Owner and head roaster, Robbie Roberts, was prepared for our group with a display of beans in various stages, information on Joe Van Gogh’s history, his sourcing, and of course, tasting.
We learned about natural (dry) vs washed (wet) bean processing. Naturally processed coffee cherries are dried whole before husks are removed from the bean. The washed process uses water to remove husks (outer cherry) from the beans. The beans are then dried in the sun.
The real difference? Taste. I wouldn’t have believed the difference if I hadn’t tasted them side by side. Drip coffee made (see photo below) with roasted naturally processed beans had a heavy in body, sweet, smooth, complex taste, while that made with roasted washed beans tasted cleaner, brighter, and fruitier.
Robbie explained that because many coffee growing regions are high in humidity, fully drying beans in the sun can very difficult.
After a thorough coffee education, Robbie pointed out various sacks of beans stacked to the rafters on broad industrial shelving in his Roastery. Quantities were indeed impressive.
Roasting at Joe Van Gogh’s takes place in the back. We watched a batch roasted under the watchful eye of Dutch. He was pretty animated, all the while talking to us and simultaneously checking the beans. Hence, all my shots of Dutch are blurred. To see the man himself in action, read my friend Becca’s (The Gourmez) article “TerraVITA 2012 Media Farm Tour: Stop 2, Joe Van Gogh Coffee Roastery“.
There’s an art to drip coffee. Different beans, grinds, etc. demand various pouring speeds. Pictured below is Joe’s master barista at work. I’m sure Becca was gently poking fun when she called him a “nameless Joe Van Gogh minion”. We sampled coffee made from beans processed naturally and washed, and various roasts, including Espresso. [Update: that master barista is Brian Maiers]
As it turned out, my preference was for the smoother, deeper-flavored natural, or dry, processed coffee.
Roberts’ journey from small entrepreneur coffeehouse owner, roasting with one hand while pulling shots with the other, to successful wholesale roaster whose beans are sold in retail shops and used in restaurants as well as multiple Joe Van Gogh coffeehouses is just the kind of success story I love.
First stop next time I’m in Chapel Hill or Durham? Joe Van Gogh!
- Chapel Hill, NC
- Durham, NC
- Duke, Durham, NC
- University Mall, Chapel Hill, NC
- Roastery, Hillsborough, NC