I sat down with Master Roaster Bill Tanner and the Diedrich (roaster) from PennyCup Coffee Co. in the River Arts District in Asheville late last month to get his perspective on roasting an awesome batch of coffee beans.
Where and when did you begin working in the coffee industry?
“My first cafe job was at Lakeshore Coffee House in Euclid Ohio when I was 19. They were the first real coffee shop in my town and opened up when I was 12 or 13. My first real coffee industry job though was in the production facility at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago.”
Who was influential in shaping your coffee career; did you have a mentor?
“I do not have one mentor but there are many people who have shaped and influenced my career. When we started PennyCup I reached out to people from all over my prior professional life. The Coffee industry is very close-knit and I was not shy about calling former co-workers and pals that I hadn’t talked to in years.”
How did PennyCup begin?
“My business partner, Amber Arthur, who has been in coffee forever, wanted to start roasting for her shop , Battle Cat, in West Asheville. Her and my wife have been friends for years and when my wife and I moved back to Asheville in 2012 I met Amber. We started talking immediately about roasting and hit it off right away. By the spring of 2013 we had a business plan and we were roasting on a small home roaster in Amber’s kitchen. That whole year was all about education. By January 2014 we had a lease in the River Arts District and we were fully operational by February 2014.”
Where was the inspiration for the name and logo of PennyCup?
“PennyCup was actually the first name we came up with but we brainstormed for another 2 or 3 months before we settled on it. Its a name that is inspired by cafes in England during the 17th century that were called Penny Universities. You could get a cup of coffee for a penny and then discuss the matters of the day. I like to think that drinking a cup of coffee in England at that time was, in itself, a minor act of rebellion since most people drank tea. I have no idea if that was the case! For our logo we wanted something clean and timeless. Our designer, Karen Schmidt, came up with just that. I love our logo!”
Why did you decide to settle in the River Arts District in Asheville, NC?
“The RAD was in our plans from the beginning. Our plan to have a cafe in our roasting space fits in with the working studio aspect of the neighborhood. When people come in we want them to see the roasting part of the process. We want people to ask questions and look around. We feel like roasting is an art form and what better place than the RAD to show your art.”
Where does PennyCup source beans?
“Currently most of our coffee hails from South and Central America as well additional offerings from Sumatra, Ethiopia and Sulawesi. We do not buy direct yet though we would love to in the future.”
When you’re buying green coffee beans, what are the qualities that you look for in a great coffee bean?
“All of the coffee we purchase is speciality grade so we know that, physically, we are getting a quality product. A product that has met certain quality standards while having little to no defects. Knowing that, when we get samples we are paying close attention to the flavor profile and our ability to highlight the beans innate qualities with our roasting methods. That is the fun part! We start with some assumptions and some loose parameters and work from there. Then we cup coffee. Also a very fun part of the process!”
Could you explain how your roasting process affects how the coffee tastes?
“We are simply taking the coffee that is at a low temp and we are roasting that coffee to a higher temp. In that process we can control the rate of that rise. We control gas pressure in an attempt to speed up or slow down that rate. We can control airflow in the drum throughout the roast. And of course we control the starting and ending temps. All these controls are determined by the specific coffee being roasted and the flavor highlights we are shooting for. We have learned along the way, through trial and error, what might make a specific flavor pop. Thankfully the trial and error part is getting shorter and shorter the longer we do this!”
What’s your perfect cup of coffee?
“The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was an organic Nicaragua on the production floor at Intelligentsia almost 10 years ago. I chase that cup in my dreams. My perfect cup right now is our Costa Rica, at about 7:55 am right before the shop opens up. There is nothing better!”
Bill, What excites you the most about roasting coffee and participating in the coffee industry?
“There’s so much! It is a great industry with loads of smart, passionate, and kind people in my opinion. This is especially true in Asheville and the coffee people I’ve met in town. The roasting itself is part art and part science. It is engaging and requires diligence and focus. And the seasonal nature of our product means that the creative struggle to roast and brew fantastic coffee never ends.”
This interview and photographs are brought to you by Angie Rainey with Coffee Crate, a North Carolina-based coffee subscription service.
Coffee Crate stems from the idea that the best roasts are local. We offer a genuine North Carolina experience by delivering quality coffee to your door each month. We carefully choose a selection of our favorite local beans from roasters who take great pride in their product. We simplify coffee drinking by choosing the best roasts from our great state and deliver them freshly roasted straight to your door.
Each month we are dedicated to finding the best tasting assortment of roasts that uniquely compliment each other. Coffee Crate is perfect to enjoy and share. Let us enhance your morning by bringing you something new. Expect consistently amazing coffee, personalized service, and occasional surprises.
Angie Rainey, Coffee Curator, is taking the guesswork out of selecting what coffee to buy for your morning (or afternoon, let’s face it) caffeine ritual. Mother of two young’uns, this barista turned entrepreneur needs lots of delicious coffee to fuel her day. Currently headquartered in Asheville, NC, we are a group of coffee- loving North Carolinians, who want to discover and share what our local artisans have to offer.
You can find PennyCup Coffee served or sold at BattleCat Coffee Bar, Hole Doughnuts, Earth Fare, Mountain Mojo, Ben’s Pennymart and of course the PennyCup Coffee Co cafe & roaster.