Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Roaster Eric Lepine of New Harvest Coffee Roasters – Pawtucket, RI
Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start? And when did you join New Harvest?
Eric Lepine: In 2009, I started work in the production facility—it’s the nexus of New Harvest. I used to be a coffee buyer for Whole Foods. I was an ordinary consumer of coffee until Allegra—a Whole Foods subsidiary—had a competition for holiday coffee. I sold the highest percentage and won a trip to a coffee farm in Costa Rica. It was wonderful. After working in New Harvest’s production facility for six months, I moved on to roasting, and realized it was a career. It’s gratifying to walk into cafés all over the city and talk to baristas about the product, create a sense of community. It puts you in a position to share what you know. I help plan events for the Providence Coffee Society.
SK: How do you describe New Harvest’s style?
EL: We do a lot of whole sale, so, we end up doing a lot of dark roast. We also like to offer a lot of single origin coffee and foster a direct relationship with the coffee. It's interesting from a roasters standpoint, to get in to the game of micro-lot coffee blends. Part of just wants to commit to really small, very complicated nuanced coffees, but at the end of the day, all of your coffees have to be good.
SK: What do New Englanders like to drink?
EL: New England loves bold, dark roasted coffee. It’s been a coming of age for me. Those high end coffees are great, but so are the blends. They’re all great. I’ve realized that there's a coffee for everything. Some coffees belong some places and some belong others.
SK: How do you go about designing house blends for different accounts?
EL: The way to help somebody launch a profitable coffee business is meeting without sales people to establish what the account’s identity is. We're gonna help them. Some people won’t even have enough capital. We offer them equipment on sale and free training. They can use our lab, it’s at their disposal. We’ll taste a lot of coffee with them to see what they like, what they’re proud of, what they want to serve. And can we provide them with enough to get them through the year or we’ll see if there’s enough of that coffee around for the duration of the business year.
SK: How is the coffee community here?
EL: We have so many accounts, we’ve become the de facto community center, a lot of events happen in this room. And more than just people from our accounts. A lot of different roasters come here. There’s no sense of territoriality, like in Boston the vibe isn't that friendly. This is a welcoming environment. People that don't even work in the industry come here for various events.
SK: How far is your reach?
EL: Southeastern New England: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire. Also Pennsylvania. The rest of the business is retail all over the country.
SK: What trend are you excited about right now?
EL: There's more retail cafés opening that aren't us. The more the competition, the better it will get. You’ve got to bring your a game. It’s healthy for Providence.
SK: How much do you roast?
EL: We roast about 250,000 pounds of coffee a year. And according to Roast Magazine, that makes us a large Roaster. We don't feel like a large coffee roaster, we have 12 employees. For most of the past couple of years it’s just been me with Rick covering my break and someone lose picking up the odd and ends. This past year, we just got all three roasters going at the Same time.
SK: Plans for the future?
EL: A retail location with drip and pour over coffees, espresso beverages, and whiskey bar, tequila, too…coffee based cocktails—to present our products exactly the way we want. In the future, we’d like to explore getting our coffee into universities, hospitals, etc. And also push quality and the services that we can offer.