Coffee is one of the oldest and most popular drinks in the world. Alexandria’s love affair with this caffeinated drink is evident in the dozens of cafes and cafes located throughout the city, with more and more openings each year.
A few Alexandrians take their passion for coffee to the next level and roast their own beans and sell them in small batches. We caught up with three of these micro-roasters to find out how they got started and what they want people to know about the art behind a great cup of coffee.
It all started with a Whirley Pop
Kayla and Michael Hinkle, originally from Virginia, both enjoyed coffee before meeting but developed a more marked interest in the drink as students at James Madison University discovered specialty coffee.
Curiosity is what prompted Michael to roast his own beans.
“I was curious as to how coffee got from this fruit to this plant in parts of the world I’ve never been to, how it got from that point to your cup,” he said. he explains. He picked up a popcorn maker off the stove at a thrift store and used it to try his hand at roasting and admittedly burned his first batches.
The Hinkles fell in love with roasting and learned as much as they could about coffee. They visited small cafes and roasters while living abroad and traveling.
The Hinkles connected with other roasters via social media and developed in-person relationships with roasters and coffee producers. They switched to a more professional coffee roasting machine which they bought from a roaster in Richmond and continued to roast for themselves, their friends and family.
It was this love for coffee that inspired the couple to consider sharing their roasts with a wider audience. “We were excited to share with more people what we love about it, and that’s kind of what drove us to get into roasting as a business,” said Kayla said.
They launched Whink’s Coffee in July 2020. The name is a combination of their two last names and matches the company’s retro-inspired brand. The couple still roast the beans in their home in an even larger industrial roaster and operate the business in addition to working 9 to 5 jobs.
The educational part is one of the most exciting parts of the business for the Hinkles. “Our goal is to show people what we’ve learned about coffee brewing, coffee roasting, the coffee supply chain, specialty coffee, third wave coffee. It’s been a really exciting piece for us, ie okay we started as coffee lovers and we want to recruit as many coffee lovers as possible, ”explained Michael. They have brewing guides on their website that offer tips and tricks for getting the most out of your coffee beans.
Whink’s offers a rotating menu of small batch coffee roasts. The Hinkles select their lots through a process known in the coffee industry as ‘suckers’ where they roast and prepare samples of coffee beans from a group of different importers or collectives and taste them blind. Based on their favorites, they decide which coffee to wholesale and determine the best way to roast it before selling it.
Hinkles tend to prefer lighter, brighter roasts with more floral and fruity notes, but they offer darker, warmer coffees with hints of caramel and chocolate. Their favorite coffee they sell is Honduran. They have a direct business relationship with the farmer, Tony Castro, and the coffee is processed naturally, which means the fruit is separated from the coffee bean by the sun instead of being sprayed with water. This gives the fruit more time to soak up the seed, which gives this coffee its fruity notes.
Michael’s best tip for anyone interested in roasting their own coffee is to roast cheaper beans first and make sure you always roast in a well-ventilated room to avoid breathing in the smoke that can damage the lungs.
“If people are looking to buy green beans and don’t know where to go they can contact us, we can sell them some of ours if they want, happy to do so. It’s just a fun process, ”said Michael. “Like us and like most people, you drink coffee every day. So if you’re going to drink coffee every day, I think it’s a good idea to find out more about it, know where you get your coffee from, and think more about what you consume on a daily basis. basics, ”Kayla added.
Whink’s Coffee is available on their website (whinkscoffeeroasters.com) or via Made in ALX (madeinalx.com). They also offer a subscription service for coffee drinkers who want to eliminate dreaded coffee shortage mornings. The Hinkles are also delighted to collaborate with KO Distillers, based in Manassas, on a Guatemalan coffee aged in Bourbon casks.
Dark and delicious
For Dani Deemer and Anthony Utz, “we believe that nothing is scarier than a day without coffee”. The married couple started their small coffee roasting business, Gothee Coffee, earlier this year. Utz takes care of the roasting for the company. Deemer, who is an artist, deals with retail and marketing.
The brand has a Gothic aesthetic with roasts with names like Bat Vibes, Black Habit, Moon Beans and Coffeine. “I like everything gothic and scary, but there aren’t a lot of occasions to express that in the 9 to 5 world. So it’s a place where I could do the Goth thing, m ‘dress like a Goth on the weekends. We have a spooky but family-friendly market display. It’s just a lot of fun putting that together and expressing that part, ”Deemer explained.
