The sweet aroma and seasonal taste of education
Apr 24, 2018 02:47PM
By Steven Hoffman
Newark didn't need another coffee shop.
The town's varying demographics – college students, townsfolk and transients – were already hepped up enough on caffeine and choices, thanks to the fact that from any direction, one can throw a rock in Newark and hit the side of an establishment that serves up mocha frappes or latte supremes or dark roast in take-away cups that approximate the capacity of a paint can.
Joe Lins and Olivia Brinton both knew this, and their decision to open Little Goat Coffee Roasting Company in the epicenter of competition last September was a stroke of defiance that all great business visionaries have: To see a need, and fill that need.
Yes, they thought: Newark had its coffee shops, but they didn't have one like this.
“We thought that people are going down the street anyway, so why not put our place nearby?” Lins said. “I felt like it was a great advertising technique to open up right near our main competitor. When we first opened, we definitely had people obviously headed on their normal coffee route and then we began to see heads turn, and then we began to see cars turn into our parking lot.”
Although it is now firmly entrenched at the former home of Switch on Haines Street, the story of Little Goat Roasting Company began, in part, at the Dynamite Roasting Company in Asheville, N.C. several years ago. When she was a college student at a nearby school, Brinton worked at the company and learned all phases of the coffee industry.
“That's where I truly learned to appreciate what goes into a single cup of coffee, starting with the cultivation of beans, to sourcing it and finally, to the proper roasting techniques,” said Brinton, who has known Lins and his wife, Elizabeth, for several years. “I quickly learned that coffee is not a sustainable product for North Americans to consume, so I began to consider how we as Americans can offset the fact that what we're drinking comes from shipping containers from other countries in the world. I began to ask, 'What can we do as a consumer to balance that?' The answer, I found, is by approaching it holistically.”
While Brinton was in North Carolina, Lins was beginning to experiment with home roasting while also tinkering with the possibility of marketing his product to local customers.
“I had a scientific curiosity that was calling out to my life, and I decided that I would start playing around with it,” Lins said. “When we figured out that Olivia had already watched a roasting company grow exponentially into a great business model, and hearing about that, and seeing the way the industry was going, we decided to see where we could take our ideas.”
Soon, the two friends began to brainstorm, and within months, Little Goat Coffee Roasting Company was born. They began packaging and selling their product at local farmers' markets, and the response was incredible.
“We had customers come back to us every single week to buy more coffee, and when the farmers' markets closed for the winter, we would still have customers email us, saying 'Can you meet me in the parking lot and bring me a bag of beans? I can't survive without your coffee.'” Brinton said.
In August of 2016, the slow move to the Haines Street location began -- first with renovations that included creating the 950-square-foot space into both a cafe and roasting company. All was done in time for the September 2017 opening.
The company works with Royal Coffee, a New York-based importer of ethically grown coffee products, to offer a constantly changing selection all year long. Every week, customers can see Fair Trade Certified products from Colombia, Peru, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Papau New Guinea – all according to their peak seasons.
Every day, Brinton and Lins switch off on roasting the beans in their Deidrich roasting machine that dominates a small kitchen. There's also room for a continuing shipment of beans, which are delivered in burlap bags.
“At first, Joe and I looked at this tiny spot to just use as a roasting company, but we've found that the cafe and the roastery play off each other,” Brinton said. “The cafe began as a necessary consequence of the business, but we thought, 'How can we convince customers try our product without being able to offer them the opportunity to taste our product?' It's been able to help expose our customers to our coffees every day.”
While the primary mission of Little Goat Coffee Roasting Company is to grow both the retail and wholesale side of the business, it has a secondary one, too: Educating the consumer.
“We want to educate our customers on the fact that it's a privilege to consume coffee, to know how lucky we are to be able to smell and savor the aroma of a dark roast, or be able to tell the story of our Sulawesi, which when ground, smells faintly of blueberries,” Brinton said. “The tasting notes are from the conditions in which the coffee is ground – the minerals in the soils of Ethiopia that create this flavor profile.”
Throughout the store's counter space are several information sheets that detail the history, origins and cultivating trends and practices of each coffee sold. It's part of the business goal to raise what Brinton calls a “coffee consciousness.”
“It has gotten to the point where most consumers don't view coffee as a seasonal product,” Brinton added. “They're used to visiting a large chain coffee shop and ordering the same Sumatra varietal every day of the year. If that's what they want, then fine, but to me, it's like comparing an heirloom tomato at the end of August with a hydroponically grown tomato. There's a huge taste difference.”
There are two moments that serve as time bookmarks to the everyday hustle and flow of owning and operating a coffee roasting company and its cafe. They occur very early in the morning and very late at night, and they serve as the moments Lins opens up a big burlap sack of beans, and works with the Diedrich roasting machine.
In the 13 minutes it takes to properly prepare a five-pound batch of freshly roasted coffee, Lins makes six adjustments to the machine and regulates constant fluctuations in temperature. Making a great cup of coffee is about science, it's about art and it's about mechanics, he said.
“It's also about knowing that bean, and ultimately knowing how to control that bean,” Lins said. “We're trying to teach people about the stories behind these coffees in other parts of the world. It's allowed Olivia and I and our staff to be a part of a very cool thing.”
Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co. is located on 16 Haines Street, Newark. Its products are also available at Newark Natural Foods, and at the House of William & Merry and The Perfect Cup, in Hockessin. To learn more, visit www.littlegoatcoffeeroasting.com, or call 302-455-1040.