The owner of Monkey Joe Roasting Company, Gabe Cicale roasts beans for his wholesalers on Tuesday and Wednesday and for the store and its customers on a third day of the week. Almost a third of the business is wholesale, with deliveries made to some 20 restaurants and cafes, from Beacon to Stone Ridge, Marist College, UPAC, and other customers on Thursday. Monkey Joe’s has on the premises at any one time at least 35 kinds of beans, delivered in 132-pound burlap bags or wrapped in foil packets in cardboard boxes. “I always have three coffees from Ethiopia and usually a few Brazilians as well,” said Cicale. “Right now I’ve also got two from Guatemala and Indonesia.”
Whether the coffee will be drip brewed, used in espresso, or brewed in a French press all affect the degree of roasting, he said. Either he or Tom Delooza, an employee who has been trained in the roasting process, drop 20 to 30 pounds of beans into the drum of the steel red-enameled, gas-fired roaster, which reaches a temperature of 500 degrees. The process takes from 15 to 19 minutes. “You need an ability to pay attention” so that the beans don’t get over-roasted, Cicale said. “For a period of time there’s not much to do, and then everything happens quickly.”
A small utensil housed in a pocket along the side of the roaster, called a trier, is used to sample the beans, to test the degree to which they are roasted, which also depends on the type of bean. The roasted beans are then dropped into the cooling bin, where a steel agitator—a bar attached to the screened bottom of the bin—stirs the beans to cool them. The beans are then poured into a collector bin through a gate that opens along the side of the roaster and packed into six-pound bags.
Cicale said afterwards his wife and business partner, Kathy Nealis, will “cup” the coffee—taste-test the brew made from a batch of beans. (He noted that there’s actually a certification process for the tasters—called cuppers—and a special etiquette: the process includes sniffing the coffee then pouring hot water over it in a special glass. The cupper then breaks the surface crust once the coffee “blooms” and sniffs it again before slurping it with a special spoon and spitting it out.)
“The general public is oblivious that this exists,” said Cicale, who has been in the business for twelve years. “I see so many career opportunities that exist in the coffee industry, yet people only find out about them by accident.” Coffee is akin to wine in the culture it has spawned, including a language of terms to describe nuances of taste: it has various degrees of “body,” “brightness,” and “citrus.” What’s his personal favorite? While Cicale said he said he used to be a big fan of Kenyan coffee, his current preference is for brews made from beans from Central America. “They produce a more balanced coffee,” he said. —Lynn Woods