Ep #9 – Roaster Roundtable
<Dave> Hi, Dave Borton. Welcome to Mill City Roasters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have a stellar group
thats with me today assembled from the Twin Cities and Iowa. We’re going to be talking
about a couple of themes… what we wish we has known when we started roasting or about our business
that we know now. Let me introduce the group. Tony, please.
<Tony> Hi, I’m Tony. I’m the director of coffee over at Spyhouse Coffee Roasters right up the street. <Dave> And the 2016 roaster of the year. Joe?
<Joe>Hey I’m still Joe Maracco and I still work at Cafe Imports up the street, as well. Kind of halfway between here and where Tony works. And there
I do sales and am the director of education. <Dave> Former barista champ of the Midwest, former roaster,
and now our friend and compadre– Ellen, Ellen Swan.
<Ellen> Ellen Frank, from Auburn, Iowa, owner of Little Green Truck Coffee Company.
<Dave> Thank you, Ellen. I worked with an Ellen Swan, I slept there. Then a couple
of years, and Micah.
<Micah> Micah Svejda, I’m the owner of Bootstrap Coffee Roasters. We’re in Saint Paul,
just 5 minutes from here. <Dave> The better city in the Twin Cities and we’d welcome you here.
Our gallery today is a group of rogue roasters from around the world visiting us and hold
your applause until we get there. Let’s kick this off.
What do you wish you had known when you began roasting that you know now?
Joe, you want to get us into the weeds quickly? <Joe> Oh sure, you know you can count on me for that. <Dave> Always.
<Joe> Basically, when I started roasting I thought that roasting was going to be kind of like the barista craft
where they’re very clear and
distinct things that you needed to do. So if
you want to have the coffee flow more slowly
you tighten the grind, if you wanted to flow
more quickly you loosen the grind things like that. But I very quickly learned that roasting
was something that was not as scientific, not as cut-and-dry at that time and that there wasn’t
a lot of resource out there. I just wish
that I would have known that it was a practice
and not necessarily a prescription for
everything that you do so I would have been
a little bit more free to kind of explore some
different areas instead of trying to find
recipes for every single thing. <Dave> Are you suggesting you’d have been less mechanical and even
more inquisitive? <Joe> Absolutely. <Dave> Lets see, you used to roast on a what size?
<Joe> Well, the first roaster I ever roasted on was of 1 pounds San Franciscan. It was our sample roaster at Kaldi’s
in Saint Louis and our production roasters were 70 pound San Franciscan in a 25-pound San
Franciscan that I moved very quickly up to.
And then we switch those out for a 70 kilo
Probat and then a 22 kilo Probat. <Dave> Very good. <Joe> So, I spent probably
the most amount of time on the 25 pound San
Franciscan out of the years that I was there
and probably second most amount of time on
that 70 kilo Probat. <Dave> So, you wish you had realized it was more art and craft rather than
prescriptive occupation. <Joe> In a way. I feel like we are now getting to a point where we’re
understanding the science more and so we are able to prescribe a bit more but at the time
all of the science was so pseudoscience that we were prescribing exact ways of doing things
that didn’t really make a lot of sense and
so had we been free too kind of try different
things we would have very quickly shed that bad science and move to better ideas. <Dave> Very good.
Anybody else want to build on that? Or go in a different directions? <Tony> I have a lot of similar experience when I started out.
The culture at that time, especially around roasting and I was in the Pacific Northwest at the time, and it was very secret driven
and everyone had their way but nobody communicated much. And I think looking back on it a lot of that
may have been out of even personal fear. I think a lot of times people have theories and they
were not, as much as it came across that they did want someone to steal their theory, it was a little more of
I don’t want to say something and be wrong. That kind of thing that was a lot of what was going on in that era.
But, it was really hard to find much information on roasting at all and you kind of had to forge your own the way. I think we’re reaching a
point now where it’s– there’s never been as
much information available so easily and freely and
accessibly to a new roaster. I probably catch myself once a week saying to somebody it’s never been
easier to start a roastery than it is now. <Dave> And that bridges into current time. Would you say that
the community is loosening up? What’s driving that Tony? <Tony> I don’t have a very long history in the community. I think
there were always people who were doing good things and sharing their information but you had
to go to them. I mean, the Roasters Guild Retreat goes back this week the 18th year its existed? <Joe> Yeah, I think so.
