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10 Questions with Evans Brothers Coffee

Until they showed up on the finalist list for the Good Food Awards I had never heard of Evans Brothers’ Coffee. It’s not surprising given their out-of-the-way location in Sandpoint, Idaho.

[I was a media observer for the GFA competition this year, and it’s interesting to note that one of the Evans Bros’ submissions, an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, was one of the most difficult for the judges, garnering the largest spread of scores (79-87, using the Cup of Excellence 100-point scale). Update: This is a great example of how even with a common vocabulary and calibration, experts often disagree. Of course taste is fickle, and “quality” is not a fixed concept—just like the other shifting value the GFAs attempt to reward: sustainability. In the end, the finalists were all incredible, and worthy of notice. And we should sleep easier knowing that lots of folks have different experiences of the same coffee, even the pros.]

The result is what competitions like the GFAs can do well—bring attention to the work of relatively unknown food producers and the farmers whose ingredients they use.

Randy and Rick, the brothers Evans, have been roasting in Sandpoint since 2009. Sandpoint is outdoor heaven, perched on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, tucked between the Selkirk, Cabinet and Bitterroot mountian ranges. But it has unlikely coffee pedigree, too, as the home of Deitrich Coffee Roasting, one of the only American manufacturers of commercial coffee roasting equipment.

The “Inland Empire”—it’s the country I grew up in, and it’s full of wild magic.

For those who may not be likely to visit Sandpoint anytime soon, the coffee can be gotten around the Inland Northwest, including in cafes and restaurants in Boise and Seattle. Of course, the internet exists, so it’s also available online at evansbrotherscoffee.com.

Website: evansbrotherscoffee.com
Twitter: @EvansBrothers
Visit: Roasting Studio and Neighborhood Espresso Barm, 524 Church Street, Sandpoint, Idaho
Open to public: 7a-5p Mo-Fri, 8a-2p Sat

10 Questions

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?
The roasters and cafes that succeed in telling the whole story, providing transparency on all levels of the coffee chain, inspire us.

How would you describe your roasting style?
We work very hard to source outstanding coffees and we want to show them off. We try to maximize the sweetness of the coffee, showcasing the inherent flavors of the bean. We strive not to mute the fruit and floral characteristics with too much roasty flavor. We feel like we’re pioneering the market up here in North Idaho with sweeter and more nuanced coffees; so far, our customers have responded positively to this style.

What’s your focus: single origins or blends?
We get most excited about introducing exceptional single-origin coffees, and showcasing the coffee itself and the farmers behind it. But we work hard on our blend development, which allows us to maintain a consistent espresso blend—our customers appreciate it.

What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?
We roast on a Probat L12 and use an afterburner built locally by Selkirk Manufacturing. Prior to this, we roasted on a Diedrich IR-12 and a Diedrich CR80. Both are excellent machines but completely different. The Probat offers more airflow, quicker response, and slightly faster roast times. I feel like we get cleaner tasting coffees with the increased airflow. The Diedrichs were also fun to roast on and offered simultaneous roasting and cooling (which is a huge plus!), and had much easier maintenance than the Probat.

How did you get started roasting?
I first discovered a love for coffee living in Italy during college. Soon after 2000, I moved to Maui, where I helped open and manage Honolulu Coffee Company, a high-end cafe in Wailea. Like most coffee obsessives of the era, I trained using the techniques of David Schomer. I spent the next five years learning everything I could about coffee, inlcuding roasting at home. When I moved back to the mainland to be closer to family I landed an apprentice roasting position with Storyville Coffee, a well-funded startup on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. I was very excited; becoming a roaster was my next goal after working as a barista for five years. It was really cool to work with David Schomer as our consultant. I also attended several training courses with Diedrich, Atlas Coffee, and Boot Coffee.

We decided to relocate to Sandpoint to raise families in a true community, near the great outdoors. We both love the outdoor recreation opportunities that this area affords with Schweitzer Mountain and Lake Pend Oreille. We’re fanatical about mountain biking and skiing in particular.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve had: Where did it come from? How did you roast it (if you roasted it)? What most excited you about it? How was it served?
The most memorable coffee I had was while visiting the Menendez family farms in El Salvador. While exploring one of their farms, Finca El Rosario, we were sampling the coffee cherries. There was a very small section of shrubs where the fruit tasted completely different from all the other cherries on the farm—it tasted exactly like the sweetest peach I’d ever had. It blew my mind that this microlot could taste completely different from the same coffee planted only 20 feet away. We later cupped some of that coffee and the peach was still very present in the cup. It was absolutely delicious. This experience was a great reminder of why I had adopted the philosophy of roasting to showcase what the farmer worked so hard to achieve.

