How Revel Makes Everyone's Favorite Coffee

Bottomless recently kicked off an Instagram Live series of Q&A with different roasters in our platform.

For the first episode, Michael Mayer, our CEO talked to Gary Theisen, the owner of Revel Coffee Roasters.

Operating in Billings, Montana, Revel is one of the best-ranking roasters in Bottomless. They are a very consistent fulfiller of really great coffee despite having a fairly small operation.

Read on to learn more about how Gary manages to do this, and what it’s like to operate a coffee company.

Are all of your coffees sourced directly from the farmers?

I work with importers who source directly from the small farms.

Can you walk me through a typical day for you?

A typical day starts pretty early. When I come into the roasting warehouse, one of the first things that I do is to get the roaster up and running and starting to preheat. And while the roaster is preheating, I assemble all of the orders that I have for the day.

Everything that I do is roasted to order. So in the morning, I compile all of the orders and then figure out how much of each coffee needs to be roasted during the day. Once the roaster is preheated, the first batches start to go in, and all of the label-creation, printing shipping labels and bag labels, happen right off the bat.

Do you drink coffee at home before you go in, or do you drink the fresh stuff in the office?

I've got a La Marzocco GS3 at home, so I'll usually make something there in the morning. I taste pretty much everything that comes out of the roaster as well, for quality control, just evaluating the coffee as it’s coming out. So I’m just sipping on something pretty much all day long.

How is your coffee so consistent?

Pretty much the majority of what I do to maintain quality high starts at the green coffee. So that's a ton of effort, just making sure that I'm purchasing high quality and high caliber coffee and bringing it in.

And then as far as roasting consistency, honestly, I think I benefited a little bit from teaching myself to roast when I was 16 years old. It's been a huge hobby of mine, and rather than relying on somebody else telling me, "This is how you should roast," it was basically me learning that if I do this in the roaster, this is what it tastes like, and trying to tweak and modify things to make it taste awesome.

Is it a unique roast set-up for every single coffee that you have?

Yeah, some of them can be pretty close, but others are really different. A lot of it depends on the density of the coffee, as well as how much water is still in the coffee itself, the size, all that kind of stuff.

A lot of the tone of the roaster is actually set initially with, let's say, the charge temperature, which is basically how much energy is stored into the roaster. Some coffees readily accept all of that energy, and then you just tweak it later, and others are a bit more stubborn or require a little bit more heat. So they all just need a tweak here and there.

For instance, the Wush Wush is a very unusual coffee. It roasts drastically different than pretty much everything else that I roast. It just behaves very bizarrely in the roaster, so it takes kind of its own little journey to get where it needs to go.

How many times do you go through a roast?

It depends on the coffee. Some of them are pretty easy, some of them are a little bit tricky. What I'm looking to do is, whenever I’m roasting, I’m just trying to preserve the quality that's already there, not get in the way, and then see if I can bring things that I want into the forefront, and then diminish other things.

When you say you try every single batch, how do you do that?

Kalita’s my favorite way. I have a Behmor Brewer, so it’s probably one of the speediest ways that I do it. If I’m doing a lot of things, I can just do a single cup and evaluate it there.

Any tips for how we can test coffee?

Cupping is a great way to evaluate a whole lot of coffees pretty quickly. But there can be times where you have a coffee that tastes great on the cupping table, and when you try it in a different method, it doesn't. The method does matter. It really does. And some of it is preferential as well. Ideally, the coffee can be brewed in any method.

Why are there so few premium dark roasts? You have Obsidian that we requested, but why do we have to go out to roasters and ask them to make a dark roast for us?

I think you can almost put it akin to well-done steak, or something like that. You’re just like, “Oh man, would you really wanna take it that dark?”

But who am I to tell somebody what they can or cannot enjoy? My typical philosophy towards roasting is basically to showcase what the coffee has to offer, and not unduly influence it. And if you take it to a certain roasting point, you start to introduce roast tones.

To take things really, really dark, it just always seemed like maybe you’re covering up some defects in some coffee that you didn’t want to show, so you can roast them out by roasting it longer and darker.

But having said that, as I’ve been working with Obsidian and things of that nature, it kinda grows on me. I’m still gonna love my super light and bright, super acidic Kenyan, but it is really fun tasting something like Obsidian. In order to do it right, it actually does take quite a bit of work with the roast profile to make sure it’s tasting good at that advanced roast.

How are you so consistent with the fulfillment?

I work a lot. I legitimately love what I do, so I don’t feel like I’m going in to work every day. I think that has a lot to do with it.

And I do all of the roastings myself. Not only for consistency of roast─I don’t have to worry about an employee changing how the coffee is gonna be tasting, and things of that nature.

And from a business perspective, if I’m just the owner running a business, I don’t care if I come in and not get paid very much for doing my work during the day. But if you’re paying somebody, then you wanna make sure things are done as efficiently as possible. So it would make sense if you would wanna do maximum batches all day long in order to make things as efficient and profitable as possible.

I don’t mind doing a 5-lb batch if I need to. And sometimes, I do. I’m able to mess around with how much coffee I’m putting into the roaster and keep consistency, rather than having to do the exact same batch and worry about how it’s gonna come out.

How big is your roaster?

It's 15-kg (~33 lbs). But the thing with most roasters is that for the most part, their sweet spot is about 75-80% of what they’re advertised to do. My typical largest batch is about 24 lbs, and then you’ll lose about 14% or 15% throughout the process due to water evaporation, and so on.

How hot does your roaster go?

It can pretty much go as hot as you want to, but you definitely don’t wanna risk that.

Is it true that you put the stamp and the name on every bag by hand?

The logo is done for me, so that’s just a hot stamp. It’s the other two labels: the one on the front and the one on the back. The one on the back is done every single morning.

Everything is roasted to order, so I don’t know how many back labels I’ll need until I actually start roasting. Those are printed off during roasting and I label the coffee as I’m packaging.

Is it bad to have beans delivered already ground?

I don’t know if I’d use the word “bad”, but it’s just preferable that it’s whole beans. It gets stale significantly faster than it would if you just left it whole bean. You’ll for sure get better-tasting coffee if you grind it right before you brew it.

What grind do you recommend?

That depends on how you’re brewing it. Espresso is in its own little world of how that would work. But as a rule of thumb, I like to get away with as fine a grind as I can. You’re just getting more out of the coffee that way.

Have you been able to travel around to different places to source your beans?

I actually have yet to travel to origin, I’m too busy. But I’d love to. I think it’d be fun.

What are your ambitions?

I’ve been asking that of myself more and more recently, but I just really enjoy what I do. Right now, I can pretty much do everything myself and enjoy it. So whatever I would do different, I would have to enjoy it more than this. And I just don’t know what that would be.

Your ambition is to keep making great coffee.

Yeah, I love it. For sure.

Wanna learn more about your favorite roasters? Follow Bottomless on Instagram so you can watch new installments of our roaster Q&A series as soon as they come out!