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International Coffee Day gives local roasters grounds for celebration

If you love the java jive, Tuesday’s the day to slip a slug from that wonderful mug.

From 7-Eleven and Sheetz to myriad doughnut shops and coffeehouses, there are deals to be had on the cheery bean in celebration of International Coffee Day.

International Coffee Day as celebrated in the United States and Canada, anyway. The rest of the world has to wait until Oct. 1 to honor the jitter juice, according to the International Coffee Organization.

“Every year, the world comes together to celebrate coffee and recognize the millions of people across the globe, from farmers, to roasters, baristas, coffee shop owners and more, who work hard to create and serve the beverage we all love,” the organization’s website states.

For Central Virginia beanies, every day is Coffee Day. The area has several coffee roasters and shops that have thrived for decades, as well as startups and home roasters.

Greenberry’s Coffee Company, which was started in 1992 by Charlottesville residents Sean and Roxanne Simmons, now has shops as far away as Japan and Saudi Arabia.

MudHouse Coffee Roasters, started as a coffee cart on the Downtown Mall in 1993, expanded into several locations and then into roasting in 2012. Trager Brothers also started on a cart near The Corner in 1993 and now roasts in Afton.

Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters began 20 years ago in a little industrial office space near downtown Charlottesville, roasting for local restaurants, before expanding into grocery stores and several locations locally and in Harrisonburg.

Grit Coffee Roasters began in a storefront near the University of Virginia and now has several locations. Milli Coffee Roasters has seen success near downtown and more local people and business are roasting their own.

For many who roast and grind, the taste of their first cup is something they’ve never forgotten, even if they wanted to.

“I was a senior in high school and I made a cup of coffee in the school cafeteria,” recalled John Lawrence, who runs MudHouse along with his wife, Lynelle. “They had the powdered creamer there and I added a lot of that and a lot of sugar and I thought, ‘hey, that’s pretty tasty!’ When I went to college in Santa Cruz, California, they had a coffee culture out there and I started drinking single varietal pour-over coffee. That changed me.”

“For me, it was ‘gas station’ coffee that you could see through. It was horrible. Don’t know how I drank it, when I think of it now,” laughed Bill Clifton, of Waynesboro, who recently took up coffee roasting as a hobby and mostly sells his wares at farmers markets and through word-of-mouth. “You can’t see through my cup of coffee now. I do think a source of heat on a really cold day helps you to drink almost anything that has some warmth at times.”

“I don’t remember the first one. It was a long time and many cups ago,” laughed Dave Fafar, of Shenandoah Joe Coffee Roasters. “I can’t say what my ‘best’ cup of coffee is, either. Coffee is like drinking wine. One day you’re in great company and having a good time and the white wine you’re having is just fantastic. A week later you’re in great company and having a good time and the red wine you’re sipping is amazing and you forget about the white you had a few days ago. Coffee is like that, too.”

Coffee roasting, grinding and pouring is not something local purveyors got into lightly. It was a passion and a quest.

“I love a good cup of coffee and typically just drink that one cup. So, the thought of taking some beans from anywhere in the world and roasting them, trying to find the ‘perfect’ roast and then drinking something you just roasted, sounded like a lot of fun to me,” Clifton said.

“I probably do that with my food, as well. Going to a restaurant from a different part of the world and then trying to cook it myself is a bit of a hobby. Perhaps it points to something wrong in me,” he joked.

“I had to feed my addiction,” Fafar laughed. “I couldn’t find good coffee in Charlottesville and I was buying my coffee from the West Coast. I didn’t know anything about the industry when I bought a roaster, so it was learn-as-you-go.”

“We had a great roaster in Lexington Coffee Roasters, but we wanted to really bring it in and make the coffee the way we wanted it, to make it our own,” John Lawrence said. “That was terrifying because they were so good. But it’s a process. You get better over time, like most things. It’s not something you get right overnight.”

Most of the area’s roasters work with associations of independent growers and focus on fair trade. That fairness works its way into the business, as well.

“One of the ideas behind roasting our own is that we have an incredible staff who have been with us a long time, and doing our own roasting adds another job that gives our people a way to grow along with us,” Lawrence said.

“I’m proud that during the pandemic we didn’t close any of our shops and we didn’t lay anybody off. We kept 20-something people on our payroll,” Fafar said. “We’re small enough that you can make changes when you need to. If you need to go a different way, you can change course.”

In creating great coffee, they agree that the goal is bringing the beans’ best out in the roast.

“We roast and ‘cup’ coffee to taste it, find its flavors and learn what type of roast brings the most flavors out in that particular coffee,” Lawrence said. “Flavors change with soil conditions, elevation and climate. It’s like terroir for wine. You want to roast the beans enough to bring out those flavors without burning them away.”

“It’s the taste of coffee, in that every country that grows coffee has a different taste and complexity,” Clifton said. “Also, the variables of roasting are many. Heat, time, air flow and the bean, to name a few. I think that creates this constant pursuit of the perfect cup. I’ve never reached that, but I keep trying. I think any worthwhile hobby has that kind of pursuit.”

“Some people say it’s a Zen moment but I call roasting a work of art, you know?” said Fafar. “People who work in food and drink create consumable art. A good brewer creates drinkable art. A chef creates edible art. The same is true with wine, and it’s just as true with coffee.”


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