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Mayfield Village micro-roastery specializes in bonafide specialty coffee
Crooked River Coffee Company is picky about its beans
by WKSU's VIVIAN GOODMAN
This story is part of a special series.


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Vivian Goodman
 
Top grade bonafide specialty coffee beans start off green and turn brown when roasted.
Courtesy of Vivian Goodman
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In The Region:

For some of us coffee is just a beverage. But for many , roasting, grinding, brewing and enjoying coffee is a passion. That’s especially true of one northeast Ohio coffee entrepreneur. For this week’s Quick Bite, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman takes us to the Crooked River Coffee Company.

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Crooked River Coffee Company is a micro-roastery in a Mayfield Village industrial complex  where customers come to sip samples by appointment . Owner Howard Sobel used to have a coffee shop in Shaker Heights, and he still sells to retail customers online and at farmer’s markets, but at the roastery, his business is strictly wholesale.

 “People who live in the neighborhood say ‘Could we just come over and get a pound or two of coffee?’ and we have to apologize.”

 A stickler for quality

Sobel makes no apologies though about quality.  He says he roasts only the highest ranking product in the industry’s ‘green coffee classification system.’ ‘They’re called “specialty beans" and he roasts as many as 48 varieties from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Crooked River coffee company imports only “bonafide specialty beans” with a grade of 80 and above. Fast food coffee is rated in the 60s and 70s.

He knows beans

Sobel has been a social scientist and an educator, but there's nothing he knows more about than coffee. He's often surprised how little his customers know about it.

 “A lot of chefs really don’t have the background in coffee that they do in wine. I’ve checked into the culinary school curricula of major schools around the country. I’ve yet to find a serious course in coffee.” 

This puzzles him because there’s so much to learn about the history and culture of the beverage, let alone the best way to roast, grind and brew it.

 “Coffee is like wine. Most people are not really aware of that, ” says Sobel.

 World's most popular stimulating beverage

It’s one of the most highly traded commodities in the world, and the second most highly traded commodity in the world beyond oil. And it is the largest consumed fruit beverage in the world. Sobel and his wife have long been aficionados. “When we used to live in Boston fresh out of grad school my wife and I used to go to the coffee houses and always would judge a restaurant by the coffee they served us, as a last impression of the restaurant.” 

Manywhite linen’ fine dining establishments in the region carry Crooked River Coffee, including  Hunan by the Falls, Original Pancake House, Sara’s Place by Gavi’s in Gates Mills and Umami’s Asian Kitchen in Chagrin Falls.  High-end coffee shops like Java Bay in Bay Village, Blue Planet in Eastlake, and Savor the Moment in Fairview Park also sell Crooked River coffee by the pound or by the cup.

 A different approach 

Sobel believes his business has prospered because he does things a little differently.

Coffee can stay in a plant for years in raw or green form. We get them just off the tree, just after they’ve been harvested.”

He asks customers to call on Mondays so he can roast to order.

Like wine it differs depending on where it originates 

Sobel says each region's coffee has its own flavor.

 “The same reason why a Shira grape does not taste like a Riesling, coffees reflect the flavor of the climate and the soil, and the cultivation and the elevation of the coffee.”

Among the beans he’s currently roasting are organics, grown without pesticides or herbicides, and he says all his beans are fair trade, and socially and environmentally safe, including bird-friendly and shade-grown varieties.

 Roasting with all your senses

Sobel says you need all your senses sharply tuned to roast coffee. He says you have to listen for subtle variations as the beans almost talk to you. “They go through different pops or cracks and so we have to pay attention to those. We also are watching the color change of the beans change from green to brown to darker brown with oils. We have to smell it also. We might smell a woody content and that is an indication that we’re 20 seconds away from stopping the roast.”  

 Advice for home brewers

The final factor in any good cup of coffee is brewing, and clients do that in so many different ways that he has to grind to order. For French press he uses the ‘coarse’ setting on the grinder.  Turkish coffee needs a fine grind.

His advice on making a good cup at home includes making sure the equipment is clean of all coffee oils. And buy just enough that you can consume in two weeks, buying it just after it’s been roasted because that will maximize the aromatic sensations of that brew.”  

And don’t drink it too hot.

 “You’re supposed to drink it under 100 degrees because then all the sweet characteristics are very, very pronounced. But most people are not fanatics like we are so they don’t go that way. Basically if you get a cup of coffee that is under 140 degrees you probably won’t enjoy it that much. You’ll probably be able to evaluate it more but it’s not the best thing.”

You’ll find Howard Sobel, the founder of Crooked River Coffee Company,  lugging his beans and grinder to the season’s final indoor Countryside Conservancy Farmers Market at Old Trail School in Bath on April 28th.


Related Links & Resources
Crooked River Coffee Company website

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