If you smell coffee beans roasting in Calaveras County, you might be in Murphys.
Gold Country Roasters, at the corner of Scott and Jones streets, is the only coffee roaster in the county. The company also runs a retail cafe and a mail-order website, and supplies coffee wholesale to local businesses.
The aroma of freshly roasted beans wafted through the air on Oct. 1. The front porch of the coffee shop was lined with patrons, who sat chatting over coffee and pastries and enjoying a pleasant morning in Murphys.
Next door, roastmaster Tonja Peterson was busy monitoring a large roasting machine. She held a clipboard in hand, checking temperatures and adjusting levers as the apparatus steadily roared.
Manager Stacie Walker climbed a ladder and unloaded a bucket of green coffee beans into the hopper on top of the machine. Peterson watched through a small viewing window as the beans slowly turned from green to dark brown.
Employee Chelsea Ormond moved around the room, busy with numerous tasks.
Owner Lisa Schwartz sat at a small table in the corner.
Schwartz moved to the area in 1988 and worked for 25 years as an environmental planner before going into the coffee business.
“It was just kind of a bit of serendipity,” she said.
During the recession, Schwartz’s work in the area dried up. At the same time, Gold Country Coffee Roasting Co. was put on the market by Matt Cullen, who started the business in the Batten-Davies building in 1992 and had decided to retire. Schwartz leapt at the opportunity.
“Murphys definitely needed a coffee shop,” she said.
Because leasing the old building wasn’t an option, Schwartz relocated down the street, rebranding the business as Gold Country Roasters.
This year, the business expanded and relocated coffee roasting and production into the neighboring shop.
“Originally, all of our operations were in that little, tiny 900-square-foot shop next door,” Schwartz said. “As we grew, we really were bursting at the seams.”
Since Schwartz took over, production has increased significantly.
“Our volume has quintupled since we bought the business,” she said. “We’ve really expanded both in quantity and also in the varieties that we’re producing.”
The company produces between 400 and 600 pounds of coffee a week, made up of over 15 different varieties.
“We try to have coffee offerings that are going to meet the full spectrum of tastes, from ultra-light roasts to ultra-dark roasts, and everything in between,” Schwartz said.
Running an environmentally friendly business has always been a high priority for Schwartz. The business serves only hormone-free dairy products and organic, non-GMO soy products, uses energy efficient equipment and recyclable materials, provides discounts to patrons who bring their own reusable cups, and even donates spent coffee grounds and roaster chaff to area gardeners for their grow beds and compost heaps.
The company also sources organic, sustainably grown coffees wherever possible, selling Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance Certified and Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird-Friendly Certified coffees.
“A lot of our mail-order business is because we have developed a niche in roasting bird-friendly certified coffee,” Schwartz said. “Consumers who are really concerned about sustainability search out this certification, because it is the highest ecological certification.”
The company is one of only two in the state of California that roast coffees certified as bird-friendly by the Smithsonian program. Royalties are paid on every pound of coffee to support the institution’s bird conservation research efforts.
“Bird-friendly coffee is great,” Walker said, joining the conversation. “Keeping the ecosystem alive also really helps fertilize the soil and gives you better flavor.”
The establishment also sells Swiss Water Process decaffeinated coffees.
“It’s the most natural way to decaffeinate coffee,” Walker said. “It’s decaf but it doesn’t taste decaf … That’s really what we want to do with all our coffee – give it the best flavor we can.”
Employees often get into heated discussions about how to create the best batch of beans.
“Coffee is very personal and everybody has a different palate and a different flavor profile that they enjoy,” Schwartz said. “Some of our most vigorous discussions are on how we should roast it – light or dark or medium.”
“And once we’ve roasted it, well, do we like it or do we not like it? And you’ll get a half-dozen saying, ‘Go darker,’ and a half-dozen saying, ‘Go lighter,’ and then, like, five people going, ‘It’s great the way it is,’” Walker said.
Schwartz said that her favorite variety was Costa Rican, while Walker chose Brazil natural coffee. Peterson said that Murphys Blend was the best, and Ormond went with Peruvian.
“But the ultimate arbiter is our customer,” Schwartz said.
Employees often go to great lengths to meet the needs of their patrons, even having special baked goods overnighted from San Diego, adjusting recipes to customer requirements and setting up individual buttons for regulars in their point-of-sale system.
“Our customers are No. 1. We want to make them happy,” Walker said.
While Schwartz enjoys the intricacies of the coffee-making process, her favorite part of the business is the social aspect.
“We’ve become kind of the hub of Murphys,” she said. “It’s really nice to be able to provide that space for the community and create connections between people. It’s a fun, happy business to be in.”