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A new roasting business has literally rolled into the San Diego market, with a 2-pound fluid-bed Sonofresco roaster mounted inside a commercial coffee truck. Neff Coffee Roasters (Facebook) now winds its way through automotive traffic in order to park in areas of heavy foot traffic, selling fresh-roasted beans and carefully crafted drinks to passersby in parks and near offices.
The father-son duo of David and Matthew Neff hoisted the retail window up for the first time on the Neff electric hybrid 2001 Freightliner MT45 last month, sending the smell of roasting coffee up into the eucalyptus breeze at Grape Street Dog Park, the largest of three dog parks in San Diego’s expansive Balboa Park.
“We still frequent there because the regulars love having us there,” Matt Neff told Daily Coffee News.
The Sonofresco machine is custom-mounted in the center of the vehicle, drawing propane from a tank mounted underneath and sending exhaust straight up a pipe through the roof. The company’s original roast profiles are stored and executed digitally, and have so far remained consistent in various weather and in different locations, according to Neff.
“The only thing we had to account for was being level,” said Neff. “We’ve accomplished this by using a custom mount for the roaster and an adjustable base. It’s a great roaster, and lends itself perfectly to being on a truck.”
The company’s opening lineup of coffees is a concise trio featuring beans from Guatemala, Sumatra and a natural-process Ethiopian bean from Sidamo. These are sourced through Sonofresco and roasted with a passion Mett Neff cultivated for years.
“It started when I was in the Coast Guard and I was ported in Costa Rica,” said Neff. “I was exposed to some amazing coffee, and since then I wanted to know as much as I could.”
Neff drove that obsession through hours of YouTube videos and many online articles both about roasting as well as the ins and outs of coffee business and espresso bar operations. Formal training was ultimately provided at Sonofresco’s Washington headquarters when the company invited the Neffs to its annual roaster sessions lead by Kathi Zollman, assistant director of green coffee at Sonofresco parent company Coffee Holding Company.
Said Neff, “We learned so much, and [it] allowed us to really hone in on our house Neff Blend.”
That blend is roasted onboard daily and crafted into drinks ground by a Fiorenzato F64 Evo espresso grinder, auto-tamped by Puqpress and extracted on a classic La Marzocco Linea. A Bunn brewing system delivers larger batches of quicker cups of drip.
While there’s no real clear roadmap for a roasting business on wheels, Neff said future plans might someday include a more permanent parking spot.
“We would love to be a wholesale provider someday,” said Neff. “That’s part of the dream. Owning a brick and mortar shop would be awesome. [But for now] the truck seems like a great way to get our product out to the most people.”
Howard Bryman is the associate editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. He is based in Portland, Oregon.