Some do, Some don't - The Story of the Popcorn Popper
We’ve all experienced times in our lives when setbacks seem to occur, over and over again. We work hard, but the hard work isn’t rewarded. Rather, it seems to be punished. Some quit. Some battle through the tribulations. Others – well, others are stuck with 4,000 pounds of coffee.
August 17, 2017, was basically Christmas for me. The 4,000 pounds of Ecuadorian coffee that I stressed about for the past 2 months finally arrived in my hometown of Pooler, Georgia. I’ll never forget the day.
I was at my father’s work [My dad has worked at the same company for over 30 years – he started out of high school], and my phone rung, it was Mrs. Marie – the owner of Caffe Marie. She says, “Shane, have you received the coffee yet?” A bit stressed, I responded, “No, but it should be in today.”
Sure enough, as soon as the words left my mouth, I see Southeastern Freight Lines pulling in the gates. I know this is the coffee, I’ve only checked the tracking number 30 times in the last two days. I tell Mrs. Marie that I have to run – the coffee has arrived. She was elated.
Dad and I tell the driver to pull around to door 1. We use the forklifts to take the pallets off of the trailer and sit them on the ground. When Dad finishes, I stand there for a couple minutes, staring. I can’t believe it. The coffee is actually here.
October 6, 2017. I went through my first 100 pounds in a little over a month and a half. I had three orders to fulfill and no roasted coffee. The wonderful lady that roasted my initial batches, Mrs. Beth Cleveland, was no longer available. I was hoping she would be, but she didn’t have the time. For some reason, this was never an obstacle I planned for. I just assumed that I’d pay Mrs. Cleveland for the roasting. But, that was no longer the case.
October 7, 2017.I couldn’t sleep at all. When I did doze off, I’d dream about the roasting problem, but it was no dream – it was a nightmare. I was restless. When morning time finally came, I may have got 3 hours of sleep, but it didn’t matter. I was determined to find a solution.
The frying pan. Thankfully, the first attempt did not work. I’m not quite sure how I could have ever scaled this method, but that was the last thing on my mind at the time – I just wanted to fulfill the orders at hand. I put 13 ounces of beans in a frying pan and tried my best to roast them evenly. 20 minutes later, I heard the first crack. Well, the first crack from half of the beans. The other half didn’t look as if they had changed whatsoever. Attempt 1 – failed.
The oven. This attempt was doomed from the beginning. I tried to turn on the oven in the Mercer Innovation Center, but for some reason, I couldn’t get it to heat up. When it finally started to heat up, I realized just how ridiculous the idea was. The electricity bill would be through the roof.
I turned the oven off, went back to my office and sat in my chair. How in the world am I going to roast these beans? I started looking up ideas on YouTube – some people would use a grill. That was interesting – perhaps I could do that. As I sit back in my chair, out of the corner of my eye, I see the most beautiful piece of machinery ever built.
The popcorn popper. Roosevelt Popper was printed across the top, but to me, she was Rosie. I took a look at it, studying the way it moved. I threw some popcorn kernels in the drum. The kernels rotated and flipped over and over again. None ever stuck to the bottom. As long as the coffee beans aren’t too heavy, this should work – they should continue this same motion.
I took Rosie back to the kitchen and washed off all the popcorn grease. After a thorough cleaning, the time had come: the moment of truth. I put 13 ounces of beans in the drum, closed the doors, and flipped on the two key elements: the heat and the pot stirrer.
10 minutes – nothing.
20 minutes – I begin smelling some smoke. It doesn’t smell bad - I hope it’s the sugars caramelizing.
30 minutes – There is a consistent stream of smoke, leaving Rosie. I open the kitchen door for her.
40 minutes – Pandemonium. I have a feeling the smoke alarm is about to go off.
44 minutes – Bingo. The first crack. I let Rosie continue to churn.
52 minutes – A consistent stream of smoke, cracks, and worry has all surfaced at once.
I turn off the heating and stirring elements and take out the drum. I dump the beans into a big pot.
I can’t believe it. The beans are actually uniform.
I remove the chaff, ‘coffee skin,’ that surfaced during the roasting process by setting up a box fan. I poured the beans from one pot into another while the fan blew. The chaff and beans separated, leaving me with a good-looking pot of uniform coffee beans.
I roasted 10 more batches that day, fulfilling the orders I had on hand. I never told my customers about my new roasting process, as I didn’t want them to have any preconceived notions. One of my most loyal customers, who is not afraid to tell me like it is, was one of the people that had placed an order.
I shipped her the coffee and reached out to her three days after I knew it had arrived.
“What do you think of the coffee?”
“It’s the freshest, smoothest coffee I’ve ever had. How’d you roast this?”
“Just with a standard coffee roaster.”
For three months, no one knew how I was roasting the coffee, but no one ever complained either. I’d roast from 5 am to 9 pm some days, simply doing all that I could to keep up. One night I slept in 30-minute intervals because I needed Rosie to keep roasting, and that’s exactly what she did. Never once did she let me down.
While I have moved on to a more efficient process, I will never forget these times. I’m thankful that Rosie kept turning – kept pushing out product – kept moving Z Beans forward. To me, Rosie is a symbol of life. You have those that step up when opportunity knocks - You have others that won’t.
That’s the story of Rosie - Some do, Some don’t.