All posts in 10 Questions with…

10 Questions with Front Coffee Roasters

Front is a tiny new San Francisco microroastery in Portrero Hill that sits, well, at the front of a San Francisco start-up that has made good by bringing together eggheads from the worlds of design, film, robotics, and visual arts. Autofuss is a design/production company that uses repurposed auto manufacturing robots to shoot commercials for clients including Google, Jambox, Chevy, and Louis Vuitton. Like all hardworking, design-geeky entrepreneurs, the brains behind Autofuss wanted better-than-average coffee to keep the engines of industry turning. Rather than invite an existing coffee slinger into their space (like Amazon did with Victrola in Seattle, or like Facebook did with Philz Coffee in SF), the principles of Autofuss, Randall Stowell and Jeff Linnell, did one better and started their own microroastery. Now Front fronts the eclectic studios of Autofuss.

Front

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

The teensy cafe has a few seats, but is mostly standing-room only, with Deutsche beer garden tables on the sidewalk. On nice days, a garage door rolls up to reveal the entire space. It’s built on the footprint of what used to be an industrial loading dock.

While Stowell and Linell are responsible for getting Front out of the harbor in 2012, the captain of the coffee ship is Ian McCarthy, who has been roasting for just over a year in the space. (The retail cafe opened in summer 2012). McCarthy first came to coffee when his grandparents threw him into the kitchen of their Italian-American restaurant at the ripe age of twelve. “My shift drink was either bad Italian-American restaurant espresso, or sparkling water with as many dashes of bitters as the barkeep would let me have,” he McCarthy. The year between high school and university, he had his God Shot moment: “I found an espresso that was better than any I had ever had at a cafe in Portsmouth, NH, called Black Bear. I wanted to be close to it. I demanded a job on the spot. A few months later, I was managing the cafe.” He went on to work at Metropolis in Chicago before relocating to the Bay Area.

Website: http://www.frontsf.com/
Visit: 150 Mississippi St., San Francisco. Open daily, 8am-4pm.

10 Questions

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

The idea behind the coffee program at Front is to give gracious, honest hospitality while operating technically at the highest level possible. We sweat everything. This isn’t a large space, and we have a tiny roaster. The folks at Sterling, in Portland OR, (who started on a one-pound San Franciscan, operating out of a kiosk the size of a generous mop-closet), were big inspirations for me when I was presented the idea that was to become Front. They were as good a proof-of-concept as I was going to get, and they are killing it to this day.

Front

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

Our roasting philosophy is to highlight the intrinsic qualities of the bean; the things that make it unique—variety, processing, geography. Terroir. In the end, this means having a light touch. I want our our coffees to be reflections of time and place, and have an energy like a tightly-coiled spring. To get technical, we roast our coffees for non-pressurized brewing in the city to city+ development stage range, usually for 10:30 to 11:20 minutes, dropping the coffee when the bean probe measures about 400-403F.

Single origins vs. blends: Which wins in a fight to the death?

The blends v. single origin question is an interesting one, and one I think roasters look at a little too narrowly. Why limit the question to political geography? I think we need to look at coffee through all possible lenses—processing, geography, varietal, etc.—to really have a complete picture of what we like or dislike about coffee. Do you love Kenyan coffee, or do you love SL-28? How many non-Kenyan SL-28 have you had? In particular, I am inspired by the work of an Alsatian winemaker, Marcel Deiss. Marcel grows the noble grapes of Alsace: riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, and muscat. Normally, though not always, these grapes would be vinified separately, and you would simply buy a bottle of Pinot Gris from vineyard X. Marcel has a thought here, though—what if your conception of the vineyard in fact gets caught up in the variety? You think you are tasting vineyard X, but really you are tasting the qualities inherent in pinot gris in general. Now, you can of course drink lots and lots of pinot gris from Alsace and elsewhere and know what it is all about, which you should, but for Marcel it is more effective to see the vineyard from multiple angles simultaneously in order to see its full realized potential. He will vinify all of the grapes together and create a field blend. The idea is that when you eliminate the lens of varietal, you see the terroir for what it really is. If and when I blend coffees, its is with an approach inspired by this mentality—there has to be a concept behind the aesthetic. It has to give you some insight into one or more of our variables. Putting together a Bourbon from Rwanda with one from Brazil, roasting a single-origin espresso to three different roast levels, blending three different processing methods from a single estate—these are the sort of combinations that I think offer us insight into the breadth of variation and nuance inherent in coffee. Putting together an Indonesian coffee for earthiness, and a Costa Rican for brightness, so I can chase some idea of “balance,” this is less interesting to me. I am looking for the edge of things, less so the center.

