Local Utah coffee roaster keeps conscience in mind when buying beans
By Billy Yang
Special to The TribuneFirst published Mar 27 2013 07:42AM
The world is filled with plenty of coffee enthusiasts, people who own French presses and pour-over kits — people who insist on grinding whole beans right before brewing for a proper pot of coffee.
But only the truly coffee obsessed, such Levi Rogers, will take the time to roast the beans themselves.
"I started roasting at home about six years ago using an old stovetop popcorn popper," said Rogers, head roaster and one of the founders of Charming Beard Coffee. "I didn’t really know what I was doing then. I just did it for myself. I did it for the freshness."
Rogers, 24, was introduced to home roasting while living in Portland, Ore., where he worked as a barista. He moved to Salt Lake City in 2010 to help set up the Missio Dei church.
"When I first moved out here, I worked at a coffee shop and I didn’t really see anyone doing what I was looking for — the lighter, single-origin kind of style," he said.
What Rogers was looking for is referred to by connoisseurs as third-wave coffee. The first wave of coffee came in the 19th century when Folgers turned the product into a household commodity. Second-wave coffee denotes the rise of designer espresso drinks in the ’80s and ’90s made popular by Starbucks (e.g., caramel macchiato and skinny vanilla latte).
Third-wave coffee places an emphasis on the sourcing of the beans — the varietal and the country where the beans were grown. This new crop of roasters, such as Charming Beard, deal with the farmers directly. Even when Charming Beard purchases beans from an importer, it chooses one that can provide a provenance for the beans with minute details about the farms right down to how much the workers who picked the beans were paid.
The third wave is a much more conscious cup of coffee.
Rogers saw an opportunity to bring this type of brew to Salt Lake City, but to do so, he would have to find a way to roast on a larger scale.
"You can only roast about a half-cup at a time with a popcorn popper," he said. "It takes about seven batches to fill a 1-pound bag."
So with the help of Tim Walzer, he built a roaster by repurposing a propane barbecue grill. Once Rogers had the means to roast en masse, he needed someone who could taste the results and offer constructive criticism on how he could refine his product and bring out the natural flavors of the coffee. He took samples to Joe Evans at Nobrow Coffee Werks.
"He was so like-minded to us. There’s so much pretentiousness in the coffee industry and Levi isn’t like that," Evans said. "With us, he was able to get outside of his own head and get some feedback from people who are very much steeped in the industry."
After a few test batches, Nobrow began serving Rogers’ and Walzer’s coffee, which was branded as La Barba at the time. Then late last year, La Barba partnered with Josh and Becky Rosenthal of the food blog SLC Foodie. The Rosenthals leveraged their connections in the Salt Lake food scene and became the mouthpiece for the coffee, which was relaunched as Charming Beard.
For Rogers, who met the Rosenthals at church, it was a match made in, well, heaven. Rogers admits to not being very good at marketing.
"Levi just came in with his coffee one day and it was obvious he wasn’t a professional salesman," said Matt Caputo of Caputo’s Market and Deli. "We brewed up some of his stuff just using a machine here — not even pour-over style or a French press — and I was like ‘whoa.’ "
Caputo’s became the first market to stock Rogers’ coffee. Today, Charming Beard also can be found at Liberty Heights Fresh and is being served at restaurants such as Pago in Salt Lake City, Communal in Provo and High West Distillery in Park City.
"Levi is like the truest form of the little guy — I mean a total self-built business," Evans said. "It’s been pretty awesome to watch how he’s progressed in just a year, to see him come from being a backyard roaster to where he’s at now."