When it comes to enjoying a good cup of coffee, there are a lot of steps between crop and cup. The popular beverage moves through three phases: growing, roasting and brewing.
As a craft, roasting is both an art and a science. Nancy Montgomery and Tim Hurd, founders of Columbia River Coffee Roaster in Astoria, run one of the North Coast’s premier roasteries. It all started with an antique Royal No. 5 coffee roaster that the pair purchased in 1992.
“We offer a wide variety of coffee(s) for a wide variety of coffee drinkers,” Montgomery said. The roastery distributes more than two dozen proprietary roasts as well as custom blends.
Perhaps their most well-known and locally-consumed variety is the dark roast, called Thundermuck, but they also distribute an assortment of single-origin roasts and unique blends such as Fishers & Fallers and Jonny Tsunami.
Jon Reimer, director of coffee at Columbia River Coffee Roaster, oversees raw coffee buying and the roastery’s wholesale program. Both Reimer and Montgomery stress that the coffee business is about building relationships, from growers to customers.
Beans are purchased from growers from around the world — that is, within the coffee-growing belt along the equatorial zone between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn — which stretches across Central and South America, Africa and Asia.
Columbia River Coffee Roaster sources beans directly, and traceably, from family farms and through trusted importers who buy from small farms. If the company doesn’t visit growers or importers in person, they connect remotely to confirm samples.
Once the raw beans arrive, they are stored under controlled conditions until roasted in single-origin batches of 25 to 100 pounds.
“We really dial in on consistency,” Reimer said. “We’re locking in on individual profiles.” Reimer noted that head roaster Josh Olson plots temperatures at various points in the process assisted by a digital readout. Though computers are an important part of today’s roasting operations, the craft is still carefully developed and monitored at several points by human senses.
The raw beans are dumped into a hopper and suctioned into a roasting drum where they are roasted at various temperatures and durations, depending upon the desired outcome: dark, medium or light.
As the beans heat up, they reach a stage where the parchment, or chaff, separates and is vacuumed off into a separate chamber. Once the beans are sufficiently roasted — which means they’ve come to the desired flavor profile — they are dumped into a cooling bin where they are constantly in motion while air is drawn over them.
Once cooled, they are moved into a destoner to remove any small rocks and the like that might remain. Each batch is then stored in bins for a resting period before being bagged as single-origin or combined in blends.
“As a roaster, we can’t make the coffee any better. We can only bring out characteristics and qualities that are in each bean,” Reimer said.
Quality beans are essential, but so is creating ideal roasts. That is largely subjective, but roasters and growers have in place their own language and certification to put them all on the same page. This familiarity allows for consistency as different beans and roasts are tasted. The process of cupping, or tasting, is used to find the various roast profiles of each bean. These flavor notes are used as playful descriptors in the coffee’s labeling.
Columbia River Coffee Roaster continues to develop new tastes and blends, and are currently crafting a nitro cold brew to be offered in an upcoming retail space. In the near future, a training center with a coffee lab and cupping room will be set up, with classes and tastings offered for the community.
“We want to celebrate coffee and everything about it, from seed to cup, including all the people along the way,” Montgomery said. “The best thing about coffee — it brings people together.”