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Chattanooga Work Juice: Luke Pigott and New Wave Coffee Roasters
Luke Pigott of New Wave Coffee Roasters roasts on an MCR-20, 20 kilogram roaster in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The roastery is a small production space nestled in partner company Be Caffeinated’s cafe kitchen, where the New Wave team focuses on business-to-business wholesale.
Setting the Scene
Before founding New Wave, Luke Pigott spent the better part of fifteen years in the coffee industry. He started at a Target store Starbucks in 2007, and soon moved to locally-owned drive-thru Seattle Drip, later rebranded to Java Moe’s. “It was my first exposure to a decent coffee gig,” he says. “It stuck with me over the years.”
In 2009, while attending William Carey University, Luke had his first brief exposure to home roasting; then, in 2013, he got his first roasting job in Wayne, Pennsylvania at Griffin Cafe. His role there helped the company expand from cafe operations to production roasting, and expand their client base as well.
Since then, he’s repeated that growth cycle with a variety of companies, coming on as a consultant for cafes such as Grin Coffee in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Mad Priest in Chattanooga.
When Covid-19 struck, Luke decided to take the opportunity to take control of his career. 2020 marked the year he pivoted to work with a software company while designing his own company. A year later, in 2021, he left to pursue his business, New Wave Coffee Roasters, full-time.
The Way Up
Ever since his days at Seattle Drip, Luke has had an affinity for the drive-thru model, especially as a way to bring craft coffee within reach to the average coffee-drinker. That interest led him to Be Caffeinated, a chain of four cafes in Tennessee with both traditional cafe floor space as well as a drive-thru window in the kitchen.
The roastery found its home in the downtown Chattanooga Be Caffeinated location: a renovated Italian restaurant. The roastery is big enough for New Wave’s MCR-20 as well as a production and bagging station, but small enough to feel cozy.
Luke chose to start with a MCR-20 based on his previous experience scaling other coffee companies. He’d seen companies upgrading their equipment within the first two years, and he decided a bigger investment upfront was worth it. “We did it on the front end to focus on growing the business,” he says.
With his background in scaling small coffee businesses, Luke had seen a lot of technological changes in the industry, so he expected his own company would end up evolving as it grew. “I’m trying not to turn into an old brewster stuck in his ways,” Luke says.
His partner in New Wave Coffee Roasters, Zach Congdon, aids the company by focusing on production flow and quality control, with Luke manning the roaster. Zach, the only Q grader in Chattanooga, gives the company an edge with its product lineup.
Luke has proven himself well-suited to the role of head roaster for New Wave. His attention is naturally drawn to minor details, which has helped him develop a highly focused roasting style. The MCR-20 has played a role in that style as well: Luke considers his ability to maneuver minute roast details equally as important as the machine’s responsiveness and control over airflow and heat. “You can tell it was designed by people that roast coffee,” he says.
The main challenge New Wave Coffee Roasters faces comes from its position with Be Caffeinated. Because New Wave is so physically enmeshed with Be Caffeinated, separating the two cultures can be difficult, both in marketing and in daily labor.
However, part of the setup’s appeal is that Luke and Zach can focus almost all of their energy on roasting, while Be Caffeinated takes the reins on retail selling. While that brings some stability and structure to Luke’s day, it can also be a challenge in advertising. Overall, Luke is happy to have Be Caffeinated as an ally in acclimating Tennesseans to craft coffee.
Most of what Luke thinks about now is the long-term health and ethical implications of the coffee trade in our current environmental climate. “I didn’t get into [coffee] with many thoughts about climate change or agronomy,” he says. “And now that’s what I think about all the time.”
Luke, who has an organic hobby garden, feels the urgency of questions about green coffee both at work and at home. He expects a lot of change in the upcoming decades, including rising prices and changes in coffee grades in high-production areas, although it’s hard to know for sure.
The New Wave Coffee Roasters Menu
New Wave Coffee Roasters offers seven mainstay products, each designed for flavor rather than origin. All their products follow a brand aesthetic of what Luke calls “synthesizer parameters,” and each roast is associated with a sound wave, such as Vibrato, a bright and fruity light roast associated with and marketed as the triangular wave coffee.
New Wave also roasts two blends from the single origin greens, preblend Polyphonic and postblend Work Juice. The Work Juice recipe includes whatever coffees are leftover at the end of the day, which are all post-blended, packaged, and sold at a cheaper margin than the single origins.
Luke has also started a microlot series called Oscillator. The first batch, a natural Honduras from La Esmaerlda, grew on a bird-friendly farm owned by De La Finca. He’s looking forward to the second batch coming out as soon as time allows.
The coffee branding is set up in such a way that there’s some wiggle room in each blend for harvest rotation. The majority of greens have come from De La Finca in the past year, although the team has used Balzac Brothers in the past. Because of De La Finca’s direct relationship with a variety of Central American farms, Luke has everything he needs for the New Wave portfolio.
While consistency in flavor is important to the operation, Luke prioritizes consistency of branding and quality most of all. “We’re a company that’s always tinkering a little bit,” he says.
Luke and Zach have their sights set on increasing production in the coming months, to prepare for Be Caffeinated’s expansion. With a larger number of pounds per week, the team can also prepare for more wholesale customers outside of their partner cafe. As it is, they have over forty wholesale customers, and Luke would love for that number to grow.
“We’re realizing more and more that a lot of people don’t know we exist, and that’s oddly encouraging,” Luke says. He sees potential customers everywhere, just one marketing campaign away from buying their first New Wave coffee.
He also foresees a move to a new space in the near future, to up square footage for storage and production. The first thing on the to-do list, however, is to install a stereo in the roastery.
Bring New Wave Coffee Roasters Home
Order New Wave Coffee from any Be Caffeinated cafes: Northshore, Red Bank, Highland Park, or Chattanooga State. Or order it from Syrup and Eggs, Luke’s wife’s breakfast restaurant. You can also order the whole lineup on the New Wave Coffee Roasters website, or follow them on Instagram to get updates on batch two of Oscillator.
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