Where I grew up, good coffee is weak enough to see the bottom of the cup and drink after supper.
Minnesotans call this Lutheran coffee. Or maybe it’s non-natives who call it that with a chuckle and a request for darker roast.
In any case, count me among the world’s coffee lovers. I start every single day with a cup (or four), and I’m a card-carrying fan of handcrafted espresso drinks (i.e., I’m a member of Starbucks Rewards program and I have the app on my phone).
At home, our coffee brand of choice is Peter James, a micro roastery in San Leandro, California, on the eastern shore San Francisco Bay. Every six weeks or so, we call them up and order eight or 10 pounds of whole bean coffee, which is packaged and shipped to our door.
Peter James is a wholesaler for the most part, but to its credit, they are always cheerful about taking our small orders (maybe the excellent coffee helps). My Beloved has been a regular customer for many years, and I have been calling and talking to the friendly but anonymous voice on the end of the line without thinking much about the source of my coffee other than to decide on the origin of the raw beans. Tanzania? Kenya? Costa Rica? Ethiopia? Sure, I’ll take a bag of each.
But as we laid out our trek through California, I realized we would be in the vicinity of the factory and asked about a tour.
“Well, we don’t have formal tours, but sure, you can stop by and we’ll show you around,” said the friendly voice I would soon learn belonged to Kat.
So like worshippers traveling to the our god’s birthplace, we paid a visit.
And found this:
Well, OK, it doesn’t look like much from the outside. But I can assure you, the nondescript exterior encloses a serious coffee roasting operation.
Coffee, like wine, is a nuanced beverage. Its acidity and body can be measured, and avid coffee drinkers know what they like when they taste it; those with a sensitive, educated palate can determine flavor, measure intensity and rate a coffee’s sweetness, sourness and even saltiness.
At Peter James, the proprietor Mark is tasting and rating shipments from all over the world like a caffeinated Energizer Bunny. Mark tests the beans before the beans are shipped and after they arrived (because sometimes they can become sullied in transit). And then he determines the best roast for each type of bean and blend.
We learned coffee is graded in five classes (Peter James accepts only beans in the top two). We got to follow the roasting process from raw bean (they arrive in burlap bags) all the way through the roasting process and packaging. And then we got to have a tasting.
Like any well-run wine tasting, our coffee tasting was eye-opening. Kat and Mark brewed our favorite freshly roasted beans for us in four ways: drip coffee, siphon brew, aeropress and espresso.
I was amazed at the different flavors even my rudimental palate sussed out of the different preparation methods. Nothing beats quality preparation and side-by-side comparison. We liked the aeropress method so much, we’ve invested in an aeropress.
Of course, we left with eight pounds of freshly roasted coffee which brought smiles to our faces.
Now before you think this quality coffee costs an arm and a leg, we picked up eight pounds of coffee (Kenya, Tanzania Peaberry, Mocha Java, Dark French Italian and French Reserve) for $72 (normally, we pay shipping as well). That’s only 56 cents an ounce, which is a smokin’ deal compared to big-name roasters. If you’re drinking your Lutheran coffee using Folgers, Peter James will cost you twice as much, but let’s be real — it tastes about 20 times better so it’s a great deal.
If you want to see for yourself, give Kat a call and place an order (click here). You won’t be sorry.