MOUNT VERNON — A decades-old coffee roaster roared to life inside a renovated shed in rural Mount Vernon, its whirring rumble noise resembling that of an industrial air conditioner.
Kyle Davis, 17, whose parents own the shed adjacent to their home, leaned toward the roaster as the beans started cracking.
“It’s an experience that uses all your senses,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of aromas. You see the color change. You hear the beans cracking.”
This is the home base for a startup coffee roasting company run by Mount Vernon High School seniors Davis, Teal Chilcote and Quinn Estep. Conic Roasting will start distributing coffee in April.
For the past several months, the three have been refining their products and experimenting with different coffee beans.
“Hopefully we’ll launch with three types of coffee; a blend and two others,” Chilcote said.
The flavor will change every few months, depending on what kind of coffee beans are in season, Davis said. They’ll distribute bags of coffee at local stores and sell at farmers markets.
The three became interested in coffee roasting when Chilcote started helping his uncle restore old espresso machines a few years ago. He made coffee for his friends.
“It was a fun way to share something I like with people,” Chilcote said.
Chilcote shared his knowledge with Davis and Estep, and about six months ago the three came up with the idea to start the company.
Easier said than done.
“The hardest part has been figuring out logistics with money and acquiring capital,” Davis said. “We’ve been working on other odd jobs to make money for this.”
The first and biggest obstacle they faced was finding a coffee roaster that fit their budget. When shopping online, they’d find used or new ones priced at a minimum of $25,000.
“That roaster was the main thing standing in front of us,” Chilcote said.
They eventually found the roaster — built in 1989 — for $6,500 in September on Vancouver Island. They made a down payment and took out a loan from one of their parents.
Since then, the three have navigated the business licensing and inspection process. They’ll launch a new website hopefully by April, when they plan on selling coffee. Davis and his father also had to renovate the shed to get it up to par with regulations. That included adding wood paneling, storage and flooring among other things.
They said they’ll try to separate themselves from the competition by focusing on specialty brands, focusing on what makes each kind of coffee bean unique.
“Other roasters a lot of times will have signature blends and keep those going even when not in season,” Davis said. “We’ll try to highlight the unique characteristics of every coffee.”
They’ll also have a service that delivers bags of coffee to subscribers on a regular basis.
“It’s a good way for people to try a lot of different coffee,” Estep said.
Roasting coffee with the hefty commercial-sized roaster has been a learning process; there have been mechanical issues and the three had to restore it.
They’ve also learned the importance of using quality coffee beans, producing interesting results with lower-cost beans.
“Once we had some popcorn come out out of the roaster,” Davis said.
The coffee roasting process lasts about 15 minutes. The three friends connected a computer to the roaster and use a program to monitor the process.
“Messing up by 10 or 15 seconds can make a huge difference,” Davis said. “You could have good coffee or almost-charcoal coffee ... everything happens really fast.”
As the roasting process neared its end, the three gathered around the roaster. To check on the beans, Chilcote used what’s called a trier to gather a few beans out of the roaster before dumping them back in. He repeated that a few times before turning a lever that released the darkened beans into a catcher.
Afterward they packed them up, ready to give to people for sampling.
“We let people we know try them,” Davis said. “People are curious about the coffee. People are curious about the company.”