A Brewed Awakening

By Larry Egan / Photography By Doug Langeland | July 10, 2014
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Bonnie Nowik-Cohen grinds coffee at Cape Cod Coffee Roasters
Cape Cod Coffee Roasters

No other beverage has had a more prominent role in the world of arts and literature, done more for late night cram sessions and business dealings, been on the scene of countless first dates and breakups, than coffee. The second-most consumed beverage in the world behind water, coffee continues its role as the fluid of functionality. Over the centuries, mankind has made more progress with a cup of joe within reach. Fresh roasted coffee, from beans the world over, is within reach right here on Cape Cod at Cape Cod Coffee Roasters.

As you walk into Cape Cod Coffee Roasters’ facility, your nose is immediately bombarded with a rich mosaic of aromas from the 40 or so varieties of coffee for sale. Is it the Guatemalan, Burundi or Vienna Roast aromas that leap to the fore? Or maybe it’s the Monsooned Malabar or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that stands out to greet you. The seasoned coffee lover is in heaven. And the novice? Well, that wall of coffee containers could be a bit intimidating if it were not for the expert staff of Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, like Bonnie Nowik-Cohen, there to guide you through the selection process. There is truly something for every coffee drinker here. Light, medium and dark roasts. Specialty, estate and single origins, as well as house blends. Looking for all the flavor without the fidgeting? The line of decaffeinated coffees is all naturally water decaffeinated in Germany before arriving to be roasted.

While in the heavenly-scented retail area, shoppers will find everything they need to make the most of their coffee experience. Drip, pour overs and French presses are a few of the brewing choices. If you’re a fan of iced coffee, why pour hot coffee over ice (throwing the water-to-bean ratio out of whack) when you can have a cold brew? Coffee will brew with cold water; it just takes longer. Set it up to brew in the fridge overnight and in the morning you’ve got perfectly brewed iced coffee! Traveling and don’t trust the quality of coffee where you’re going? The Aero Press was designed with you in mind. It sits on top of the mug and resembles an individual cup French press, but with a paper filter. You load the grounds, pour in hot water and press it through into the mug. This makes it easy when you have a house full of guests who all prefer different coffees. You’ll be able to cater to everyone’s individual tastes. You’ll be the host with the most. They’ll never want to…uh, on second thought…

Founded in 1970 in Hyannis, Cape Cod Coffee Roasters moved to its current location in Mashpee in 1985. The business was for sale three years ago when Molly MacGregor came to look at the place. Born and raised in Brewster, MacGregor had just moved back to the Cape from California and was looking for investment opportunities.

“It was strictly a real estate deal,” Molly explains. “I just wanted to look into the property to see what kind of business might work here. Standing at the front door, I couldn’t believe this place.” She trails off ever so briefly with a dreamy smile. Then, the clincher: “The tour out back sold me.” Molly, along with her sister Cate, would go on to become the new owners of Cape Cod Coffee Roasters. The obvious question: Did they know anything about roasting coffee, particularly on such a large scale? “We got a crash course from Demos, and we’re still learning from him every day,” Molly says.

Demos is Cape Cod Coffee Roasters’ founder, former owner and current employee, Demos Young. Young grew up in the coffee business. His grandfather started the family venture in Peabody in 1914. Young’s father opened his own shop in Salem, and Young launched Cape Cod Coffee Roasters nearly 45 years ago. In fact, the canning machine that is used today is the original chain-driven one from Young’s grandfather’s shop dating back to the 1920s. Young grew up on a coffee plantation in Kenya and has worked in Central and South America. He has become well known and highly regarded within the coffee roasting industry, often taking calls from around the world to help fellow coffee roasters. The exacting standards of his mechanical engineering degree has served him well in the very precise world of coffee roasting. Young even designed the system that’s in use today. It’s self-cleaning (“That’s my favorite part!” Molly exclaims) and smokeless. The smoke stack has air scrubbers, helping the neighbors breathe fresh, clean air. Apparently the aroma of roasting coffee beans is far less desirable than the aroma of brewing them. The system has earned an AA rating from the Environmental Protection Agency.

To step out back at Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, past the retail shop, by the offices and workshop where brewing equipment is repaired, is to walk into the heart and soul of the operation. The huge, two-story roasting system covering most of the production facility’s available floor space is an imposing sight. The roaster is an entire system where no human hands touch a single bean throughout the process. The green beans (obviously not the ones from mother’s casserole fame) arrive in burlap sacks that can weigh anywhere from 132 to 150 pounds each. They come from far off lands by way of the New York Coffee Exchange. All the coffee is registered, so Molly knows exactly from where it comes, right down to the farm where it was harvested.

The beans are loaded into a hopper through a grate on the floor. If it’s a blend to be roasted, the various beans are placed on a scale to make sure proper ratios are used. After a short ride up an elevator where lose chaff is separated out, the beans are ready to be loaded into the roaster. Chaff is the silvery outer skin that’ll give coffee that burnt cigarette flavor, if it makes it into the roast. The roasting drum can roast up to 265 pounds of beans at once. Thanks to the four-inch gas line, the roaster can burn up to three million BTUs, which can bring the temperature in the drum up to 1200 degrees. For roasting the coffee beans, the temperature is in the 400-500 degree range.

