Meet Our Roaster
Can you talk a little about how you got into roasting? By trade, you're a master carpenter and a boatbuilder.
From an early age, I’ve always enjoyed pouring myself into projects -- the kind that require lots of digging for knowledge and information. As a teenager, I built my first wooden sailboat in my parents’ garage after devouring every boatbuilding magazine and library book I could get my hands on. As an adult, I earned my living as a carpenter and later found opportunity to return to boatbuilding on a larger scale, opening a boat shop. I've always appreciated the process of creating beautiful things, the attention to detail, and the need for full engagement. I seem to start every project with expectations that reach beyond my experience. It’s a journey of careful steps requiring patience along the way. Coffee roasting is a similar process. It’s another craft that takes patience and a willingness to master the tools of the trade. I fell in love with coffee roasting for the same reasons that I enjoy building boats. In both cases, you start with a simple, raw product with hopes of turning it into something truly great. With coffee roasting, the big difference is that you’re taking raw beans from diverse places and coaxing them to reveal something amazing that’s already inherent. It’s almost like a mining operation.
Has coffee roasting always been on your radar?
While I’ve always been an avid coffee drinker, I didn’t always realize that roasting was an attainable goal for someone like me. That changed when my wife, Chris, and I met a coffee vendor at Detroit’s Eastern Market on a Saturday morning. He was roasting some green beans in a small roaster. I had never seen raw, green coffee beans before. That intrigued me. As time went by, and my taste and appreciation for good coffee grew, I was finding less and less satisfaction in a lot of the coffee I was drinking. But having seen those green coffee beans, I knew what I could do to fix the problem. After hours of research, I purchased a vintage popcorn popper for $3.16 at a resale shop. It was my first roaster.
How has your process evolved since your popcorn popper days?
After my first successful roast with the popper, I began roasting as often as I could. I found more bean sources, both locally and online. I was examining each part of the roasting process, allowing me to analyze how even the smallest changes can impact the beans’ flavor. For instance, I hacked together a system where I could log the roasts using a microphone and an audio program on the computer. It let me monitor when “first crack” occurred in the roast -- that’s an important stage in the roasting of a coffee bean. Funny enough, the crack sounds like popcorn popping!
As my interest in roasting expanded, it was time to upgrade to a proper drum roaster. No surprise, there was a steep learning curve. While the popper was comparatively simple and produced some amazing roasts, the new roaster allowed much more control over the roasting process. Variables included controlling various temperatures and airflow. I had to depend on research and trial and error. I learned so much from all that experimentation, and I’m really happy that the end result has been consistently good flavor in the cup. However, I believe experimenting and learning will always be part of the roasting process for me.
What does it mean to start a coffee roastery in Detroit?
Well, I’m a native Detroiter, as is Justin, and, at the moment, everyone’s eyes seem to be on the city. It’s an amazing, vibrant place with this feeling of endless potential. New businesses are popping up, and it’s great to be a part of it. We’ve met so many great people through this process. There’s a real spirit of cooperation and support here.
What kind of coffee do you enjoy most?
As a roaster, I strive for a balance of acidity and sweetness, a pleasing aroma, a bright cup, and a light and delicate body with a sweet finish. I seem to favor many of the African coffees, especially the Kenyans with nice black tea notes. That said, I often find myself looking forward to the smooth milk chocolate nuttiness of a good Brazil.
One of the best and most memorable coffees I’ve had was at Astro Coffee in Detroit. It was one of George Howell’s from El Salvador. My best description is that it tasted as though someone crushed fresh pecans in the cup. It was that fantastic.
How do you go about sourcing your coffee?
We have a great respect for all the work that goes into coffee before it ever reaches our roaster. Justin and I work with reputable importers like Cafe Imports and Coffee Shrub so that we can be confident that the agricultural details, growing and processing practices, labor conditions and business practices are all at a high standard. And then, with that high standard, I feel the weight of responsibility to deliver on my part in the roasterie.
What advice would you have for someone brewing their first cup of Joy Coffee?
Really just enjoy it. Just like roasting, brewing coffee can be its own complex process, but you want to have fun with it. The V60 and AeroPress are my go-to brewing methods, but use whatever works for you, and enjoy all the flavors and the uniqueness of each of the coffees. And definitely let us know what you think!