Cleveland coffee roaster gave up developing US missiles to find more satisfaction in cups of java

Rising Star Coffee Roasters knows its beans

CLEVELAND - I knew I had arrived even before I saw the place. That entrancing smell of coffee met me a block away. The doors to Rising Star Coffee Roasters were wide open and the smell of freshly-roasted coffee beans met me. Kim Jenkins, owner of the relatively new small coffee roasting company, was all smiles as I walked in the door.

The door was wide enough for a truck to pass. That was not surprising. Rising Star -- at 1455 West 29th Street in Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood -- used to be the home of a fire station. The old brass pole, down which firefighter slid as they jumped into their trucks, is still there. "We don't use it in our business," beamed Jenkins as he monitored a computerized coffee roaster.

Checking the flashing numbers on the roaster, Jenkins noted the cooking time of the coffee beans inside was about to end. "In a second, watch what happens," he said proudly. The door to the machine opened and out poured many pounds of coffee beans. Freshly roasted, they still held heat as an apparatus in the bin of the machine began to turn them, cooling them.

"You have to cool roasted beans with air to stop the roasting process," said Jenkins, "or they will keep on roasting and be bitter to the taste."

Jenkins knows coffee. Probably as well as he knows how to develop firing systems for U.S. missiles. For 22 years, he was in charge of development of missiles firing systems for Lockheed Martin when he lived in Florida. The company had a policy of encouraging its employees to read books and magazines on many subjects, feeling new information they learned would help them be more creative.

Jenkins read a book on coffee roasting and became hooked. "I started roasting coffee on a hot-air popcorn popper in 1999," said Jenkins as his fingers went through the cooling coffee beans in the bin. "My coffee turned out to be so good, it just got out of hand."

He began to roast coffee for friends. His brew was in so much demand, he put away the popcorn popper and began roasting coffee. Eventually, he was so smitten by the process, he and his wife moved to northeast Ohio and he set up shop in the old fire station.

There, he roasts enough coffee to keep the brew on the tables of 30 area restaurants that buy his roasted beans. The restaurants grind the beans themselves for the coffee they serve their customers. Some of the beans remain at Rising Star Coffee Roasters because Jenkins and his five employees run a small cafe there. The smell of coffee wafting down the block brings in the customers.

Doug DeRoberts and Michael Rapposelli walked in and ordered a couple of hot ones.

"Doug just said he was buying me a cup of coffee, so I said, 'of course I'll take a cup,'" said Rapposelli.

"We could smell the coffee roasting, so we ducked in here," said DeRoberts. Each was downing a large cup of java.

Jenkins emphasized how pleased he was for business to be doing well. There are 100-pound bags of beans throughout the building. Jenkins travels throughout the world to meet the farmers who produce the coffee beans. His travels have taken him throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia to meet the producers. He said he liked to know from where the beans come and the pride each grower puts into his crop.

He is a coffee drinker himself, often testing his own products for taste.

"We're constantly caffeinated because we're tasting coffee all the time," he said.

Indeed, his cup runneth over with success. Perhaps just as importantly, he has found a stronger calling. Coffee beans were strong enough to woo him away from leading more than 200 employees of Lockheed Martin as they developed firing systems for missiles used by the U.S. military.

As we chatted, he poured me another cup of coffee, giving me the history of the beans he used. Showing me an open bag of green coffee beans destined for his roaster, he smiled.

"This is a great blend here," he said.

He was right. The coffee went down smooth and strong as we watched another group of customers walk in through the old firehouse doors.

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