What’s your personal preference: espresso or filter? Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?
We all typically start our day with a pourover on the Hario v60, usually one of our Roaster Reserve coffees. I also like Chemex for a clean cup that highlights sweetness and the delicate flavors of our coffee. But espresso is also great—we always have our Headwall blend along with an exciting single origin to play with. And I really enjoy a traditional macchiato.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Sandpoint?
Artisan coffee is really just being discovered in this area and we’re excited to be a part of the coffee revolution in the region. We’ve hosted all kinds of events: aroma challenges, public cuppings and, recently, the Inland Northwest Thursday Night Throwdown latte art and brewer’s competition. Most people around here had never seen a pourover brewbar before we opened. We love introducing someone who normally orders the darkest roast with lots of cream to single-origin coffees dripped to order, served black. We’ve created a few coffee nerds.

What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster?
We feel honored to be such a critical final step in the complex journey from seed to cup. We take a lot of pride in this. We’re grateful for the positive recognition we get from customers but also feel strongly that coffee is not just our creation—it’s the hard work of many passionate people along the way. To provide peoples’ first ritual of the day is very cool. We want that experience to be great.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?
Our music scene at the roastery is pretty diverse. You can hear anything from Black Sabbath to Coltrane to Dylan to Thievery Corporation to Hall & Oats. We dig it all!

 

Coffee at Home, Jan. 22 in San Francisco

On my visit to SF in January, I’m exciting to teach an intro class about making the most of coffee in your home:

18 Reasons
Tuesday, January 22nd, 7-9PM, Ticketed
Brew Methods: Coffee at Home
$25 for 18 Reasons members; $35 for the general public
Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/296796

We are hosting a primer on exploring coffee in your home kitchen. It’s easy to make drip coffee just as well as top cafes. We’ll focus on “slow coffee” approaches like French Press, pour over, and Aeropress. Find out what equipment is must-have and nice-to-have, and get suggestions for how common kitchen tools can help you get better results.

Throughout the class, we’ll discuss the complex flavors of coffees, talk about ways to develop a more nuanced palate, and explore how taste preferences differ. We’ll also touch on how roasting coffee at home (even just once!) is easy, inexpensive, and a great way to deepen your knowledge of coffee.

Coffee and Sustainabilty Panel, Jan. 21 in San Francisco

Sustainability is notoriously complex, embedded in deeply interdependent environmental, social, and economic contexts. And coffee, which must play convoluted games of global leap frog to get from farms into our cups, is no less tricky. The coffee industry, somewhat uniquely, has intertwined itself with sustainability at a deep level. But there are no easy answers.

When I was writing Left Coast Roast, the issue of sustainability was the thorniest, and therefore led to some of the most interesting conversations I had with coffee roasters.

I was interested in exploring how ideas about sustainability have changed in the last decade, and in hearing from both coffee roasters and academics on the issue. What is known about effective solutions? What are we still guessing at? Are quality and sustainability mutually reinforcing or do they conflict? I am grateful that the amazing folks at CUESA in San Francisco were keen to take up the topic and agreed to sponsor a panel discussion on it. Below is the description—I hope to see many people there.

Coffee and Sustainability Panel Discussion

Ferry Building, San Francisco
Jan. 21, 6 pm

Coffee is a daily necessity for many of us, savored quietly in the kitchen, downed at work as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, or sipped at a cafe among friends. With the exploding popularity of coffee in recent years, there are more options than ever, and more confusing messages about what “sustainable” means. Which coffee should we choose? In the Bay Area, you won’t find any coffee farms, but you will find local artisan roasters who are grappling with these questions, selecting their beans not only for quality and taste but also for values. Join CUESA for a discussion of the ethics behind a cup of coffee: What is its environmental footprint? Are the farmers taking care of the land? Are they getting a fair price, and what is the effect on the communities along the supply chain?

Hanna Neuschwander, author of Left Coast Roast: A guide to the Best Coffee and Roasters from San Francisco to Seattle, will introduce the complexities of growing coffee and moving it around the globe. She will moderate the panel.

Panelists:

coffee-&-sustainability-flyer

Starbucks’ Geisha Gamble

The pixie on the table yells, “So, who all here is a partner?” The crowd erupts, politely, indicating “We, we are partners!” I think for a second I’ve stumbled into a Marriage Preservers Anonymous meeting. But no, she means “employee.”