<Tony> So, there were people getting together and discussing their ideas for at least 18 years with that
program. but its grown a lot more recently as more people have gotten involved. Granted the number of roasters in the US has increased expensively in that time
period, as well, but I don’t the culture was intentionally guarded I just–there was fewer people interested
and, I mean, the coffee culture has changed incredibly within the past 20 years. <Dave> I remember I came
back from a farm in Panama–excuse me– 2005 and I went to a roaster…very good roaster! And they locked up their
profiles at night, you know, it was that kind
of secretive as you referred to it of somebody
might want to know so…<Joe> Coca-Cola. <Dave> Yes! Proprietary information. Thoughts? Go ahead Joe. <Joe> There was a pioneer, I want to give a shout out to,
a guy named Chris Schooley who I think was one of the first people– he along with Tom Owens of
Sweet Maria’s they both put a lot of information out online especially through the Sweet Maria’s
website and work really hard to empower a
lot of roasters and really a lot of those
communications started with home roasters and small roasters. Roasters who didn’t have their business
on their shoulders that they were afraid of
losing if they shared too much or somebody
saw that they didn’t know what they were doing really, people that didn’t have as much skin
in the game just started sharing information back and forth, and Chris really lead that. <Dave> I drive people to
Sweet Maria’s library. There’s a phenomenal amount of information. Sweetmarias.com.
In their library–in our videos, we’re up to
like 35-36 videos, Joe–it’s
like the curtain is coming down between “this is my information and I’m going to keep it”
versus “this is my information, what’s yours?” kind of thing. I feel that experience in
the 12 years I’ve been involved in specialty
there’s a lot of that good information
being shared, as well. Other thoughts? What do
you know now that you wish you would have known in the beginning? Either about roasting or
business? <Ellen> I’ll say one thing to what Joe said early. I’m new to the roasting world and I love just the art
part of it, and because of the sharing in the
coffee community, I know that you experts know
the science so I don’t have to learn the science. I just want to do the art part and learn how
to roast good coffee. <Dave> Okay, and what steps do you do to get to that point, Ellen? You’ve got a
beginning business, you’ve got a retail space being developed…How did you get there?
What steps did you take on your path that other that starting in the small commercial business
might take? <Ellen> I started drinking coffee, and then we purchased our 2K roaster, to–as a hobby to support my husband’s addiction…
<Dave> To coffee? <Ellen> To coffee, we won’t talk about the other ones. And I went to Farmers Market and there was interest in good coffee and we soon
learned that we are in a coffee desert in our
little rural area so it’s been very fun and
I forgot your question. <Dave> Well, what steps did you take? How do you get to someone
that’s beginning to learn coffee to the point
of the initial commercial steps? <Ellen> To just dive in. <Dave> Okay.
<Ellen> And use the expert resources that you have all been amazing. I’m just honored to be here, honored.
<Dave> Its good to have you. <Ellen> Thank you for inviting me. <Joe> Honors all ours, for sure.
<Ellen> But, if I can do anything it’s to inspire the start-up tiny roaster, and go for it, and not be afraid, and um
I mean, if I have a bad roast, my family drinks it. And, you know, open to critize. And, I’m going to bring the point up that the thing that I know made me–helped me the most
in my long roasting career is when my Artisan did not work. One day when I had to roast 4 batches. <Dave> You mean you can roast coffee without using software?
<Ellen> Yes. <Dave> Talk about that that experience. <Ellen> Well, you rely on your nose and your eyes and timing other than the computer screen and it just
brought everything together for me and that’s how I became a little bit confident. <Dave> Joe plugged that,
I don’t know if it was last month or the
month before last. <Joe> Yeah, for our New Year’s resolution. <Dave> New Year’s resolution!
