Velton Ross is telling me about his first job in coffee, and I am doing the math in my head. In 1989, the now critically acclaimed roaster and owner of Velton's Coffee was just beginning his career in coffee at an espresso cart near Seattle Center. I (still having the majority of my baby teeth) was also beginning my interactions with the brew around the same time, by standing out of reach and mischievously poking my grandmother's china cup of after-dinner coffee with an umbrella, accidentally spilling it all over the dining-room table and her. I am glad to hear that someone was having more success as a barista than I. And I am also appreciative of the fact that someone whose knowledge of coffee has so many years of experience driving it is willing to take time out of his day to simply chat with a young blogger about what he does.
But that's how Velton is. The roastery, without so much as a sign on the door, sits behind an unlikely building on a quiet street in Everett, and on an average day, you're likely to find its owner working away at hand-placing logos on bags, adjusting airflow on the powder-blue Diedrich roaster, cupping coffees, and reading a lot. He's an unpretentious guy, with a deep love for coffee, and an even deeper love for learning. The stack of trade magazines on his coffee table is nearly as large as the stack of coffee bags waiting to be roasted, which makes sense considering that one of the key components of his early career was cutting out every good article he could find on coffee and creating his own scrapbook compendium on the topic.
When I ask him about his start in roasting, he says he began with a little training and a lot of trial, and that the way he learned the most and now continues to keep up with the roasting world was by constantly studying. "I work by myself," he says, turning the roaster on for the day. "I just crank tunes and work on roast profiles." So he has time to read, test, record, and read more.
There is a chart of coffee's "family tree" on his wall, another useful wall chart of common growing seasons, and then neatly written tables and charts about airflow, batch size, blend profiles, and bean characteristics in his roasting notebook. He points to a collection of sample coffee bags on his desk. "Sample roasting is kind of a pain," he notes, "Because I don't have a sample roaster."
In fact, all the roasting for Velton's Coffee is done on a 12-kilo (roughly 25-pound) roaster, from tiny sample roasts and fulfillments of 3-pound single-origin orders, up to batch capacity for the Bonsai espresso blend. It's all done with meticulous organization and artistry.
There is no attached cafe, just a website for placing orders, and roasting is done precisely to fill those orders, so that there is usually less than ½ lb. of roasted coffee left extra at the end of any given week. Specialty coffee doesn't get much more specialty than that. Imagine a bakery that hand-crafts each batch of cookies from start to finish for its clients, whether they want one cookie or 10 dozen, and you'll have an idea of the precision going into this operation.
In 2007, when the roastery opened, it didn't have a single guaranteed account. But four years later, Velton's Coffee has made a name (and a loyal following among small cafes, individuals, and other micro-roasters) for itself by scoring record high marks with the Bonsai Espresso Blend in Coffee Review's 2009 blind tasting, where it was awarded 94 out of a possible 100 points.
If you're interested in trying some of Velton's coffee roasting, you can find it regularly at the Tougo cafe in the Central District, and with some frequency at Neptune Coffee in Greenwood. Or you can order it online at veltonscoffee.com . . . you don't have to order much. Order a pound, and Velton may roast it just for you.