Coffee Roasting 101, Preschool Edition

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two preschool boys watching coffee beans roast

Most of the time, people move about their days, doing their work and not paying much attention to who or what is going on around them. Adults are generally polite and sometimes even friendly to children they encounter via their daily work routines, though most don’t realize that what they are doing is oftentimes absolutely fascinating to a child.

The little packing shelf that slides in and out to accommodate bags at the Whole Foods check-out register, the garbage bins rising up to tip their contents into the truck, the conveyor belt that shoots bagels out one by one at Wise Sons—Day after day, workers do the same tasks using these machines, likely oblivious to how closely their every move is being scrutinized by tiny eyes at waist-height.

What a gift it was when, in a completely unexpected stroke of good luck, we met Aquiles, founder of Flywheel Coffee Roasters, and the man in charge of the supremely interesting coffee roasting process that takes place in the back of their shop in The Haight.

We took a seat all the way in the back of the coffee shop in an effort to maintain as much peace as possible for the customers who were already there. My boys immediately spotted the big, shiny metal machine that, to my train-loving 5-year old, looked like a steam train with a smokestack. It took a few minutes for us to realize that it was turned on, and we watched the beans tumble around inside, through a small circular window on the front.  Had this been the entirety of our experience, we would have been quite happy.

Then, entered Aquiles.  He came to check on the roasting process, pulling a small knob on the front of the machine which extracted a few coffee beans for him to sniff and inspect. He smiled, said hello to my boys and asked them how old they were. As he continued the process—checking on the beans, entering information into what looked like a detailed roasting log book, periodically pouring buckets of beans into the top of the funnel—my sons asked me numerous questions about what was happening in front of us, most of which I could not answer.

Aquiles overheard and happily answered, in perfectly preschool-age appropriate language. He placed a handful of green beans on the table when we asked what coffee beans looked like before they were roasted; he offered us a chance to smell the beans at a couple different points in the roasting process, noting how the smell changed from bread-like to toast-like to eventually that familiar coffee smell. He explained what the faint popping noise we were hearing was (the beans were popping, similar to popcorn, as they heated up), and what was happening after the beans had dumped onto a circular rack to be stirred around by a large metal arm (they were undergoing a cooling process).

A half-hour later, I practically had to pry the boys from their seats so we could leave to make it to school on time.

As we left, I thought about how Aquiles had transformed our routine visit to a coffee shop into a richly educational experience for all of us. He must have sensed the curiosity and wonder in their expressions.  He clearly loves his craft and was happy to share it with others. He seemed to take joy in their interest and didn’t mind pausing from his work to share it with them.

I enjoyed my cappuccino ever more so that day, taking in its rich warmth with each sip and appreciating that same warmth that met our curiosity at the back of Flywheel Coffee Roasters.  We will definitely be back next week, hoping to catch a glimpse of coffee roasting in action and to say hello again to our new friend.

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