2017-11-08 / Taste

Roast of the town

Post name-change, Roastology keeps specialty coffee brewing

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENThough its population may number just 13,000, the picturesque waterside village of Ketchikan is what qualifies as a city in Alaska.

Its downtown caters to summer tourists traveling up Alaska’s Inside Passage by cruise ship; its denizens inhabit the cabin-styled homes that creep up the surrounding mountains. Incorporated in 1900, Ketchikan claims to be the state’s earliest independent city still in existence, as well as the “Salmon Capital of the World.”

It’s also where Dan Allen got his first taste of roasting coffee as a hobby a decade ago, buying beans from an acquaintance who ran a café and roastery just outside of Ketchikan.

After spending roughly two decades in the Alaskan city, Allen now owns and runs Roastology, a Midlothian café and coffee roastery he founded in 2012. It’s more than a simple coffee shop; Allen and his employees order, process, roast and package their own coffee beans from their storefront on Midlothian Turnpike.

Owner Dan Allen, left, moved around the U.S. before founding his Midlothian coffee shop. Now he sources beans from all over the world.  JENNY McQUEENOwner Dan Allen, left, moved around the U.S. before founding his Midlothian coffee shop. Now he sources beans from all over the world. JENNY McQUEEN“Initially, my intent was to just do coffee roasting,” says Allen, surrounded by patrons in Roastology’s dining area.

Allen originally began the business as Adbibo Coffee Co., “adbibo” meaning to drink or absorb through listening in Latin. This year, he rebranded his operation as Roastology.

“Even though [Adbibo] had a great meaning, it was hard for people to pronounce and remember,” explains Allen, whose varied career has included crafting acoustic guitars in Washington state, working as a Certified Public Accountant in Colorado and serving on Ketchikan’s city council. “[Roastology] reflects more of our passion and what we do – roasting quality coffee.”

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENTo stock Roastology’s ever-changing list of roughly 30 to 50 types of coffee, Allen sources beans from all over the world. These beans are the seeds inside the cherries of the Coffea plant, which is native to Africa and islands on the Indian Ocean. Beans harvested from different areas of the world contain different characteristics: coffee made with Colombian beans is often described as mellow, slightly nutty and containing a caramel sweetness; Ethiopian-sourced coffee is usually depicted as strong, fruity and floral.

“A lot of it has to do with the soil, the altitude, the climate [where the bean is grown],” explains Mary Doerr, primary roaster and manager at Roastology. “Indonesian [coffee] tends to be much richer, bolder, more chocolaty. African tends to be fruitier, lighter. Central American is brighter, more citrus notes, and South American is kind of a mixed bag.” After the beans are harvested and cleaned, roasters like Doerr and Allen get to work, using large machines to turn green coffee beans into the brittle toasty brown beans coffee drinkers know and love. The temperature, roasting time and other factors – including the bean itself – can change how the coffee tastes.

“We kind of let the bean be the boss,” says Doerr.

A map on the wall with pins in it illustrates Roastology’s world-wide sourcing, but Allen and Doerr say they acquire beans from Central America more than anywhere else. Some of Roastology’s product comes from microlots – harvests of fewer than 100 bags that often come from small farmers.

Though located a bean’s throw from two Starbucks locations, Roastology is a craft roaster that satisfies a niche left unscratched by the mega chain: “We sell specialty coffee in an area that’s a desert for it,” Doerr says.

Roughly half of Roastology’s business is selling coffee beans wholesale, including to supermarket chains Kroger and Wegmans, and local eateries like Midlothian’s Wild Ginger, Carytown’s Sugar and Twine and Richmond’s two Idle Hands bakeries. The roaster even provided the “Morning Addiction” blend for 88.9 FM WCVE’s recent fundraising drive.

Through it all, Roastology has gained its share of admirers, including the fittingly named Scott McBean, a minister at nearby recovery ministry Northstar Community.

“I love the coffee, but I’ve also just made friends from coming in here, talking and hanging out. It’s a cool place,” says McBean, who officiated Doerr’s wedding after meeting her through Roastology. “I love everything about it.”

Standing next to his 15-kilo coffee roaster in the back – which roasts up to 4,000 pounds of coffee beans per month and can go as hot as 527 degrees Fahrenheit – Allen says the whole point of Roastology is quality over quantity.

“We’re not a commercial coffee roaster,” he says. “We pride ourselves in doing specialty coffee.” ¦

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