A relatively new coffee company based in Corvallis, Ore., called Grouphead Coffee is at adding to its home city’s surprisingly rich and influential coffee history by staking new territory in brewing technology with a product called “stacked espresso” concentrate.
The company was founded by Dan Bruner, a former acupuncturist and applied kinesiologist who eventually decided to turn his passion for coffee into a career. With an experienced roaster friend in Walla Walla, Wash., from whom he might source, Bruner in 2014 began searching Corvallis for what might have been a suitable space for a quality-forward, creative coffee shop, yet those plans were scrapped when Bespoken Coffee sister company Tried & True opened its first location, downtown.
Later, while seeking parts for a 1956 International Harvester Metro Van, he had a fortuitous encounter at a Corvallis machine shop owned by a man who just happened to build Sivetz fluid bed roasters for much of his career.
“As I was talking to him I noticed he had a huge coffee grinder on his back table, and I had to ask,” Bruner told Daily Coffee News. “He said he basically built every Sivetz roaster that had ever been sold. He was retiring and wanted to sell all his equipment. He ended up retiring, closing it up, and at that time I was researching concentrates and cold brews.”
Bruner wound up buying an idle Sivetz machine, growing fascinated with the technology and researching archaic, expired patents previously held by Sivetz. Through this research and his own self-cultivated engineering acumen, Bruner eventually built what is now the main brewing device for Grouphead’s packaged, bottled coffee concentrate products.
The word “espresso” in the company’s marquee product name refers to the higher temperatures and pressures applied to coffee in their production method, which are not typically found in other cold brewing or concentrate-making applications. Bruner is hesitant to share the exact details, but the process involves stacked stainless steel tubes — hence the “stacked” part of the name — with water running through at a constant flow rate.
With Grouphead’s current brew process, the combination of water pressure, grind, temperature and ratio of tube length to diameter result in a concentrate ratio of 1:6. Bruner contends that through even extraction the process retains mouthfeel, aromatics and flavors more comparable to those of hot brew than to other cold coffee products.
He said the bottled concentrate — currently available in regular or decaf, in 2-, 8- or 16-ounce bottles — can provide the base for any number of cold coffee drinks or cocktails as well as for hot coffee drinks.
“I’m probably like a lot of people who are kind of geeked out about coffee, and I have every contraption to make coffee,” Bruner said. “But this still has the aromatic volatiles, plus it’s very convenient.”
Bruner recently moved Grouphead into an expanded production facility in a largely industrial complex near the Corvallis Municipal Airport, and said he’s currently in talks with a distributor to seek a wider reach for the refrigerator-stable product. He’s also offering cold coffee derived from the concentrate in 3-liter nitrogen-flushed bags and in nitro and non-nitro kegs for wholesale clients.
The coffees themselves are Fair Trade and Organic certified, coming from a small number of importers, including InterAmerican Coffee and Royal Coffee. For the core blend, Bruner said he’s seeking a combination of coffees that tend to be roasted just on the darker side of medium that provide nutty and chocolatey notes, while he’s also experimenting with adding a touch of Ethiopian naturals for greater complexity.
Visitors to Grouphead’s production facility are treated to samples, including some from automatic dispensers originally made for Sivetz concentrate more than 20 years ago, Bruner said, adding that he hopes the new production headquarters will mark only the beginning of Grouphead’s growth.
Eyeing California as the next phase for distribution on the West coast, Bruner said, “I’d definitely like to see it go national. That’s why we’re working on the next steps.”