Coffee talk: Q&A with RVA’s coffee roasters

We asked local roasters to spill the beans on what they do, and what makes a good cup of joe.

Local roasters have been riding coffee’s Third Wave for years. Some for decades.

But what distinguishes each of them from one another? We asked each of them: what makes a good cup of coffee, how they stand out from everyone else, and how they’re roasting process shapes their cups of joe.

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Locations: 26 N. Morris Street, 116 S. Addison Street, and 1719 Summit Avenue

What makes a good cup of coffee?

A good cup of coffee is one that honors the origin from which it came and the chain of people who worked together to get that coffee into your hand. As people who prepare coffee, we are very aware that we are the last link leading to the consumer.

What sets Lamplighter coffee apart from the rest?

I think what really sets Lamplighter apart is our attention to detail and quality. Not only with our coffee, but our food offerings as well. We are driven by a passion for what we do, not just the bottom line.

Our barista’s train for months and are expected to pass a complex bar exam before serving drinks to customers. Training is an ongoing process for us, and we are not content to settle for the status quo.

Briefly describe your roasting process and how it affects your coffee

Our coffee menu is seasonal and you wont find the same coffee on our shelves all year. We put an enormous focus on choosing where we buy our coffee and what types of practices the farms are known for. We focus on developing and maintaining an individual roast profile for each new coffee we get in. The goal is to find and develop the unique flavors within each coffee.

You will notice that we don’t typically describe our coffee by roast level, favoring detailed flavor descriptions of acidity, body, and finish. We also include farm and regional information, coffee variety, as well as processing method. Our goal is to showcase these important factors which impact the final flavor of the coffee.

Noelle Archibald


700 Bainbridge Street

What makes a good cup of coffee?

From a technical perspective, a great cup of coffee starts at the farm level with top-grade, high quality, expertly processed coffee beans. As coffee roasters, once we’ve sourced excellent coffee, it is our job to roast it to a profile that highlights all of the best natural qualities of that specific coffee’s growing region, species, etc. Once you’ve got all of that, fresh from the roaster, it comes down to filtered water at proper temperature, proper grind of the coffee, and appropriate extraction time (exposure of ground coffee to water).

But, the technical stuff is just that–technical. What really makes a great cup of coffee is being able to share it with someone. Coffee breeds conversation, and sharing a great cup of coffee with a friend or loved one is hard to beat.

What sets Blanchard’s coffee apart from the rest?

Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. is locally unique in that we are the only strictly wholesale coffee roaster in the area. Unlike other good roasters in town (Rostov’s, Lamplighter, Black Hand, etc.), Blanchard’s does not have a retail location or coffee shop of its own–though we are open to the public at the Roast Lab (700 Bainbridge Street) and we have a ton of regulars who come visit to buy their coffee right out of the roaster.

Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. was founded and operates on some basic tenants, the adherence to which sets us apart:

  • Freshness: Great coffee is fresh coffee. We want you to get the freshest cup of coffee possible, so our roasting schedule, packaging and delivery schedule is all designed to get fresh coffee to our clients.
  • Craft: We roast in small batches with zero automation. We use our years of experience and sight, sound, and smell to craft-roast every single batch of coffee we roast.
  • Sustainability: We are committed to our community, whether here in Richmond or all the way back in the origin countries from which we source our coffees. We build direct trade relationships with origin farms to help their growth by ensuring more of the purchase price gets directly into their pockets. This ultimately gets us better coffee–better coffee is more popular and affords us the opportunity to give back to our community through charitable giving and participation in community events.

Briefly describe your roasting process and how it affects your coffee

Coffee roasting, at its very basic level, is a craft in the same way that cooking is a craft. Scientifically, roasting coffee is the exact same chemical reaction as cooking, say, a loaf of bread. The basic skill-set is controlling the rate in which the coffee goes from raw, green, room temperature plant material to what we know as roasted coffee via the application of direct heat.

We take our craft very seriously, and we believe that if we can achieve the level of excellence in roasting that we do without the help of computers and automation, only using our eyes, ears, noses, and years of experience. That just makes us better craftsmen.

Stephen Robertson


10825 Midlothian Turnpike • Chesterfield, VA

What makes a good cup of coffee?

Several factors under the control of the roaster and preparer will affect the quality and taste of the coffee. Good coffee begins with quality un-roasted green coffee selected by cupping characteristics. Storing green coffee at a fairly constant temperature and humidity is very important. The green coffee must then be properly roasted to the desired roast level using a roasting method that roasts evenly and produces consistent results. Roasted coffee must be protected from air, moisture, and temperature swings until brewed. Brewing starts with coffee ground evenly as appropriate for the brewing method, prepared using fresh, great tasting water heated to the right temperature, and using a method that extracts the best taste from the coffee.

What sets Adbibo coffee apart from the rest?

