Making Coffee Syrup with Dave's Coffee
On a cold, windy, rainy day, the founder of Dave’s Coffee, David Lanning, and I step out of the drizzle and into a warm and toasty old brick mill in Westerly. Burlap sacks containing raw coffee beans from all over the world – from Ethiopia to Brazil and Colombia and Peru – line the hallway, and the scent of fresh roasted coffee fills the air.
Dave’s Coffee started out as an espresso bar inside Galapagos boutique in Charlestown, also owned by Dave and his wife. “In 2003, people were just then starting to appreciate good coffee,” says Dave. “As that happened, we changed the name to Dave’s Coffee, and then it took on its own life.” They purchased a roasting machine, imported beans from small farms all over the world and began roasting the beans themselves. A separate cafe next to Galapagos now sells Dave’s coffee, smoothies and baked goods every day, but the roastery is located nearby in Westerly.
Dave introduces me to his roaster, Justin Carville, who is eager to show me how the green, hand-operated machine works. He loads about twenty-seven pounds of green Brazilian coffee beans into the top, which will be roasted and then ground for use in Dave’s new all-natural coffee syrup. They begin tumbling in the drum. It sounds like a concert of maracas shaking inside the mill as aromatic smoke rises. Justin periodically checks on the beans as they begin to change from light green to tan, and then to a dark oily brown. After twenty minutes, the temperature nears 430 degrees, and we hear a slight cracking noise, which means the beans are almost ready. A second crack is heard when the heat climbs and a buzzer goes off. Justin releases the load into the cooling tumbler, which distributes air under them as they’re churned to rapidly cool them down. Once cool, they’re ready for grinding.
Next, we get back in our cars to drive to the bottling facility to see the next step in the process. There, the ground coffee is cold-brewed overnight, then made into syrup using only cane sugar. When we arrive, the coffee has already been brewed, and cane sugar has been added. The mixture is heating inside another large mixer, and soon it begins to bubble as it turns. Then the boiling syrup is infused with fresh Madagascar vanilla.
Once the blend is hot and bubbling, it’s ready to be bottled. Rows of brown glass bottles are ready to go. A worker manually fills each one by hand with the bottling gun, then passes the bottle to the next person who tops it off, and a third person caps while also turning the bottles upside down to seal them. Next, we get to see the label machine in action. After a plastic safety seal is molded to each top, the unmarked bottles are added to the conveyor belt. The gears turn, the bottles rotate, and as they pass through a short tunnel, a sticker curls around the sides, giving each bottle a great big hug.
From beginning to end, Dave’s Coffee Syrup is made by hand. “It’s really interesting to see how many hands touch a coffee bean,” says Dave. “Everything is done by hand. The coffee beans are harvested by hand, they’re dried, they’re sorted and they’re roasted. It’s an amazing product when you think about it.”