Get to Know the Roaster: Interview with Jason White
Apotheos has always been about the people. From our loyal customers to our hardworking baristas and the support staff behind them, the coffeehouse experience we've built over the last thirty years is the result of a true group effort.
This week, we sat down with one of the people who has undoubtedly made Apotheos what it is today. Master roaster Jason White talks about his origins as a barista, how he's grown with the company, and what he's most looking forward to in the year to come.
(Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity).
Why don't you start by talking about your experience with Apotheos? How did you first join the team?
I worked at Starbucks for about five years but needed a new gig when I decided to move into Atlanta. At the same time, I had been a musician, and one of my old bandmates happened to work at what was then called the San Francisco Coffee Roasting Company, which is now Apotheos Roastery.
I started at the bottom and moved my way up. [First as] a shift leader, then a manager, and then I oversaw inventory for the company for about five years. At a certain point, as Doug was opening up the new roastery in Kennesaw, he wasn't able to oversee roasting full-time, so he called on me to step into the role. I was happy to do it, as I'd been asking him for years for the chance to roast coffee. I've been a lead roaster for about three years.
You moved from working at a big chain to working at a true community coffeehouse. What were some of the big differences?
The difference really was corporate versus mom-and-pop. At a big chain, the work is very structured, very automated, like fast food. There wasn't much creativity or flexibility when it came to the drinks we made. But at Apotheos, we are always learning, always trying new things, and that's encouraged me to really get creative behind the bar.
I think another thing that really defines our coffeehouse is the customer experience. At Apotheos, it's always been about the community. I used to say that our coffeehouse in Virginia-Highlands was like "The Max" from the show Saved By the Bell—you know, the diner where all the kids hang out after school, where they know the staff and are always welcome. Our Virginia-Highlands coffeehouse was a lot like that. We had kids who would stop in on their way to school, or come do their homework in the afternoon. And we knew a lot of our regulars. So when we developed new beverages or new roasts, we knew exactly who we were making them for. It was truly a community-based experience.
What are some of the things you've learned about coffee in your time with Apotheos?
That's a good question, because I don't usually think about it. One of the major things I've learned working here is that consistency is key. If a customer comes in and falls in love with our coffee, we want them to come back a year later and have the same exact experience. We want the taste of our products to be a little nostalgic, to remind our customers of all the other good times they had while drinking our coffee. And in order to create that experience, we have to be consistent.
In that vein, one of the major benefits of our new roastery in Kennesaw is our automated Diedrich roaster. I used to roast coffee manually, which meant I had to memorize the exact profile of every roast we made, and replicate it as well as I could each time. The Diedrich, however, has a digital memory, so once I roast coffee in a particular way, it will remember and replicate that exact profile the next time. As a result, our customers know that every time they order a Beacon Blend or a Halo Blend or whichever roast is their favorite, it will taste exactly the way they remember it.
And are you still trying to discover new ways to enjoy the coffee?
All the time. Part of our identity as a company is innovating and trying out new stuff in order to find that next big thing. For instance, I'd never heard of cold brew before I started working for Apotheos. That didn't really become a national craze until a few years ago. But Doug has been cold-brewing coffee since the nineties, and our customers have always loved it.
As a barista, I used to mix up different ingredients behind the bar to find fun, new flavors, and beverages. Now that I work in the roastery, experimenting is more about playing with heat, air, and coffee sources to come up with new blends.
We are also just about to release three varieties of cold-brewed tea, which is a sort of nod to our Southern roots. There's a Sweetened, Unsweetened, and a "Juicy Peach" flavored cold brew tea, all made with pure cane sugar in the classic Georgia style. I'm proud of the tea because it took months of formulating and playing around with flavors.
As for coffee, if you sign up for our subscription service, you can partake in what we call the "Alchemy Series." Once a month we'll send you an exclusive new blend that I've created in the roastery, with a little description of what's inside, and a feedback card that you can return to us. That feedback is important, because it helps us understand our customers' taste better, the same way we would ask you how you enjoyed your drink if you came down to the coffeehouse in person. Our subscription can be found online at ApotheosSubscription.com!
So it's been a full year since the Kennesaw roastery opened. What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
I'm really excited for us to open a new coffeehouse here in Kennesaw. Even though we get visitors in the roastery, it's not the same without that barista experience. I miss interacting with our customers, and having that shared community feeling. Kennesaw deserves its own version of "The Max," and I can't wait to open up and begin serving this community.