Perking Up

He dumps a bean-packed burlap sack into his Probat L12, a German-made coffee roaster resembling the lovechild of a miniature locomotive and Robby The Robot from Forbidden Planet. The apparatus snarls confidently in his roastery as small batches of raw coffee beans are swallowed, heated and transformed into the cooked, suitable-for-brewing ingredient used to create java, joe, battery acid… America’s most beloved drink.

The objective of He, or any artisanal coffee roaster, is multifaceted. They are surgeons, meticulously extracting each bean’s distinct identity. Evangelists committed to converting palates to craftsmanship. They are also our bridge to the global—other cultures, connecting Huntington to Panama, Sag Harbor to Jamaica, Patchogue to Maui…

Georgio Testani, Owner of
Georgio’s Coffee Roasters

Location: Farmingdale, Huntington
Annual Roastage: 50,000 lbs.
Coffees: 24

Favorite Bean: Hacienda La Esmeralda Mario Carnaval (Panama)
It needs a lot of heat at the beginning, but then I back it off. The dry fragrance when you grind will smell like jasmine and the wet aroma will be tangerine, peach and very floral. Milk will destroy all this work.

My parents came from Rome and would start brewing at 5am before work. Then when they came home, the moka pot would go right on the stove. My house always smelled like espresso. It’s in our blood.

I practiced roasting for seven years before anyone was allowed to taste my coffee.

I’m weighing beans at home, even before I hit the shower. They’re test batches, so I can dial the proper roasting profile for that coffee. I weigh, grind and brew. If I’m not happy, I’ll do another test. When I get to the shop, it’s roasting and more roasting. I’m also packaging for retail and wholesale and shipping to 29 states. We get to roast coffee and watch soccer. What’s better than that?

There’s a process called cupping. It takes years to master it properly and every roaster should do it. We take 100–300 grams of coffee and roast it lighter than normal to identify acidity, flavor, body and any defects. After we grind the coffee a little coarser than drip and brew, four minutes later, the crust that forms on top will be broken with a spoon. You put your nose very close to the coffee. Then four minutes later, we slurp and aerate on our palate. When I cup, I’m looking for coffees that pull my eye out with crisp acidity, dry fragrance and wonderful body.

Starbucks owns Long Island, but they roast way too dark, so a lot of flavor is lost. They changed the world, though. The people in charge of selecting and blending coffees are true experts. They cup all day long.

It’s up to us to reward farmers for producing better coffees. Period. I’ll pay two or three times as much as fair-trade. It might cost me $60 a pound, between shipping and packaging, but the farmer gets most of it.

cupping: a practice to observe the taste and aroma of brewed coffee

Bryan Baquet, Co-Owner of
Gentle Brew Coffee Roasters

Location: Long Beach
Annual Roastage: 20,000 lbs.
Coffees: 5-8

Favorite Bean: Daterra Farms Sweet Blue (Brazil)
We roast it to a medium-light level and it develops a sweet toasted wheat base with almond and milk chocolate notes. It’s not the most flamboyant of coffees, but its perfectly balanced.

When I was doing research for a paper on international trade in college, I actually visited Georgio [Testani] and had some of his coffee. That made me love it. But I love the intricacies. It’s a challenge to coax a particular flavor profile from a product that’s in a constant state of change, from processing to brewing.

I get to Long Beach at 5:30am and the roaster doesn’t stop until we close at 6pm. We’re constantly tasting roasts and adjusting. Not every bean is perfect, so we strive to highlight its best qualities.

We have different types of customers, varying from a buzz drinker to the person looking for a high-quality cup. For the first, we usually craft blends from co-op-controlled beans that are affordable for both the farmer and the customer. The second is more rare, and the type of drinker that brings us to a cross-point of premium pricing and rare beans.

I just stayed on an organic coffee farm in Peru to learn the process and form a relationship for direct purchasing. The region is full of coffee, but the problems were clear. Farmers were drying their coffee on makeshift beds in the middle of the street and entire bourbon plantations were being devastated by rust leaf. The farmers don’t even drink their current crop. No on-site roasters. For them to drink their own coffee, they would have to buy it back from the co-op.

Dwight Amada, Roastmaster of
Hampton Coffee Company

Location: Southampton, Stony Brook, Water Mill, Westhampton Beach
Annual Roastage: 150,000 lbs.
Coffees: 50

Favorite Bean: Peru Norte (Peru)
I tend to brew this the most, especially at home. I keep it as a medium roast, and I finish it at a lower temperature to get a floral acidity, nutty aroma and very crisp finish.

