Big green roasting machine keeps on churning in Swansea

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

It doesn't matter to Barry Jarrett where he roasts his coffee.

"I've got customers all over the world. They don't care where I am," said Barry, 52, the owner of Riley's Personally Roasted Coffee. "I don't need a fancy storefront."

On a recent Friday afternoon in a rented space in Swansea, his big green roasting machine -- "It's my original one" -- was churning away at 400 degrees. A small window revealed 13 pounds of tumbling beans that, after 15 to 20 minutes, would be dark brown.

"Think of it as a giant clothes drier with a gas-heated drum and with a blower," he said.

Surrounding him were silver 5-pound bags filled with roasted beans, and clear plastic bins holding green beans labeled Guatemala, Costa Rica, Sumatra, Kenya. Barry purchases only the beans he needs immediately, and from a local buyer, and roasts in small batches. If he roasts on a weekend, they're out the door on Monday, he said, noting that the fresher, the better taste.

Since 1988, he has been roasting coffee in the metro-east, first in two locations at St. Clair Square until 2006, then in a larger store on Lebanon Avenue in Belleville until 2009. He and his wife Joan called their company Riley's Coffee & Fudge. Barry roasted and Joan made the fudge.

But the couple, who live in Rock Hill, Mo., found the cost of the commute, the schedule of a daughter entering grade school and the effects of a sluggish economy made them rethink the move to the bigger store. They closed and now Barry has a solo coffee-roasting business.

"I never stopped roasting," he said. "This way I can concentrate on wholesale and Internet business."

He comes to Swansea once a week and roasts 75 to 100 pounds of beans. Barry makes the drive not only because his business is incorporated in Illinois, but because he has so many local customers that started with him in the metro-east.

"Scott Air Force Base has a big impact," he said, adding that he still ships to military customers wherever they are.

His most popular beans are "a secret blend" called Decatur Street Blend that he created in the early 1990s.

"It's a good solid coffee," he said. "You can use it for espresso or drip."

What makes his coffee different from what's on the store shelves. Condensed down, Barry says a lot of it has to be do with buying good green beans, first, then knowing the roasting process. For him, it comes down to his nose as the roaster spins away near his desk.

"I've been doing this for 25 years. I smell the changes in the beans all along (the process)," he said. "I know the 'done smell.' I can't put words to it

He also has wholesale customers in Illinois and Missouri, including Stone Spiral Coffee & Curios in Maplewood, where you can not only sip his brew, but buy his beans.

His internet customers typically buy in larger quantities than by the pound to save on shipping. Riley's coffee sells for $13.95 to $15.95 a pound, plus shipping. But, if you live in the Belleville/Swansea area, Barry will deliver to your door. Orders are placed online at Riley's Coffee Facebook page or email to orders@rileys-coffee.com. His website, rileys-coffee.com is short and sweet; click to see the list and prices of coffee there.

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