Artis Coffee, opening its doors to Berkeley in just a few short weeks, has already begun pioneering a whole new experience of coffee. While the new spot will feature all the standard trappings of a modern, new wavey café -- espresso, Starter Bakery pastries, drip coffee made 700 different ways -- something different is happening here. The founding team, who connected as MBA candidates at Babson College, call it "live roasting," but it's more particular than that. The operation offers consumers the opportunity to pluck a raw coffee from its offerings, and watch it transform in a showy new roasting process, moving from green, raw beans to a toasty brown in no more time than it would take to Instagram the whole experience. At the end, you'll get your roast, bagged up and still warm.
The coffee roaster, called a Java Master, diverges from popular roasting technology in two fundamental ways. To begin, it's a hot air roaster that blows beans around inside a vertical glass cylinder, like a more alluring and aromatic version of the money-blowing booth on a game show. Also, the machine permits roasting in unusually small batches -- one pound -- and takes only six minutes. It's a set-up that allows Artis to roast on an order-by-order basis, tailoring roast levels to customer's tastes. For those who don't know what they like, coffee educators will be on hand to guide those lost souls to a bean and a roast profile they'll like.
In lieu of the manually intensive, old, modified Probat roasters you see in most shops now, those sixty-year old gems that come with romantic stories (e.g. rescued from war-torn, abandoned German warehouses, and the like), the Java Master is geared more towards the consumer's experience, providing visual access to that elusive transformation of green to brown. The crew see it as a way of telling a story, and providing access to coffee at the peak of its quality. Granted, coffee needs a period of resting and degassing after roasting to really bloom, but give it too long and you will start losing the good stuff.
The idea came about a few years ago when Alex Lowe walked into a coffee shop in Tokyo. In the shop, Lowe -- the company's CEO -- found customers choosing their own raw green beans to be roasted on the spot, and taking home freshly roasted microbatches. In Japan, it's not an uncommon model. In the Bay Area, it's ground to be broken.
Lowe saw potential in the set-up, and hooked up with school buddies James Gutierrez and Elvis Lieban. Gutierrez is a kind of veteran in the branding and the building world, and Lieban's blood runs thick with coffee. He launched a mobile café program at Equal Exchange in Boston, where he first encountered and fell for the strange, ephemeral, and fascinating distinctions in taste between coffees of different origins. He's been fiddling with home roasting for a good while, and he'll be heading up the roasting at Artis with the help of a few area friends and roasting vets. Ask him about the live roasting philosophy, and he'll tell you about freshness.
"You get some Ethiopians where blueberries jump out of the cup at you. But in a week or two, they fade, and you don't get that experience anymore. We want everyone to have that experience," says Lieban.
Artis will source coffee from importers Royal Coffee and Café Imports, and aims to offer a global breadth of seven different varieties. The team, invested in the idea that coffee holds power as a vehicle for social change, is also setting up a seed fund that collects one percent of profits that will either go towards local projects proposed by employees or to projects in the undeveloped, coffee-growing world.
The café also doubles as a retail space for those that want to brew what they taste in the café at home. Therefore, the café will be brewing mostly on equipment available for purchase, except of course the slightly pricey Blossom One Limited, for which Artis will be the first commercial home. Grand opening is slated for December 7th. Visit Artis at 1717B 4th Street, Berkeley.