Perk You Up: Behind-the-scenes at Blanchard’s

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — All this week, Good Morning Richmond is working to Perk You Up! We’re talking about coffee — a drink so many of us turn to early in the morning. But have you ever wondered what it takes to get it in your cup? 8News reporter Evanne Armour went to a local roaster to find out.

Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. let us inside their new roast lab on Westwood Avenue for a behind-the-scenes tour. After outgrowing their old location in Manchester, they moved to the new location, and more space means more opportunity.

They’re in the process of building a 1,000-square-foot training facility and have already added a second roaster, which has doubled their production capability.

“Over a third of our coffees now are direct sourced, which we’re really proud of,” said marketing and sales director Stephen Robertson. IMG_0361

Blanchard’s beans come from Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia.

Robertson says having direct relationships with individual farmers is a win-win for everyone involved.

“That ends up getting them a lot more money to invest back into their farming practices, which ends up getting us better coffee,” he said.

Robertson says you really have to know the beans to get the best quality coffee.

“Coffee from Ethiopia doesn’t taste the same as coffee from Panama. There’s a lot of nuances. Our job as a roaster is the same as kind of the job of a chef or a winemaker — to know what the coffee can offer and to bring it out through the process of roasting,” he said.

One of their roasters uses a direct flame under a rotating drum. During the heating process, the coffee goes through chemical reactions.

“Think of it kind of like caramelizing sugar,” Robertson said. “That’s where we get all the sweetness and flavor.”

The newer of the two roasters is an indirect heat roaster. It uses heated air to play out the same process but allows the roast masters more control. The machine is more efficient and uses less heat, meaning a lower carbon output.

It also allows Blanchard’s to graph what happens during the roasting process — everything from heat to moisture content.

“We look at the graph and if we have coffee that we feel like was a great success, then we know why it was a great success because there’s actual data there,” said Robertson.

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One batch in the roaster is about 60 pounds. Blanchard’s pumps out about 5,000 pounds a week, and it’s out the door immediately. What they bag one day is on store shelves the next, all while keeping the entire process hand crafted.

“We still roast every single batch by hand, bag every single coffee, we put every single label on every coffee bag that goes out,” said Robertson.

He says scaling to something like a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts would take millions of dollars in technology and equipment.

“They’re basically factories,” he said.

Hand crafting is more personal.

“It’s pretty wild how many people touch a bag of coffee, especially in a craft setting,” he said. “We’re not the only roaster in town, we’re not the only roaster in the region or the country that’s doing great things. One of the things that’s great about this industry right now is that so many people are sort of raising up their craft and doing really cool things out there and it’s good for everybody.”

But he says, no matter what you do, make sure you’re storing your coffee properly.

He says putting your coffee in the refrigerator or freezer in order to keep it fresh is an old wives tale.

Instead, put it in something that can be sealed like the bag it came in, tupperware or a mason jar. It’s important to keep it away from moisture and extreme temperatures — especially cold.

“The cold air in your refrigerator, every time you open it up, you get condensation on the beans. It pulls the oils out of the coffee and the oils are what tastes good, so you got sort of refrigerator-flavored coffee,” he said.

And when as much TLC goes into a bean like it does at Blanchard’s, you want to make sure you’re getting the full flavor intended.

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