Orlando Coffee Culture
A lot of thought and care goes into your cuppa java. And those who craft it do a world of good.
Neal Faul and the roaster at Axum.
Americans love coffee.
The taste, the ritual, the sight of creamer slowly billowing through a cup, the art of sculpting the foam on a cappuccino, the smell—especially the smell—we adore it all. We live in a modern coffee nirvana, with espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, shakeratos, cortados, cubanos and macchiatos at every corner; our houses and cafes crammed with machines for slow drips, perks, pour-overs, nitros, French presses and those inescapable pods. We drink more than 100 billion cups a year, and we’re not even in the top 20 per capita coffee consumers in the world.
But where does all this coffee come from, and who is performing the alchemy of bean to brew?
The so-called “first wave” of our caffeinated pleasures began in the 1700s, during which time Bach wrote his Coffee Cantata (“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses,” the caffeine-addicted heroine, Liesgen, sings). It took centuries to morph into home-brewed, instant and diner fare, at its most prolific in the 1950s. The “second wave,” going to cafes for high-cost specialty drinks, was famously pioneered in Berkeley, California, by Peet’s Coffee in 1966, blowing all out of proportion when three former Peet’s employees established Starbucks. The current era is known as Third Wave: individually owned, artisanal coffee shops that cater to the educated palate much like wine sommeliers.
Orlando’s espresso-scented scene falls under a concurrent Fourth Wave (and experts are already talking about a fifth, boutique-focused movement) of local independent roasters and coffee shops, sourcing from single-grower plantations, sometimes in big batches and sometimes strictly for their own customers. The numbers are surprising—it seems like Greater Orlando has almost as many bean roasteries as craft beer breweries—with a similar goal of creating handcrafted, elevated and at times obsessive results.
Coffee, like our other national fixation, chocolate, only grows in a narrow band on both sides of the equator, passing through Central and South America, Asia, and Africa—although with climate change and clever science, experimental fields can be found in California, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Many of our local coffeeologists have direct relationships with, as Jason Moore, coffee director for Downtown Credo, puts it, “growers, not farmers” in the traditional Coffee Belt. “None of this is on massive acreage,” he says. “The important part is establishing guaranteed sales for these families, more money than they would be getting from the established coffee brokers. It’s a commitment to people.” Many microfarm growers make less than $400 a year from selling their crops to distributors; those numbers can more than double if sold directly to indie roasters. Most small coffee producers (which is to say, almost all of them) grow on less than five acres of land, with an average of 450 trees per acre. It takes two or more trees to make a pound of beans per year—about 25 espressos.
Coffee distributor Herbert Peñaloza Correa guides the 575 Café collective in Tolima, Colombia, and harvests, ships and sells directly from his group of 52 farms throughout Colombia to roasters in New York, Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando. “We’re small, we’re flexible, and we’re all drinking coffee.”
“The new guys making coffee now aren’t inventing anything,” Correa says. “Most of the coffee in Colombia was marketed this way—brought direct from the grower’s farm to individual roasters—150 years ago. Shade-grown coffee and heirloom varieties was the norm 100 years ago. Even the in-husk fermentation and anaerobic things that everyone is talking about right now, that was being done 400 years ago by small growers bringing beans down from the mountains. There’s nothing new.”
Steve Brown of The Glass Knife met Carlos Diaz, a grower in Cachipay, Colombia, who showed him his small, multi-generational farm (what coffee pros call “going to origin”). “We bought his crop for the season,” Brown says. “About 700 pounds of beans. And we pay him more than twice the commodity price.”
But why should the average venti-gulping consumer care? According to Dustin Fleming, supervisor of coffee for hometown caffeinators Barnie’s Coffee & Tea, it’s all about the quality of the drink—and much more. “These are people taking pride in growing coffee correctly. By spending that extra dollar or two on a really good cup, you’re helping people you never would have thought of.”
“By spending that extra dollar,” he says with great sincerity, “you’re increasing the total happiness scale of the entire world.”
The essence of coffee in its many varieties depends on season and terroir—each growing region has its own characteristics, infinitely ranging from flavors of chocolate to chestnuts, strawberries to figs, cinnamon to butter. It is a matter of taste.
Most of that seemingly irresistible pleasure of coffee comes from when it was picked, the drying process, the roast and how far away you are from the grind. An unroasted green bean can remain fresh for as long as two years, but after two weeks, fresh roasted coffee is dull and lifeless, and within hours of grinding, coffee loses most of its volatile oils (and flavor). That bitter cup of coffee you despise is probably just plain stale.
Yet supermarket coffee can be many months and perhaps more than a year old—I found a bag of nationally distributed beans in my cupboard, purchased in September, with an expiration date of June 2019—along with ground decaf that says “best used by December 2014.” I’m as guilty as most other consumers.
