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From Upper Pass Beer Comes First Branch Coffee in Vermont

First Branch Coffee Roasters and Upper Pass Brewing

The new First Branch coffee bar at 228 Chelsea St in South Royalton, Vermont. Photo by Ansel Dickey.

Another natural union of suds and perks has emerged in picturesque Royalton, Vermont, with the opening of First Branch Coffee. The coffee company comes from the same people behind the Upper Pass Beer company, founded in Vermont three years ago.

Initially seeking to open an off-site Upper Pass tasting room, First Branch Coffee Co-Owners Andy Puchalik, Chris Perry and Ivan Tomek realized that the area lacked a purveyor of equivalently craft-oriented specialty coffee, and that the parallel pursuits could work well under one roof.

First Branch Coffee Roasters and Upper Pass Brewing

Photo by Ansel Dickey.

“The town really needed a coffee shop, and [it] seemed like the two would be a good fit together, as there is not much to do in South Royalton,” Puckalik told Daily Coffee News. “On a Saturday afternoon, an Upper Pass tasting room customer can grab a cappuccino for the ride home, and, conversely, someone coming in for a coffee may decide to check out the tasting room side. Two nights a week we have food and pint nights, and the [coffee] shop is still open so it makes for a nice overlap in client base and a nice mix of people.”

Inside the warm, 2,100-square-foot space in South Royalton with exposed brick walls, whiskey barrel tables and live edge black walnut bars, about 200 square feet is devoted to a roastery production line that includes 1-kilo Mill City sample roaster and a copper-clad 12-kilo US Roaster Corp Millennium roaster.

First Branch Coffee Roasters and Upper Pass Brewing

The First Branch roastery includes a Mill City sample roaster and this copper-clad production roaster from US Roaster Corp. Photo by Ansel Dickey.

Beer brewing partners Puchalik and Perry both browned their first beans on the small Mill City machine, and have since logged long hours of experimentation. That lead to a summer seasonal cold brew release that was also used as an ingredient in some Upper Pass beers. Prior to opening its doors, First Branch also brought on board Adam Calver, whose coffee CV includes stints with companies in Brooklyn, New York, and Portland, Oregon, and Monica Alsup, who also owns and roasts for Station House Coffee Co. in Thetford Center, Vermont.

Puchalik said the team approaches greens sourced so far through Mercanta, Crop to Cup, and Olam collaboratively and flexibly to get the best from each bean.

First Branch Coffee Roasters and Upper Pass Brewing

Photo by Ansel Dickey.

“Our approach is a faster roast, charging into first crack and then slowing down at the end,” said Puchalik. “We are focused on consistency and dialing in the temp for each bean, as the roaster is relatively new to us. In general we want to bring out the best in the high-quality coffee we have acquired, bringing out its natural sweetness and caramelization without burning it, and preserving some acidity. This can be a delicate balance.”

The resulting house espresso is then ground in a Mazzer Robur E for extraction on a La Marzocco Linea PB 2-group espresso machine installed on a coffee that’s also clad in copper, to match the USRC roaster. Drip coffees brewed on a Fetco Extractor are ground by Mahlkonig EK43. Puchalik said an additional grinder devoted to single origin espresso is on the wish list, and that a manual pourover program will soon kick in for mellower times after the morning rush.

First Branch Coffee Roasters and Upper Pass Brewing

The First Branch bar and Upper Pass tasting room. Photo by Ansel Dickey.

Next steps for the roastery cafe in the coming months include launching flat and nitro cold brews in the shop, and pushing a wholesale roasting business in the region. Puchalik said cuppings with potential wholesale clients have begun, and that online retail coffee bean sales will also roll out in November.

First Branch Coffee is open now at 228 Chelsea St in South Royalton.

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