Brandon Smyth was a refugee from the tech industry, venturing into a new career as a coffee roaster and a new hobby as a home winemaker. He started adding oak shavings to his vino, finding they intensified cherry and fruit flavors. “I began to wonder,” he recalls, “if I could do the same thing for coffee.”
Now, Smyth, head roaster at Water Avenue Coffee since 2009, places 350-pound batches of unroasted, green coffee beans in empty pinot noir barrels and lets them age for one to two months. “The seeds are like little sponges,” Smyth says. “They’ll pick up anything.” Once roasted, the finished coffee has notes of cherries, raspberries, blueberries, and deep oak.
Water Avenue ran through the first 1,000 pounds of coffee using this process in just five months, selling the vinous results at $18 for a 12-ounce bag. Like the discovery of fermentation itself (one imagines), this coffee dimension is a happy accident. “I had no idea it would be so successful,” Smyth says. “We were just goofing around.” Next up: chardonnay barrels.