Of course, taste blossoms with a nuanced and educated roaster extracting the subtle and complex flavor of each bean. Some popular brands caramelize them so far that all you taste is the burnt crust of the bean. Burnt coffee, like harsh olive oil, is not how it should taste.
As Correa says, “At the end of the day, you want people to drink it.” From DeLand to Groveland to downtown Orlando, and points east and west, Central Florida is alive with passionate roasters who use technology, community and the world’s resources to make that perfect cuppa java. Come meet some of the local master roasters who are increasing our coffee happiness scale. All their roasts can be found online, at local restaurants and at farmers’ markets.
A guide to local & regional coffee artisans
** Coffee Bar & Roaster | * Roaster only
Austin's Coffee (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
** Austin’s Coffee
West Fairbanks Avenue, Winter Park
Sourcing from: Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra
Open 24/7, Austin’s live music, open-mic poetry nights, local art and locally farmed produce augment the micro-roasted coffee, made one pound at a time. Owners Sean and Jackie Moore import raw, organic fair-trade, shade-grown coffee beans, and roast practically per cup to ensure quality and freshness. “Our roaster is right on the counter,” Jackie says about their always-working, steam-punky red machine, “and after 15 years, people still ask what it is and want to touch it. It’s hot—not a good idea.” Orlando’s Deadly Sins Brewing has made a dark porter from Austin’s coffee. austinscoffee.com
Axum (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
Downtown Winter Garden
Sourcing from: Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Nicaragua
Owners Renaut and Brooke van der Riet run Mosaic Community Church, a worldwide mission that adopted the village of Axum, Ethiopia, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Africa and now one of its poorest. Profits from the coffee business provide clean drinking water, orphan support, medical care and education to the people of Axum. Neal Faul is the primary roasting expert, using apps and sensors to track temperatures from the different parts of the roaster. Axum has branched into two Winter Garden locations, supplying the Orlando Cat Café in Clermont, Ocoee’s nonprofit House Blend Cafe and kiosks at AdventHealth and the Dr. Phillips YMCA. Crooked Can Brewing makes an Axum Coffee Stout. axumcoffee.com
Barnie's Coffee & Tea (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
** Barnie’s Coffee & Tea
Downtown Winter Park
Sourcing from: Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Hawaii, Honduras, Rwanda, Sumatra, Tanzania
Born in Orlando in 1980, Barnie’s has gone through roller-coaster changes, yet remains committed to great coffee. Supervisor of coffee Dustin Fleming relates the current business to fine wine—beans that are traceable to specific growers and seasons. Its latest initiative, called Crop•Ex, sources “extraordinary crops” from family farms, including beans from 508 women growers who are a chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance in Burundi, rebuilding the coffee economy after decades of civil war. “Instead of buying bulk coffee for the least amount of money,” Fleming says, “buy one bag from a local roaster. Give it a try.” cropexcoffee.com
Coffee Roasters Alliance (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
* Coffee Roasters Alliance
Sourcing from: Colombia, Costa Rica, East Timor, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Java, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Sumatra
President/CEO Joey Chase started his career with a mobile coffee cart; now he supplies coffee shops, hotels and restaurants with roasts sourced from small farms in the Mount Kenya hills, growers tending ancient Olmec lands in Mexico and high mountain fields in Costa Rica, and across the coffee belt. Se7en Bites has a unique CRA roast; Whole Foods has CRA on the shelves. The Alfond Inn, Armando’s, The Ravenous Pig, Art Smith’s Homecomin’ and Raglan Road also are among their 75 customers. roastedlocally.com
Sourcing from: Burundi, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras
Owners Charlene Blanchard and Adam Kelley source coffee through various importers, focusing on beans produced by women farmers, and they are working on a direct relationship with a coffee farm in Nicaragua. DG Doughnuts in Oakland makes cold brew from Coterie roasts. facebook.com/coteriecoffeeco
** Downtown CREDO
3 Downtown Orlando locations
Sourcing from: Quiche district in the mountains of Guatemala; Honduras; Mexico; El Porvenir, Nicaragua
The model for which all in the coffee biz should strive. Founder and director Ben Hoyer opened the nonprofit, pay-as-you-please shop in College Park in 2010, benefiting both Guatemalan coffee growers, among others, and Orlando charities. Hoyer says, “We’ve been working with a co-op of former Sandinista fighters in Nicaragua since 2012.” Coffee director Jason Moore says, “We’ve established a relationship with a grower who only distributes in Mexico; Credo will be the first in this country to have this coffee.” There are plans to locate a small-batch roaster at the Credo Conduit co-working space in downtown Orlando. downtowncredo.com
