The Supreme Bean partner Phillip Hand checks out a bag of the green stuff.
So there I was, sitting at the computer minding my own business (literally, I was at work) when I received an e-mail from Phillip Hand, one of the partners at The Supreme Bean.
"I have been meaning to email you sooner, but I enjoyed your article on coffeegeek. My name is Philip Hand, and I am one of the owners of The Supreme Bean Coffee Roasters, here in North Hollywood. If you would truly like to take your Coffee Experience to new heights, I would like to invite you over to our facility to see how we roast, pull some 'God-Shots' with any of the 5 Espressos we offer, and talk shop."
Wow, not only do I get a compliment on my article but an invitation to visit a real live roaster to boot! Count me in.
So I hopped in the car, made my way out to North Hollywood and found the address Phillip provided. At first, I was a bit surprised by the nondescript exterior of the building and very surprised at the lack of billowing smoke and roasting coffee smell in the air outside. I would soon find out why. Phillip and his partner, Jeff Chean greeted me in the outer office and after a few pleasantries escorted me into the back to meet the third partner in Supreme Bean, Kevin Holt. Kevin is the roast master at Supreme Bean and was busily tinkering with the giant roaster on the premises, a Primo PRI-50. As an aside, Kevin has a background in the culinary arts, which isn’t surprising since a roast master has to have the same kind of highly developed palate found in a chef or vintner.
Supreme Bean partner and roast master Kevin Holt shows off the PRI-50, complete with newly upgraded smoke removal system.
As Phillip and Kevin explained, the Primo roaster is really a fantastic machine. Unlike many of the roasters used in the industry, the Primo excels at achieving and maintaining an even heat level throughout the drum. This insures that beans roasted in the Primo receive a uniform roast level. When Kevin fired up the Primo later in the day, I could see the very even heat source being applied to the entire drum.
The second big advantage to the Primo is waste gas removal. As anyone who’s roasted at home will agree, smoke can be a serious inconvenience. Imagine roasting batches of fifty pounds at a time, all day long and you can imagine that the smoke problem goes from being merely inconvenient to a major dilemma. The problem with smoke in a commercial scale roasting environment is twofold. First, allowing the roasting beans to wallow in the smoke will impart a more burnt, carbony flavor to the beans, masking the varietal flavors and nuance of the beans. Good air flow and smoke handling gives the roast master the opportunity to really tune the roast to suit the various beans without worrying about ruining the roast with smoky flavor. Both light and dark roasts benefit from the lack of smoke.
Jeff Chean (left) and Phillip Hand. The big black monster in the background is the state-of-the-art afterburner.
The second problem with large scale roasting is how to handle the resultant waste gases without harming the surrounding environment or those people operating the equipment. The Supreme Bean uses an elaborate afterburner to treat the waste gas and render it practically harmless. The reason the roaster was shut down when I arrived for my visit was that Kevin was upgrading the waste gas removal system to provide even greater airflow. I can attest that when the upgrade was completed, Kevin fired up a few batches on the Primo and there was no smoke in the room where the roaster is situated and none to be seen escaping the vent stack outside. Between the roaster and the afterburner, Phillip told me that the only by-product of the roast is a tiny puff of smoke at the start of the roast, some warm air and some aroma. From what I saw and smelled, that may be an overstatement. I saw no smoke at all and was unable to detect any smell outside the building during a roast. The whole set-up is pretty slick, and environmentally friendly to boot.
The Green Room
From the roasting area, Phillip took me to see the “Green Room” where all the green coffee is stored prior to roasting. Because they are a small to medium sized roaster, The Supreme Bean is able to acquire smaller lots of just the coffee they want to roast. They don’t have to buy and roast huge quantities of “filler” type coffees just to meet demand. This kind of flexibility typifies the attitude projected by the company, that it’s better to really excel in a smaller setting than to create a huge company serving tons of mediocre product. Sacks of certified Kona coffee, Monsooned Malabar, Estate grown Costa Rican and dozens of other varieties await their turn in the roaster.
The back room with bags of beans galore. Check out the Kona Extra Fancy. Click to enlarge.
Even more beans piled around. I wouldn't want to have to lug these around. Click to enlarge.
The 2 lb. Primo Sample Roaster makes the perfect Christmas gift for that coffeegeek in your life. Click to enlarge.
Inside the green room, besides sacks and sacks of some of the world’s best coffees, sits the 2 pound sample roaster, also a Primo. With the smaller Primo, they can test the different beans with various levels of roast knowing that the results on the large roaster will be practically identical to the small machine. Inside the green room, I spoke with Phillip about some of the coffees they were able to buy, how they cup the coffees to select only the best and some of the other products and services they provide. At Supreme Bean, their main business is equipping, training and supplying independent cafés, coffee houses and restaurants with superior quality coffee and brewing equipment. Phillip’s partner, Jeff also owns the successful Joe to Go business which caters coffee and related products to events and entertainment industry worksites. All in all, this is a very busy place and a little slice of heaven for any coffeegeek. I did not try to distract Phillip and sneak the 2 pound Primo out to my car, although the thought did cross my mind.
