In 2001, Tulsans John and Margarita Gaberino joined Topeca, which had been founded a year before in El Salvador by Margarita’s mother. The couple opened a branch of the business in Tulsa, initially importing packaged coffee roasted on the farm.
Due to rising costs and complicated logistics, the company relocated roasting to Tulsa, where it continues to operate out of the unrenovated Mayo Hotel. It quickly acquired a facility at 1229 E. Admiral Blvd.; the roastery is currently expanding by 7,000 square feet.
Topeca owns two coffee farms in El Salvador: one that has been in Margarita’s family since 1850 and another that was acquired in 2003. While some of the coffee grown is milled and roasted on the farm for the El Salvador market, the remainder is shipped unprocessed to roasters worldwide. “Essentially, we’re eliminating middlemen and gaining control of the product’s quality,” says Director of Coffee Ian Picco. Tulsa coffee is milled in El Salvador to separate the fruit from the seed (bean), and then dried.
Topeca receives multiple container loads of coffee following harvest, which lasts from October to February. Each container load contains 40,000 pounds of green (unroasted) coffee. A single eight-hour shift can roast up to 1,500 pounds of coffee. Beans are heated to between 400 and 450 degrees before cooling, and each batch is sampled in the cupping room to ensure the beans have the correct flavour profile and are of consistent quality.
Where art and science collide
Rather than additives, growing conditions such as altitude and roasting conditions affect the flavour of Topeca coffee. “The flavours you taste in coffee are simply the natural flavours contained within the seed,” Picco explains.
The entire bean
Topeca Coffee Company operates three cafes in Tulsa and sells its products at area grocery stores and online at topecacoffee.com. However, Picco notes that “we are not overly focused on retail.” “Our primary focus is on wholesale roasting, selling, and supporting other cafes, restaurants, and businesses that serve our coffee.”