On the Job

Welcome, readers! It's been a long time since I've done the keyboard shuffle and I must admit that it was difficult to return to my writer's mindset. But, here I am.

As a youth, I had always looked forward to summer because it meant time off from the school rigor. Now, as an full-time engineer but a part-time graduate student, I still look forward to this season with the anticipation I had as a 10 year old. The chance for summer travel, too many Saturday morning cartoons, and running through the sprinkler (yes, I still run through sprinklers). Alas, I write you these words from my latest and greatest adventure: working in a coffee shop!

No rest for the wicked.

In previous articles, I've expounded on coffee as a beverage, as a cultural and social item, and even on the equipment that prepares our lovely brew. And now... for something completely different.

Working at the Cedarburg Coffee Roastery is unlike any other way to experience coffee that I've had the pleasure of having before. Located north of Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, Cedarburg is a small and quiet town home to many small retailers, specialty and artisan shops. Also, it's home to its own handful of varying coffee houses. However, unlike the typical brew-pot-stop, the Roastery centers itself around its core competency: the roasting and selling of quality whole bean coffee. In other words, beans are our business.

Through importers and green bean brokers across the United States, the CCR roasts and sells beans from such places as Costa Rica, Kenya, Hawaii, and Sumatra to name a few. The roasting is accomplished using a 32 pound drum roaster. The roaster, fed by gas, uses a large, perforated drum to tumble the coffee and expose it to the heat. As one of three roaster operators, I must use my sense of smell, sight, and hearing in addition to computer controls for temperature and time to determine when the roast is finished.

And this is no easy task when the roaster (both the machine and the person) are the center of attention! Roasting takes patience and a good ear as well as utilizing many wits. As the beans develop in color, the roaster needs to reduce the heat being supplied ultimately to the point where the beans have enough energy to finish roasting themselves. Then, based on previous roasts stored in our logbook, as well as experience and knowing the how the roaster is performing on a given day, the roaster operator quickly "dumps" the roast into the cooling bin where the beans are rapidly cooled down. This last step is fundamental in achieving and maintaining the desired taste of the coffee.

Beans are stored, temporarily, in buckets with their name and date. Then, they are transferred to the point-of-sale buckets and jars at the store's counter. Depending on the day of the week, five or more coffees are selected to be brewed and served for as long as the shop is open. The coffees are brewed into pots from which customers may serve themselves after paying for a cup. Descriptions of each coffee are included so that customers have an idea of what they may or may not like.

Because we pride ourselves on our beans and our quality blends, we do not flavor any of our beans. If a customer so desired to have flavored coffee, we offer a wide assortment of syrups such as Monin and Torani that may be added to their cups of brew.

Recently -- and much to this author's excitement -- we added a two-group commercial espresso machine and grinder. The CCR is proud to offer Italian-styled espresso and espresso-based beverages. Initially, it was a challenge to find a way to offer American-styled coffee drinks but in the smaller European sizes. Fortunately, this has not been a large problem and our customers appreciate the obvious commitment we have made to our specialty drinks.

The small batch roasting permits a great deal of control over freshness and quality. We tie that to our selection of green beans; not relying on any one particular supplier and doing in-house cuppings, or taste tests, to insure our bean quality. Also, we offer flexible roasting and blending to our customers. At the time of this writing, we offer a House Blend (aka Cedarburg Blend), a Northern Italian-styled blend for espresso and milk drinks, a decaffeinated variant of the previous, and unique blends for customers such as restaurants and B&Bs. Also, we provide -- at no additional cost -- the ability to blend on customer's demands.

But don't get me wrong. We offer more than just the freshest coffee. Together with our impressive array of quality full-leaf teas, grandmotherly baked desserts, and many other typical coffee house drinks. We are very much a full-fledged coffee house. Like many of the turn-of-the-century corner roasters found in American cities, the CCR has its own unique charm. The building, formerly a shoe store, was built at the beginning of the century. Care was taken to preserve the original tinned ceiling. Special artists were paid to decorate the walls in a old pirate's map fashion -- outlining the various countries of origin for our beans. And like the hue of our coffees, the shop is entrenched in soft dark and light woods and earth tones. The atmosphere spells out comfort and serenity.

I've spelled out the job of the roaster operator. But that's not all. No, the crew -- or family as we like to call it -- carries many responsibilities. Outside of normal shop operation (sales, cleaning, and stocking to name a few), we enjoy helping educate the customers. Coffee houses are natural areas that draw conversationalists and soon-to-be friends. So we use our shop as a gateway to a relaxed environment; and it shows in the quality of each of the family members' strengths and skills.

Each of the shop's operations carry a great deal of importance as to the over-all success of our mission. To provide the best service and beans, our attitudes and actions must be representative of what we think of our product. To provide the best drinks, we must have the best beans. And to provide the best experience, in a circle-like fashion, our beans, drinks, and selves must be the best they can be.

For me, it's a labor of love as much as a hobby. It is the closest I will come to owning my own shop; a dream of mine for some time now. And while I still don't get to watch copious Saturday morning cartoons, I now get to sit down with a customer who may become a new friend, all the while sipping some of the freshest coffee in the Great Lakes region.

That's what it is to work at the Cedarburg Coffee Roastery.