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About Sweet Maria's Coffee: Our Little Shop

About Sweet Maria's Coffee: Our Little Shop


About Sweet Maria's Coffee: Our Little Shop

As of May 2005 we are at 1115 21 st St. Oakland CA 94607. We have photos of the new building and the move here. We also have photos of the Sweet Maria's indoor soccer team, Cafe Fuerte FC (R.I.P.)! - Maria -- May 2009

Yes, Sweet Maria's Coffee does actually exist outside the virtual Internet playground. We started in Ohio, and have now returned to California. Emeryville ... sounds like a small town but it is about 40 square blocks wedged between Oakland and Berkeley. It used to be called "the armpit of Northern California" back in the day when Emeryville had the largest scrap heap of crushed cars in the state. Now, in the same spot, is a giant Ikea. Times change. You can't rent a house in Emeryville for under $2000 a month. Welcome to the Bay Area!

So our overhead has gone up a bit, but the fact is, we are located 5 minutes from the port of Oakland which is theSpecialty Coffee port in the United States. The majority of top grade coffees come through this port - and you know it, New Jersey! So the advantage of being here, cupping with all the coffee brokers in the area, picking up coffee from the massive warehouses in the area (with no trucking fees) has made up for the rent, the traffic, and the high percentage of annoying Volvo and Range Rover drivers in the region.

And this is what the plain entrance to our new place in Emeryville looks like! We thought about dressing it up, but there's a good chance we will be moving (to another building in the very near vicinity) ... and then we'll be a little less anonymous with the entrance!

Here's what it looks like inside at our new place on 64th Street in Emeryville (basically a 40 block town squeezed between North Oakland and Berkeley). It's a 5000 square foot warehouse with a barrel roof -that's small by coffee business standards but to us it is huge!

The best thing about the new place is we don't have to break our backs unloading coffee one bag at a time. We have a little forklift now, and although I will admit to bumping into a few things (no, not people ... but I did dent our roll-up door!) it is great fun to use. But alas, I sold the Diedrich roaster for a song to our former Ohio employees so they can start a roasting business. I miss it so... but I have a Probat now.

This is Tom, me, full name Thompson "I'm older and grumpier than you think" Owen, the guy who writes a lot of what you read on this site, who roast-cups-reviews all the green coffees, and tries to keep up with everything else. If you have a small business, you know that you get the best jobs and the worst. I am both cupper and janitor. I fix everything that breaks. Maria handles a lot of the email, along with Allison helping her.

mmm... smells like coffee

Here's how I prefer to spend my work day ... with the coffee. I cup nearly every day, whether it is to check roasts or (most often) to evaluate incoming samples. Above are some 2 photos from the coffee competitions I attend in the role of a juror. These are from El Salvador Cup of Excellence 2004 (taken by Glen from Hunter Bay Coffee -thanks!) Above left is myself in the green with other jurors and head judge Carlos Rittscher from Brazil (seated). We are checking roasted/ground coffee samples for consistency. Above is myself, judging the wet aromatics by smelling the "crust" of the cups.


And here's my wife Maria, a camera-shy Chicagoan trapped among the shameless Californians, flanked by her 2 best friends, Francy & Judy, 100% purebred, genuine Oakland pound mutts ...

...and yours truly, resident coffee dork, out on a joyride after work ... on the right at the Cerrado Coffee Competition, Brazil, with my friend and Brazil coffee expert Bruno Souza. We had just finished the final cupping round and everyone was a little too caffeinated (Bruno seemingly more than the others). -Tom

We started smaller, we're still small ... and what's wrong with trying to stay small?
Our old shop in Columbus was beyond microscopic.
and here's our logo, painted on the wall just inside the front entrance of our shop in Columbus Ohio, above a shelf containing but a few of our ever-expanding collection of goofy coffee mugs.

Who are we? A tiny shop that started out in 1997 to supply the home roaster with their beans and tools via the internet ...and that's our focus today, tomorrow and eternally...

