In the last ten years, the Bay Area has become a mecca for nascent coffee roasters looking to make their mark on the exploding specialty coffee scene. It can get crowded, and certainly competitive, with fresh faces like Supersonic, Andytown, and Hearth butting up against the existing stalwarts like Blue Bottle, Four Barrel, and Sightglass; all of them fighting to make an impression, to make themselves known on a local and, hopefully, national level. Even without the crowded field San Francisco presents, newly minted roasters start off on a bad foot as the costs of a roasting operation in the city—the roaster, the rent, the permits, and on and on—can be sky-high and a brutal deterrent for those looking to experiment with the idea of seeing their logo on their own bag of beans. Luckily, Oakland’s Highwire Coffee is offering a Tenant Roasting Program to do what it can to not only give the next generation of coffee roasters a foothold but to help educate those who might even harbor a spark of roasting interest.
Through Highwire’s Tenant Roasting Program, experienced roasters without the money or the space for a full setup can rent Highwire’s facility and most importantly, their Probat UG22 roaster. The program currently hosts three roasters (names withheld at their request) each week. Roasters are assigned a designated time slot and have full reign to store their green beans, roast, package, cup, and ship their final product.
Danny Goot, formerly of home roasting supplier Sweet Maria’s, was hired back in early February (Goot previously worked at Highwire in 2012) to help focus and expand the Tenant Roasting Program. Goot’s new role is also the first step towards introducing Highwire’s Apprentice Roasting Program, a way to offer education and roasting assistance to coffee companies that want to roast but have no prior experience. We spoke with Goot and Highwire Coffee’s co-owner Robert Myers about what they hope to achieve with the programs and how they intend to do so.
What prompted you guys to start the Tenant Roasting Program?
Danny Goot: Actually we were approached by a coffee company asking if there was a possibility for them to use our facility to roast coffee. Realizing we only roast two days a week, we figured it would be a great way to open up our space, build community, and keep our roaster running during our down time.
Robert Myers: The Tenant Roasting Program is great for those who already know what they’re doing on a roaster and have their cup profiles established. It was a huge achievement when I finally got to produce coffee with my company’s name on it. I love the idea that we can enable other passionate folks to do the same.
What do you hope to add to the Bay Area coffee community?
DG: It’s always been my hope to have discussions about coffee roasting amongst other roasters and anyone that is interested. The “trade secrets” when it comes to roasting coffee is a thing of the past. I want to learn from others and share my knowledge as well. There is always more to learn. I have been learning about coffee for over 20 years and don’t think it will ever stop.
Robert, what are you expecting Danny to bring to the Tenant Roasting Program?
RM: Danny is a dynamic, knowledgeable, and ultimately lovable guy. The Tenant Roasting Program needs it. The first year or so, we were really just feeling the program out. Seeing if we could do it, what it would take to keep the machine going, etc. We viewed it through the lens of overcoming challenges. Now, we feel we’re ready to welcome people into our space in a more proactive way and celebrate the range of experiences, points of view, and personalities the Bay Area coffee community has to offer. Danny is the perfect conduit for this.
What will you be offering with the Apprentice Roasting Program?
DG: It is an intro for the coffee company that wants to roast their own coffee under their own brand. It is not a certificate program at all. The key is to learn the mechanics of coffee roasting while having assistance achieving the desired cup and flavor profiles to match their company’s unique vision. We all have visions of how we would like our coffees to translate in the cup. It’s my goal to help achieve those goals and visions.
What draws you to helping folks without experience roasting?
DG: It’s important for me to assist companies that want to take their cafe or coffee project to the next level. Coffee roasting machines are very expensive and starting in that realm of the business can be very daunting. Roasting is not for everyone, and it’s hard to know if it will be your “cup of tea” unless you try it.
And finally, how does one approach educating people who’ve never roasted before?
DG: With patience, and an open mind.
Noah Sanders is a contributor to SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and Sprudge.com. Read more Noah Sanders on Sprudge.