The team at Magpie Coffee Roasters, recent recipients of a Good Food Award for a Kenya Gondo coffee, is awaiting final inspections on its new roastery and headquarters in the heart of Reno, Nevada’s Wells Ave. neighborhood.
Matt Sewell and Mark Hirose have been growing the Magpie brand through wholesale accounts and online sales since 2011, helping elevate and define specialty coffee in traditionally underserved Reno-Carson City urban corridor. We recently caught up with Sewell to discuss the growing roaster’s plans locally and beyond.
What drew you to the Wells Ave. neighborhood?
The Wells Ave. neighborhood is a historically important area for Reno. It was originally one of the main access roads to U.S. Highway 40, which was the main artery across the United States before I-80. The businesses along Wells were hotels, service stations and restaurants, which have mostly all disappeared. When looking for our spot, we wanted to find a location that was somewhat centrally located but positioned to provide a missing services. We happened to find a spot directly across the street from a new diner, Cafe DeLuxe, that would allow us to help build a sense of community.
Can you describe the roastery’s interior design and plan?
We wanted our roastery to be warm and inviting. The interior has exposed beams, pine wood paneling and bright white paint. A wood and concrete bar provides space for coffee exploration. Our space on Wells is primarily our roastery, workspace and coffee lab. We’ll roast and package our coffee, sell retail bags and brewing equipment and host cuppings, tastings and training within the space. Soon after we open, we hope to provide coffee service, too, but we need to work with the city to get some things lined up. We roast on a San Franciscan SF1 and SF25, brew on various equipment (Chemex, Aeropress, V60s, vac pots and Kalitas), batch brew on a Curtis G4, espresso off a La Marzocco Strada MP, and utilize grinders from Baratza, Ditting and Mazzer.
How open will the roastery be to the public?
The space will be open to the public as a retail outlet for our coffee and brewing equipment. We’re still working on set hours but we’ll be open most of the time. We hope to add full coffee service to our space shortly after opening.
Where has your growth been focused? And is that going to change with the new facility and increased capacity?
Currently, our main business is through our wholesale partners. We roast for Cafe DeLuxe, Chapel Tavern, The Jungle, Reno Provisions and Reno Public House locally. We’ve had some guest spots in Seattle, Boston and Kansas City over the past couple years, too. We always set out to be a retail roastery, where we could showcase our take on specialty coffee and then work with select wholesale partners in our area and beyond. We’re also working to revamp our online store to provide a better experience and make it easier to get our coffees out to enthusiasts no matter where they live.
How would you describe the coffee scene in Reno, and how do you see Magpie adding to or fitting in it?
The coffee scene in Reno and Nevada, in general, is pretty young. New trends in food and drink tend to take a bit of time to trickle into our area, and that’s certainly the case with coffee. There’s a growing population of people interested in high-quality, exciting coffee and that’s where we’re trying to help accelerate the growth. We try and present the range of flavors inherent in coffee by fully developing them and not exaggerating the most pronounced ones. I think we’ve been able to get our message across because of that.
Did you get professional design help for the new space?
We’re not working with a designer. Everything has come from Mark and I and our good friend and partner, Chris Costa, who owns Reno Public House, a craft beer bar in Reno.
What’s your sourcing approach and can you share with whom you’re working?
We’re currently sourcing our coffee through Bodhi Leaf Coffe Traders, Coffee Shrub, Elephant Coffee Importers and Olam Specialty Coffee. We source coffee that’s traceable, delicious and has a story. Quality, transparency and voice have always been the most important factors in our sourcing practice. While we’re able to build great relationships with our importing partners, we hope to partake in origin trips in the near future to further those relationships and create new ones. We want to help create a much more meaningful impact on the producers’ lives than just buying their fantastic coffees for fair prices.
Are you where you envisioned you would be when you began roasting in 2011?
I think we’re definitely roasting coffee in the way that we envisioned. We’ve certainly come a long way from then, but we’ve always embraced the idea of continuous education. There are so many more things to learn about this industry and we’re just beginning. It’s really exciting for us.
What got you into coffee roasting in the first place? Did you have experience in coffee prior to launching Magpie?
Neither Mark or I had much experience in coffee when we started. My dad owned a roasting company while I was in college and that probably planted the seed. I didn’t enjoy coffee at the time and thought I wanted to pursue a career in a much different industry. Later on, after he had sold off his business, I ‘discovered’ coffee and just immersed myself. I started with home espresso, then various manual brewing methods and then home roasting. Ultimately, the lack of a coffee experience in Reno that came close to what I had experienced in the Bay Area drove me to wanting to create that type of experience in Reno. Mark traveled to Costa Rica and visited a couple farms during his trip which served as the basis of his coffee interest. From there, he moved to Portland for college and was drawn to the industry through his visits to various retailer/roasters. During this, we both decided we’d like to bring the types of coffee we enjoyed to Reno and create a whole new experience for our community.
Can you tell us about your Good Food Award coffee, and your approach to that roast and submission?
We received several Kenya samples from Bodhi Leaf Coffee which was sourced by Elephant Coffee Importers. The Gondo was the sample that stood out to us so we bought a couple bags. From there, we really started to see what this coffee had to offer as we created a profile. We really wanted to preserve and highlight the tropical fruit tones and acidity and balance it all with the brown sugar sweetness that came through in all our roasts. On top of that, the aroma was crazy and we really knew we had a great coffee. Finally, this was reinforced by some industry friends who cupped it and suggested we use it.