Pinebrook Coffee Roasters interview. One the coffees I have really enjoyed, one that I recently reviewed, was from small batch coffee roaster, Pinebrook Coffee Roasters. I started following them on Twitter and it didn’t take long before a connection was created and great coffee was consumed.
That being said, I reached out to see if they would agree to an interview about Pinebrook Coffee and their journey. They agreed so here’s the interview that resulted.
TMCC: So Norman, tell me a little about yourself and how you came to be a small batch coffee roaster.
Pinebrook: My coffee journey actually comes by way of the world of finance, having spent many years in the financial and insurance field (by profession I have an accounting and law degree). I’ve had some great success and some doozy failures along the way.
I came to the coffee industry by being an avid follower of the then emerging third wave of coffee. Looking to reinvent myself again, why not produce an actual product instead of pushing financial paper around. The idea of coffee really fit the bill. We already were passionate about it, why not up the ante.
So the journey began with extensive due diligence and training over an 18 month period. The finance and operations part was natural to me, and I was lucky to learn from the roast-masters at the Pulley Collective in Brooklyn, NY.
So, last year Pinebrook Coffee Roasters was born as an online premium roaster. Our mission is simple. Roasting fresh premium beans in order to produce great coffee at great prices. The finance and operations part was natural to me, and I was lucky to learn from the roast-masters at the Pulley Collective in Brooklyn, NY.
TMCC: I agree, the coffee I have had from Pinebrook is great. That being said, what was the driving force for you to start roasting beans?
Pinebrook: In looking for something different, my requirements were a physical product, growth and trend oriented, enjoyed by all demographics, and had a history or story behind the product or industry. I was also intrigued by coffee because my parents were bakery owners and I remember as a young teenager the back operations of baking the goods. Roasting beans (and having good bakery items with it) was a comfort zone extension of that.
TMCC: A bakery. Interesting. So where did you start roasting beans? At home in your kitchen, garage or maybe as an apprentice with another roaster?
Pinebrook: Of course, like most early startups, I fooled around with a small electric home roaster. That didn’t last long because I quickly saw the need to step up the curve and managed to find the guys at Pulley Collective to tutor me in the fine arts of coffee roasting.
TMCC: How did you evolve from your beginning roasting into a full fledge roaster?
Pinebrook: Once I decided to pursue due diligence on this as a business, I had laid out milestones and objectives for moving the project forward. As things starting falling into place, I upped the game and did the roasting on a full fledged basis.
TMCC: Do you consider yourself a micro roaster, small batch coffee roaster or full-blown commercial roaster? Explain.
Pinebrook: Not sure what the difference is between micro-roaster and small batch roaster, as I use that term interchangeably. But definitely a small batch micro roaster. Our batch production is usually between 25-50 lbs per roast type. And if we are producing a large amount of a given bean, we will do a few runs so that the final aggregate batch can be a few hundred lbs. We will shortly introduce a Roast to Order product which will be as low as 1-5 lbs. We are working on it as we speak.
TMCC: Roast to order, that sounds great. What are some factors that go into your decisions on which beans to use in blends or do you just roast single origin beans?
Pinebrook: As of now we only do single origin beans. We are considering playing with some blends, but have not brought any to market yet.
TMCC: As a small batch coffee roaster, do you have recipes that you follow?
Pinebrook: You know the old saying “ I could tell you, but I would have to kill you”. That’s just a joke and of course not intended to be real but it highlights that no one is going talk about their recipes or methodologies. Suffice it to say that it is part art, part science.
There are software programs that help with the roasting gages and timing, but it is really a craft and each roaster develops their own style. That is what makes the premium coffee bean area so much fun. Each consumer gets to taste coffee as wine, a different taste across all roasts and types.
TMCC: I agree that it is a craft and you seem to have it perfected. Do you use gas, electric or wood-fired roasters? Why?
Pinebrook: Gas. We are experimenting with other types, but for now gas.
