Owner, Chuck Jones
You might expect a multi-generational coffee farmer and roaster to be wired on caffeine especially if their heritage stems almost a century. In this instance, Chuck Jones fits the bill and happily admits to 3-4 coffees a day and tasting about ten times that amount – daily.
As a young man and a self-proclaimed foodie Jones admits that he enjoyed his years of growing up and working with raw products. His grandfather thought he was a joke when he expressed interest in the family business. “He never expected me to get in to the business. He told me that I would be just like any other customer, down to having cash against documents when I wanted to start buying coffee and importing it to the States,” said Jones.
More than twenty years ago, this kid of a professor began with his first container and by 1994 he was selling strictly wholesale until 2005. Although selling beans to the public was always a feature of the Jones business plan, it was after setting up a training bar that he realized he had an audience beyond the home roaster wanting to buy green beans. Thus, he opened up Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena.
Jones has come a long way from the days of his grandfather roasting on a barbecue pit and his own experiments with a popcorn pepper. “I would hoist it on books to get just the right angle to heat the beans.” Now, he has a 12 kilo, 1987 Probat running in two shifts a day, roasting on premises, nearly 80 hours a week. His yield – 15-18,000 pounds a month.
“It’s almost irresponsible,” he says with a chuckle. “But, this business is constant, there’s no satisfaction in roasting. We’re always trying to make it better.” I sipped their JC Espresso to that.
The Master Roaster
Rafael Aguilar or “Rafi” as the team affectionately calls him can be seeing any given day working towards the left rear of the shop mans one of the Probats’ two shifts. This certified coffee Qurator – charges beans on a 1987 Probat outfitted with some extra gauges roasting from origins like Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala.
He is generous in sharing some statistics on the process here. While profiles do change, a standard setting of firing beans at 400 degrees, at a length of 13-15 min – depending on the bean (i.e. espresso) and its use (i.e. drip).
Rafi expands on his roasting philosophy “good roasting is allowing the bean to dictate flavor versus the vessel the bean is roasted in.” As our visit continues he shares the challenges of roasting. It’s about trying to find the perfect balance.
When their samples come in, they roast 2-4 levels and decode where the bean shows the best. I soon watch the minute by minute tracking of a green bean as it goes into the hopper. “We like to stay in the first pop, allowing sugars to caramelize and flavor to settle into the beans.” If from Brazil you can discover buttery almond notes. Or, if from Guatemala, beans can give off notes of hazelnut and lemongrass.
When coffee is roasted lighter – their offered blends are dictated by customer preferences – then you are able to tell where the coffee comes from and enjoy the quality of all its natural flavors.
We talk about the future of coffee; he is excited about how the industry is developing a better palate which means that better quality can be demanded. In addition, the rise of micro-roasters allows for tasting a variety of countries. However, he admits, “coffee like wine can be found almost anywhere, so the goal is to keep the integrity of the product. To go from green to dark isn’t fair.”
It may not be fair either, that he often takes his work home. Once, the profile that he was were working with just wasn’t right. “I told customers to come back tomorrow. It wasn’t until the next morning while in the shower, that the answer came to me.” Its comforting to know that although they build profiles by regions, the operation here isn’t about numbers and percentages. Rafi keeps his ear to the drum and his nose to the sense of smell. “I’m connected to these beans. Every day is a new day in the life of a roaster,” said Rafi.
The Space | 693 S.Raymond Ave
If you can trust me, trust that you’re going to feel good when you come here. Perhaps, almost as good as it feels when you are in the comfort of a welcoming home. In addition to the smell of beans in various stages – roasted, being ground, or pressed – the coffee shop is a platform for the local ethos.
On my third visit and with a different companion, I return to an indoor tamale station and live music from a four piece band with the Probat as its backdrop. To walk into a Wi-Fi–less space such as this, where repurposed coffee cans strung with ribbon hang from up above, vintage motel signs blink florescent advertisements and art oil paintings frame the walls – feels like I’m a welcomed visitor in the home of a friend.
Given that the coffee bar is an island in the middle of all the action, you can hug its perimeters while you down shots of espresso, take center stage near the roaster at one of the communal tables or take a seat on the patio towards the front of the shop sipping a fuller drink. You’ll notice a norm here –people read the paper, chat freely with others and they linger long.
While there is much encompassed within this space, its intention isn’t to overwhelm but to be agreeable to every type of clientele from the home roaster, day worker and student. I have a chance to taste coffee from a lot – named Teanzul – they purchased before it went on to win the 2011 Guatemalan coffee of the year award.
When I take it home and AeroPress it, I taste peaches and feel the spirit of Jones in my cup. I’m not surprised either that Pasadena locals have named Jones Coffee the Best Independent coffee house for the past two years in a row – nor would Jones’ Grandfather.
Jones sounds like this : Baaba Maal, Koni