Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee
There are those Seattle-based chains on every corner these days, but this Reno coffee roaster is one of a kind. Discover the process behind his unique brews.
By Matthew Bieker
Photo of Tim Curry by Matthew Bieker
Sixteen years ago, standing over his stove at 11 o’clock at night, Tim Curry drank the best cup of coffee he’d ever had. He had been planning to open a new espresso bar at a time in Reno when there were few, and in researching coffee preparation methods, he’d ordered a bag of green coffee beans from the internet and roasted them in a saucepan. The ensuing brew changed his life—and his business plan.“I took a sip and said, ‘Wow, that’s what coffee is supposed to taste like—I get it,’” Curry says. “I kind of got bit by the bug. There’s no other way to describe it: It caught me. So I modified my business plan to try to raise funding to do a roaster retailer.”
Curry opened Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Company in 2001 and has since traded the kitchen for an industrial workspace in East Reno and the stovetop for the company’s namesake and distinguishing feature: an authentic wood-burning coffee roaster. For years, Curry has used this unique method to produce critically acclaimed coffees carried by restaurants and cafes locally and nationally. The decision to use a wood-fire roaster, however, was a matter of taste and tradition.”
“In Italy, for many hundreds of years, it was like a Saturday morning thing,” Curry says. “People would build their little fires out on their patios and roast their coffee. So these cities would have coffee permeating the air on their Saturdays.”
In experimenting with different heating sources, Curry found that the traditional wood fire gave a rounded fullness to the finished beans’ flavor profile, and he began to work with various woods and coffees from different origins in creating new roasts. Through trial and error, he’s developed a method that’s still a touch more artistic than scientific.
“We’re dealing with an inconsistent heat source,” Curry says. “So there are days where everything is doing what it’s supposed to do—sight, sound and smell. And two seconds later, it’s black, it’s burned, it’s in the trash—don’t even know why.”
As fickle and frustrating as the process can be, for Curry it is a labor of love that rewards the patient and the detail-oriented. He tries to stock around 30 responsibly sourced coffee beans—roasting up to 35 pounds at a time—and can, through subtle variations in temperature, enhance the beans’ natural flavors to tremendous effect.”
For me, it’s more about what winds up in your cup rather than anything else,” Curry says. “I’ve developed a lot of systems and I’ve put them into practice over the years to ensure that we’re getting the best possible in that cup.”
Curry’s care for quality coffee extends beyond the roasting process, however, and even beyond the doors of his shop. Curry maintains an educational video series and blog on his shop’s website aimed at informing his customers about the roasting process, how to choose the right type of coffee, and tips on home brewing methods to maximize their enjoyment of his product. Occasionally, he will even hold small monthly classes at his shop, with demonstrations and tasting opportunities.
“Education is very important, because people didn’t know they were drinking bad coffee,” Curry says. “If you do these little things at home, your coffee experience is going to go from ‘grab-n-go’ to ‘Wow, I have to stop and enjoy this.’ And little tweaks are all it takes.”
Curry believes he’s stayed in business all these years because he produces coffee of the utmost quality—at one point, one of his coffees held the highest score ever given by Coffee Review, the foremost online coffee buyer’s guide. Aside from his own commitment to the craft, Curry also credits a community that respects tradition as much as he does.
“Reno is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance over the past 20 years maybe, and it may even go back farther than that,” says Curry, who moved to Reno in 1988. “(But) at the same time you have all this great stuff going on, Reno still has its old traditional roots.”
Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Company ships to buyers all over the country, but his dozens of customers and partners in the Reno/Tahoe area have solidified Curry’s reputation as a savvy business owner—and an artisan with zeal for his product.“Roasting is my passion—I love it,” Curry says. “The roasting is art; the tasting is personal preference. My job is to find the people who like what I do.”