Roast several times without your profiles. <Joe> That’s right. <Dave> And Tony, I think you first learned to use
software when you came here, didn’t you? <Tony> I, yeah, we–so, I started on paper books. I won’t say how
far our 10 caps were where I started, I mean yeah, we had some range. And that shifted over time and when I started
at Spyhouse I was a paper guy, you know,
that how I did all my logging. But I had seen the power that some of the software had, so I actually created my
own Excel sheet that allowed me–I typed in temperatures every 15 seconds. That gave me graphs that I thought were really accurate–
I had a rate of rise, I had curves, I had all the things that the software gives you. And, it’s good in that learning because, I mean, I always flex on how I want to teach
someone to roast. Whether I want them to be paper, heads in, do the math, or software. The more and more I’m on software, it helps and that’s such a huge
improvement that the coffee industry has now. I like to call it the zen of roasting a little bit in,
as you’re having that instantaneous read out of what your air flow–your air temp is doing, what your bean temp is doing, you can see reactions and being
able to work alongside the coffee, not force the coffee. I know learning for me, you know, people would talk about the color changes of coffee and,
“Oh, I’m at yellow.” I’m like, how are you calling yellow to a second. There’s a range of yellow here, and like I’ve never worked in a place where we use,
actually use the terms full city, or anything like that. And I know, what I call yellow to my employees is not what the true definition of yellow is, but for us it is what
yellow means. But having that software enables us to see when a change is happening and work within it. And it really–for me its been a really great way
to improve my roasts and just kind of let the coffee lead it, and know where I need to make changes. <Dave> Very good. Micah, any different thoughts? Rejoinders?
<Micah> I mean, yeah, I also started on pen and paper, and we actually just moved over to software not even a year ago. It was last summer actually.
Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of value in kind of learning how to roast pen and paper. You’re very hands-on, you’re very–um–
you have to kind of see the curve, you know, that you’re creating and be really reactive and
at same time, sticking to your roast plan that you’ve set in the beginning. Its uh– I feel like it’s
it’s a good, it’s a good tool to learn on that
but then to move quickly or to move at some
point, at least, to software…to rely on that
technology. It takes a little bit of the guess work out and, and
then you can measure those results against your cup scores and your cupping notes and you can
precede in a little bit more of a systematic way, a little bit more of a predictable way. <Dave> Very good. I know the other day, there’s a Coffee Tech Silon,
a 7 kilo over Joe’s shoulder. And we did not have it hooked up to the computer
and Steve said, well give it a roll. So I was
roasting away and I found myself more attentive
to the coffee and I was on that trier more frequently and these were working more. And I’m thinking
well, I call coffee a 340 end of drying–
yellow stage and so on and so forth and I’m thinking,
“oh, I don’t have that temp, I’ve got to dive in
here and really, really focus on the coffee.”
So there’s strengths to software, and there’s a handicap to using software. Once one begins
not to roast, it’s too easy to get wedded or married to software, ignoring the tangible
product that you’ve got right in front of
you. Other thoughts? What do you know now that
you wish you had known you begin roasting or started in the roasting business? <Joe> I had a thought while you were speaking a moment ago, about how
myopically focused we can get on what we call a “good” roast, or a passable
roast. I wish that I would have known how hard it is to really mess coffee up. I mean, really you can, you can roast
in a pretty big range and a customer will still
accept that roast as being good. And sometimes we’re so hard on ourselves when we don’t get that little
extra push of floral out of a coffee, or that little extra bit of cherry that we want to get in a coffee. Whereas, a customer is more interested in interacting with us
as human beings– <Dave> Oh sure. <Joe> –and having coffee as part of that facilitating relationship. So, I wish that I would’ve focused on that, as well.
So, when you’re out there learning how to roast, know that if you are attentive with the trier, and you’re attentive with your nose and your eyes
you’re not going to burn the coffee, you’re going to drop it before it’s ashes. It’s okay. <Dave> Very good.
I’ve been roasting about 12 years, most of it home roasting, migrated over here a couple and a
half– three years ago– whenever it was, and I always felt somebody knew more than I did. I never
knew enough, you know? And, as opposed to embracing
or being thankful for what I did have, or
the knowledge that I have been given by others, I was always thinking, “but she knows more than
I do,” or “he’s a better roaster,” or “she’s a better cupper,” and I don’t know where– when it was–
it was at some point, probably about 5 years ago, to finally say I’m in a mix of people
with a variety of gifts, and a variety of talent. I don’t have to be the best cupper at this table, I
don’t have to be the best roaster among this group, but I do have to be willing to give
back to this community that’s gifted me in
so many ways. And once I did that, Tony used the
word zen before, I describe a lot of my coffee stuff, whether I’m doing a pour over in the
morning or I’m roasting, as zen. And that gets away from this cognitive criticism that flies
into overdrive and goes back to more to what you said, its pretty hard to ruin a roast.
<Joe> It is. <Dave> But it’s a gift that people in a country whom I never meet, will bring me that coffee
year in- year out, assuming I’m willing to pay for the fruits of their labor.
