Proof of Concept: Bryce Roszell and Andrew Wackett and Open Seas Coffee Roasters
Based in Stevensville, Maryland, Open Seas Coffee Roasters is a social-impact operation sending ten percent of its proceeds to provide rural communities with ceramic water purifiers.
Bryce Roszell is the owner and green buyer of Open Seas Coffee Roasters. Andrew Wackett is in charge of roasting and quality control; operations manager Hannah Wackett focuses on the post-roast, including bagging, shipping, and the brand’s social media presence.
They roast on an MCR-10 in a converted autobody repair shop in Stevensville, Maryland.
Setting the Scene
In 2011, Bryce Roszell moved to Pakse, Laos with his wife, Erica. In the five years they spent there, they both met and befriended many local coffee farmers through their work of manufacturing and installing ceramic water filters. Many of the producers they met owned and operated small family farms as their main source of income.
By the end of their time there, Bryce had not only observed the significant day-to-day work that went into running a coffee farm (and, in many cases, the minimal payoff), but also realized that he wanted to find an impactful way to support his friends’ agricultural businesses.
When the Roszells moved back to the United States, Bryce got to work on his next venture: a specialty coffee business. After his experience in Pakse, he wanted his own operation to give small farmers a reliable revenue stream–which meant he had to build something that could succeed long-term.
The Way Up
When Bryce started roasting on a manual 2 kilogram machine in his garage, he could feel the learning curve. “It felt like I was doing a week’s worth of work to get eight good batches,” he says.
By the end of 2015, Bryce had gained enough know-how on the 2 kilogram to start looking for a commercial space to expand into. He settled on an auto repair shop, and started renovations in 2016 to make the space more suitable for roasting.
June 2016 marked the beginning of Open Seas as a commercial venture. Bryce ran it himself, until he hired Andrew Wackett to help out as head roaster. Andrew drank his first cup of coffee on a high school trip to Costa Rica in 2010. He worked at a variety of coffee shops before coming to Open Seas Coffee Roasters, and he has been integral to the roastery’s success.
In 2018, the pair teamed up to compete at Coffee Fest in Baltimore, earning a third-place trophy in America’s Best Espresso Competition. It was that year that Andrew decided to devote his career fully to roasting, transitioning out of the barista space. 2018 was also the year that an MCR-10 replaced the manual 2 kilogram Bryce had started on.
At first, Andrew was most interested in coffees with bright, exotic flavors. But as his roasting career continued, he found his focus drawn towards more nuanced, balanced profiles. It was an Ethiopia natural roasted by a colleague, Caleb Podhaczky of Prodigal Coffee Roasters, that proved a more subtle flavor can be just as punchy as a big, bright one. He says, “That was something that I hadn’t experienced before and it really stuck with me.”
Both Bryce and Andrew view their daily work for Open Seas as a series of small decisions that sum to something much bigger. For Bryce, when things get tedious, he thinks about the producers he met in Laos, and the sheer amount of work it takes for them to grow their product. Every little fire he puts out during the working day is in service of more sustainable compensation for those growers.
For Andrew, he’s always thinking of what he calls “big picture thermal energy.” His roasting day is curated specifically to follow the thermal energy buildup of a typical roast day. Starting with the coffees that require the most heat and progressing downwards, Andrew can avoid tipping and scorching while still giving the coffee excellent presence and articulation in taste.
Bryce and Andrew have always tried to steer a middle course between uniqueness and balance. That core vision hasn’t changed since the conception of Open Seas: but the execution of that goal has evolved inevitably as the team has narrowed in on their market of wholesale partners with similar interests in sustainability and increasing wages for producers.
Now that Open Seas has been in business for seven years, Bryce spends less time worrying about the logistics of the roast process–Andrew and operations manager Hannah have that solidly under control, he says. More of his time is spent thinking about the nebulous future of the company. “We’re finally at a ‘where do we go next?’ stage,” he says.
Answering that question proves more difficult in a changing coffee landscape, as more shops in the Stevensville area start roasting their own coffee in-house. Because the pandemic has forced many small businesses to internalize processes as much as possible, it can be more work to find like-minded shops and convince them to try Open Seas coffee.
For Andrew, the biggest daily challenge is that of space and equipment constraints. “It’s a physical job,” he says.
The Open Seas Coffee Roasters Menu
Open Seas Coffee Roasters offers between ten and fifteen products. Four of these are blends that stay on year round, like the Captain’s Choice blend, a caramelly bestseller which can be used as drip, cold brew, or espresso. One blend is a seasonal, which rotates four times annually. Andrew also keeps on five or more single origins, which rotate with the harvest.
At first, Open Seas Coffee Roasters sourced from Cafe Imports. But as they attempted to meet their goal of becoming more interconnected with producers, they pivoted towards smaller, more specialized importers. “We wanted a tighter feedback loop,” Bryce says. “[so we asked,] who is already working in the areas we’re working in?”
Now, their main importer is Ally Coffee. Bryce also works directly with Joel Whetstone from CoTrade as well as Auxono Coffee, contacts from the Pakse days who help him secure coffees from southeast Asia.
Their wholesale partners include shops in the DC area as well as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Tennessee.
Ultimately, Bryce wants Open Seas Coffee Roasters to serve as a proof of concept that a successful coffee roastery does not have to be built on the backs of others.
Open Seas is working to develop relationships with producers from new regions, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.
In the future, Andrew would love to open a coffee shop, which would allow Open Seas Coffee Roasters to focus on the coffees they want without compromising for salability. In a brick and mortar, Andrew could also source some greens that are more expensive and unique, coffees that are usually hard sells for wholesale accounts. “It would be a great investment,” he says.
He also wants to invest in a loader, for the sake of his own back.
Bring Open Seas Coffee Roasters Home
You can find Open Seas Coffee all throughout Maryland, as well as Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the DC area. A full list of their extensive wholesale partners can be found here. You can also visit their website to get your hands on any of their single origins or blends.