For SJC Roasters, Coffee and Community are the Perfect Blend

Roasted!

SJC is home to many coffee makers who demonstrate passion, innovation, and expertise of their craft on a daily basis. But ask any of them what their favorite part of being in the business is, and the answer is always the same: the connections they get to make with people through their love of coffee. “I think my favorite thing about having a local coffee shop is the community,” says Gianna Vicari, owner of Trail Coffee Roasters in Stockton and Lodi. “I know that sounds kind of cliche, but it is true. I’ve gotten to know a ton of my customers and they’ve turned into friends.”

Laura Garcia, who owns Terra Coffee in Stockton with her husband, Efrain, enjoys the role her shop plays in the everyday lives of her customers. “Being part of the moments within the neighborhood, seeing the kiddos grow here within the community, making those connections in everybody’s everyday…I think that’s amazing,” she says.

“What do I enjoy? The overall happiness it brings people,” says Kelly Brown, owner of Lodi’s Java Stop. “People are really happy to see us.” Kelly describes the atmosphere of his shop as “smiles for miles.” “We have a tremendous group of employees and environment, and that lends itself to the customers and brings out that happiness,” he says.

While SJC coffee connoisseurs come to their favorite local coffee spots for the fresh roasts, specialty blends, and house made syrups, they stay for the warm, inviting experience that the owners, roasters, and baristas work so hard to cultivate. “We take pride in every single batch of coffee we bring out here,” says Laura. “Every connection is special to us.”

From Humble Beginnings to Community Staples

While every journey to entering the coffee business is unique, most coffee crafters start from a place of appreciation and curiosity. Kelly says he’s always loved a great cup of coffee, tracing back to his college days. But he didn’t consider making coffee professionally until he was nudged by his good friend from Rotary Club, Bob Casalegno, the previous owner of Java Stop.

“Him and I talked about me possibly taking over and roasting and all of that stuff,” says Kelly. “He wasn’t quite ready to move on, but he was thinking about it. And then in 2015, he made a decision to do that. By that time, I’d already been to some training classes and I already kind of knew how to roast. So, we took it over in 2015.”

By 2016, Kelly turned Java Stop into an exclusively organic roastery. He also committed to using Fair Trade Certified coffee—products that were made under strict trade standards that promote economic growth, sustainability, and a better quality of life in the communities where the coffee is grown—as much as possible. Java Stop’s commitment to positive change also extends to the local community, which Kelly traces back to getting his start in the business through a Rotary connection. “We’re always helping with fundraisers and crab feeds,” he says. “Helping communities is a big part of what we do.”

Trail Coffee Roasters also has a deeply ingrained relationship to serving communities and creating a lasting positive impact. Trail’s story began in the 1970s in Nicaragua, where Bing Kirk, Trail’s founder, was visiting a friend who was serving in the Peace Corps. After falling in love with the region, Bing and a group of friends decided to stay for a few years, working on various coffee farms. Then, a civil war started. “They ended up moving back to Stockton where they’re from,” Gianna, who is Bing’s stepdaughter, says. “And in the nineties, after the war ended, they went back and purchased land.”

Bing took over an abandoned coffee farm, Cerro de Jesus, located on one of the highest mountain regions in Nicaragua. Since starting the farm, which employs about 500 people in the region, Bing also helped build a school, dormitories for workers, and a church to help improve the lives of the people in the community.

Gianna first visited the family farm after graduating from college. She had always been interested in her stepfather’s passion for the farm and coffee roasting, but it wasn’t until her first trip to Nicaragua that she knew she eventually wanted to pursue the coffee industry. “Suddenly, I saw what he saw and fell in love with it,” she says.

Today, Trail has three coffee shops in SJC: two locations in Stockton and another in Lodi. The business remains committed to supporting and uplifting both their global community in Nicaragua and their local community in the 209. “I’m so grateful,” says Gianna. “It just allowed me to, I feel like, have an impact on our community and meet other local business owners and have that space for people to get together.”

Creating safe and inclusive community spaces for people to gather is a priority for many coffee makers in SJC, like Laura and Efrain. What started as a hobby for the husband-and-wife team developed into a tight-knit bond with the Stockton community as they transitioned from home brewers to selling at pop-up shops to eventually opening their first coffee shop. “We found that Stockton really wanted us to open a coffee shop. And that’s what we did,” says Laura, who grew up in the city. “We chose downtown. We wanted to be part of that growth here in Stockton.”

