10 Questions with OneNinetySeven

OneNinetySeven is a microroastery based on Oakland, one of a growing number of small coffee operations in the East Bay that have opened since I did the research for Left Coast Roast.

For now, founder Eric Thoreson  primarily sells his coffee by mail in the fiercely competitive Bay Area coffee market. But he hopes to eventually open a café when the right space presents itself.

Thoreson made minor headlines this past summer with Rogue Café, an unpermitted breakfast pop-up meant to showcase ONS’s coffees. Having worked in kitchens for most of his life, Thorenson put together a brunch menu and before long was taking reservations and serving open-air meals in an urban garden (chicken coop included) in North Oakland. After a piece about the popup ran in the Berkeleyside community newspaper and neighbors complained, Thoreson was issued a cease and desist order from the city’s zoning department.

Those who are interested and on the ground in the East Bay can find their beans at at the Alchemy Collective, a worker-owned café in Berkeley by the Ashby BART station (Thoreson is one of the founding members).

Details

Website: http://www.oneninetyseven.com/
Email (for ordering): info@oneninetyseven.com
Alchemy Collective: 3140 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley

10 Questions

How did you start roasting?

OneNinetySeven began as a tiny roasting operation in the kitchen of my apartment during the winter of 2011. We had been dreaming about opening a roastery for some time, and were inspired by other small start-ups that just went for it, like Sterling Coffee in Portland, OR. After a brief back and forth with Steve Ford over at Ritual Roasters, we decided to purchase a sample roaster and get our feet wet. The excitement of starting a business flourished, so we picked up a used Diedrich shop roaster and applied for a business license.

What’s the story behind the name OneNinetySeven?

I love how clean numbers are, the way they carry so much information that goes unnoticed. We narrowed it to numbers in generally accepted brewing temperature range of 195–205. Anything prime was in, because we’re geeks—that left us with 197 and 199. The coffee world has these obsessive, boisterous followers who engage in intense arguments concerning brewing parameters. In one argument I came across on a coffee blog, someone made the claim that 197 was the perfect extraction temperature, period. It didn’t matter what coffee was being used, or how it was being brewed. Just 197. Perfection. We are chasing perfection, but we don’t expect to ever get there.

 What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

We are inspired by discovery. We really had no idea what we were doing when we started roasting coffee, despite years of working in the industry. Becoming aware of how little we knew was inspiring, and filling in the cracks of our knowledge continues to inspire us.

How would you describe your roasting style?

I imagine most would describe our coffees as medium roast, but that isn’t specific enough. Each coffee we roast is different, and thus roasted differently. Some coffees are kept very light because otherwise they lose everything that makes them special, while other coffees need some extra heat to bring out the sweetness and body. We’re all over the roasting spectrum, and what holds true for all the coffees is that we don’t burn things. If there’s one flavor we don’t want in our coffee, it’s charcoal.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve roasted: Where did it come from? How did you roast it? What most excited you about it?

Picking favorites is always difficult. The aromatics and floral qualities of some high-end Yirgacheffes really blew us away last season, while the balanced fruit and sweetness of our Colombian offerings have been satisfying to drink morning after morning. Chocolate covered apricots? For breakfast? Yes please. If I had to pick one coffee from this year that really gave me pause, it would have to be our Kenyan from the Tegu factory. Kenyan coffees tend to be prized for their complexity, and the well-rounded presentation of coffee flavors they offer. This coffee, in particular, was like drinking sweet tropical fruit punch laced with rose petals and lilies. Even at $40 a pound, I wish we had bought more.

What’s your focus: single origins or blends?

The majority of our offerings are single origins, but this is more of a trend than anything else. Blended coffee can be amazing, and many times is better than a single strain from a single farm, however some very weighty people in the industry argue that blends are composed of lower grade coffees and prefer the traceability of knowing exactly what farms their coffees come from. They are both good in my book, and it saddens me to see blends under attack.

What’s your personal preference: espresso or filter? Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?

I’ve always been an espresso drinker. I’m guessing this is because most filter coffee in this country has historically been dreck, but my tastes changed once I began roasting. It’s become a routine to stand in the kitchen with my Chemex each morning after breakfast, brewing up the leftovers from the previous day’s roast. Espresso is complicated, delicate and intense. I stopped putting milk in espresso years ago, but drinking it straight in the morning is like having a glass of whiskey just after rolling out of bed.

Talk about the coffee scene in the Bay Area.

Ten years ago it was hard to track down a decent cup of coffee, and now it’s hard to decide which roastery to visit. We’re hoping to open a shop just as soon as we find the right location.

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster? The worst (if there is a “worst”)?

I’d have to say the best thing about being a coffee roaster is the control over the final product it provides. The worst? A surge in competition? Rising prices?

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Our playlist is a bit eclectic. Most recently: Amy Winehouse, Arcade Fire, Beck, The Black Keys, Doc Watson, The Beatles, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones, Van Morison, Muddy Waters, Billy Holiday, Gold Panda, The National.

 

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