<Joe> Yeah, I think that a lot of times we focus so much on the little details, whether it is on the software
where we get in tuned to this piece of equipment and we’re making sure the line is on the graph,
or whether it’s the coffee and we’re pulling
out the trier and making sure that all of the
times and temps and aromas are on pace, but then when we do kind of relax, I think
that’s the moment where we become a coffee roasting professional. Where we’re able to kind of ease all of the burden of having to worry and feel frantic
about all of the dials and the gas and the air and all of that. And you can just been with the coffee and kind of feel your way though a roast and drop it and
know this is going to taste delicious and serve it with confidence. That’s what we should strive toward. <Dave> I think, uh, what that directs me towards is
a comment that Tony made to us several months ago, what coffee do you like best? And he said, the one I share with my wife
in the morning, you know. And doesn’t that really sum it up? In terms of the industry,
the product that we’re trying to produce for a customer, or a person with whom were in a relationship.
Tony, you were roaster of the year last year.
Did you get out of zen moment and get a little
bit frantic as competition draw near, or did you relax with it? <Tony> So, when we were turning in our coffees, I–
<Dave> To whom? <Tony> To Joe, specifically, <Joe> I was the head judge. <Tony> Joe was the head judge, last year–
<Dave> At the SCAA Convection in Altanta. <Tony> And, immediately turned in my coffee, went and helped my barista do a practice routine and then came
back and worked the Roasters Guild membership table. And I was sitting next to Jen Apodaca, who is also on the
EC, < Joe> Now the head judge of the competition. <Tony> Now the head judge, and a couple other people who had entered it come up and asked
how I felt about my coffee and I was convinced that I destroyed my compulsory. I did not think I was getting out of compulsory at all.
And, when I did win, Jen came running up to me along with Bill and gave me a huge hug and just
very not so gently reminded me of how upset I was about my compulsory coffee. Yeah, I mean when you’re going to be judged on something, you want
it to be perfect. And not all of the elements are in your hands. I competed
the year before and I had entered a horrible compulsory coffee that I thought was really good. There are things that are out of your hands in anything. I mean, you’re
flying cross-country with your coffee, you’re putting it on water that you may not be able to replicate
in your cafe, you’re–I mean, there are thing you just got to kind of let it go, and hope that what you want to show up shows up. I did three batches for my finals coffee
and one of them went a tiny bit off curve and I almost pulled it from the blend, and I kept it in there. And I’m glad I did. But it was one of those things where like
you just get into the minute details and I think good coffee should be good coffee, if you have to fight it then–there are coffees that area definitely harder to work with
like if you go back into some of the Cafe Imports archives, you’ll find Joe’s article about the first time he roasted
Sidra, out of Ecuador, and it’s a very, very challenging varietal. But, there are a lot of coffees that are more or
less easy to roast and if you have to fight
the coffee, if you have to do all these things to extract it
even if the green score was a 94, can we call it a good coffee the same way? If someone can’t
take it home and make it taste good, if you
can’t– if you have to fight to roast it, there’s
not a place for us to score coffee as what’s just good coffee. And, like I think part of being a good
coffee is that it’s easy to work with, that somebody– you can pass it off to somebody else with confidence.
I’m getting tangential and theoretical here. <Dave> No, no. I think the point is well-raised. The word I’d use there Tony is, “roastability.” <Tony> Yeah.
<Dave> You know? I had a coffee, it was an excellent coffee I scored it almost at an 88, but I knew from customers it had a very narrow band of people to whom
it would apply. The rest would say, “that’s not good coffee.” Oh, it was very good coffee, but a small segment
of our customer base would enjoy it. And likewise, I won’t buy a coffee if I’m struggling to
roast it. It makes no sense to make it out
there to my customers. <Tony> And, I guess what I was arching the arrow toward, I think was
buy good green. Like, starting off you may be afraid to throw an extra dollar at that pound of coffee that’s really good. You can only get out of it what’s in there.
And, if you’re starting with a lower quality coffee your output is going to be lower quality coffee.
I like to refer back to Target on this. People–Target started buying some Cup of Excellence lots
for their Archer Farms line a couple years ago and everyone was like, “why are you selling Cup of Excellence lots in large grocery stores?”
Like your customer– you’re taking a loss on
it and your customers aren’t going to get it
and the response was, if they’re taking home the better coffee to put in a brewers they’re going
to get a better cup. They may not do it perfect, they may not nail it, but they’re gonna get a better outcome. And it’s
scary to spend the money on something when you’re first learning, but you’re going to learn so
much more if you started with something good. If you’re starting with something that has some defects or it’s got a lot more
challenges, or it just doesn’t have the same
level of sweetness, acidity, body, whatever you
enjoy and you’re looking for, you can learn how to maximize what’s there, but the less you have to work with the less you have to work with.
