Fresh Roast: Couple opens storefront after success of home-based business

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By Tracy Harris

The coffee mug sign at Walnut and Jefferson streets in downtown La Grange is kind of like a Krispy Kreme sign — if it’s lit, the coffee’s hot.

And not just hot – fresh. Like just-out-of-the-roaster yesterday fresh. Take your pick from recognizable coffees, like Brazilian, Colombian or Sumatra. Or, try something different, like Ethiopian beans Yirgacheffe and Nigusie Lemma or Tanzanian Peaberry.

After roasting coffee beans in his home for five years and selling them at the La Grange farmers’ market, Chris Cockrell and his wife, Lea, opened the storefront for La Grange Coffee Roasters in July.

Farmers’ market customers kept asking where the roastery was located, and where they could buy the coffee outside of the farmers’ market. 

Cockrell told them they could call or email him and he’d drop it off.

So for a while, Cockrell was delivering coffee across the county, meeting people at various venues. People even left money on his porch.

Cockrell said they considered several locations in downtown La Grange after deciding to take the plunge last year.

Now, all the fans from the farmer’s market can come by to buy their coffee supply — or stop in for a cup.

Cockrell said he wanted people to feel like they could come in and sit for a while — not just an in-and-out place. Spending time at the roastery will entertain coffee lovers. Go at the right time and you can watch Cockrell roast a batch of beans.

It takes 15-20 minutes to roast a batch, and the roaster holds about 10 pounds of beans. Reference binder in hand, Cockrell adjusts temperatures on the roaster constantly for the first part of the roast.

Once the beans reach a place where they can “coast,” Cockrell pulls out the “trier,” which holds a sample of the beans so he can smell them.

“This is the most important tool I have,” Cockrell said of his nose.

The beans go through two stages, first and second crack, where the beans literally split from expanding water molecules. 

Cockrell typically stops the roast just after second crack, which yields a medium-roast.

“When you roast dark, you lose a lot of little nuances,” he said.

Typically he keeps four or five origins on hand, and each has “its own characteristics,” Cockrell said. Specialty coffees are described a lot like wines — but with coffee, the descriptors are for smells, not necessarily tastes.

“It may not be exactly what the taste is,” he said, “But you can smell it just incredibly.”

For instance, the Brazilian Cerrado he roasted recently smelled like Reese’s Cups. 

With the four or five different beans he has, Cockrell can do single-origin roasts, or can make a blend — like his Coal Car dark roast or Black Smoke espresso blend.

“You can do a lot of things in the roast and that’s fun,” he said.

And, individual beans can be roasted for different lengths of time and will “taste completely different.”

“A light-roasted bean is very bright, very acidic,” he said. “Once you get deeper in the roast, they start turning kinda more earthy.”

Cockrell started roasting coffee in a hot air popcorn maker in his house after reading about it online. He followed some online guides and produced his first batch.

It was so awesome, he said, that they told their friends and family, and word spread.

“All of a sudden, we’re out in the garage roasting like every night,” he said. They purchased a 2-kilogram tabletop roaster that Cockrell started using it immediately.

“As soon as I got in the drive, I hooked it up and started roasting,” he said. “I barely got it out of the truck.”

The Cockrells were at the farmers’ market the next weekend, he said — and have been there since.

Cockrell hopes to make it a full-time job someday. For now, Lea runs the shop in the morning hours and homeschools their two children. Cockrell works days in Louisville and returns to the shop in the evenings.

The roastery offers something different with an open bluegrass music jam from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Mondays. And, a new selection of hot teas will be in soon to help keep away winter chills. 

There’s a full offering of espresso beverages, drip coffee and old-school, pour-over coffee.

A stop at La Grange Coffee Roasters is for more than just a quick cup coffee — it’s for the Cockrells' knowledge and passion, too.

  For more photos, watch the slideshow below.