Doing My Job

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May 3, 2004 // UPDATED 1:28 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Tom Carothers
Tom Carothers

Tom Witheridge, Dunn Bros coffee roaster, 925 Nicollet Mall

The sign in front of the Dunn Bros at 925 Nicollet Mall invites visitors to come in and enjoy "The best coffee in town roasted right here!" Inside, it's up to owner Tom Witheridge to ensure that the coffee served to customers is indeed the finest it can be.

Flanked by large burlap sacks featuring many varieties of coffee beans from exotic locales, Witheridge watches over the on-site roaster that serves not only his Nicollet Mall store, but also two other Downtown Dunn Bros in the skyway system.

While watching over the lifeblood of his industry with great care, he took time out for some coffee talk while lording over his roaster, an intricate contraption that looks rather antique but is actually quite high-tech.

So, can you tell me a little bit about this roaster?

Well, you pour the beans into the hopper on top, and they go down into the roasting chamber. It gets to be 400-plus degrees in there -- kind of like a big clothes dryer. The beans spin around in there to heat and roast evenly, then they will drop into the cooling tray. The beans will cool off within three to four minutes.

How long does it take to roast

a batch?

Anywhere from about 12 to 16 minutes, or even longer depending on how large the batch is and what time of the day I'm roasting. The last batch of the day won't take as long as the first because of the ambient heat that is stored up inside

the roaster.

How many batches do you roast in a typical day?

It varies wildly depending on the demand. A big demand from the skyway stores will create a big demand on me. I'd say seven or eight batches on a slow day to as many as 13 or 14. It can take quite a bit of time because you can't rush it.

Do you find people like to watch you roast?

All the time, they do. Especially kids, the grade-school kids really enjoy to watch this, and they know enough about what it is so that you can talk to them about it.

How long are these beans good for after you roast them?

We try to run them out the door by the third day, if we can. Coffee is still very good until the second or third week, but it does begin to deteriorate noticeably after that point.

What are you looking for in the beans as you are roasting them?

I'm looking at the color as it is getting darker and darker, and I'm listening for a crackling sound -- there's a crack -- sometimes they will jump around like jumping beans.

Are people surprised at the amount of work it takes to make a good cup of coffee?

A lot of people really don't understand, but they do appreciate the work that goes into it. We have a lot of afficionados that come in, but a lot of people just like it. They don't know why, they just do.

Would you say this is a labor of love for you?

It's great, and I'm still just learning about a lot of it. It's an ongoing process. I love the smell, and the beans are just gorgeous. Plus, I just like hanging out in a coffee shop!