Start with a good coffee bean

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Postmaster Michael S. “Mike” Robichaud handed me the cardboard box too big for my P.O. Box.

I said, “These are rounds (K-Cups) from Black Rifle Coffee company. Do you like coffee?”

“Yes,” Mike answered. “I roast my own.” He asked what kind of coffee I like. A few days later, Mike gave me a sample 16-ounce bag of his Beacon & Light Coffee Roasters “Costa Rican Dark” specialty coffee.

At home I brewed enough to fill my travel thermos and L.L. Bean thermal stainless steel mug. Expecting with my first sip to taste passable, I instead tasted excellent, dark roast coffee.

Next time I saw Mike, I thanked him and asked about his coffee roasting business.

Mike said he first “got introduced to really good coffee” in 1984, in the Navy, at a United Services Organization (USO) in Marseille, France.

“They would have cappuccino and espresso, different varieties of coffee. That sparked my interest. I just really had an appreciation for a good cup of coffee,” Mike recalled.

Aboard ship In the Navy “you drank whatever comes out of the urn. It’s dark, it’s black. At times it doesn’t even taste like coffee,” Mike laughed. At the USO in Marseille he “wanted to try something different,” and ordered a cappuccino.

“I didn’t even know what a cappuccino was. But the aroma was enough to drive you right towards it,” he said. “You could see somebody behind the counter taking very good care of that little cup of coffee they were making.”

After the Navy, in the Merchant Marines, Mike sailed to places “like San Francisco and got introduced to even better coffee,” at “little coffee houses along Fisherman’s Wharf.” He finally gained an interest in “the process [of] how [coffee] was roasted. It just seemed like a really neat business to get into,” Mike said.

But, with neither time nor money, Mike waited until January 2015 to “purchase my first small roaster,” which he set up in his garage. With the ability to roast a half-pound of coffee “in about 17-minutes,” Mike “was elated and couldn’t wait to taste the final product.”

“You have to start with a good [coffee] bean. Your coffee’s only going to be as fresh as your beans are,” Mike said, talking me through his “process” of roasting, cooling, breathing, and storing coffee beans for great tasting coffee.

In six months of experimenting, Mike roasted 40 pounds of coffee, from light, to medium, to dark roasts. “I have this whole notebook full of [recipes for] every roast we’ve ever roasted,” which Mike can use to recreate his coffee successes.

Today, Mike’s “Beacon & Light Coffee Roasters” operation is “commercial grade, [with] everything we need to produce coffee, bag it, and ship it.

“How do we find our niche in this market? is probably the biggest question we [now] have,” he explained.

That’s a question common to Maine small business startups.

Do we approach supermarkets for shelf space? What about cafes, restaurants, and other coffee selling places? Should we move our rural roasting operation to a more heavily-trafficked location where “people can come in and pull a bag of coffee off a shelf, or sit and have a cup of coffee?”

Then there’s building and maintaining an online presence where people can learn about the coffee and order it. That means finding a trustworthy web host, website builder, and the best way to secure online payments.

“Our next step is to get our coffee to a larger market with the mindset: We’re in it for the long haul.” At that point, Mike said, “You’re committing yourself to people who want to buy your product. So there’s a responsibility that comes with that.”

For more info: Beacon & Light Coffee, 207-577-8003.

Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections until 2015. He is now using his communications skills to serve clients in the private sector.

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