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Part two: Behind the scenes of Chattanooga coffee roasteries

Have you ever wondered how your local cup of coffee is made? We went to five roasteries in town and found out more about their process.

NOOGAtoday | Coffee beans roasting

Find out about sourcing, roasting preferences, and what motivates these local spots.

Photo provided by Mad Priest Coffee Roasters

Table of Contents

We went around to some of Chattanooga’s local coffee roasteries to gain some insight into the trade and their methods. Now we’re ready to brew up the details for you.

Note: This is the second part of the series. Check out part one.

Velo Coffee Roasters

This Southside roastery launched in 2009. Hear from production manager Chris Martinez on the process.

Q: How did you get into roasting?

A: This kind of started as Andrew’s (the owner) project, his vision. He knew he wanted to roast, that was his passion and profession, so he boot-strapped it and built it from the ground up. Roasting remains our biggest focus.

My experience started off in 2019, I started to shadow Andrew. A natural route for us was going to the cold brew department first to learn the operations. Once I got used to that I started on the roastery side, I began just shadowing and helping Andrew and was roasting on our small roaster for a while.

Q: Where do you source your beans from, and what does that relationship look like?

A: Because we’re a smaller shop, our expectation is to just get really good coffee that is sourced with intention. Through that, we don’t really go to farms, we haven’t been to origin in a really long time. We do go through an importer called Cafe Imports, they do a really good job of building relationships with farms and are a middleman for us. They go above and beyond for us. We’re also in a time where people are buying coffee at a crazy rate right now, so we have to be more proactive with sourcing and thinking for the seasons ahead.

Something that really excites me are vibrant, complex coffees that are a little on the more acidic side. My favorite region is Kenya, they are seasonal, so there’s only a few we get our hands on a year, but as far as the shop goes, we always have a Peruvian coffee, a lot of Central and Latin coffees are usually our bread and butter. We try to keep things consistent for our customers.

Q: Can you break down the process, and what you like to get from the beans?

A: It’s hard to describe our style without showing graphs or numbers, but I will say we are always looking for balance, so when we roast coffee we usually have specific profiles for certain coffees. We always will cup coffees very consistently throughout the season and make sure things are as consistent and balanced as possible. We’re really looking to represent the naturally occurring flavors in the coffee. You’ll never taste a coffee that is super heavy or taken too far from us.

Our style is between light to medium, so the goal is to highlight as much sweetness and balance in the cup.

Q: What does your distribution look like?

A: Since the pandemic, we have shifted our focus on retail, whether it be through our online shop or through the retail store, that’s where we feel like we can control our coffee + how it’s represented and the consistency it’s sold at. You can find us in a couple of local stores like Pruett’s Market, The Daily Ration, and other spots. We’re really excited to just lean into us, if you want our coffee you have to come to us because there’s so much work we put into it, we take a lot of pride in it, and we want it to be representative of that.

We also have seen a lot of online sales with our subscription services and that platform.

Q: What drives you to roast, and what message do you want your coffee to say?

A: I love coffee, this has been my goal + profession since I was 17. Velo as a whole is such a special place to Chattanooga. It’s a home to many, it’s a symbol of hard work and DIY, there’s nobody but us. I have so much respect for Andrew who started from pretty much nothing to building this place.

This is a staple, in my eyes, for Chattanooga as far as specialty coffee goes, we’ve built a lot of different relationships with professionals across the country for the effort + detail people before me and I want to do for this place.

NOOGAtoday | Mad Priest coffee farm visit

Mad Priest Coffee Roasters tags itself as the “unconventional, creative, sacred coffee choice.”

Photo provided by Mad Priest Coffee Roasters

Mad Priest Coffee Roasters

This roastery began in 2015, and no, they aren’t actually angry priests. Hear from the owner Michael Rice on his process.

Q: How did you get into roasting?

A: We started more from the fact that we felt like there weren’t a lot of quality coffee options that were accessible to everyone. I was already in the industry outside of Chattanooga, so when I moved here, I felt like there was an opportunity to do our own thing and make specialty coffee more accessible.

Q: Where do you source your beans from, and what does that relationship look like?

A: Souring is an extremely complicated reality, the supply chain in coffee is extremely dark and difficult. What differentiates us maybe is that we try to go a little bit deeper than just sourcing. We try to source from importers that not only do we have a really good relationship with, but that gives us full transparency. The best level of transparency is I have José's (one of the farmers) phone number and I can literally text him in Spanish asking how much he got for that coffee per pound. We attempt to do as much of our coffee as we can that way.

We source from all over the world, so we’re going to have a lot of Latin American, African, and Asian — we try to have a nice wide variety beyond the clichés, so we tend to have interesting ones like Papua New Guinea and Indonesian coffees, do more unique Africans. One thing that sets us apart too, is we tend to work a lot with Yemen.

Q: Can you break down the process, and what you like to get from the beans?

A: Roasting is roasting, there’s not necessarily anything that sets us apart from any of the other roasters that actually have the intention to roast. Where we maybe stand apart, alongside other specialty coffee shops, is that we do understand the science, we’re certified, and we continue to do education with roasting.

I think the more important thing we focus on is having a variety of flavors for customers to have access to, and the other thing that’s really important to us in our roasting and brewing methods is just balance. We’re always going to seek a balance between the sweetness + acidity.

Q: What does your distribution look like?

A: You can mention our shop and website, direct is always better, but we have a pretty strong grocery presence so you can at least find us locally in Publix, Walmart, Whole Foods, and Pruett’s Market.

Q: What drives you to roast, and what message do you want your coffee to say?

A: To be honest, it’s authenticity, we all think it’s important to be a part of a narrative and story that speaks honestly to who we are as people and ultimately being curious about the world and willing to see nuance in all of those things. Authenticity, curiosity, and nuance are kind of three really important words for us. We want to be a part of having conversations and encourage conversation to be civically engaged.

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