Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace.
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee this week.
Ray: Of East Greenbush, New York.
Kandace: Barkeater is Steven Pivonka. It’s one person, one person. This might be the most micro roaster we’ve ever covered.
Ray: Yeah, it’s micro.
Kandace: Micro, micro.
Steven: My name is Steven Pivonka, and I’m the owner and roaster at Barkeater Coffee Roasters. I do all the roasting. We also do farmers markets, and we also do events.
Kandace: This is seriously the one person out of the garage story. They’re about two years old-
Ray: This is literally the only bag of coffee they’ve ever roasted.
Kandace: How does one person start a micro roaster?
Steven: I’ve been drinking coffee as long as I can remember. I think I probably was like six years old or something. It was a culture in my household. I remember my grandmother, when I was a kid, she would make me Cuban style coffee. (My family on my mother’s side is Puerto Rican, so she would make me Cuban style coffee or coffee.)
I remember having it very, very young and I’ve just always loved coffee. One day, I was just talking to my wife and I just decided I wanted to do something. I just thought, “You know what? I’m going to be a roaster. Here I am. I’m going to go. I’m going to go do it.” And, I did.
Roast to Order
Kandace: This is a truly roast order roaster.
Kandace: What’s that?
Ray: I don’t know what that means. What does roast order mean, Kandace?
Kandace: It means that you’re small enough that when you get an order you’re roasting the coffee-
Ray: Oh, really-
Kandace: Yeah, like roast to order.
Ray: “I’d like a double shot.” Got to roast it.
Steven: It’s just I don’t have any employees, just my wife and I. I do have a guy that works with me here and there. He just started working with me on some events, but for the most part it’s just myself.
Ray: You know what else? He’s really into mentorship, isn’t he?
Kandace: Right. He talked to us quite a bit about the fact that, to start out, he had a mentor who taught him to roast. That’s really helpful, so that you’re not in your garage by yourself, not having anyone to bounce ideas off of. When you talk about starting something like this, having someone that you can talk to, having a mentor is a pretty good way to get started. Then, as he’s gotten more confident in his roasting, then he started mentoring other starting roasters.
Steven: A couple other small guys keep going, too. The one guy in downstate New York and another guy out in Massachusetts and that’s always fun, too. Since someone was so open with me when I got started, I feel like I always need to pay that forward and help out other people get going to.
What’s in a Name
Ray: Do you know where the name Barkeater comes from, Kandace?
Kandace: I have a clue.
Ray: It’s a translation of the Mohican word Adirondack.
Kandace: Are you sure about that?
Ray: Mm-hmm. The Mohawk used to use it to refer to the Algonquian tribes when they were said to when there was famine or hunger in the tribe to eat the inside of the bark of the white pine. Adirondack is also the Mohawk word for porcupine who’s diet mainly consist of bark.
Kandace: I’m going to go with the porcupine.
Ray: Porcupine, sure, that’s an obvious one. That is their logo.
Steven: A friend of mine is a graphic artist and he designed the logo for me. I told him what I was looking for and he designed the logo for me (and all the fonts work and everything like that). Still to this day, he does all the labels for me for in exchange for coffee. I print the labels up, but he designs them all for me, and he’s kind enough to do that for me.
The Big Surprises
Kandace: Steven started this micro roastery, and it’s been going pretty well. He’s talking about at some point this year even going full time into roasting. He chatted with us about, not just about how you get started but about what some of the surprises have been in starting a business like this.
Steven: Learning to roast is easy. Learning to get a good consistent product all the time, and trying to strike that balance of sweetness and keeping those notes in the coffee that you do like, floral notes, berry notes, it’s a pretty tough walking that line.
I definitely used to err on the side of the lighter side when I first started, and now I’ve gone a little bit sweeter because I find, for most people, they find that a little more pleasing. That’s probably been the biggest thing is just trying to strike that balance all the time, and getting consistency down on a regular basis all the time, and that’s been pretty hard. After two years, I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting it down all the time and it’s moving along well. I certainly have a lot to learn. I’m always learning.
Kandace: I would like to see more of Barkeater in the future. I think they’re roasting fantastic coffee, really nice person. I want to keep saying people because I thought it was bigger for so long, really nice person.
Ray: Barkeater Coffee Roasters of East Greenbush, New York.