It’s undeniable that coffee is a big part of life – for those of us who truly love coffee and even for those who just need it to get going in the morning – it’s a part of every day. Why not make it as good as it can possibly be by starting with great beans?
Roasting good coffee is a lot like beautiful ballroom dancing: the dancers need to know all of the steps – and then they just have to feel it. Like dancing, coffee roasting is a combination of science and art. Those who practice it must first understand all the principles and mechanics (of sourcing and roasting coffee beans) and then they layer on their own artistic touches.
Last week we brought you a roundup of several coffee roasters right here in Massachusetts. This week, we’re going in-depth with one – Muddy Water Coffee Roasters. Owner and Roaster, Tim Van Sipe, is a self-taught coffee roaster who started roasting at home about 5 years ago. He noticed a lack of truly fresh coffee beans available at stores, so he decided to try his hand at roasting his own. "I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew after the first roasted batch that roasting coffee was for me," says Van Sipe. But he couldn’t keep it to himself. He started sharing the coffee with friends and family, and they couldn’t get enough. "Everybody wants fresh! There was a time and a need for Starbucks but now they’re too big. People really want local and fresh."
Today, Tim rents space in Harvard, MA where he roasts in a 10kg commercial roaster (that’s just over 20 pounds per batch). "I roast medium to dark, but not too dark," he says of his personal roasting preferences. "Coffee beans crack when roasted. There’s a first crack around 390 degrees, and I don’t want it to get to the second crack." Tim rarely looks at the color of the beans as they’re roasting, preferring to use his other sense. "Listening, smelling, it’s an art. I like the art of roasting. I have a journal and keep track of all the times and temperatures."
I was fortunate enough to see the roaster in action, and try a cup of coffee brewed from beans roasted less than a half hour earlier. It was a seriously eye-opening experience (especially for 3 o’clock in the afternoon!), from green coffee beans to my cup in under an hour. I heard the first crack, witnessed the notetaking, and enjoyed the smell of the beans as they tumbled from the roaster into the cooling tray. Each batch takes approximately 15 minutes to roast, so after two batches, it was on to the brewing. Tim prefers the pour over method, and made a small pot of the Ethiopian coffee in a Chemex. The aroma, flavor, and texture of the coffee all screamed freshness. It didn’t just taste like coffee, it had layers of flavor that opened up as I smelled and tasted – toasty notes, but also fruity notes, particularly blueberry that’s indicative of Ethiopian beans, which are sundried with the coffee cherry still on. “It’s a difficult bean to roast,” Tim tells me. Bringing out the best in these beans is a trial-and-improvement exploration that Tim loves.
When you’re doing what you love, the love comes through in the finished product. And Tim loves coffee. That love led him to leave a 17-year career as a Construction Project Manager in Boston to roast coffee full time. Tim says, “The best part of switching from project management to coffee full time is making people happy with my coffee. I love it when a new customer tries my coffee and can immediately tell the difference between my fresh roasted beans and other coffees.” As a micro-roaster, there’s a lot of opportunity to experiment in smaller batches and bring unique offerings to his customers. “I also love the freedom to be creative with roasts, brewing methods, and marketing.”
To that end, Tim recently completed a coffee truck that’s ready to serve the freshest coffee to farmers’ markets and commuters alike. See below for a listing of Muddy Water’s upcoming locations.
You can get a fresh cup of hot or iced coffee, or your favorite espresso drink – all made with Tim’s own special roasts. In addition to beverages, you can buy bags of freshly roasted beans. Tim will even grind them to your needs when you buy a bag. He’ll usually have 2 or 3 different beans available to purchase from the truck or at a market. Look for a medium-to-dark roast – perhaps something from Honduras or Peru – and a lighter roast such as an Ethiopian or Sumatran, as well as a decaf option. “I’m always changing up the beans and it all depends on the growing season,” Tim says.
You can find a larger array of beans available online. Tim offers free local delivery to Acton and the surrounding towns. In fact, he delivers it himself. When I visited the roastery he was preparing to head out for a few deliveries on this way home that afternoon. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
Pro tip: For the freshest cup, it’s best to buy your beans whole, grind them just before brewing, and use them within one month of the roast date. Now, go take a look in your coffee cabinet and see what you’ve been drinking – and then replace that with something fresh. If you’re used to popping in a Keurig pod and pushing a button, I dare you to try something different. The flavor nuances in fresh, locally roasted coffee will wake you up in a totally different way.
Where you can find Muddy Water Coffee:
Maynard Farmers' Market(coffee truck)
Harvard, MA Farmers' Market (coffee truck)
If you’re lucky enough to commute from Acton, you’ll soon find Tim at the Acton Commuter Rail Station. Your mornings are definitely looking up!
Look out for more locations soon, too. And if you need coffee for your next event, Muddy Water can also do catering. Just contact Tim through the website.