Tama's caffeinated company: Ross Street Roasting Co. is a leader in Iowa's emerging coffee industry

February 9, 2018

First, it was the rapid growth of Iowa's wine industry with vineyards and wineries popping up in all corners of the state. Then, it was the craft beer industry with dozens of new breweries dotting the landscape and a massive presence at the Iowa State Fair.

 

Shortly after, it was the local foods movement picking up steam with big crowds at farmers markets and the addition of food trucks becoming much more commonplace.

 

Even more recently, it's been the birth of new distilleries and state law changes allowing them to serve more than just samples - creating a cocktail of new opportunities for Iowa beverage entrepreneurs. 

 

So, now, we're starting the next big thing. As those other industries continue to mature (and there is still plenty of growth to be had) - we're seeing a new trend.

 

It is less about alcohol or food and more about the almighty cup 'o' joe. 

 

Iowa is seeing a steady growth in craft coffee roasting and some are taking what was once a hobby and turning it into a living.

 

After reading my story about the world-famous Rube's Steakhouse in nearby Montour, Brian Gumm, the founder and owner of Ross Street Roasting Co., invited me to come visit his coffee roasting business in downtown Tama.

 

Last Sunday morning, a friend of mine and I drove from Des Moines to Tama to learn a little bit more about the craft coffee roasting industry. We spent about an hour and a half with Brian and I have to say - I learned a lot about a totally fascinating business.

 

Like a lot of start-ups, Brian, who has a background and education in the ministry, initially roasted his coffee beans in his garage as a hobby. Thus, the name, Ross Street Roasting Company.  His business is not on Ross Street but that is the street he lives on in nearby Toledo.

 

As more people tasted the coffee and requested his beans, he started to think about turning his hobby and passion into something more. 

 

Fast forward a bit and Brian now has a small commercial space in the business district of Tama. The building used to be "Jack's Feed Store", but now what comes out of the space just helps to feed people's caffeine addiction.

Inside, there's not a lot of space but then again - it's still a relatively small business. Should things progress to the point where he can expand, there is nearby space ready to be converted.

Brian gets his beans from a massive coffee importer based in the Minneapolis area. He also has developed a couple of direct relationships with coffee farmers in Nicaragua and Papua New Guinea. Each one of those bags, depending on where it's sourced from and the type of coffee bean, weighs between 130 and 150lbs. He is very strict to ensure that his beans are ethically sourced. As you'll notice, his curtains are even old coffee bags.

Brian has several blends of beans that he roasts and he mixes different sourced beans to create the perfect mixture prior to roasting. Those particular blends have some creative names - such as Meow That's What I Call Light Roast, which is a collaboration he has with the trendy t-shirt company Raygun, and Jack's Feed Store, paying homage to the previous tenant of the building. 

 

 

 

Before the beans are roasted, they are pretty light in color. When it is time to roast them, he takes them to a commercial grade machine, though it is still pretty small compared to what the large coffee companies might utilize.

 

 

I was under the impression that beans had to roast for quite awhile - as in hours - but Brian says it's more like 10 to 15 minutes at the very most, depending on the type of roast (light or dark or medium, etc). Shows what I knew going in! He has some pretty fancy technology, tied into his roasting apparatus, that helps ensure the roasting process goes smoothly and that the end result is consistent from batch to batch.

There is a little bit of waste product from the roasting process and it is collected in a sort of internal collection filter.

After the beans are roasted, they are ready to be bagged as whole beans or Brian can also grind them.

 

He has a large table/island that serves as his work space as he roasts, packages, and conducts the business of the company. It also serves as a bit of a tasting table as well.

Brian is quick to note that his shop is not a coffee shop (though maybe someday?) and he does not sell coffee drinks, though he has several clients that are coffee shops in and around Iowa. Instead, he has equipment to make coffee drinks to test the beans himself as well as to offer samples for those who want to taste before they buy. He was kind enough to make my friend and I each a coffee beverage to try.

 

 

 

Barista Brian noted that he probably won't be entering any latte art contests anytime soon.

Brian's wife, whom we did not meet, was even kind enough to send along some chocolate chip cookies. They were quite good! Outside of giving us a big chunk of his Sunday, some cookies, and a coffee beverage, he also sent my friend home with some ground beans. 

As part of the decor in the shop, Brian has a living coffee tree.

Ross Street Roasting has not ventured into flavored coffees, but since coffee beans are very absorbent, he utilized this old barrel for a batch of coffee to give the beans a different whisky flavor.

Elsewhere in the shop, he has a small table and chairs in the corner, a poster with the coffee flavor wheel, a framed article from previous coverage in the Des Moines Register, a chart that shows when coffee beans are harvested in various parts of the world, and a coffee family tree that shows the many distinct varieties of coffee out there.

 

 

 

Brian has a beautiful website and does a nice job utilizing social media to grow his business. As I mentioned earlier, he has a partnership with Raygun, but also has his beans in a growing number of retailers, including grocery stores and coffee shops. One of his partners in the business is the locally popular Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids. Iowa Adventurer stopped at Brewhemia in September of 2017.

 

I would encourage you to check out Brian's website and read more about his great story. He has a great online store and can ship you beans or merchandise to just about anywhere. They would probably make a great gift, as well.

 

According to Brian, there are more than two dozen craft coffee roasters in Iowa and more starting up all the time. It's definitely a growing industry in our state and he said that some of them are looking to put together an event or festival to highlight their businesses, the growing industry, and maybe even have a friendly competition component to it.

 

I personally have great affinity for coffee, especially good coffee. However, I think I am even more interested in entrepreneurs, especially rural entrepreneurs, who are helping to renew rural Iowa. Getting a chance to learn more about coffee roasting and meeting Brian was time well spent. I am excited to see what is in the future for his business as well as others in Iowa.

 

Like Brian did, you can reach out to me and suggest places to visit and profile, whether that be in Tama County or any of the other 98 counties. Simply drop me a note through my website.

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