Story by Dave Eckert
I’m going to come right out and admit it, I’m not a coffee drinker. Never was, never will be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the skill, passion, and dedication it takes to make a great cup of coffee. And even though I don’t consume coffee, I am quite aware of the coffee explosion taking place in our fair city. To get a handle on that, I turned to the place many would argue started the bean brew craze, The Roasterie, and self-described ‘bean machine’ Mike Valent.
“We are actually celebrating our 25th anniversary this year. In 1993, we started in Danny O’Neil’s basement in Brookside. He was roasting for wholesale business only. Then, 12 years ago, we opened our first café in Brookside,” Valent shared.
It was an idea O’Neil first resisted, but later came to embrace as more and more people told him he needed to open a café. From that initial cafe in Brookside, just blocks from O’Neil’s house, there are now nine Roasterie cafes in the metro, making them the big dogs in the local coffee scene. Valent oversees that side of business. “When I hire someone for a café, I tell them that they’re not getting a job in coffee, they’re getting a job in hospitality. We can teach them about our coffee, but we can’t teach them how to be nice,” Valent said.
No doubt hospitality is a huge part of the coffee scene these days. Sure, the coffee has to be good for you to continue to frequent your favorite café, but in asking my coffee drinking acquaintances about their picks to grab a cup words like ‘ambiance’ and ‘great people’ came up again and again. I’ll get to those recommendations in a bit, but first, a little insight into how the coffee business has evolved in the 25 years since The Roasterie first started.
“I think more people understand and appreciate a good cup of coffee. Twenty-five years ago, people thought you were crazy to spend two or three dollars on a cup of coffee. But, when it’s good coffee, prepared right, and done well, it’s worth it,” Valent opined. “Then, recently, in the last couple of years it’s been cold brew and ready to drink coffee that’s provided the boom in coffee,” Valent said.
The Roasterie loves the cold brew movement because they can make their own, which enables them to control the quality in every can. That makes sense, but I still had one big basic question. What, in Valent’s opinion, makes a good cup of coffee? “I’m a single origin fan. We do a ton of blends, but I really like single origin coffee. In single origin coffee you can taste the place where that coffee comes from. And then I like a lighter roast because you’re tasting the coffee and not the roaster,” Valent said.
As a wine lover, I can relate to both of those points. A sense of place in wine is called ‘terroir.” The idea is that only a wine from that place, that vineyard, will smell and taste the way it does. And, a light roast would be comparable to evaluating a winery by its lightest, most delicate wine where nothing can be disguised unlike a fuller-bodied wine where oak and other influences can sometimes mask basic flaws in the wine. Hey, I think I’m starting to get a handle on this coffee thing. “We look at ourselves as kind of the pioneer in the Kansas City wine industry. I say that with humility. We’re not saying we’re the biggest or the best. We’re just trying to make the best quality product we can,” Valent told me.
Now, for some other coffee recommendations, I turned to my coffee drinking foodie friends. What follows are their go-to coffee roasters based on quality, consistency, ambiance, and friendly service. Happy sipping!
- Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters
- Eleos Coffee
- Messenger Coffee
- Monarch Coffee
- Splitlog Coffee
- Quay Coffee
- Broadway Roasting Company
- Parisi Artisan Coffee
- Crows Coffee
- City Market Coffee
- Headrush Roasters
- Post Coffee Company