~ by C. Oscar Olson ~
It was a cold night in Boston on December 16. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and the rest of The Sons of Liberty crept aboard a British merchant vessel and threw its entire shipment of tea into the ocean. The year was 1773, and this protest of unfair and unjust taxes will forever be an iconic event in American History. It started a fire in the hearts and minds of young men and women who craved liberty and put a young nation on the road to freedom from a foreign government. More importantly, perhaps, it caused a decline in the popularity of tea and resulted in a shift to coffee as the preferred hot drink of the land.
Today, for people across the country, coffee has become a way of life. It seems possible to find a cup, hot or iced, black, regular, or decaf on virtually every street corner of every city and town in America. The challenge, unfortunately, is finding a good cup. Fortunately for us, on the Island of Nantucket, we have Nantucket Coffee Roasters.
I could see the charcoal-colored smoke curling from the chimney of the roastery; I knew I had arrived. The smell was rich and warm, reminiscent of burned brownies. Dark Side of the Moon was only slightly audible behind the hum and stir of those beautiful black beans being roasted and bagged. It can be rare in life to stumble upon a career path that is meant for you, but sometimes fate really does take control. For Leo Keating, Master Roaster at Nantucket Coffee Roasters, coffee has always been a passion. Caffeine aside, he says, “I love it, it keeps me going. It makes me happy and it makes other people happy.”
For 10 long years, Leo worked as a pool guy on the island. It was hard, hot, and demanding work with long hours and lots of noxious chemicals and heavy lifting. At that time, he happened to be renting a room from Wes Van Cott, founder and owner of Nantucket Coffee Roasters. Leo was always a self-proclaimed “Coffee Head.” It wasn’t until recently, in 2013, when he decided to make a change and try his hand at roasting. Wes gave him a chance, and immediately he saw talent. Leo shrugs, “he said I had a knack for it, so I kept going.” Leo is forever grateful to Wes for serving as his mentor. “He was the one who gave me room to grow.”
Moving forward, Leo attended classes at Coffee Lab International to hone his newly found skill. Coffee Lab International, or CLI, has actively supported all facets of the coffee industry since 1995 through research, education, quality control, and laboratory services. The rest is history. As Leo puts it, “from chlorine to coffee bean!”
Roasting coffee is something like making popcorn. Coffee beans, after being dried, cured, and processed, retain a small percentage of moisture. When a roaster applies high heat, about 400 degrees worth, along with constant stirring, that remaining moisture expands and causes the hull to pop off the bean, or “crack.” This initial crack is indicative of a light roast. Depending on the desired flavor, the roast can be stopped, or continued on to the second or even third “crack.” This process, known as the Maillard Reaction, is what creates the complex flavor in each cup of Leo’s coffee. The heat causes the sugars and acids in the bean to react and interact, much like a golden crust on fresh bread or the sear on a delicious steak.
Nantucket Coffee Roasters have been supplying the island’s stores, restaurants, and homes with world-class coffee for over 22 years. They are Nantucket’s premier artisanal coffee roaster, specializing in bringing limited and small batch lots of coffee to drinkers on the island and beyond. As Master Roaster, Leo oversees the development of each roast by hand and eye without the use of automation. It is truly a marriage of art and science. Each and every batch is roasted to order and the finished product is never frozen, ensuring every cup is as fresh as possible.
This type of quality eventually means trouble for Leo. Since his coffee is in such high demand all over the island, he is constantly working to stay on Another of the daily challenges Leo faces is ensuring consistency. Since much of what he roasts is from exclusive growers and micro-lots, the character of each bean can very from time to time. “I’m constantly tweaking every roast and every blend. Consistent coffee is key.”
For now, Leo is elated being the island’s only coffee roaster. “People keep telling me how great my coffee is, I think it’s going to my head!” Believe the hype, though, because visitors love love Nantucket Coffee Roasters’ coffee as much as locals; so much that they regularly order at NantucketCoffee.com . According to Leo, the most popular product by far is his ‘Sconset Blend. It’s a medium-bodied, bright, nutty, and fruity cup with caramel, citrus, and floral highlights. Leo’s personal favorites are anything from Indonesia, especially varieties like Java and Sumatra. He likes a dark roast, but not burned, and his preferred method to brew is a French press.
He’s not positive where this road will take him next, but he sees himself some time in the future retiring off the island and opening a coffee roaster of his own. No matter where he ends up, there’s no doubt he’ll continue to share his love for the art of roasting. Let’s just hope we can still get our hands on his coffee! While he’s here on Nantucket, you can savor a cup of coffee from his freshly roasted beans at The Bean, 4 India Street. top of his orders. When someone doesn’t order enough for their needs, they just have to wait for the roast. This can take hours because, of course, you can’t rush perfection.