Last updated: March 19. 2013 7:54PM - 1190 Views

Luke Damiani examines raw coffee beans, which emit an earthy scent that is nothing like the familiar coffee aroma.
Luke Damiani examines raw coffee beans, which emit an earthy scent that is nothing like the familiar coffee aroma.
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Luke Damiani pours a decade of coffee experience into each batch of coffee beans he produces at his Factoryville roasting lab.

Damiani Coffee Roasters, tucked away on a rural stretch of Route 6, imports beans from around the world for roasting. Damiani, a Scranton resident and coffee devotee, roasts them for distribution locally and around the world. The beans, which are green and emit an earthy scent in their raw state, originate from places like Indonesia, Rwanda and Honduras, arriving in burlap sacks lined with a special material to keep the beans fresh.

Twice a week, Damiani, 34, fires up a German-engineered Probat coffee roaster, a Smart-car-sized contraption that runs on liquid propane and heats up to hundreds of degrees. He loads the beans into a chute that leads to a spinning drum. Then, as if by some sort of alchemy, the machine transmutes the raw green seeds of the coffea plant into the fragrant dark brown kernels used to brew that familiar elixir coffee.

“In the roasting process they (the beans) turn darker, they get bigger and the sugars start to caramelize,” Damiani said.

The key to achieving the perfect roast is smelling and tasting the coffee beans by adding hot water to cups that contain grinds, a procedure called cupping. Damiani has rigorous quality assurance measures in place: He logs the temperature of each roast, around 400 degrees, using several thermometers and a computer program.

“I roast, then I cup,” he said. “And then I make changes to my roasting based on what I’m tasting.”

Damiani attempts to roast the beans until he brings out the “the best of what the coffee has to offer, but not any further.”

One would imagine roasting coffee would be an aromatic delight, but the smell produced isn’t the same as the familiar fragrance of ground coffee. He described the scent as “sweet hay mixed with burning leaves; I like it.”

The roastery operates out of a one-story structure, a former diner. Damiani remodeled the building and equipped it with roasting and brewing accoutrements, including a reverse osmosis filtration system—which can produce water with the mineral makeup of any water in the world—and a vintage La Marzocco GS 1 modified espresso machine.

Damiani’s experience dates back to the early part of the last decade, when he and his father, both of northern New Jersey, opened Northern Light Espresso Bar in Scranton.

“My dad was driving down Spruce Street one night and noticed a vacant storefront in the Scranton Life Building,” he said.

Damiani’s father envisioned a cafe for the space and recruited his son, who was working at Hewlett-Packard in New Jersey at the time, to join him in the venture.

“We kind of started something we had no experience in,” he said.

But the father and son team soon found themselves immersed in cafe culture. Damiani traveled to Ithaca, N.Y., and purchased equipment and coffee and sought advice from Gimme Coffee, which has a small chain of espresso bars in New York.

Though he and his father no longer own the Northern Light—the shop was sold about six years ago—Damiani still works there on the side as a barista and manager. Damiani coffee roasters supplies the shop’s decaf espresso and house blend, and the shop sells Damiani’s brand of coffee beans on the shelf.

In 2005 Damiani helped an Austrian woman set up her cafe in Vienna, spending several months learning about the Viennese cafe culture. The coffee aficionado said that episode allowed him to get the “European coffee experience.”

Damiani’s roastery, established in 2011, sells roughly 600 pounds of coffee beans each month, but he hopes to boost his sales while maintaining high standards.

“I want to be boutique,” he said. “But I also want to pay my bills.”

He roasts five to 20 pounds per batch, and each roast takes about 12 or 13 minutes. The beans are packaged in 12- ounce brown bags branded with the roaster’s logo and come in six varieties.

Damiani ships the beans anywhere in the world and stocks local shelves, including the Winola Market, Lake Winola; Caravia Fresh Foods, South Abington Twp. and Northern Light Espresso Bar, Scranton. He constantly rotates the stock on the shelves of his local vendors to make sure the freshest product is available, he said. He usually sells whole beans because he said grinding the beans during manufacturing detracts from the bouquet of flavors each blend produces.

Before the beans get to Damiani, they’ve been handled by many people, and he feels a profound responsibility.

“It’s up to me to realize their vision for the coffee,” he said. That’s exciting. It all comes down to me.”

Coffee roasting is not a hobby or a nine-to-five job for him. It’s a “way of life.” And no matter how much he learns, he can never learn everything.

“Roasting is an art,” he said. “It’s like any other craft. You have to basically be consumed by it.”

For more information on Damiani Coffee Roasters, see the Facebook page. Damiani expects to launch a website in the coming weeks.

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