Press Release: New Rural-Urban Business Partnership Formed to Advance Speciality Coffee in Iowa

February 24, 2017 - For immediate release

Ross Street Roasting Co., located in Tama, Iowa, recently sold a stake of their company to Cedar Rapids-based Brewhemia, a Specialty/Third Wave coffee shop. Ross Street Roasting had been supplying Brewhemia with a percentage of its coffee since early 2016, and the idea for deeper partnership was brought up late in the year.

Brian Gumm, founder of Ross Street Roasting, stated, “2016 was my first full year operating the business on my own, and I was very close to maxing out my capacity to both run the business and continue to grow it. So when I was approached with the idea of bringing one of the best Third Wave cafes in the state on as a partner, I was thrilled at the opportunities it would open up for the company, its growth potential, and advancing Specialty Coffee in Iowa.”

Steve Shriver, co-owner of Brewhemia, says “Ross Street Roasting is a great fit for us! Brian's roasting style and his business philosophy are well aligned with ours.”

The expanded team at Ross Street Roasting will work together to increase distribution to retail stores and cafes across Iowa, while continuing to ship fresh-roasted, Specialty Coffee directly to customers anywhere in the US through its website and other online avenues.

Specialty Coffee is a rapidly growing market within the global coffee trade. It is based on a quality scoring system developed by the international trade group, the Specialty Coffee Association. Third Wave Coffee is a movement that uses Specialty-grade coffees as a starting point, and applies quality-centric roasting and brewing methods that best bring out the stunning array of flavors present in Specialty-grade coffees.

Ross Street Roasting Co.’s product line includes both single origin coffees and blends intended for drip brewers or espresso machines. Coffee is sourced through a Specialty Coffee importer in the region, and they also maintain a Direct Trade relationship with a grower and processor in Nicaragua, Gold Mountain Coffee Growers.

“I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from what Iowa craft beer brewers have done in a very short period of time,” says Gumm. “We’re aiming to push the envelope in a similar way with coffee: To grow the industry around quality and craft measures, but do it at scale.”

To learn more, Contact Us or call

  • Brian Gumm - Founder, Director of Product Development & Roast Production (641) 481-1980
  • Steve Shriver - Director of Business Development (319) 360- 0391
Posted on February 24, 2017 .

Gear review: The Handground...hand grinder

At last we meet!!

At last we meet!!

The story of the Handground coffee grinder and my relationship to it is an interesting one. Unlike most pieces of coffee gear that you simply buy off the shelf or online, Handground came to the public's awareness as a dream. To be precise, it was a Kickstarter dream that went live on January 15, 2015. And on February 3, 2015, I became a backer of this Handground dream. And today, 2 years and 13 days later, I held in my hot little hands an actual Handground.

So more than a mere gear review, this post is going to reflect on the entire two year process, because in my twisted mind it's an interesting case study in social media-driven product development and manufacturing as much as it is simply using the thing. So here goes...

Those halcyon days

When I backed the Handground two years ago, Ross Street Roasting Co. didn't legally exist. I was, however, in the process of transitioning my home-roasting hobby into a full-fledged business. So the Handground story is very closely intertwined with the Ross Street Roasting story. The Kickstarter project that these guys put together was pretty amazing, and it worked. They had done a great job generating interest before the project even went live, so they drummed up a lot of excitement before you could even hit "Back this project" on Kickstarter. When the project did go live, it was fully funded in short order and they went on to hit a number of their stretch goals.

I was impressed by their savvy in the early stages and continued to be impressed once the project moved from funding to R&D and on into manufacturing. Backers of the project were provided regular updates and were even consulted multiple times for feedback on design decisions that fed directly into the process. During manufacturing, there were hiccups encountered that produced delays, but the Handground team always communicated these to backers, and continued to elicit feedback on certain issues that arose during manufacturing. I learned more about product manufacturing than I ever thought I would, which was pretty cool.

I even joined "Team Handground" and got involved in the group of people that generated content for their website in the days leading up to the grinder's release. My contributions that saw the light of day are in their brew guides to cold brew & iced coffee, published last November.