<Dave> Very good. Others? <Ellen> Okay, this is from a way different angle. When you guys eat your corn flakes, or fill your car with ethanol, or eat a great steak,
I want you to think of my husband, who prepares the soil and give his seed and every kernel TLC. And me in the combine when we harvest, there’s more than
just driving that equipment. And my son who hauls it to the elevator that goes into that corn, for example.
So, when I drink a cup of coffee, I will never
meet those farmers. But, my in importer knows
them personally and I can’t stand to drink
coffee out of a metal or paper to-go cup. Its got to be a real cup
with the open-top and when I pour it, I want to see my favorite reddish golden
color in my coffee and it’s a whole experience
to drink that cup of coffee and I can’t do
it on the run. It’s– it’s a sit down and relax
for a few minutes thing because it’s a real
joy to me. <Dave> Yeah. <Ellen> So now, roasting coffee, that kind of all goes into my 13 minute roast, so… <Dave> Sure. There was a
roaster, and I don’t know where they’re at,
they had one called 1000 hands. That was the
name of the either the blend
or the origin, and they put 1000 hands.
And they had the hands, dirty hands of a campesino who had been picking those beans one by one
and it was a good visual reminder that this
comes from people to us as a gift. And back
to Tony’s comment if we give that extra dollar a pound that assures us that kind of quality
that we’ve been given gets adequately reimbursed for the work of her or his hands in that
farm. Extra buck is expensive, it’s worth it. Others? <Micah> Yeah, I would kind of second that. You know, that I think that better quality coffee
is also easier to roast. I found that there’s so many different ways you can develop a profile of
really great coffee. More body, less body, little more acidity, little more sweetness. You know, you can kind of manipulate a roast better with a better quality coffee.
And I think that that is kind of a good lesson too for, you know, beginning,
smaller companies, as well. You know, I think its, it can be difficult you know. You know, I started Bootstrap
really, really tiny and to be difficult especially in the early days to uh–and be tempting to the kind
of skimp on that a little bit but, you know,
this is– this is your product. This is what you’re selling. You’re pouring your heart and your soul into it and it
needs to be, it needs to be delicious and it needs to have your stamp of approval all over it, ya know. So, yeah.
<Dave> Micah, I’m gonna come right back to you. How many years you been in business? <Micah> In May it’ll be 3.
<Dave> Very good. And I’ve seen your business get
serious traction in the Saint Paul area. What do you wish you had known 3 years ago that
you know now about the business side of it? We’ve got a lot of people that view these
that are home roasters, that are branching into farmers market, consignments at the beauty
shops, so on and so forth. What do you wish you had known then? <Micah> Probably, get a larger roaster.
So, I started out on a 6-pound San Franciscan– not 6 kilo, 6 pounds– and uh, yeah I pretty quickly outgrew that. Within a year I was doing
30 to 35 batches 4 days a week. Yeah, so definitely– <Dave> No time to service the accounts that way.
<Micah> Well, it was a lot of yeah, 80 hour weeks. Yeah so, I think that was a big lesson I learned was to anticipate your growth, as much as you can,
and to plan for that. You know, buy a roaster now that
you want to grow into within the next 2-3 years. Don’t buy a roaster that you–that works for now and then upgrade, ya know. That would be one of the big lessons I learned
early on, um, yeah.<Tony> And, uh– <Dave> Joe, go ahead. <Joe> No, you go first. <Tony> On top of that,
If, I think Micah you did this greatly, I didn’t see a noticeable transition when you jumped machines, but
you had to learn a new machine. <Micah> Right. <Tony> With coffee you had to sell to customers and anytime, like you know, I went
through phases. I’ve always been on the same machine with Spyhouse, but we’ve upped our batch size, we ran smaller batches so
we could get more batches out, so we could profile more quickly. But every time we jumped up, you know, how do
I extend this curve a little bit to match the batch size? How much gas is this? Like any time you jump on a new machine, I’ve done it now a few more times through
some of the events I’ve gotten to go to, and I can jump on a machine and I can get good coffee out in a couple batches. But like, what does 5 mean?
