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 V.13 No.48 | November 25 - December 1, 2004 

Chewing the Fat

Michael Thomas Coffee

A passion for roasting percolates through this family business

Thomas and Michael check the roast of their coffee beans using a technique called “cupping”.
Thomas and Michael check the roast of their coffee beans using a technique called “cupping”.

Michael Thomas coffee opened at 1111 Carlisle SE (255-3330) just six weeks ago, but already my e-mail box is full of readers’ messages praising the place. The place is owned by an uncle/nephew team, Thomas Selby and Michael Sweeney. I spoke recently with Selby about his shop and his passion for coffee roasting.

How did you get into the coffee business?

Coffee is just our passion. Mike is my nephew, and a few years ago we discovered … on our way to a football game … that we both had this passion for coffee. Then, when I retired, Mike asked me, "Have you ever thought about going into the coffee business?" and I said, "Yeah, that sounds great." Roasting is really my primary focus. We do a very particular kind of roasting here.

How did you learn how to roast coffee?

We started out by researching the different kinds of roasters. We decided on the Dietrich because it’s the smallest industrial professional roaster that we could buy. They’re manufactured up in northern Idaho, so we went up there and they put us through this whole process of learning how to roast and the profile method of roasting. Most roasters will put the beans in the machine, … time it, and watch the color. But we are constantly checking the heat and air balance [in the roaster]. Every 30 seconds we check and mark it down. Then, at the end of all that we do cupping . ...

By cupping, you mean you pull out beans and test them every 30 seconds?

Every 30 seconds. And we keep it on a chart so we can repeat the taste we like every time [we roast beans]. That’s one of the reasons I was really happy to pick the Dietrich machine. They put us through a week of pretty intense training. They wouldn’t let us go until we demonstrated that we could do it like they do it. We roast our beans every two to three days, so we don’t keep a high volume around. It’s always fresh. The other nice thing we can do is profiling for a customer; we can roast up coffee exactly how they like it. It’s very personalized.

Speaking of personalized, what’s your opinion of decaf?

Oh! Well, I’m not a decaf drinker myself, but we have a decafa Swiss water process.

What’s that?

The caffeine is extracted through a water process rather than using chemicals. It’s a more recent process, and today people would just as soon not have anything to do with chemicals. I think it gives us a better roasting bean. We are using a Brazil bean because with the decaf, in order to get a nice taste it has to be a little darker roast. We roast our decaf to just about French roast.

I ask because I’m decaffeinated these days and I’ve been drinking some pretty bad decaf lately.

Mmm. I know. Well you should come try ours!

I will. Do you have any food over there?

Right now we have just muffins, scones, shortbread and cookies. We’re getting them from The American Pie in Santa Fe. They supply Wild Oats with their bakery items. And we’re dealing with TLC Bakery. They make some wonderful blueberry muffins and nice scones.

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