Check in with the fellas at Ann Arbor’s Stovetop Roasters, a quirky group following their bliss, doing their best all with as sense of fun and keen eye toward accessibility.
Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week …
Kandace: Stovetop Rosters.
Ray: Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Kandace: How’d we do? Do we need to do it again?
Ray: So far so good.
Ray: I mean we still have the whole show to do.
Kandace: Stovetop Roasters, they started in 2015 in a garage.
Ray: Do you need to say this?
Kandace: Like other companies that you admire.
Ray: Sure, like Hewlett Packard and Apple. HP man, they started in a garage.
Ray: They wound up becoming the kings of calculators.
Kandace: We’ve got some kings right here. We talked to Steve, Mike, Jared and Sam. They’re a micro roastery, and they like to dance.
Ray: Well one of them seems to, but …
Steve Holm: I started Stovetop when I was in college and I was a barista at a local coffee shop, and interested in roasting my own coffee.
Steve Holm: Hello, my name is Steve Holm and I’m the co-founder of Stovetop Roasters. Went out and bought this little popcorn popper and just started roasting in my college dorm room kitchen. Bought a small one kilogram roaster and moved it into my then good friend, but future business partner Jared’s basement and we started Stovetop.
Jared DeMeester: We went to a little school in Holland, Michigan, which is kind of right on the lake shore, and we plopped the roaster in the basement of a big house, not big as in grandeur, but more so a large enchanted ruin.
Jared DeMeester: I am Jared DeMeester. I am one of some of the fellers at Stovetop Coffee Roasters. We started learning how to roast coffee, more so Steve and I was just helping on our one kilo mill city roaster, and that was kind of our beginning roots.
Kandace: Do you know that I spent a summer in Ann Arbor? I drove a Volkswagen Bus to Ann Arbor from Bellingham. That time, which wasn’t that long ago, because I was in my 20s, there was no great coffee there. I’m so excited.
Jared DeMeester: It’s vibrant and it’s filled with people who care deeply about the craft scene. There is a lot of coffee but I think maybe a bit different than what we’re doing with more of this third wave movement that’s sweeping in there.
Ray: You can get anything you want. Do you know that song?
Ray: Okay, good. That’s what I think of when I think of you going to Ann Arbor, listening to Arlo Guthrie.
Steve Holm: We decided on the name Stovetop after going through a lot of bad ideas first, but finally to pay homage to the roots of Stovetop in my kitchen …
Jared DeMeester: Because everybody’s kind of familiar with the Stovetop in some way, shape, or form, so Steve for some reason in school everybody called Steve Stove, and I have no idea why.
Steve Holm: Is a bridesmaid’s reference.
Jared DeMeester: It seems like a universal term for a place where people gather and make things.
Ray: Some of the most fun packaging I would say that we’ve ever had … so the bags are just very simple, very simple bags, but it’s obvious that they have a lot of fun with these labels. We’ve got swaddled hound.
Kandace: Llama Bae.
Ray: Some of these are limited edition, so our bucket list blend here is 27 out of 50. So I’m saving this because this is going to be valuable when they go pro.
Kandace: Like 27 points?
Ray: No, bag number 27 out of 50.
Kandace: Oh, that’s better.
Ray: Each one was drawn by …
Ray: Jared on the team.
Jared DeMeester: I had surgery on my left wrist and I was doodling a lot in class, and my doodles with my left wrist were really awful, but they were really charming. I had the chance to start this strange website called, itriedmybest.com, super cool to see people get behind this vibe that was literally me just trying my best. That whole thing and this whole style of illustration is much more than a doodle of a strange dog covered in a blanket, it’s more so about accessibility.
Jared DeMeester: One of my greatest fears in the sweatiest moment of my ordering process was me trying to say Huehuetenango from Guatemala, but we had a coffee that was called the Small Fawn, and that was our Huehuetenango. And I feel like it was maybe a little bit more accessible. I always tell people that I would love for my 89 year old grandma Alice to pick up the bag and kind of have a similar experience that maybe a veteran barista might if they picked up the bag in the café. It’s us just trying our best. I think that’s why this mantra and this brand is so important to us, it’s just about being willing to extend ourselves, and step out, and try things.
Ray: So what I can tell you about Llama Bae is her mysterious allure is breathtaking. Then it also tells you about the actual coffee, but I really appreciate that it tells you the ideal drinking location, that’s good to know, in this case …
Kandace: The mouth.
Ray: Post office lobby. And the drinking music is dance hall. Definitely love the labels.
Mike Greene: Our goal is to always provide a range of flavor profiles from a variety of different origins.
Mike Greene: Hi, I’m Mike Greene from Stovetop Roasters, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Mike Greene: Some of our coffees are fruit forward and floral, while others are rich with flavors like chocolate or caramel. As a small roasting company we’re able to have access to this range of high quality coffees thanks to our relationships with established importers here in the US.
Jared DeMeester: We are a pretty small production roastery at this point, so when we buy our bags of coffee from a Rwandan farmer it’s not necessarily that we’re really making a dent in their harvest of their crop, but even though we might only buy eight bags of this Rwandan coffee from this particular farmer it’s fun for us to be able to turn around and say to the folks who are buying it, “This is why we’re buying it. There was a really awful thing that happened, and they are still feeling the seismic repercussions of that awful thing that happened.” As a really small player in the game Stovetop, here’s what we want to try to do about it. And hopefully as we scale our footprint gets a little bit bigger, and we can keep choosing coffees based on flavor profile, but also just being able to help people all over the place.
Kandace: They’ve got this super cute café, which I just noticed they’re moving from and opening up another space somewhere.
Sam Schaefer: One of the greatest things about Stovetop is we’re just trying to bring more people into specialty coffee, and by being open in a café we have every opportunity to serve our median neighborhood. I think great coffee doesn’t have to be difficult, and we try to convey that message through our service, and our menu at the cafés.
Sam Schaefer: This is Sam Schaefer, I manage our Ann Arbor café, and I do a lot of events, and retail.
Sam Schaefer: Two of the most important things to us in a café are making sure everyone feels comfortable, so we try to take that extra effort, and that extra time just to get to know everyone on an individual level. We try to make sure everyone gets exactly what they want, and we bring all of our drinks to all of our guests.
Jared DeMeester: Colin Harmon wrote that wonderful book, What I Know About Running Coffee Shops, and he talks a lot about this 90%, 10%, meaning 10% of people are really interested in understanding the information behind the coffee that you’re service, and 90% don’t. And so, growing and understanding that people’s passion might not necessarily lie where it lies with us, in that we want to know everything about the coffee, but being perceptive enough to serve those folks both the 90 and the 10 simultaneously, and love them wherever they’re at, and walk with them in that coffee journey.
Jared DeMeester: The team is slowly getting bigger, which is really a wild experience. I guess when this airs it will be more public information, but we are opening a café in Grand Rapids currently, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Jared DeMeester: There’s a couple of kind of things brewing alongside of that, which has been super exciting. I grew up in Grand Rapids, so about 15 minutes from the location, so for me personally I get giddy, it makes me want to dance thinking about that space opening. We’re just going to keep trying to get better at roasting coffee, because I don’t think that process ever ends.
Kandace: They sound like they’re having a really good time.
Ray: Well nobody’s perfect.
Ray: Stovetop Coffee Roasters of Ann Abor, Michigan.
Ray: Café comfortable see melancholy, I can’t read their writing. Creative Meat in college. What’s up Creative Meat?