Twenty-eight years ago, a cup of coffee awakened a passion. Sitting on a cottage porch in Jamaica, Kevin Kapaun took his first sip of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. “I was awestruck by the taste,” Kapaun says.
He later decided to import and roast coffee here in Minnesota to recreate that inspired experience. It was a hobby that would eventually become his business, Specialty Java, Inc. in Waconia. “I’d give coffee as a gift like you might bake cookies for a friend. But what if your friends kept asking to buy your cookies? How would you answer?,” Kapaun says, recalling how his hobby began to transform to a business.
In 2002 Kapaun answered, “yes” to selling his roasted coffee and launched SpecialtyJava.com. His company focuses on giving customers a profound coffee experience. “The taste difference between a low quality and a high quality cup of coffee is similar to comparing canned to fresh vegetables,” says Kapaun, who’s known at Specialty Java as the Chief Coffee Fanatic.
Kapaun seeks to understand the flavor nuances of high quality coffees grown around the world. Then through trial and error combinations, Specialty Java creates its unique blends. Kapaun admits creating the company’s exceptional coffee flavor profiles is more art than science. Coffee beans can differ from farm to farm, year to year. But as a roaster, Specialty Java can tweak blends to maintain flavor consistency.
Kapaun recommends lighter roasted Central American coffees at breakfast. “Beans from Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico offer more zing on the tongue. It’s referred to as brightness.” With dessert he suggests South American, Indonesian and African blends.
“Coffee is primarily a finishing experience,” he says. “You wouldn’t generally drink coffee with your evening meal. An exception might be a dark roasted Sumatran with a steak dinner. Otherwise, coffee goes best after dinner, especially with chocolate.”
Specialty Java’s coffee is well-liked at coffee shops like The Mocha Monkey in Waconia. Mocha Monkey owner, John Schmidt says Specialty Java’s coffee exceeds expectations. “Velvet Soul from Specialty Java is our most popular blend. Plus I love the name,” says Schmidt. “They roast and deliver our coffee beans the same day so our coffee is the freshest. And they use lots of fair trade and organics which fits with our own philosophy.”
When Kapaun is asked about home brewing, he switches gears from the art of roasting to the science of brewing a perfect cup of coffee. He says it’s important to have hot enough water in contact with ground coffee for the right amount of time. “Many devices don’t brew at hot enough temperatures,” Kapaun states. “That’s why people have trouble replicating coffee shop coffee. Many consumer devices brew at only 175 degrees when 195-200 degrees is preferable.”
Kapaun’s thoughts on grinding are, “Grind immediately before brewing. Like opening a bottle of wine, a majority of coffee loses its flavor characteristics within ninety minutes of grinding. A decent grinder can be purchased for around thirty-five dollars. And the coarser the grind, the longer the brewing time should be. But never grind to a powder because it over-extracts the beans and causes a bitter taste.”
For best control of the brewing process, Kapaun recommends a Chemex pour-over style coffee maker. Water is heated separately to the optimum temperature and then manually poured over ground coffee into a glass container. He’s against plastic or Styrofoam containers as they may leach chemicals and interfere with coffee’s taste. “I’m seeing a strong resurgence in single serve pour-over coffee offered in coffee shops,” Kapaun says. “And since the Chemex coffeemaker is in the Smithsonian Institute as one of the best designed products of modern times, I feel fine recommending it for home use.”
It’s a straightforward philosophy. Use quality ingredients like those from Specialty Java combined with a decent grinder and a pour-over style coffeemaker. The result should be a great cup of coffee without the expense of a trip to Jamaica.