It all happened because of a van, an Italian roasterie, a wooden spoon, and a dose of divine intervention.
The idea of Bald Guy Brew came from my wife, Shannon. At a park in Washington State, where we were visiting a friend, a van pulled up selling frappes and frozen dog treats. We started talking about the idea and I realized that if we were going to be successful, I needed to learn to really roast coffee. I had messed around on a stove top with a frying pan and knew I was in dire need of some professional help.
I went over to a local roaster in Pittsburg and asked, simply, if they would teach me. I want to open my own roasting company, I told them.
No, they responded. Duh.
On my way out the door, I ran into the master roaster. "Why do you look so down?" He asked me, and I told him what happened. Then, to my surprise, he told me to show up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning (the owners don't get in until 8 a.m.) and he'd teach me how to roast.
For the next few months, I would roll into the city before the sun rose, hang out, and learn about roasting. The master roaster didn't have much of a palette, but he had an amazing gift of mentally walking through the roasting process and an understanding of how the roaster interacts with the bean. I felt like a green coffee bean banging around int he drum. Or a white blood cell traveling through the veins of a human. Basically, it was awesome. He took me through the machine piece by piece and explained to me the "why" and "how" of the roasting process.
Next thing I knew, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go but the local thrift store to purchase a hot air popcorn maker. Yep, that's how I got into coffee roasting. I bought some beans down at the local market and roasted 'em up in my "fluid bed roaster."
Curve-ball: I cracked my head on the floor one day and ended up with a traumatic brain injury.
Two Struggle Bus Years followed, as I tried to function and remember stuff, like my life. I had enough brain juice to do cached Google searches that show results in different colors. For hours and hours, I read about coffee based on the color, and -- this sounds crazy -- but it helped my brain get better.
Not only did I become more empathetic during this period of time, but some pretty amazing stuff began to happen.
One night, I received a phone call. Some friends of mine were praying about our situation. "Are you still interested in coffee?" they asked. I told them, yes, and they offered me some start-up money. Not a loan. Not a line of credit. Cash. For free.
Now, that's pretty amazing in and of itself. But it happened again the next week. And then the following week. Within three weeks, I had enough money to buy a roaster and some green beans and Bald Guy Brew became a reality. It all reminds me of "Blues Brothers" when Elwood says to Jake, "Me and the Lord, we have an understanding." Jake replies, "We are on a mission from God." I know I'm not John Belushi, but regardless -- three phone calls in three weeks. It makes me think there's something more to roasting coffee than meets the eye.
Recently, I was talking to my parents about roasting and my mom told me about "the spoon." It turns out, I come from a long line of coffee roasters. "The spoon" belonged to my grandmother's sister, who lived in what used to be Yugoslavia. On the trip back to the motherland, my mom and grandma took me to visit this mysterious lady. I vaguely remember it, but I do remember the small house she lived in... the dirt floor... the roof with a hole in it. This strange looking lady sat there, crouched over a small copper kettle sitting on a bed of coals, spinning green coffee beans with a wooden spoon. "The spoon." The spoon isn't very big anymore, its years of use over a copper kettle have worn it down to a nub, but one day I will be the keeper of "the spoon" and, hopefully, will pass it along to my kids.