Beyond the Food

Monument Coffee Roasters – Manassas, VA

momument coffee roasters

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.

coffee cup monument roaster

Good conversation over a cup of Monument’s Sumatra Karo Highlands.

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.)

raw coffee beans

Look at these beautiful raw coffee beans.

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).

coffee roaster

This is where all the magic happens.

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).

Monument Coffee Roasters

Coffee action shot! #flyingbeans

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.

Monument Coffee Roasters

My Kenyan Lenana is ALMOST ready…

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.

coffee roasting chart

Although roasting can be done by smell, sight, and sound, this program helps document the process. Looks like math class, right?

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,, 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.

Monument Coffee Roasters

The new best part of wakin’ up.



Beyond the Food, Series

DC Donut Crawl

dc donut crawl

When:  Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 10:00 A.M.
Where:  Mount Vernon Square in Washington, DC
Registration:  Click here to register online.
More Info:

“I don’t like doughnuts” – Said by no one I would ever want to hang out with.

“I love doughnuts so much that I’m going to create an event in which attendees ride bikes to various doughnut shops.” – Said by a brilliant man who deserves a handshake, hug, and a bouquet of doughnuts.

That man is Erik Luchauer and in 2013 he had a dream. A simple dream that involved stuffing his face with doughnuts and riding his bike. Turns out he’s not the only person who’s dreamed of spokes and fried dough, because 250 hungry cyclists joined him last November to take an eight-mile bike ride to hit up four DC doughnut shops. This year’s crawl is set for June 7th, so grease your bike chains up and empty your stomachs.

In addition to a four-mile bike ride and three doughnut shops, this year a portion of the proceeds from the crawl will benefit Food For Life, a project of Care Company. Food For Life uses food to educate and train low income young adults in Washington, DC. Sure if you teach a man how to fish he’ll feed himself for a lifetime, but if you teach him how to cook that fish, it will taste a hell of a lot better and maybe he’ll be the next DC restaurateur (watch out, Mike Isabella). Some of the program’s previous graduates are already working in DC restaurants, contributing to the area’s food culture.

Erik handled the project solo last year as it evolved from a word-of-mouth crawl with a few friends, to an official event with its own logo, website, and online registration. The whole thing came together so fast, that before Erik even realized it, he was in charge of a full-fledged doughnut crawl! This year, to help ease the burden, he’s enlisted the help of  Will Fischer (who planned a similar event in St. Louis called the Tour D’Onut) and BicycleSPACE, a local bike shop who’s agreed to sponsor the event.

This year’s stops include three delicious DC doughnut shops:

GBD doughnuts chicken
Photo Courtesy of Erik Kallevig

1.  Golden Brown Delicious (GBD)  – Pastry Chef, Tiffany MacIsaac whips up a great balance of traditional doughnuts (like the classic Vanilla Glazed) as well as new twists including Cranberry Fritter, Samoa, and Passion Fruit. They also serve fried chicken for lunch and dinner that is…well…golden, brown, and delicious.

astro doughnuts
Photo Courtesy of BicycleSPACE

2.  Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken – Having been ranked by the Washington Post as being the best doughnut in DC, the Crème Brûlée doughnut at Astro is worth the four-mile bike ride alone. I can say from personal experience that this doughnut will change your life (goodbye, Dunkin’ Donuts). But don’t make plans for lunch.

district doughnut
Photo Courtesy of District Doughnut

3.  District Doughnut – The crawl ends with a reception hosted by District Doughnut where crawlers can enjoy music, doughnut-themed games, food vendors, and plenty of those magical fried rings of deliciousness. As one of the newer entrants into the DC doughnut scene, Owner and Executive Pastry Chef, Christine Schaefer has created a formidable doughnut menu including Cannoli, Orange Chocolate, and (the one that I most want to try) BROWN BUTTER.

dc donut crawl cyclist
Photo Courtesy of BicycleSPACE

I had an engaging conversation with Erik about the DC Donut Crawl, doughnuts, and food in general. His fondest memory of the circular treats was a Maple Bar doughnut from Daylight Donuts in Searcy, Arkansas. He remembered it being a well-done, perfectly simple maple doughnut which helped him get through many early-morning classes in college. As we reminisced about doughnuts past and our love of the many brilliant food options in Vienna, VA, I realized something…

Erik Luchauer is just an ordinary guy with a passion for doughnuts.

It’s inspiring to see someone take the initiative to organize an event like this, which not only creates a fun experience for the attendees and helps support a local charity, but also promotes three brilliant doughnut-makers. The most effort I’ve ever put into my love of those golden rings was stuffing a dozen from Stan’s Doughnuts in LA into my checked bag to transport back home (shockingly none were confiscated by TSA agents for “national security”). So I’m clearly not putting in as much effort as Erik.

He was very appreciative of any and all supporters and he said that even one single retweet on Twitter was helpful. That’s a fantastic attitude to have and it helps boil down why we (foodies, bloggers, tweeters, etc.) do anything: We’re just looking for someone else to share an experience with. Doesn’t matter if it’s two friends or two hundred strangers. For me, just chatting with Erik for an hour was worth all of the time and effort I put into this blog, tweeting, and “testing” recipes.

dc donut crawl helmet
Photo Courtesy of BicycleSPACE

So there’s bike riding, doughnuts, a ton cool people, AND you get to help a great cause. I can’t see any downsides to this event, so hurry up and register right now. Don’t have a bike? No excuse, because Capitol BikeShare is offering 50 free 1-day memberships to crawlers.

More information can be found at and definitely follow @DCDonutCrawl on Twitter for updates and random doughnut-inspired tweets.

glorious doughnuts
Photo Courtesy of District Doughnut