Craft roasters drive coffee renaissance in Mid-atlantic

Reed Hellman

The story goes that a goat herder named Kaldi, back in ninth-century Ethiopia, noticed that his flock became particularly perky after eating red berries that clustered on a low-growing tree.

Another legend holds that Sheik Omar, exiled to the Yemeni deserts, sought to use the same bitter berries as food, first roasting them, then boiling the berries’ seeds. Drinking the resulting brown liquid “ … uplifted Sheik Omar and imbued him with vigor.”

Regardless whether the goats, or Omar, or 15th-century Sufi Muslims in Yemen brewed the first cup of coffee, today it’s an international staple, both to consume and produce. As if it weren’t already popular enough, contemporary coffee roasting is enjoying a Renaissance similar to craft brewing, small-batch bourbons, and oyster farming.

Coffee drinkers’ reawakened interest has spawned regionally based craft roasters, such as Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company in Crofton, Md. Small batch and custom roasters aim to satisfy the evolving desires of an increasingly sophisticated clientele.

Some of those desires can be more than gustatory. CBRC has made its processes as socially responsible and earth-friendly as possible, and has incorporated those ideas into its operating philosophy.

“I believe that because people are more concerned about their health and the environment, they are becoming more aware of what they put into their bodies,” said Morgan Stehl, CBRC’s business development representative. “Fair trade, organic options are becoming more of a trend as well as increasingly available.”

Blending beans and environmental awareness

coffee-66850_640Started in 2002, CBRC currently employs 20 people, with their products in big regional chains such as Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and Safeway. “The majority of our business is B-to-B (business-to-business), said Michael Galvin, the company’s CEO. “We look for the most environmentally aware way of selling coffee.”

“We roast 6,000 to 8,000 pounds each week,” added roastmaster Paul Galvin, Michael’s brother. “That’s 20 different kinds. We use 100 percent Arabica beans and 60 percent of our coffee is fair trade and organic.”

The roastmaster’s domain — a high-ceiling, warehouse space — appears chaotic, but is actually finely orchestrated. Eight vertical silos store the most popular beans. Everything is color coordinated; green indicates organic. Centered in the space, a roaster fills the air with coffee fragrance as it swirls out 150 pounds of glistening beans with each cycle.

When asked his opinion about the best way to make a cup of coffee, the roastmaster did not hesitate to name the French press. In his lab, however, Paul Galvin followed the industry standard “cupping” process to taste-test beans.

He used a sample roaster to prepare a small batch of Guatemalan, a potential candidate for CBRC’s Roaster’s Reserve. He steeped 14 grams of ground beans in 6 ounces of 210-degree water for four minutes. A “crust” of grounds and fine bubbles coated the liquid’s surface, and Galvin used a special spoon to break the crust and loudly slurp the coffee.

“This is ‘cupper’s roast,’ a very light roast that will expose any faults in the beans,” he said. “I stay focused on whether I can manipulate this into something that the drinker would like.”

CBRC roasts everyday to ensure that their products are as fresh as possible. Both Galvins and the rest of their staff also spend considerable time and effort ensuring that their operation has the smallest possible environmental footprint.


Keys to making perfect coffee:

The Coffee Research Institute ( states: “Brewing coffee is as much of an art as it is a science.” Regardless of the beans, process, or equipment you choose to use, applying the institute’s “general rules” can improve your cup of coffee:

  • Use filtered water or spring water. Tap water imparts off flavors to the coffee and some minerals are essential to coffee flavor.
  • Do not use distilled water, as it lacks the minerals needed to bring out the natural flavors of the coffee.
  • Freshly grinding the beans just before brewing is one of the most important steps for achieving a quality cup of coffee. Grind beans for no more than two minutes before brewing.
  • Use 55 grams of ground coffee per liter of filtered water, or 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of filtered water.
  • Brew coffee at 195 to 205 degrees F (just before or just after boiling) for 4-1/2 to 5 minutes.

Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Md. Visit his website at or email questions and comments to

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