Roaster Spotlight: Velton's Coffee Roasting Company—The Interview
As noted last week, we had the great opportunity to sit down with Velton of Velton's Coffee Roasting Company to chat about roasting and coffee in general! Check out the full text of the interview below, or the video version above!
Seattle Coffee Gear: We’re here with Velton from Velton’s Coffee Roasting, how’s it going today sir?
Velton: It’s good!
SCG: Awesome, so you were kind enough to sit down with us and go through some questions about your process and about Velton’s! So my first question is what led you to get into roasting the first place
Velton: I’d been in coffee quite a while, I’d been a barista for 10, 11 years or so, and where I was working at the time, I was managing Bauhaus Books and Coffee down on Capitol Hill in Seattle. They had opened Top Pot, and when they opened the second Top Pot they decided to get into roasting. They had enough of their own accounts at that point. I had told them a few years prior that if they did get into roasting that that was the next step that I wanted to take in coffee, and that I was very curious about it. To their credit when they opened the second Top Pot and put the roastery in they made me the head roaster. I didn’t know what I was doing for a while but we figured it out! That was around 2001.
SCG: That’s a common theme I’ve heard. I know people who I work with and friends who are amateur roasters, everyone who really wants to get into roasting, but nobody really knows what they’re doing when they get started because it’s a complicated thing!
Velton: It’s complicated and one roaster can supply a lot of coffee shops, so there just aren’t as many positions in roasteries as there are in coffee shops.
SCG: Exactly. So in terms of how you run Velton’s, what do you look for when you’re purchasing green coffee?
Velton: So we’ve got a few blends, we have to make sure we can maintain those. So there’s that. Then we always have about 8 different single origin offerings at a time. We try to keep a well-rounded offering of those. Some that are more approachable for folks, some that we feel will work well as espresso, some that are a little more wild that might still work for espresso but aren’t for everyone. So when we’re running low on some of those I’m trying to replace them with something similar. And always, of course, coffee is agricultural. So there’s different harvest seasons around the globe, so we’re always trying to buy what’s in season, as much as possible.
SCG: So on that note, having some variety is maybe more important to you than specializing in a specific roast type, level, or origin?
Velton: Definitely. I’m trying to have a little something for everyone. We always want to have a couple that are a little more wild, maybe bright. We also want something that’s very approachable, just nice filter cups of coffee. Something that, there’s a lot of coffees that taste great on a cupping table, but you might not want to drink a full pot of it. So we want one of those for someone if that’s what they’re looking for. So yea, variety is the goal.
SCG: Do you have, regardless of whether you’re selecting coffee to roast, a process that you find, whether it’s washed, natural, or honey, that’s your favorite?
Velton: It’s probably washed, that’s generally going to be my favorite, but there are exceptions to that. I definitely really enjoy naturals, and I think natural processing has gotten so much better. I like naturals a lot as espresso. As filter I might like four to six ounces, but it’s rare that I’m going to sit down and drink a pot of a natural. Again there have been exceptions, there have been outstanding ones that have come along.
SCG: We kind of talk about the notion that the first time you have a natural your response is “how does anyone drink anything other than this? This is incredible!” Then you drink a hundred naturals and think “well that washed was really good though, maybe I do like the balance, and I do like that it’s a little bit easier to drink multiple cups.” Then eventually you hit a point where you think “well they’re both great, different times for different coffee.”
Velton: I feel like that’s where I’m at. I like them all, as long as they do it well and the green was great to begin with, yea.
SCG: Do you have any tips for ways to help develop your palate? That’s a question we get a lot.
Velton: I think being conscious while you’re tasting the coffee. Even if you like cream and sugar, get in the habit of taking a few sips while it’s black. Let it cool a little bit, you’ll start to get more flavor as it cools. I think if you’re conscious about it while you’re drinking the coffee, and what you’re tasting. And it’s fine to cheat and look at the bag and see what they’re telling you you should be tasting. Then you just slowly build a vocabulary in your head that your palate starts to tie into.
SCG: Do you have a favorite brew method for coffee?
Velton: I would say my very favorite is pourover. I just feel like I get the clearest description of the coffee that way. But I totally love espresso. So my go-to is pourover when I really want to learn about a coffee, but I do love to see what it’ll do as espresso as well. It’s hard for me to find an espresso I don’t like.
SCG: That’s generally how we approach coffee in house too, and how we recommend it to people. If there’s a really complex roast we always recommend it as a pourover because it’s the only way you’re going to get everything out of it.
Velton: Yea, and usually the flavor descriptors are designed for that.
SCG: Do you have any tips for somebody who maybe is an amateur roaster trying to turn it into a business?
Velton: Definitely just keep tasting your roasts all the time. Try to trust your palate. If it’s your roastery, there’s so many ways you can roast a coffee and have it turn out well, but make sure you like what you’re doing and you’re not trying to roast just for your customers.
SCG: This is one of my favorite questions. I don’t know how valuable it is, but it’s really interesting to me so I always ask it. Do you find that your environment has shaped the way that you roast? Or do you think that as a roasting culture develops it tends to guide the culture in coffee shops in a region.
Velton: A little bit of both. I think they feed off each other. I’m not really sure.
SCG: It’s a tough question, we’ve talked about it with folks in the past and I notice, being from the Midwest, from Detroit, the culture in coffee shops there is vastly different than what we find in the Pacific Northwest. While I haven’t spent a lot of time in coffee shops on the East Coast I know in New York it’s a very different vibe with roasters and with shops. I wonder how much local culture is influencing that, or if when you get into the specific parts of coffee culture there’s influence from roasters touching local coffee shops.
Velton: I think in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had a pretty ingrained coffee culture. Maybe to a degree longer or greater than most elsewhere, but it was more dark roast oriented for a long time. A lot of the roasters that popped up over time have kind of modeled themselves that way and it’s taken a little longer. But I don’t feel it’s that way anymore. We have enough of a third-wave coffee culture in Seattle that the roasters that pop up now don’t feel like they’ve got to feed into the dark roast culture if they don’t want to. So it’s changing. It took us a little longer to change here maybe than elsewhere.
SCG: That makes a lot of sense. This is probably a question that ties in with what you were saying about offering something for everybody. Do you ever find yourself chasing something with your roasts? Or do you generally let the coffee speak for itself and let it inform the way that you’re roasting?
Velton: Again both. It’s kind of a two-way street where I have ideas up front about what I think this coffee will taste like so I roast based on that. Then I'll taste it and maybe take it in a different direction based on what I’m tasting. I definitely influence the coffee based on my expectations but then the taste will influence how I roast it right back. So they work together.
SCG: My last question, and this is a hard question to answer, but do you have a favorite roast that you’ve done before?
Velton: Favorite roast? No . Every year there’s a couple of coffees that stand out to me. Sometimes they were ones that I didn’t expect them to be. More often than not if we buy a $30/lb geisha, and they’re hard to move so we don’t often to that, but quite often it’ll be the best coffee we’ve had for the year. Then other times you’ll get a $3/lb Peru that just blew everybody’s doors off. It was just so well balanced and had a little bit of everything going on. So every year we get a couple that stand out, but I wouldn’t say there’s one over the last ten years that’s the one.
SCG: That’s a great answer! I appreciate your time!