Aidan Unruh pours coffee beans into the roaster, where they will roast at almost 450 degrees for close to 15 minutes. They will then either be ground up and served in drinks or packaged as whole beans and available for sale at Rhubarb Market in a few weeks.
Aidan Unruh has thankfully started enjoying the taste of coffee in the past year, since he spends many hours of his week with it.
“I’ve always loved the smell of coffee which is actually why I was interested in learning how to roast it, but I only started liking the taste of it in the past year,” he said.
Unruh and his family own Rhubarb Market in Hillsboro, which sells coffee, tea and other refreshments.
“We do our best to roast frequently to keep up with the demand and ensure the beans are fresh roasted,” said Aidan’s mom and shop owner Alissa Unruh. “We also try to accommodate requests and roast a batch when someone desires a certain kind. We offer whole bean coffee for sale and can grind it for a customer if they would prefer. Coffee sales often increase around Christmas and close to holidays when families are gathering.”
In order to keep up with the demand for the coffee and espresso, Aidan roasts the beans several times a week. He usually tries to roast on Mondays and then again on Thursday or Fridays. The shop is closed on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays, so these are good days for Aidan to get caught up on the roasting.
“We want people to have a great coffee experience and be able to pick out flavor notes from where the coffee is from. You begin to be able to appreciate different kinds of beans and pick out if they have earthy, floral, nutty, chocolate, citrus, or other flavor notes. Coffee will have different characteristics, and these can include flavor, acidity, body, aroma and finish. We usually roast a few times a week and offer a variety of coffee from different regions,” said Alissa Unruh.
While the process of roasting the beans is important, according to Aidan, where the beans come from is equally important. The family uses three different vendors that they have built good connections with through using direct trade.
“We work directly with the farmer and the people who work for them versus a middle man who sells it for a higher price. We like giving the money directly to the farmer and the people doing the work and not just to a person who is good at business,” said Aidan.
He explained that their vendors are Americans who live in various countries and have a team of no more than 100 people. The workers are local to whatever region the farm is, such as Peru, Guatemala, Indonesia and Columbia, so the vendors like to make their coffee for them and show them how Americans use it, because normally people at the farm don’t drink the coffee.
“So that is kind of the mission of the companies, and we think that is really cool,” said Aidan.
In addition to making sure the company treats their workers well, the Unruhs place high value on the quality of the beans themselves.
“We really want to prioritize the quality of beans and roast, and this starts from where we purchase our beans from and the knowledge that they are working with farmers to ensure safe farming practices as well as fair profitability for coffee farmers. Ongoing sustainability is important to us,” said Alissa.
After the Unruh family gets the beans from the companies, Aidan gets to work roasting them in batches in the machine.
And it’s a good thing Unruh loves the smell of coffee, because he smells like it for a day or two after roasting it—regardless of showering.
“It’s a distinct smell. I used to roast it in high school and at first teachers would wonder out loud what the ‘smoky’ smell was, but they learned. They would start to say, ‘Oh, you roasted last night, didn’t you,’” Unruh said.
The roasting machine and beans are kept in a small office located near Rhubarb Market. There, Aidan spends several hours each session roasting close to 23 gallons of different types of coffee beans and 22 quarts of espresso beans.
Thanks to a new roasting machine, the process is much smoother and goes much quicker than it used to, but it still takes at least three hours each session. Unruh has found several ways to occupy his mind while still being able to stay focused on the roasting.
“I bring my earbuds and listen to a podcast. I can also sketch so I can still look up and easily check on the beans. Sometimes I even turn up the music and have a little dance party,” he said.
He initially turns on the machine and lets it warm up. Once it reaches a certain temperature, he pours in several quarts and lets the roasting begin.
“It’s a little bit like popping popcorn but instead of one pop, there are two. You listen for the first popping sound to know it is starting to roast, and then it will make a second pop, which means it is cracking it open and it is getting close to done. The color changes, too, from a light brown to more of a caramelized color,” said Aidan. “It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, depending on what temperature the batch has to reach.”
There is a fine science to it as the roaster figures out the correct temperature. The lighter roast is the most raw form and most natural, so it will have the most caffeine, while the darker roast has more of the richer flavor because it roasts longer. Each specific flavor has a set temperature it has to reach so Aidan will roast the batch at various temperatures from between 400 and 500, depending on the flavor.
Once the second pop has happened and the correct temperature is reached, Aidan dumps the roasted beans into the cooling tray and stirs them to let the air circulate and begin to cool them down. Once they have cooled down, he collects them all into a container and sets them aside, where they will later either be ground up and served to customers in the shop or his sister-in-law will package them up and sell them to customers.
While Aidan is usually the one who does the roasting, dad Tim sometimes roasts, as well, when he isn’t busy baking or making other delicious goodies that the shop offers.
Aidan is a student at Tabor College in Hillsboro, majoring in art, and plans to pursue a career in art, but he also plans to keep working with coffee beans and the family business for a while.
For the summer, you can find him roasting the beans and helping out in Rhubarb Market.