Q: Tell us about the first time you drank coffee.
A: “It was a year after I’d been working at Joffrey’s. I was roasting by the seat of my pants – scared to death and hoping I wouldn’t burn the place down. I would drink a bottle of coke every morning and all the sales people would tease me. Don’t ask me why I remember this, but one morning I had just taken a roast out and I said, you know what, I’ve been doing this for a while and I never stopped to try or taste what I was doing all day, every day. It was time to try it! So, the coffee I had just roasted was Mocha Java, I went over to the barrel, took a handful and ground it, brewed it and poured it into an old ceramic cup. I remember taking a sip and I did what I call a “Joffrey’s Roll Back,” which is when someone tries our coffee and their eyes roll back in their head because they’re amazed it’s so delicious. I was really, really surprised that it tasted so good. Of course, I drank it black. And at that moment I caught the spark and it’s never left me.”
“Being a thorough bread Italian and being one of five children, I grew up on my mother’s apron strings. I was always in the kitchen cooking with her. She would explain all the flavors she was cooking with so I had a pretty decent palate for tasting things. After I tried coffee I was inspired to experiment with the different flavors of all coffees. Let me try this Panama, let me try this Ethiopia; I began to taste everything. I started to experiment with different roasting profiles – some a little lighter, some a little darker, mixing some together. It was an epiphany that I could effect change. Instead of settling for what any coffee gave me, I knew I could bring out the flavors I wanted. I realized that roasting coffee was not a one roast fits all proposition.”
Q: When did you realize, you wanted to be a Roast Master?
A: “Fate. I came down to Florida, after working for Reynolds Aluminum in New Jersey manufacturing beer and soda cans. I did that for 10 years and the plant was closing because of a labor dispute. At that time, I had the option to relocate to another branch of our company, either in Tampa or Virginia. I had a sister that was living in Tampa at the time and liked what I had seen while on vacation. So, I sold my house in NJ with my wife Linda and we moved to Tampa. When I got down here, the job I was supposed to work at fell through.”
“My sister introduced me to Joffrey’s because she was doing part-time accounting work here. And my first reply was I don’t know a damn thing about coffee… I ended up talking to the owner and he agreed to hire me to for 8 bucks an hour. The next day I showed up and that was the first day of my coffee experience. They brought me in the back of this little room, pointed to a bag of green coffee and said this is what it looks like before you roast it. Then we popped open the top of a coffee barrel and saw what the beans looked like after being roasted. We walked over to the old-pre-world-war 2 Probat roaster. They showed me how to turn it on and then they said have a great day, we’re going to lunch. That was it.”
Q: What do you love most about traveling the world to source the best beans?
A: “Seeing beautiful places and meeting new people. It’s a mix of emotions because amongst so much beauty there’s also a lot of hardships. There’s a lot of poverty along with primitive living and working conditions. You have to tell yourself that you’re looking at it from your eyes, not theirs. For them, that’s a way of life. One of the most rewarding things is going back to places I’ve visited before and seeing how coffee roasters, in general, have begun to contribute to improving the living conditions of the people we owe our living to. You have no idea how hard these people work and the amount of labor that goes into producing and growing great coffee. If you did, you would appreciate it so much more.”
Q: What’s the best part about your job?
A: “The fact that Miguel (my roasting partner at Joffrey’s) and I can see people’s reactions when they drink our coffee, is the most humbling, rewarding part of our job. We travel to origin and see our coffee being grown and nurtured by people who truly care about the product. If the farmers aren’t growing great coffee, we wouldn’t be able to roast great coffee. It makes the days of standing in 120 degrees for 8-10 hours roasting delicious coffees for our deserving customers, well worth the effort.”
Q: How do you know when coffee beans are perfectly roasted?
A: “The appearance will tell you. Every bean goes through 4 phases when they’re roasting. The first phase is when the temperature reaches 212 degrees and moisture dissipates, making the color of the bean fade. Phase 2 happens about two or three minutes later when the beans hit around 270. That’s when the beans change from green to yellow because the chlorophyll disappears. Phase 3 is what I consider most critical. At 320 degrees, the sugar breaks down. Sugars break down one of two ways, they melt and caramelize to remain sweet or they burn and become bitter and astringent. If you’ve ever had a cup of coffee that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, or if you’re the unlucky recipient of the last cup of coffee after its been sitting on a burner for hours… then you know what I’m talking about. A lot of roasters roast coffee to be extra dark and have “more body.” They want that taste. As a rule, Joffrey’s doesn’t roast coffee past the point of what I’d call a French roast. The darkest we’ll go is between a chestnut brown or indigo color. I like my Kenya’s to taste like Kenya’s and my Sumatra to taste like Sumatra. The final stage is when the beans have heated to the epicenter, pores expand and then you get what’s called a crack. The first crack is slower; the second crack is rapid. When you hear a crackle in the beans and that means the c02 is being released. It sounds like a big bowl of rice krispies.”
Q: If coffee didn’t exist in the world, I would __________. (fill in the blank)
A: “Being as coffee is the second most consumed beverage after tea (and water), I think I’d be pretty heart broken. Bored. Unsatisfied. I can’t imagine life without coffee!”
Q: How often do you drink coffee and how do you take it?
A: “I start every day with a French Press of coffee, using beans we’ve roasted in the past 48 hours. I drink it black because I like the taste of coffee. And I drink it up until noon usually. I used to drink a lot more coffee than I do now, but I’m drinking probably 4-5 cups every day now. Then I’ll sneak in an espresso in the afternoon. There’s so many different nuances to each type of coffee. Even though I might drink a Kenya today, tomorrow I’ll drink it again and probably taste something different than I did the day before. This is the greatest job in the world because there’s always something else around the corner. I can’t wait to see what flavor I’m going to discover next.
Q: What inspires you when you’re inventing new specialty drinks?
A: “The unwavering commitment that I can, and we as a company, can always make something better. If it was good today, it’ll be better tomorrow. I’m strictly a black coffee drinker, but I love seeing the expression on people’s faces when I make them their first real specialty beverage, like someone who’s never had a good espresso and is amazed that they could drink it without sugar and enjoy it. It’s like YEAH BABY, that’s what this is all about.”
Q: If you could compare your love to coffee with something else, who or what would it be?
A: “God, my wife and my family are up in the top of my love list. The other thing that I LOVE is cooking. I’ll cook anything Italian.”