My first experience with coffee was from that notorious red can (you know which one). The constant drip of coffee was a staple in my grandparent’s house and I’m 90% sure it’s the only thing my grandfather ever drank. Although I doubt (as the jingle claimed) that it was the “best part of wakin’ up,” it was clearly vital fuel that he needed to get through early mornings and long days.
He drank it with enough milk and sugar that at five years old, I enjoyed it. Not enough to drink it every day (not that my mom would have let me), but it was a fond enough memory that I would carry into my teens when chain coffee shops started popping up in every corner.
Nearly twenty-five years after my first sip, I still enjoy my coffee with milk and sugar, but I’ve replaced the red can with coffee beans that were roasted the night before and trashed a drip coffee maker for an Aerobie Aeropress.
Clearly, coffee culture has changed a lot over the years, and Alycia & Ryan Otte couldn’t be happier. The Ottes just launched Monument Coffee Roasters, a small batch roasting company out of my hometown, Manassas, Virginia. (Spoiler Alert: The coffee is good. REALLY good.)
It’s probably no coincidence that the couple met at a coffee shop–specifically Alycia’s family’s shop in Oregon. Coffee has been a big part of their lives for many years and their goal has always been to open a roasting shop of their own; however, Ryan’s Coast Guard duties meant a lot of moving around. Tough to open a business, when you’re not sure how long you’re going to be living in a given location.
Eventually, though, they landed in Manassas as their final stop. And although the idea of having their own roasting company was always on their minds, it wasn’t until they began talking with friends in the community that they realized their dream may be set in motion sooner than they thought. They specifically mention BadWolf Brewing co-founder Jeremy Meyers, who urged the couple not to wait and to make their dreams a reality (as he had recently done with his craft brewery).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Manassas, it’s not what anyone would describe as…hip. Sure there are some good local restaurants in old town and a growing craft brewery scene, but other than that, you’re surrounded by chain restaurants and big box SUPERcenters.
It’s because of this that the Ottes saw an opportunity to educate the community and bring fresh roasted coffee to a market often skipped over by other innovative and passionate food entrepreneurs.
Education is key. Right now, it seems as though most coffee drinkers in Manassas and some of the surrounding suburbs consider only two factors: Convenience and familiarity. Convenience coming into play as we drive to work, since a coffee shop with a drive-thru is sometimes the only option we have time for. And given that coffee is more often viewed as simply a fuel, we look to grab a cup of what we know (hence the perpetual red can in my grandparent’s cabinet).
There are pockets and flashes of really great, local coffee roasters and shops around the U.S., but Manassas is still a pretty good representation of coffee culture in most of the country. It was only a few years ago that I experienced what truly delicious, fresh roasted coffee tasted like (thanks, Caffé Amouri!). It doesn’t just taste different from the bagged stuff at a super market or a chain shop, it tastes infinitely better, resulting in a realization of “Ohhh…so THIS is what coffee tastes like!”
What the Ottes are hoping for is that the coffee industry moves toward what has happened to craft beer. Tons of small breweries have popped up and allowed consumers to experiment and try new beers. Rather than sticking with a staple coffee company, the Ottes want to be a part of your rotation of coffee roasters. “You might like another shop’s Sumatra, but maybe our Kenyan is your favorite,” Ryan noted, pointing out that there are so many different factors involved with how coffee tastes that coffee drinkers should experiment with different brands, varietals, and brewing techniques.
They credit James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, for the inspiration. Freeman paved the way for small batch roasters, with his mission to only serve customers beans that had been roasted within the last 48 hours. And if you’ve never had coffee roasted that fresh, YES, YES, YES (a thousand times, YES) it does make a difference.
And it should make a difference, because roasting coffee ain’t easy. While talking to the Ottes in their roasting “laboratory” I quickly forgot the business is technically in the food industry and instead felt as though I was talking to scientists. They’re not making coffee, they’re trying to perfect it. With all the variables associated with a “finished” coffee bean–the location grown, roasting time, temperature, yellowing, the “cracks” and smells–roasting coffee takes hard work and a ton of trial and error. Aside from their decades of experience in the coffee industry as a whole, the two have been perfecting the Monument Coffee Roasters offerings for over a year.
Their coffee itself is single-origin Certified Fair Trade and Organic, sourced from South America, Africa, and Central America. They have several varieties currently available from their online store (the Kenyan Lenana made for an outstanding Aeropress latte). And they are very excited about their Brazilian Swiss Water decaf, which uses a non-chemical based method to decaffeinate the coffee beans, resulting in a decaf that doesn’t taste like most decafs.
Aside from their coffee being really good (did I mention that, already?), I get the impression that this is what they love to do. The Ottes’ veins are filled with coffee. The saying goes “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” After talking with them and watching them roast coffee beans, I actually think that saying is incorrect. Because, in order to do what they love, they’re working all day every day to perfect it. And I’m thankful for what they’re doing, because, when I sneak coffee to my grandchildren, it’s going to be fresh roasted within 48 hours…but still laced with milk and sugar.
You can stay connected with Alycia and Ryan and their coffee roasting adventures on their website, monumentcoffeeroasters.com, on Facebook, and Twitter. Their brick-and-mortar shop is expected to open in early 2015, but until then you can buy coffee from their website (seriously, DO IT!). I certainly can’t wait to use their beans to make some more Coffee-Infused Doughnut French Toast.