I started Speckled Ax in 2007 as Matt’s Wood Roasted Organic Coffee. At the time, I was working as an adjunct in a few different college English departments and finishing a dissertation at Boston College on the literature of the Maine woods. My part-time coffee life eventually won out over teaching, and I opened a coffee shop–Speckled Ax–in Portland in 2012. We now roast both certified organic coffees and small lot, high quality conventionals, but our simple objective has not changed: to roast coffee that is on par with the best being produced anywhere, and to do it in a way that provides value to our customers while also bringing some measure of justice to the people who grow and harvest it.
About wood roasting
We roast using a vintage Italian Petroncini fired with local hardwood. It looks like most well-constructed industrial quality roasters, but instead of a series of gas jets there is a firebox beneath our brick-lined steel drum.
On roast days we start a fire with matches and kindling, just like you would in a woodstove or a fire pit. Once it’s up to temperature, it operates by both conduction (the hot drum wall “toasting” the coffee) and convection (the hot air from the wood fire passing through the bean mass). It’s this latter exchange of heat, and the high rate of airflow that our wood fire requires, that makes our process a little different.
Please note that roasting coffee with wood is not like smoking a pork shoulder. While the latter uses very low heat, takes all day and saturates the barbecue with particulate, roasting coffee takes 14 minutes, give or take, and the fire is hot and clean. Our process is traditional, intuitive, and completely manual–there’s no way to automate the burning of wood–but we track our roasts with multiple thermocouples and a computer, and attempt to replicate our best tasting roast profiles to the second and degree.
Ultimately, though, our coffee tastes good not merely because of our unique roaster, but because of the coffee itself and the work of the people who grow and harvest it. We purchase exceptional coffee at prices far above the fair trade minimum and attempt to roast it in a way that highlights its inherent attributes. As a wise coffee person told me almost a decade ago, when I was just starting to get my business together, “It’s all in there. Your job is to keep from screwing it up.”
A note about our roasting schedule and shipping
We’re a relatively small outfit, and at present are roasting two or three times per week; our single origin coffees are usually roasted once or twice per week. It may be a few days before your coffee is mailed out. We roast to order, mark each bag with a roasting date, and generally ship within hours of your beans being dropped into the cooling tray. On roast days we start very early, but if we don’t finish in time to meet the mail truck or the delivery company van, orders go out the following morning. Most residential orders are shipped via the USPS, with larger ones shipped by way of a commercial carrier. You can be sure that the coffee you receive from Speckled Ax is fresh. Consequently, we only ship our coffee whole bean. If you’re drinking good coffee, you should invest in a decent burr grinder. It will make all the difference.
Please note that we charge for shipping: not full price–we appreciate the fact that you can purchase coffee almost anywhere, and so would like to make it as economical for you as possible to buy from us–but we do charge for it, because it costs us real money. In our opinion, if a roaster offers free shipping, they are charging too much for their coffee. Worse than simply engaging in a shell game with customers, such inflated and disproportionate profit margins perpetuate a coffee chain that is fundamentally unjust to farmers and pickers.