Ah, Starbucks. I’m at one of the company’s high end, LEED-certified, boozy sip shops in Portland for a special event—the unveiling of their much-ballyhooed new reserve coffee: Costa Rica Finca Palmilera; quantity, 3800 pounds; price, $7/cup; roast, light as air. Media outposts from Houston to Atlanta have covered the release and the steep price tag, despite the fact that it’s only available in the Pacific Northwest. As far as I can tell, almost no one who has written about the coffee has actually tasted it.

It’s hands-down the best cup of coffee I’ve ever been served under the banner of a mermaid. I’m not sure that’s saying a lot, but it’s saying something.

Is it a gimmick? Maybe. Cynical? Probably. Likely to get very good, well-roasted, fairly priced coffee into the hands of folks who otherwise wouldn’t try it? Ya bro.

Leslie Wolford, the sprite on the table, is a “coffee specialist” with Starbucks. She talks for a few minutes about the estate, La Candililla, in Costa Rica. (They buy other coffees from the farm and have for some time; she couldn’t give me an exact year). Seventy hectares are managed by a family, split into sectors. The Geisha comes from a sector managed by brothers Marvin and Didier Sanchez, who devote 3 hectares to the variety.

Wolford gives a light disquisition on the history of the variety, which hails from Ethiopia and was brought to Costa Rica in the 50s. Farmers had hopes the seed stock would be resistant to disease, but quickly realized that low yields made it unsuitable for production. It is, though, more resistant to fungal rot than other varieties typical in Latin America. It migrated across the border to the Boquete region of Panama in the 1960s (sources credit producer Don Pachi Francisco Serracin). But it gained notoriety only recently, when the variety began winning competitions and earning top auction bids. According to a brief history of the variety by Geoff Watts,

With rare exception, this Geisha coffee has won every competition it has enttered for almost a decade [starting with the Best of Panama in 2003]. It has set and then broken 5 records for most expensive auction coffee in the world, topping out at a whopping $170/lb at a recent auction. It has become the most talked-about coffee in the industry and caused producers from Mexico to Bolivia to scramble to try to get their hands on seeds to … reap some of the windfall profits before Geisha gets too widespread.

Starbucks’ move is almost certainly a fullfillment of Watts’ prophesy about the reach of Geisha. Like other roasters seeking a signifier of prestige, Starbucks went looking for it. They found it being grown by a farm they already bought coffee from, right under their noses.

Alisa Martinez, global brand manager for the company, tells me frankly, “This is the best coffee we’ve ever served.”

Someone asks about roast. Wollingford’s answers are a bit hedgy. She calls it a light roast, but you can tell she feels a little uncomfortable saying this. Later she plants it in the middle of the SBUX dark-o-meter. This is false. It’s a light roast by any accounting of Starbucks’ standards. Wolford spends a lot of time talking about how the flavor and complexity would be lost if there was too much roast. At this, I develop a mouth gape—a Starbucks senior “partner” stating publicly that overroasting can inhibit complexity.

The Geisha is roasted in a batch roaster, 80 lbs. at a time. It’s one of the few Reserve line coffees to have this distinction—mostly because there’s so little of it.

For those who worry about the coffee being old or stale, that’s also not a concern here. There’s so little of the coffee—only 3,000 pounds—Martinez estimates it will be gone by January, a total run of about four weeks.

Meanwhile, the floor is open for conversation and the questions and commentary from Starbucks baristas in the audience are blowing my mind. Someone checks the Geisha’s brightness against remembered Kenyans. Someone thinks to ask about optimal brewing temperature. Someone expresses surprise at its sweetness even though it’s a washed coffee. Everyone loves it. I realize I have been seriously underestimating Starbucks baristas.

Wolford, meanwhile, is on her perch itching to get to the nitty gritty stuff—“Pineapple, yes!” “Anyone getting peach? White peach, not yellow?” “It’s got acidity, but it’s also so soft—isn’t that lovely?” She asks everyone to savor the coffee as it cools, pointing out that the flavor Just. Keeps. Going. She uses the word “singular” nine times after I start counting.

But the whole experience is singular. Starbucks served me black coffee I kind of love. It is complex. It makes me think. It lingers.

It is notably better than similarly priced coffees that have long had overinflated reputations—Jamaica Blue Mountain, Kopi Luwak, Kona.

That’s not to say that future shipments of Geisha will get the same treatment (there will be more—in three years Geisha will be so common, we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about way back when). But this particular coffee seems to hit the mark on most fronts: It’s fresh, it’s carefully (and not too darkly) roasted, and it’s being thoughtfully presented, brewed to order on a Clover, with gentle encouragements to at least sip it once without cream and sugar.

