Coffee With a Kick

Krista Connor

Newark gets its own micro roastery, Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co.

Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co., which opened early this fall on Haines Street in Newark, roasts and sells specialty coffee in an atmosphere that achieves a customer-pleasing trifecta: approachable, unfussy and quality-centered.

It’s a third-wave micro roastery and coffee shop, leaning more toward roastery—as indicated by the limited seating and little-to-no food on the menu. The space is home base for wholesale distribution in New Castle County, say owners Joe Lins and Olivia Brinton. Today, each is clutching a mug of coffee or espresso cup and they intermittently step behind the bar to refuel while discussing their new enterprise.

They would eventually like to see every fine dining restaurant within a 20-mile radius serve Little Goat coffee, Brinton says. With national daily gourmet coffee consumption up 10-15 percent from last year for consumers between the ages of 18 and 60, that would seem to be an achievable goal.

“We are really focused on the quality of the cup of coffee,” says Brinton. “And we hope that each customer that comes here for a cup will think of us when they want to buy a bag of beans.”

And people are buying, whether it’s an $8 half-pound, $14 pound or $50 five-pound bag. So far, the roaster has gone through about seven 150-pound burlap bags a month. Consumption is split evenly between café sales and wholesale distribution, which, at this point, consists of Hockessin’s The Perfect Cup Café and The House of William & Merry.

The café space at Little Goat is small and open, cozy but contemporary while avoiding industrial-style tropes. Here, you can be a purist sans pretention while still tossing around phrases like “tasting notes” without garnering eye-rolls.

“I think our goal is to make really good coffee accessible to anyone, rather than it being an unapproachable topic; you’re scared to ask questions at some places,” says Brinton.

Co-owner Olivia Brinton (right) with the Lins family: co-owner Joe, his wife Elizabeth and their children, Lola, Finnegan and Henry. Photo by Krista Connor

They diversify their selection—sourcing from different places at a time is more sustainable than having one go-to—though Brinton says they’ll typically have Sumatran and Central or South American beans year-round with a wild card like an Ethiopian bean—which is something of a special coffee anyway. A popular Ethiopian legend tells how coffee was discovered by an 11th century goat herder named Kaldi, who found his goats full of unusual energy after eating the red fruit of the coffee shrub. Kaldi tried the fruit and had a similar reaction. Hence the name Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co.

The collaboration between Lins and Brinton, who are old family friends, began to brew about five years ago. Lins, a stone mason looking to transition into something that his wife Elizabeth could be a part of, was developing an interest in home roasting. Meanwhile, Brinton, recently returned from working at a coffee roastery in Asheville, N.C., during college, had the necessary background.

They began selling wholesale coffee at farmers markets over the past year, a build-up to opening the current shop, which is in the building where the Switch skateboarding store was before it moved to Main Street. (“We kept the skateboard door handles as a tribute to them,” says Brinton). The location is prime because of the foot traffic between Main Street and Delaware Avenue.

Lins and Brinton are involved in the entire process their coffee undergoes, from its plant origin to its aromatic dive into a paper bag (featuring a hand-stamped logo), which is then displayed along a chalkboard wall advertising the roasts of that day or week. The star of the show—the roaster —sits in unassuming glory through a side door, like a heroine not yet aware that she’ll save the day. It’s surrounded by bags of green—raw, unroasted—beans awaiting their metamorphosis.

Today, Lins plans on roasting Colombian beans. The process is surprisingly simple. He stands on tip-toes and hoists a bin of green coffee beans through the drum at the top of the roaster, and pours. This Colombian coffee has tasting notes of brown sugar, sweet orange and sugar cane, according to Brinton. “And if we can get some of those tasting notes to come through after roasting, then it’s a job well done.” As with good wine, the tasting notes come from the source itself with no added flavors. This is due to terroir, cultivation, harvesting, etc. One bin even smells like blueberries.

The coffee bean roasting process takes only about 15 minutes. Photo by Krista Connor

Meanwhile, visible through a tiny porthole on the roaster, the Colombian beans are roiling like clothes in a dryer, turning brown. When they are sufficiently roasted after about 15 minutes, Lins presses a lever and a silver metal mouth spews the beans into the cooling bin.

Lins and Brinton move immediately toward the bin and their expert eyes look for “bad beans,” which means anything under-ripe or otherwise unsatisfactory. They toss out only one or two.

“We’re really proud of these beans,” says Lins. “The farmer goes through such effort, and it shows.”

Each of Little Goat’s coffees is traced back to its farm of origin. For Brinton and Lins’ own records, a laminated printout of, say, a Peruvian bean shows a photo of the farmer, exact geographical location of the cooperative and a detailed description of the region. Little Goat doesn’t actually source directly from growers because, as Brinton puts it, the small quantities wouldn’t be worth it for the farmer. Instead, a New York-based specialty green bean importer, Royal Coffee, does the sourcing and works closely with the growers.

Royal Coffee—and beans certified by sustainability auditor Rain Forest Alliance—align with Little Goat’s ethics, which is a word that comes up frequently in conversation here.

“We can’t grow coffee in the continental United States, so the best we can do is source it, as the second-most traded commodity in the world, as ethically responsibly as we can,” says Brinton.

Coffee beans before the roasting process. Photo by Krista Connor

Royal Coffee monitors labor and payment and always purchases the next year’s harvest a year in advance, so that farmers are guaranteed business. Royal also encourages community growth. For example, if a town builds a school, Royal may pay an extra $2 a pound for coffee. Likewise, Royal holds communities accountable to their projects and product.

Brinton says she and Lins apply that same sourcing ethic to all aspects of the business, down to the café sweetener and creamer for those who opt to use it. Organic dairy is sourced from Natural by Nature in Newark, and honey comes from a local beekeeper; all the perfected details come together in tribute to the one thing that matters most: That pure, unblemished green bean.

“We do spend a little more on the quality of our green beans than most places,” says Brinton. “If anything, we feel pressure to roast these beans the best way possible because they are super special.”

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