** Foxtail Coffee Co.
8 Orlando-area locations
Sourcing from: Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico
Foxtail co-Founders Iain Yeakle and Alex Tchekmeian are using high-end equipment and responsible sourcing to take on the big coffee boys, and at lightning speed since the first shop opened in 2016. Embracing a plethora of models, Foxtail has coffee shops, drive-throughs, outlet mall stores, the food-and-cocktails-plus-coffee Farmhouse in Winter Park and spots at UCF, DoveCote restaurant and the new terminal at Orlando International Airport. Their roasters are an integral part of the hang-out-and-work community atmosphere (weekend roasting classes are held at the Farmhouse), as is the story behind each bean, obtained from organic farms growing without pesticides. foxtailcoffee.com
The Glass Knife (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)
** The Glass Knife
South Orlando Avenue, Winter Park
Sourcing from: Colombia, Guatemala
Primarily a pastry and savory bakery, The Glass Knife has committed to coffee in a big way, with owner Steve Brown journeying to Colombia to see the process first-hand. “I wasn’t aware about what goes into a cup of coffee at all to start,” he says, calling his trip “sourcing with purpose.” Now, he gets beans from growers collective La Palma y El Tucan, a cooperative of some 200 small family farms, through Arkansas’ Onyx Coffee Lab, and he launched a Glass Knife-exclusive “Colombia Carlos Diaz” coffee this year. theglassknife.com
** Golden Hills
Groveland roaster, soon-to-open Clermont café
Sourcing from: Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Peru
Owner Frank Garofalo began his business with a half-pound roaster on his back porch. He now roasts on demand in a 20-pound machine, buying green beans through Royal Coffee in New York, which deals directly with small farms and co-ops. “I create blends,” he says. “Getting beans from Royal lets me get the best from all across the coffee belt.” His superb espresso blend took two years to develop and is served at Sanctum, Market to Table, Sugar Buzz and other locations in Central Florida, and is available for sale at Fresh Market. Garofalo is opening an espresso bar in the new Montrose Street Market food hall in Clermont. goldenhillscoffee.com
* Highlanders Coffee
Sourcing from: Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Kenya, Peru
Joel and Kim Gordon and their two boys have made a family affair of good coffee since 2017. Their coffees of pride are the “Sonny” blend, made with pleasantly acidic Cajamarca organic coffee from the northern Andes of Peru, and the floral “Nariño Cartago” from Colombia. highlanders.coffee
Sourcing from: Brazil, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Hawaii, Honduras, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra
Former marketing VP Jose Estorino has been roasting since 2012, sourcing beans from the high altitudes of Kenya; the volcanic plateau, Rain Forest Alliance-certified fields in Bali; and creating blends like his own very popular Cuba Joe’s Espresso. javatino.com
Sourcing: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Hawaii, Java, Kenya, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Tanzania
Using what they have coined 100% Specialty Arabica beans (the world’s first cultivated coffee), the Tampa-based company has been roasting since 1984, sourcing from family farms and cooperatives around the world and working with Conservation International to support protected rain forests. Aside from online and supermarket sales, our main exposure to Joffrey’s is their prominent presence at Disney parks and hotels—in fact, there is an exclusive Disney line available for order. joffreys.com
** Lineage Coffee
Mills 50, East End Market
Sourcing from: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya, Rwanda
Born in 2013 and matured at East End Market (they’re the serious ones doing the slow pour-over at the end of the hall), Lineage is a big player in our small field of coffee roasters, with a very popular line of bottled cold brew. Jarrett and Justine Johnson opened their larger café in 2017, adding a sparkling white hand-built espresso machine from Seattle and small bites. lineageroasting.com
* Orlando Coffee Roasters
Sourcing from: Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Zambia
Owner Gustavo Torres selects beans from the high Mafinga plateau of Zambia, small family farms in Kenya, and organic beans from volcanic fields in Guatemala. OCR sells green beans if you’re interested in trying roasting at home. orlandocoffeeroasters.com
* Patriot Coffee Co.