Is it better than the other infamous Geisha in my repetoire, Stumptown’s Panama Esmerelda Especial? My predictably psychological brain wants to remember Stumptown’s coffee as better—more delicate, more ephemeral. It was certainly the latter. To be honest, I don’t remember it that well.

Starbucks’ Reserve Costa Rica Finca Palmilera is available only in 48 stores in Portland and Seattle. ½ lb bags are $40. Get it while it lasts—another CR Geisha was available briefly online, but sold out in one day.

10 Questions with RoastCo

RoastCo is a bit of a dark horse in the Bay Area, quietly bringing together industry veterans with some serious beverage muscle. Alex Roberts began roasting in 1997 and went on to be the head roaster for Equator Coffee before founding RoastCo in 2008. Andrew Green is a sommelier and wine and spirits director of Bacchus Management, who brings connections in the Bay Area food world. Brad Joyce started roasting in 2006 and was the head roaster for Blue Bottle Coffee during a a significant growing spurt (who am I kidding?—it’s just been one neverending spurt for them; but I digress).

RoastCo manages to feature two of the original roasters from two of the Bay Area’s most successful coffee companies, and a veteran wine pro to boot. Impressive.

RoastCo is a wholesale company, and you’re most likely to encounter their coffees in an unexpected location: restaurants. Since the beginning, the company has focused on partnerships with chefs (something Roberts must have picked up from Equator, who produces designer coffee for top chefs including Thomas Keller). However, the roastery is open to the public and cuppings are held mornings, Monday through Wednesday. Their coffees are carried by numerous well regarded Bay Area restaurants, including Quince, Cotogna, and Spruce. (A full list of where to find their coffee is online.)

Roastery address1552 Beach Street, Unit T, Oakland
Phone: 501-658-2799
Good to know: Mon-Tu, 9-3; closed Saturday/Sunday; call ahead for hours W-Fri
Public cuppings: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 9 am

10 Questions

You’ve found a niche working with restaurants, which have a reputation for generally skimping on their attention to coffee. Can you talk a little about the opportunities and challenges of working with restaurants and why this is an area of focus for you?

We started as a roaster for restaurants, so it seemed natural to expand that way. We noticed that being willing to provide proprietary blends was beneficial; restaurants tend to appreciate having their own identity.

Trying to complement diverse menus can be a challenge, but it’s also a way to measure our success. We have our coffees on some celebrated menus in the Bay Area and we know that coffee drinkers will ask about a cup they really like no matter where they have it.

It’s important to us that the restaurant or café serving the coffee puts effort into making a great cup. We offer extensive free instruction for the staff of restaurants we call our partners. We have enthusiastic clients who do just about anything to serve great coffee. Recently, we even built a custom drip bar for a two-hundred seat restaurant.

The background of the company seems to be built to some degree on partner Andrew Green’s knowledge of wine. What’s the relationship between coffee and wine—how are they alike and different?

Coffee and wine are incredibly similar. Great wine is made in the vineyard; great coffee is made through the dedication of its farmers as well. Coffee cherries and wine grapes both both have inherent qualities that will come through in the glass, as long as they are prepared with care and finished with skill.

The major difference is that most wine makers control their product from start to finish, whereas we as coffee roasters have to depend on others to prepare coffee. This is the reason that many roasters have their own cafes and rigid standards.

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

We use vintage Probats. We have a UG-22, cast iron, built in the ’60s, and a GN-12 built in the ’80s. The GN-12 is not a pretty looking roaster like the 22, but it is cast iron, has a double-walled drum, and two banks of burners. We find it preferable to most L-12s. The 12 and the 22 operate similarly which allows us to be consistent.

How would you describe your roasting style?

The style is to avoid style. Being pigeonholed into one type of roasting would bar us from finding the great flavor in so many coffees. We’re looking for drinkability and balance in every cup. There’s a lot that goes into mapping out how different types of beans that are processed in different ways develop: Smelling, watching, listening, and evaluating the progress of each roast to get to a very specific point. That point is never the same in different coffees. We never want to burn out the flavor or fail to achieve it—you won’t taste smoky roastiness or sour grassiness in our coffee.

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

Every year we roast a very special coffee from Santa Elena, Honduras. The coffee is all grown by one small community, made up of a few families. They are the friends and family of Mayra Orellana-Powell, who grew up in Santa Elena and now lives in Alameda, a neighbor to where we roast here in Oakland. Alex helped Mayra import her coffee for the first time two years ago, and put her in touch with a local importer this year. We have first choice of the lots and take 80-90% of all the beans they grow. This year we were able to visit all seventeen micro-lots in Santa Elena, roast and cup each lot, and had first choice of the crops we wanted. We were also able to physically distribute profits and give input on infrastructure and quality improvements that will increase the volume, value, and desirability of this already amazing coffee. We feel very lucky to have this direct relationship and that makes roasting this coffee very exciting. It helps that it tastes incredible also. If you like rich chocolate caramel flavors in your coffee, check out our “Catracha.”