We’re the biggest roaster on Long Island, but we’re still one big family operation. My two brothers work here and are back here roasting with me. I started as a barista here in 1999 and gradually moved up to roastmaster. Everyone wants to help the business grow.

Coffee is essential for everyday life. It can be enjoyed as a fine wine, or something needed to get going. A good cup can almost bring you back to the place it was grown, also similar to wine and the idea of terroir. Each coffee is a reflection of its environment and growing conditions.

I was raised on a cocoa farm in Grenada and I can remember my grandfather growing coffee on the farm and me not knowing what it was. We thought he was some crazy person, always burning these beans and then drinking it and getting hyper.

Since we wholesale to restaurants and cafés, every day is a new set of challenges. You need flexibility.

A lot of countries are pumping education and money into coffee now, so it’s getting there. We Skype with our farmers in Peru a lot. Our Sumatra partner comes and visits us several times a year to let us know how it’s going and how we are helping to improve his village. It keeps us close to the harvest.

We started coffee classes at our Southampton location. Any time someone asks for a “Starbucks drink,” we use it as an opportunity to explain to them what our version is and what they’re going to enjoy about it more. Change takes time, dedication and a lot of patience.

William and Evan Closson, Owners of
Roast Coffee & Tea Trading Company

Location: Patchogue
Annual Roastage: 10,000 lbs.
Coffees: 18

Favorite Bean: Maui Peaberry (USA)
Evan: This bean is really easy to work with. We use a medium roast and dump the beans right after the first crack, or about 13 minutes, depending upon the day’s environmental conditions. We’ve found that a lighter roast tends to have a dominant grassy flavor that can be unappealing, but at the medium level, it’s so exceptionally smooth, coupled with chocolaty butter notes. The coffee has a decent range for the medium roast level that comes out really well and is part of the reason it is so easy to roast.

William: We started home-roasting on a small electric machine about seven years ago and liked what we were making, compared to what we were buying.

Evan: What I love most are the technical aspects of coffee, manipulating all the variables from roasting through brewing. What excites me is the journey and experience of experimenting with each new coffee to find its premier parameters… We find beans by contacting farms directly, then working with importers we trust. We look for beans that don’t need to be blended to make a good cup of coffee, as blending is often used to mask certain defects. We want beans with a smooth mouthfeel and low bitterness. We’re also looking at the care taken in processing the bean at origin and what standout traits come through during cupping… The coffee culture on Long Island is in its infancy, but it’s steadily improving. In Brooklyn and really all of New York City’s density, pedestrian traffic and its coffee-educated population really help promote and support artisanal shops. It’s a journey. The local roaster is really at the front lines of educating consumers.

mouthfeel: the sensation created by food or drink in the mouth (merriam-webster)

Andres Bedini, Co-Owner of
Java Nation

Location: Bridgehampton
Annual Roastage: 40,000 lbs.
Coffees: 15-20

Favorite Bean: Blue Mountain (Jamaica)

I was having a beer with my wife and said, “Why don’t we open a place?” There was nowhere to get cup of coffee here.

A good roaster actually drinks his or her own coffee and doesn’t solely rely on a machine readout to realize the best profile.

We rely on brokers (like a middleman) to source, but occasionally, we procure farm-direct. But I’ll buy a random bag and if the customers like it, we may keep it. Overall we’re looking for flavor and aroma, though. We look for chocolate and nuttiness from Central America and caramel earthiness from China.

When we opened in 1994, the delis were selling all the coffee and it was all flavored. A regular coffee was with milk and two sugars. I’d give people a black coffee and they’d give it back. I don’t have any problem with flavored coffee, but we don’t do it. It took a lot of time to teach people that there isn’t some magical hazelnut or vanilla coffee tree. There was definitely a lot of resistance at first. Everyone wanted that blue Greek cup. There also wasn’t a home market for it. People weren’t buying equipment. Over the last two years, though, it’s been taking off.

Artisanal is important now. We have customers who bring green beans in from their travels and we roast for them. That really increases their interest in the roasting process and in seeing this industry as less trivial. One customer even bought a farm in Jamaica and we helped him realize that smaller quantities yielding a quality crop was better than larger quantities of subpar quality.

We’ve visited India, Puerto Rico and Mexico. In India, the government no longer controlled the industry, so these farmers were interested in cultivating their product for competitive distribution throughout the world. Their interest went above and beyond yearly production to a scientific level that looked into genus/species improvement. Most roasters don’t go to that level when procuring beans.

niko krommydas

Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.