Like, all those things you just don’t know when you are jumping on a new machine. And it’s like, I mean I’m sure you had some stuff, that you had planned loss,
but eventually you had to putting coffee out
to a customer that you were still technically
learning on. <Dave> Learning. Still learning. <Micah> Yeah, no…it’s uh, it was a really
stressful couple of weeks.
Our last production day of the week was Wednesday, and then the machine was installed Thursday
and then the next– our next production day
was Monday going out. So I had three days to
basically learn this machine and get up to
speed. And, it– the first– and then the next week or two
after that was really obviously, you know, scaling up profiles and setting– basically setting new profiles, you know
for this, for all the coffees. <Dave> What did you jump to? What was your next size? <Micah> The 25 pound San Franciscan. <Dave> 25 pound, okay. 6 to 25. Joe, you
were going to say something in response to Micah. <Joe> I was, yeah. Um, what I was going to say is, even if you do have to start with a small roaster,
there are a couple of strategies that you can employ that I’ve seen be really successful. One is by your first roaster, if it needs to be small,
small enough to where it still can serve a purpose when you get your next size up where that roaster may become your sample roaster,
if you buy a 6 pound roaster, you can’t really
do a sample on a 6 pound roaster and so then
you’re just swapping your roaster out and
now you have a big roaster but then you have
to face, oh I need to buy a sample roaster, too. Also, the other side of that is if you are
installing a small roaster in a very small
space, its going to be very hard to upgrade to a large
roaster if your full building infrastructure
is built around this small roaster. You’re
going to need new gas lines, you’re going to need ventilation, you may need a new space
altogether. So thinking about what you’re what you’re 1 year, 3 year, 5 year plan is– getting
that stuff in place with that the first chunk
of money that you get to start your startup
is very advisable. Even if you have to start
on a 6 pound roaster, having gas lines that
are installed or having, you know, an infrastructure around that space that when you do need to
swap out to 25 pound roaster, you can just
plug it in and you don’t have to wait a week,
2 weeks, 3 weeks, in between moving one roaster in and one roaster out. You might lose your customers
in that amount of time that are depending
on you for that coffee that you’re depending
on for that new roaster that you just are now installing. So you don’t want to get caught
in a situation where you’re in limbo between two machines. So really, truly plan out your
growth strategy. If you’re roasting for retail
and it’s going to be something like your space
where it’s kind of in a bubble–it’s your
retail, it’s your roaster, starting out with the
smaller machine may be exactly what you need because then you can roast what you need and you have it there and you’re
not planning on big wholesale. But, when you’re in a city and you have rent to pay, and things like
that piling on, you have to grow so…prepare for growth. <Tony> Know the laws, too, I mean– <Dave> Back up with that. Where would you start?
<Tony> Make sure that you’re install—like if you want to be selling coffee that, you know…you could roast in your basement. You can put a roaster in your basement,
you can put a roaster in your kitchen, you can put a roaster in your garage. When Health Department comes around the farmers market and finds out that
you’re in your garage, he’s gonna want to check out that garage and he might shut you down. I’ve known multiple
people who this has happened to. <Joe> And fine you and everything. <Tony> Yeah, and you know it’s–a hobby and a business are not the same thing you can make
your hobby your business but if it’s gonna be your business, and you’ve got to pay your bills off of it, make sure you know what you are doing
and are not making a food product in a non-food product space, and you don’t
want to have a planned sales day, you know,
if you start having a restaurant thats dependent on your
coffee and you plan to roast tomorrow and Health Department comes by and shuts you down and
that restaurant’s not gonna wait 4 weeks for you to find a space to open back up. They’re go to find someone
else’s coffee because they need to sell coffee. <Dave> You bet, you bet. Yeah, I’ve heard Micah say start with the biggest roaster that you can project you’ll need, and
say in a 3 year horizon, and and I’ve heard
the other side of it– grow into the business
and keep that small roaster. We’ve got a roaster, Adam Moore– Red Light Roastery in
Hot Springs, and he started out with 1 K to
learn to roast and all of a sudden he realized,
like you, all I’m doing is roasting! I’ve got
to get out and service accounts, get new accounts,
press some flesh, and all of that. And in
10 months he was in a 10K. So you’ll hear
both sides of that discussion. I think they’re
both right, and I don’t think either one’s wrong.