Utz started roasting his own coffee five years ago. He was drawn to the ability to make coffee just the way he wanted. Like the Hinkles, he started out using a popcorn machine, but eventually bought a small, commercial-grade roaster. The couple gave their roasts as a gift at their wedding.
“I don’t play favorites when it comes to where I buy coffee, or from light coffee to black coffee, I love everything, I roast everything. So I take whatever is seasonal, ”Utz explained. For this reason, the roasts they offer rotate regularly.
The roasting of Utz and the creative eye of Deemer combine to create a unique product to offer. “Its goal is to bring quality coffee to people, and my goal is to bring a great product to people,” Deemer said when asked what their vision was for companies.
Gothee Coffee is personal and a labor of love for the couple. They support women-owned cooperatives and sustainable small-scale coffee farming. All of their packaging is compostable and part of the proceeds supports animal rescue. “We try to put all of our causes in the business,” Deemer explained.
Gothee Coffee can be found in pop-up marketplaces that are posted on the companies Instagram account (@gotheecofee) and merchant site (gothee.square.site). The couple hope to secure a regular seller’s spot at a local market in the New Year and share their “black bean magic” with a wider audience.
Ships and sips
Mike Madrid and Donny Brazeal met while serving on a US Navy destroyer. Brazeal grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which has a well-established coffee culture. Madrid was exposed to specialty coffee at Ceremony Coffee Roasters as he attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis and visited cafes with his wife on their travels. However, neither of them had really enjoyed the drink before their time on the ship.
“It was 4 am, I was off the shift and I was tired and had to be up for the rest of the day. I was on the deck and someone had this wonderful smelling coffee, and I tried it and it was wonderful and from that point on I decided I needed to find out more about the coffee, ”Brazeal explained. He created a coffee buying club with 20 to 30 sailors, including Madrid. Each member bought a bag of coffee from a list of the best roasters to share with other members.
After their tour on the ship ended, Brazeal and Madrid reconnected as they were both stationed in the DC area and living in Alexandria. They met over coffee to discuss how to start their own coffee business and spent the next six months researching and making connections before launching Project Buna in 2019. Buna is the English translation of the Amharic word for coffee. Brazeal and Madrid chose it as a nod to the drink’s ancient roots in Ethiopia, while also envisioning the future of coffee around the world.
Project Buna offers a menu of seasonal coffees that customers can order on their website. Growing as an e-commerce business rather than operating a physical location came in handy when the pandemic struck. “We were already optimizing around this idea of how we can help people drink really high quality coffee at home. We were doing one-on-one training with customers and multimedia content to teach people how to grind and brew coffee at home, ”explained Madrid.
They also offer customers a unique team building experience called ‘Crowd Crafted Café’ which allows any group of people to choose and create their own special cafe that represents them, from the country of origin to the packaging. The idea was inspired by their coffee club on the ship and the desire to accompany people on their coffee journey in a similar way. “Being in the military, we’re used to units who like to do things together, who like to have personalized things that represent their team. Which is a natural instinct for humans no matter where they are, ”said Madrid.
Brazeal and Madrid are also working on a limited-release keg rested coffee called The Coffee Betrayal. Brazeal explained what sets this version apart from other barrel-rested coffees. “A lot of times it’s a kitsch type market where they sort of crush you with that alcohol flavored coffee. We wanted to approach it a little differently … with a little nuance and a little art. A lot of thought goes into pairing different coffees with different flavors. Right now they are experimenting with mixing Vietnamese coffee with a barrel of maple syrup.
The Navy moved Brazeal to Norfolk in April, but that hasn’t held back the activity as it continues to grow. Project Buna partners with local roasters in the DMV and Norfolk area to make their coffees. In addition to finding Project Buna Cafe on their website (projectbuna.com) or Made in ALX (madeinalx.com), you can enjoy their coffee at Elizabeth’s Counter (804 N Henry St.) or mixed with a new rum-based cocktail called “King, Thieves, and Pirates” at Captain Gregory’s Underground Bar, located at the same address.
They plan to potentially open a coffee lab in Alexandria where people can experience coffee in person and learn more about this timeless and universal drink.