Sipping

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

We have a one-kilo Probat, and are moving up to a 15-kilo Loring Smart Roast shortly. I have more experience on Diedrich roaster, particularly the IR-12. From a R+D perspective, roasting on a one-kilo roaster is wonderful. From the perspective ofproduction, it is a nightmare.

Sustainability is something you think a lot about. Was that the rationale for deciding to buy a high-efficiency roaster like the Loring?

More than anything, I am realizing just how dirty and inefficient these pretty, old , German, fire-breathing beasts are. As lovely as an old Probat is from a roasting and aesthetic perspective, they are hardly sustainable. As much as my hair still stands on end when I tell people I am about to buy an air roaster, there is no way I can justify the footprint of either exhaust or afterburner anymore. Coffee Collective in Copenhagen is doing game-changing work using air roasters; this proves to me that new-fangled technology can be just as good if not better than the old roasters.

How did you get started roasting?

My roasting experience started in a tiny apartment in Chicago, using a hand-cranked popcorn popper, a stones throw away from Metropolis where I was working as a barista. Chris Schooley, the roaster and green buyer at the time, had an infectious dedication to roasting that ended up pulling more people than me into the craft. He was tremendously helpful, giving me spare green samples from importers, and letting me put my awful Whirly-Pop roasts on his cupping table.

Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve had.

There have been too many memorable cups to count. Like many people, I think it was probably a natural-processed Ethiopian coffee (fruit bomb!) that made me do my first double-take. Everything seemed possible after that.

Espresso or filter?

I am a big filter proponent. Occasionally, espresso preparation gives me the chance to see a facet of a coffee I would otherwise not experience. More often than not, I think non-pressurized brewing is the clearer lens through which to see a coffee. I drink much more coffee brewed with a Hario V-60 than anything else. I love the range of potential flavors possible with V-60s, almost as much as I love the range of opinions on how to use them.

Photo courtesy of Autofuss

What can I say about SF? I think there is as high a concentration of talent in this city as anywhere in the world. It is a flavor playground. It has me in its claws.

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Lots of jazz on the ones and twos. Sanders, Coltrane, Coleman, Sun Ra, Hamilton, Mingus. The same principles apply to roasting: Tension, dynamic range, and negative space. Sometimes too much is too much. Sometimes it is just enough.

10 Questions with Entimos Coffee Roasters

Entimos Coffee Roasters is a collaboration between Matt Dittemore and Tim Tubra. Northwesterners by birth and by inclination (they were both steeped in Portland’s coffee culture in the early 2000s), they now call Sacramento home.  Matt and Tim began as home roasters (Matt in 2002, and Tim in 2009), but after exchanging notes and critiquing each others’ coffees, they began to collaborate.

"We'd kill for good coffee."

“We’d kill for good coffee.”

“I began this competition between myself and the coffee I was roasting,” says Tubra, “I wasn’t satisfied until I knew I’d found the perfect profile.” Friends and family took notice and began placing orders. With enthusiastic encouragement from their community, the duo formed Entimos in 2011 and began their fledgling business.

For now, Entimos is a tiny, roast-to-order operation. In addition to a small slate of individual coffees for sale online, customers can also sign up for three-month subscriptions, with coffee delivered once or twice a month. As a small operation, they roast only once a week and regularly update their website with their offerings. (Subscribers can expect to see 4-5 different coffees over the course of three months, so there are some repeats.) Beans are always shipped within 24 hours of roasting.

But there is at least one place you’ll soon be able to grab a cup of “the divine draught” on a Sunday morning—at the church where Dittemore serves as a pastor. He’s sharing the gospel of coffee with his congregation: “We are just starting to serve Entimos at the church. We want it to be a true representation of what our coffee is. We are in the process of changing over the equipment—it was pretty bad—which involves training the wonderful volunteers that make it in the morning.”

