At times unpredictable, but always good, The Black Sheep is the best place for a sandwich, especially if you like yours with progressive political opinions.
Share Coffee Roasters
- 17 Kellogg Ave.
- Amherst, MA 01002
It’s 5 o’clock on a Monday morning. Patches of fog blanket the valley. In an unassuming warehouse off Route 9 Ken Majka and Patrick McCaughey of Share Coffee, roast beans with meticulous precision, staring at monitors, calibrating and re-calibrating.
In an area with numerous coffee roasters, Share Coffee has a unique vision. They roast early, cool quickly, bag, tag, and ship to customers all within a few fevered hours. If you’re a subscriber you’re getting the freshest coffee you’ve probably ever had.
“We think of days off roast like hours out of the oven for fresh baked bread. With 2-4 days being perfect.” -Ken.
Molly and I love coffee, but most mornings we’re happy with Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Honduran. We grind it right before we brew and at $6.99 have no complaints. It doesn’t blow our minds. It’s an affordable baseline. About every tenth time we buy coffee though, we indulge. Sometimes we’re rewarded with remarkable coffee, but just as often we return to Trader Joe’s feeling a little hosed.
Not possible at Share Coffee. The team has no aspirations of roasting good coffee, and they don’t. They roast truly exceptional coffee. After several tastings I can tell you it’s like the difference between a decent burger at a diner and a cut of meat at a restaurant so tender and flavorful you want to cry like Jodie Foster at the end of Contact.
Share runs their joint sort of like a CSA, something their resident taskmaster Ella has done in the past. The main difference is that this CSA delivers. Think of it like Netflix for coffee. You buy a subscription and manage it through their custom online system.
The system was built from the ground up by programmer Gabriel Odess-Gillett. Share Coffee’s system communicates with the industry-standard software they use to run their tricked out roaster. Among other things this means information about each roast gets auto-magically fed to the labels.
The biggest plus is that the software allows subscribers to control when and where they get their coffee. Going on vacation? No prob. Log into your account and send your next bag to your hotel. Need to stop everything? That’s cool too. Pause your order until you get home. Feeling generous? Send a bag to a friend. Every week you have until midnight the night before a roast to make changes. You can even add a one-time bonus bag and the system will pro-rate it to give you the best possible rate.
Share uses a Probat Roaster from the late 50’s. Unless you’re a roaster that shouldn’t mean anything to you. For the rest of us it’s enough to say they don’t make them like this anymore. It’s cast iron in all the right places which both imparts flavor and maintains heat. Ken sourced the beast in Poland and had it refurbished, modernized, and shipped to the States.
“It’s like having a vintage 69 mustang that can outperform a brand new Porsche 911. Originally one big motor ran everything, and you had to pull a lever to shift the motor from one task to the next,” -Ken.
Share had that old workhorse removed and replaced it with 4 distinct motors to handle each stage of the roasting process. The quad upgrade allows seamless transitions without even a millisecond of downtime. The beans are heated to around 400 degrees, roasted for between 9.5 and 11 minutes and then rapidly cooled to 100 degrees in mere minutes. It means the freshly roasted beans are able to be bagged almost immediately, before oxygen can rob a molecule of flavor.
The roaster can roast up to 50 pounds of coffee at a time, but Share keeps their batches no more than half that size. The morning I was there they roasted 125 pounds of coffee in 12-pound batches. The smaller batches are more evenly roasted and result in flavor profiles that are both more consistent and more complex.
“It’s sort of like a cookie. You know the cookie that’s crisp on the outside, but chewy and perfect in the center? Compare that to an overly processed, shelf-safe for years cookie that crumbles in your hands and has no flavor.” -Ken.
Share is bringing coffee culture to a whole new level for this area. This part of the grand scheme has a lot to do with Patrick, who got his start on this ride studying sustainable agriculture at UMass. When he left that he spent some time in the Bay Area where he found coffee culture to be more developed. The foundation was here he felt for that kind of experience.
“Craft beer has done a lot for coffee. The whole farm to table idea too. Quality and locality are important to people like never before. That only helps specialty coffee.” -Patrick.
And that’s the niche Share is likely to support. It’s one that a lot of people might not even realize they want, but only because they haven’t thought to apply that farm to table mentality to their coffee. Patrick seemed to think it was a connection that was overdue. After a tasting I think anyone would agree.
But you don’t have to take my word for any of this. Go see for yourself. Their tasting room is open Monday through Friday, from 8AM to noon. You can get single origin espresso shots, Nitro Cold Brew, conventionally brewed, or if you have some time do a cupping with one of the owners. It’s a guided tour of all their coffees, roasted that morning. Sort of like a flight of beer if you could share it with the brewer. We think you’ll agree these intrepid coffee gurus are a welcome addition to the area.