The Heart & Soul

Today Randy Parks describes the roaster as the “very heart and soul” of ProStar Services, Inc.  However, the decision to begin roasting his own beans in 2003 was initially and primarily and business decision.  At the time, Randy was buying his coffee from another roaster at such a rate that it seemed to justify buying his own machine.  And if he did roast his own coffee, not only would he be able to deliver a much fresher product to his customers, he would have control over the quality of beans as well.

Bryan Reasor, Director of Service, was there when the first roaster was purchased.  (And even earlier than that, when he was hired by ProStar, Bryan was one of only 14 employees and served as the only service technician, repairing coffee and vending machines and installing filters and water lines.)  Bryan says it was a huge learning curve to begin roasting coffee.  “You know, everything is easier when you aren’t doing it and you don’t know much about it,” he says with a smile.  When the first machine was purchased, both he and Randy attended classes in the art of tasting, cupping and roasting.  They also talked to lots of other people in the coffee business.   “But mostly,” says Bryan, “it was trial and error,” playing with the different types of beans, grinds, and roasts until they could really take pride in the product they had developed.

“The process took a good year,” says Bryan, and the hardest part wasn’t learning the properties of the coffee beans themselves or the intricacies of the roasting process.  It was the machinery.  “We bought a used packager that didn’t work very well,” says Bryan.  “I battled with that thing every day.  But once we invested in a new packager, things started to smooth out.”  The current packager can churn out 55 bags per minute.  And it’s a good thing because, Bryan says, “we can’t roast enough coffee.”  Under the Parks brand, ProStar roasts 30 batches of coffee a day (that’s 100 lbs of green beans per roast).  And in a new development, a second roaster has been added within the last month to help keep up with the demand.

For both Randy and Bryan, the process of learning to roast coffee has been a rewarding one.  “I always wanted to manufacture my own product,” says Randy.  “To have something to call my own.”  Now he does.  As for Bryan, the learning curve of moving from  service tech to Director of Service has “been a lot of fun.”  He says,  “It’s the whole process that I love.  From knowing where the beans are grown, to seeing them shipped, to trying to create new and different blends, sampling and testing and trying to figure it out.”

Today ProStar roasts only Arabica beans.  (As opposed to the Robusta, these are the higher-quality beans grown at higher elevations in lower yields.)  “People say coffee is expensive,” says Bryan.  “And maybe it is.  But it’s amazing how much work goes into getting one pound of coffee off the tree.  The hand-picking…!  And then getting it in a bag, on a boat…”  Bryan equates learning about coffee to learning about fine wines.  You become an expert in the different localities where the beans are grown, as well as in the distinct characteristics and flavor profile of each type of plant.

When I asked Bryan to remember when the first ProStar roaster was installed, he couldn’t remember.  I said, “I think it was in 2003.”  His response says a lot about just how fun roasting can be:  “It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but I guess it probably was.”