Business

Best Connecticut Coffee? The Micro Business of an English Teacher at The Gunnery in Washington


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Coffee is extremely popular in the Americas, North and South. It’s also widely consumed in Europe, Africa and Asia, along with Australia; Down Under has its fair share of coffee enthusiasts.

Among the biggest cash crops in the world, coffee beans yield that invigorating beverage that is hardly specific to a single culture or served with a single preferred enhancement. Around the world people take it black, with sugar, with milk, with sweetener, with cream, with any or all of them, but never with salt.

Nicholas Benson favors his coffee black, except when having a cup of something more distinctive than the daybreak Joe—an espresso he’ll take with sugar.

The English teacher at The Gunnery, the private prep school in Washington, is a seasoned coffee drinker. It is evident when he sucks back a few ounces of espresso, a jolt generally deemed stronger than coffee that, to him, is a bit on the weaker side. Mr. Benson is such the enthusiast that he orders pounds of coffee beans essentially in a raw state, and then roasts them as part of a home-based business brew he calls Zero Prophet Coffee.

“I’ve been roasting for about six years but a coffee consumer for 30,” he said, doing a quick calculation on the basis he started drinking the strong brew at 16. “I was spending a lot of money wanting good coffee. Then I made it a small business.”

Out of a detached structure on his Washington property, he has an industrial roaster called the Diedrich Coffee machine. It’s maybe the size of a car engine but with the functionality of an oversized popcorn cooker. In goes a pound of essentially raw beans and out comes fully cooked beans in the familiar form of that darkened, aromatic and ubiquitous product.

As he roasts a pound of a staple that takes on exotic, rarefied qualities in the right hands—it takes about 20 minutes—he explains the virtues of international coffee beans.

“Look it, these are Yemeni,” Mr. Benson said as he unsealed and let the aroma escape from a bag full of unroasted coffee beans. “You smell that, this one has almost a musty smell to it.”

Not musty in the pejorative sense; they are far from foul but that the fragrance wasn’t terribly exciting. That’s not necessarily a reflection of the ultimate taste, considering that Yemeni coffee is one of his favorites. Turkish also holds favor.

For comparison he opened another bag. Continued...

“This is Guatemalan,” he said, sharing a big whiff. “This is fruitier, more of a tropical fruit.”

He has packages from 10 different countries, and all of them are shipped through a provider in Oakland, Calif., called Sweet Maria’s. Basically that one business is the only middle man between Zero Prophet Coffee and the plantation.

It’s amazing how much coffee is consumed but how little people know about the product. Coffee beans are a typically versatile commodity borne from a wide variety of berry trees (yes, berry trees) that do well in higher altitudes of warm regions. Those are the places where the best comes from, so those are the places from where Mr. Benson has his coffee beans exported.

“There are so many good coffees,” he noted. “Some countries are so small but have a huge coffee profile.”

Guatemala and Honduras fit the category, and Ethiopia as well.

Regardless where the beans arrive from, before he roasts them they don’t even quite resemble coffee beans. They exhibit a coloration somewhere between yellow and green, and kind of look like lentils but in various shapes and sizes.

Then he pours them into the roaster—and then they come out dark and fragrant. People may have to have their own grinder to shepherd the product from beans into a cup of good, strong coffee, but those are available at hardware and home goods stores. With that, Zero Prophet Coffee has developed a small but devoted clientele.

“The Community Table [restaurant in Washington] gets half its coffee from me,” said Mr. Benson, referring to the Route 202 dining haven that serves only local products.

Actually, it turns out, Community Table gets more than half of its coffee from Zero Prophet Coffee.

“He knows right where the beans are from and carefully mixes the types to form this very delicious coffee, the best I’ve had in Connecticut by far,” said Joel Viehland, owner of the highly praised Community Table. “So 100 percent of the coffees served during dinner hours are from Zero Prophet.” Continued...

Mr. Benson does like to blend. The one he mixes from beans from Bali, Nicaragua and Brazil is called the Romford Blend (named for Washington’s Romford Road.)

“Nick brought it to us one day after dining in the restaurant and [trying] our coffee,” continued Mr. Viehland. “He told us that he was roasting his own beans and asked if we'd like to try them and we were blown away when we did. The coffee is that good.”

It really is that good. Even a person who has a one-cup-a-day limit wound up throwing back a few Zero Prophet Coffee offerings and then had the energy of one very energetic man.

To learn more, see the Web site at www.zeroprophet.wordpress.com.
Coffee is extremely popular in the Americas, North and South. It’s also widely consumed in Europe, Africa and Asia, along with Australia; Down Under has its fair share of coffee enthusiasts.

Among the biggest cash crops in the world, coffee beans yield that invigorating beverage that is hardly specific to a single culture or served with a single preferred enhancement. Around the world people take it black, with sugar, with milk, with sweetener, with cream, with any or all of them, but never with salt.

Nicholas Benson favors his coffee black, except when having a cup of something more distinctive than the daybreak Joe—an espresso he’ll take with sugar.

The English teacher at The Gunnery, the private prep school in Washington, is a seasoned coffee drinker. It is evident when he sucks back a few ounces of espresso, a jolt generally deemed stronger than coffee that, to him, is a bit on the weaker side. Mr. Benson is such the enthusiast that he orders pounds of coffee beans essentially in a raw state, and then roasts them as part of a home-based business brew he calls Zero Prophet Coffee.

“I’ve been roasting for about six years but a coffee consumer for 30,” he said, doing a quick calculation on the basis he started drinking the strong brew at 16. “I was spending a lot of money wanting good coffee. Then I made it a small business.”

Out of a detached structure on his Washington property, he has an industrial roaster called the Diedrich Coffee machine. It’s maybe the size of a car engine but with the functionality of an oversized popcorn cooker. In goes a pound of essentially raw beans and out comes fully cooked beans in the familiar form of that darkened, aromatic and ubiquitous product.

As he roasts a pound of a staple that takes on exotic, rarefied qualities in the right hands—it takes about 20 minutes—he explains the virtues of international coffee beans.

“Look it, these are Yemeni,” Mr. Benson said as he unsealed and let the aroma escape from a bag full of unroasted coffee beans. “You smell that, this one has almost a musty smell to it.”

Not musty in the pejorative sense; they are far from foul but that the fragrance wasn’t terribly exciting. That’s not necessarily a reflection of the ultimate taste, considering that Yemeni coffee is one of his favorites. Turkish also holds favor.

For comparison he opened another bag.

“This is Guatemalan,” he said, sharing a big whiff. “This is fruitier, more of a tropical fruit.”

He has packages from 10 different countries, and all of them are shipped through a provider in Oakland, Calif., called Sweet Maria’s. Basically that one business is the only middle man between Zero Prophet Coffee and the plantation.

It’s amazing how much coffee is consumed but how little people know about the product. Coffee beans are a typically versatile commodity borne from a wide variety of berry trees (yes, berry trees) that do well in higher altitudes of warm regions. Those are the places where the best comes from, so those are the places from where Mr. Benson has his coffee beans exported.

“There are so many good coffees,” he noted. “Some countries are so small but have a huge coffee profile.”

Guatemala and Honduras fit the category, and Ethiopia as well.

Regardless where the beans arrive from, before he roasts them they don’t even quite resemble coffee beans. They exhibit a coloration somewhere between yellow and green, and kind of look like lentils but in various shapes and sizes.

Then he pours them into the roaster—and then they come out dark and fragrant. People may have to have their own grinder to shepherd the product from beans into a cup of good, strong coffee, but those are available at hardware and home goods stores. With that, Zero Prophet Coffee has developed a small but devoted clientele.

“The Community Table [restaurant in Washington] gets half its coffee from me,” said Mr. Benson, referring to the Route 202 dining haven that serves only local products.

Actually, it turns out, Community Table gets more than half of its coffee from Zero Prophet Coffee.

“He knows right where the beans are from and carefully mixes the types to form this very delicious coffee, the best I’ve had in Connecticut by far,” said Joel Viehland, owner of the highly praised Community Table. “So 100 percent of the coffees served during dinner hours are from Zero Prophet.”

Mr. Benson does like to blend. The one he mixes from beans from Bali, Nicaragua and Brazil is called the Romford Blend (named for Washington’s Romford Road.)

“Nick brought it to us one day after dining in the restaurant and [trying] our coffee,” continued Mr. Viehland. “He told us that he was roasting his own beans and asked if we'd like to try them and we were blown away when we did. The coffee is that good.”

It really is that good. Even a person who has a one-cup-a-day limit wound up throwing back a few Zero Prophet Coffee offerings and then had the energy of one very energetic man.

To learn more, see the Web site at www.zeroprophet.wordpress.com.

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