When Spokane’s Roast House Coffee opened five years ago, owner and roaster Deb Di Bernardo instituted an open-door policy to the roastery by literally opening the warehouse doors and letting passersby and customers come in, see the operation, and buy a bag of fresh beans if they wanted. “Because mom is Italian and hospitable,” says her daughter, Josie, “she would make them a latte while they waited.” Eventually the open door clogged and the requests for samples of different coffees were stymied by a single hopper.
In April, Roast House opened its tasting room to organize their visitors and offer them a greater variety of the coffees they roast. “It’s been so functional, I don’t know how we managed to get by before,” Josie wrote in e-mail. “And people are stunned and delighted that their cup of coffee is still free.” Josie estimates about twenty percent of their visitors are seeking a coffee-tasting session, and the rest are regulars who want to buy beans straight from the source. Hardly any are grifters looking for a free brew.
The tasting room goes way beyond being Roast House’s public face. The back bar serves as the roastery’s cupping space and account training takes places on the Modbar. It also provides a working model to show their wholesale customers. “We’ve found that a visual, hands-on experience teaches more than a 2-D map and really emphasizes the importance of sufficient (and) efficient space and high-quality equipment,” Josie says. They built the bar with this in mind, and even have more space than they need so they can show café owners where pastries, syrups, teas, and other café accoutrements would go.
In May, Roast House hosted its first throwdown, and Josie says that Inland Northwest TNT wouldn’t have approached them if not for the new space. Like many wholesale roasteries, Roast House isn’t snuggled into a prime walking neighborhood or operating its own café. But with its openness and now the tasting room, it’s found a way to connect not just to cafés but with coffee drinkers.
1. Too Much Shelving: A hanging inverted chef’s rack provides ample cup storage—more than the tasting room requires—to show wholesale clients the shelf space they’ll need.
2. Sidebar: A heavy-duty grinder and Fetco don’t get used much, but are more examples for outfitting a café. Two grinders, a Baratza Forte and UNIC M731, hold rotating and house espressos, respectively.
3. Hard Water Fighter: Spokane’s hard and chlorinated water requires heavy filtration; the system slides out of the bar for demonstrations.
4. Demo Bar: A Modbar espresso system allows full views of training from both sides of the bar.
5. Slow Bar: Customers can have their coffee prepared using a Chemex, Melitta, Eva Solo, or AeroPress.
6. Tasters Row: Four Baratza Vario grinders hold two to three limited release coffees, available only to warehouse visitors, and one darker coffee.
7. Favorite Tool: Josie Di Bernardo, Roast House Coffee’s general manager, says wet erase markers have become the team’s favorite tool. They label their Hario decanters with each coffee’s name as customers go through a tasting.
8. Cupping Lab: Roast House cups their coffees on the back bar. Behind the bar, visitors have a view of the roastery.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor. Photo courtesy Kinetek Media.