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Once a month, Tyler Campbell picks out three different coffees, focusing on options that highlight differences in beans, processing method, or roast profile. He brews them, and sets them out after coordinating with various coffee shops in Albany, Georgia to pick this month’s location. It’s free to go: there’s no charge for attendance, and he hopes for a crowd. The goal, he says, is to create a “low-risk environment” for his community to learn about specialty coffee by interacting with it: smelling it, tasting it, and talking about it.
Albany is a town largely awash in second-wave coffee culture, where many locals turn to cafes for a flavored, super-dark-roast experience, rather than a truly coffee-centric experience. The shop that carries and uses Strata’s blends—Temp Coffee, with its two locations owned and founded by Tyler’s wife, Catherine Garrett—are lone islands in this Frappuccino sea.
And that is precisely why Tyler has created these monthly meet ups. For people who are new to third-wave culture, it’s easy to be intimidated by the assertiveness of black coffee and the involved science of roasting, brewing, and tasting. It can be hard to learn; some home-brewing equipment costs hundreds of dollars, and learning how to use it properly can seem daunting to someone who’s used to an easier process.
Tyler, who has been in the coffee industry since he started as a barista for local shop The Brown Bean in 2007, has the tools to break down some of those barriers. He has the brewing equipment that the average Albany coffee-drinker doesn’t; he has years of experience with roasting trial-and-error, as well as the expertise he’s picked up from studying with seasoned professionals like Mark Michaelson; and he has the tangible passion to share it all, and make specialty coffee accessible to everyone.
“Coffee is so big,” he says. “It’s vast and intimidating for a lot of people.” So he makes it smaller; he packs it up and brings it to various locations around town, and sets it up for free, so that anyone from regular clientele to other Albany baristas can walk in and learn. And when they walk out, they’ll know a little bit more than when they came in.
The group is called the Quiet Coffee Club. And it’s just one way that Strata Coffee embodies its twofold mission of educating the community and creating blends that highlight the bright and nuanced flavors of specialty coffee.
Tyler explains it like this: Temp Coffee is the gateway through which their customers might enter and be introduced to a wealth of curated, specialty coffee flavors. The shop focuses on medium and dark roasts (although they do a mean and modern light roast too), serving coffee with flavor profiles that are familiar yet new—flavors that might convince a second-waver to consider the world outside of blended drinks. And Strata, the roastery, is the vehicle working in tandem with the brick and mortars to educate the community on how they might brew something similar at home.
On Quiet Coffee Club days, Tyler has a direct line with locals who want to get engaged with specialty coffee. Every other day, he has a direct line with a different group—the staff of Temp, as well as his own apprentice roaster who comes in every day to the renovated service-station-turned-roastery.
Many of these employees are youngish, and looking forward to moving from Albany and casting their futures into a more urban pool. But he’s not worried about turnover; if anything, he views their limited time at Temp as a way for them to prepare for jobs where third-wave knowledge is expected.
Because Strata is the only specialty roaster in town, Tyler had to look elsewhere for his own training. He’s gleaned most of his roasting knowledge online, from Facebook group forums to Mill City Roasters’ 101 class. But from his own barista days, he knows that the in-person experience is bar none, and so he wants to offer that invaluable training and education to the baristas that work for him and Catherine.
The training is a slow process. Sometimes, their monthly meetings are overwhelming with brewing recipes, and that can impact café service. And with each successful barista that leaves for college or a job in another city, there’s someone new coming in to take their place—someone starting from scratch. But Tyler wouldn’t have it any other way. He knows that hands-on learning is much more accessible and tactical than the alternative.
And it just makes good business sense: a knowledgeable co-roaster can shoulder some of the weight of a small business. And a knowledgeable barista can invite a new customer into the world of specialty coffee, or help them build a satisfying home-brewing routine with any of Strata’s wholesale roasts.
Most of all, if their baristas are trained in basic roasting and theory, they’re better equipped to support themselves in the specialty coffee industry. A good start—that’s what he wants for them.
And, Tyler adds, “if your baristas are educated, your customer will be educated too.”
Creating an unbeatable customer experience was always at the forefront of Tyler and Catherine’s minds as they built their collaborative businesses. Catherine and her business partner opened their first café location in 2018: two years later, they opened the second. At that point, there was no in-house roasting; they sourced their beans through Lucky Goat in Tallahassee.
As the business grew, they considered roasting their own coffee in order to control more aspects of the business; a tradeoff that meant more extensive startup costs, but an investment that would allow for greater flexibility and direction for the company’s finances in the long run.
At first, Tyler was hesitant to expand, worrying about the work involved in transitioning over. But he came around; after several rounds of extensive research, he went for an MCR-1 and just started cupping. “there was a lot of bad coffee,” he says.
Not enough, though, to dissuade him. And soon enough, there was good coffee. And then, too much good coffee—the MCR-1 couldn’t handle the 350-pound weeks that the shops needed.
So they invested again, this time in an MCR-10. With the flavor profiles locked in, he could now reliably supply Temp with a fresh, bright, sought-after product that could be brewed by well-trained baristas. And they could sell wholesale beans through both the brick and mortars as well as their online store: their community could expand, and Georgia could find a broader variety of beverage options.
In providing for both physical and virtual stores, Tyler has found a niche to experiment with new flavors and brewing methods. Case in point: their limited-batch cold brew concentrate roast, which bumped their online sales by over one-third and gave wholesale customers a way to make a Temp favorite at home.
Cold brew is an “in” for Tyler. “It really speaks to a large variety of people,” he says. It was an opportunity for him to offer a more modern take on a beloved classic, while still allowing his customers to control their own brewing.
This limited batch run was the first of its kind for Strata. But as Tyler continues experimenting, he’s hopeful there will be more down the line.
Other projects are in the works at Strata Coffee Roasting, too. The company now offers coffee subscriptions, which customers can choose for themselves. Or, they can decide on the “roaster’s choice” option, which Tyler curates monthly.
There’s a lot of roaster’s choice customers. Many of them have even called Tyler directly to explain to him their brewing setup. Some of them have a Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker; some of them have an AeroPress. Either way, he always meets them where they’re at. In fact, all of his products (cold brew included) come with recipe panels and grinding charts to help guide the process. Or you can always check his website; there are standalone brewing guides to fit every size there.
He has a clear end goal: understand where your community is at, and meet them there. “I would rather do a little extra work to be accessible and understand my customer than ask them to bend over backwards,” he says.
That holds true in his teaching practice as well. To new roasters, he wants to stress the importance of looking outside oneself. Once you’ve transitioned from hobby roasting to commercial roasting, he says, “you have to understand that you’re no longer roasting for yourself.” And, ultimately:
“It’s always better to be inclusive than to leave something out of reach.”
If you’re in the area, consider dropping in on the Quiet Coffee Club: you can follow their happenings (and all other goings-on) on Facebook, Instagram, or Strata Coffee Roasting’s website. You can also sign up for their mailing list, get yourself a Strata subscription, or simply stop by Temp to say hi.