Hola folks! This is something that may have never been thought about before – roasting coffee with wood! However, there are a handful of roasters in the United States who do just that with incredible results. One of them is Tim Curry, the owner of Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Company. We have talked to him to find out what is up with all that wood in his back yard:
V. Hi Tim! How did you get into the coffee industry?
C. Well, twelve years ago, I found myself underemployed. I was a manager in a restaurant and one day I was cut back. So I started thinking about what the future held, and I began researching the possibility of opening an espresso bar. In that research, I had to learn about what happened to the coffee prior to it arriving in the shop. I started reading about roasting, and found myself intrigued with it. When I finally was able to start my business, due to limited funding I had to choose only one direction – espresso bar or roasting. I opted to go with roasting. That is pretty much how it all got started.
V. Now I guess the most important question of all: Why wood?
C. I wanted to roast with wood just because it is so uncommon in the United States. I also thought it was a very good match for the community where I live in. Even though it is a larger metropolitan area now, Reno is a very traditional community with a Western atmosphere. So I had this vision that a wood roasted coffee would be a great match for this environment. After I decided that roasting was the way to go for me, I started shopping for a commercial roaster that would roast with wood. Believe me, that is hard work. It took me almost a year and a half to find the proper roaster. In the beginning I was roasting with a two-pound charcoal roaster. Doing that, I started to get some people more interested in my coffee, got some small restaurant accounts, and got my product out there in the market. Then I finally located my current roaster – a 15 kilo, Italian made roaster designed to roast with wood or natural gas. I had that roaster installed and have been operating it in this location for the past eleven years.
V. How different is roasting with wood compared to traditional fuel sources?
C. Roasting with wood is a trickier way to roast. The heat source is inconsistent, so I have to be more in touch with what is going on with the roasting process at every step and making sure it is properly fueled. As far as profile differences that I am able to see, the acidity tends to be a little bit more muted in the wood roasted coffee, so you get all the character profiles for each region it comes from with a bit of a rounder, mouthful, bolder cup of coffee.
V. Do you require a large amount of wood for your production and what is your roaster’s make?
C. Actually, my roaster is very efficient. For example, last year I roasted about 20,000 pounds of coffee, and I used only about 2 cords of wood. As far as the company that made my roaster, I don’t think they are in business anymore, but it is called Ealestra and it was manufactured in Italy. It is a standard drum 15 kilo roaster. I have had almost no problems with it in the last 11 years and it is a great looking machine.
V. Does your unique operation cause any government supervision?
C. I am constantly monitored by our local air quality management division of the Health Department. They do their annual inspections, so I have to monitor the air quality on the regular basis. If you would like to roast with wood, my recommendation is to make sure that your roaster is in a very low-density population area, and that is what I have. I have an airport on one side of me and a farm on the other, so it works out.
V. Is there something you would like to address to our business owners and the public in general?
C. Absolutely. Know your market, know what people want in advance and be ready to adjust and accommodate. I have started out with five coffees of origin and about four different blends and over the years I have had requests to do other things, and I’ve worked many of these requests as best as I could. In a short time, I have risen to 16 different coffees of origins, dozens of blends, and 30 different coffee profiles with coffees from all over the world.
Also, what I have experienced recently is that there are an awful lot of coffee drinking people out there who go out to restaurants and coffeehouses who are so trained to drink poorly roasted, poorly stored, and poorly brewed coffee that they don’t even comment anymore that the quality isn’t to their satisfaction. They just expect to have a bad cup of coffee, as opposed to telling a management, “Hey your coffee is really lousy, you could use some help with it”. If people that are serving bad coffee aren’t getting that message, this is something that slows the progress of our industry.