They can always tell at the Walla Walla Roastery when actor Kyle
MacLachlan has tweeted about his favorite coffee.
“Our inbox gets flooded with orders,” said co-founder Mary Senter.
The requests come in random, otherwise inexplicable, spurts for 1- and 5-pound bags of the actor’s Brown Bear Mélange. Also casually known as “Kyle’s Blend,” the beans are a blend of rich African, Indonesian and Central American coffees that combine in multiple roast grades for a chocolaty, slightly smoky mélange, a description says.
For fans of MacLachlan, whose portrayal of special agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks was known for the love of a “damn fine cup of coffee,” it’s a ringing endorsement for the Roastery.
For Senter and her business partner brother, Thomas Reese, it’s
another achievement in bringing quality coffee to the masses from their Walla Walla business.
The partnership with MacLachlan, an extension of his “ ... pursued by bear brand” that also includes wine at Roastery neighbor Dunham Cellars, is one of numerous relationships that has helped build the operation from a startup Walla Walla business into a regional player.
This week, 16 years after the sibling enterprise launched in a home-based operation roasting beans in a space at the edge of a wheat field off Middle Waitsburg Road, they
officially introduce a rebrand of the business.
A new logo was designed and is making its debut. Last week, the signs were changed at the Airport District roastery and its cafe, 290 A St. The logo is also rolling out on the operation’s bags.
The meaning behind the swirling configuration is multifaceted. It draws inspiration from a coffee flower, while the sections of the logo represent both the familial aspect of the business — far beyond the blood relationships — as well as the paddles that run the drone inside of a roaster itself.
Walla Walla metal artist Doug Gisi made the sign for the building. The new look, created with Crespo Creative, and told in story form today in text and photos on the walls of the Roastery from sketched ideas to completion, is meant as a refinement for the growing company.
When they started, Senter and Reese had nearly a year’s practice as they learned the finer points of roasting coffee beans.
They sold the beans they sourced from Kenya, Colombia and Indonesia at local grocery stores and independent boutique businesses. They made a Main Street blend for downtown Walla Walla. Their presence grew.
Five years later, they moved to their current spot. About three and a half years ago they expanded to help triple production capacity with the addition of a new Joper roaster.
Now with a team of 11 employees Senter describes as a tight-knit family, they roast all day five days a week on their Joper roaster to fulfill orders for grocery stores and special accounts across the region. They create custom blends for numerous businesses — from Whitman College to Maple Counter Cafe — plus the private label for MacLachlan that counts as one of its top selling roasts, inclusion in the Nocking Point Wines quarterly club as well as its monthly Gear Club, and provide coffee to more than 100 cafes, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and other businesses.
They’ve also become a player to organizations that sell the coffees for fundraisers.
During the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover that came to Walla Walla in 2015, the Roastery introduced cold brew to its business.
It borrowed massive tanks from Airport District neighbor Tamarack Cellars, combined 435 pounds of fresh roasted coffee with about 525 gallons of water and made twin batches that yielded 1,000 gallons. After that, cold brew became part of the regular offerings. Now it’s served on tap with an infusion of nitrogen.
Carmen Castaldo and the operation’s first female roaster, Sara Burch, split duties at the Joper.
“It’s a happy place for me,” Burch said.
Keeping their orders straight with handwritten notes, they rotate roasting each day, creating flavor profiles through the cast-iron drum that uses both conductive and convective heat.
“If you’re not roasting, you’re labeling, or running around,” Burch said.
Burch said 400 to 500 pounds of green coffee beans are roasted per day in increments of 12 to 16 minutes per roast and with 14 or so intervals.
Coffee, to be clear, is complex. It has tasting notes similar to how oenophiles experience wine. Roasting helps to draw them out.
It’s also not an easy business. Coffee is the second highest traded commodity on the market, which means the volatility pretty much follows the same market trends as oil.
“We’ve had to ride a lot of waves,” Senter said. “When gas prices are high, so is coffee.”
The attention to quality, knowledge and service is a massive part of the appeal. said barista Ryan Vigil.
A Utah transplant, Vigil came to the community with an educational background in history most exclusively for the Walla Walla Roastery.
A coffee lover at heart, he finds the beverage to serve as a bonding tool among folks of all walks of life. In the safe zone of coffee houses with the centerpiece as a beloved drink, coffee serves as a bonding tool and “common ground” for our culture, he said.
What the Roastery has is somewhat like the magic of Portland’s Stumptown Coffee, which has now grown and sold since its beginning.
“We’ve captured the same excitement but it’s East of the Cascades style,” Vigil said. “It’s specialty-grade coffee without pretension.”
The heart of the business is what’s referred to as “Black Coffee Tradition.”
“Ultimately for us it’s about the bean and the coffee,” Senter said.
And a damn fine cup, indeed.