Barista bike

Alex Roth


The Pepper Peddler is a Davis business operated by Alex Roth. He roasts coffee beans and delivers them to subscribing customers via bike. For now, he only operates in Davis, but he is looking to expand into Sacramento in the next few months. E-mail him at <script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">{ document.write(String.fromCharCode(60,97,32,104,114,101,102,61,34,109,97,105,108,116,111,58,99,111,102,102,101,101,64,116,104,101,112,101,112,112,101,114,112,101,100,100,108,101,114,46,99,111,109,34,62,99,111,102,102,101,101,64,116,104,101,112,101,112,112,101,114,112,101,100,100,108,101,114,46,99,111,109,60,47,97,62)) } </script> if you are interested.

How much coffee do you drink a day?

If I’m cupping, quite a bit. I finally started to spit when I cup, just because I will try a gallon, and it’s just ridiculous.

Without the cupping, it really depends. … I think if I was doing any other product than a stimulant, I probably wouldn’t have survived this long! (Laughs.)

Explain The Pepper Peddler.

As the name suggests, it started as a pepper-roasting company. I designed a pepper roaster that used a bike for the mechanical motion. … Then I got distracted—I had my friends growing my peppers for me out at their farm near Plainfield Station—I got distracted by working on a boat, and while I was out on the boat, I met a coffee roaster. … I kept the name because it already had a decent back story, I guess.

Tell me more about roasting beans with a bicycle.

It’s basically—just to oversimplify—it’s just a giant drum that the beans tumble around in over a couple of propane burners. I use propane for heat. If you can figure out a way to make heat from bicycle power other than sweat, you’d be a millionaire. … So the heat comes from propane burners below the drum and tumbles the beans around and keeps them agitating smoothly, and all the mechanical motion comes from a chain to an axle which goes back to a bike. You sit on a stationary bike in a position where you can actually smell and hear the roasting process.

The way we do it is very artisan. … We have to go off of the sound, the smell, the timing, experience, really. It’s kind of a fun process.

How long does a batch take?

It takes a little bit longer than a normal roaster, because what a normal roaster does is they charge the roaster, they heat it up, put in the beans. We have to bring them up to temperature. We usually hit “second crack,” which is around the end of a roast, somewhere between—depending on the ambient temperature—somewhere between 21 and 25 minutes, and then a couple of minutes of cooling.

What roasts do you offer?

The other thing I do that’s kind of interesting is that I do a roaster’s blend. Different from most roasters, I roast only what I’ve sold because the bulk of my business is based off home delivery, which is subscription-based. So I know exactly what I’m supposed to roast for the week. I roast that amount and that’s it.

Most roasters roast the bean and they have to try to sell them. … They’ll buy an Indonesian bean and they’ll give it a dark roast; they’ll buy an African bean and they’ll give it a really light roast. What I do instead is I offer one bean at a time, one origin. I’m sticking only to Central America right now—I’m going to open it up next season to the Americas in general—as local as we can get. … It’s always a fair-trade, organic bean that I’m buying. It’s always a single-origin, usually cooperatives.

Do your subscribers choose the roast of the bean?

Oh yeah, of course. They can change that weekly. I realized completely early on in my business that I wasn’t going to win any favors by being strict with anything. So they can change. Every week, they can go to a different size jar. “Aunt Suzie is coming to town, give me two jars this week.” … I roast on Wednesday night and then rest the beans for a day and let them sit, and then release them on Friday, deliver to people’s houses. … Coffee nazi? No.

Are you self-trained?

At roasting? Yes, definitely—experience and experimentation. I started out roasting at home.

Future plans for The Pepper Peddler?

I’m starting a decaf. … Within the next week is the first delivery to the Davis Food Co-op. … I would like to look at other creative models of distribution. … I’ve thought about doing Sacramento distribution. I already have a lot of musician friends, a lot of the Alkali Flats. … I try to bring them coffee, so I already have a potential nice little hub of people to start delivering to. … I would continue to roast here, take it out in bulk bins on the Amtrak and take it to a bay where I have the jars—a dishwasher to clean the jars. … I think Sacramento will be the first place to do it just because of that whole crew.