S#!t gets real

Finally, the big day arrived in mid-November: Handground grinders had hit the US, were being handed off to Amazon fulfillment services, and backers were going to get the first wave of them. And then I waited...and waited. In mid-December backers received their final email update that all grinders had either been delivered or at the very least that everyone should have received tracking information from Amazon. (Yes, I checked my spam folder.) Nope, I had received no tracking information and no grinder. So I emailed the team and we discovered that when backing the project I had used my pre-business Gmail address, but in the shipping confirmation process I had used my newer @rossstreetroasting.com email address. Mismatch, mix-up, my mistake. Makes sense....kind of.

That's my first critique: The process of confirming backers' addresses using email addresses should have kicked out a list of "unconfirmed" people and those people should have been contacted proactively. But I waited a month then reach out to them. I'm a relatively patient and accommodating kind of guy but from a customer service perspective, that was a dropped ball on their part. I realize it was my mistake but there are ways to catch customer errors like that and help keep your peeps informed and happy.

To compound matters, I continued to not receive any information for the next two months, so I emailed again earlier this week and we discovered that while the error was discovered back in December and that I'd been promised it would be fixed and I'd get my grinder...that fix didn't actually happen. So the team shipped me one post-haste and it showed up today. *sigh*

Which brings me to the actual gear review!

The Handground in action

I'll just be right up front: I was not prepared for how big this thing was gonna be! Granted, my only frame of reference is my Hario Slim whose name is an accurate description of its size. So relative to the Slim, the Handground is big (pics below). Let's just say you won't be seeing it appear in any camping/hiking+coffee pics on Instagram. For my purposes at home, I was a bit put off by the fact that it doesn't fit in my overhead kitchen cupboard where I store all my home coffee gear. So we'll see how my wife likes it sitting out on the counter all the time...

But size does have its benefits (resisting Michael Scott impulse...). The Handground is sturdy; it feels hefty. While most of the unit is made of sturdy plastic, the removable bottom piece where the grounds go is made of glass, adding yet more heft to the unit. Factoring the heft along with the sticky pad on the bottom of the grinder, the experience of holding it on the countertop and grinding is satisfying and, as far as I'm concerned, superior to "mid-air gyrating/grinding" that I've become accustomed to with the Hario Slim. I will miss the dances that I sometimes do while grinding...

Re: grind consistency - I did some side-by-side visual comparison of grinds from both the Handground and the Slim at similar settings (see below), and noticed that grind consistency does seem to be a bit better on the Handground, but I did spot some inconsistencies. There seem to be more fines from the Handground than "boulders," and vice versa for the Slim. I don't have one of those cool Kruve things I've seen other roasters showing off on social media, so I can only go by visual assessment. For an $80 hand grinder, I'd say this does a pretty good job, slightly better than the $30 Hario Slim. Worth the $50 difference? Well, since I paid $50 for it as an early bird backer two years ago, that's not for me to say...

What about the coffee?

My brew tests were not super thorough. I did two pour-over brews before sitting down to write this, and I used my typical morning coffee routine: 8oz cup, Kalita Wave 185 brewer, 1:15 ratio (15g coffee:225g water), Stagg pour-over kettle, iPhone timer, bloom pour & wait for 30 seconds, then 25g pours every 15 seconds until about 2:15. Fin. Enjoy.

On setting 4, which is what the handy fridge magnet guide suggests for pour-over, the grounds were way too coarse for that method and I was able to see that before even brewing. But I completed the brew anyway and sure enough it finished way faster than my pour-overs typically take (around 4:00 to 4:30). The cup it produced was too weak, so after a few sips I dumped it out and started over on grind setting #3, closer to what they recommend for AeroPress.

That did the trick. Despite the picture below showing a Burundian coffee from the fine folks at Brandywine Coffee Roasters, I used our own Burundi Gacokwe Station coffee on the last brew and the timing lined up exactly to my routine, and the flavors in the cup showed their colors better.

