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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 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.

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.”

Roaster Roundup: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters

Honestly, sometimes I’m flabbergasted by how many coffee roasters there are in the Northwest. I included 56 roasters in Left Coast Roast, but it could easily have been 112, or 168. Today, a newbie made it onto my radar via a blog post over at A Table in the Corner of the Cafe: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters. They’ve been up and running since spring 2011, after I had done all the research and most of the writing for the book. It sounds like a beacon of good-coffee light in the wilds of Tacoma:

With three different siphon pots, all-glass and wood-handled chemexes, an aeropress, porcelain V60s with your choice of regular paper filters or a Coava Able cone [ed.], a clever coffee dripper, french presses and press pots, and I’m pretty sure I saw a woodneck around here at one point in time.

The cafe was chosen as Best Cup of Coffee, Best Coffeehouse, and Best Place to Meet Someone by the readership of one of Tacoma’s  alt-weeklies, The Weekly Volcano—not too shabby for a year-old operation. I’ll be in Tacoma in October or November for a book event, and I’m looking forward to stopping by.

New roasters on the Portland scene

Coffee doesn’t stop for the publishing process. In the year since I wrote the book, a handful of exciting new coffee roasters have cropped up in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

The Red E

Keith, owner of the Red E, at the new cafe. Photo courtesy of Sprudge.com.

The Red E has been one of Portland’s best cafes for a few years now. We’re very lucky that owners Keith and Mindy are venturing into roasting their own. The original cafe (on N Killingsworth) manages to be both cozy and a little glamorous, but they also just opened a stand in Portland’s Ecotrust Building in the Pearl.

Case Study

This sweet cafe sits right next to one of the best bakeries in the Northwest, Kim Boyce’s Bakeshop. But that’s not the only reason to go. Case Study is one of a handful of local shops trying their hand at roasting after being trained by local heavyweights Sterling Coffee Roasters. They have a brand-spanking new roaster on the way.

Spielman Coffee Roasters

The focus at Spielman is more on their housemade bagels than their in-store-roasted coffee. On a recent visit some green (unroasted) and recently roasted coffee was sitting in the front window where I could take a look. The green had a lot of visual defects, so I suspect they aren’t buying top-quality beans. They seem to roast right down the middle—a standard full city that goes great with a mouthful of schmear. Though the coffee didn’t blow my mind, it’s a charmingly east-coasty spot in Portland’s inner east side, and worth a visit.

Nossa Familia (*New*—added 6/7/2012)

The folks at Nossa Familia have been operating in Portland since 2006. It started when founder Augusto Carvalho Dias bought a container of green coffee grown by his family in Brazil and Fed Exed it to Portland. Much has changed in six years. For one, starting in February 2012 Nossa has been roasting its own “family traded” coffees.  At the moment, they are the only roasting company in Portland using a Loring Smart Roaster, a hyper-energy-efficient machine that promises up to 80% energy savings. For now, Nossa’s coffee is mostly available in grocery stores, but plans are in the works to open a cafe out of their new roasting facility in the Pearl. Look forward to a more in-depth report in a few weeks.