<Micah> Yeah, and, you know, kind of adding to that, too. It’s–it all depends on how much you’re gonna to sell. You know, if you’re, if it–
if you do, you know, intentionally kind of want to grow slowly, then–then and, and really start
with small machine then that’s fine, you
know. But just having a realistic vision of
how you’re going to grow, I think is a very wise… is very wise. And then that will inform your
decision about which roaster to get. <Dave> Looking one step beyond where you’re putting your
present foot. <Micah> Right. <Dave> But it sounds like you were able to put the clutch in when you jump
from 6 pounds to 25 pounds, your quadrupling your production capability. Sounds like you
you were able to do it. <Micah> Yeah, it definitely was. It was a little bit, like I was saying, a little bit kind of a rocky transition so– but
I don’t, I don’t regret starting with a smaller
at all. I think it was, I think it was a good decision.
But yeah, I think that, you know, I anticipated a little bit of a slower growth, thinking that, you know, 2 to 3 years in is kinda when I would need another
machine and I’m sorry– a larger, a larger machine. But yeah. I don’t, I mean, like I said… <Joe> You’re just too good. <Micah> I guess, I don’t know.
<Dave> How did you make those first
contacts? And reason I ask that, I remember meeting you a good 6/8 years ago, and you pulled me
the first cortado I had in the city. You jumped into roasting, how did you make those first
contacts with accounts? <Micah> Well, I mean, I think I had a little bit of an advantage because I
have been working in coffee for a long time
before. I was mostly in cafﾃｩs, and so I had known
a lot of other people sort of locally in the coffee community, you know, working out of the coffee shops and
also in restaurants and things. And so when, you know when I decided to kind of make the
leap, I had about nine months before I was
actually in business, just in terms
of getting things set up and everything, and
so during that time I was, you know, making– making
calls and, you know, kind of working from
my network and then working out. So, starting
with the people I know and see if it made
sense for us to work together and kind of
going from there. <Dave> Working your network, so you would go up to Florence Jones and say, “Florence
we’ve been friends for 12 years, tell me who I should be calling on? Is that what you mean expanding
your network? <Micah> Yeah, yeah. Yeah basically. <Dave> Grow that network from your centric on out. Think about one more thing that you’d like to add, what
you know now that you wish you had known when you started coffee? And, I’ll begin. I think
at some point to learn the confidence
and trust myself in coffee. And I say that,
probably 4 years ago, Dee and I were in San Francisco and we went to a very good coffee shop that
served good coffee from a well-known roaster. And it was a light roast, and the two baristas
just could not applaud this coffee enough.
And they kept going on and on about this coffee.
So, they’re making the pour-over and it’s taken three and a half minutes and they slide it
across to me and I took one sip of it and it
was horrible. It was light roasted, you can
develop well a light roast, but this was nothing but lemongrass and under development, and I pushed
it back and I said guys, that coffee’s no good. And I wish that I had it earlier, not in a
cocky sense, but in this 12 year walk in coffee I wish I had had more comfort with that at
year 4 and 5, as opposed to, well, “What did
Joe Marocco say? What did Micah Svejda say?”
You know? And then going, oh I’ve got the gospel of coffee here because I’ve talked to one of
the disciples. I can still learn, I can garner, I can appreciate what others have to offer.
But at the certain– at a certain point there’s
got to become a trust level for yourself
that you’re in this industry, that you can give back, that you’ve got something to extend to others. That’s mine.
<Tony> For mine, I would say try to find a balance between mentorship and trusting yourself. Personally, having
Joe up the street, we’ve been able to become great friends. And even this week, I had, you know, one of those
lying in bed crazy,
theory ideas, and emailed him the next day and I was able to swing by his office. <Joe> He rolled over and shared it with me.
<Tony> The next, the next day between batches I sent this complicated roast theory idea over to him and nervously waited for him to tell me I was way off base
and found out I wasn’t. I was able to go over and talk with him. Many times, he’s always been a great resource for me educationally. But
also, having that confidence in my ideas to say, “hey, this is what I think is right.” Before I go
tell someone else that it’s right, I’m going
to check this against you. One guy, whose kind of a personal
hero of mine in the coffee world is
Daniel Evans in Valparaiso, Indiana. He now owns a roastery called
Dagger Mountain, and he started there as a
barista, took over their roasting, in the past year and a half or so, I believe,
bought the company, upgraded their roaster from an old, beat-up, small Ambex to a beautiful,
rebuild Probat UG-15. And my production roaster was hanging out with him at Roaster’s Guild Retreat
this year and, I mean, Daniel pretty much taught himself to roast. He was–there wasn’t
many local resources in Valpo and someone was asking him how he did that, and he was like, you taste
a lot of coffee and you have a lot of tears. And like, that end of– his company was still doing well. He was selling
coffe. He wasn’t proud of his coffee because he’s a perfectionist. I mean, I think we all have had
those. We understand that like our customers will buy this and they will think it is good. I know
it could be this much better, I didn’t
hit my mark. And that drive, but like, if you put
your head down and you do your work and work hard, work hard, work hard, you can do great things.
