Oregon native Velton Ross moved to Seattle for college, and “became quickly enamored with the city and the extensive coffee culture.” He operates Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company in the Lowell neighborhood of Everett, Washington, where he focuses on “roasting exceptional quality coffee.” We recently corresponded by e-mail, and Ross shared several caffeinated insights.
What’s the very first cup of coffee you ever remember drinking?
When I was 16 I used to go to a teenage dance club in Roseburg, Oregon, called “Cosmos.” Afterward we’d go to Denny’s; it’d be about two in the morning and we’d all drink coffee. I insisted on drinking it black even though it was weak, bitter and relatively disgusting. Trying to impress the girls, I suppose.
At what point did you know you’d work with coffee for a living? Also, what were you doing for a living leading up to coffee?
Aside from a summer job in high school at a lumber mill, coffee is all I’ve ever done. In 1989 at age 18 I moved to Seattle for college and found a part-time job at an espresso stand in front of Tower Records. Eleven years later I’d worked at about nine different cafes, including several during a four-year stint in Hawaii, and it was at this point that I was finally given an opportunity to roast. I was head roaster at Top Pot Coffee and Doughnuts for seven years and it was during this time that I realized this was exactly what I wanted to make my living at – I loved everything about it!
What motivated you to start roasting that very first time?
Whereas I loved everything about being a barista, after having done it for so long, I was really looking to try something different in the world of coffee. Roasting had always appealed to me though I really knew very little about it, especially in retrospect. I was pretty much immediately the “head roaster” at a new roastery that was doing more coffee per week from day one than what I’m still doing today at Velton’s Coffee five-plus years in. There was a lot of “learning on the fly” being employed back then, truly a trial by fire.
How did your very first batch turn out?
I didn’t think it was horrible, and I remember even being impressed. It seemed easy. The truth is, roasting coffee that isn’t horrible is easy; it’s roasting coffee that is excellent, and consistently so, that is a challenge. I’m pretty sure if I went back now and tasted that first batch, I’d no longer be impressed.
What inspired you to open Velton’s Coffee?
It was the realization that I’d finally found what I wanted to do, had access to the capital I’d need to get it started, and that at age 36 it was probably best I get going on “chasing a dream” if I was ever going to. I’d always been blessed with working for great owners, but I’ll admit there was definitely some allure in getting to finally call all the shots and make something that was truly my own.
What would you say are some of the characteristics that distinguish Velton’s Coffee?
My favorite thing to do is to bring in new and different coffees regularly and make them available to our customers. Our offering sheet changes out more than most, especially for a roastery of our small size, and always has our signature blends as well as eight or nine stellar single origin offerings that change out frequently. We only roast as much coffee every week as what we have orders for, so at the end of the week there’s never any roasted coffee left on the shelf. The next week we start the process over again. There’s a lot of math-ing going on to make this work.
We also strive to be as personable as possible in our relationships with both our wholesale accounts and home coffee enthusiasts. There are times that answering every email, phone call, and question that comes our way is difficult but we make a real effort to get back to everyone in a timely manner. As we grow this may become more difficult, but it’s definitely something I believe should be a top priority.
Where are you roasting, and what roaster are you using?
The roastery is located in an old two-story brick building in the Lowell neighborhood of Everett, Washington. It’s very low key; there’s no café or retail outlet, or even a sign for Velton’s Coffee on the building anywhere. We roast on a Diedrich IR-12.
Is it easier or harder to accomplish your goals with so many other specialty roasters?