by Kevin Allen
Sitting at the Finger Lakes Coffee Roasters store in Farmington and admiring its signature “Wall of Beans,” I listened in on a nearby conversation amongst a small gathering of men who were energetically talking about trap shooting and bird hunting. The morning sunlight was bathing me in its warmth while I sat in front of the large window, sipping from the frothy foam of my mochaccino. All the while, in my head, I was trying to choose between buying a bag of either the “German Chocolate Cake” or “Jamaican Me Crazy” flavored coffee before I left the coffeehouse.
Like many consumers of coffee, I had a faint understanding of how coffee beans were grown, roasted and served to an ever-expanding consumer base. After talking with Chris Ganger and Julie Crowley at Ithaca Coffee Company’s roastery, I was handed more than enough information about the roasting of coffee beans and the skill needed for coaxing out their varied flavors. I was introduced to the mechanics of roasting coffee beans on the company’s state-of-the-art Diedrich coffee roaster that can handle a 50k bag’s worth of beans. “We’re balancing bitter, sweet and sour,” explained Ganger. Crowley told me how Ithaca Coffee Company grew out of the purchase of “Gourmet’s Delight” in downtown Ithaca in the ‘80s and was transferred to the Triphammer building in 2004 to become a multifaceted coffeehouse/tavern. “We’ve been around for a while, so we have name recognition. What we struggle with is that our name covers a lot. We want people to appreciate that we are a legitimate coffee roaster.” The fact that its coffee is being sold in plenty of grocery stores all over the region is a testament to how far reaching Ithaca Coffee Company’s popularity is.
For Susan Friguliette, co-owner of Keuka Lake Coffee Roasters, versatility is the name of the game. Back in the early 2000s, she and her husband, Brian Friguliette, moved from Boston to Keuka Lake and decided to combine their culinary and small business acumen to create Java-Gourmet (their company store), Black Cat Bistro and Seneca Salt Company. Black Cat Bistro sits in a tastefully-designed wood cabinesque building atop a hill overlooking the lake. Brian and Susan hold luncheons and dinners there, year-round, and occasionally feature the talents of local chefs. These meals incorporate the company’s coffee-infused products, such as salt, rubs and marinades. The company has even partnered with a local microbrewery and a distillery to create a coffee-infused stout and vodka, respectively. They currently roast their own spring equinox seasonal blend and will be switching over soon to their summer solstice blend. Susan let me know that, “We’re doing bourbon barrel-aged coffee. You get a lot of the vanilla and honey notes that are in bourbon.” A portion of the profits from select lines of their coffee go to a “backpack program” for children or the Humane Society. Keuka Lake Coffee Roasters also provides free coffee to Keuka Comfort Care Home.
At the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, Dan Grillone, co-owner of Cobblestone Coffee Roasters, rents a small space in which to use his Artisan 6m coffee roaster to roast beans from Brazil, Colombia and Sumatra. “When somebody orders from us, we actually roast the beans immediately, put them in bags and ship them out. So, the people who are getting our coffee are getting it roasted when they order. We don’t have bags on the shelf. That’s what really sets us apart.”
Due to his modest and spry operation, Grillone can deliver orders personally to customers living in Waterloo, Geneva, Seneca Falls and Clyde, thus foregoing a delivery charge. Grillone got the idea of roasting coffee from a friend in Florida who showed him and his wife his roasting operation in a shed in the backyard. After Grillone retired from the Air Force about four years ago, he and his wife moved back into the cobblestone house he grew up in and it became the namesake of their new company.
Although the company handles orders online, its coffee’s reputation rests mainly on ordinary word-of-mouth. A point of pride for Grillone is that Cobblestone Coffee Roasters donates 10 percent of each purchase to the Special Ops Warrior Foundation, an organization dedicated to paying for the college tuition of children of deceased special operations personnel.
The aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans embeds itself so deeply in one’s memory that it is as natural as the rolling green hills of the Finger Lakes region. I can only imagine that there’s nothing like sitting in a chair oan the deck by the lake in the early morning and sipping on a hot cup of joe, wondering what the day will bring.
Visit exploringupstate.com/new-york-coffee-roasters for a listing of more coffee roasters in Upstate New York.