Every day, a satisfying aroma travels throughout a Lincoln neighborhood like a fresh cup of coffee.
But the roasters at Rogers Family Co. make a lot more than one morning pot.
"We roasted 290,000 pounds in 2011," said Pete Rogers, part of the family-run coffee business that moved to Lincoln in 2009.
"My first love is roasting," he added. "Roasting beans is like baking. It's an art and a science."
The Rogers family bought their coffee-roasting enterprise in 1979. Formerly based in San Francisco, the company roasted 5,000 pounds its first year and recorded $132,000 in sales. Now, its annual sales top $112 million.
Each holiday season, Rogers Family makes special blends for Raley's supermarkets and other customers. (Rogers' San Francisco Bay Coffee is also sold at Safeway, Fresh & Easy, Costco and Albertsons.)
Coming up with new flavors takes a lot of tasting. But the Rogers employees are used to it.
"We 'cup' every batch of coffee," said Pete Schmitt, who has been professionally tasting Rogers coffee for 17 years. "We roast 24 hours a day, with 40 batches per machine and six roasters. We'll gather a group of two to three people together for each batch. We all taste the finished coffee."
Each batch starts with 1,000 pounds of raw beans. When finished, the roasted beans will weigh about 770 pounds. Darker roasts lose more weight.
"You have to keep it moving or it will catch fire," Rogers said. "We have three banks of heat on each roaster. You can play with the heat and the flavor. It can be tangy and sharp, or you can turn down the heat and bring out the sweetness. A lower temperature in the early stages allows the sugars to go back into the bean instead of burning off."
Some experts also sample unroasted beans for quality control.
"Green coffee tastes raw," said Maureen Cuthbert, cupping quality manager. "It's got a grassy scent. To develop the flavor, you need to roast it. The chemical reaction caramelizes the sugars and creates that coffee taste."
Additional flavorings such as cinnamon oil or cocoa powder are added to the roasted beans in a mammoth mixer.
"About 20 percent of the coffee we do will be flavored," Rogers said. "Hazelnut is still No. 1; a lot of people like it."
For its 2012 holiday blends, Rogers Family enlisted coffee consumers for their opinions. Members of Raley's Mom's Panel supplied the taste buds for the project.
Choosing from several flavorful combinations, the moms came up with three winners: Peppermint Bark, Pumpkin Spice and chocolate-laced Whoopie Pie. Priced at $6.99 to $9.99, the special coffees are packaged under the Raley's label and now available in stores.
Conversely, coffee itself can be a flavoring in other foods, often complementing other tastes. For example, coffee intensifies chocolate and adds a smoky note to barbecue.
It's not surprising there's so much crossover between coffee and food. We Americans love our coffee but almost all of it is imported.
Hawaii's coffee crop, our only domestic source, totaled 7.6 million pounds for 2011-12, down 14 percent from the previous season because of weather.
Grown mostly in tropical regions, coffee is harvested year-round, but the bulk of the world crop ripens between August and February. That's why roasters are so busy during the winter months there's a fresh supply of beans.
Picked as red cherries, coffee needs to be processed and dried to yield the green, hard beans inside. Each cherry produces two beans that look like elongated pea halves. After drying, beans are then roasted, usually thousands of miles from the coffee fields.
According to the USDA, worldwide coffee production for 2012-13 is expected to hit a record 148 million bags more than 19.5 billion pounds. That's up 6.7 percent from the previous crop, but supply remains tight. Consumption keeps rising, too.
Brazil, the world's largest coffee grower, expects the upcoming harvest to reach a record 55.9 million bags. (Each bag typically weighs 60 kilos, about 132 pounds.) Rapid expansion of Vietnam's coffee industry will push its total production to 22.5 million bags, three times the Colombian coffee crop.
Rogers Family does a lot more than roast beans. Conscious of the complex environmental and social consequences of coffee production, it owns nine sustainable coffee farms and works closely with its growers, spread out from Mexico and Panama to Rwanda.
Dedicated to helping its coffee producers, the company has built schools, health clinics and other facilities for its farmers. The Rogers family also campaigns for organic and earth-friendly farming methods such as shade-grown coffee bushes and worm composting.
"Our goal for 2013 is to get more money into the farmers' pockets," Rogers said. "None of this would be feasible without partners like Raley's. By buying our coffee, you're helping the program."
Americans are drinking more (and better) coffee as U.S. coffee sales top $40 billion, up from $18 billion in 1999. According to the National Coffee Association, U.S. daily consumption rose 7 percent this year from 2011.
Almost three-quarters of American adults drink coffee at least once a week, with more than half drinking coffee every day. On average, we drink three cups daily.
Overall, gourmet coffee accounts for 42 percent of all U.S. sales. Almost one-third of those surveyed in the NCA poll said they drank at least one cup of gourmet coffee in the previous 24 hours.
We got the coffee habit early. When the War of 1812 embargoed tea imports to the new United States, early Americans switched to coffee as their brew of choice. We now drink more coffee than carbonated sodas.
Dunkin' Donuts is America's No. 1 coffee retailer, serving nearly 1.5 billion cups a year.
Per capita, we drink about 4.8 pounds of coffee a year. But that's just a sip compared to Finland; the world's biggest coffee drinkers consume 26.4 pounds per capita per year.
See (and smell) it roasted: The Rogers Family Co., 1731 Aviation Blvd., Lincoln, offers tours by reservation only. Click on www.rogersfamilyco.com or call (800) 829-1300.