Your Morning Roast

(Guest post by The Better Half)

Coffee EmporiumEven as a child, years before I ever actually tasted the stuff, I loved the smell of coffee. It was the aroma that awakened me most mornings of my life, as my father brewed and downed half a pot before he left for work at oh-dark-thirty. Before I developed a more refined palate for coffee, I would open the bag or can of whatever national or local brand I had purchased and inhale deeply for half a minute.

I want the smell of coffee to be my first of the day.  At one time, I had a programmable coffee maker in my bedroom. I now buy whole beans, and my current coffee maker is of the grind-and-brew sort.  I set the timer to begin the grinding and brewing process fifteen minutes before my alarm clock goes off.

Newly found, independently owned coffee houses are the best, especially if they have a nice selection of aromatic specialty blends and roasts. One Saturday morning a little over a year ago, Julie and I wandered into Coffee Please on Miami Avenue in Madeira.  My favorite aromas abounded. Business was brisk.  It was a pleasant place to have morning coffee, read, and pass some time.

A few weeks later on a weekday, I was early for an appointment and stopped in for coffee.  The smells were particularly wonderful that day.  At a large, as-yet-unidentified contraption between the counter and the main seating area, an as-yet-unidentified woman was performing some as-yet-unidentified task.  What was plain was that the magnificent aromas were a direct result of the work the woman was doing.

What I quickly figured out was that the woman was roasting coffee beans.

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Roasting the beans in front of the customers?  How cool.

Over the ensuing months, Coffee Please became one of my favorite hangouts. Anytime I could find an excuse to be in the neighborhood during the morning hours, I stopped in.  And the best days to be there were roasting days.

The aforementioned woman has since been identified.  She is Coffee Please owner Lisa Schlake.  And she can be found–two mornings a week–roasting any number of her sixty different blends and roasts.

Lisa began working at Coffee Please as a teenager under previous owners Mary Jo and Mike Morgan.  She continued to work for the Morgans throughout high school and off and on during college.  She earned an English degree from Ohio University, and though she enjoyed writing, she had a particular affection for Coffee Please.  She began working for the Morgans full time and in 2009 purchased the establishment.

For two and a half months prior to Lisa’s taking ownership, Mike began to train her as a coffee roaster. After the purchase was completed, Mike kept an eye on Lisa’s skills as a roaster for a couple of months to ensure her competence.

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Lisa says the majority of business comes from regular customers, many of whom make Coffee Please a daily stop as they head to work.  She says that she could set her clock by the times that certain customers appear in the store each day.

Since the roasting takes place in open view, some customers are naturally drawn to Lisa and the roaster.  A consummate multi-tasker, Lisa can interact freely with customers during the early stages of the twenty minutes or so that it takes to complete most roasts.  In fact, she often reads or works a crossword puzzle during the early stages. But as the roasting time nears completion, she has to keep a very close eye and ear on the beans as they tumble through the roasting cylinder.  Here, it’s a little tougher to carry on a conversation with customers (or nosy bloggers).  She listens for the cracking of the beans (something she says is akin to the popping of popcorn) and does a visual check of the beans several times each minute.  The difference between a perfect roast and an over-roasted batch can be a matter of a few seconds.

As soon as the roast is completed, Lisa dumps the beans into a cooling tray for several minutes to prevent moisture from forming on the beans during storage.Coffee Emporium

Many of the Coffee Please house roasts have been handed down from one owner to another in the form of actual recipes: X-number of scoops of Bean A, X-number of Bean B…roasted to a certain darkness.  Lisa says that her most popular roast is Madeira’s Choice, a medium-roast blend of coffees from Columbia, Papua New Guinea, and Nicaragua. Her personal favorite is Super Nova, another popular medium-roast blend of beans from Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, and Celebes (Sulawesi).  Super Nova, she says, has a slight “kick,” as if it were a darker roast.Coffee Emporium

For flavored coffees, the flavoring is done after roasting by the addition of syrups made specially for the purpose (not to be confused with the pre-sweetened, flavored syrups that can be added after brewing).  Jill Lefebvre flavors the coffees for Coffee Please, as she has for the past fourteen years.   Decaffeinated blends are created by roasting beans from which the caffeine has been extracted before they are sold to Lisa’s wholesaler.Coffee Emporium

Lisa’s most popular coffees are roasted every week, and all others are done at least once a month.  She normally roasts two days per week, though in the weeks leading up to Christmas, she may increase the number to three to keep up with holiday demands.

Lisa says that she loves her work and that daily interaction with customers is her favorite part of the job.

Lisa’s tips for making good coffee at home:

  • Grind the coffee fresh, if you can.
  • Using purified water helps…coffee can pick up the flavor of impurities in water.
  • If you don’t drink a lot of coffee, purchase it in smaller amounts.  If you’re going to keep it in the bag that it comes in, refrigerate the coffee.
  • Air is coffee’s enemy, so store coffee in an air-tight container or zip-lock bag.  Stored this way, the coffee should remain at its maximum flavor and potency for at least two weeks.