Wednesday is roast day, and outside of the red farm house on Slaterville Road, it’s impossible to miss the distinct, slightly burnt scent of coffee beans cooking. The unassuming structure is home to Copper Horse, small batch coffee roaster and tasting room co-owned and operated by Freeville native Jesse Harriott. From communicating with farmers and sampling different seeds to stamping each individual package of the final product, Harriott single-handedly juggles all of the moving parts that bring his blends from crop to cup.
Inside, the naturally lit space is compact and neatly organized with all of the materials and equipment needed to roast the raw, earthy green seeds that later resemble what are more commonly referred to as coffee beans. One hundred and fifty pound burlap sacks filled with seeds from around the world line one wall, and an impressive royal blue coffee roaster with ‘Dietrich’ stenciled into its bodice sits idly by. Scales, stamps, printers and other packing supplies are dispersed along the back wall, and a simple tasting bar is tucked in the corner.
Amidst it all, Harriott makes the seamless transition from task to task. Watching him perform his craft with a red timer around his neck and trucker hat that reads “barista” across the front is like listening to a well-rehearsed set, one that hits every note without miss. Against the medium hum of the roaster, Harriott tunes into the crackle of the beans and glides over to the give the batch an extra stir. He steps away to tend to the packaging, but knows intuitively when to return to the roaster. Both time and temperature are adjusted to bring forth the nuanced flavors of each coffee seed.
Social worker turned artisan coffee roaster, Harriott’s path to roasting has been serendipitous to say the least. Jesse originally moved to Louisville, Kentucky to pursue a graduate degree in social work. While he waited to gain resident status, he moonlighted as a barista. During this time, he met a rocket scientist and coffee roasting mentor who encouraged him to take a stab at competing in roasting competitions. Afterward, Harriott worked in the coffee industry of Louisville for about a decade, most recently for Sunergos Coffee, before moving to Ithaca with his wife and three kids to be closer to family.
In September of 2014, Harriott founded Copper Horse with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and fellow coffee enthusiasts Caleb Scott and Kristian Woodall (Woodall is owner of Carriage House Café on Stewart Ave.). Shortly after, Copper Horse won an award for “America’s Best Espresso” at Coffee Fest in Atlanta Georgia. Today its roasts can be found at Carriage House Café, Green Star and Café Press among other vendors. Currently, Temple of Zeus is serving Copper Horse’s seasonal dark roast Warhorse blend.
When asked what drew him to coffee roasting, Harriott said “The process of finding, making and sharing coffee is really cool to me — there’s an excitement to discovering new coffee and trying to find the best profiles for them and sharing that with people.” Harriott’s craft and care for quality and the process come through with every cup, which I experienced at my very first coffee tasting. The Ngoma Micolot #3 from Kayanza, Burundi is tart and citrusy, unlike any other coffee that I’ve tried. Its lightness resembles that of tea. The Clock Tower Espresso — a blend of Brazilian, Guatemalan and Sumatran beans — lacks the bitterness of many other dark roasts without sacrificing depth of flavor. I usually take a dark roast with cream and sugar, but the Clock Tower is perfect black.
Harriott doesn’t have regular open hours for tasting, but will brew a cup of coffee for friends who drop in at the sight of his car parked outside. He’ll also prepare coffee tastings for those who call in ahead of time, which is how I ended up there and learned more than I ever could have hoped to know about coffee. As I sipped on a series of freshly prepared coffee and listened to Harriott explain where each individual crop came from and what flavors to look out for, I came to a realization: When it comes to tasting, Ithaca has more to offer than a Cornell wines class, and Copper Horse is proof of this.