Getting a café and roasting business on its feet and balanced between goals for quality, consistency, efficiency and ethics can make for a wild ride. If there’s anyone adept at keeping coolly cognizant of the variables in the midst of this intense journey, it’s professional cyclist and X Games gold medalist Jamie Bestwick, whose company, Rothrock Coffee, rounded the milestone of its first full year in business this past January.
A 12-kilo Probat roaster hums in the backroom of Rothrock’s approximately 1,600-square-foot State College, Pa., roastery café, visible to patrons as they order from a menu of manual, batch and espresso coffee drinks and lite bites.
A pair of Mahlkonig EK43 grinders prep beans for Fetco XTS batch or Hario V60 or Chemex manual brewing, while a pair of Mahlkonig Peak grinders precede extractions on a three-group Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machine. Whole bean bags and home brewing gear line retail shelves towards the front of the house.
“This has been a long project for me — the best part of 17 years. Unfortunately a cycling career got in the way,” Bestwick said in jest to Daily Coffee News, explaining that the inspiration to pursue specialty coffee was first ignited by time spent in a motorbike-themed café in the small town in England where he and his wife were married in 1999.
Anyone familiar with BMX competition will know that Bestwick’s career on two wheels rocketed after that. The roaster owns no less than 14 X Games gold medals in BMX Vert, which is more than half the gold ever awarded in the category, including a record nine-year gold streak from 2005 to 2014. At age 44 last year, Bestwick took home the gold yet again, and he plans to compete in France this summer in a mountain bike race, then hit this year’s X Games two weeks after he returns.
Apart from the bouillon he’s accrued over the years, his escapades in action sports did also at least provide a helpful opportunity to broaden his horizons in coffee as well. “It allowed me to tour the world, and when I was in different countries I would always seek out good shops, good coffee, and immerse myself in a culture that I want to bring to my small town,” said Bestwick.
At the Probat, Bestwick focuses with an athletic concentration on bringing out the winning qualities presented by the coffees he sources from Café Imports, Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders, and Royal Coffee New York, the latter of which has also provided training for Rothrock baristas. He finds that while the stationary and relatively quiet craft of roasting may seem like an opposite pursuit from BMX bike racing, there’s actually a lot in common.
“If I screw up on my bike, it hurts me bodily. But if I screw up in the roaster, it hurts me financially. Both of them suck,” Bestwick said. “I’ve got to hit certain checkpoints, I’ve got to get there at a certain time, and I’ve really got to finish off to perfection, if you ever can. It’s a short journey, but every second counts. So when you’re sitting there, it’s somewhat of an escape, but you’re definitely looking at tall the variables in order to maintain a quality that both you and your customers demand.”
Another parallel Bestwick illustrated between riding in the X Games and being a roaster in the specialty coffee community is a certain culture of expectation.
“In my riding, there’s expectations from myself and my sponsors and the crowd, and in roasting there’s expectation from the baristas, the customers, and then your peers outside of the shop,” said Bestwick, who sends roasted samples out to colleagues at Onyx Coffee Lab and Metropolis Coffee for feedback on his techniques. “There’s always a weight of expectation on your shoulders, and it’s intense.”
What helps is that while cycling is a unilateral experience, roasting is not. Bestwick relishes collaborating with his staff and with business partner, fellow roaster and fellow BMX pro Ronnie Napolitan, all of whom contribute to and take equal pride in Rothrock, which they look forward to expanding on both the wholesale and retail fronts.
Rothrock Coffee is available on shelves at Wegmans grocery stores, a 90-store chain present in six states, and Bestwick said he hopes that within about five years there’s both a second Rothrock coffee house and an offsite roasting production facility, making more room for cold brew production inside the existing café, honing in on quality every step of the way.
“For us, it’s always an exciting time, because we’re always figuring out new ways to improve and to progress,” said Bestwick, noting one final parallel between cycling and coffee. “There’s always somebody raising the bar in coffee. It’s fun, it’s a great labor of love.”