Yes Maria is real, an art curator at the Wexner Center on the campus of Ohio State University. She pays the bills at home too. That's why she's sweet. I couldn't do this without her. We moved from the SF Bay Area to Columbus Ohio so she could take this job and that's where we started Sweet Maria's Coffee (And now we are back in the San Francisco area ... Emeryville to be exact! See below)

Tom, real name Thompson, I'm the coffee guy. I have worked on and off in the coffee business for 15 years, since I was 20. I roasted coffee previously in New Orleans. When I didn't roast coffee professionally, I roasted it at home.

>Our little shop was centered around the 12 kilo Diedrich roaster we have. After roasting on open-flame gas roasters, I loved the control I achieve on the Diedrich. It's a great machine, but now I roast on an L-12 Probat

You can't see the ducting that exits the roaster in the rear. We had to run it up 3 stories outside, which was NOT cheap. Ducting is critical to proper air flow during the roast, so you can't cut corners.

The roaster was mounted on an aluminum floor plate to achieve good leveling (it's a very old, uneven maple floor), fire safety, and because it looks nice.

As we ordered larger and larger quantities of green coffee, finding room to store it became more difficult. Luckily, they make nice chairs for our customers.


Here's a more recent photo of part of the shop in Columbus before we moved back to California. Thankfully, we had downstairs storage and offsite storage too. But we kept all the coffee in the main shop under excellent climate control. Tom is in there somewhere. It was more like something out of Charles Dickens than a modern business. There was no straight path from Point A. to Point B. and no walk is wider than a couple feet.


Hey look! My arabica coffee plants are doing pretty well. It's on the lone table, right there in the front window. The table is gone now, and 10 coffee bags take its place. Coffee wants filtered sunlight and temperatures above 62 or so.This and all my coffee plants are a lot bigger now. I collect and cultivate plants from particular farms, and of distinct coffee varietals. For more information on growing your own coffee...


Here's where I did testing and cupping. You can see my Ohaus gram scale I use to measure out my samples, and the detritus of a session trying to find a good organic Mexican equivalent of our Chiapas (no luck!). You can see the La Pavoni Europiccola I used to test espresso blends. Now I use a Solis SL-90. We don't offer espresso service to customers, unless you are lucky enough to drop by when I am pulling shots; I'll probably grab you and make you knock back a few. I don't have anything against espresso drinks ...we just like to focus on roasting. This table is an ever-changing mess of green and roasted samples, test blends, and probably your green coffee order too.


Here's our coffee sample "library." I log in most every green sample I receive for future reference. It's important to watch for changes in the milling or sorting of a coffee, especially one I know I'll be buying repeatedly. There are many specialty coffee people with much more experience than I, but I hope people find me to be earnest and dedicated to quality, both in the cup and out of it.


A Coffee Poser

Thompson at the old roaster... the 12k Diedrich,which somehow looks surprisingly small in this image. You should have seen us move it in the store ...it's over 1000 lbs. It also looks like I'm holding an ice cream cone or something, but that's the gate control on the roaster. Now you know who you're chatting about Yemeni micro-regional coffees and cupping Guatemalans with ...We also run a 1 Lb. Coffee Kinetics air roaster for large samples and any stray 1 lb'ers we want to roast for fun... I have a few old home roasters too.

Triumph refers to motorcycles, not the Canadian '80s band! Do I have a Triumph -no. I can only afford their shop apron. However I love little bikes, vintage Japanese, and a couple exotics (Moto Morini, Ducati). Of 7 bikes, 1 currently runs ... but that's another price you pay for working too much.

Some times people think we are opertating out of a garage. On the other hand, coffee producers sometimes see the vast amount of information on our site and think we must be huge. I want you to know that we're not quite either. We have 6 employees, plus Maria and me. All this to focus on what I truly enjoy; cupping, testing, roasting and selling green coffee to home roasters.

 

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