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For Herkimer – the coffee brings customers in, but they stay because of the community.
The hiss of the pregnant coffee roaster and the smell of beans hits me as I first walk into Herkimer Coffee's roasting facilities in Greenwood, a quiet Seattle neighborhood just north of Phinney Ridge.
There I find Scott Richardson, Herkimer’s lead coffee roaster, labeling some coffee against a backdrop of shiny metal that is their Probat Roaster.
When Scott offers me an espresso. I feel my face eliciting that giddy look of surprise – the same look you get when you find an extra dollar in one of your pants' pockets. I would never turn down a Herkimer espresso, I think to myself.
I am joined by Nathan, another Herkimer roaster, who begins showing me on the map where they source their quality beans. His finger leads me the highlands of El Salvador and Guatemala, where my family is from.
“We're looking to create sustainable relationships with our farmers, wholesale customers and the people coming in. We've all worked in other roasting companies, but at Herkimer we've found our home,” Nathan says.
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Partially due to the natural lighting and soft wood tones, the Herkimer roasting room is a handsome space which patrons can view from the café area through an open partition. There, they get a front seat to Herkimer’s operation.
It is a beautiful café and roasting place. Yet, it’s the smooth rhythm of the staff working together that catches my attention.
“There’s good energy here,” I think to myself. It is a space lacking tension – a trait that I believes translates to the quality of the roast, I am sure.
Seattle Coffee Love & Loyalty
Though they are not always front and center when it comes to media attention, Herkimer Coffee has many loyal fans in Seattle and beyond – including other roasters.
“Their coffee is incredible,” Bill Levin, owner and coffee roaster of BioWilly’s Beans, had once told me.
Since starting this blog, I have seen and experienced the extreme loyalty that Herkimer’s customers have for their coffee and wholesale support.
“Their love and passion for coffee makes them stand out,” said Monica Anaya, who owns TNT Espresso on Capitol Hill. “They consider me family and you just don’t get that at other places,” she added.
So of course, I had to come see for myself and demystify Herkimer’s allure – and visit with them for awhile.
My hunch was that the “coffee bean doesn’t fall far from the tree” and that the love and affinity that their customers have for them is reciprocated many times over from the source: Herkimer Coffee.
This year marks Scott's 20th year in the coffee business – where he started in a drive-thru coffee stand. In a past life, Scott was a graphic designer and worked in the tech field, but fell in love with coffee and never looked back.
Scott started out home roasting, experimenting with beans, blends, brewing, and coffee art.
After nearly a decade at Caffe Vita and a couple years at La Marzocco, he came on board with Herkimer in 2007, where he leads their roasting team and regularly travels to get his beans directly from coffee farms.
He loves the idea of working directly with coffee producers and he travels regularly to El Salvador and Honduras to source his beans and maintain his relationships with farmers.
Roasting about 2400 lbs. of green beans a week, Herkimer’s goal is to steadily and slowly grow, focusing more on quality and customer support and engagement than anything else. It is a model that their wholesale accounts love and respect.
Scott tells me that there are many educated coffee drinkers in Seattle and has a positive outlook on the future of the Seattle Coffee Scene.
“Seattle is one of the greatest coffee communities you could ask for, and it's still growing,” Scott added.
Seattle Coffee Scene Interview:
What inspires Herkimer’s roast?
“Lots of things…for espresso it would be blending the New World with the Old. For origins, it would be featuring the quality that comes from our producers' labors and building long-term relationships with them. For our wholesale customers it would be sharing those elements to help them build their business and providing the training to succeed,” Scott said.
Certainly, many of the wholesale accounts (cafés and coffee houses which get their coffee from Herkimer) have been impressed with the support and passion.
What can a new coffee drinker expect from tasting your coffee?
“The first word that comes to mind is Balance. Our producers grow and process exceptional coffees so we don't have a need to affect or fix a coffee by roast. We bring the sugar content up to match the acids that are present inherent in the coffee in order to feature the character of it's origin,” Scott added.
“For espresso it's more involved. Starting with blending, some before roasting and some after. The coffees we use are selected specifically for the profile that will be created when brewed in the espresso method (pressure driven extraction and emulsification).”
Emulsification? Yup, I was looking like a deer in headlights so, I inquired a bit more and Scott explained:
“Applying pressure to coffee while brewing yields a solution rather than a dissolved solid floating in liquid. Meaning the oils (lipids) are part of the brew not just floating in it. The sugars do a bit of both, solubilizing into the liquid and emulsifying, suspended in the liquid,” Scott added.
In other words: “It means the fats (oils/lipids) are part of the experience not just a slight sheen on the surface. Oils are normally hydrophobic and float, pressure allows them to bond with the water and other elements making a thicker solution. What it does in your mouth is fill the gaps between your taste buds and block astringency (bitterness) from being experienced…at least for the most part,” he continued. “Fat makes things taste better usually by acting as a buffer against the not so tasty elements.”
How has sourcing your own beans been helpful to Herkimer?
“In a word, Control. The control comes from knowing what is possible and what to expect from season to season as things change because we are involved on the ground and can see what may be different first hand. Actively working with our producers at origin has created reciprocal understanding, interest and trust. Each situation is a little unique so getting to know the people involved is invaluable. It also helps to cultivate a long-term reality based relationship which can help to break down the old Commodities Market model of coffee buying,” Scott said.
“Basically, it allows the producers to thrive consistently rather than booming in high markets and suffering during the lows. Working with the same producers has personal rewards as well. When I visit a producer that I have worked with for a few years I've noticed their community start to recognize me rather than being just some guy visiting the farm,” he added.
Talk a bit about what model Herkimer uses to be sustainable?
“The best way to describe that is probably the word “relationship.” From Producer to Consumer there are a lot of places the coffee can touch so we try to be active in each stop along the way. Knowing each element and those involved allows greater control and a more real approach to making things work. We like to know who we are working with so comfort and trust can be created. We like our relationships to feel personal and not just business by the numbers.”
What is Herkimer's reason for its success and customer loyalty?
“Hard to answer – probably a combination of all the other questions answered. We like our customers to feel comfortable with us and feel they can ask for whatever they want or need at anytime. As the coffee scene here has evolved there once was a lot of mystery surrounding what made coffee good. We've worked to demystify that element and allow customers as much understanding as they want. Everybody is a little different and wants different things at different times. We like to provide the answers they want or are ready for when they need them.”
I recommend that if you haven’t already, that you give Herkimer a try. Check out their roasting place in Greenwood, University District location or any number of cafes in Seattle.
Here's a quick video of Scott roasting during my visit:
Below is the map of Herkimer's Greenwood location:
7320 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA
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