Imagine my surprise last year when I went to visit my mom in suburban Boston and discovered a boutique roaster barely 2 miles from her house, an easy morning walk from the house where I grew up.
The town is about 20 miles from Boston and a world away. There's no public transport, no way in and no way out unless you have a car or know someone who does. There are four traffic lights - an increase of two since I was a kid. The sidewalks were all put in after I left town to go to college. Walking is a serious hobby for many in the town, who take early morning constitutions "around the block" - anywhere from 1 to four miles, depending on the route. These consistitutionals take place on the road, as few streets actually have sidewalks, including some of the most treacherous (curves, hills, blind corners).
There's been decent coffee there for a while. There's a coffee roaster in the center of town and a Starbucks just down the street from that. But until Karma Coffee Roasters opened up, the consistent quality and season beans - and friendly, familiar service - just wasn't there. At least not for me.
Karma's improbable location - behind a Papa Gino's in a building that used to house a discount shoe store about 30 years ago, a building that can't be seen from the road unless you are looking for it - makes it a secret that the owners enjoy keeping. There's a small seating area, a few fresh baked goods from B&R Bakery the next town over, and whatever non-perishable product the owner feels like stocking at the moment.
I decided to take my camera over there the day before I returned to Chicago. Luckily for me David was roasting coffee (the Ethopian Harrar that came in the above burlap bag) and invited me to take pictures of the process. I've watched others roast coffee, but none as carefully and deliberately as David.
When I showed up, David was about to package something from Central America. The roasted weight of the batch was a little over 13 lbs.
He then began the Harrar after cooling down the roaster. Here's a series of photos showing how, over a little more than 12 minutes, the roast went from green to perfect (photos taken every 1-2 minutes):
As the coffee roasted and darkened, David's activities became more frenzied. More frequent smelling and viewing of the beans, jotting times and notes, sometimes as frequently as every 15 seconds, kept him completely occupied. He'd check the color under a multi-spectrum lamp which gives a more accurate read than the celing-mounted flourescents.
Here's how David checked the color (the white blob is the multi-spectrum lamp):
With every view he let me smell the progress of the beans. First grassy. Then herbaceous. Then slightly floral. Then berries. Then blueberries. And chocolate. He explained that in the final roast, he liked to have a variety of colors (city roast to full city roast for the layperson) because each had a slightly different character and gave the coffee complexity. You can get a better look at the roasted coffee, still cooling, below:
For every batch David starts with about 15 lbs. By the end of the roast, the weight has decreased by about 15-25% and the volume has doubled.
After watching David roast the coffee, one of the guys made me a cappuccino to go:
(above is the requisite shot pulling picture. Sexy crema!)
And then the thing of beauty and skill: the leaf:
These guys make them the way I like them.