Five years ago, Local Coffee owner Robby Grubbs changed the landscape of the coffee business in San Antonio when he opened the doors of his first Local Coffee shop. Local found its niche as a multi-roaster shop – a coffee shop brewing small batches of different, high-quality beans in what is called the “third wave of coffee."
The third wave is a relatively new culinary movement characterized by its commitment to high-quality, specialty coffee – coffee as an art, not a bitter, murky brew to perk you up on your morning commute.
This spring, Grubbs will once again transform the San Antonio coffee scene with the official opening of Merit Roasting Co., a high-end roasting operation located in a historic Southtown building on 2001 S. Presa St.
Merit has already started roasting small batches of the best beans from around the world, sourced by Grubbs himself, for Local Coffee as well as several local restaurants. Merit will focus primarily on wholesale business, but will soon have a small slow bar and walk-up window to serve the public.
“I’ve always wanted to get into roasting,” Grubbs said. “It’s a challenge. I want to meet or exceed the quality I’m able to get for Local Coffee from some of the top roasters around.”
The first step in producing a high-quality roast is finding the right beans. Grubbs searches the top coffee-producing countries around the world and builds relationships with farmers and small suppliers to ensure access to the finest beans available. In just this year, Grubbs has made or planned trips to Brazil, Kenya, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
These countries have the right altitude, weather, and soil to produce some of the best beans in the world. But, the search for perfection is never over since variables such as rainfall and post-processing can change the taste of the beans. Given the number and complexity of factors affecting bean quality and taste, even batches from the same plantation can greatly vary.
But beans will take you only so far. The roaster itself and the expert use of the equipment have just as much to do with the quality of your brew. Grubbs acquired a roaster built by Probat, a German company with more than 100 years of roaster manufacturing, and reached out to the best minds in the coffee industry – most notably, Ben Kaminsky, a world-renowned San Francisco-based roasting consultant focusing on equipment design, training, roasting, and sourcing.
And finally, to find just the right roast, Grubbs and his team taste test the roasts in what is called a “cupping.” Similar to a wine tasting, a coffee cupping is almost a ritual in which the taster sniffs and then slurps the coffee. Grubbs and team has been cupping daily for months now to ensure that they have the best roasts ready for opening day.
Although the entire process has been somewhat of an international affair, Grubbs is very much committed to his San Antonio presence, as well as developing and training local talent. Instead of hiring experienced roasters from outside the city, Grubbs sent an employee to NYC to learn roasting techniques from top coffee consultants. Following the model of challenging and empowering employees that has worked so well at Local Coffee, Merit will employ local people who love coffee, love people, and are excited to learn.
Merit’s slow bar and walk-up window is also expected to open in early spring.
*Featured/top image: Merit Roasting Co. roasts and delivers coffee daily. Photo by Scott Martin.