But also, find someone who you can ask the questions if you need to ask questions. <Dave> Trust yourself, have a mentor, and know
the difference. <Tony> Yeah. <Dave> Very good. Good thoughts Tony. <Joe> I’m going to say, learn how to cook. You know, you’re cooking green coffee
that’s what you’re doing. So if you don’t understand culinary arts, and you can’t cook an egg, and you can’t cook a cookie,
you can’t cook a chicken…you may not be a good roaster. So learn how to cook a bunch of different
things and learn how to apply those culinary ideas to your coffee. And at the same time, you’re learning
how to taste, you’re building your lexicon of flavor memory, and you can apply that to your
coffee and really shape your coffee in the
direction that you want to shape it. The best
chefs in the world are not the best chefs because they could follow a spreadsheet, it’s because
they can explore new terrain that food has to offer conceptually, and then present that concept
to a guest and have the guest connect to it emotionally. <Dave> And taste, taste, taste. <Joe> And taste, that’s right. <Dave> Very good. Ellen?
<Ellen> Well, what I’m more confident with now than I was when I first started roasting
is that I know it’s okay to be a dreamer. And
I hope I have the problem of having to buy
a much larger roaster. <Dave> That 15 kilogram in the back
walls got your name on it. <Ellen> I would love to have to learn that, and build a bigger shop, and put up a
warehouse, and have delivery vehicles, like
that would just, that’d be awesome. <Dave> Okay, so that dream still is out there for you. Very good.
That’s, I think encouraging. And as I told you before, we’ve got people that come in
here every week, 6 out of 10 are just like you, that are at those beginning steps, and
that kind of voice is very important for them to hear. <Micah> So, going back to the green buying, I just had
one more kind of final thought on that. Have, I would advise having a good green buying strategy for your
company. And, we were talking earlier about, you know, paying good money for good coffee and that’s
definitely a good principle, but I think buying the right coffees for your company, and for your customers, and for your price point
in a way that really makes sense. I think relying on your importer
is a good way to, is a good resource for you, you know? To buy coffee in a way that really makes sense for your company
and, you know, they can help you set you up with the right coffees and,
you know, and with an eye toward the future, as well as the present, so… <Dave> And go deep
on fresh crop, right? <Micah> Yep. <Dave> When they come in, work with your importer, find the best coffees and go
as deep as you can based on your plan for
the year. <Tony> Be the kind of customer to them that you
want your customers to be. Everyone’s going to be– when fresh crop season rolls around, or like a couple weeks, couple months
after, everyone’s going to be asking, “hey, what’s the best!? Hey, what’s the best!?”
Be the kind of person that they want to put their best things at. Couple of them–if it means you have to hop on
a plane and come visit so you can spend an afternoon and cup coffee with them, communicate back, give
them back what you found in the coffee– what you liked, what you didn’t like in what you bought, so
that they can– when you ask for advice
they have some knowledge of you, to be advised.
If you’re– if they’re coming to your town and hosting an event, volunteer and don’t just be
the guy who is going to be drinking the free
beer in the corner and asking, you know,
for the best samples. But, you know, maybe offer to pour water at a cupping. Be the guy whose
currying the grounds, like, be a friend. The best part of this business is we all got into it because of people. When you ask somebody what their first coffee was
it was their mom, their grandma, their aunt, their uncle, their friend giving their first cup. You got into it because of people, be a good person.
You’ll get better results from other people back. <Dave> Very good. Very nice. Those are wonderful concluding
thoughts. I want to take this opportunity to
thank this group for extending your time, your
energy, your wit, and your willingness to bring forth that to others, to share it so that we can
expand our networks, expanded our knowledge. And for those of you out there that are viewing in, we welcome
your input and ideas for our videos. Joe@cafeimports.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Joe and I usually stay about 3 months ahead of schedule, and so we look forward to any
ideas or questions that you may have. So, thanks very much for viewing in. We’ll see you!