MASHPEE — When sisters Molly and Cate MacGregor bought Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, they were hardly java snobs.
Molly drank hers drowned in milk. “It’s embarrassing,” she says, comparing her cups of joe to Rhode Island’s popular concoction of coffee syrup and milk.
That was before Demos Young, the founder of Cape Cod Coffee Roasters, sold the sisters his business, which he started in 1970. Young, 83, stayed on to educate the women on all aspects of the small-batch business, from learning where to source beans, to what to look for in the beans themselves and proper roasting techniques. “His knowledge is pretty unparalleled,” says Cate, 30, who recently graduated from Boston University’s School of Management. “He grew up third generation on a Kenyan plantation and he has all the connections.”
The women, raised in Brewster, originally bought the Main Street building in hopes of flipping it as a real estate deal, but they were impressed with Young’s entrepreneurial spark, and the responsibilities that go with owning your own business. “Now I live in the building and clean the bathroom,” says Molly, 32.
Along with the menial tasks, the sisters have been steadily growing Cape Cod Coffee since 2011. They roast 42 types of beans, and added a cafe this summer to have more of a retail presence in town. They also ramped up their wholesale business with new accounts that now number more than 300. Among them are The Five Seventy Market in the South End and C Salt Wine Bar and Grille in Falmouth.
C Salt’s chef and owner Jonathan Philips started serving Cape Cod Coffee’s dark roast and decaffeinated coffees last summer. “It honestly makes people feel good as opposed to thinking you’re having Maxwell House,” he says.
No one visiting Cape Cod Coffee would mistake even the aroma for commercial coffee. Inside the roasting facility are giant burlap bags filled with green beans from 14 countries and shiny copper industrial drums and hoppers. Eighty pounds of beans take only five minutes to roast, and the weekly volume typically tops out at 25,000 to 30,000 pounds.
One recent weekday morning, Jeff Marceau, a former cabinetmaker who learned the trade from Young, was tinkering with a roaster. “I’ve worked with a lot of tools, and there’s a lot of machines that have to be worked on. It was a nice transition. Demos made it really interesting.”
Marceau, 58, a Sandwich resident, said beans, like wood, have unique properties that make roasting an art as much as a science. “It’s like baking a cake and depending on the temperature. If it’s humid, the beans will roast differently. You only have a minute to decide when you’re going to pull them. I kind of have that knack.” He might roast some beans, like Ethiopian and African varieties, a bit longer. “But you don’t want to go too far and roast the flavor right out or char them. That’s only a few seconds away.”
Marceau’s quest for perfection is echoed in the MacGregors’ drive to only serve the highest quality. Lately, that has meant foregoing Sumatran beans. “I haven’t been able to find a good Sumatra for a few months,” says Molly. “I’ve tasted 25 different ones and none are up to our standard.”
Instead, she and Cate are investing in Rwanda Select, an heirloom varietal from the southwest part of the country grown on small family farms. The coffee is a product of the East Africa Coffee Initiative, and Cape Cod Coffee bought the entire first crop.
“There are a lot of women farmers involved and we’re heavily invested in it,” says Molly. “But it’s not just the story. It has to be great coffee.”
Three years into their venture, Molly’s daily cups are no longer mixed with milk. Nor can she run out of coffee at home and dash out for some at the market. “It’s shocking,” she says. “Now I’m more of a coffee snob.”
Cape Cod Coffee Roasters 348 Main St., Mashpee, 508-477-2400, firstname.lastname@example.org.