For Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein, roasting coffee is a personal experience.
He started roasting his own coffee about four years ago, and developed a love and fascination for the practice, from getting the coffee from the farmer to processing and preparing the beans.
“I loved that level of detail and found it to speak very much to my Jewish values,” he said.
Last year, he purchased his own commercial roaster that produces 2.2 pounds at a time.
Now, his business, Roasting Rabbi Coffee, is up and running through online sales, growing through social media, too.
But Becker-Klein was drawn to the industry and coffee itself, being the fuel for many things like socializing, conversing and building community.
“The way in which people will gather around a coffee shop or a coffee experience to talk about the experience of life, the news of the day, is very powerful to me,” he said.
Becker-Klein gets the beans from small farms or community groups from across South America.
One farm he buys from in Brazil sits on 200 hectares owned by a single family. Employees can live on the farm, where they receive health care and a school on-site for their children.
Another is a women’s collective, the Costa Rica La Trinidad Community, where five women work together on their own small farms to produce enough of the product.
Becker-Klein enjoys helping these communities grow to become independent.
“I love knowing that,” he said, “and knowing that they’re being paid fairly, that the crop is raised sustainably, and then to be able to roast in a way that really elevates its nuances at a speciality level.”
Other flavors take on more Jewish blends, like the Hanukkah Blend, garnered from a combination of Brazilian and Costa Rican beans, which should last eight days (but no guarantee).
Becker-Klein’s interests of coffee and Judaism dance together, too, beyond the parameters of kashrut (the whole roasted coffee bean itself is a kosher product by design).
He was ordained in 2000 from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Becker-Klein, who grew up in Blue Bell and now resides in northern Delaware, serves a part-time pulpit in Vermont. And to make the image of a rabbi roasting his own coffee more hipster, Becker-Klein also plays Jewish bluegrass music.
He plays with Shabbat Unplugged, a Philly-area troupe, and writes his own liturgy.
“There’s a style in Americana music where people had a band and a product, and the band in many ways would say, ‘And we drink this coffee’ or ‘We use this flour’ or this specific product, and it was somehow a part of what they carry around and it helped promote it as well,” he explained.
In an industry dominated by name brands like Starbucks, Becker-Klein said his coffee stands out because of the attention he can give specifically to the crop as well as each individual roast.
“It’s a personal experience,” he said. “I’m there at the machine handling it as the coffee is being roasted. It’s not programmed. It’s not handed off to a computer.”
The flavor, too, is personal; he prefers to roast on the medium-to-light side, which he said brings out the nuanced flavors within the coffee.
“It’s almost like a chord: You want to have three notes at least. You want something in the beginning, something in the middle and something when you’re finishing the cup,” he said. “My job is to release the best I can from those coffees.”
There’s a level of detail and value in his coffee, like wine. “In a way, you want to understand the coffee you like because they all have these different flavors that come out at different times.”
He roasts as orders come in to keep them as fresh as possible. Orders come ground or whole for $12 a bag. He eased into the website only about two months ago and has since processed more than 50 orders.
Down the road, he hopes to add individual messages of Judaism on the back of each bag, unique to each blend. (The front is currently adorned with a caricature rabbi based on Becker-Klein.)
He also plans on reaching out to different groups within Jewish, interfaith, Christian and Muslim communities to emphasize that idea of building community.
“I really believe that if we can sit together and talk together over coffee, we can also relate to one another in a civil way,” he added.
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