In a nutshell — or in this case, a coffee bean — Tom Hitchcock's new roasting business began as a hobby.
It all started roughly a year ago, when Hitchcock and his wife, Renee — the owners of Farmboy Graphics — agreed to go on a diet. That meant cutting cream and sugar out of Hitchcock's morning coffee.
At first, Hitchcock said, he was hesitant to forego his French vanilla creamer. But once he did, there was no turning back.
"I started drinking it black and started noticing some of these flavors," he said. "And I realized the best thing to do with coffee is taste it."
For years, Hitchcock said, he'd been drinking coffee like everyone else, "hammering back" a bitter brew from places like McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts. He drank it hot, fast and filled with artificial sweetener.
"You don't do that with a good piece of steak or a good wine," Hitchcock said. "You taste it and enjoy it."
The same rules apply to coffee, he said.
A native of Montezuma, Hitchcock began buying fresh-roasted flavors from a few places in Syracuse, and his obsession with so-called "specialty coffee" grew.
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Then, in June, Hitchcock purchased a small air roaster and began brewing his own.
Using light and medium roast coffee beans from Panama, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, Hitchcock experimented with dozens of different flavors. From fruit-based blends like citrus, lemon and orange to sweeter samples like honey, cinnamon and chocolate, the possibilities were endless.
"There can be 100 different varieties of Costa Rican and 100 different varieties of Ethiopian," he said. "The flavor depends on how (the beans) were grown, where they were grown, how they were processed ... how you brew it, how you grind it. There's a lot involved."
Hitchcock said he also learned to let his cup cool, as specialty coffee tastes best at around 140 to 150 degrees — the cooler the coffee, the more flavorful it is.
Soon, Hitchcock started setting up pots of coffee for his customers at Farmboy Graphics. And just like his shirt and sign designs, his coffee became a career.
It's called Crow City Roasters — a nod to the large crow population in Auburn — and so far, Hitchcock said, it's received positive feedback from the community. He currently sells fresh-roasted coffee along with quarter-, half- and full-pound bags of beans.
Someday, Hitchcock said, he may expand, offering flights of coffee and multi-station pour-overs. But for now, Crow City Roasters will operate out of his Farmboy Graphics' storefront on State Street. Customers can either stop in the store or order whole beans through its website.
"This is a hobby that's already gotten out of hand," he said, laughing. "Of course, 16 years ago, (Farmboy Graphics) was just a hobby too, so we'll see what happens."