Don't worry: No actual ghosts are harmed in the process of "ghost roasting." The term refers to Nom de Plume Roasters' low-overhead business model. Rather than making the (cough, cough, crazy expensive) choice to open their own roasting operation, NdP rents roasting time from other local facilities. Most recently, they've been firing up their own selections at Press Coffee's Roastery.
Nom de Plume owners Harlin Glovacki and Niko Kovacevic decided to "ghost roast" for a number of reasons. Part of it was monetary. Scrimping on the brick-and-mortar has allowed them splurge on other things - chiefly, really high quality green coffee. But it was also a deliberate philosophical decision. These are gentlemen who clearly enjoy thinking, and also thinking about thinking: Harlin attended a small, non-conformist liberal arts college that emphasized Philosophy and History of math and science, Niko majored in Mathematics and English.
Harlin and Niko's intellectual approach resonates throughout every aspect of their business, from their branding to their brewing. Their bags feature pen-and-ink drawings of famously pen-named individuals along with their "endorsement" of each coffee: George Eliot seems to prefer the Kore Kochore Ethiopia, while Muddy Waters sings the praises of the Finca Consolapan from Mexico. Their pourover brewing is precise and mathematical - both the coffee and water are weighed, the brews are timed, the pours are deliberate and rhythmic.
Nom de Plume's philosophy on coffee has a tendency towards the exoteric. As Niko puts it, "We are determined to demystify great coffee, and show people that you don't have to end up in a 'Third Wave' shop to find a properly brewed cup of fully developed, lightly roasted, delicious coffee. In fact, everyone can do it at home, often better than popular shops, and for way less money." He adds, "We have no money, but want to roast great coffee for people."
Not having a home base keeps their operating costs low, and gets the pair out into the community to promote their coffees. As Harlin stated, "What we love about our ghost roasting set up is how flexible it makes us; we've thought about several growth strategies, but we're most excited for the ones we'll encounter that we haven't yet considered." I met up with them during a recent "Grinder Swap" at Crepe Bar to try their current offerings and hear a little bit more about their mission.
A few quick words about Crepe Bar: this cafe is a delight in its own right. It is refreshing to find a restaurant that cares about coffee quality, and that truly pays attention to how food and beverages pal around together on the palate. Having Nom de Plume brewing their coffees on-site at Crepe Bar helped to highlight the talent of both parties.
I can't say this enough about Nom de Plume: those boys are killin' it. Absolutely killin' it. And they're doing it without a roasting space of their own. Their coffees are clean, sweet, and complex, which is pretty much the coffee equivalent of owning all three of the Deathly Hallows.
At present, Nom de Plume's menu of offerings is trim and to the point. Summertime is when all of the best and brightest coffees from Ethiopia start to shine, and NdP's offering from Kochore Station in Ethiopia is a syrupy reminder of the season. Sweet peach and vanilla bean dominate a balanced, yet insanely sweet cup. Coffees from Yirgacheffe (the region that houses Kochore Station) are known for having intensely floral aromatics, and this coffee is no exception - sweet lemongrass and lemon verbena notes lightly perfume the cup.
Mexico produces a metric butt-ton of coffee, but most of it has is produced at fairly low elevations and doesn't taste all that great. In recent years, however, there has been a huge push in Mexico towards more sustainable, higher elevation, higher quality green coffee. Nom de Plume's selection from Finca Consolapan is a glowing example of this movement. This coffee is the rich, chocolatey antithesis of the fruit-forward Kochore Station coffee; toasted marshmallow, cacao nibs, and brandied cherry dominate the cup.
Crepe Bar Chef Jeff Kraus brought out a from-scratch s'more to the table to accompany the Finca Consolapan. I might have gotten just a little bit too excited when he pulled out a blow-torch and lit the thing on fire at my table (contain yourself, Zaida, contain yourself!). A touch of miso in the mixture grounded the gooey treat and provided depth to the dessert. The pairing of the plate with the Finca Consolapan was every bit as perfect as that of Nom de Plume and Crepe Bar.
And of course, there's the Signature Blend - an equal-parts mixture of that delightful Kochore Station coffee from Ethiopia and a nice, hefty Guatemalan coffee from San Pedro La Laguna. The espresso was bright and balanced, with crisp orange juice notes. Chef Jeff paired a special rose and blackberry pâte de fruits palate cleanser with the espresso (for those of you who are as bewildered by the term as I was, a "pâte de fruits" is essentially a very fancy cube-shaped gummy bear). Side note: there is nothing fancy about me and I probably could have eaten about a bajillion of those pâte things on their own.
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For more information about upcoming Nom de Plume events, tastings, or to buy coffee, check out their social media.