Roaster Profile: Chris Weber
What most people I’ve met don’t realize is that there is a growing and vibrant community of coffee professionals who have dedicated their careers to the advancement of specialty coffee from bean to cup. Over the last decade I’ve learned a great deal from reading news coming from industry leaders like Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, Gimme! in New York, Blue Bottle and Stumptown out on the west coast, and companies like PT’s in Kansas. These companies and many others have been instrumental in the development of what we now know as “career baristas” or coffee professionals. These craftspeople are the ones driving innovation in brewing, roasting, and trade related to our livelihood. Not only do these experts develop novel ways of brewing coffee, but they also offer amazing insights into small business strategies, customer service, science and sustainability from seed to cup to ensure that our livelihood is here for future generations to enjoy.
This issue I would like to introduce such a professional: one who has worked for decades to develop his craft and to build a reputation which allows him to communicate his expertise through an historic brand which celebrates its 150th birthday in March, but is really just getting started. At its helm, sourcing, roasting and promoting a product which is unmatched locally for the quality and the story behind each bean is Chris Weber of Rex Roasting Company.
Chris has been working in the specialty coffee industry for longer than most. Beginning as a barista in Bloomington, Illinois, he worked for a company in which he was able to develop his skills, and climb the ladder to manage locations and train staff. During this time he began to mingle with experts from some of the big names mentioned above, like Intelligentsia.
When he moved to Kansas he had the opportunity to work with PT’s Coffee, another remarkable company in our industry. After working for several years as a barista, Chris soon found himself managing, training and roasting coffee. PT’s is an important name in the craft coffee world because it has had a hand in the careers of celebrities like Pete Licata (2013 World Barista Champion), among others.
While working for PT’s, Chris got the opportunity to participate in some barista competitions. In 2009 he ranked 3rd in the Midwest Regional Barista Competition and then came in 19th in the United States Barista Championship semi-finals. When telling me this, I could tell that it was truly a point of pride for Chris, and indeed it’s something to be proud of.
In competition he excelled in technical skill where competitors are judged on their proficiency with standards that have been set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Standards that define specific qualitative and quantitative parameters for brewing, cupping, water and unroasted coffee. Each technical skill may seem basic at first glance, but all together these routines are the tools we use to ensure consistency and quality from drink to drink, and making them habits takes years of practice. Chris’ advice to me as a barista is that competition is one of the best ways to grow in our profession.
Chris now is at the helm of Rex Roasting Company, a brand you are likely to have seen on our shelves. His beans are of the highest caliber of specialty grade beans that have been carefully and deliberately sourced for the best flavors possible. The coffees we carry are his estate-grown single-origin offerings which often come from just one or two farms and in their distinct flavors tell the story of the growers and farmers who produce it. One of these is the Ethiopan Amaro Gayo, which comes from a processor in the Amaro region of Ethiopia that is the only woman-owner facility of its kind in the country and processes only the best coffees available. It’s a truly special coffee.
In addition to his career in specialty coffee, Chris has devoted himself locally to cooperative development as president of the board for Terre Foods, an up-and-coming food co-op that is getting started in Terre Haute where Rex Coffee is based. His experience as a buyer of quality coffee gives him an extraordinary perspective on how commodities, like fresh produce and other staples, benefit from transparency in the supply chain and conscientious buyers with a thoughtful sourcing philosophy.
Throughout his years developing a broad expertise in coffee from bean to cup, to small business management and roasting, Chris has developed a reputation for excellence, which he brings to his business as well as the board of Terre Foods. His keen nose for quality, developed throughout his years in the profession, allows Chris to coax the best flavors from each coffee he roasts. This is why we are so proud to work with him and tell his story. Next time you are at the coffee bar, don’t miss the chance to pick up a bag of his extraordinary coffee. Your morning cup won’t be the same after you do, and this is a good thing.
Story by Webb Lucas