Might they expand in the future and consider a retail shop? It’s probably a long ways off. “We know that starting and running a retail space would be a large undertaking,” says Tubra. “Our focus is very much in roasting great coffee and we want to keep that our main priority.”

Website: www.entimoscoffee.com
Twitter: @entimoscoffee

10 Questions 

What inspires your roastery and your roasting?

The same bean roasted one day will taste different the next; from one brew method to another it will develop subtleties in flavor. There is no single cup that is the “best” coffee. This is what makes coffee so exceptional. One of our main goals is to help educate consumers about the differences between origins and assist them in recognizing different characteristics in each cup. While we enjoy a good blend, single origins are our main focus right now.

Diedrich IR-1What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?

We roast on a one-of-a-kind, white Diedrich. When we started we tried several different roasters but ultimately fell in love with this machine. It gives us full control over both airflow and gas pressure, important determinants of the roast profile. Apart from producing phenomenal coffee, it’s just so gorgeous to look at.

How would you describe your roasting style?

Knowing that it’s possible to roast a Kenyan and a Colombian very “dark” and have them taste essentially the same, we tend toward the lighter end of the spectrum. We want to give our customers a taste that showcases the particulars of each coffee’s origin and the farmers who grew and processed it.

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?

Tasting Wrecking Ball's Kenya GatugiSeveral months ago we roasted a coffee from Nyeri, Kenya. It was processed at the Gatomboya co-op wet mill in Mathira, Nyeri. After dropping the beans into the roaster, we gradually brought up the heat. Just before first crack, we charged the temperature. We finished the roast just after first crack. It made a very delicious drip that was full of strawberries, but the single origin espresso that came from that bean was out of this world. We miss that coffee a lot!

What does Entimos mean?

Entimos is an English transliteration of a Greek word that carries the connotation of “esteemed,” “honored,” “held in high regard,” and “valued.” It encapsulates much of what we want our coffee to be. Being a student of the Bible, Greek is a language I [Matt] love. I took several years of French in high school but I don’t remember much of it—and “honoré” doesn’t have the same ring.

Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?  We have a mausoleum of coffee brewing devices and it seems like our preferences change all the time. If we had to pick one “go to” method right now? It would be a lovely pour over in a Chemex using Able Brewing’s Gold Kone.

What do you love about the coffee scene in Sacramento?

Without a doubt, we love the fact that it is growing.  For a long time, San Francisco was the closest place to get good coffee.  Specialty coffee has exploded in Sacramento in the last few years. The sense of community between roasters and coffee shops has been awesome. It is a privilege to be a part of it.

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

Hearing the positive responses from those who drink our coffee. Seeing people enjoy the coffee experience as much as we do is phenomenal. Being a part of the coffee community and experiencing the camaraderie there has been very fulfilling. How could there be a “worst thing”? We are doing what we love!

Preferred soundtrack for roasting?

Tim enjoys beats like RJD2 and Matt occasionally gets down with any kind of bluegrass. It just depends on which one of us is roasting.

Finally—and I’m dying to hear this—what’s the story behind that awesome photo of you being arrested for brewing coffee?

Tim: We wanted to enter the Able Xtreme Kone contest [a competition for the best brewing recipe for the Able Kone filter, along with a photo of Kone brewing that is “extreme, creative, and extremely creative”]. We thought it would be a killer idea to have a picture of us being arrested for brewing coffee. After many failed attempts to stage a photo with our buddy who is a police officer, we had all but given up on the idea. I [Tim] was driving home just an hour before the contest deadline. I was stopped at a light and looked to my right and saw the officer. I rolled down my window, got his attention and asked if he had 15 minutes to spare and wouldn’t mind taking a photo with me and my buddy for this coffee contest. He obliged and I had him follow me to Matt’s house. Hilarity ensued. Matt’s neighbors couldn’t figure out what was going on.

Matt: I was almost asleep when I got a frantic call from Tim informing me that he was three minutes from my house and had an officer following him. He told me to get dressed and get my Chemex and Kone FAST! Leave it to Tim to convince a cop to follow him somewhere in the middle of the night to pose for a picture.

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!

 

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.

 

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.