Words and Photos by J.D DiGiovanni, SDCN Contributor.
In mid-to-late 2014 The Swell Cafe brought on Nel Newbom as their head roaster. Newbom was the former roaster of Barefoot Coffee, an award winning Bay Area roaster. Nel has dedicated herself to getting Swell’s coffee to be the best it can be. Her perspective is the following: treating coffee roasting and brewing as a culinary art.
Nel’s coffee expertise has set Swell apart from other cafes on the thin strip of land south of Pacific Beach. “We’re serving way more [single origin] espresso now,” Cafe Manager Mayberry explained, “ [and] our pour-over and Chemex sales are up”.
The batches coming out Swell’s electric 3-kilo US Roaster Corp roaster are small and treated with care.
When I showed up at Swell’s roasting facility near Sports Arena Blvd, roaster Brian Garhardt had coffee grounds on the bridge of his nose and below his lip. Brian had laid out 7-cup set of a Yirgacheffe on a makeshift plastic tabletop, each roasted with different fan strengths and power from the roaster. A live show of The War On Drugs was playing lightly on a laptop set on a desk a couple feet from the table.
Brian, who moonlighted as a sound engineer after working shifts at Pablo’s Coffee in Denver, Colorado before moving to San Diego, compared roasting to the process of trying to finish a song. “There are so many things you can do…too many things maybe”. For Brian, roasting is a process of constantly testing to find what feels right, what tastes right. It’s a kind of science, but one that is only as helpful as ones taste is keen.
With music bouncing around the hollowed out building near Sports Arena Blvd., Brian worked his way around the table methodically taking notes, trying to pin down the different flavors the coffee was exhibiting, how the changes in fan strength in each roast changed the taste of the coffee, and how he’d want to change the roast profile if at all.
The same kind of care and attention has been put into May’s coffee of the month. Swell Coffee’s Kenya Kirimikui has a fun balance of orange combined with a kind of brown sugar sweetness that you’d find in a granola. A great coffee for AeroPress or pour-over, this InterAmerican sourced Kenya Kirimikui can be found at Swell Coffee in Mission Beach.
Visit The Swell Cafe, and try their Kenya Kirimikui for yourself!
Address: 3833 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
Hours: Monday-Sunday 7:00 am – 4:00 pm