Sourcing from: Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Ethiopia
Chris McArthur began selling his small-batch roasted beans in a hand-built cart in downtown Lakeland, progressing to farmers’ markets and coffee shops. Today, with the help of lead roaster Nicole Maddock, Patriot is sold in Central Florida area supermarkets such as Publix and Lucky’s, while “Operation Hero’s Salute” coffee care packages are sent to armed services units overseas. patriotcraftcoffee.com
Sourcing from: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Kenya, Sumatra
Clay Cass, owner and head roaster, has been working with beans since 2015, moving with his wife, Michelle, into the small-town-casual-vibe café the following year. Organic, ethically grown and rainforest-certified coffees are packed in biodegradable ziptop bags. Nearby Persimmon Hollow Brewing makes a fine porter with Trilogy brew. trilogycoffee.com
Sourcing from: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Kenya, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Sulawesi, Sumatra
Kent Robinson operates the veteran owned and operated roaster, offering jobs to local vets. “Everyone who works for us has been in combat and most are combat wounded veterans,” he says. Veterans' Coffee primarily operates online, and each pound of Grade 1 green coffee beans is sourced from fair trade farms and roasted to order. veteranscoffeecompany.com
To understand coffee roasting, you have to look at the growing process. Coffee beans are harvested once a year, by hand. A harvest of 200 pounds of coffee cherries will yield about 30 pounds of actual coffee. Beans are dried and sometimes fermented for several weeks, then bagged and shipped to the fine folks we’re talking about in this section. Roasting is the art: Ovens running anywhere from 400 to 600 degrees heat the green coffee beans, triggering a series of complicated chemical processes (including the “Maillard reaction” that makes steak, caramel and bread deliciously brown). Roasting hits an exact yet elusive state called “crack,” when beans audibly pop, releasing moisture. Light roast usually stops soon after that; dark roast goes through a second crack, the reactions of sugars and amino acids creating the flavors and aromas we crave. Home roasters have been known to use everything from $20 stovetop popcorn poppers and iron skillets to computer controlled infrared roasters costing thousands.
More Than Beans
Coffee beans—or rather, the seeds of the coffee cherry, a “drupe” fruit like mangos, olives and pistachios—are not the only useful part of the coffea bush. Qishr is a Yemeni traditional hot drink made of dried spiced coffee cherry husks, called cascara in Latin America, also used in gummies, kombucha, and a sparkling beverage from German company selosoda. Starbucks created a latte with cascara syrup in the coffee and foam. Coffee-leaf tea, available from Wize Monkey, is an herbal tea, called kuti in Ethiopia, prepared from the leaves of the coffee plant, with a taste between mild coffee and black tea. Then there’s coffee blossom honey, with a deep taste of caramel and flowers, and coffee fruit wine. And coffee oil can even be used to make plastic polymers. 918 Coffee in Tulsa, Oklahoma, turns their used coffee grounds into biofuel to power their roasters—to make more coffee.
Make It Yourself
Pour Over: Melitta USA, headquartered in Clearwater, was started in 1908 by the inventor of the coffee filter, Melitta Bentz, who objected to coffee grounds in her espresso. The Heritage Series brings mid-Century styling to a very simple technique indeed. $39.99. shoponline.mellita.com
Cold Brew: Add coffee and water to the OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker, steep overnight, flip the lever and your morning cuppa is ready for heating or ice. $49.99. oxo.com
Espresso: Caffeinistas swear by the Rocket Espresso Milano Appartamento, a space-age gadget that looks like it belongs in a high-end coffee bar but fits compactly on your kitchen counter. $1,700. rocket-espresso.com/appartamento.html
Stovetop: What they call the moka pot in Italy, invented in 1933, these little workhorses range from $5 one-cuppers to striking polished stainless Alessi Neapolitan pot. $520. alessi.com
French Press: Glass and chrome presses can be had for under a tenner at IKEA, but the beautiful Le Creuset stoneware pot keeps coffee hotter longer, and looks great doing it. $50. lecreuset.com
Siphon Pot: the most fascinating method of java jive, whether an alcohol burner-driven Hario from Japan for under $50, the Rube Goldberg-esque Nispira Belgian for $125, or an electric Kitchenaid for $260.
The Early Days
Eight O’Clock Coffee, in business since 1859, was the most popular brand of coffee in the United States in the 1930s. It’s now owned by Indian multinational conglomerate Tata, which makes, among other things, the least expensive car in the world, the $3,000 Tata Nano, and some of the most expensive via Jaguar ($85k) and Land Rover (in excess of $200k). That’s a lot of coffee. So many venerable brands still exist:
Folgers (1872, the largest selling ground coffee in America)
Chase & Sanborn (“The Full-bodied Coffee,” 1878)
Maxwell House (“Good to the Last Drop,” 1892)
Lavazza (“Heaven in a Cup,” 1895)
Yuban (“Richness Worth a Second Cup,” 1905)
Hills Bros. (“The Finest Coffee In The World,” 1906)
Sanka (“Everything You Love About Coffee,” 1914)
Chock Full O’ Nuts (“The Heavenly Coffee,” 1932)
Nescafé (nearly 23% of the world’s coffee market, 1938)
Café Bustelo, a famous Cuban coffee, born in The Bronx in 1928 (“Bustelo, Bustelo, si sabe café [if you know coffee]”)