Riding the Third Wave of Coffee: Roastery of Cave Creek
In the small hours of the morning, while many people are still snug and warm in their beds, Dave Anderson is already hard at work roasting the fuel that draws more than 83 percent of Americans out from under the covers. Beyond the front door of his Roastery of Cave Creek (ROC2) sit dozens of 150-pound burlap bags brimming with coffee beans. Though shipped from many regions of the world, these beans are all green in color and herbal in smell.
It’s coffee in its rawest form, fresh and keen to be roasted.
A large scoop transfers these green coffee beans from bag to bucket. They are then carried up the steps of ROC2’s fully customized roaster and poured into a mammoth of a metal funnel, which can swallow up to 75 pounds of coffee at a time. The beans trickle down the funnel’s throat into a fiery cast iron drum. Flames ignite, and the rotating drum works as a convection oven, heating the beans for 14 to 15 minutes to temperatures ranging from 400 to 450 degrees. As they roast, they are transformed into a kaleidoscope of greens and yellows and browns, ultimately landing on the chestnut hue familiar to java enthusiasts everywhere.
Time and temperature depend on the type of coffee being created. Roasting profiles for all ROC2 blends and varietals are stored in the roaster’s computer. Like an automated cookbook, it follows the recipe, swirling the beans inside the drum before spitting them out into the cooling bin – once the coffee has reached its ideal roasting point, the beans need to cool as quickly as possible.
“We’ll test our coffees at 410, 420, 430 degrees … sometimes even in five-degree increments just to find where we think it shows best,” Anderson says. “Then we transfer that profile to the production machines. Most of our coffees are on the medium range of the spectrum. If you get too dark then you’ll start to have a burnt and bitter taste, sort of like that big green chain.”
Whether consumed at big green chains or small local shops, for the caffeinated jolt or as part of a daily routine, coffee is second only to petroleum in its energy-giving popularity. Armed with this knowledge, Anderson co-opened the hugely successful Cave Creek Coffee Company, also known as C4, in 1997, as part of what he refers to as the “third wave” of coffee. The first wave of Maxwell House and Folgers gave way to a second wave of brands like Starbucks. While second wave coffee chains are still profitable, in recent years a third wave of independent shops and roasters has been ushered in, appealing to consumers who appreciate subtleties in flavor.
Anderson wasted no time jumping into the water. He bought a small commercial roaster and was trained on how to develop proprietary recipes, a culinary process of good old trial and error.
“It’s a blend of art and science,” he says. “The combinations are endless. We’ve roasted thousands of tons of coffee since we started, and will roast at least 100,000 pounds this year.”
Anderson’s business model has evolved significantly over that same time period. He sold C4 in 2007, and after 15 years of delighting Cave Creek and many other Valley residents with freshly brewed coffee, a cozy community atmosphere and live music that at times featured Grammy-winning artists, the shop officially closed its doors in 2012. The retail side had paved the way for a successful wholesale coffee business, and Anderson was ready to make ROC2 his first priority.
“C4 put us on the map,” he explains. “With a physical location, we began serving our coffee to local restaurateurs, who asked if we’d consider letting them sell it in their restaurants. Retaining the wholesale business afforded me the ability to continue following my passion of sourcing and roasting the highest quality organic coffee possible.”
The quality of his product got people talking, and soon Anderson boasted an impressive resume of customers, including “Best of Phoenix” favorites La Grande Orange and Pizzeria Bianco. He has also roasted for large-scale events, such as the two most recent James Beard Foundation award dinners held in the Valley. For many years, his marketing strategy has been to wait for the phone to ring – and for many years, it has.
One customer success story that helps demonstrate the power of ROC2’s word of mouth marketing is Matt’s Big Breakfast. During the restaurant’s early days in downtown Phoenix, a food critic wrote a review raving about the food at chef Matt Pool’s establishment. But the one place where she felt Pool had gone awry was in not ordering coffee from Dave Anderson at C4.
“At the time I read the review and thought, ‘you know, I better call that guy,’” he says with a laugh. “He beat me to the punch, and I’ve been giving them coffee for going on 10 years now.”
With a growing reputation in the wholesale market and an established presence as a coffee retailer, it’s no surprise that when Anderson finally met with a local distributor, they were eager to add his coffee to their roster.
The meeting came about by chance two years ago as a result of Anderson running into one of the founders of China Mist Brands at a local event. The Scottsdale-based tea company works with a distributor called Nationwide Gourmets of Arizona to sell its products across the country. Anderson casually mentioned that if the distributor ever needed a local coffee roaster, they should call him up. A couple of weeks later, the phone rang for him yet again.
“It’s been a great partnership with good people to work with,” he says. “For the local culinary market it’s a one-stop shop for fresh coffee and tea. Our business has expanded substantially.”
Fresh is a keyword for Anderson, who currently sells his coffee as whole beans and has no plans to grind them up anytime soon.
“Whole bean coffee loses half its freshness and flavor 10 to 14 days out of the roastery,” he explains. “When you grind the beans, those days turn into hours. We take orders from our customers on Mondays and Tuesdays and deliver them fresh coffee at the end of each week.”
Anderson ships in beans from all four of the primary coffee-growing regions: Central America, South America, Africa and Indonesia. He has traveled to many of the places he buys from in Central America and has plans to visit South America this winter. Nearly 98 percent of the coffee ROC2 produces is organic. Currently there are 15 single varietals and four coffee blends, including their signature Black & Tan, which harkens back to the days of C4.
“We blend a dark and medium roast together in a way that balances out and makes for a smooth, robust cup of coffee,” he says. “It’s a bestseller, but no matter what ROC2 coffee you’re drinking, my mission is to provide the best cup I can.”
Judging from the fact that Phoenix New Times recently gave ROC2 coffee beans the “Best of Phoenix” award for 2013, it’s safe to say that mission is consistently accomplished.
With considerable experience, acute attention to detail and high praise from everyone they work with, ROC2 has brewed a recipe for success that bodes well for the future. It begs the question: will the company continue to expand?
“We’re at a point where our equipment can handle a high volume of orders, and I’m happy with that right now,” he says. “I’ve hired two people to help me roast the coffee and keep things going at this level. I’m making a good living, and quality of life is high on my list of priorities.”
For Anderson, a high quality of life means indulging in some of his no less caffeinated hobbies, such as building custom furniture out of steel and reclaimed lumber. A few of his finished works can be spotted around the Valley, including the steel sign outside Citizen Public House, his own sign for the headquarters of ROC2 and the waiting benches outside Beckett’s Table.
Anderson also enjoys cruising around Cave Creek on either of his two motorcycles and traveling to some of the country’s most beautiful places to shoot landscape photographs with his brother. A selection of his favorite shots are blown up on canvases that adorn the walls of the roastery, including breathtaking vistas of Death Valley, California and White Sands, New Mexico – all juxtaposed against a black-and-white portrait of ROC2’s “CEO,” Scout the dog.
“The Southwest is such a beautiful place,” says Anderson, who is originally from Kansas and spent time in Dallas and Washington, D.C. early on in his career before moving out west to join his parents, who sold their Midwest farm in the early 90s to relocate to Arizona.
“I fell in love with the little town of Cave Creek, with the lifestyle and the mountains that surround the town. Now when I come into the roastery in the mornings or evenings and see the shadows on the mountains, I have to pinch myself. I’ve been very lucky.”
Whether it’s luck, hard work or a perfected blend of both, no one needs to tell Dave Anderson to wake up and smell the coffee. He’s got plenty of the good stuff to go around.
Roastery of Cave Creek (ROC2)
7003 E. Cave Creek Rd.,