With one company doubling capacity and another boasting the latest U.S. roasting champion, Tulsa’s fresh-roasted coffee industry is appeasing local palettes.
Add in another company celebrating 20 years and a newcomer breaking rules, and Tulsa is a ripe market for the roasting business.
Here are four stories of Tulsa-based businesses who are successful roasting, packaging and serving their products.
DoubleShot Coffee owner Brian Franklin doesn’t have a coffee-drinking problem. He has a coffee buying problem.
“I’m addicted to coffee. I’m like a woman with shoes,” he joked. “I see coffee that I want and I take it. Then I have to figure out how to get rid of it.”
For 14 years, his company has been serving brews with fresh beans roasted in house at its location at 1730 S. Boston Ave. Most of those beans come from Franklin’s trips to farms throughout Central America.
Franklin roasts about 1,000 pounds each week, the majority of which is sold at his coffee shop.
Construction on DoubleShot’s new home is underway nearby at 16th Street and Boulder Avenue with an anticipated opening this fall. The new 6,000-square-foot location is using an old Amish barn built in Indiana in the 18th century that was taken apart and transported to Tulsa to be repurposed.
It will include an additional roaster that will allow him to double capacity, and Franklin hopes the location, on a road highly traveled by those coming into downtown, will allow him to make use of the additional capacity.
“We’ve always been a destination,” he said. “No one accidentally drives by DoubleShot and says ‘Oh hey, there’s coffee,’” Franklin said.
Bobby Ellis grew up in New Jersey where every pizza joint and Italian restaurant had an espresso machine that served subpar coffee.
One day he visited New York City’s Little Italy and stumbled into a coffee house where the owner wouldn’t let Ellis add anything to the beverage.
“He had spectacular coffee,” he recalled. “It was completely different from what I expected.”
He spent the next two weeks thinking about that cup of coffee and went back on the first opportunity he had. That’s when the owner took Ellis out back and showed him his roaster.
From there, he was hooked.
After about five years of small-batch roasting, Ellis convinced his wife to let him buy a larger roaster where he could make 10-pound batches in his garage to sell to friends and co-workers.
“I was really looking to get high on my own supply and play with as many different varietals as I could,” he said.
He started selling his roasts to area coffee shops including Nordaggio’s, where he was eventually hired by the owner.
At Nordaggio’s, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, he roasts 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of beans a week. About 20 percent is sold in-house, and the rest is sold to other coffee shops, local companies and retail outlets, including Sam’s Club.
Earlier this year Ellis was one of several Tulsans at the Global Specialty Coffee Expo in Seattle.
“It’s amazing that when you think about coffee you think about all these great places and here are all these people who care so much about the business who are from this little place — Tulsa,” Ellis said.
Ian Picco, director of coffee at Topeca, was among a group from Tulsa at the expo, where he won the 2018 U.S. Roaster Championship. The two-round competition included judging a selected roast from the competitors and an onsite roast for the judges.
“Specialty coffee is a really great blend of science and art,” he said. “I’m a center-brained person so I get to jump back and forth and satisfy both parts of my brain.”
Picco has always been interested in the science of the culinary arts and the complexities of the palate. He got is first coffee job at a café on the service end but after a couple of years wanted to move behind the scenes.
He got a job at Topeca as a packager and was cross trained on roasting.
Topeca roasts an average of 5,000 pounds of beans a week, with about half grown on its two family-owned farms in El Salvador on the Santa Ana volcano.
It also partners with a farm in Brazil where it sources a large amount of coffee. Throughout the year it also brings in coffees from six other locations around the world.
“As we grow, my goal is to be able to build more direct trade with farmers so we can pay the farmer more money directly and make sure we know about the work conditions,” Picco said.
Picco takes a very scientific approach to roasting, using data collection and analysis to study and bring forward the intrinsic characteristics of each bean.
Small batches are used to profile the beans and determine how to transfer from a small batch to a larger scale, which can be difficult because subtle differences in heat or length of roast can drastically change the flavor.
An unroasted coffee seed has more than 300 chemical compounds that contribute to the flavor. The roasting process creates more than 650 new chemical compounds. So a roasted bean has more than 1,000 chemical compounds that affect how it smells, tastes and feels in the mouth.
“A large part of that is influenced by how it is treated in the roaster,” Picco said. “A good roaster is only as good as his nose and tongue. So I spend a lot of time training my palate and paying attention to everything that goes in or around my mouth — smelling and tasting, and trying to store all that information away.”
Up and coming
Cirque Coffee Roasters, 1317 E. Sixth St., opened about two years ago. It roasts several hundred pounds each week and sells them in cafes and to wholesalers.
“We are focused on serving the best coffees in the world,” co-owner Austin Fogt said. “We are always trying to push the ball forward as far as what coffee can be like.”
Fogt said the appeal of fresh roasted specialty coffee is that the process helps retain the qualities that make coffee complex sweet.
“When you’re talking about fresh-roasted coffee, you’re talking about local companies that are more invested in the community and roasters that are buying higher quality of coffees,” he said. “It’s a different approach to coffee with an emphasis on quality and preserving the fruitiness and sweetness and acidity that you get from the roast.”