A more thorough test would be to brew two cups of the same simultaneously using the Handground and the Slim, but I didn't do that. Maybe this weekend. :)

Conclusion

I feel like writing this post is a form of therapy for a strange relationship with an inanimate object and a team of people that I've never physically met. Two years is, after all, a long time in some respects - especially in internet time. I enjoyed being part of the whole process from the start, but was pretty disappointed with the transition from manufacturing to fulfillment. The grinder is here now and I'm going to use it at home regularly for the foreseeable future. I'm not going to recommended it or not recommend it, as I hope my reflections above are adequate for anyone who's wondering about whether the Handground is right for them. I am always happy, though, to chat over email or social media about it.

Happy grinding!

Posted on February 16, 2017 .

Relationships matter: Year 2 with Gold Mountain Coffee Growers

At this time last year, we were just over a month old in terms of our being state inspected & licensed to operate as a food processor. Also last October we received our first "big" shipment of 750 lbs/5 bags of Nicaraguan coffee from Gold Mountain Coffee Growers: 1 bag of Finca Idealista ("Idealist Farm") honey process, and 4 bags from a single family farm belonging to the Sebastiana family.

Can you see why I'm dying to go visit the farm? (Photo by @GoldMtnCoffee/Instagram)

Can you see why I'm dying to go visit the farm? (Photo by @GoldMtnCoffee/Instagram)

And this month, we just received our second shipment from Gold Mountain, fresh crop from the 2016 harvest that arrived at port in New Jersey over the summer, 1,500 lbs/10 bags, double our order from last year: 1 bag of Finca Idealista natural process (for sale now), 3 bags of a micro-lot named "Divine Inspiration" after the fact that it was grown on the grounds of a church, and 6 bags of a community lot (multiple farms' coffees blended, processed, & sold together) for use in our blends this coming year.

A lot has changed for us in a year: We grew our business 370% over this time last year, and in late April we moved from our rental space to our own building in Tama, Iowa. We've received some great press and kudos over the past year that all indicate that our passion for roasting high-grade specialty coffee is headed in the right direction. And through all that, we've enjoyed our Direct Trade relationship with Gold Mountain, the owner Ben Weiner, their flagship farm Finca Idealista, and their network of partner farms. Gold Mountain's commitment to being a social enterprise means that they're in business not only to be profitable, but to also make a positive impact on the lives of coffee growing communities and the ecological conditions where they operate. We're proud to be part of that work, now entering its second year with many more to come!

Just this week we started selling the first coffee from this year's harvest: Finca Idealista natural process. It is a more expensive coffee, but there are good reasons for that: It was harvested and processed with utmost care and using zero water during processing (the "natural" processing method is also sometimes called the "dry" processing method). It is a super clean and high-cupping coffee. Smooth fruity notes and a sweetness that keeps you wanting more. And we only have 150 lbs of it, so get your hands on it now! Watch for "Divine Inspiration" in a few months.

Thank you to everyone who bought one of our Nicaraguan coffees over the past year, and get ready for what the 2016 harvest has to offer: You won't be disappointed. Here's to many more years with the wonderful folks at Gold Mountain and all their partner farmers in Nicaragua!

More about Gold Mountain

  • Gold Mountain Coffee Growers: Website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
  • Gold Mountain was awarded the 2016 Sustainability Award from the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe for their work with coffee producers and the environment
  • Interview: "Exploring Climate Change and Food Insecurity in Nicaragua with Ben Weiner, CEO of Gold Mountain" Part 1; Part 2 from the Artic & Mountain Regions Development Institute (AMRDI)

More about Direct Trade

"Direct Trade" is an industry term that describes a business/trade relationship that has fewer "links" in the supply chain. For most of my coffees, we source from importers who circle the globe searching for coffee to buy in the coffeelands, buying massive quantities of them, warehousing them, then selling them to roasters.

In this case, Gold Mountain operates many more parts of the supply chain that usually get covered by other companies: Processing of harvested coffees at origin, Export from Nicaragua, Import to the US, and Sales to small roasters like us. They also provide Traceability information and Media resources to help roasters tell the story of their coffees as they're roasting and selling these coffees.

In our business, we take a "both/and" approach working with importers and our Direct Trade partner, Gold Mountain. As we grow our roasting business, I would love to expand the number of these kinds of relationships from other coffee-growing countries.

Posted on October 23, 2016 .