What are your favorite small batch coffee roasters?
February 9, 2020 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Y'all were heroes with the brunch question, so next up is coffee.

We're dedicated Death Wish drinkers, but sometimes I make too much coffee on the weekends and we run out a week or so before our next shipment. To fill in the gaps, I'd like to try your favorite small batch coffee roaster instead of just increasing the frequency on the Death Wish shipments. Who should we try?

We use one of those Ninja coffee bar machines with a billion settings though I mostly just brew a pot of drip on "rich" and call it a day (though I don't object to trying the other features, especially on the weekends); I also have an Aeropress that doesn't get enough love and a French press at work. She's a liquid non-dairy creamer person, I drink mine mostly black or with some heavy cream. It's hot in the winter and cold brew in the summer. We like strong coffee and high caffeine content is nice (obviously), but we're game for trying new things. We're not coffee snobs but we do like good coffee and don't mind paying for it; it's still cheaper than us hitting the campus coffee shop every morning.

Thanks y'all!
posted by joycehealy to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
These guys are my local small batchers and they're great for coffee that's got a bit more flavor. Most of their stuff is single origin and they roast it locally big fan: Carrier Roasting.
posted by jessamyn at 10:01 AM on February 9

You could try a coffee subscription box that will send you different samples every month. Curated list of subscriptions here.

My favorite small batch roaster is Batdorf and Bronson. Batdorf isn't exactly small batch, they have been around for 30+ years and primarily roast for restaurants and coffee shops.
posted by kovacs at 10:06 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Backyard beans out of Lansdale, PA is great, as are Peddler Coffee and Rival Bros.
posted by erattacorrige at 10:39 AM on February 9

There's a particularly good service for this called Trade Coffee. They work with a fleet of roasters and index all offerings in-house. You're asked to fill out a profile of 'what you like' and then similar coffees are sent/suggested to you. I've been working on the back-end of coffee businesses for the last 10 years and worked with several multi-roaster subscription companies, and find that Trade does the best job for consumers in this regard; they're agnostic to style, so they provide a wide swath of different coffees. Once you find something you like, they're pretty damn good at tracking that and suggesting things that are similar.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:55 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

Some of my favorites:

Kickapoo (a Wisconsin roaster - every batch I've had from here I've loved)
Onyx (based in Arkansas, I think - last bag I purchased was a blend called Southern Weather)
49th Parallel (Vancouver - good stuff)
Counter Culture

I've also had good beans from Ruby (not sure of the location) and PT's Coffee (Kansas). There's a couple of local roasters here in Chicago that are worthwhile - Dark Matter and Kusanya are smaller, Metropolis Coffee is a much larger operation but also good. Happy caffeinating!
posted by sencha at 11:13 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Absolutely, Red Bay out of Oakland, CA. Fantastic beans, thoughtfully sourced and beautifully roasted.
posted by quince at 11:20 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of Blue Star Roasters out of Washington state. Their Highway 20 blend rocks.
posted by Zedcaster at 11:38 AM on February 9

I see by re-reading your question that dark is your thing. Blue Star's French Sumatra should suit your taste.
posted by Zedcaster at 11:42 AM on February 9

+1 to a Trade Coffee subscription, at least while you're learning what else you like. You'll get selections from a variety of roasters across the country.

If you're primarily looking for smaller-batch roasters to try and support, I enthusiastically recommend these for being run by good people who have committed to sustainability, radical inclusion, and supporting the communities they're in--and also make excellent coffee:
* Red Bay
* Wrecking Ball

Both are based in the Bay Area but will ship, and Red Bay even has a subscription service. You're more likely to find something to your taste at Red Bay, I think.

Closer to you, Counter Culture is of course great, but I also like Oak City, and I've heard very good things about Black Powder recently.

If you're looking for something similar to Death Wish, well, it is its own thing, and you're not likely to find anything else quite like it, but here are a couple things that are close:
* Intelligentsia Black Cat - Some coffee people may be side-eyeing me right now, but there's something about this unique blend that knocks me on my ass in a good way. You can use it for any brewing method even though it says "espresso" on the bag.
* Black Blood of the Earth - This is science-lab-distilled coffee that's high on caffeine and flavor and low in acid. It's already liquid, and ships in interesting glass bottles. They offer several different beans, including Death Wish, but I'd recommend trying some of the others, too. It's expensive, but worth it for an occasional treat or to have on hand for emergencies. Take the dosage warnings seriously. :)
* Bones High Voltage - I haven't actually tried this one, but folks I trust say it's a viable DeathWish alternative.

