A Velvet Cup of Joe 

Micro coffee roaster Afro Phil likes to keep it smooth

click to enlarge afrophil_xavierward.jpg

AfroPhil

Phil Tegethoff starts his morning like more than half of the country does: with a cup of coffee. The difference for Tegethoff is his coffee beans are roasted within arms reach of his coffee-maker, just out the door in his own garage.

Tegethoff is a micro-batch roaster, running his bean business, Afro Phil, from his home on Boise's west side.

"I think probably how I go about roasting, maybe, is a little bit different from what other people are putting out," he said.

Tegethoff said it's easy to let a computer run the show, and that surrender to tech is what separates the small-batch roasters from the big coffee conglomerates. He's careful about what goes into the hopper of his roaster, parsing out poor-quality beans, rocks that may have made the trip from the coffee farm, and anything else that could be polluting his raw product.

Once roasted to perfection, the beans rest for 24 hours before packaging. Wrapped, he sells them for around $12 a pound, not much of a mark-up from supermarket prices.

click to enlarge AFROPHIL
  • AfroPhil

Tegethoff has been in love with coffee since childhood. He started drinking it when he was about 2 years old. His grandfather would give him a spoonful of coffee with a little cream and sugar. It was around the ripe age of 4 or 5 that he started enjoying black coffee, he said.

For the past few years, Afro Phil has been a full-time venture. It started around six years ago, though Tegethoff had kicked the idea around for a decade before that.

"I had been talking about doing coffee for about 10 or 12 years," he said.

After years of hearing about his plans, some friends invited him out for pizza and an intervention. It was time, they said, to put up or shut up on becoming a coffee roaster. That was just the kick Tegethoff needed.

"The first few years it was kind of just an expensive habit," he said. "When I first started I think Neckar [another local coffee brand, headed by Grant Shealy] and I were the only guys doing it in Boise."

Tegethoff sources his beans from Atlas Coffee in Seattle, where he had a connection that got him on his feet as a roaster.

"The reason I went with them is they're very flexible for me," he said.

Sometimes, he'll only order four or five bags of coffee beans, depending on what's available at that time.

"It can definitely change per order," he said. "And coffee is seasonal like anything else."

Afro Phil's slogan is "Always Smooth," which to Tegethoff is more than a catchphrase to print on his coffee bags. It's a legitimate mantra for how he produces (and consumes) coffee.

"For me, it's drinkability. It's gotta be smooth," he said. "If I can't stand behind it 100%, I throw that batch out."

click to enlarge AFROPHIL
  • AfroPhil

Tegethoff is meticulous in his roasting process. After sorting his beans and pouring them into the roaster, he monitors the temperature during each minute of the roast and marks it in a notebook. Then come the cracks.

First crack and second crack are important to people who know coffee roasting. The first pop is similar to the sound of popcorn, and indicates the beans are splitting in the roaster and becoming more brittle and aromatic. The second pop sounds more like a sizzle. It's the sound of oil escaping the beans, and it says that the roast is about done. The longer the roast, the more oil escapes, which is why darker roasts have a shiny appearance, Tegethoff said.

Tegethoff's detail-oriented approach is apparent in every cup of his joe.

"Just try my coffee," he said. "It'll stand on its own."

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