If your idea of morning joe is an oversized frothy drink with a shot of flavoring, three packets of sweetener and enough whipped topping to rival a parfait, then Powerhouse Coffee Creations probably won’t be your, ahem, cup of tea.
And if you grew up in the kind of south Louisiana family that brewed sludge-thick French roast in an old enamel pot, you’ll likely find Powerhouse’s coffees as foreign as sushi for breakfast.
But if you’re a coffee purist who can describe the subtleties of a coffee bean’s flavor with the precision an oenologist applies to vintage claret, you just might be the kind of java drinker Powerhouse owner Bruce Marshall is hoping to attract to his year-old brand of micro-roasted coffees.
“I’m after quality coffee, which means no dark roasts, no added flavors and no cream or sugar,” he said. “If coffee can’t stand on its own, then it’s not really high-quality coffee.”
Marshall means no offense to those who don’t share his sensibilities. But he is one of those souls who is fortunate enough to have discovered his true passion in life - coffee - and he takes it really seriously.
For the past 30 years, he has spent his leisure hours learning about different types of beans, experimenting with how long to roast them and comparing the very distinct nuances of their complex flavors.
Now, that passion has become a part-time business venture for Marshall, albeit a very small business venture. Since last summer, he has been roasting, packaging and selling six different varieties of Powerhouse Coffee Creations over the Internet.
“It’s not yet paying for itself, though we’re starting to see repeat customers,” he said. “But that’s OK because more importantly it’s a hobby and a love.”
Marshall’s interest in quality coffee began about 30 years ago, when his father was diagnosed with diabetes. It was one of those milestone moments that prompted the young Marshall to re-evaluate his own diet, which included liberal sprinkles of nondairy creamer and six heaping teaspoons of sugar in every cup of coffee he drank.
“I cut out the sugar and that artery-clogging creamer and started drinking my coffee black,” he said. “That’s when I realized it was terrible.”
Thus began Marshall’s odyssey to find coffee that was good enough to drink straight up. In that pre-Internet era, he had to do his research the old-fashioned way, reading up on coffee beans from books and magazines and seeking advice from more experienced hands.
One such mentor was Highland Coffees owner Clark Cadzow, whom Marshall credits with teaching him everything he knows.
“He really helped me get started and was very generous in sharing his knowledge,” Marshall said.
Marshall began brewing his home-roasted coffees and sharing them with family and friends. He’d frequently bring freshly brewed batches to church functions, where he won raves for making consistently excellent coffee.
“They would always tell me it was so good I should sell it,” he said. “Finally, I took them up on it.”
These days, Marshall uses the resources of the web to seek out what he believes are some of the finest coffee beans in the world. He belongs to a buying co-op for home roasters and micro-roasters like himself, and procures samples, which he tests, before deciding whether to purchase them in 130-pound bags.
His favorite - and priciest - beans come from Kenya and Ethiopia, which are renowned for producing great coffees. That’s in large part due to the altitude at which the beans are grown, more than 5,000 feet as compared with 2,000 or 3,000 feet in Central America.
Coffee grows much slower at that high altitude, which gives it time to pull more minerals and, consequently, more flavors from the soil. Those coffees also have less caffeine, which make them ideal for drinking in the evening.
“I like to enjoy these when I come home from work or after dinner,” he said. “It’s like drinking a nice glass of wine and it’s only mildly stimulating.”
The Kenyan Coffee, which he calls the “King of Coffees,” is aromatic and “fills your kitchen like frying chicken does.” Marshall describes it as citrusy, with hints of grapefruit and orange that leaves a winelike aftertaste on the palate.
His Ethiopian Amaro Gayo Dry Process coffee is a “fruit bomb,” with flavors of blueberries, blackberries and bananas. There is the Guatemala HueHuetenango, which has a “Mandarin orange and milk chocolate flavor profile”; the Sumatran Mandeling, with a syrupy body with spicy undertones and a lemony aftertaste; and the Ethiopian Yirgacheff, which is “sweet, smooth and Jasmine-tea like.”
If you’re not accustomed to drinking this kind of coffee or even thinking of coffee in this way, it takes some getting used to. But Marshall’s descriptions are more than just good marketing tools.
The flavors of these coffees really are complex, smooth and extremely fruity. They really do leave strange, new flavors on your palate. They just don’t taste like most of the other coffees you drink around here.
But then, most commercially available coffee is “burnt,” according to Marshall, who equates dark-roasting coffee beans with burning the flavor out of them. By contrast, all of his coffees are medium roasted, which he believes is how you get the most flavor from the bean.
“When you roast coffee beans, they pop, like popcorn,” he explained. “The first pop releases the water in the beans and they turn brown. That’s when you get the most flavor.”
To achieve a dark roast, you wait for a second pop, which is when oils in the beans are released.
“But if you flash oil, that means you made it hot enough to go from liquid to gas, which changes the flavor. People burn their coffee so they can take average coffee and make it taste richer.”
Aficionados of dark roast may beg to differ, but you can’t argue with Marshall that his coffees are full of flavor not typical to most commercially available coffee.
Of course, to really experience the flavors in his medium roast coffees, you have to follow a couple of rules.
First, don’t drink the coffee too hot. Wait for it to cool to about 120 degrees, then let it cool even more, to, say, 110 or so. As the temperature changes, different flavors will emerge.
Second, make sure the beans are freshly roasted.
“Coffee beans lose 60 percent of their flavor within two weeks of being roasted,” he said. “That means most of the beans you buy in the store have already lost most of their flavor.”
Marshall doesn’t expect to attract a majority of the coffee-drinking population to his brand. What he does hope is to win over those coffee purists who already have an appreciation for the type of coffee he brews.
“I’d say about 10 percent of real coffee drinkers are potential customers,” he said. “That’s OK. Those are the ones we’re going for.”