A sack of green coffee beans at Café Virtuoso
1616 National Avenue, San Diego
Each month a small group of coffee roasters meets up at Café Virtuoso, the organic roasting shop in Barrio Logan, to share beans and trade notes. Most are not coffee professionals, though some have been cooking for decades. The San Diego Home Roasters Club mainly consists of hobbyists who’ve embrace a more hands-on approach to expressing their fondness for coffee.
I dropped in on their November meeting to meet some of the group and to see what goes on when long-term coffee buffs get together. It was free of the hipster trappings often associated with artisan coffee. Many of the members skew older, and some have been doing this longer than the term third wave has existed.
That said, they seem keen on working with different roasting profiles and trying out new equipment. One member I spoke to, named Lee, said he’d collected four roasters at home, partly just to gauge the different results they yield.
Another, Fulton, says he got into roasting more than 20 years ago when he dropped by longtime local coffee purveyor Pannikin to buy roasted beans. He said the barista mentioned he could buy green beans 20 percent cheaper, adding with a laugh, “He didn’t tell me you lose 20 percent of the weight when you roast them.”
Another roaster, Andy, described his early days, when he’d acquire beans through mail order. Today, most of these guys get beans through online shops such as Sweet Maria’s and Bodhi Leaf, which also runs a locally accessible storefront outside Anaheim. Andy belongs to the Green Coffee Buying Club, an internet group that pools its resources to split large batches of beans tough to come by for individuals. “I have pounds of beans at home,” he said, “I call it my library.”
This Sunday, we sampled coffee from a more unlikely source, as longtime member Fred brought in freshly harvested beans from a plant he’s been growing at home in East County. The San Diego climate’s not at all ideal for growing coffee, so he must take great care to keep it thriving. He says a plant takes 4 or 5 years to bear fruit, with 8 or 9 months between harvests.
During a meeting a couple months ago the group sampled the coffee cherries produced by Fred’s plant, describing the taste as similar to a bell pepper sweetened by Stevia. At a meeting prior to that, each member brought in a roast he cooked at home from the same batch of green beans, to compare and contrast the results.
San Diego Home Roasters Club has been meeting more than ten years, floating from location to location. It found a more regular home the past few years when Virtuoso’s head of business development, Rigo Hernandez, got involved. A 20-year coffee veteran, Hernandez sees the roasting club as fitting in to Virtuoso’s mission. The club meets the second Sunday of most months, usually around 2:00 or 2:30 p.m.