Last year, Laura and Efrain decided to move their operation to Yosemite Street Village, a historic neighborhood block between Acacia and Poplar streets with an old school charm. Terra Coffee is part of a growing group of businesses moving to the district and helping to revitalize the area. Laura says the community reached out to her and Efrain directly about bringing their shop to Yosemite Street, hoping for a gathering space. “They come here and they have their meetings. This is where they start their day,” Laura says. “We found that this neighborhood is a gem within the community.”

For Laura and Efrain, being able to share their knowledge and passion for coffee with a community they love is what motivates them to tackle the daily grind with a smile. “The whole experience is amazing, from growing the beans to roasting and serving and making that connection with our customers,” says Laura.

The Art (and Science) of Roasting

Is coffee roasting more of a science, or an art? It depends on who you ask, but most roasters will describe it as a complex balance of both: an art form requiring both technical mastery and a sense of creativity to achieve the perfect flavor profile.

Zachary Bailey, Trail’s roaster, was drawn to the process partially because of his background in science. He first learned the ropes from Bing, and from there, he took classes, read books, and absorbed all the knowledge he could about the industry to master the craft. “I enjoy the chemistry and physics of roasting. It’s interesting to me,” Zachary says. “It’s really detailed depending on each unique variety of bean, the country of origin where it’s grown, and the elevation. So, you take all of those components and you are going for an outcome of a specific flavor profile and a level of roast intensity: light, medium, dark, and all the range in between there.”

Trail is unique in that they are involved in each step of the process through sourcing their own beans from their farm in Nicaragua. They also distribute their beans to many grocery stores and restaurants in the Central Valley and beyond. Almost all of Trail’s roasts are made through their own beans, although Zachary also sources beans from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Sumatra to create interesting flavor blends.

“The coffee business is definitely very difficult for the producers who are growing and harvesting the coffee,” says Zachary. “So, the end goal is really to make sure that the farm survives, and us being able to purchase as much coffee as we can directly from them is going to help them out the most.”

In addition to knowing every aspect of the roasting process and the unique characteristics of the beans you’re working with, it’s also key to accommodate each roast based on the temperature and humidity of the day. “It really just comes down to trying to temper the acidity, trying to create the body, and trying to elongate that flavor in your mouth,” says Efrain. “Doing all the right adjustments to meet that is always the trick, right? Each one is different. So, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to make each bean work to produce the result that you want.”

While there are many factors that go into producing the perfect roast, Laura and Efrain say that freshness is key. At Terra Coffee, they rotate their beans every three to four months and roast weekly to make sure each drink they serve maintains the best possible quality. “Something that’s really unique with Efrain and how much he roasts is that we roast in five-pound batches,” Laura says. “It’s truly fresh coffee that you’re getting.”

Kelly says, in his opinion, roasting is all about timing and consistency. “​​In my mind, the slower, the better,” he says. “It’s a little like barbeque. I think if you go at your roasting process a little slower, you come out with a little bit better product.”

Java Stop offers a wide variety of roasts and blends, utilizing organic coffee from Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Honduras. “Our most popular blend is what we call the ‘Howling Wolf’,” says Kelly. “[It’s] a combination of the Italian, where we dark roast the Honduran, dark roasted Costa Rican, which we French roast, and the French roast Papua New Guinea.”

While roasting can be highly technical and complicated, it’s also a deeply rewarding craft, from the trial and error, to the creative process of working on blends, to the satisfaction of seeing customers enjoy the fruit of your labor. “It’s just enjoying the experience,” says Zachary. “Getting up early, coming in and getting the roaster turned on, getting them warmed up, prepping all of my roasts for the day, and then getting them roasted and seeing the volume of production that we’re doing and crafting each roast individually. I mean, there’s a lot of things that go into that.”

Barista Life

For many people, the first person they interact with to start their day is their barista. Even in the earliest hours of the morning, baristas have to be upbeat, cheerful, and energetic throughout all their interactions with guests. Baristas don’t just create their customers’ drinks—they are responsible for giving them a quality experience. “I love interacting with the customers and making their coffee,” says Sarah Bustamante, a barista at Trail. ”I have this little saying. You know, ‘It’s your world, I’m just living in it?’ It’s like, ‘It’s your drink, I’m just making it.’”

