Saturday morning, Gage Barton stood on the polished concrete floor of the Roasterie’s Kansas City factory and explained to a crowd of 50 people how coffee gets from bean to cup.
“I’m about to get real science-y about coffee,” said Barton, head tour guide, before describing in detail the air-roasting process the company uses to produce 1 million pounds of specialty coffee annually.
The Roasterie was founded 23 years ago by Danny O’Neill, an Iowa native who fell in love with coffee while visiting Costa Rica in 1978. In 1993, he started importing beans from farms in coffee-growing regions around the world and roasting them in his Brookside basement. The company’s operations have since moved to a factory at 1204 W. 27th St., and Roasterie coffee has spilled all over the Kansas City area. The shiny silver bags are common at local supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops.
The factory’s free public tours, offered daily, have become popular among Kansas City locals and out-of-town visitors alike. Saturday’s hourlong 10 a.m. tour was fully booked. It started in the factory’s Bean Hangar event space with a short video that showed how coffee beans are grown, harvested by hand and dried on an outdoor patio for seven to nine days.
After the video, Barton led the crowd through an aisle of shelves stacked high with 150-pound burlap bags full of coffee beans from 28 countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.
“You don’t really think of coffee coming from all those different countries,” said Alyssa Rixson of Kansas City, who took the tour with husband Scott Rixson.
With bright winter sunlight streaming in from the factory’s skylights, Barton introduced the crowd to Brutus and Behemoth, the Roasterie’s largest air-roasting machines. He said the air-roasting method roasts the beans more quickly and evenly than conventional drum roasting. Each batch takes nine to 13 minutes.
“That hot air can fully engulf those beans evenly,” Barton said.
The crowd also got an up-close look at a machine that injects the Roasterie’s shiny silver bags with nitrogen, which extends the beans’ shelf life to six months.
Barton also explained the difference between light-, medium- and dark-roasted coffee. Jane Zhao of Lawrence was surprised to find out that light roasts contain the most caffeine.
“We are tea drinkers, so this is very educational,” said Zhao, who brought husband Jesse Song, their two kids and a few friends visiting from Arkansas on the tour.
After the tour, Barton took the group back to the Bean Hangar, where he demonstrated how to brew coffee with a French press and a Clever coffee dripper.
“It’s really smooth and kind of sweet,” said Whitney Yoder of Rogers, Ark., as she sipped from a sample cup.
Yoder was in town to visit her brother, Kale Yoder, and his wife, Crystal, who live in Parkville. The three said the tour taught them a lot about the craft of coffee.
“We usually just put a K-Cup in the Keurig,” Crystal said.
“You can’t do that anymore!” Whitney joked.
After the tasting, the crowd poured into the neighboring cafe. Many stopped to buy coffee and souvenirs, while others streamed outside in the cold, sunny morning to snap photos of the gleaming DC-3 plane mounted above the factory.
Jeff Ward of Jacksonville, Fla., who was in town to visit family over the holidays, left with a Roasterie lunchbox under his arm. The gift set contained barbecue sauce, a mug with the company’s logo and, of course, coffee.
“You’ve got to support the local folks,” Ward said as he headed to the next stop on his itinerary: a tour of Boulevard Brewing Co.