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Local coffee roaster keeps the focus on fresh

Troy Lucas demonstrates the coffee cupping process
Troy Lucas, owner of Lucas Roasting Co. in Broadway, demonstrates the coffee cupping process, a procedure used in the coffee industry to sample and rate coffees. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Lucas holds Ethiopia Sidamo coffee beans
Lucas holds a handful of raw Ethiopia Sidamo coffee beans that are packed in a 150-pound burlap sack. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Coffee beans spill
Coffee beans spill into a cooler toward the end of the roasting process. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Troy Lucas pours coffee beans
Troy Lucas pours coffee beans into his coffee roaster outside his Broadway home. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Coffee beans are circulated
Coffee beans are circulated in a cooling bin after going through the roasting process. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Laetitia Clayton - lclayton@nvdaily.com

BROADWAY -- You won't find shelves of coffee packaged and waiting when you walk into Troy Lucas' small coffee-roasting business.

What you will find is a 7-kilo roaster, some coffee urns and grinders, a small French press and about 20 large burlap sacks -- each filled with 150 pounds of raw coffee beans from places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.

Lucas, who started Lucas Roasting Co. LLC in 2007, is passionate about coffee. He wants it be good and fresh, which is why he roasts the beans only after an order is placed. He's also meticulous about his roasting techniques, and says that's what distinguishes one roaster from another.

Lucas built the 24-by-24 outbuilding that houses his roasting operation around an existing shed that was on the property when he and his wife, Jennica, bought their house in a residential Broadway neighborhood. It's a basic structure -- climate-controlled with thick insulation and a concrete floor. There's room to move around the roaster, and there are a few shelves, a table and sinks. In several thick, white, ringed binders are "recipes" for different blends of coffees and roasting techniques, complete with trials and errors, Lucas says.

He and his sole employee, roaster Paul Helbert, take careful notes and compare them until they arrive at the perfect combination.

"We produce 30 different coffees, including our private-label blends," Lucas says.

One of these is a Rosetta Stone blend, made exclusively for the language software company in Harrisonburg.

On a recent day, Lucas laid out some tools of the trade, such as the special white cups and deep spoons used in the cupping process, where Lucas samples coffees before he buys them.

During coffee cupping, boiling water is poured into a small cup over freshly ground coffee. After a "crust" is formed on the top, the taster breaks through it with one of the spoons and inhales the nose, or aroma, of the coffee. Grounds are then scraped off the top and a second break is made using a deep spoon so the taster can get a good, strong sip. That first sip is then spit out, much like tasting wine, Lucas says. Tasters make notes on things like the acidity and body of the coffee, he says, as well as flavors "you don't want in coffee," such as astringency.

Although coffee is his livelihood, the self-described "green-minded" Lucas is also passionate about other things, such as humanity, community, farmers and the survival of small businesses, just to name a few.

"Don't get me started" seems to be a favorite phrase of this 34-year-old, who is originally from Indiana.

For example, don't get him started on the insurance sales industry, which he did for a while -- until he was fired. Lucas says he and the company he worked for both knew it wasn't the right career path for him.

"Insurance sales didn't agree with me," he says, but losing that job turned out to be a good thing: It forced him to put everything he had into the coffee business. It also helped him learn more about sales, which is a vital part of his current venture.

After graduating from a Brethren college in Indiana, Lucas moved to the Northern Shenandoah Valley in 1997 and stayed with Helbert's family while he worked as a missionary for the Church of the Brethren Volunteer Service. Helbert was into home roasting -- roasting small batches of coffee beans at home. Lucas, who says he has loved coffee since he was in high school, was interested and began home roasting as well. He eventually started selling his fresh coffee at farmer's markets, and also sold 12 varieties of a gourmet biscotti that he made and his wife helped package.

"We're very grass-roots," Lucas says of himself, his wife and their two young boys. "We don't have cable. We don't watch TV."

In addition to a knack for being an entrepreneur, Lucas says he has had a desire to help others as far back as he can remember -- something he says likely came from his grandparents.

"I've always been somebody who cares very much about what's going on socially, not just a small section [of the world], but all sections," he says.

This is one reason he believes in direct trade with coffee growers, and has even planned a trip to one of the farms in Brazil this summer.

"Everybody's striving to do direct trade because it's better for the farmer," he says.

Lucas says he puts in 12, sometimes 15, hours a day, and his wife has a full-time job. While getting the roasting business on its feet, Lucas also managed a coffee shop at James Madison University. That experience could come in handy, he says, if he decides to open a coffee shop in the future.

"It's being toyed around with right now," Lucas says. "It all depends on timing, space and budget. Budget is always a big one."

For now, the existing roasting business is sustaining itself, he says, supplying some big businesses but also smaller ones, like Cristina's Cafe in Strasburg.

Green-minded people like to keep company with others who feel the same way, which is one reason the owners of Cristina's -- sisters Wendy and Cristina Willis -- chose Lucas as their coffee supplier about a year ago. Cristina's likes to use fresh, local food and other goods whenever possible, and was recently named the first certified green restaurant in Shenandoah and Frederick counties. The other reason they chose Lucas is the coffee.

"What sold us on Troy was his espresso blend," Wendy Willis says. Both my sister and I have lived in the Northwest ... and we're used to bolder coffees. And he uses fair trade, organic or direct trade [coffee beans]."

Lucas agrees that the standards for his espresso blends are the "big-city standards," adding that "there are four different origins of coffee that go into our espressos."

The sisters also like that Lucas' coffee is fresh.

"The fact we know it hasn't been sitting on a shelf," Willis says. "People can tell the difference with fresh coffee."

Lucas and the Willis sisters have another thing in common: the desire to help other local small businesses.

"We wanted to offer the best coffee and help promote other local businesses and local jobs," Willis says. "That's a very important part of being green."

Lucas says he extends that attitude to the farmers who grow the coffee as well.

"This ties back into farming communities," he says. "I've always wanted to make the world a better place. "[This industry] is a nice combination of everything. It's a great industry. I'm using coffee to make the world a better place."

For more information on Lucas Roasting Co., visit www.lucasroasting.com or call 896-2729.



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