This morning, after a visit to the Golden Nugget flea market, I had a chance to meet with David Waldman – head roaster and owner of Rojo’s roastery on North Union Street in Lambertville N.J.
After ordering a cup of Honduran pourover carefully brewed via the hario V60 (compliments to my barista!) I meandered over to see if David Waldman, who is very often seen in his Lambertville cafe, (I can’t say the same about the princeton cafe as I’ve never been there! But I’m sure he makes frequent trips there as well.) had a few minutes to spare for a quick Q&A. Lucky for all of us coffee lovers out there, he did.
David has an amazing and diverse background of work experience, a wealth of knowledge on coffee, and one of the most refined palate’s you’ll find in N.J. – or anywhere else for that matter! Not to mention with two cafes in operation he is quite the successful businessman.
So without further ado, here is the brief Q&A
Question 1: “What lead you to look to coffee as an employment opportunity instead of just a passion?”
David: “I was ready to be my own boss. I got laid off about 11-12 years ago, working for a huge multi-national company at a pretty high level and I took it as an opportunity to take up one of my lifelong passions. I first started brewing coffee in a chemex and a french press in the early 60’s, so I’ve been doing pourovers my whole life.
I just thought that it was time to be in control of creating and building my own vision of what a coffee operation should be – Albeit a turnkey coffee operation, one that imports equipment from all over the world and repairs equipment, installs equipment, roasts beans, sources beans, has relationships with farmers, and sells equipment to private individuals as well as to commercial.
It allowed me to use my organic chemestry background, my business background, my intellectual property law background – I am a lawyer, and to be in an environment where we can play music. I’m a professional musician too. So I created a space that lets me to do everything I want to do.”
Joe: “Definitely a good do what you love option.”
Question 2: “How did you get the business up and running? Considering you run two cafes, this one and the one in princeton, you’ve been relatively successful.”
David: “I broke ground here in 2005 in Lambertville. I had a vision that this was a more or less desolate or depressed part of town – the north end of town. All the buildings here were empty and I could invision it becoming sort of the hip, happening, artisan part of town, and thats what its become.
All the buildings are pretty much occupied, have waiting lists, things are buzzing. We’ve been commended by the city, by the mayor, by all kinds of industry leaders and organization leaders as having rejuvinated the community. We’ve created a community meeting place.
So I borrowed money – which was scary to me not having a job and banking everything on the success of a business that I envisioned and built from nothing… just from my head. I just believed in what I do and I believed in myself – And went for it! I designed it myself, I built it myself. This was an empty box. My creation was the notion of building a roastery, and a cafe, and an equipment showroom, and a education center with a lab where I do my research. It was everything I wanted.”
Question 3: “Finally, any tips for young baristas or coffee roasters looking to get their feet on the ground, or maybe looking to own a cafe of their own one day?”
David: Sure – go for it! But its a lot of hard work. Its a lot of training – don’t be afraid to read everything you can get your hands on, and dont be afraid to work for people that have knowledge that are willing to train you.
A good barista will understand the social responsibility of working with growers, will understand how the palate works and neurochemical pathways which create a memory bank of taste profiles and sensorial experiences with what acidity, body, sweetness, mouth-feel, add to taste – etc. They will understand Terroir, like they do with grapes. Then you’ve got to understand a little about physical chemistry and brew chemistry to be able to brew what we call a “gold cup,” that has proper extraction of the soluables that give taste. The barista needs to be willing to understand how to be part of a long chain of custody of responsibility from the grower to the customer.
You can never make a cup of coffee better than any of the weakest links. So if your water composition is not proper, if the water temperature isn’t right, if the grind isn’t right, if the exposure time, the topology – there are probably 40 factors, and if any of those factors fail, you’ll fail in getting a really good cup of coffee to the customer. Everyday we try to celebrate what it is the growers are doing for us, so when we roast we take that responsibility and then when we serve to the public we take that responsibility.”
After the short interview David welcomed me to join him, Matt, and Matt (two baristas) for cupping. “Cupping” is a very close, analytical look at coffee for any inconsistancies in a roast. 3 cups of 4 different coffees were brewed, smelled, and tasted by the four of us for quality of bean, roast, and extraction. It is something they do at Rojo’s frequently to ensure their customers are recieving high quality coffee.
David obviously tasted depth to the coffees that the rest of us were only beginning to grasp after he pointed them out to us. He also pointed out the importance of tasting coffee over a period of about 30 minutes, as the cup changes very dynamically as it cools. Higher temperatures mask the acidic flavor profiles of coffee.
It was a huge learning experience, and needless to say, all of the coffee tasted was outstanding. After thanking David, Matt, and Matt, I headed back home with the coffee I had ordered in hand, noticing how different it tasted than when I had ordered it.
Rojo’s roastery is an awesome environment that can both provide atmosphere and promise you one of the best cups of coffee in New Jersey from the moment you walk through the door.
Thanks for reading, and until next time – Stay caffeineated my friends.