DeWitt coffee-roasting wiz details the process behind your cup of joe
Walking into the small production space at Craft & Mason Coffee Roasting Co. in DeWitt, the first thing you notice is a sweet coffee aroma lingering from past roasts. The second thing is the roasting machine, a big metal spinning drum where either Jeremy Mason or his business partner, Eric Craft, can be found during downtime from their day jobs, roasting large batches of coffee.
Since it started in 2013 with the goal of distributing bags of specialty coffee to the Lansing area (it’s not a public coffee shop), Craft & Mason has exploded in popularity, selling its globally—sourced beans across the U.S., from New York to California.
How it’s done
The bean’s journey from the plant to the cup involves a lot of steps, beginning even before the beans get to the roaster. The first thing to understand, Mason said, is that coffee beans, like other produce, come in many varieties.
“With apples, for example, you might have a Granny Smith or a Red Delicious and they all taste and look different,” Mason said. “Each one works differently for different things, and each variety has different growing characteristics. The same is true for coffee.”
Each coffee variety puts its own unique stamp on the flavor and accompanying smells of the end result. Other variables—like where the coffee was grown and what the climate and soil composition was like there — also contribute to the end bean. Because of this, the first and most important factor in coffee creation is the farm.
Coffee cherries grow on bush-like plants in warmer climates like Latin America, Africa, Brazil, and Ethiopia, where coffee is believed to originate.
“The decisions farmers make in the field affect the rest of the entire process,” Mason said. “Everything from fertilizing the soil, taking care of the plants and making the call on when it’s ripe and ready to be picked.”
Harvesting the coffee cherries at the correct time for each specific bean, according to Mason, is key to the coffee’s depth of flavor later on.
“Many of the coffee farms that we get our beans from pick each cherry by hand, which is pretty crazy, because to get one pound of coffee, you need 2,000 of those cherries,” Mason said.
Similar to wine grapes, when coffee cherries are allowed to grow until they reach peak ripeness, the coffee is typically better for it because the sugars from the cherries have time to influence the bean and the bean itself mature to its best, most flavorful state.
“This is why farmers are really important in terms of agriculture and farming,” Mason said. “They are trying to put nutrients into the soil, but making the call for when the cherry is ripe is the big one.”
Processing coffee is a complex affair.
“It includes a lot of choices,” Mason said, “like whether to leave the fruit on the bean when you’re drying it or remove it, choosing what moisture level to dry the bean to and choosing where to dry the beans. There’s a lot that goes into processing and it can be done many ways.”
The crucial decision, Mason explained, is whether to leave all the fruit on the bean when you’re drying it, remove the fruit partially or remove it completely.
After processing, the beans are sent to roasters to make the final product. The choice of distributor makes a big difference.
“There are a few key importers that we work with that we trust,” Mason said. “They’re usually working with farmers directly to make sure the quality is top notch.”
Mason said that sometimes the distributors can relay requests to the farmers, such as asking them to process the beans a certain way, but other times their sole job is to get the beans to the roasters.
“They try to pay based on quality,” Mason said. “So if the farmer puts in all this work picking when it’s ripe, drying it properly, the farmer will get paid more — hopefully a lot more — to do that.”
A reason some businesses are turning to smaller batch coffee roasters like Craft & Mason is fair treatment of the farmer and quality of the bean is ensured.
Larger coffee companies often get coffee from blended lots from multiple coffee farmers. One distributor blends them together — diluting the quality of a unique batch from one source.
Roasting, according to Mason, takes years of trial and error. Beans are put into a big spinning drum to roast, but variables like temperature, length of roast and moisture all play a role.
Craft & Mason, like other roasters, uses a mini-roaster to test samples of coffee and choose which beans they want to purchase.
“Each coffee is different and is best enjoyed when roasted for the proper amount of time and at the correct heat,” Mason said. “There are a lot of variables that go into it, but with practice, you find what works and what doesn’t. Each step is really so important and makes a big impact on the end result.”
Beginner’s guide to Lansing coffee shops
While Craft & Mason roasts and distributes beans only, there are other greater Lansingarea craft-coffee shops specializing in premium blends and pour-over goodness. Here’s a shortlist:
• Bloom Coffee
1236 Turner St., Lansing
• Blue Owl Coffee 1149 S. Washington Ave., Lansing
• The Coffee Barrel 2237 N. Aurelius Road, Holt
• The Crafted Bean
Coffee Co. 116 N. Bridge St., Dewitt
• Espresso Royale 1500 West Lake Lansing Road., East Lansing
• Espresso Royale 527 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
• Foster Coffee
115 S. Washington St., Owosso
• Rust Belt Roastery 801 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing
• Strange Matter Coffee 337 S Washington Square., Lansing
• Strange Matter Coffee 2001 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing