Drink Local: North Mississippi’s Community of Coffee Roasters

By Dennis Seid // Photos by Lauren Wood

You don’t have to go far in Northeast Mississippi to find some fresh roasted coffee.

High Point Coffee Roasters, New Albany

Checking the temperature gauge and monitoring the air flow to the coffee roaster – one of two that roast thousands of pounds of beans a week – Dan Skinner is waiting for that first “pop.”

“It’s like the sound of popcorn; once it starts, it won’t be long before they’re ready,” he said.

Skinner is the owner of High Point Coffee Roasters in New Albany, where he’s been roasting coffee since 2004. High Point, he claims, is the oldest roaster in the state, and boasts of having customers in nearly every state.

High Point provides coffee to several retail establishments, among them Strange Brew in Starkville and Tupelo, and several shops in New Albany, where High Point is based.

“Coffee is the second-most traded commodity on earth, behind oil,” said Skinner, a former engineer who got the coffee bug more than 15 years ago. He turned that passion into a business, learning to roast from some of the best in the industry.

High Point has won awards for quality, beating some much larger, high-profile coffee sellers. And it all starts with quality small-batch roasting.

“We get coffee from 16 countries, from Central American and Africa,” Skinner said.

The coffee beans arrive in burlap bags weighing 150 pounds or more and, depending on the customers’ preference, can be roasted at nine temperatures.

“We’re a specialty coffee roaster, which means we only use beans that rank in the 80th percentile and above for quality,“ Skinner said. “Only 10 percent of the coffee beans harvested worldwide meet those standards.”

Umble Coffee Company, Starkville

In Starkville, Dr. Kenneth Thomas also has a preference for quality coffee. So much so that he started roasting earlier this year, and sells online.

“As far as fresh, high-quality coffee, I easily saw a gap in the South for it as compared to the leaders found in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “I love coffee – good coffee – and I wanted to bring that down here.”

And as a physician, Thomas knows the health benefits of coffee, from the antioxidants to the anti-inflammatories that exceed those in wine or green tea.

“The fresher the coffee, the better the health benefits,” he said.

Retail customers in Starkville include 929, The Grill and Juva, plus Jubilations in West Point and Farm House Market in West Point. While new to the coffee roasting game, Thomas won an award last year in a national roasting competition, and just recently won awards for his breakfast blend and decaf.

“We launched in mid-spring of 2018 and we’ve grown quickly,” Thomas said.

It’s all about the roast

The roasting process is part art, part science.

At High Point, a gas-fired roaster is pre-heated to 425 degrees, and the beans are dropped into the revolving drum. The temperature drops to between 375 and 400 degrees, and the beans soon begin to crackle like popping popcorn. After the initial cracking, the temperature rises again, and a second cracking will occur.

Skinner checks on the beans throughout the roasting process. From experience, he can tell by merely looking if they’re ready to come out.

During the roasting process, moisture will be drawn out of the beans. The temperature rises again and a second cracking happens. During all of this, the oils will emerge from the beans, providing the flavor.

After roasting, the beans are dropped into a tray with a rotating metal arm that helps cool the beans. Air underneath the pan continues to wick away remaining moisture.

Once cooled, the beans are placed in bags or ground, depending on what a customer requests.

Customers may be ordering several hundred pounds of a particular roast to be shipped, but High Point is happy to sell, for example,  a 2-pound bag of the New Albany blend to a customer who happens to drop by the nondescript tin building off Highway 15 north.

Specialty coffee roasters use Arabica beans, a higher-grade coffee compared to Robusta coffee that most large-scale commercial roasters use.

“Arabica has less caffeine than Robusta, but it’s a more desirable coffee,” Skinner said. “What you see on grocery store shelves use mostly Robusta.”

And coffee roasters also know this: The darker the roast, the less caffeine.

“A lot of people think that the bolder, more intense flavor of a dark roast means there’s more caffeine, but the opposite is true,” Skinner said. “The lighter the roast, the more caffeine there is.”

More local coffee

High Point • 739 MS Hwy. 15 • New Albany

(662) 534-9797 • highpointroasters.com

Umble Coffee • Starkville • umblecoffee.com

My Brother’s Cup • Tupelo

(662) 491-0923 • mybrotherscup.com

Heartbreak Coffee • 102 Main St. • Water Valley

(562) 481-6981 • heartbreakcoffeeroasters.com

Tupelo River • Tupelo

tupeloriver@gmail.com • tupeloriver.com

The People’s Cup MicroRoastery • Starkville

(662) 722-3587 • the peoplesroaster@gmail.com • thepeoplesroaster.com

Devine Coffee • Oxford

jimmy@devine.coffee • www.devine.coffee

 

 

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