By Jess Szabo
Many of us stop in a coffeehouse like Utica Coffee Roasting Company, Inc. to feel fresh and ready to start our morning, but have you ever thought about the process that leads up to that cup of coffee in your hand?
“Each coffee has a different roast profile dependent upon the density, origin, and characteristics of that specific coffee bean explained President Frank Elias.
There is both the art and science of coffee roasting which we have developed over the years.”
The coffee that arrives at Utica Coffee Roasting Company for your morning brew begins its American journey in New York City.
“We are not the importer of record,” Elias noted. “We work with a coffee broker in New York City. They help us through that process. They are our eyes and ears of sourcing.
“We follow the patterns of the crops,” Elias went on to say. “Crops go into and out of season. Crops will be fresher at certain times. First, we bring in samples. Then we ‘cup’ the coffee.”
Many would think that “cupping” means the coffee is ready to be sold, but this is only the second step out of a four-step process that brings coffee to the customer.
Elias further explained that the process of coffee tasting, known as coffee cupping in the business, will sound familiar to those who know about wine and even beer tasting. The smell of the grounds might be sweet, spicy, or nutty. It can have a buttery, chocolate, woody, or even spicy or fruity taste.
“Many of the descriptors that you hear used in wine, and also in beer, they are also used in coffee. You also consider aftertaste and mouthfeel,” he said. “After that, we evaluate the coffee and make a decision as to whether we buy that coffee or not.
“Once a coffee is selected and brought to the roastery, special care is then taken to ensure a quality roast.
“We are a smaller scale coffee roaster,” Elias explained. “We roast in small lots. This allows you to control the parameters. Larger scale roasters cannot always control parameters.”
Marketing is the final step on the road from crop to customer cup, and Elias’ background reveals why he is so successful at his coffee roasting business.
“My professional background that led us here started with my education. I first went to Herkimer College. I earned an Associate’s degree in Marketing there. I then went to Clarkson University where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management. After my Bachelor’s degree, I worked in manufacturing for seven years. Then I went back to Clarkson and got my Master’s of Business Administration with a focus on Canadian and United States trade.”
Elias also worked in the field of education. He has worked at both Herkimer College and Mohawk Valley Community College. At both schools, Elias taught Community Education courses focused on developing training programs for businesses. He has also served as President of the Chamber of Commerce.
“It was a good fit for the Chamber. It was a good fit for my background, and it was building a base for starting my own business.”
With such an impressive business background and dedication to the field of business, it will probably not surprise readers to learn that Elias’ decision to start a coffee roastery was based on his extensive knowledge of business and marketing.
“I saw a trend of manufacturing locally and globally. Although I liked manufacturing, I recognized that I had to choose a product or service that would not be impacted by what was happening in manufacturing locally or globally, and that would be sustainable,” he explained.
This careful process resulted in his decision to open the business Utica knows and loves today, Utica Coffee Roasters, Inc.
“Recognizing that the business we had here was going to be a good location for this type of business, I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said. “It was one step after the next. That’s what we kept on doing. That’s what we continue to do today. This is not a finished product. This is an ever-evolving business.”
In addition to roasting coffee, the company distributes its products to retail stores in the area, an undertaking so successful that Mr. Elias could not even immediately name all of the places his products are available.
Although Utica Coffee Roasting Company, Inc. was originally envisioned as strictly a coffee roastery, Elias’ willingness to embrace the evolving nature of business and to continue to growled to the opening of the popular coffeehouse.
The popular downtown coffeehouse is run by Executive Vice President Heather Delia. “I focus on the cafe side,” she explained. “I do the books, run the coffee truck, and run the cafe.”
The lively cafe serves as a welcoming gathering place for all of the city of Utica and the surrounding area.
“Mellow is not a word I would use to describe it,” Delia said. “It’s a very energetic and very positive place. We don’t have a target customer, and I don’t want a target customer.