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Talking Electrostatic Precipitators and Accidental Hires at SE's Cellar Door Coffee

All photos courtesy Avila/EPDX

In a city filled with micro, macro, and nano-roasters, it can be hard for coffee professionals to stand out, but that wasn't the case when Jeremy Adams and Andrea Pastor opened Cellar Door Coffee on SE 11th, after a year of reaching the farmer's market crowd in Montavilla and Moreland. Pastor and Adams met years ago at a farming program in Santa Cruz, moving to Portland along with several friends from the program. Both lifetime coffee lovers, neither had experience working in coffee, so Adams took a job at SW's Baker & Spice to learn barista skills and get an idea of shop flow. "He got to know a ridiculous number of Portlanders working there, but it was still super slow when we opened Cellar Door," Pastor says. It took years to build a following — not to mention weathering the simultaneous rise of the coffee commodities market, the recession, and a sudden decision from Cellar Door's coffee importer to refuse credit cards. "We became very conservative in spending money, which is essential, because what people don't talk about is that coffee shops don't make money," Pastor says.

Somehow they stuck it out. Six years later, Cellar Door is enjoying national recognition and a new account — appropriately, Baker & Spice — while setting into its role as part of the old guard in Portland's coffee scene. Eater took a moment as Cellar Door approaches its sixth anniversary to sit down with Pastor and Thomas Surprenant, the other roaster and "Foam Master," to discuss the challenges of opening a small business while parenting a two-year-old, using old tech for new challenges, roasting in heels, and having "made it."

On other roasters: Six years ago, the Portland coffee scene was very different from the current roaster-on-every-corner model. Stumptown was sold in nearly every shop, and when Pastor and Adams opened Cellar Door, people thought they were crazy. Pastor says, "People would come up to us and say, 'Why are you roasting coffee? We've got Stumptown' and we would answer, 'Well, isn't it nice to have a variety?'" It was a time of huge creativity and excitement in coffee: Shortly after Cellar Door opened, Heart, Courier, and other Portland coffee icons opened as well. "Back then, everyone who was interested in roasting got to know each other — there weren't that many of us," Pastor says. "The first day we set up at the farmer's market, [Stumptown's] Duane Sorenson came up to us and offered his help."

On roasting and introversion: Pastor looks down at her shapely heels and laughs ruefully. "I wish I were organized enough to bring along a second pair of shoes for roasting, but honestly, I'm usually just covered in burlap." Pastor admits her more introverted personality pushed her toward the roasting side of operations. "I certainly love having people ask me questions but I don't want that all the time — please, just give me headphones and let me roast," Pastor says. "Roasting is a repetitive process and the feedback loop is longer — [you] wait a day to taste coffee — while barista work is more immediate, which appeals to Jeremy's mechanical side. The tasks fit us." Surprenant, who works bar and roasts for Cellar Door, agrees: "There's a reason our roaster is all the way down in the basement."

On the Electrostatic Precipitator: In the basement, Adams came up with a custom solution to solve the problem of dealing with chaff and exhaust produced by roasting on Cellar Door's red Diedrich 12-kilo batch roaster. The usual solution is to add an afterburner, but as Pastor says, "The problem was the afterburners tend to use four times as much gas as the roaster, which was ecologically and financially concerning. So, since Jeremy never met a research problem he didn't want to tackle, we started figuring it out." Drawing on technology that's existed since the '30s in mills and mines, they built their own electrostatic precipitator, which sprays the chaff with a fine mist of water, causing it to fall to the floor of the chamber where it can be sluiced out at will.

The solution was incredibly successful, and Adams even started consulting with other coffee companies across the country that needed a system that could efficiently deal with the exhaust and smell of coffee roasting. "We talked about making it a business, but it's too capital-intensive and we didn't have the time. It's really just a clever use of already-existing tech," says Pastor. "People come all the time to look at it so they can utilize the idea in their own space."

On Hiring Good People: For the first couple years, Adams and Pastor ran Cellar Door without help, with Pastor roasting late into the night in the basement of their house and daughter Maya playing during barista shifts. "People kept asking us if we wanted another child — but really, the shop became our other child," she says. As Maya, now eight years old, grew along with the business, the couple started to hire help, in a typically unconventional style. "I guess Jeremy has a way of hiring people without them knowing what's happening," says Surprenant, who would stop in at Cellar Door on his commute home from his barista job. He somehow found himself hired during a coffee cupping in 2010 at Ristretto Roasters. "After Jeremy stopped working bar here, Thomas stepped into the role of lead barista and trainer, and he's the perfect liaison between the roasting and barista worlds of Cellar Door," Pastor says. "He has a great ability to translate information and profiles for baristas and customers."

On being a neighborhood business: Pastor seems surprised to be asked how it feels to be established in the national coffee scene. "Honestly, when we moved to Portland we weren't thinking about joining the coffee community but about making a place that was important to our neighborhood," she says. "Sometimes we feel insular, but over the years I've hired people like Thomas who want to be part of the industry. On the ground every day here, it's not particularly grandiose, but it's awesome to step back and realize we are central in the conversation when people are talking about coffee."

Surprenant adds: "It's great to live in a city where other people share your interest, with a community of other roasters and baristas who care about your craft like you do. It's a lot less lonely. We have a lot of well-educated customers, where it used to feel like no one understood what we were trying to do. Now I'm talking temperatures for home baristas set their PID's, and that's cool."
· Cellar Door Coffee [Official site]

— Emily McIntyre

Cellar Door Coffee Roasters

2001 SE 11th Ave, Portland, OR