Throughout the indirect roasting process—where the beans never come in contact with open flame—the air within the drum is completely changed every 1.5 seconds. When the desired result is achieved, after ten minutes or so, the heating process is stopped immediately. Moist, humid air is introduced into the drum, and that air will turn to steam in the heat of the drum, dropping the temperature inside rapidly.

Timing is everything in the world of coffee. A minute too long or too short can have a drastic effect on the finished product that relies most importantly on consistency in flavor. Who wants to roll the dice every time as they hazily stumble for that first cup of go juice in the morning? Thankfully, overseeing the entire process is not only Demos but also Jeff Marceau, a man whose passion for his work comes through with a wide smile when discussion turns to the caring of coffee.

Apparently, many of us coffee consumers are doing things a bit wrong. Air, light, and wild temperature swings all negatively affect the flavor of coffee. It’s all right to store your unopened, vacuum-sealed coffee in the freezer. However, once you open it, it should not go back in there. The best way to store it is in a sealed container in a dark place. And, the fridge is the worst place to store coffee, as it can take on the flavors of other foods within the fridge. Cinnamon Hazelnut, Chocolate Raspberry and Pumpkin Spice are some of the flavors Cape Cod Coffee Roasters offers. Put those in the fridge, and you could be “enjoying” a dark-roasted leftover lamb curry and Stilton cheese blend. Yuck!

One way to gauge the life stage of coffee is the aroma. As it stales, the aroma fades. Roasted coffee is constantly offgassing, meaning it is continuously giving off carbon dioxide. That wonderful, heavenly aroma you enjoy when you open a new can? That is getting to your nose by way of the CO2. That’s why every can or bag, even vacuum-sealed, has a small one-way valve attached to it. It allows the gas to escape without letting the air in, otherwise the pressure would build until the container explodes! That may be a bit melodramatic, but you might still be finding stray beans in the oddest of places for some time. Coffee should be ground just before brewing. When grinding, a burr grinder is far better than a coffee mill, which is a blade grinder. Burrs give a much more uniform grind, yielding the most consistent results.

The beans then move on to the packaging phase where they are placed into cans or bags of different sizes depending on the client. There are those who use small pouches called “fractionals”, which contain a few ounces each, to some wholesale customers who get their coffee in ten-pound bags.

You very well may have enjoyed a cup of their Sunrise or Sunset (decaffeinated) Blends at one of your favorite dining spots. Cape Cod Coffee Roasters supplies whole bean and ground coffee to more than 80 establishments from Plymouth to Provincetown, and the list is growing every week. Restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries all serve up single origin coffees, the house blends like Mocca Java or Sunrise. Some clients even have their own original blend. One could really become a bit of a mad scientist crafting a unique signature coffee for an establishment. If you want to brew up some of your own, Cape Cod Coffee Roasters’ liquid energy can be found in 40 markets around the Cape and in Plymouth. A list of locations can be found on their website: capecodroasters.com. Another way to get your twitchy little hands on some of their jumpy juice is at a local farmers’ market. This summer you can Molly at the Mashpee Commons, Orleans and Osterville farmers’ markets.

The sign of a great business is how it takes care of its customers. Cape Cod Coffee Roasters roasts the beans to order, despite the fact that the coffee could stay fresh in the can for up to two years. The retailer can take heart in knowing that the product on the shelf, or going through the grinder, is no more than a few days out of the roaster. Living on Cape Cod, you expect only the freshest seafood, but coffee? Fresh brewed, sure, but fresh roasted? At Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, you can have your coffee as fresh as your clams.

Perhaps the way to get the utmost in fresh roasted coffee is to go to the source. Cape Cod Coffee Roasters is open Monday through Saturday 9 am to 4:30 pm. You can learn all about the process on one of the free tours they offer (with free samples) at 11 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “I love showing off the equipment,” Molly boasts.

Molly notes that while the overall quantity of coffee being consumed is down from the middle of the 20th century, the interest in specialty flavors is growing. When you consider the staggering number of beverage choices that are out there today, it’s no wonder we, as consumers, drink less coffee than in the days of Don Draper and his Mad Men buddies who only drank coffee…until it was martini time (otherwise known as noon). Molly likens the shift in interest to the growth of craft beers. As our tastes evolve, we look for a better quality, a better flavor of coffee and we start to look at coffee differently. It is no longer just a means to an end, but something to be savored along the way. You no longer have to endure a revolting cup of jolt just for the pick-me-up factor. The funny thing is, you don’t realize just how long you’ve been suffering through bad, quite possibly really bad, coffee; coffee that you bury under a mountain of sugar and drown in a flood of cream. That is, until your senses are exposed to the world of rich, wonderfully complex flavors and aromas that only fresh roasted coffee can bring.

Phileas Fogg needed 80 days to go around the world. You’ll be able to do it in 40 cups thanks to Cape Cod Coffee Roasters. Now that’s some serious rocket fuel.

Cape Cod Coffee Roasters
348 Main Street (Route 130)
Open Monday-Saturday, 9 am-4:30 pm.
Free tours at 11 am on Tuesday and Thursday.

Article from Edible Cape Cod at http://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/drink/brewed-awakening
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