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Who roasts your coffee? Five Vermont roasters spill the beans on what they do

April 11, 2018

Burlington Free Press

Mmm… that coffee you’re drinking right now really tastes good, doesn’t it? But what do you know about that coffee you’re drinking?

If it’s a Vermont-roasted coffee, you might just find out more about your favorite beverage here. . We asked a handful of local roasters to tell us about their signature roasts and just what it is that they do that helps the humble coffee bean taste so good.

Matt Borg at Carrier Roasting in Northfield
Matt Borg at Carrier Roasting in Northfield (Photo: COURTESY CHIP ALLEN NATVIG)

Earthback Coffee Roasters
: South Burlington
When did the company begin? Earthback Coffee Roasters started as Woodchuck Coffee Roasters in 2011. Due to a trademark issue we changed our name in 2014.
What is your signature roast? I’m sorry to say that I do not have a signature roast, I’ll sign on to each and every roast I offer!
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How does your signature roast stand out from the crowd? All our coffee is roasted in small batches on the most sophisticated roaster known to humankind.  Our Loring S-15 Falcon is also emission-free and super energy efficient. It also gives me bean/air temperature readout on a constant basis as well as the rate of temperature change.  This immediate feedback allows me to manipulate the roasting profile that brings out the desired characteristics of any given origin.
What does a roaster add to the bean? A roaster can be in control of how and when a coffee bean will react in at any given time in the roast process. For example, for a hard, dense bean like our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe I like to push it to first crack in less than nine and a half minutes then lower the temperature and let coast to a point just before second crack where it’s still had good development time so the body and acidity has balance. This brings out the lemon/black-tea character along with a complex smooth finish and great aftertaste.
Where is your coffee available? Earthback sells wholesale to Healthy Living in one-pound retail bags, five offerings in bulk, one offering brewed in the cafe as well as suppling their Cold Brew program. We are the exclusive supplier for Tight Squeeze Coffee Shop on College Street.  Both City Market stores carry retail bags and bulk.  Other accounts include the Richmond Market, Waterbury Village Market, Hender’s Bake Shop, Jericho Village Market, Sweet Clover Market and Lantman’s Market.
Information: 489-5555,

Brown & Jenkins has been roasting coffee in Jeffersonville
Brown & Jenkins has been roasting coffee in Jeffersonville for more than 30 years. (Photo: COURTESY)

[VSFA Member]Brown & Jenkins 
: Jeffersonville
When did the company begin? Brown & Jenkins Coffee Roasters was established in 1984 by Ken Brown and Carol Jenkins, a Vermont couple with a passion for freshly roasted coffee and a desire to share it with other coffee lovers. Mail-order catalogs were the method of the day. The 21st century brought Brown & Jenkins to the world wide web scene. Today, Brown & Jenkins is owned by Vermont caterer Sandy Riggen, keeping the company family-owned and operated for over 30 years.
What is your signature roast? Our signature roast is not a roast per se. We gave this a different twist, quite naturally, and developed our own coffee blends. In this sense, we have two signature roasts: Our unique single origin blends and flavor blends.
How does your signature roast stand out from the crowd? Over the years, we’ve developed unique single origin coffee blends. These soon became favorites and long-time customers tell us they won’t drink anything else. These blends were the result of intensive experiments to find just the right balance of attributes to produce a consistently pleasing cup. The quality of the new brew had to embody and surpass the sum of its components. Vermont Breakfast Blend, Bistro Blend and Rise & Shine Blend are favorites.
We’ve also developed flavored coffee blends that go beyond the classic vanilla or hazelnut coffee. For instance, Mountain Magic Coffee combines caramel, cinnamon, vanilla, pecan and rum flavors. It is the most famous Brown & Jenkins Flavored Roast.
What does a roaster add to the bean? The number-one roaster is the master roaster, not the machine. Glenn Gale has been with Brown & Jenkins for over 30 years. He brings knowledge and experience far beyond the mechanical steps of the roasting process. Amanda Lass has recently begun to roast for us as well. She had a great teacher. She has worked for Brown & Jenkins for many years and knows our customers and what they like. Both Glenn and Amanda know how to fine tune the roasting process. There’s a unique cracking sound to listen for, a unique aroma and color that indicate a perfect roast. The machine alone can’t produce that. In a very real sense, the roaster adds intuition, packed with hundreds of hours of observation and experimentation. We call it “coffee by design.”
Where is your coffee available? In October 2014, we closed our retail store to shift all attention to our growing website sales. The Vermont Maple Outlet, on Vermont 15, is the exclusive storefront retailer for Brown & Jenkins Coffee in the Cambridge/Jeffersonville area. Brown & Jenkins Coffee is also sold at The Traveled Cup (St. Albans), Martone's Market & Café and Jules on the Green (both in Essex Junction).
Information: 644-8300,

