We've all heard it before. “I'll always love acting, but what I really want is to direct.”
For many coffee professionals, the analog is the move from preparing coffee that others sourced and roasted to taking the reins of their own company—harnessing all the creative control and risk that comes with it. For our new series, Going Somewhere Solo, we're profiling the people behind the new wave of so-called “nano-roasters”, the tiniest of new coffee concerns pushing quality and entrepreneurship in a big way. These are seasoned coffee pros who've struck out on their own (often in unexpected places) to launch roasting enterprises outside of the traditional coffee shop format, instead growing their businesses within collaborative spaces, home offices, garages, and of course, online.
Our first spotlight is on Gabriel Boscana, co-owner and operator of Máquina Coffee Roasters in Marshallton, Pennsylvania.
Hi! Tell us what your roasting business is called and where you're located.
Hi! We are Máquina Coffee Roasters and we operate out of the village of Marshallton, an hour west of Philadelphia, established in 1731.
What equipment are you currently roasting on?
A 1990s Probat L-5.
Who else is involved in the business right now?
My lovely significant other, Mae. We have a few people that are eager to help out with the business, but for right now, it's just us!
What's your background in the coffee industry?
Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur. I started out of college at Gimme! Coffee on Cayuga Street in Ithaca, New York. I moved onto the West Coast scene as one of the first Ritual Coffee Roasters employees. I learned how to roast at Ritual, believe it or not, on Duane Sorenson's 1919 Probat that I believe is still the oldest working Probat outside of their factory. Last time I saw it it was in the Seattle Stumptown roastery.
Came back east for another stint at Gimme!, then back out west as National Roasting Manager for Intelligentsia within the Ecco Caffè team in Santa Rosa/SF, just as Intelligentsia acquired it. It was there I learned the most of all my coffee jobs. I moved on to become the Green Coffee Director for Sightglass and did some consulting and roasting for other companies. I have pretty much done every job from barista to owner/operator of what is a true nano-roastery!
How are you currently sourcing coffees? What do you look for?
We source all of our coffees from people that we trust, and have trusted for many years. We look mostly for sweetness and ease of consumption. We are not looking for very complicated or hard to relate to coffees for the novelty of it. Although we did just tap out of a beautiful Gesha from the Acatenango region in Guatemala courtesy of Coffee Shrub, bought purely based on Mae's desire to drink most of it. That's 100% true! We also purchase from Red Fox Coffee Merchants. I love and trust their entire team.
What—or who—inspired you to go out on your own with roasting? Is there a company you admire and would love to grow up to be like?
This is a complicated answer. There is a who and a what. The who would have to be Duane Sorenson almost 12 years ago when I first met him at Ritual. He was knee-deep in coffee sourcing and finding coffees that he thought were stellar. I was infatuated with the idea of doing something because you truly love it and honing your craft through repetition and careful observation. I am still in love with the real idea of working on your craft your whole life from a very centered and almost philosophical/spiritual way. It's just something I love to do. I learned many, many lessons along the way these last 16 years, so I have come back to that moment of knowing I needed to do my own thing, at my own pace, without pressure.
The what would be the idea of living a simpler, more sustainable life, which meant leaving our beloved Bay Area and focusing on our home life with our family. This pushed us to really think more concretely on what an online-only roasting business would look like.
I don't know if we want to grow up to be like anyone else really. We are not on some big growth model trajectory. We are really focused on being engaged with our local community and keeping tabs on what is going on in the coffee industry from afar, to always be relevant. We are focused on creating long-term relationships with farmers or coffee cooperatives. There is admiration, of course, and if I had to name a couple it would be two very different companies: Tonx and Caffé Cataldi whom I first read about right here on Sprudge! I love the idea of no brick-and-mortar and very user-friendly coffees like Tonx used to send out, and the focus on the home consumer. We also loved the “rural” and very intentionally small and quality-focused approach of Caffé Cataldi. Quality of coffee and quality of life go hand in hand for us.
What kind of risks have you taken in striking out on your own to launch an independent roasting business? Did you make any unusual decisions?
The choice to move away from the Bay or just an urban area in general is a risk. Most people move to the city to start a business. But for us, this is all process-oriented and how we wanted our lives to be especially after starting a family. We are taking a risk at a much, much slower pace of traction, retention, and growth but that was intentional. We want to take the time to get to know our customers and how we best engage with them.
How are you reaching customers without a retail cafe? Do you plan to have one someday? Where can people buy your coffee?
Mostly it has been word of mouth and social media. We have made a wonderful friendship with some folks we met while on vacation in Florida, Perq Coffee Bar. That is exactly how we want to grow. We want it to come from people that truly love what we are doing and who we are as people. Business is never just business, and we feel strongly about coffee being a real vehicle for connection and positive change. I don't think we plan on a retail location in the traditional sense. Our focus isn't cafe or people management, it's coffee. Our focus is to be the vehicle between people and their daily ritual. There is something almost sacred about this and we want to foster it. To get our coffees please visit www.maquinacoffee.com to buy some bags and/or subscribe and tell all of your friends and family!
Many small roasters are now launching without a physical cafe location to hang a shingle on. How will you stand out from others competing for shelf space in the world's decreasing multi-roaster cafes?
Branding is huge. We took a long time figuring out our bag and website design. We are visual creatures and most of us love to look at pretty things. We wanted some sort of intrigue with the weird automaton hand in the design. Our packaging is intentionally feminine but classic clean lines may appeal to the more “masculine” design aesthetic.
Our ultimate goal is to source 100% of our coffees from friends and people we care about and want to remain in business with and who produce great coffee, however long that takes. Beyond that we want to be profitable and always retain control of growth so that we may continue to lead the lives we want to lead and still get to do what we love to do.
Lastly, how would you describe your vibe in general? Is there a kind of music you like to listen to when you roast, do you wear lucky shoes, etc.?
My lucky shoes would be my Bogs to keep my feet from freezing in an uninsulated garage roastery. Our vibe is Modern Rural Chill™. I love to listen to the Luke Cage soundtrack cuz the style is out of control, Gasper Nali, and podcasts about Democratic Socialism and science.
Liz Clayton is an associate editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.