How Local Coffee Roasters Differ From Starbucks Local Coffee Roasters Use Careful Roasting Methods

Local coffee roasters use different methods than large coffee retailers.

Most customers will say the barista makes their coffee. But coffee isn’t actually made at the cafe. And nobody knows that better than two of the nerdiest, most knowledge-filled, pony-tailed coffee addicts in the world.

GRAHAM REYNOLDS: I learned that I really loved coffee when I started working at Recess. It’s just something that you become exposed to and then you become curious about. And it just sort of snowballs out of control.

Graham Reynolds is the head roaster at Recess Coffee in Syracuse….

JOHN DOBBS: (when did you fall in love with coffee?) When my grandmother gave me my first cup (that was it?). That was it, I was like ohhhh man!

And John Dobbs is the co-founder and coffee roaster at Freedom of Espresso in Fayetteville.

Reynolds and Dobbs are the real master chefs behind your cup of joe.

GR: I’m more or less given the keys to the operation.

He roasts 2,000 pounds of coffee every week out of the Recess roasting lab on Boss street. Dobbs says he roasts about the same amount from his West Genesee Street location.

JD: Syracuse is lucky, because the number of roasters that are good roasters, very capable roasters, you know, is quite high. Again 3-4. That’s quite a few in an area like this.

Cafe Kubal, The Kind Coffee and Salt City Coffee are other options for coffee connoisseurs looking for a locally roasted brew. They’re all mad scientists trying to deliver the perfect cup of coffee. This is their world. This is the journey of a coffee bean.

GR: It’s a globally consumed product. However it’s not globally produced. There’s a belt around the planet that enables coffee production.

JD: I want Columbian, I want Guatamalan. We’re gonna use at any given time, we’ll have a half a dozen different beans that we’re roasting.b

JD: coffee comes from a pit inside… the coffee… It’s actually called a cherry.

GR: When the coffee is ripe and ready to be harvested it’s picked. The seeds that are removed from the cherries are then washed in these cement washing vats.

JD: Once that happens, after they’re dried, they’re bagged and then they’re shipped. Most coffee places, regional roasters— they’ll get their beans, like we do, from a major shipper out of New York City.

GR: So then you just have to develop a good relationship with a coffee importer who can… you get the samples and figure out what you want to roast and how you want to roast it.

Stacks of giant burlap bags line the back walls of Recess Coffee roast lab, and Freedom Of Espresso’s roastery in Fayetteville. That’s how they first get the coffee. And the first thing you’ll notice is the color. Green.

NAT: Aha I gotta do a Tanzanian. Gotta do a batch of Tanzanian. So we’re gonna do a Tanzanian. (GR)

It’s time to roast some recess coffee.

NAT: Throws beans into hopper (GR)

NAT: Begins roast “We’re gonna start it right now” (GR)

The coffee is roasted from 12-15 minutes between 420 and 450 degrees fahrenheit. The exact duration and temperature depends on the origin of the bean they’re roasting. Reynold’s won’t roast his Tanzanian Peaberry the same way he’d roast his Ethiopian Harrar.

GR: “I like not to roast it any darker than this. This roast is just about done”…. Beans pour (GR)

GR: The Tanzanian coffee in profile— You get a cherry-forward aroma… chocolate flavor with bourbon whisky

And in Fayetteville…

NAT: “Are you still roasting this morning?”— “mmmmhm” (JD)

NAT: Loads up beans, turns on motor (JD)

NAT: “That sound told me the beans are done”… machine turned off… beans pour (JD)

JD: Okay, those are our darkest beans. It’s a Columbian. It’s gonna have a little bit of citrus to it. (JD)

The roasted coffee bean— pea-sized, lightweight, brown and aromatic. Before you brew it, it needs to be ground…. Hot water is passed through the coffee grinds, extracting the flavors as it passes. You can brew coffee at home. Or a barista can do that for you. You can add cream or sugar. You can add hazelnut syrup. But it might be nice to remember where your coffee really comes from.

GR: Our ritual of drinking coffee might be like 20 minutes in the day. Like we drink it on the way to work. But it’s so much, there’s so much that goes into all that.

Fayetteville, N.Y. (NCC News)— Two thousand pounds of green coffee beans in large burlap bags are delivered to John Dobbs, founder and coffee roaster at Freedom of Espresso,  every week. They come from farms in countries like Columbia, Papa New Guinea, Ethiopia and Kenya, which have suitable climates for coffee growth. Major shippers in New York City receive the beans from the farms and sell to regional coffee roasters like Dobbs.

Graham Reynolds, head roaster at Recess Coffee in Syracuse, goes through the same process. Both are in charge of maintaining their respective companies reputations for high quality coffee. Recess roasts in 20-pound batches, Freedom of Espresso pours closer to 30 pounds of coffee in each roast. A major industrial roasting plant will do batches close around 400 pounds, according to Reynolds.

Green coffee beans can be roasted between 420 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit from 12 to 15 minutes. A dark roasted coffee bean is roasted at higher temperatures for a longer period of time, while a light roast falls on the other end of the spectrum.

Each roast, usually over 20 per day, is brewed and taste tested by Reynolds for quality. That’s the kind of care taken by local coffee roasters — meticulous origin selection, small-batch roasting and quality control. It’s why both roasters say they’re  confident their product is better than large coffee retailers like Starbucks and Dunkin.


Graham Reynolds adjusts the coffee roaster.
Graham Reynolds has been head roaster at Recess for two and a half years.
© 2018 Gill Gross

“What’s holding them back is they’re buying coffee of a lower profile and roasting to a profile to mask defects,” Reynolds said.

Dobbs targeted Starbucks specifically.

“Starbucks has traditionally, and this has been fully recognized, they burn their beans.” Dobbs said,”everyone is pretty much in full agreement. These are burnt beans. It’s bitter tasting coffee.”

Starbucks acknowledges their tendency to roast beans darker on its official website.

“Most coffee is lightly roasted as a way to cut costs,” the website says, “We roast our coffee a little longer, to bring out more of the flavor.”

The reasoning is in direct contradiction with both Dobbs and Reynolds, who both say roasting beans too dark takes away from the coffee’s flavor.

“We can offer freshness, we can offer properly roasted coffee which brings out the flavor,” Dobbs said.

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