Photos by Luke Hoffman
The parking lot is filled with people munching on the Roasterie’s Sunday food truck brunch. Inside, the café is cramped with people looking to order their daily dose of caffeine from the large variety menu, and attached in the back is a factory producing hundred of pounds of specialty coffee. It’s just another Sunday at the Roasterie downtown.
The Roasterie, a KC classic for coffee, offers a variety of coffee in their three café locations in Brookside, Leawood and downtown, along with daily tours of how they make their coffee. As a coffee enthusiast and a regular visitor to the Brookside location, the tour of the factory was an easy decision for me to eliminate 45 minutes out of my Sunday, and I am glad I did.
The factory itself struck me as an average warehouse, about half the size of the East main gym, filled with large, metal air roasting machines on my left, a tan wall on my right, and burlap sacks of unroasted coffee beans stacked in rows in the middle.
One small air roaster is the only noise in the warehouse as the air inside forcibly jumbled the heap of raw beans around. A few other hairnet-clad workers meandered the factory, but there wasn’t any production taking place. The factory definitely had a slower paced feel than the attached café.
Because of the Roasterie’s pride in their flavorful scents, I was expecting to be hit with a strong coffee aroma in the factory. However, I was disappointed to learn on the tour that coffee beans don’t smell until they are roasted. Thankfully, our samples of a light-roast Yemen blend at the end of the tour filled the merchandise and tour meeting room with an overwhelming aroma of fruit and spice.
The enthusiastic guide took the group step-by-step through the best way to brew the coffee, detailing the exact heat of the water and grams of coffee acceptable. Throughout the tour, she had a well-rehearsed set of comments about the machines. As we made our way through the tour, she snuck in a few jokes relating the machines to people and calling them by names, and I found myself laughing along with the rest of the older people in the room.
As she guided us around the one room factory, she showed the line of air roasters that ranged in size. She called this the “green mile,” as it was just a row of burlap sacks stacked to the ceiling filled with raw green coffee beans. She later went on to point out and explain odd-looking machines that I learned are the ones that package, issue the nitrogen flush, apply the heat seal and date the roasted beans.
The whole process ensures the most naturally flavored blends possible. I learned that their blends from Mexico tend to be more naturally flavored vanilla and chocolate, but on the other hand, African blends are often times naturally fruity. The tour guide referenced a specific Ethiopian blend that, when brewed right, taste exactly like a handful of blueberries.
It comforted me to know that their blends have a series of quality control standards, starting with the fact that most of the coffee is sourced through direct trade relationships with the farmers so that they can check in on the growing process. It ends in Kansas City, at the factory, where after being air roasted, a small portion is brewed and tasted to ensure quality.
Black coffee isn’t my favorite, so after being given the option to taste the Yemen blend, I decided I was in the mood for purchasing a signature drink from the café after the tour. The Roasterie’s “sweet mocha madness” combines rich white and dark chocolate flavors with espresso and milk to create a satisfying hot mixture. It sounded perfect, and because I’ve had it before at the Brookside Roasterie location, I knew that I was in for a treat.
I happened to be a victim of the crowded afternoon rush during my Sunday afternoon at the Roasterie. After 20 minutes of waiting, I had to leave my $4.09 mocha behind in order to make an appointment. The service was extremely slow, even when factoring in the amount of employees and orders. Nowhere that I have ever been for coffee has ever taken that long.
Despite the slow service, the end product of the beautifully-roasted coffee beans is amazing. Now that I know the entire process and the effort put forth into making every bean just as good as the last, the Roasterie is without a doubt one of my favorite coffee hubs in the city.