A few years ago, Bryan Pleitez, a native of El Salvador, decided he wanted to share some of the best coffee bean varietals produced in the Central American country with his friends and neighbors.
Pleitez, now a Leesburg resident, started Lake 503 Coffee – Lake for the county and 503 for the telephone code used when calling El Salvador – in 2015.
He is among a growing number of small-scale coffee roasters across the country that focus on fresh-roasted, high-quality beans. It’s called nano-roasting.
These tiny roasters prepare anywhere from 50 to 200 pounds of coffee a week and work out of a garage or small coffee shop.
“I just really wanted to have people experience what a true fresh-roasted coffee is supposed to taste like,” said Pleitez, who sells his coffee at area markets.
Kathleen Trees, another Leesburg coffee roaster, started The Coffee Snob as a college project for her son a couple of years ago. Now near graduation with a business degree, that same son plans to make the business a full-time venture.
“We’ve enjoyed the community aspect of it. We keep our prices reasonable so more people can try a good cup of fresh coffee,” Trees said.
Freshness is a key to their niche market. Coffee is at its peak flavor soon after roasting. How long after is, like most things coffee related, a subject of much debate.
Both Pleitez and Trees roast weekly and only sell coffee roasted during the week.
“What you get at the grocery store or at the chain coffee shop is already stale,” Pleitez said.
Trees has a built-in way to use up any coffee that doesn’t sell at the family’s market stand. Her husband, Thomas, is a priest at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Leesburg.
“We have the best church coffee hour in town,” she said.
While now a burgeoning business, the family’s roasting journey began at the suggestion of their pediatrician. One of their sons was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Trees did not want to give the boy medication so the doctor suggested a cup of black coffee in the morning. The caffeine helped and soon Trees wanted an organic option, but it was hard to come by at the time. They started ordering organic green coffee beans and roasted them on the stove top.
“After we started giving him coffee, the next semester he was on the honor roll,” Trees said.
Now, they sell only organic coffees grown in the mountainous regions of several countries in South and Central America and Africa.
“It really is fun. You roast up a batch and let the kids do the cupping. They have pretty discerning palates,” Trees said.
Lake 503 also is a family business. Pleitez, who has a full-time job in information technology, relies on his wife and kids, especially his son Dante.
“He helps me sell. He enjoys talking to people and telling them about the coffee,” he said.
Pleitez emphasizes single-estate beans from El Salvador, as well as other mountain-grown beans from Honduras, Colombia, Costa Rica and Brazil.
“I know the farms where the beans come from, and I know they do it right,” he said.
Both Pleitez and Trees prefer beans grown at high altitude. Because of the climate, those beans take longer to mature which concentrates flavor.
Coaxing those complex flavors with just the right roasts are at the heart of the nano-roasting movement.
Most people drink blended coffees which produce a similar, consistent flavor. Using single-source beans produce unique flavor profiles.
“If you have a Starbucks in Florida, it’s going to taste the same as a Starbucks in Washington. Like wine grapes, each variety of coffee bean has a different flavor profile. You can taste the difference between a bourbon from El Salvador or a caturra from Brazil. I want people to experience those differences,” he said.
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