Vermont Coffee Company distributes its products to
Vermont Coffee Company distributes its products to stores throughout the state. (Photo: COURTESY)

[VSFA Member] Vermont Coffee Company 

: Middlebury
When did the company begin? We started roasting coffee in 1979 in Bristol and moved to a larger facility in Middlebury’s industrial park in 2007.  
What is your signature roast? Our Dark is the first blend we created and remains our most popular to this day. 
How does your signature roast stand out from the crowd? All of our coffees are slow-roasted in small batches, which caramelizes the beans and brings out their big, bold flavors. 
What does a roaster add to the bean? Other than years of expertise and attentiveness to every batch we roast, Vermont Coffee Company doesn’t add anything to our beans. We roast 100 percent certified organic, non-GMO coffee and the big flavor and complex character of our coffees are highlights of a unique style of slow-roasting beans in small batches — a process that has been perfected since the company began roasting in 1979.
Where is your coffee available? Vermont Coffee Company’s products are available in most chain, grocery, and independent stores in Vermont, as well as at small neighborhood markets and food co-ops. Also on our website.
Information: 398-2776,
One of Vermont's newest roasters, Carrier Roasting
One of Vermont's newest roasters, Carrier Roasting Co. moved to downtown Northfield last year. (Photo: COURTESY CARRIER ROASTING CO.)

Carrier Roasting Co.
: Northfield
When did the company begin? In 2015 Scott Kerner and Ross Evans started Carrier as a CSA, roasting fresh and seasonal coffees they loved for friends and family. Over the next two years they honed their craft and established themselves as a presence in the Vermont roasting community. Matt Borg joined them in 2017 to help start the next chapter of Carrier's growth as a wholesale roaster and retailer, bringing years of experience with nationally recognized companies such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Handsome Coffee Roasters, and Intelligentsia.
What is your signature roast? Chit Chat is our signature blend that we use for both filter brew and espresso. It is balanced, clean, sweet, syrupy, and above all fresh and seasonal.
How does your signature roast stand out from the crowd? Chit Chat reflects our over-arching philosophy, one that recognizes that coffee is the seed of a tropical fruit, that the coffee fruit is seasonal produce, and that to get great tasting coffee you need to start with the best ingredients. We keep the recipe simple, usually limiting it to two components. We also change the recipe of the blend throughout the year depending on what coffee origins are in season and tasting the most vibrant. Finally, only the highest quality coffees make the cut. We do all this while maintaining the profile concept of a clean and sweet coffee that is balanced and accessible no matter how you decide to brew it. This approach leads to better, more consistent, more versatile, more approachable, and more dynamic tasting coffee, that can be enjoyed by almost anyone no matter their taste preferences.

Chit Chat is the signature blend at Carrier Roasting
Chit Chat is the signature blend at Carrier Roasting Co. in Northfield. (Photo: COURTESY CARRIER ROASTING CO.)

What does a roaster add to the bean? Roasting is a necessary step to turn green coffee brown, to make it brittle enough to be ground, and water soluble enough to be brewed. Each harvest lot of green coffee seeds carries a different potential for flavor, and roasting develops those flavors that are inherent. The beverage we love could not exist without the roasting process. That said, we believe the coffee farmer does the more important (and more difficult) work, that there is beautiful diversity in coffee flavor that's determined long before it's roasted, and that green coffee quality is the first and foremost requirement for quality roasted coffee. The roaster has a much greater capacity to subtract than to add.
Where is your coffee available? We roast coffee for quality-minded restaurants, cafes, and specialty markets in Vermont, New England, and beyond. You can also buy our coffee in our web shop, at our coffee bar in Northfield, or by becoming a member of our CSA.

