Archive for October, 2012

10 Questions with Bluebeard Coffee Roasters

Despite being the third-largest city in Washington, Tacoma exists in the perpetual shadow of Seattle. But the port city is bustling. It has the highest density of art and history museums in the state, including the world-renowned Museum of Glass. Instead of blowing through town on your next trip up I-5, pull over for a walk and a refuel at Bluebeard Coffee Roasters (it’s only about a mile off the highway).

Bluebeard opened in 2011, and quickly caught locals’ attention. In 2012, it won the Weekly Volcano’s “Best Of” award in three categories: Best cup of coffee, best coffeehouse, and best place to meet someone.

Address: 2201 6th Avenue, Tacoma, WA
Website: http://www.bluebeardcoffee.com

Left Coast Roast: What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

Kevin McGlocklin: Deliver irreverent, competent, world-class coffee and atmosphere to Tacoma. Embrace and explore our community, here and at source (specifically in Latin America). Mine the sweet, nuanced middle ground that lies on the way to full city [a medium-dark color, maximizing the mix of the bean’s natural sweetness and the sugars produced in the roasting process].

How would you describe your roasting style?

A full medium roast. I want nice sugar development and bean expansion without losing the endemic nuance and fruity acidity of some very nice coffees. Loosely, a couple of cracks in the cooling tray, depending.

What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

We use a Probat L12 from about 1987. I love the heft of the old German roasting machines like those made by Probat, Gothot, Barth; how they transfer and carry ambient heat. I love their simple industrial design and how if you maintain and replace the moving parts, they will never die.

How did you start roasting?

I first learned roasting from Ed Leebrick at Lighthouse Roasters in Seattle on a 22-kilo 1952 Gothot. Love the man and the machine.

(1) Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve roasted, (2) how you roasted it, and (3) what most excited you about it.

(1) El Salvador Finca el Aguila Pacamara. (2) We gave it an extra roastish roast. There are some coffees where you can be on cruise control, but this isn’t one of them. We run it through a more exacting roasting process. (3) Little tiny heirloom Ethiopian and Yemeni coffees can be pretty interesting, but this big porous bean from El Salvador (Pacamara, a cross of the varieties Pacas and Maragogype) required a delicacy and finish that belied its heft.

Single origins or blends?

Single origin over blenders, but we care a great deal about our espresso blend, The Narrows, and continue to play with other espressos and drip blends. The puzzle is not complete if we are ignoring either, I reckon. We could jibber jabber on this for a while, but won’t.

What’s your personal preference: espresso or filter? 

The thing I go back to every single day is the very short Americano. Three to four ounces water, one and a half ounces espresso. But I also slurp lots of espresso, and much enjoyed using our slow-drip Yama cold-brewer for a washed coffee from the Ethiopia Kochere coop this summer: Peach juice with pomegranate tea, semi-sweet cocoa backbone with light, lingering acidity.

 Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?

I use V60, Chemex, Clever and Aeropress to explore all of our coffees, on a pretty steady rotation with no clear favorite right now.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Tacoma?

I like our customers. Your customers end up defining who you are as a coffee company as much as anything, and we see an eclectic crew of fun, smart people every day, many of whom are our neighbors. I love seeing those folks, watching them get to know each other and developing friendships and knowing somehow we were part of it.

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster? The worst?

Maybe that the importance of coffee and a coffee company is overinflated in terms of its significance in peoples’ lives. It doesn’t really mean all that much, which coffee somebody drinks, but it does seem to take on identity importance. So we take that to heart at the same time we mock it. Since it’s just coffee, I owe it to you to create really good coffee and not pat myself on the back as I serve it. And day to day, the best thing is discovering really neat, unexpected beans and roasting them in a way that brings out the best in them.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

We go 100 different directions at the shop. Mark Lanegan is can’t miss. Real Estate is kind of the personification of cafe-friendly but still tolerable. Two wild cards: Ólafur Arnalds’ Living Room Songs and Frank Fairfield’s Out on the Open West. Right this second: Do Make Say Think.

 

 

10 Questions with Case Coffee

In a new series, we meet an array of west coast coffee roasters. Up this week: Case Coffee from Ashland, Oregon.

 Case opened in 2006 as coffee shop catering to the college crowd from nearby Southern Oregon University. Tim and Kati Case, the shop’s owners, were barely college-aged themselves at the time (both were only 20—and the young married couple have been together since they were 16). But they graduated to roasting their own beans in 2011, and are studied in their focus on high-quality single-origin microlots, which they roast for both drip coffee and espresso. (They do have a simple blend—generally containing only two or three ingredients—called Epiphany. It changes depending on what coffees are in season.) Tim cites World Barista Champion and general man-about-coffee James Hoffman with influencing his foray into roasting (he also says he gets his news from Sprudge and the Coffeegeek podcast).

Case is about two miles south of the town’s main drag, which is dominated by the restaurants and hotels that serve visiting hoardes of theater-goers all summer long. Ashland, home to the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), is worth planning a dedicated trip to anytime between February and October. When you go, visit Case for an injection of youthfulness (the theater crowd is on the elderly side, despite major efforts by OSF to reach out to young audiences).

While you’re in town, stop by Ashland’s other quality-focused coffee roaster, Noble. Both are putting on an impressive show.

