Sep 16, 2011 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Roasting coffee beans is a smoky, dusty, hands-on affair that requires the constant attention of the roaster and comes with a long list of not-so-fun auxiliary tasks: scraping and cleaning out the roaster every month or so, hauling around 150-pound burlap bags of beans (a two-person job), the eventual bagging and weighing of the finished product. It’s an expensive hobby, and going pro requires a significant investment in equipment (even used, small-quantity roasters cost thousands of dollars). They’re fussy machines that require ongoing maintenance, one roaster said.
But all of this only makes Syracuse’s abundance of local, independent roasters even more impressive. At press time, seven different roasters were marketing their beans in the Salt City, and the Near West Side, East Side, Eastwood, Downtown and North Side neighborhoods all boast their own roasteries (more than one, in some areas), each with their own personalities and defining characteristics.
And most roasters say there is even room for more.
Here’s the list of local roasters, and where to find their beans:
Roaster Matt Goddard’s favorite beans: “They’re all my children,” he laughed.
3501 James St., Eastwood
601 Tully St., West Side
Armory Square café goes head-to-head with Starbucks located across the street.
Three locations in the city:
115 Solar St., Franklin Square
144 Walton St., Armory Square
424 Pearl St., North Side
128 W. Genesee St., Fayetteville
403 First St., Liverpool
Hyman Smith Coffee
Best-selling roast: Columbian Supremo French roast.
500 Erie Blvd. East, Downtown
The Kind Coffee Company
Roasts progressively darker beans as the week goes on.
715 W. Fayette St., Near West Side
Recess Coffee Co.
Roaster/co-owner Jesse Daino’s favorite roast: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
110 Harvard Place, Westcott Neighborhood
Shamballa Café and Coffee Roasters
Roaster/owner Emmet Simpson’s favorite roast: Guatemalan, medium roast.
11 W. Genesee St., Baldwinsville
Small-batch roasting over an open wood fire.
(Sometimes) supplies Montage Café and Bar with beans, 219 S. West St., Near West Side.
“The more the merrier,” said Doug Nicolaisen. He opened The Kind Coffee Company nearly 16 years ago on the West Side. “There’s always room for more… anything that gets people off the big-name, big-box stuff.”
It’s a surprising sentiment echoed by several other Syracuse roasters.
Matt Goddard, who opened Café Kubal in Eastwood in 2007, opened his second café at 601 Tully this summer and plans to open a third in the Dey Centennial Plaza sometime next year.
“It’s so wide open still,” Goddard said. “There’s still room for several more roasters to come into town.”
And the roasters at Recess Coffee Co., Shambala Café and Coffee Roaster and Hyman Smith Coffee agree — not that they’d all be thrilled to have more competition, of course.
So how is Syracuse supporting so many different roasters? And how is there room for more?
Though the most caffeine-addicted would argue it’s a staple, coffee ranks as a luxury item — one of those pleasures we can, in fact, live without — and it’s no secret many households have cut back on spending in recent years.
But the price of specialty coffee, like the beans roasted locally, is not necessarily any higher than the lower-quality supermarket stock, said John Kupperman, who owns Smith Restaurant Supply and supervises roasting for the shop’s Hyman Smith Coffee line.
Half-pound (8-ounce) bags of freshly roasted beans start around $8, Kuppermann pointed out. Consumers get tricked into thinking they’re paying less at the grocery store when they’re really just purchasing less coffee, since the bags consumers think are a full pound are typically only 12 ounces.
Take cost out of the equation, and the success of local coffee roasters comes down to two components, roasters say: the quality of the beans, and freshness of the roast.
And in Syracuse, every roaster boasts theirs are best-quality beans. Each region of the globe grades beans differently, using a different scale to denote quality, and top-quality beans from every reach of the planet are shipped to the Salt City for roasting.
Which leaves freshness.
Roasted beans only retain their freshness for a maximum of two weeks, several roasters agreed.
Consumers can’t find beans that fresh on a grocery store shelf, they contend.
John Kuppermann’s family established Smith Restaurant Supply nearly 120 years ago and was arguably the first and only independent coffee roaster when it broke into the business in the 1970s.
Even air-tight packaging won’t keep coffee fresh past two weeks, Kuppermann explained, because beans release gas, which typically destroys the air-tight seal.
“Freezing it doesn’t do it, air-tight that doesn’t do it,” Kuppermann said. “If you roast beans, you want to consume that coffee within two weeks. And by the time you roast it, pack it, ship it, and get it on the shelves, your two weeks are pretty much up.
There’s no reason any neighborhood with a big enough population base couldn’t support its own independent coffee roaster, said Kuppermann.
For Jesse Daino, who co-owns Recess Coffee Co. with Adam Williams, the wholesale market has provided a big growth opportunity in and outside of Central New York — their beans can now be purchased in some New York City shops.
Several other roasters provide wholesale supplies to more local stores and restaurants, though Kuppermann said it’s suprising how few non-roasting coffee shops don’t use locally roasted beans.
Converting those who would otherwise head to a chain coffeeshop for their fix is only growing the customer base for local roasters.
“You’re not going to get everybody,” Goddard said. “You’re going to get some people that just prefer cookie-cutter franchises, where they can walk in and it’s not challenging.”
Emmet Simpson, who opened Shamballa Cafe and Coffee Roasters in Baldwinsville in 2006, said there’s something intangible that those chains don’t provide:
“I think an independent coffee shop provides a place of community for people,” he said. “And people also remark about that. You have something special here because you can come in and become part of the conversation and really feel welcome in a small place.”
What goes into roasting coffee? It starts with hefty burlap bags of unroasted beans, imported from more tropical climates.
Bags for most commercial roasters average in the 130- to 150-pound range, which is one reason Kuppermann said it’s unlikely that the local roasters would team up to buy beans in bulk.
“It takes two people to grab them by four corners and haul these thing around,” he explained. “If you did try to collaborate, who gets the job of bringing it around, to save… not that much money?”
Prior to roasting, coffee beans hardly resemble the form most consumers would recognize. The raw beans are light green, small and very hard.
Roasting times and temperatures vary depending on the desired roast, but Daino said the roaster starts out between 350 and 400 degrees, and is constantly adjusted during the typical 20-minute roasting process.
About halfway through roasting, the beans pop. There’s a satisfying sound, like popcorn, as the beans expand to their more familiar size.
Once out of the roaster, the beans must be turned or stirred as they cool to keep a consistent Like steak off the grill, the beans will retain heat for a short time after roasting and continue to cook if they’re not properly cooled.
At Recess, Daino uses a large wooden paddle to stir the beans in a copper-lined barrel, then points a fan on them.
From there, the beans are bagged. And that two-week clock starts to tick.
Click on the coffee map, left, to find a roaster in your neighborhood at left, or click here for a full map of roaster locations in the greater Syracuse area.