"Who makes this? How do they do it?"
These are the two questions I asked myself about Columbia Street Roastery's coffee before setting out on this story. I followed the trail of beans from the roasters to the servers to the consumers.
Columbia Street Roastery (CSR) is located at 24 E. Columbia Avenue in Champaign near downtown. It is a locally owned and operated business that supplies coffee, tea, and accessories to businesses and directly to consumers.
This is Alex, and he is the head roaster at CSR. He'll be showing us around the production area and telling us about the coffee roasting process.
The roasting process starts here where hundreds of pounds of beans are brought to be sorted, stored, and eventually taken to roast. Each bag weighs about 100 pounds. Some of the bags are kept and used as decoration around the roastery.
Alex dumps beans into a bucket to transport them into the roasting room.
He weighs it out on the scale that also doubles as a dolly and takes the bucket back into the roasting room.
He then lines the buckets up in front of the roaster and uses the black hose to suck the beans up and into the machine. He does one bucket at a time.
Alex explains the roaster as being like a big oven that spins like a dryer with a flame below it. Above you can see the flame and the cylinder is the dryer in which the beans are being spun.
Alex watches the computer hooked up to the roaster and makes adjustment of time and temperature.
From a window Alex watches the beans turn to a dark brown as they get roasted.
The beans then dump out into this cooling area where they are raked by the machine over and over until they cool down from approximately 400 degrees farenheight.
Yum. By the way, the smell in this room is just as you would imagine: delicious.
The beans are then dumped into another machine that sorts out any impurities like rocks.
The side of the sorting machine is littered with photos from a trip to one of CSR's farms. In the top left-hand corner is the coffee bean as it grows on trees. The bean is the seed buried within the red fruit. "There is a very substantial amount of work that goes into these beans before they arrive here" Alex explains.
The beans are dumped into another bucket and Alex checks the impurities box.
Nope, nothing in the mix that shouldn't be. Move on!
The beans are weighed and then it is time to test them for how strong of a roast they will be. "We make anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pounds of roasted coffee every day" says Alex.
The beans are placed on this machine that through the powers of science gives Alex a number. The closer that number is to zero the darker the roast. "Most of our coffee is dark roast and so we are shooting for somewhere around 40 on this machine," says Alex.
These beans are good to go.
The beans are then transferred to larger containers where they will sit until morning when staff comes in to package the beans for customers and businesses.
Next, I went to a coffee shop that serves CSR coffee. Yes, the beloved Cafe Kopi, Located at 109 N. Walnut in the heart of Downtown Champaign, is serving up hot mugs of "Black Velvet" every day from early morning to late at night.
Rachel poured me a mug and explained that Kopi goes through about 5 to 10 pounds of coffee each day and that most all customers are really happy with the coffee.
The coffee is ground, brewed, and served in house.
Black Velvet is CSR's most popular coffee.
It costs just a couple of bucks and is served in a mug that you can wrap your hands around. Cream, half-and-half, sugar, and honey are available to spice up your java.
Ah, now you know that looks good. I went on to find someone drinking coffee too so that I could ask them about their coffee.
I found Carol sitting, sipping and working. She loves coffee and really enjoys CSR's brand. So much so that she actually goes to their location, purchases coffee, brews it at home, and drinks it when she's out.
"I really like dark coffee. I also drink half-caf and when you buy it from Columbia Street, they will grind it and mix it for you, so that you only have to scoop out of one bag," explains Carol. "My favorite is Black Velvet and the Jean-Pierre Blend," she adds.
My experience today was full of wonderful people, smells, and drinks. If you haven't tried CSR or Kopi, you need to wake up and smell the coffee.
All photos by Sam Logan.