Good to know: Closed on Sundays
Address: 1255 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland, OR 97520
Website: http://casecoffeeroasters.com

Left Coast Roast: What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

Case Coffee: The thing that inspires us is giving people their coffee “epiphany,” which is also the name of our house espresso. I remember the first time I really tasted coffee, a natural from Ethiopia roasted by Stumptown—I was blown away by the strawberry juiciness. I didn’t know flavors like that existed in coffee and now we want to share it with others. It’s too amazing not to share.

How would you describe your roasting style?

Light and bright. Take it to the sweet spot, and no further.

What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

We roast on a 1950 Otto Swadlo 7 kilo roaster. It was hand-cast in Otto’s small shop in Vienna, Austria. I love the history and the craftsmanship that went into making it, and how rare it is. There only six or seven in production in the world, as far as we know.

How did you start roasting?

I home-roasted for fun for a few years while we serving coffee from other roasters in our cafe (we used the multiple-roaster model for a while and served Verve, Intelligentsia, and Noble [also from Ashland]). When my results were consistently tasting just as good as these other great roasters, we started thinking, Why not? We took a chance and bought Otto.

(1) Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve roasted, (2) how you roasted it, and (3) what most excited you about it.

(1) Kenya Gaturiri from the Nyeri region, (2) I charged it hard at the beginning, then slowed it down right before first crack to keep it light but fully developed—this Kenyan is all about bright grapefruit and raspberry sweetness and a short profile brings that out, and (3) its candy-sweet aromatics and crazy juicy raspberry and grapefruit flavor.

Single origins or blends?

Single origin but blends are a lot of fun too.

What’s your personal preference: espresso or filter?

They are completely different and I like them both.

Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?

Chemex.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Ashland?

People are willing to pay $3 to $4 and wait four minutes for a pour over and that’s pretty cool. Quality is catching on!

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster?

Being able to hand select the green coffees you purchase and roast them how you want.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Hip-hop and country, but only on special occasions.

Roaster Roundup: Happy Cup

Perhaps because if its long association with the concept of fair trade, coffee has settled into many a cozy marriage with social enterprise and other ethically motivated business concepts.

Enter a new Portland coffee roaster—in a town bursting to full with them already—called Happy Cup. The nine-month old company is roasting approximately 2,000 pounds of green coffee a month on a rented 6-kilo Probat, with plans for big growth. Already, 27 Portland Metro area grocery stores are carrying the jaunty bags. How did they do it?

Happy CupWith a good story—and a little savvy marketing muscle. Happy Cup is a for-profit company that supports Portland’s population of developmentally disabled adults in two ways: First, and perhaps most importantly, by employing them on its production line. (“Line” in this case is a bit of a misnomer: The production space is a bright, smallish room with rectangular tables, like a not-depressing office break room.) Over 78% of this population is unemployed in Portland and those that do find work often have trouble keeping their jobs for more than a few months at a time. But at Happy Cup the work is designed to fits the needs of the population, not the other way around. It is built as a safe space in which adults with special needs can develop their job skills. You’ll find employees working short, two-hour shifts to fill, stamp, and seal bags of beans, earning minimum wage ($8.80 per hour) for their efforts. One employee, Suanne, talks about what earning her paychecks enables her to do: “I’m going to the beach next month, and I’m saving for a trip to Seattle to see some of my family.” Dustin adds, “I go bowling, to the video arcade and to outdoor markets. I’m not bored at home anymore.”

The company also plans to donate 100% of its profits to the Full Life Foundation, which will support arts programming for disabled adults. The Foundation’s work will build on the work already being done by a for-profit organization called Full Life, just down the street from the Happy Cup roastery. At Full Life, adults with special needs engage in job development activities and arts projects—everything from making macaroni collages to putting on small-scale theater productions, to hosting Britney Spears dance parties (occasionally the latter happens spontaneously). Full Life is a for-profit job training and recreation center, generally funded by money from the state. Adults are most often referred to its programs through Medicaid. It’s these same adults who are finding employment at Happy Cup. The roastery expects to begin turning a profit within about six months, at which time a good portion of their profits will fund the nonprofit Full Life Foundation.

Both Full Life and Happy Cup exist because of Rachel Bloom, a former special education teacher with an entrepreneurial streak. The idea for Happy Cup came after a chance encounter with Trevin Miller, the owner of one of the country’s only brick-and-mortar green coffee supply stores, Mr. Green Beans. Miller was looking for a space large enough to house his 6-kilo Probat; Bloom had the space and an idea was born. (The roastery is unique in one other way: Miller’s Probat is also available to other Portland roasters—everyone from local microroaster Sterling Coffee Roasters, which is filling in gaps while their own new machine is installed, to a man who roasts 25 pounds of coffee for his nursing home each week.)

Miller of Mr. Green Beans sources the coffee for Happy Cup, and works out the roast profiles (there are currently eight blends and one single origin coffee). Each coffee is charmingly named by the staff (ex: Boom! Boom!, Hot Bean, Flying Unicorn are just three examples). Charlie Austin, formerly a home roaster, does production roasting for the company.

Bloom has big plans for the future of Happy Cup—she hopes it will be a national brand within in the next few years. How will she accomplish that scale of growth? The same way she’s grown Full Life to serve 160 adults every day, and the way she’s already grown Happy Cup into a surprisingly weighty local brand—“I’m a hustler.”