Case Coffee Roasters of Ashland percolated into the national coffee scene recently by earning one of the Good Food Awards — referred to as "the Oscars of food" — alongside coffee roasters from Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.
The San Francisco competition selects food producers who support sustainability and good social practices. Case's coffee was chosen after a blind tasting of more than 160 national coffee roasters. Judges gave high scores for both flavor and sustainable practices.
"We are so excited and inspired by the direction specialty coffee is going and are always trying to think of ways to innovate, educate and keep pushing the industry," said Katie Case, who owns the roasting company store and cafe across from Southern Oregon University with her husband, Tim.
The couple, high school sweethearts from the Rogue Valley, opened Case Coffee Roasters six-and-a-half years ago in the 400-square-foot space and now have two employees.
The company has grown almost strictly on word of mouth, said Katie Case. That was until they received the coveted Good Food award.
Since the competition results were announced in January, the Cases have been busier then ever, filling requests for samples of their coffee from high-profile cafes elsewhere. Other roasters are sending them pounds of specialty coffees for the couple to try.
The Cases work directly with coffee farmers from almost every continent. Farmers are well-paid for using the most refined methods to process their coffee cherries into "green beans," or unroasted coffee beans.
The handpicked green beans are packaged and sent to the Cases' Ashland home, where the beans are heated in a 1950s hand-built Otto Swadlo roaster in their living room. Complex flavors are extracted during brewing.
"I do everything. I'm an accountant, roaster, dishwasher," Tim Case said.
Small-batch roasters such as the Cases print the roast date on bags of coffee and say it should be used within two weeks.
Case Coffee Roasters manager Eric Loeffler said that in the past, people would expect something like mainstay Folgers coffee, which he describes as "the dark roast, pre-ground blends out of a can that you drank just for the caffeine effects." To make dark roast coffee, beans are roasted until they exude oils, which can hide flavors.
Now, he said, coffee has become a highly complex specialty food, elevated from a stimulant to a delicacy.
Katie Case said that her company benefits from being small. She is able to change the menu often and offer single-origin coffee; that is, from a particular region, farm or area within a farm.
"We have the freedom to try a single-farm coffee from an experimental lot and share that amazing coffee with our customers," she said.
Tim Case agreed, adding that by not catering to large outlets, such as universities or grocery stores, they can "specialize in the very best and that's what we're passionate about."
Elisabeth Swarttouw is an Ashland-based writer who works at Mix Sweet Shop and researches coffee.