FAIR HAVEN: COFFEE’S FRESH AT BOOSKERDOO

“I feel like I should sign the wall or something,” said Josh Epstein of Rumson, the first customer in the door when Booskerdoo opened Friday morning. Below, owner Jim Caverly shining up the equipment. (Photos by Jim Willis.)

By JIM WILLIS

Like riding a fixie or putting a bird on it, “micro-roasting coffee beans” sounds like a possible merit badge requirement out of the hipster handbook. So it’s a bit surprising that James Caverly, owner of newly opened Fair Haven micro-roastery Booskerdoo, sports none of the trappings of hipsterism: no tattoo, no handlebar mustache.

“No way,” says Caverly, “that’s not what we’re about. Our logo says, ‘Fresh Roasted Coffee For All.'”

Caverly goes for inclusivity, and gets excited helping coffee drinkers discover how much better the experience can be by drinking coffee brewed with fresh-roasted beans.

“We use the term micro-roaster like you would use the term micro-brewer for beer,” says Caverly. “It’s the same concept. If you mass produce in any business, what ends up happening is efficiency is your number one priority, and quality becomes second. In micro-roasting, you’re working on quality with small batches. We don’t do a ton, we don’t have a warehouse. We roast it and ship it.”

Caverly, 31, is originally from Princeton but after graduating from Rutgers and living in New York City, he’s decided he wants to “live and die in Monmouth County.” He and his wife, Amelia, and their four-month-old daughter, Claire, live in Interlaken.

During pre-opening preparations at the River Road shop – formerly the home to the Java Stop – redbankgreen took the opportunity to talk with Caverly about beans, siphon brews and why there’s no Booskerdoo in Red Bank.

You said that when you were in New York, you worked in advertising. How’d you end up running your own coffee brand?

I was working in advertising, but I didn’t like working in an office. It didn’t work for me. I wanted to start my own business and start my own brand.

How did you decide to have coffee as the focus of your brand?

I came to coffee late in life. I never liked it. I even worked at the Starbucks in New Brunswick in 2003 and didn’t like coffee then. [In 2006], I was working for Johnson & Johnson, and I was at some fancy function. I smelled the coffee and said to myself, “I feel like drinking coffee.” So I tried it black, and it was my time. I loved it, and I started obsessing about it.

I started reading online about roasting your own beans, and I ordered some green beans [from Sweet Maria’s], roasted them in our tiny little apartment in New York City and filled the place up with smoke like crazy. My wife, Amelia, and I both thought it was hilarious. Anyway, you have to let [the roasted beans] sit for 24 hours after you roast it, and so we drank it the next day, and it was the best coffee we ever had. And it turns out that if you drink coffee within the first week it is outstanding, and I said to myself, ‘there’s a niche right there, because it’s very hard to find coffee that’s [been roasted in the past week].’

How do you get from roasting beans in your apartment to opening up your first store, in Monmouth Beach?

In 2008, advertising got hit really hard. I was lucky to get a few freelance gigs and was jumping around from gig to gig, and I didn’t like that at al,l because I didn’t feel like I was in control.  [By 2010] I got fed up and said, ‘I think I can do this better myself,’ so I just went for it.  So from 2010 to 2011, I planned and built the roastery in Monmouth Beach. We opened in April 2011.

Right, but how does one go from smoking out their apartment to running a wholesale roasting operation?

I met the Shafto brothers, these retired old coffee salts. They started doing roasting back in the ’60s, and they did it for A&P and 7-Eleven, and they were the ones who brought flavored coffee to the masses. Especially Gary Shafto; he was a friend of a friend. He now, in his retirement, operates Lenier Tea in Point Pleasant. He was happy to help me out. He was excited — it was fun that a younger guy was getting into the business. He was a mentor essentially. He taught me a few tricks. But he said the most important thing was just to taste everything. “Taste taste taste,” he said. “If that tastes better than last time, then do that.” And we slowly developed our skills on this roasting machine.

How’d you decide on Monmouth Beach?

I wanted to blend wholesale and retail together, and was afraid that the retail would get too busy for me, and I knew in Monmouth Beach there wasn’t much competition.  There’s not a lot of walk-by traffic there, but I said to myself, if I can [make] something people like, they’ll come to it, and that’s exactly what’s happened. The place is the right size and is conducive for roasting. And the rent was good, so I just went for it. It didn’t cost that much to start up because I designed it myself and was the contractor.

When you opened the place in Monmouth Beach, were you already thinking about expanding to additional locations?

Yeah, it was always about the brand and never about just a coffee shop. I wanted to build a brand. Our niche was fresh, fresh, fresh.

How did you target Fair Haven as your second location?

I had wanted to do something in the Two Rivers area. I wanted something busier, but didn’t want to be on a highway like 35 or 36, and this opportunity came up. It’s the perfect size in a historic district, with a really nice landlord. And it’s a demographic that really likes this coffee – a lot of commuters that really like coffee and want good coffee.

Did you look at Red Bank at all?

Actually, Red Bank was the first place we ever looked at. Before Monmouth Beach even, Red Bank is where I wanted to be. But the more I talked to people, the more discouraged I got. With the zoning, I would have to pay to get a lawyer, and that would cost me $10,000 just to get the OK to do it, and I don’t have $10,000. There’s a lot of places in Red Bank that would have been perfect, but it was just too much. I would have had to pay so much money just to start, and every turn I took there was another obstacle. And since this is my first business, I just said, “alright, I can’t handle this at this time.”

So you’re creating a brand around coffee that’s just been roasted. Is your average Joe coffee drinker going to notice the difference in a cup of coffee with just-roasted beans versus week-old?

Yes, they will. Absolutely. Most people are still happy to drink three-week old coffee. It’s still good. It has months before it officially expires. But we want to be the best possible. We want it to exit our facility in the best possible form. I have coffee I drink at home that’s three weeks old, and I think, ‘Well, this is a little old’ when I taste it. It’s still good, but it’s not fantastic.

So if I’m drinking a coffee at Starbucks, how long ago was that bean roasted?

It’s probably a few weeks old. They roast in a giant facility, then it goes to a warehouse, then it goes to the store. How long does it sit at the warehouse? I don’t know. How long does it sit at the store? Also, Starbucks will grind it and let it sit until it’s ready to brew, for efficiency. But after you grind coffee, in five minutes it’s not as good. If you wait two hours, it’s definitely not as good. So if you pick up a bag of Starbucks and look at the expiration date, it’ll be in three or six months, and you don’t know how long it’s been sitting there. I know from working there that they don’t sell that many bags. They’re just props. I don’t mean to pick on Starbucks. But when you look at our bag, you can see the day it was roasted printed right on the bag.

How do you make your coffee at home?

I do a siphon brew. It’s a very old fashioned way of doing it that works similar to a percolator.

What are the advantages of the siphon brew?It’s kind of a combo between French press and a drip with a paper filter – paper filter is very clean, French press is very dirty – in a good way – you get the sludge on the bottom. With the siphon you don’t get too much sludge.

Do you end up drinking a ton of coffee?

I maybe drink a large and half in a day. Not as much as people think.

Are there coffees that you drink in the morning and others you drink in the afternoon?

Yes. Light roasts in the morning, and get progressively darker as the day goes on. If you start dark, a light roast will taste like water, it won’t taste like anything. It’s like beer. If you drink a dark beer and then drink a Budweiser, it’s going to taste like nothing. But it depends on the day. If I know it’s going to be a long one, I just go straight for After Dark, which is the smokiest darkest roast we’ve got.