Here’s a fun fact: Coffee beans are actually seeds from a bright red berry. Those small fruits—called coffee cherries—are harvested, and the outer husks washed off, revealing small, light greenish beans. Roasting turns these seeds into coffee beans ready for your cup, unlocking the aromas and flavors people crave.
“I always love bringing someone into our roastery who has never seen how coffee is roasted,” says Spencer Mahoney, vice president of operations for Atomic Coffee Roasters in Salem. “A roaster itself is a beautiful machine that really toes the line between manufacturing and craft.”
When Atomic, the OG of North Shore coffee production with 15 years of experience, started roasting in their original Beverly café back in the early aughts, they were somewhat of a novelty. Now many area connoisseurs are putting their own stamp on those greenish seeds—and Atomic is exploding, preparing to open a new roasting facility in Peabody with 10 times the capacity of that original machine.
Why the local interest? “I think there are some similarities to the craft beer movement,” Mahoney says. “We’ve all started to really seek out locally made, craft-quality food and beverages, and perhaps the only beverage more widely consumed than beer is coffee! It’s only natural that locally made, small-batch coffee is being sought more, and there are more roasters getting into the game because of it.”
Want to find your own perfect cup? Northshore rounded up a few local joe experts to share what makes them special.
Mocha Connection, Westford
Coffee with Conscience
Launched in September 2019, this Westford company is working to support sustainable agriculture in Yemen, a country in the Middle East ravaged by civil war and a deep humanitarian crisis. They are working directly with organizations on the ground in Yemen to create economic opportunities in the region through really delicious coffee roasted on the North Shore.
Coffea Arabica originated in Yemen, and partners Moiz Bhindarwala, Idris Dahod, Khozaima Shakir, and Nishreen Mahesri note that they work with some 800 small coffee farmers who benefit from a unique microclimate and soil conditions that infuse the beverage with deep chocolaty tones, while natural processing contributes a dynamic winy note that gives dimension and nuance.
“We aim to bring back the glory of Yemeni coffee by introducing sustainable financial and educational programs, and emphasizing the importance of product quality through incentives,” Mahesri explains, noting that, grown with no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, the coffee is naturally organic. Mocha Connection micro-roasts the green beans in small batches and sells at their online store at mochaconnection.com or at farmers markets in Andover and Westford, among other places. Or try it by the cup at Boston King Coffee in Woburn.
Little Wolf Coffee, Ipswich
From Hobby to Vocation
Coffee started as a pastime for Chris Gatti, owner and roaster at Little Wolf Coffee, and his business/romantic partner Melissa Bartz. “Roasting coffee began as a natural progression in our love for brewing coffee,” Gatti says, noting that carefully sourcing their green coffee gives them a lot of control over the entire process. “To us, coffee can only be as special as the work the farmer puts [in]. Therefore, we put a special emphasis on working with quality-focused farmers and building those relationships so that we can carry the most expressive and unique coffees at any given time.”
Because of that, he says, Little Wolf tends to stay on the lighter side of the roasting spectrum, to preserve the natural flavors found in raw beans. While they source from all over the world to present a range of different coffees, they also work with a handful of farmers year after year to support and improve their harvests. “We will always source coffee from these particular farmers to continue those relationships, ensuring we begin our yearly menu planning around these coffees,” Gatti says. Pick up Little Wolf at their shop in Ipswich, online at littlewolf.coffee, or at retailers around the North Shore.
Kaha Coffee Roasters, Amesbury
From Popping to Roasting
When Tyler Workman immigrated, he was having a hard time finding the style of coffee he had loved in his native New Zealand, so he started roasting his own beans—in a hot air popcorn popper. “That was the aha moment—that this is probably going to take me down a huge rabbit hole for a very long time,” says Workman, who opened Kaha in 2018. Those hot-air roasted beans were from Ethiopia—that country’s coffees are known for vibrant fruity notes and while it wasn’t like the coffee of his homeland, he liked it a lot better. “I tasted flavors in that coffee that I never dreamed were possible,” Workman says. “That was the pivotal moment when I probably began to become obsessed.”
Workman focuses on freshness and seasonality, seeking coffee that has been picked, processed, and shipped as fast as possible. “As soon as green coffee is left to sit, it starts to degrade and the flavors become muted over time,” he says. “So it’s not only my job to provide freshly roasted coffee, but also to import the freshest green coffee. Also, seasonality lets me play with the freshest green coffee, showing the overall flavor profiles of our blends and how vibrant they are.”
Find Kaha coffee by the cup or in bags at Market Square Bakehouse and other spots around the North Shore, or at kahacoffee.com.
Burwell Beans Specialty Coffee Roasters, Rowley
After a lifetime as an executive in the biotech/pharma industry, Rick Appleton, founder and owner, decided to pursue his dual passions of coffee and jazz. While the jazz café plans are in a holding pattern until after COVID-19 passes, he launched his roastery this year, focused on certified Arabica beans from all over the world.
“Every coffee has such natural complexity, how you approach roasting the beans can really emphasize the characteristics and flavors trapped inside,” says Appleton, who wants to create a community for coffee-lovers to learn about coffee and experience the difference in freshly roasted beans. “Coffee roasters have to understand the structural changes the beans undergo during roasting and need to be able to craft a roast-profile that preserves the balance of organic acids and sweetness, to produce a desired flavorful cup of coffee,” he says, adding that his roast profiles are unique to each of his coffees, ensuring the best of the bean will be tasted in your cup. Burwell Beans is currently online at burwellbeans.com, or pick-up in the store at their roastery on Route 1 in Rowley.