Sarah, like many baristas, came to her job through a deep love of coffee culture. She was offered her first coffee shop position because she visited the cafe so often, during virtually every break she had at her previous job. “The owner there literally said, ‘Sarah, you’re here too much. Why don’t you work here?’” she says. She started two days later. “I loved it. It was so fun,” she says. “And I have learned a lot.”

Jerry Isles, head barista and assistant manager at Terra Coffee, says that being a barista has given him a deep understanding and appreciation of how people work. “When you have regulars, you pick up on their tendencies,” he says. “You’ll have a conversation one day, and then five days later, you’re having the same conversation. It’s almost like seeing a therapist, like, ‘This is my issue. This is how it’s progressed since the last time I talked to you.’ It’s very personal.”

Serving as a part-time therapist is just one example of a key barista skill: adaptability. Jerry says his interactions vary a lot from customer-to-customer. “Some people don’t want to talk to you, and that’s super okay, but some people really want to talk to you. You have to be able to adapt just like that,” he says.

Baristas also have to adapt to waves of rushes that come into the shop and complicated drink orders. Every day presents new challenges. For this reason, baristas have to maintain their focus and clarity to get drinks out accurately and timely. They also need to build a strong foundation of coffee knowledge and keep up with the ever-changing trends.

“If someone has a question, you kind of have to figure it out for yourself on the spot, you know?” Sarah says. “‘Cause if someone comes in asking for a drink that you’ve never heard of, you have to use your reasoning skills.”

However, both Sarah and Jerry agree that the most important skill a barista can master is the ability to project good vibes at all times and keep their customers happy. “My job at the end of the day is to make sure that when [guests] come in here, they leave in a better mood,” says Jerry. “I want people to leave here with an impression that we could help make their day just a little bit better. Maybe starting them off correctly, maybe ending, right?”

“It’s making sure that everyone is enjoying and having the best experience, like constantly,” says Sarah. “I think that’s one of the best points about Trail: everyone is welcome. It’s always just a very inclusive, safe space.”

The Love is in the Details

One of the best parts of the craft coffee experience is the level of attention devoted to each person that walks in. Whether you’re coffee-obsessed or new to the espresso scene, coffee roasters like Trail, Terra, and Java Stop go the extra mile to ensure quality in every cup they serve.

“There’s a lot of care and a lot of detail that goes into every single drink, from the roasting process…to putting the drinks together and serving it to you,” says Laura. “Just that whole process, every single step, there’s a person that’s put in a lot of time and care so each drink is special.”

Craft coffee houses are stocked with a wide variety of not only a multitude of different types of coffee, but quality ingredients and flavors that can be used to customize your drink to your exact preferences. Whether you take your coffee black or can’t resist a pumpkin spice latte, you can be assured your morning cuppa will be just how you like it. “We can do basically anything you can imagine at any coffee shop you’ve ever been through,” says Kelly.

While a lot of time and work goes into providing a top-quality craft coffee experience, Zachary says the effort is more than worth it: “When a customer comes in here and they haven’t experienced craft coffee that’s roasted in house—it’s very fresh, every step of the way it’s taken care of—and to see them really enjoy something that we’ve put all of our hard work and effort into…is definitely the best part of being in the coffee business.”

‘Tis the Season
Who doesn’t love a fun fall drink? Put on your favorite chunky sweater, turn on your favorite autumnal playlist, and drop in to your favorite local coffee shop to check out one of these delicious seasonal items.

Dark Mexican Mocha
Terra Coffee

Add some spice to the season with this autumnal staple: cinnamon spiced dark and milk chocolate with a double shot espresso.

Salted Caramel Apple Chai
Trail Coffee Roasters

Basically, it’s fall in a cup! A chai with a twist: featuring Trail’s apple simple syrup, caramela, pinch of salt, and a dried apple to top it off.

Pumpkin Patch
Java Stop

A fall time classic—this expertly crafted PSL also has cinnamon powder sprinkled on top for a little extra sweetness.

Know Your Roasts

Light

  • High acidity, high density
  • No oil, thinner body
  • Less heat/roasting time
  • Floral and fruity

 

Medium

  • Balanced amount of acidity and density
  • Non-oily surface, medium-bodied
  • Midrange of heat/roasting time
  • Sweeter taste than light roasts

 

Dark

  • Low acidity and density
  • Oily, full-bodied
  • Most heat/roasting time
  • Bitter taste with nutty, chocolate notes

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