There’s a good chance that you don’t think you know Bill Kipper. He’s a fairly low-key guy and doesn’t really spend any time seeking out the limelight, so it’s a fair assumption. On the other hand, there’s an excellent chance that he’s affected you in one way or another – at least, he’s affected you if you’ve ever had a coffee from any Scooter’s anywhere.
Bill’s “the guy.” More specifically, he’s the one and only roaster for Scooter’s. Every coffee bean that comes through Scooter’s does so because Bill has researched it, ordered it, blended it and roasted it. “I’m the guy,” Bill admits. “I’m the green coffee buyer. I’m the quality control. I’m the roaster. I’m the maintenance guy. I’m the guy that gets yelled at by myself , and I’m the one who’s here all night if stuff breaks down. Yeah, I’m the guy.”
If you think it’s weird that Bill yells at himself, that’s just because you don’t know Bill. He’s a little intense when it comes to coffee. In fact, I get a little nervous drinking coffee around Bill because I’m afraid he’s going to notice that I’m not nearly as sophisticated a coffee drinker as he is, but I take solace in knowing that there aren’t very many people around who are as knowledgeable about coffee as Bill. Once he starts talking about coffee, I have to nod my head and pretend that I understand what “citrusy high note” means.
When I sat down to chat with Bill he had just returned from a trip to Guatemala where he visited coffee growers and got to learn even more about one of his favorite coffees. “Over time I found that there are a couple of coffees that really stand out to me: Guatemalan, Ethiopian and Sumatra. If we could only use those coffees I think that we could still make it work.”
He’s been the Scooter’s roaster for 12 years. “It’s satisfying. I get to see the finished product and I know that people like it or we wouldn’t be selling as much as we do. That makes me feel good. There’s a pride thing there. And I love coffee. It kind of comes natural to me.”
I asked Bill what people are most surprised about when he starts talking about coffee. “The whole roasting process, really,” he says. “They don’t know anything about it. The beans come in as hard as little rocks. People don’t know that coffee beans are actually seeds. They’re shocked by the amount of roasting I do in a week.”
I decided against telling him that it’s more likely people are surprised that they’re having a conversation with a walking, talking coffee encyclopedia.
With so many people trying their hands at home roasting, I thought it would be a good idea to ask for some advice on their behalf. Bill listened very patiently while I explained that there’s a trend right now of home roasting, and then he chuckled and said, “That’s the third ‘trend’ since I’ve been in the business.” He did have some words of wisdom for home roasters, though. “My biggest thing is this –
don’t roast it so dark that there’s no taste to it. Get a little popcorn popper, put four ounces in it, take 12 minutes to second crack, and drop it then. Go past that, and you’ve just lost every flavor you could possibly get out of it that could be worth drinking. That’s my advice to home roasters.”
Ask Bill about the best cup of coffee he’s ever had and he’ll tell you it wasn’t the famed Kopi Luwak (“I tried it and it was terrible,” he says) but instead was a cup he had at a convention in Atlanta a few years ago where the coffee featured the distinct aroma of blueberries. “It was the most phenomenal coffee I’ve ever had,” he declares. “I was in heaven. I’ve never had a perfect one since.”
“I’m always honing my palate, and that’s why we’re always changing our coffees. Not too long ago we changed the Scooter’s Blend for the seventh time since I’ve been here. Every time it’s better. Sometimes we change beans and sometimes we’ve taken beans completely out of the blend. It started out as four different beans, and now it’s two. The two bring a more simplistic richness to the coffee versus a complexity we don’t need.”
When he said “simplistic richness,” I smiled and nodded so I looked like I understood what he was talking about.
For a man who can boast expert status, he’s a surprisingly nice guy. He doesn’t even speak poorly of his competition. “Starbucks…God bless them. They’ve helped everyone get to where they’re at. I don’t care for their coffee; it just has a taste I don’t like, but some people like it. And that’s fine.”
If you ever find yourself in a conversation with Bill, feel free to quiz him on the roasting process and I guarantee you he’ll have the answer. He probably has the answer to coffee questions you don’t even know you have yet, but don’t worry – he’ll explain it all to you.