We pay attention to all things within our control to make a great cup of coffee: proper choice of green coffee followed by excellent care in handling, roasting, packaging and brewing. We quickly package our coffee after roasting in air and moisture barrier bags with a valve to let gasses escape.

Briefly describe your roasting process and how it affects your coffee

Adbibo roasts coffee using a quality conduction roaster that transfers heat from the roasting drum to the coffee during the roasting process with minimal air flow. Our roasting process produces great, evenly roasted coffee. We roast in small enough batches that we can control the roast from start to finish, and we do not rush our roasting process to meet a production schedule. The conduction method we use may take a little longer than other methods, but the end result provides the best coffee we can put in the customer’s cup.

Dan Allen


1618 W. Main Street

What makes a good cup of coffee?

A good cup of coffee is always a pretty subjective topic, but having said that, there are a few standards that we know result in a better cup of coffee. The first being, freshly roasted coffee that is ground properly for your preferred brewing method. This ensures that you’re getting the best flavor from the beans, as older or improperly ground coffee can end up either tasting stale or over-extracted (read: bitter!). Proper water temperature and extraction time will also prevent the latter from happening.

And lastly, though everyone has their own preferences to taste, the green beans should come from reliable, well-maintained farms with a clean mill.

What sets Rostov’s coffee apart from the rest? What’s your roasting process like?

We use a Jabez-Burns roaster from 1938, that apart from being a very cool spectacle, also offers some distinct advantages that many modern roasters lack.

It’s heated with natural gas for the roasting chamber, which itself is a perforated drum that allows air flow while roasting the beans. This results in lower roast temperatures, which enables the beans to roast evenly, without burning. The cooling bin is also perforated metal, offering greater circulation, and in turn, faster cooling times, which means the roast stays at the level the master roaster intends when the roast is dropped.

Using this older technology also means that, rather than using color palates, timers, etc. our coffee has to be roasted by our master roaster’s sense of sight, smell, and sound. There are a number of small adjustments in each roast that must be made (even with beans from the same farms) to ensure uniform, repeatable, and great tasting coffee.

Add to that our master roaster who has been roasting for 25+ years, as well as long-term relationships with our coffee farms, and a consistent selection of over 60 (13 of which are decaffeinated) coffees, and you’ve got what we think is a unique place.

Peter Bull & Tammy Rostov

Black Hand Coffee Company

3101 Patterson Avenue

What makes a good cup of coffee?

The cup of coffee starts with its origin. If you have quality farms and a solid coffee imported, you’re going to have a great cup of coffee from all the coffee-producing regions. How you brew the coffee can also affect the cup. We use water filters attached to a drip brewers. For us it produces a really clean cup of coffee and does a great job reflecting the coffees terroir.

What sets Black Hand coffee apart from the rest?

What sets us a part is that we try not to over complicate the coffee process for our customers. If someone wants additional info on our coffees and our methods we are more than willing to provide them the information. We want our customers to feel comfortable with the coffee industry, not overwhelmed.

Briefly describe your roasting process and how it affects your coffee

We typically roast our coffees in the city to full city range (light and medium) and follow the roasting time guidelines set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. In many cases the beans origin will dictate what level of roast they can handle. For example, some coffees just do better when they are roasted a little darker–typically African and Indonesian varietals–while coffees from South and Central America perform well on the lighter side. Roasting is a craft, so the roast master has a lot to do with the ultimate profiles of the coffee.

Clay Gilbert



What makes a good cup of coffee?

Fresh coffee! I usually drink coffee roasted within the week (but I’m a roaster so that’s easy for me). I’d recommend finding freshly roasted coffee no more than 2-3 weeks old. Also helpful is an AeroPress. That’s my favorite method of making coffee, and I promise it isn’t complicated. It’s a wonderful cup of joe.

What sets Apropos coffee apart from the rest?

I’d like to think nothing sets me apart, but that I’m part of a lot of people making good coffee these days. If I really had to say how you’d spot me in a crowd, it’s most likely my packaging. I hand-stamp recycled paper, wrap it, and tie all the coffee bags closed with twine.

Briefly describe your roasting process and how it affects your coffee

I’m not scientific about it at all, I’m just very hands-on. I go by smell, sound, sight, and ultimately the taste. I do like to joke (kind of joke) that I just dump some green beans in and then dump them back out when I think they’re done, just like how I cook. It’s not that I don’t love consistency, it’s just that I’m not going for that with my food or my coffee. I’m going for something that’s going to taste great.

There are a lot of factors that change with coffee, such as the varietal, the crop year, etc. Each bean is different and, just like wine, it’s always new and I love that each time I cup (roast and then taste) something it surprises me. I never have the same thing but that seems to inspire customers to try something new each time.

Jennie-Mae Skinner

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Join our RVA Coffee Club!

Have two six-ounce bags of freshly ground coffee delivered to your door once or twice a month (your choice) from two different local roasters. You’ll get different types every time from a growing number of local bean brands.

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Nitty-Gritty Details

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photo by Ken FUNAKOSHI

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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