Robert Maynard, director of coffee at Uncommon GroundsBuy Photo
Robert Maynard, director of coffee at Uncommon Grounds in Burlington, pulls beans out to check them as he roasts coffee on Thursday, March 29, 2018. (Photo: GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS)

Vivid Coffee
: Winooski
When did the company begin? Vivid Coffee got its start in Winooski in 2015.
What is your signature roast? We do not offer a signature roast. Our coffee program features coffees that are often referred to as “micro-lot coffee,” which means that our coffees are sourced from single farms and smallholder cooperatives. This means our coffee lineup is constantly rotating and changing according to availability/seasonality.

Vivid Coffee began in Winooski in 2015.
Vivid Coffee began in Winooski in 2015. (Photo: COURTESY)
Here are a couple examples from my current line-up:
Santo Cielo, Colombia – This coffee is from a single-farm located in the Huila Region of Colombia. It is farmed by Amadeo Chala Canacue, grown around 1,750 meters above sea level. This lot of coffee is 100 percent Castillo variety. It has a rich, honey-like body with notes of honeysuckle, peach, and tangerine.
Francisco Sagastume, Honduras – This coffee is from a single-farm located in Santa Barbara, Honduras. It is farmed by Francisco Sagastume and grown at around 1500 meters above sea level. This lot of coffee is 100 percent parainema variety. This coffee has a vibrant and bright quality to it, with tasting notes of limeade, plum candy, and graham cracker.
How does your signature roast stand out from the crowd? The two coffees above highlight the types of coffee we want to provide to our customers and café partners. Our goal is to source the highest quality coffee as possible. The coffees that we roast stand out because they are standout coffees. This means curating and sourcing coffees that burst with Vivid aromas and taste.
We strive to curate a diverse collection of standout coffees that cater to a wide array of palates. Because people have such different palates, our roast selection should have something for everyone. Our coffees are as diverse as the countries, regions and farmers that produce them. They’re grown at different elevations, in different soils. And like many fruits, there are hundreds of varieties. Whether it’s a coffee with rich/bold notes like chocolate, caramel, and toasted almond, or a coffee with notes of apricot jam and nougat, we are looking for coffees that stand out in their excellence and clarity.

What does a roaster add to the bean? Nothing. As a roaster, I control the variables associated in the roasting process (such as temperature and time). I receive the coffee “green”, which is the seed of the coffee fruit processed and dried ready to be roasted. Nothing is added to the coffee during the roasting process. I try to avoid describing my coffee as light-roast vs. dark-roast. Rather I create a roast profile for each coffee that is intended reflect the best qualities that particular coffee have to offer. Which means my goal isn’t to produce light-roast or dark-roast, but a properly developed roast.

Vivid Coffee in Winooski specializes in what the company
Vivid Coffee in Winooski specializes in what the company refers to as "micro-lot" coffee sourced from small farms. (Photo: COURTESY LUANN BAILEY)

Structure and flavor are developed through the roasting process, most notably during two chemical-reactions: maillard reaction and caramelization. My job as a roaster is to increase and decrease the heat applied to the coffee at the proper times throughout the roast. My roaster, a five-kilo Proaster, allows me to control the variables associated with the application of heat consistently. Natural gas supplies the heat source that applies heat to the steel drum the coffee is roasted in (conduction-heat) and the airflow within the roasting drum is also adjustable (convection-heat).
Where is your coffee available?
Retail: On our website and Dedalus Wine Shop, Market, and Bar in Burlington
Brewed and retail: Burlington: New Moon Café, Onyx Tonics Specialty Coffee, Scout & Co; St. Albans: Catalyst CoffeeBar;  Winooski: Scout & Co; Portland, Maine: Little Woodfords. 
Restaurants: Honey Road in Burlington serves a custom blend for its Turkish coffee

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