Happy caffeinating!
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:36 PM on February 9

Good coffee. Based in Fort Lauderdale. You can order from their website. They are my friends: Argyle Coffee
posted by PistachioRoux at 1:33 PM on February 9

Café Palmira - Minnesota: farmer-direct, family grown, roasted in Minneapolis.
Peace Coffee - Minneapolis: we like the Twin Cities Blend.
Michael Thomas - Albuquerque
Iconik - Santa Fe
Caffe Ladro - Seattle
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 1:38 PM on February 9

I'm a huge fan of Scarlet City out of Oakland. Really great coffee, and run by very cool people. My favorite was Ethiopia Amaro, which it looks like they don't have right now, but everything I've had from them is good, even the decaf (which I doubt is what you're looking for based on the Death Wish thing, but mentioning it because it is harder to get right in my opinion). It's women-owned, and they're all about supporting women growers and projects to support women's equality.
posted by Spokane at 2:02 PM on February 9 [2 favorites]

George Howell is one of the legends of the specialty-coffee movement in the United States, he started in the early 1970s, and his current roasting facility just so happens to be located about 5 minutes from my house (lucky me!). I've taken a few tours and chatted with the folks there and they are fanatic about the freshness and quality of their beans. Howell cofounded the Cup Of Excellence and his pedigree for supporting local farmers is pretty legit.

Howell has a very opinionated take on how coffee should be roasted and you won't find anything even close to a dark roast here, in fact you'll even be hard pressed to find a medium roast.

They have limited roasts of some of the best coffee in the world, the type that win competitions, for example La Valentina coming in at $69 for 4oz (not a typo).

For those of us with budgets less than Jeff Bezos, here are some of my recommendations in order of price:
  • Alchemy Espresso, despite it's name, is suitable for standard drip process, but would really shine with your Aeropress.
  • The Tarrazu French Roast is probably the closest thing to a dark roast in their catalog, it's also going to play nice with your Aeropress
  • The Guatemalan Antigua is going to give you your best bang for the buck, highly recommended.
  • Salvadoran Matalapa is fantastic.
  • Whenever I want to splurge or impress a coffee snob friend, I'll get one of the Ethiopian blends, so good, but at $22/12oz it's a once a year treat for me,

posted by jeremias at 2:09 PM on February 9

Have you tried Mayorga?
posted by gudrun at 5:44 PM on February 9

I've been reordering my Java Planet organic Colombian for a while now. It's saying a lot that I've stuck with this one instead of frolicking in the vast fields of available coffees as I used to do.

I like it because it is low acid (no stomach upset even if I haven't eaten), has a nice strong coffee flavor without being bitter at ALL, and because it is organic/fair trade/shade grown/bird friendly.
posted by nirblegee at 9:46 PM on February 9

I misread the question and almost walked away, but in case it helps anyone, thought I'd chime in... Roasting your own coffee, becoming your own small batch coffee roaster, is a fun hobby, and I recommend it for anyone DIY inclined. You can start small, with a popcorn popper or frying pan on the stove (make sure it's well ventilated!), then work up to 1/2 lb roasters for about $100->200, and the hobby, like all others, goes up from there. The rewards are being in control, and learning about, roast levels. There's a financial reward as well: green beans run between $3/lb -> $8/lb, so you can easily recoup the cost of even a pretty spendy roaster pretty quickly, or come out ahead from the starting gate if you use only a frying pan. You'll ruin beans, but that's part of the learning process too. My personal progression of roasters started with hot-air popper -> Gene Cafe -> Behmor -> (and onward). After a few months, I was able to make drinkable coffee very reliably, and above these, you get more control for experimentation and repeatability.

Ok, now back to the small batch roasters everyone else is talking about.
posted by dylanjames at 1:41 PM on February 10

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