Home to roast
Want locally roasted coffee? Here are the options.
Coffee makes people talk, and not just because of its invigorating chemical composition. The act of preparing the drink, the aroma, and the ceremony surrounding it invite conversation and ask it to stay awhile. Everybody likes their coffee a certain way, and with seven local coffee roasters, it seems that there are many roads to the same cup. Each one has a unique style and a different outlook on the roasting process, but they all share a common goal: to brew the best coffee possible. Here’s a glimpse into their energetic, aromatic world.
3545 Airway Drive, 851-8887
Laughing CAT is a local roasting company with a great social atmosphere. Owner Mark Fleming has been providing Reno with artisan beans and a fair dose of social commentary for nearly two decades. The back part of the shop is where the magic takes place, and the front has enough room for a few tables, a register and an eclectic assortment of fine coffee and tea products. Fleming describes his operation as a “coffee roasting plant and tea company.” CAT is actually an acronym for Coffee And Tea. The most unique aspect of Laughing Cat is that it’s not a coffee shop, but it feels like one. Customers file in and out, and when the Roastmaster is too busy to answer the phone, one of the regulars takes the call as if he worked there. Price per pound: $10.
Blind Dog Coffee Roasters
3055 Wilcox Ranch Road, 475-0371
Who knew that there was anything other than wild horses in Palomino Valley? If you drive far enough, you’ll find Blind Dog Coffee Roasters. Owner Mark Berry roasts by faith and not by sight—faith, intuition and specially rigged machines that accommodate his blindness. The machines are equipped with sensors that tell Berry the timing and temperature of the roast throughout the process. Relying on sound, precise timing and a refined palate, he has created a loyal local following, and also sells to Whole Foods and other stores.
“Everybody’s roasting by sight,” says Berry. It’s evident that he sees his coffee cup as half full, not half empty. When asked if he has an advantage over “seeing” roasters, he contemplates for a moment. “I think in a way, I do. I’ve got to really be on it. It makes me a little more particular … I’m here all the time, I’m standing right here, smelling and listening.” Berry recommends an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe called Misty Valley with “a unique, strong blueberry aftertaste.” Price per pound: $8.75.Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Company
30 Ohm Place, 856-2033
By Tim Curry’s estimate, there are only half a dozen roastmasters who make coffee the old way: with fire. At Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Company, the beans are roasted with oak. “Every morning I chop wood,” he explains, showing where the wood goes at the bottom of the roaster. “It’s a very hands-on way of roasting, artisan style,” he says. “It’s not ‘push a button, let it go.’” Curry’s passion for artisan coffee is clear. He has two antique coffeemakers from Sweden that he found on eBay, demonstrating how people roasted coffee at home just a century ago. As the coffee gets warmer, you can hear the rattle of the beans. “The coffee does talk,” he says, and he has to carefully discern what the beans tell him. Fire may add a smoky taste to be beans, and it’s an inconsistent heat source, relative to modern coffee roasters. “It’s very different. There’s almost no comparison,” says customer Tracy Mayes. “I even take the beans to work because I can’t drink anything else.” Price per pound: $12.Alpen Sierra Coffee Roasting Company
2222 Park Place, Minden, (800) 531-1405
Originally located in South Lake Tahoe, Alpen Sierra Coffee Roasting Company still has one retail shop at the lake, but its roasting facility is in Minden. Owner Christian Waskiewicz set up shop “July 17, 1991, in a little 600-square foot cabin.” The company prides itself on being one of the first micro-roasters in Northern California to complete the rigorous program to become “certified organic.” Part of the company’s success can be derived from specializing in sustainable, shade-grown, bird-friendly beans. The term organic has long been popular in the coffee world, but bird-friendly? It turns out that organic, shade-grown coffee provides a natural habitat for birds and other species.
“As an industry, it is a really wonderful, albeit eccentric group of people,” says Waskiewicz. “We’re very bonded toward shared goals and common interests.” The Roastmaster recommends the Organic Guatemalan, which he describes as “real bright and brimming with flavor.” Price per pound: starts at $9, special Kona beans can cost as much as $65 a pound.Sierra Pacific Coffee Roasting
11161 Trails End Road, Truckee, Calif., (530) 550-0590
What makes Sierra Pacific Coffee Roasting unique, says Roastmaster Susan Reynolds, is that “it’s roasted with altitude.” Just as one has to adjust the temperature for baking at high elevations, the roasting process requires similar adjustments in the mountains. Located in Truckee, Calif., Sierra Pacific makes weekly deliveries to Reno in a red hybrid Prius. These days, Reynolds is most excited about her Zambia coffee, which she describes as having a caramel, sweet taste. Like the other roasters, she talks about the beans as if they are living beings that require unconditional love and care. “You have to pay attention,” she says. She laughs, but she’s serious. “You have to listen to the beans.”
Price per pound: $10.99-12.99.Kolika Coffee
8521 White Fir St., (887) 456-5452
Kolika Coffee was founded in 2009, making it the newest coffee roasting business in the Reno-Tahoe area. The roasting facility is located in Reno, and Kolika offers a wide selection of organic and exotic blends. Owners Grant Dillon and Dave Kellenberger have combined their business expertise and coffee know-how to create a thriving local business with a philanthropic edge that gives back to local schools.
“We run an initiative called Donation Grounds,” says Dillon. He likens the fundraiser to a Girl Scouts cookie model: students sell the coffee, and their school receives a portion of the proceeds. “We’re an elegant, little, fun, emerging company in the Reno area,” says Dillon. Although Kolika Coffee’s business is primarily hotels, casinos and restaurants, their coffee can be found at the three Bibo Coffee locations and Tuff Beanz at Sparks Legends. Price per pound: just under $7.AGTRON
9395 Double R Blvd., 850-4600
AGTRON takes coffee science to a whole new level.
“Here’s one of our space shuttles,” says its creator, Carl Staub. He’s referring to one of the roasters that he designed. Staub is more than a roastmaster. He’s an engineer, a scientist, but more than anything, a guy who has a lifelong passion for coffee and the desire to make the whole process better. Staub has invented an assortment of machines that have literally reinvented the roast. He estimates that he has taught 1,200 to 1,400 students around the world.
“The top 100 roasters in the world—a high percentage are students of mine.” Anyone who discredits the scientific method of coffee might want to talk to Staub for a bit. Some of the greatest artists saw science and art as indistinguishable, and he might be the modern-day Da Vinci of the coffee world. You might think that he makes his coffee on a Bunsen burner. Not so, Staub brews his coffee in a French press.
“The sludge in the bottom for me is an added bonus,” he says. “I don’t eat it or anything!” Price per pound: $8.
When people think of coffee, they envision the shiny, black beans with exotic names, ready to slide out of the bin and into the bag at the grocery store. While getting coffee at the store may be convenient, why not establish a relationship with one of your local roasters? Having your own roastmaster will open you up to a whole new world of the elaborate ritual of caffeine. If you ask, you may even get a demonstration of the roasting process—there’s more to coffee than just staying awake.