Bright-Eyed & Bushy-Tailed
The very first time Chris Keesecker set about roasting a batch of coffee, he and the Colombian beans had one thing in common.
“We didn’t know coffee was green!” Keesecker says with an unselfconscious laugh. He and his roasting partner spent an afternoon putting their tiny new machine through its paces, testing each time and temperature setting, and sampling every batch. The results were disheartening. No decadent java aroma filled the garage—it smelled more like bread baking—and each taste test dripped from the cof“We didn’t know coffee was green!” Keesecker says with an unselfconscious laugh. He and his roasting partner spent an afternoon putting their tiny new machine through its paces, testing each time and temperature setting, and sampling every batch. The results were disheartening. No decadent java aroma filled the garage—it smelled more like bread baking—and each taste test dripped from the coffeemaker weaker than dishwater.
Keesecker wouldn’t let a bad first day get him down. He packed up the bland roasts in storage trays and took a night to sleep on it.
“Come back next day,” he recalls, “we popped the lid on one of the trays, and just got hit with this ‘pow’ aroma of fresh-roasted coffee. Immediately the lights came on: Coffee has to settle just like wine has to settle, like a steak has to settle, like bread has to settle.”
Those were the first steps up a learning curve in a craft Keesecker has mastered with three decades of hands-on experience. He’s mentored other local roasters, and fellow craftsmen know his brand of Java Dawg coffee as an artisan product. But he doesn’t describe himself as fanatical. Keesecker’s tasting notes on Java Dawg coffees won’t evoke shoe leather, cardamom, or anything like that. He’s a guy who thinks there are few finer experiences in this world than the perfect cup, and that depends on treating your beans with meticulous care.
“Every coffee, in my opinion, likes to perform at a certain level. Some of them are very versatile. You can do almost anything with Colombian and still have a good cup of coffee,” he says. “So, lightroasted Mexican has great flavor. In fact, for me it kind of defies my descriptive sense, because I have yet to figure out what it tastes like. It just tastes good. Sumatra hates to be roasted light, so it’s a dark-roast coffee. It’s musty, it’s heavy, it’s got smoky tones. It has heavy body; when you drink it, you’re still tasting it an hour later. I love coffees like that.”
With conventional coffee from 13 different origins, seven organic varieties, and a mouthwatering flavor lab, Java Dawg is able to produce dozens of different roasts and blends. The eye-opening inventory offers something for every coffee lover, even decaf drinkers. And on Saturday mornings, they flock by the hundreds to Java Dawg’s iconic red double-decker bus at the Sarasota Farmers’ Market, which has offered market-goers an oasis to sit and sip since 2010. But Keesecker was waking up market early-birds 15 years before that, giving all spent grounds to Peter Burkard, another longtime market vendor with Nature’s Partner organic farm.
“I think we’ve single-handedly raised his field a foot or more,” Keesecker estimates.
Java Dawg is a laid-back, lovable operation, but the company and its pack leader do impressive work. Not only do they roast for some local favorite coffeehouses’ private labels (LeLu Coffee Lounge, C’est La Vie, and Simon’s Coffee House, to name three), but on a single day in season, the Java Dawg bus may make 2,000 transactions. If you consider the cup-pouring potential of 25 years total at the Sarasota Farmers’ Market, it doesn’t seem an outrageous notion that millions have started—or ended, or uplifted—their day with Keesecker’s coffee.
Java Dawg: javadawgcoffee.net