This article was originally published in the Oct. 1, 2017, edition of the Sun.
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Good as Gold Coffee has been a staple of the Green Street neighborhood since Sid Goldman founded the company in 1969.
Lately, the family owned company now run by Dan Goldman with the help of wife, Patrice, and sons Michael and Jay is three years into a grueling adventure that is the art of “modern brewing.”
The project is an evolution in coffee-making, heating the beans and roasting them with carefully measured doses of heated air, controlled by a computer and new technology.
The Good as Gold family considers its new brand Airis to be coffee’s answer to craft beer.
“Over 99 percent of the coffee that is roasted today is done on drum roasters,” said Dan Goldman, owner and patriarch. “In roasting, it’s all about how you apply heat to the coffee bean.”
In drum roasting, Goldman explained, heat is applied to the coffee bean through radiation, convection and conduction. All that happens at once, but …
“It’s a very difficult process to replicate the same taste of that specific roast over and over again,” he continued. “There are many functions and variables that are happening at the same time. So the chemistry of the coffee changes, too, similar to cooking on a stovetop.”
That’s where the notion of air roasting came into play.
“It’s actually been around for a while, but no one has really taken it to a level where one can control the variables where one can replicate the roast over and over again. Now we can,” Goldman said.
With this unique system and roaster that was specifically made to fit into the production room at Good as Gold’s 115 Green St. facility, the air roasting technique can be controlled through the computer.
“That means we’re able to adjust any of the variables. So when we create the blend or recipe for that coffee, we can now replicate it over and over again – and it will taste the same every time,” Dan explained.
Some assembly required
This is the only roaster of its kind in the United States, the Goldmans say, one of about 11 in the world. Originally manufactured in Australia and brought to Worcester piece by piece, it was assembled by local tradesmen in a seemingly neverending jigsaw puzzle of fabricated steel.
The plumbers, pipefitters, electricians and others who worked on the project – as well as the Goldman family – slogged through the process of engineering the parts for months.
Then it was time for state regulators and inspections, which took another six months of waiting, experimentation and waiting some more.
The unique “coffee maker” takes up about 20 percent of the space in the Good as Gold warehouse.
“It was a major project and we’re very happy the way it came out … and it works beautifully. We spared nothing to deliver the best (cup of coffee),” Dan Goldman said.
With this roaster, the hot air levitates the coffee beans into a nonstop whirling and tumbling mini circus act. As the heat is turned up, the beans get lighter in color the longer they are in the air, making it a very gentle process of roasting. Additionally, the air is not reintroduced into the process, as in some instances of drum roasting in which carbon dioxide can seep back into the coffee itself, adding a smoky flavor. With air roasting, the air is not recirculated.
See a video of the process on the Airis website.
Michael Goldman, the elder son of Dan and a buyer for Good as Gold, is also the main technician in blending varieties by coaxing the computer to carefully calculate the precise moment to heat or cool.
“We can control – to a tenth of a degree – the precise temperature that we want the bean to get to. We can control the interior and exterior temperature and be able to replicate that over and over again. This method of heating is very efficient and very consistent.
“My father has wanted to do air roasting for as long as I can remember. But they didn’t have the technology to really control and master the process. Now we can,” he said.
The conventional method of making coffee is done by drum roasting – heating the beans by conventional fire and trying to control the flame. But that method is not reliable.
“Within the coffee bean you have chaff (almost like a parchment). At 100 degrees Celsius (220 degrees F) in a drum roaster it will peel off,” Dan said.
“But with the air roaster, the chaff comes off easily and is deposited in the collector. Drum roasters do have chaff collectors but because of the heat of the drum, some of the chaff is ignited, which produces smoke and carbon. So the drum roaster does not allow all of the brightness and flavors to shine through. The result is a much cleaner flavor of coffee from the air roaster.”
He added, “Once the technology was created for the roasting process, I got very excited and we found a person who engineered a system that makes what we think is the best coffee in the world.
“If we were only able to replicate coffee to be just as good as someone else’s, that’s not good enough. We wanted to be able to do something on a higher level. That’s why we got involved in this type of roasting.”
With the Airis technique, Good as Gold can test the measurement of the bean 10 times per second and, if needed, can stop the process at any point and also control the outer color of the bean, as well as the inner roasted color of the bean.
“The other thing that makes us unique is that we have a profile roaster, which is a small roaster that can do small batches,” Dan said. “We’re able to experiment and create the recipes and various blends to get the ultimate flavor of the coffee that we’re looking for. And then we can scale it (produce it in large quantities) to our production roaster. We do all of the preliminary legwork on the small roaster and then scale it to the larger roaster.”
When talking about small batches with the Airis method, those batches can be captured in five-pound bags or much larger, considering the customer and their clientele for private-label batches for a cafe’s signature blend or for restaurants. And all of those small batches will taste exactly the same.
