Diatribe With Dave: Talking with the Java Viking, Shawn Anderson of Old Town Roasting
Anderson: Nice beard!
Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he's on to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
I'll freely admit I don't know a goddamn thing about coffee. I'm not totally oblivious: I can tell the difference between that over-roasted Starbuck's crap and the watered-down Farmer Brothers stuff from the corner gas station that tastes like someone stirred a twig in a cup of hot water and handed it off to me. I've also experienced what is called "campfire coffee" on the trail with the High Sierra Pack Station crew which entails adding more grounds to an institutional-sized pot each day as the trip progresses and by day five or six is literally as thick as mud and potent enough to jump-start a bulldozer. Aside from that, however, I'm fairly oblivious to its finer aspects (and surprisingly at ease with my lack of knowledge). In fact I'm the kind of guy that makes a half pot of coffee and leaves it sit for a few days, nuking one cup at a time, much to the chagrin of my more erudite friends. Blasphemy indeed.
That is why it was such a treat to meet with Shawn Anderson of Old Town Roasting in Orange and bend his ear about the coffee biz and get his take on things. He knows his stuff for sure, throwing around phrases like "first crack", "bean tipping" and "Quaker" (meaning a bean with too little sugar content) like a pro. He roasts locally, uses only the finest product he can find and sinks 20 percent of the profit back into charity. The best part is he's not on a soapbox about any of it--pretty unassuming guy actually. The company has a great model, amazing coffee, laid-back vibe and hand-stamped bags that are eye-catching and original. He's also obsessed with selling only the freshest coffee possible, keeping it on the shelf for just six days before donating it to Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. I sat down at his Orange location and bounced a few questions about the coffee industry off him.
Which of the mainstream coffee joints is the least lame and why?
As far as "mainstream" goes, I'd say Peet's Coffee & Tea. Even though they do a little darker roast than some coffee purists would like, they carry quality beans and when you order from them online, they roast to order. They understand the importance of freshness in coffee and don't try to bullshit you into thinking coffee can stay fresh for a year like Starbucks does .
Same for gas station/convenience store coffee, if you HAD to grab a cup somewhere where would it be?
7-11. You'll have more choices than the average coffee house and you can grab some mini-doughnuts in the neighboring aisle. If you're getting your car detailed, Santiago Hills Auto Spa in Orange has excellent coffee.
How did you get into the coffee biz?
I've drank coffee since the fourth grade and became a loyal Diedrich coffee fan from my first sip in the late 80's. The combination of incredible coffee and that amazing coffee house vibe was irresistible to me. Having said that, I NEVER thought I'd work in the coffee business. In 2009 I was spending an embarrassing amount of time at Kean Coffee in Tustin (owned by Martin Diedrich of my beloved Diedrich coffee). I heard that they were looking for someone to bag beans and that, even though this would be a significant cut in pay for me, it could possibly result in my having a chance to learn to roast coffee. I took the job, learning to first bag the coffee properly (for retail sale). I was eventually trained as a barista and then got the opportunity to join the roasting team, apprenticing under Kean's head roaster Ted Vautrinot as well as Andrew Phillips (the owner/ roaster of Rose Park Roasters in Long Beach). Martin Diedrich has invested heavily in my training as a coffee roaster and is a big supporter of my company. It's been an amazing, whirlwind of a journey so far!
How did this opportunity open up in Old Town?
My location in Old Town Orange is the direct result of my amazing mother-in-law, a good company philosophy and the support and trust of a local business owner. Old Town Roasting exists within Mead's Green Door Café (which also serves Old Town's coffee). My mother-in-law, Shelley Staniforth, heard that the Meads were looking to open a new café and wanted a coffee roaster and she put us together. Gary Mead Jr. & Sr. were so happy with my commitment to quality and the fact that I give 20% of my profits to charity, they actually signed up with me before trying my coffee! Luckily, they ended up loving my product as well.
Favorite product you make or are proudest of?
I'm proud of all of my coffees, but my favorite coffee was the custom blend I made for my wedding. Our wedding guests were served the coffee via the pour-over bar, as well as receiving small bags of whole bean coffee as their wedding favors. It was an amazing coffee for an amazing day.
I think I'm most proud of what Old Town Roasting offers beyond coffee. We proudly use 20% of our profits to fund micro-loans through kiva.org for farmers around the world. Every loan repaid is rolled into another loan. We also donate coffee to local food banks and churches. Thus our motto: Coffee. Community. Compassion.
Explain to us outside the coffee biz the widely varied pricing we encounter when purchasing at the consumer level.
The variance in coffee pricing throughout the industry is the result of many factors. Coffee shops who don't roast their own beans are going to charge a premium for their coffee, because they've already paid someone else to do the work for them. You'll also see incredibly low prices offered by companies who simply buy mediocre coffee in massive quantities. If you're lucky, though, you'll find a great roaster whose cupped hundreds of coffees through the year to find you an amazing coffee and offer it at a fair price. Roasters like Kean Coffee, Klatch Coffee, Blue Bottle and Rose Park Roasters (among others) fit this bill.
Awesome cameo by Mel Tormé!
All photos by Dave Mau, if you already haven't got the drift...
Where do you get your beans? And roast 'em?
I purchase my beans from all over the world, through people I trust, like Martin Diedrich, Bodhi Leaf Coffee Trading and others. I only carry specialty-grade coffee scoring at least an 86 (specialty-grade begins at a score of 80).
I roast my coffee on a Diedrich IR-24 roaster at the Kean Coffee Roastery in Costa Mesa, a Diedrich IR-12 at Kean Coffee in Tustin and on a Sonofresco 2lb roaster at our location inside Mead's Green Door Café in Old Town Orange. Which roaster I use depends entirely on the coffee I'm roasting and the quantity I'm roasting.
Current outstanding independent coffee joints in the OC and why.
Kean Coffee (Tustin and Newport Beach): The best beans in the world roasted perfectly and brewed to perfection under the supervision of an absolute legend in the coffee business. Oh yeah, and I'm one of their roasters.
Unfortunately, I find that a lot of our local coffee houses focus more on the physical space or a fancy brewing method than the actual coffee itself. If you find yourself outside of Orange County, I can't recommend Handsome Roasters in Los Angeles or Klatch Coffee (several locations) highly enough.
Is the customer always right?
Yes. There is no point questioning someone else's taste. Who am I to tell a customer what they do and don't like? However, I don't believe in sacrificing the quality of my product to suit that customer's taste. I won't carry a coffee I don't personally enjoy and I refuse to over-roast a coffee. Too many people have worked far too hard to get those beans into my hands for me to disrespect both them and the coffee by over-roasting it. I'll leave that to the chains. There is an immense and exciting world of coffee out there and I'm confident that anyone can find a coffee they love, even if I'm not the one roasting it.
Shawn has a great subscription program that will save you some footwork if you want to experience his various roasts, you can find it here.
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