On to the Real Fun
Enough of all this talk, let’s taste some coffee! Phillip took me back to the outer office where, there on the counter, sits a La Marzocco FB-70 two group, super-cool, ergo portafilter equipped monster and a matching Swift grinder. He then handed me a sample of some pleasant Nicaraguan La Ilusion coffee they’d been testing for drip coffee. I think he did that just to warm up my coffee taste buds. Next, at my request for something he was really proud of, he pulled out their Yemen Mocha Java Estate blend and brewed me a batch of that drip style. This was really good drip coffee with all the balance and flavor that characterizes a really good Mocha Java. I found it interesting that one of the other guys in the office immediately jumped up to get a fresh cup of this stuff, making a remark about how much he liked it.
Suitably warmed up, Phillip went over to the Swift grinder and filled a portafilter full of their Caffé diAbruzzo, which is their medium dark, middle Italian espresso blend. I have to remark that the Swift grinder is a very cool machine. You lock the portafilter into the bottom of the automatic doser and the Swift grinds, dispenses, tamps and polishes automatically. Then you just remove the portafilter from the Swift, brush the top of the portafilter basket to insure a good seal and lock into the group head.
The Supreme Bean has nice toys. Click to enlarge.
Here's the Swift grinder. The photo doesn't do it justice. Click to enlarge.
La Marzocco FB-70. If you only buy one espresso machine this year... Click to enlarge.
The portafilter locks into the bottom of the Swift grinder, push a button and that's it. Click to enlarge.
Just wipe the top of the filter basket and you're ready to brew. Click to enlarge.
Here's the first of too many shots coming out of the FB-70. Click to enlarge.
Watching the rich reddish brown espresso flow slowly from the portafilter, I suspected that I was in for a treat. I sampled some very good Abruzzo. Then, after Phillip tweaked his grind just a little, I had an even better one. If I had to buy just one coffee, I’d choose the Abruzzo for my espresso. It has enough flavor and body to ‘speak’ through a milk drink while still retaining the balance and nuance that makes a good straight shot. Supreme Bean roasts an even darker, southern Italian style espresso called Caffé diPalermo that I did not sample and a northern style light roast espresso, Caffé diNorté that I’ve been enjoying at home in straight shots. I find the Norté to have what I like in a coffee like Illy, namely the tart playful note on the tongue but with superior flavor and crema that only very freshly roasted coffee can produce. Phillip was also kind enough to send me home with samples of the Mocha Java Blend, some Costa Rica Juan Leon Estate, Brazil Santos Select, an organic espresso blend called Rainforest Blend and their Black and Tan Blend (French roasted Sumatra combined with peak roasted Sulawesi) as well as a big bag of both the Abruzzo and Norté espresso blends.
A shot of the Caffé diAbruzzo. Nice crema.
Caffeine Buzzzzzz Anyone?
As I sat chatting with Phillip and Jeff about coffee, the specialty coffee industry and a variety of other topics, I realized that, in addition to my morning shot and double cappuccino that get me to work, I’d had probably another three or four full shots, and countless sips of this and that, all before 2:00 pm. Now, I’ve never been one to taste and spit. But this was way too much caffeine even for me, and I have a fairly serious tolerance for the stuff. I sat there, thinking about how these guys would think I was a coffee uber-wimp if they actually saw me vibrating from all the juice. Suffice to say next time I stop by Supreme Bean I will skip my morning coffee and do the taste and spit thing.
Thanks to Phillip, Kevin, Jeff and the staff at the Supreme Bean for taking the time to show me around and for the excellent coffee.
The Supreme Bean, located in North Hollywood, California specializes in providing equipment, supplies and training to cafés, restaurants and other specialty coffee retailers. Jeff Chean handles sales and marketing, Phillip Hand provides technical support on the machines and barista training and Kevin Holt runs the roaster. The Supreme Bean is currently in the process of creating a presence on the World Wide Web to offer coffee and equipment to the industry and the public and until the new site is on-line, The Supreme Bean coffee can be ordered from www.joetogo.com.
50 lbs. of green beans, ready to get a tan. Click to enlarge.
Kevin checks the roast level. Click to enlarge.
The same beans, now roasted to perfection. Click to enlarge.
Cool those beans down, wouldya? Click to enlarge.
*Mark Prince’s articles on this year’s SCAA convention discuss the Primo roaster and the role of the Supreme Bean guys in its development and evolution. He also mentions the La Marzocco machines in a little more detail. You can read Mark’s articles on SCAA day 1 here and day 2 here.
*The Supreme Bean guys take some liberty with the Italian language in some of their blend names. The beans are so good, though, that I easily forgive them.