Last year, Mojo Coffee House (1500 Magazine St., 504-525-2244; 4700 Freret St., 504-875-2243; www.mojocoffeeroasters.com) joined the "third wave" coffee scene and jumped into the roasting business. Barista-turned-roaster Matt Cronin roasts beans at a 1,600-square-foot roasting facility in the Black Pearl neighborhood. Cronin and Mojo owner Demian Estevez roast around 600 pounds a week and plan to increase that. Cronin spoke with Gambit about the evolution of small-batch coffee roasting in New Orleans.
Gambit: Is coffee roasting something you always aspired to do?
Cronin: I've been working as a barista for over a decade now... and I think I wanted to move on to some part of the industry outside of the cafe itself. We had been working with different local roasters over the years ... but all the while we featured different small-batch roasters from all over the country and that inspired us. We wanted to have complete control over our coffee program. The small-batch thing has been pretty big on the coasts for a while, but it's relatively new to New Orleans as a concept. With a lot of the new businesses opening up in town, our customer base has become a lot more interested and a lot savvier, so that's been great for us because it allows us to introduce new concepts and new brewing methods without intimidating anyone. There's just a greater level of interest in where the coffee comes from. It's a wild time for (coffee) in New Orleans; a lot of things are changing.
How does direct trade work in the coffee business?
C: We are a very small company right now, and direct trade is outside of our grasp at the moment, but we work with some trading partners who are very transparent about the farms where they get their coffees from. Most of our coffees are single-estate coffees, which is to say, they're not regional blends. They come from one place, and often the farmer's name is attached to that coffee. In researching our coffees, we're trying to be careful and take into account how that farm affects the surrounding community. We try to buy coffee that, through purchasing, we're helping the communities that those coffees come from.
Our one-year plan is to go on an origin trip. Starting in Central America is obviously the least expensive. It's really just a matter of establishing some connections, going down and spending some time on the farm, cupping with people and then arranging shipments. That's one of our next steps. Of the people I know who are doing this, they all take that into account. It's an important facet of the industry.
What other projects are you working on?
C: A lot of my friends are involved in the cocktail scene, and they're very comparable industries. You have your daytime and nighttime version of higher-level beverage service. We did a collaboration with a friend of mine, Ali Mills (Dash & Pony) who brought together a couple of cocktail bartenders (including) Ryan Gannon from Cure, and they made a couple of drinks with our coffees. They were really successful and we really liked them. So, Ryan decided to add a coffee-infused cocktail on the Cure menu. They call it the Red Money. We've also been working with Gnarly Barley (Brewing Company) in Hammond to design a coffee milk porter. We did a trial run at one of the Saturday tastings and it went really well. When you make a coffee porter ... you brew the beer and after the fact add in a certain ratio of cold-brew iced coffee. So it's a pretty simple process and you end up with a beer that has maybe a little more body to it and a little more richness, more chocolate and a more roasted flavor. It's very subtle, but it's a nice little touch.