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
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.