Craft & Mason Coffee Roasting started because we wanted our city to have special coffee. Not that special coffee wasn’t already present, but we had our own vision and passion for coffee that we couldn’t ignore. Lansing, Michigan and the surrounding area is our home. We love this area because people don’t put up with nonsense. There isn’t a lot of pretense when it comes to good products and there is value in the long-term. Day to day life moves slower than in other parts of the country with a real respect for continued excellence. We always had a long term view on what Craft & Mason Coffee could be and wanted to build our brand with excellence from day one. We might not have the most efficient model to deliver coffee fresh and pay top dollar for really high end lots of coffee, but it’s what is important to us. Without a focus on the tiny details, there isn’t much left because we believe the small decisions create memorable coffee.
Neither of Eric nor I have a traditional background in coffee, it was after years of roasting high quality coffee for ourselves that we decided to do this. Much like the craft beer revolution that has swept the country since the 80’s, it is clear that specialty coffee is undergoing a similar transition. I think this is due to the trend towards transparency in the coffee world. What used to be a completely opaque process, growing coffee, sourcing coffee, etc., is now becoming more and more relationship based. Developing a model of coffee sourcing that is centered on relationships with coffee growers is a long term goal for us. It’s extremely difficult, but beneficial to us as roasters and to the farms and mills involved. There have been many that came before us that have paved the way for roasters like us to step in and create a model that looks all the way to the farm our coffee was grown on. We are early in this process but excited with each small step we can take in this direction. The bottom line is respecting coffee farmers for the work they do. For us, it’s about involving the coffee farmer in the value chain. Great coffee starts with them.
Roasting coffee is such a simple concept: applying heat to a green bean and roasting it to a certain point that brings out its flavor potential. I’ve heard it compared to cooking a steak, basically aiming for a certain degree of “doneness”. At the same time, as roasters we are always chasing perfection. We will sit down before every roast session and talk through roast curves, flavor profiles, and trying to perfect the work from the session before. We are constantly tasting and theorizing as to what might be done to get more complexity out of the bean. It is elusive but rewarding at the same time. I tend to think that if we were happy with every single roast all the time, we likely would end up with pretty average coffee. The more we learn about how great coffee is grown, picked, and processed, we feel more responsibility to bring out the finer qualities out of the bean. There is such a long and crazy chain of events that has to happen to create a single outstanding cup of coffee. On one hand, it’s just coffee. But on the other hand, it’s coffee! Somebody literally picked the cherries by hand at the peak of ripeness to bring me this cup.
When we first arrive at our roasting space we turn on the machine and let it warm up, bringing it up to a temp above what we will drop the beans in at. Our coffee roaster is an all-metal machine that is heated by burners, so we make sure there is heat throughout the machine before the first batch. We will weigh out the green beans for each batch—which is the same amount every time—which gives us consistency from batch to batch and takes any variables from different batch sizes out of the equation. We load the beans into the top and then drop them in when the drum temp hits the point that we have decided for that particular bean. We have always used a program that tracks the temperature along a curve for the length of the roast. It’s not the only tool, however, as the coffee gives you clues about how it is being roasted: the way it looks, smells and sounds.
You can roast a bean to a certain level, but that is only one indicator of how it might taste. Coffee moves through a number of phases as it is being roasted. The speed and heat applied in each phase has a dramatic effect on the flavor profile in the end. I could roast two different batches of coffee to the exact same ending temperature, they might even look very similar and depending on how I applied heat and how quickly they were roasted through the phases, they might taste completely different.
When we feel that a particular batch is ready, we dump the coffee into the cooling tray and cool it as quickly as possible—even cooling time can have an effect on the flavor of the coffee. Once cooled, it’s packaged up, we write the roast date on each package, and then it’s shipped off. We also try to give as much information as we can on our website for folks buying online and information on the package about the farm that the coffee is from. All the details, such as elevation, processing, and bean type, make up the flavors you are taste in the cup.
Our city and surrounding area has continued to go through a mini transformation over the past couple of years. People use the hashtag #lovelansing to express their love for an area that is sometimes overlooked as being great. I have heard it said that great cities were built because people loved them before they were great. Our city is full of fantastic businesses, artists, restaurants, and artisans, which continues to grow all the time. Roasting coffee seems like a small part of making a city great—we are just happy to be a part of it.