What’s your focus: single origins or blends?

Our focus is single origins. Even our blends are all created after roasting, so the focus is either on making the single origin perfect to drink on its own or to accentuate a particular aspect to make it stand up or stand out in a blend. Because of the diversity of our restaurant customers, we have a bunch of blends with slight variations, sometimes that’s a different ratio of the same coffees or the same ratio of differently roasted coffees, depending on the chef’s palate.  Alternatively we have restaurants like Spruce in San Francisco that have a combination of single origins and a blend on their menu. Where our roasters truly excel is in their ability to find that sweet spot where the sugars are caramelizing and still maintain the individuality and sweetness in every crop from every origin.

What do you love about the coffee scene in the Bay Area?

The enthusiasm for coffee in the Bay is overwhelming. The questions we’re asked on a weekly basis delve into every possible corner of sourcing, roasting, and preparation. The best thing about that is the standards are incredibly high and the appreciation matches. It’s great to be able to try new styles or perfect traditional methods and always be able to find someone excited about trying it, giving feedback, and coming back to see the progress we’re making. I suppose the simple answer is that the people here don’t think of coffee as a boring necessity and that allows us to be creative and give people something unique.

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

If you spied on us during any day of the week, you would probably see each of us take an espresso shot, have a cappuccino, and make a cup with a drip cone and/or a French press. We’re the guinea pigs for our customers, so we have a ton of ways to taste coffee here at the roastery, and we use them all. If it’s chocolaty and rich our first option will probably be the French press, bright lemony we opt for a Bonmac filter, and super fruity often works best in the Nel drip. One of us would be drinking the same coffee all day and someone else two or three different coffees. We love coffee and trying it in different ways, so the real question is, “What mood are you in right now?”

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

The best thing about being a coffee roaster is meeting amazing people. We meet Michelin starred chefs, budding and established entrepreneurs, farmers from places all over the world, and our neighbors who come in for a drink. It’s exciting to interact with so many different kinds of people who all have a common thread of appreciating coffee. We try hard to be diverse while maintaining simplicity. We try to roast great coffee that people want to drink. The rest is just chaff.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

A constant compromise. You could hear just about anything here. Whether it’s Brad’s satanic mishmash of Listo and Slayer, or Alex introducing Isao Tomita into the mix, the person who choses the playlist is constantly defending it against all comers. You can count on hearing good music here all day, how good just depends on which of us you ask.

 

Join me in Bellingham Friday, Dec. 14

I did almost all of the interviews for Left Coast Roast in person. One of the rare exceptions was Alex Mastema, the owner of Maniac Roasting in Bellingham. We just couldn’t get out schedules to line up, so I had to interview him by phone—but man, did his personality come across just fine. The man is oozing with it.

I am massively pleased that I’ll be meeting Mastema (finally!) in Bellingham in December, when I make a book tour stop in his hometown. Mastema is going to join me on stage at Village Books, for a conversation about coffee. Also joining us will be another fine man of coffee, Edwin Martinez. Martinez’s family hails from Guatemala, where they own coffee farms including Finca Vista Hermosa.  Edwin lives most of the year in Bellingham now and has played an important role in getting his family’s excellent coffees directly into the hands of  roasters. (I unexpectedly encountered it in Copenhagen this past summer, when I was visit on of that city’s finest roasters, Coffee Collective.)

Continuing in my efforts to keep this book tour from getting too boring, or too me-centric, Mastema and Martinez will help carry the evening. We’ll talk about how coffee is roasted and how it’s grown, and everything in between. We’ll also have samples of coffee roasted by Mastema and of those grown by Martinez’ family.

Please join me, coffee roaster Alex Mastema, and coffee farm owner Edwin Martinez at Village Books in Bellingham on Dec. 14.

Details: 
Friday, Dec. 14, 7 pm
In the Book Fare Café on the mezzanine level
Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham
Join Hanna Neuschwander, author of Left Coast Roast, in conversation with Alexarc Mastema owner of Maniac Roasting, and Edwin Martinez, owner of Onyx Coffee Bar, both in Bellingham, as they talk about where coffee comes from, how it’s roasted, and the different roles that roasters and producers play. This free event will take place at Book Fare Café and will feature samples of different coffees.

Visit Village Books.

 

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.

 

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.”