Making a ‘great’ cup of joe

Posted: January 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

R.C. Gartrell, roast master and green buyer with Winchester Coffee Roasters, puts whipped cream on a “perfect homemade mocha” he was concocting at the recently opened Winchester Coffee Roasters Coffee Bar inside the Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery in Winchester. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Winchester Coffee Roasters has opened its first coffee bar at Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery in Winchester. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Fresh roasted and brewed coffee is available at the Winchester Coffee Roasters Coffee Bar, which recently opened at Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery in Winchester.

Winchester — The best cup of coffee is a fresh one.

R.C. Gartrell, roast master and green buyer for Winchester Coffee Roasters, knows the difference small changes can make in a cup of coffee.

The quality of the coffee beans, the way they are roasted, how soon they are ground before being brewed — all factors that can mean the difference between a bad, good or great cup of joe.

And finally comes preparation, a step Gartrell didn’t really have a hand in before since he only sold his coffee in bags and left it up to the buyers to make it.

“Preparation of coffee is important,” said Gartrell of White Post. “It is very easy to ruin a good cup of coffee by preparing it badly.”

With the opening of the business’ new coffee bar, Gartrell finally has a hand in that step, too. The Winchester Coffee Roasters Coffee Bar opened in December inside Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery, 334 W. Boscawen St., Winchester.

The coffee bar menu posted on the wall is short, but having five to nine varieties of beans available increases customers’ options, he said. He offers espresso, mocha, a French press brew-on-hand, and hand-poured coffee made to order. In the future, he might add lattes, but “coffee is definitely our focus.”

For noncoffee drinkers, he also has hot chocolate, chai and several blends of black, green and white teas.

When Bonnie Blue opened in September, co-owners Christian Schweiger and Brian Pellatt approached Gartrell about supplying a high quality, locally roasted coffee to sell in the shop in bags or at a small coffee station. But as the store established its core items and they heard customer feedback asking for more choices, further developing the coffee service was part of the “natural growth of Bonnie Blue,” Schweiger said.

They approached Gartrell again — this time about the possibility of opening a coffee bar in the market. Even in the few weeks it has been open, the bar has added another dimension to the market, Schweiger said.

“We always had in the back of our minds to pursue him to have the best cup of coffee in the area,” Schweiger said. “We are doing that today.”

Gartrell said he and his wife, Amanda, had been toying with the idea of opening a showcase for their coffee when Schweiger and Pellatt approached him about coming into the market. It was a “perfect marriage,” he said.

“They do food really well, and I do coffee really well, so it was a good deal for everybody,” Gartrell said.

Just inside the front door of Bonnie Blue, a wood bar with a concrete top holds all the paraphernalia needed to turn out various kinds of quality coffee — an espresso machine, Chemex coffee makers, and French press coffee makers.

In the window sits large jars with various kind of coffee beans, all roasted at the business’ roastery at 1152 Martinsburg Pike, Winchester, which opened in 2009, Gartrell said. Two of the jars, the house blend and the Bonnie Blue Dark, will always be there, but the rest will rotate with the seasons.

“Our menus are always changing because we buy what fresh coffee is available at the time,” he said. “It is just like any agricultural crop.”

Each bean brings its own flavor to the cup, he said. The Guatemala la Bolsa, which is grown in the Huehuetenango region, has a “dark chocolate spiciness.” The Colombia Tolimo beans are grown on a small family farm that only produces about 70 bags a year. It has “real milk chocolatey and caramel flavors.”

The Ethiopia Ayele is another small-farm bean from the Yirgacheffe region and is classic Ethiopian coffee, he said. It is “bright and full of citrus and bergamot flavors.” Bergamot is a kind of orange.

The Bonnie Blue Dark is a special blend Gartrell put together for the market several months ago. He had already created one blend for the market, but Schweiger’s wife, Liz, said she wanted a stronger brew that would make the “hair stand up in the morning,” Gartrell said.

He obliged with the Bonnie Blue Dark. The dark roasted coffee is heavy-bodied and has a “syrupy aftertaste,” he said.

The house blend is the most complex blend and has the most flavor, Gartrell said. It has “a lot of body but also a lot of floral acidity,” he said.

All the beans are ground just before the coffee is brewed for maximum freshness. A French press carafe that holds coffee for people who want something immediately will only sit for 30 minutes before it is thrown out “because it gets stale,” he said. He will randomly French press whichever coffee he wants throughout the day.

When people want a specific blend made to order, he uses the Chemex coffee makers. The beans sit in a steel cone filter, hot water is poured in, and it takes about four minutes for the coffee to steep and filter into the Chemex.

Getting coffee right and producing a high quality product has long been a passion for Gartrell.

“I like everything about coffee,” he said. “I like the fact that it wakes me up. I like the nuances and complexities of the flavors. A good cup of coffee can change your whole day.”

Gartrell earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology in 1992 from Berry College in Rome, Ga. Two years after graduating, he took out a loan and bought his first coffee shop in Portland, Ore., where he grew up.

A few years after that, he sold the shop and invested in Stumpton Coffee Roasters in Portland, becoming its roaster and green buyer.

In 2003, Gartrell started Tomboy Coffee Roasters in Telluride, Colo. The company is still in existence, but he is slowly selling off his share.

In the meantime, he moved to White Post in August 2009 and started Winchester Coffee Roasters. He chooses every bean the company sells, going through raw coffee samples he receives, roasting them and “cupping them” to see which ones he will buy.

“Every coffee acts differently in the roaster,” he said. “It is very much a sight and smell process, just like any great cooking.”

Bags of Winchester Coffee Roasters are also sold at Espresso Bar and Cafe in Winchester, Locke Country Store in Millwood, Cristina’s Cafe in Strasburg, Mount Airy Market in Boyce, and Berryville News Stand and My Neighbor and Me in Berryville.

Gartrell also offers classes at his roastery on various aspects of coffee making. Options include a hand pour class, latte art and espresso preparation, and a barista guild level 1 overview class.


Winchester Coffee Roasters Coffee Bar is located inside Bonnie Blue Southern Market and Bakery, 334 W. Boscawen St., Winchester. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday.

For more information, call 540-686-2806 or go to

— Contact Laura McFarland at