With a high-quality green coffees, a popular podcast and a firm belief in the health benefits of coffee, Mississippi-based roaster Umble Coffee Company has opened a new headquarters in Starkville.
High ceilings, concrete floors and plenty of fresh air through a receding garage bay wall help define the mixed-use space, where Umble’s growing roasting operation is in full view of patrons. Throughout the new digs, the industrial feel is counterbalanced by taphouse-like trappings, such as wooden tables and chairs, and a long bar where eye-catching equipment draws guests in.
A Ground Control hot and cold batch brewing system stands tall on a back counter, while diminutive but arresting Marco SP9 modules automate individual pourover-style brews. The machines were selected not only to brew great coffee, but to raise questions.
“We want to bring high quality, but we want to be approachable,” Umble Coffee Owner Kenneth Thomas recently told Daily Coffee News. “We do a lot of education because we’re in an area where people aren’t as familiar with specialty coffee. Me, personally, I love a light roast and I love a natural-processed coffee, but that’s not the majority of my customers. We’re meeting them where they are.”
Thomas, a practicing physician who founded the roasting company in 2017, also has an formal education in chemical engineering that helps him better understand how to harness the myriad chemical reactions during the roasting process. Dr. Thomas also keeps up to speed on the growing pile of research regarding coffee’s potential health benefits.
“Coffee honestly is, hands down, the best thing that we can put in our body during the day from a medical standpoint, when it comes to antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. It’s better than green tea, better than red wine, better than blueberries,” Thomas told DCN. “Where we try to separate ourselves as a specialty coffee roaster is we try to do our sourcing and our roasting to optimize for those health benefits.”
[Editor’s note: While recent scientific research has indeed suggested there may be a multitude of health benefits related to the consumption of black coffee, others have documented negative effects among sensitive populations, and/or have been inconclusive.]
A 10-kilo Mill City Roasters machine what Thomas employs to draw out those potential health benefits, yet he suggested that the benefits begin much earlier, based upon the elevation at which coffee is grown.
“At higher elevations you get denser beans. Denser beans do two things. One is that there’s a direct relationship as far as more antioxidants and anti-inflammatories with [higher] elevation,” said Thomas. “The other is, the higher the elevation, the better it tastes. So it helps us on both ends.”
Thomas is also the creator and host of the popular podcast Coffee 101, which is geared towards what he called “coffee curious” beginners, but dives into topics deeply enough to engage coffee industry folks, as well.
Thomas’s pursuits in coffee education are about to take another big step forward with the launch of an online masterclass he’s leading for Stanford University this fall. Live weekday sessions of the class will explore coffee history, production, science and more, while weekend sessions will be geared towards workshops and tastings. Students will receive academic credit, and the class will also be open to the public.
Meanwhile in Starkville, Thomas plans to continue casually educating guests while promoting the specialty coffee movement as a whole.
“If I can move the needle forward a little bit, like if I can give somebody a cup of coffee, and they’re like, ‘I’ve never had anything like this, I can drink it black’ — to me, that’s a win,” said Thomas. “If somebody just appreciates the story of coffee better and is then willing to pay more for it, which then goes back ultimately all the way to the farmer, that’s when we an industry have won. Those are the things in the whole big picture of what we’re trying to do.”
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Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.