company in the young city of Birmingham, Royal Cup was renamed in 1950 when current CEO Hatton Smith’s father, William E. Smith, bought the company out of bankruptcy.

Growth has been explosive in the decades since with Royal Cup becoming one of the nation’s leading roasters. One of the trends moving across the coffee industry landscape in recent years has been a movement toward small, artisanal coffee roasted for specialty markets. Often that type of roasting was undertaken by small companies. Royal Cup created a new company, H.C. Valentine Coffee Company, that as a micro-roaster is “committed to creating the best tasting artisanal, small-batch roasted coffee in America,” according to David T. Strahl, president of H.C. Valentine.

The founders of H.C. Valentine wanted to develop a company that was founded on a passion for artisanal craftsmanship and superior quality. Therefore the coffee that is produced by H.C. Valentine uses only the highest quality Arabica beans and is hand-roasted in small batches by master roaster, Stacy Hawkins, a 13-year veteran of the craft. The Arabica coffee produced from four continents in the coffee-growing belt is 100 percent organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified and comprised of Fair Trade blends and single origin varietals.

The combination of creating an artisan coffee company within the overall organization of a major U.S. coffee roaster like Royal Cup lends a scale and solidity to the H.C. Valentine operation that is difficult for small, independent craft roasters to match, Strahl says. Today you can taste H.C. Valentine not only at fine Birmingham restaurants like Highlands and Hot and Hot, but high-end restaurants such as Charleston Grill  in Charleston, Cotton Row in Huntsville and Morgan’s in the Desert in Palm Springs, California. The coffee is also served in major resorts and hotels, such as Sea Island, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills and Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

The origins of H.C. Valentine reach back into the history of Royal Cup’s founders. H.C. Valentine was the grandfather of current Royal Cup CEO and Chairman Hatton and Bill Smith. A furniture maker who always believed in “going beyond” to achieve excellence, his name and legacy live on in the new artisan coffee roasting enterprise of Royal Cup. “The H.C. Valentine commitment is to create the highest quality coffee anywhere. It’s the way our grandfather made furniture: with care, with passion, one piece at a time. This is the promise of H.C. Valentine Coffee Company,” the Smith brothers say.

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2 Responses to “The Royal Standard”

  1. Linda Starks says:

    I purchased a 2 lb bag of your African Savanna roast when I was on vacation in SC and I am just about out. How can I order more of this blend or where can I find it? I live in Indiana and work in Illinois do you have any location where I can find this blend or can I have it shipped to me?

    Thank you,

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