Thanks to a recent expansion, Café Virtuoso is now too big to be considered a micro-roaster.
1616 National Avenue, San Diego
It’s been a busy year for Café Virtuoso (1616 National Avenue, Barrio Logan). Back in March, cofounder and head roaster Stephan Vonkolkow took third place in the roasting competition at the US Coffee Championships. The company entered its second straight year of at least 25 percent growth, offering certified organic coffees that scored in the low- to mid-90s from coffee assessor CoffeeReview.com — placing them among the best in the nation.
But the company underwent some significant changes beginning May 1st, when founding partner Laurie Britton bought out Vonkolkow’s stake in the company. Vonkolkow moved on to a position at local coffee importer Intercontinental Coffee Trading, agreeing to stay on as roaster only until Britton could find a worthy replacement.
“I didn’t want just anyone roasting,” Britton says. “I wanted someone exceptional.”
She found that someone in Vancouver, British Columbia.
William Nelson Teskey had been working for Salt Spring Coffee for 14 years, 10 as a roaster. “I was at the point where I was ready for a change,” Teskey says. “I wasn’t going to expand anymore in my previous job.” He posted his availability to a coffee-industry website and almost immediately heard from Virtuoso.
Britton flew him down to see whether it was a good fit. It was. At Salt Spring, Teskey had been roasting organic coffee; he wished to continue doing so with a company looking to grow. “I wanted to be someplace that had the same sort of passion, not only for quality of coffee, but for the environment.” Virtuoso fit the bill.
Coming from Canada, Teskey needed a work permit and, following a three-month application process, was awarded an artist visa. “I had to prove that I was internationally known within the industry,” he says, which required letters from coffee professionals declaring Teskey is exceptional at his work.
It helped that Teskey is a certified Q-grader — coffee’s equivalent to master sommelier. Since taking over as head roaster at the end of August, Britton says Virtuoso has already benefitted from his expertise in evaluating incoming green coffee, ensuring substandard beans don’t make it into their roast.
While Teskey cooks in small batches on Virtuoso’s original 12 Kg Diedrich Roaster, most of the beans roast in the company’s new 35 Kg Loring. The custom machine also arrived in August. It’s housed in a 3000-square-foot annex Virtuoso took over two doors down from its 2350-square-foot café. The new space and equipment help keep up with demand, as Britton says Virtuoso now produces a minimum of 3000 pounds of coffee per week, up from 1500 two years ago.
While this promotes the company from micro-roaster to simply roaster, quality remains consistent. Virtuoso’s first submissions to CoffeeReview.com under Teskey’s tenure have resulted in a pair of 92-point beans, plus a 94 score for its espresso — up a point from 2013.
As for Teskey settling in to a San Diego lifestyle, he says, “I’m almost adjusted. Definitely a little hotter than it’s usually been for me,” adding, “Craft beer is a lot cheaper here than it is in Canada, so that’s a win.”