TMCC: There are lots of people who call themselves a small batch coffee roaster. What makes PBCR standout among other roasters?
Pinebrook: I think attention to detail. That makes for a superior product and for smooth operations. We are attentive to the roast and its final outcome and perhaps just as important attentive to the consumer and their needs. No item is too small and constructive feedback is always important. That is a culture I would like to continue as we grow.
TMCC: I’m on your email list and I’ll say, not only do I enjoy reading what you have to offer, but it does look like you are growing. What have been some of the most notable moments in your coffee roasting career?
Pinebrook: Interesting question. Having us written up in Daily Coffee News was exciting. Actually launching the site was cool. Learning to deal with 150 lb coffee bean burlap bags is always notable. Interacting in the social media space has been an experience. But probably my most notable moment is a collective moment. Every day I look forward to waking up and getting to the business of Pinebrook Roasters. There is always so much to do and accomplish, but it is so very satisfying. How many people can say that?
TMCC: It sounds as though you thoroughly enjoy being a small batch coffee roaster. What have been some of the major trends you have noticed in your coffee career?
Pinebrook: In my brief career, I have noticed a continuing acceptance by a more educated coffee consumer in the premium coffee market. Two years ago, I would spend a half-hour to explaining to friends and associates what I was doing. The idea of a pour-over, or craft roasting was a full fledged time consuming description. Today, more and more people get it and understand it right away. Coffee 3.0 is fast becoming mainstream. Maybe time to create Coffee 4.0?
TMCC: I know that since I started my site, The Morning Coffee Cup, I too have become more educated in coffee. When I look for coffee, I look for a small batch coffee roaster first. Where do you see PBCR and the coffee industry headed in the next 5 to 10 years?
Pinebrook: Of course to continue to grow while retaining the same craft culture. It can be done, as long as you develop it with that in mind and not go super commercial. Stumptown was able to grow into a $400 million company while still retaining that craft culture, so it is very much possible. I think there is also room for growth in the local markets. Getting product into the local store to carry craft coffee, the farmers market etc. And part of our 5 year plan is to at some point maybe set up a few retail locations that are different than the standard coffee plans. We have ideas, but first things first.
TMCC: It sounds as though you have a well defined path. If a person is just starting to drink coffee, which type do you recommend? (One of yours of course)
Pinebrook: It has to be a Pinebrook Roasters coffee, right? I would start with tasting the dark or medium-dark roasts like our Malawi, Honduran, or Nicaragua and then go to the more medium or medium lights like our Guatemalan or Peru. This then gives a full complement of understanding the nuances of the chocolatey versus fruity tastes of coffee. From there you can figure out what you like. Our site offers a sampler pack which is a great way to taste the different types.
TMCC: As a small batch coffee roaster, do you prefer one method of brewing to another? Explain.
Pinebrook: Personally I like Chemex and in 15 to 30 ounce coffee batches at a clip. This allows for a full melding of the coffee flavor as you have to continue to pour and seep and it then picks up the full potential flavor. I also enjoy doing a Cold Brew using a french press. I let it seep without plunging for about 12-24 hours, then plunge the press and let it cool in the fridge. That process, for those who enjoy cold/ice coffee, makes for a very deep, rich brew. Just delicious. Truth is, everyone who enjoys coffee at this level has experimented and found their brewing niche. The more the differing ways the better.
TMCC: You have given our readers a lot of great insight into the coffee business. Some great advice too. One last question. Do you prefer your coffee black, or with creamer?
Pinebrook: Black. Always.
Pinebrook Coffee Roasters is quickly building a great presence in the coffee industry as a small batch coffee roaster. As Norman has stated, it’s a craft, it’s about great coffee and excellent customer service. If you want to experience some great coffee, subscribe to The Morning Coffee Cup and I’ll send you a discount code that you can use on their great coffee. Norman and his crew know coffee and you will come to love theirs.