Welcome back to a new feature series on Sprudge, Going Somewhere Solo, in which we profile 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.
This week's spotlight is on Stephen Rogers, owner and operator of Pipe & Tabor Roasting in Brooklyn, New York.
Hi! Tell us what your roasting business is called and where you're located.
Hello Everybody. I’m Stephen Rogers, owner and roaster for Pipe & Tabor Roasting, a one-person coffee company in Brooklyn, New York.
What equipment are you currently roasting on?
Who else is involved in the business right now?
Pipe & Tabor Roasting is one person's coffee roasting vision: selecting coffee beans, exploring the flavors possible through roasting, capturing a balanced expression of a moment in time, and delivering a coffee to savor in the comforts of your every day.
From putting a sticker on a bag to handing an order to a customer, tempting someone with samples, or walking to the post office, it’s all part of the dream. It’s all up to me. I am thankful to have help from my accountant, graphic designers, and photographer.
What's your background in the coffee industry?
I am in my 18th year working in specialty coffee and am excited to present my own vision of how coffee can taste. It all started as a barista at Buzz Coffeeshop and CD-o-Rama (Cincinnati). I have roasted coffee for Intelligentsia (Chicago & LA), Stumptown (Portland & Seattle), Acre Coffee (Petaluma, CA), Linea Caffe (San Francisco), and now Pipe & Tabor Roasting! I have taught roasting in Seoul, South Korea, learned about rebuilding antique roasters (Arkansas), managed Marlow & Sons and Diner’s coffee program for 3 years (Brooklyn), and have shared coffee and experience all along the way. I want to roast coffee for the rest of my life.
How are you currently sourcing your coffees? What do you look for?
My main focus is as a roaster, a role to which I am dedicated. It’s my link in the “coffee chain”. I work with people whose work I respect and that have a history of quality selection and social responsibility. I look for coffees that are complex and dynamic, that I can balance, articulate, and showcase as a quality cup of coffee. I purchase fully washed coffees for the clarity and cleanliness of green quality and flavor perception. I want coffees that I love to drink.
What—or who—inspired you to go out on your own with roasting? Is there a coffee (or other) company you admire and would love to grow up to be like?
The knowledge that we all have different ways of viewing, capturing, and presenting the same coffee allows me to feel that my way of roasting can find an audience and form a demand.
I am inspired by two pizza legends. Dom DeMarco from DiFara Pizza in Midwood, Brooklyn, for his 52 years of dedication to his craft. And Anthony Mangieri from Una Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco for his focus on quality, tradition, and simplicity.
As far as coffee inspiration, George Howell is a hero of mine for his commitment to quality and Ed Leebrick from Lighthouse Roasters in Seattle for his destination-style business plan that has allowed him to grow to a manageable size and flourish.
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?
Starting a one-person company is a risk in itself. My goal is to roast coffee the rest of my life. To do this, I have to try to get people to taste my coffee. I have selected and roasted a coffee that I think tastes great, but is it good enough to change what they are serving/drinking? Some people will like what I do while others prefer something else. Learning how hard to pursue an account is challenging.
How are you reaching customers without a retail cafe? Do you plan to have one someday? Where can people buy your coffee?
Reaching customers is a challenge for any new business, especially one without a physical address to present your product or craft. Wholesale accounts become your connection to customers. Social media becomes a chance for you to remind people that you do this and they can have some too. Coffee samples, word of mouth, and a pocketful of business cards are all part of a roaster-with-no-cafe’s daily accessories. At this point, I am finding places to hold coffee tastings to give an example of why I enjoy it. We’ll see what the future holds regarding a cafe, but for now you can sign up for a subscription at www.pipe-tabor-roasting.com to get coffee sent to you every month!
It strikes us as a measurement of where the specialty industry is now that many small roasters are now cropping up across the landscape without a physical 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?
I feel the intrigue of developing coffee and the vast range of flavor possible creates a desire to continue to learn and experiment with what coffee can taste like. The more you trust your instinct and experience, you start to form your own signature taste with each coffee's distinction to stand out within your style. The fact that we are starting to focus on the effect the person roasting has on the outcome of flavor, we begin to acknowledge and support coffee roasting as an art form. We are finding ways to have our artwork be noticed and encouraged. When I buy green coffee, it is the overall flavor that determines if I will buy it or not. I hope that people taste my coffee and want to have more of it. If the flavor doesn’t stand out to you, it’s ok, the simple, shiny bag will!
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.?
Roasting for me is a lot like meditation. You set up your environment, start your cycle, focus on what is at hand, and repeat. With thoughts of the way the last roast tasted, you decide what you want to do to roast the coffee to taste the way you hope it can. Music can play and blend with the repetitive machine noises, or I will mentally add music to the machine sounds with the roasting groove I get in. Listening to music from the country of the coffee I’m roasting is always nice.
Liz Clayton is an associate editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Liz Clayton on Sprudge.