Mike added that this is not possible with conventional drum roasters. He said the large companies that make coffee that you see in your local supermarket are brewed from a standard profile for that particular coffee. “They do not want to roast 50 or 100 pounds because it would take them 200 pounds just to experiment. They’ve already gone through all of their experimenting phase.
“But because we are able to scale up from a small roaster, we can roast one pound of coffee at a time in different ways to find the perfect profile for that coffee.”
Coffees from the world and Fair Trade certified
Good as Gold buys coffee from Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Hawaii, Sumatra, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo, Tanzania, and many more places.
“At any given time we can have 25 or more single different origins within our facility, whether it is from a co-op, farm or native-grown,” Dan said. “And they all have different flavors and profiles that we can blend to. The options are limitless.”
Because it is not a huge company, Good as Gold does not buy in large quantities. That means it can earmark all the bags of coffee from the same coffee bean, farm or co-op.
“Large companies buy masses of coffee and they can’t control all of the quality of the product,” Dan said. “Here we can. Michael does a great job in sourcing some of the best coffees. So this is the room where we keep the green coffees, all from different parts of the world. Some have the name of the farm where it came from and the regions, co-ops and countries.”
Good as Gold is also a Fair Trade coffee roaster, which means it pays local farmers in those countries by the pound. “That money goes directly back to the farms, so that they can continue to farm their land to produce good-quality coffee,” Dan said. “If they don’t make enough money, they’re likely to grow something else.”
A mural of a real farm is painted on the back wall of the Good as Good warehouse. And the two women pictured carrying baskets of beans really exist. It is a reminder to all about the origins of this universal staple … and to pique one’s curiosity to learn more about coffee itself.
The company is audited periodically during the year by Fair Trade USA, and must submit its coffee purchases to verify its commitment to the program.
“By being a Fair Trade Certified company, we’re giving back money to the source, to the farms. A lot of roasters will say they participate but they don’t give money back to the farmers,” Dan said.
Customer Connections Near and Far
In the Greater Worcester area Good as Gold — long known for delivering coffee products and other office staples around downtown — does business with independent restaurants, cafes, bakeries and small restaurant groups.
“We’ll try to give them a blend of coffee that fits the style of food served. So a steakhouse might have a very different type of coffee than a seafood restaurant or a bakery,” Dan said.
Customers are also encouraged to come in and experiment with the various coffees in the tasting room at Good as Gold. There, they can try a wide assortment of coffees from different countries, and mix and match Panamanian light beans with Sumatra dark beans, and everything in between.
“We make our customers part of the process, too, experimenting with different blends and processes, and roasting [beans] to different specifications that is unique for them,” Dan said. “There is no reason why local companies cannot have their own identity with their own blend of coffee. They don’t have to buy coffee from New York or Chicago. We can make and deliver their own coffee right here in Worcester,” Dan said.
“We like to convert people from an average or mediocre cup of coffee, to something that is really exceptional.”
Searching for a win-win
Dan emphasized that Good as Gold “is not in competition with the people who we sell coffee to. A lot of the roasters that roast specialty coffees have their own cafes. So part of their business model is to sell wholesale, but at the same time build their own cafes and make their own presence in communities, and expand.
“We don’t want to be in competition. We’d rather be partners and help them grow and develop their business, and not be in competition with our customers.
“We’re not built for retail. We’re trying to create a win-win situation and help them develop a coffee program. Some customers might serve our staple Good as Gold coffee, as well as our new Airis brand,” Dan said.
With many restaurants featuring “farm-to-table” organic foods, Good as Gold can do the same with coffee.
Mike said, “As a company, we wanted to come up with a brand that was representative of the process that everyone could remember and with the process being driven by air … so it was a fit to call it Airis. We just liked the name because air is a better way to make coffee.”
Good as Gold intends to keep its focus on the businesses and schools that purchase Good as Gold coffee for break rooms, cafeterias and other local venues. That commitment will remain steadfast, the Goldmans said.
Keeping it close to home
Dan said Good as Gold is “a true family business that was started by my father, Sid. I used to work here when I was a kid and now my wife, Patrice, is president; and another son, Jay, is involved in all aspects of the business, and Mike takes the lead on the technology side, creating the specialized coffees and in marketing the business.
“We all enjoy working with the family and doing what we’re doing. We’re all truly passionate about having a great product and we have a lot of pride in our product. If people want good coffee, they can find it with us.”
Mike said, “It may be tough to visualize what we are doing, so we want to invite people in to see the process. And you also have customers, who may own cafes or restaurants, which want to keep Good as Gold a secret because they don’t want to tell people that they get their coffee from us. They’d rather have their customers think that it’s ‘their’ private-label coffee.”
Dan summed up this new age for Good as Gold: “A lot of people call us the best kept secret in Worcester. … No more.”