British author Glen Duncan said “Coffee justifies the existence of the word aroma.” And it was the fragrant, aromatic scent of coffee beans roasting that lured me to this coffee roaster’s door.
Located on the grounds of San Diego’s historic 125-year-old Bernardo Winery, Manzanita Roasting Company opened in December 2015. They are a small, enterprising firm with a mission: to roast fresh, incredibly distinctive coffee beans from premier coffee-growing regions around the globe. And to do it with environmental responsibility by giving back to the earth.
Weston Nawrocki, a former chef and sommelier, and his wife, Samantha, are Manzanita co-owners. Weston introduced Samantha, the winery marketing director, to “craft” coffee in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. “Craft” refers to high-quality coffee beans sourced from small farms, shipped to coffee vendors and roasted on site. Says Samantha, “Once you’ve had a true artisan product, you can’t go back.”
Manzanita is an evergreen shrub found along North America’s West Coast from Vancouver down to Mexico. The hearty plant’s cherries resembled coffee beans to Samantha, and the name stuck.
The couple began researching coffee, traveling the West Coast and Europe. On these journeys, they made the momentous decision to purchase a coffee roaster to roast beans on site, forging a new frontier for craft coffee in San Diego.
Weston purchased a California Loring roaster, which is built to owner specification and reduces energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
Tapping into the expertise of a California importer was crucial to navigate trade laws in order to procure select harvests of hand-picked coffee beans from small farms ideal for craft coffees.
Each coffee has a story to tell, like Monte Verde coffee from El Salvador where the farmer’s wife is the village doctor. Profits from their coffee farm help support the local community and their farm is a sanctuary for neglected animals.
Quality beans come from year-round coffee regions in Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil and Ethiopia. Samantha says that the winery process she grew up with at Bernardo Winery easily translates to coffee. “Just as good wines represent the terroir they are sourced from, small-batch coffee beans represent the unique farms, climates and countries they come from, each providing their own individual tastes.”
Imported beans are roasted at Manzanita, a process that takes eight to 12 minutes at an average temperature of 550°, giving each bean its own characteristic profile. Chaff, a waste product that comes off the bean during roasting, is transferred to a bin at the roasting site. Coffee grounds, biodegradable coffee filters and chaff are all composted and used on site to enrich the soil of the vineyard.
Tasting their coffees was a true pleasure. El Salvador had a pronounced chocolaty, nutty flavor. Especially fascinating was the Ethiopian Washed Kochere, with melon-citrus aroma and syrupy body tasting of peaches and dates.
There’s nothing subtle about the rich, chocolatey deliciousness of Manzanita’s biggest seller, El Gaucho, a special blend of Central and South American and African beans. And for those who desire a potent brew, Mudinyereye (yes, pronounced “mud-in-your-eye”) delivers grand-slam coffee flavor with a bold, robust kick.
While the Nawrockis are proud of how well their product has been locally received by the community, they are clear that it’s the quality, not the quantity, of product that is most important in their coffee venture. The couple wants to continue creating precise, delicious-tasting coffees for the community, always practicing the most sustainable methods of roasting. “Happy coffee, happy planet” says Samantha, with a proud smile on her face.