Local coffee roasters percolate new takes on an old favorite. There was a time—long, long ago—when coffee was just a beverage, served in homes and diners, and available in plain old regular and decaf. Today, there are hundreds of varieties, thousands of ways to order a cup, and coffee shops popping up all over. It’s safe to s ay the specialty coffee fad is here to stay. While coffee is available almost everywhere, not every cup of coffee is created equally. Locally roasted coffee provides a fresh, new take on this familiar favorite.
Milagro Coffee Y Espresso
1733 East University Avenue • Las Cruces, NM 88001 575-532-1042 • milagrocoffeeonline.com
Available online, at Toucan Market, COAS Books, and other retail locations.
With a distinctive handlebar mustache and pinstriped shirt, Bernie Digman seems pretty antithetical to the stereotype of a trendy coffee shop owner. But don’t be fooled by this volunteer firefighter’s rough-and-ready exterior; Bernie lives and breathes great coffee. Bernie got his start in the coffee business in the 1980s. “I owned a coin-op laundry near the university in Albuquerque,” he says. “I had a customer who sold espresso machines. I bought one and had a little espresso bar in the laundromat.” Over a decade later, Bernie and his wife relocated to Las Cruces. He spent a year researching coffee roasting.
Then, in 1997, Bernie founded Milagro Coffee y Espresso and began roasting specialty coffee. “I had some experience, and there wasn’t really anyone else doing coffee in Las Cruces at the time,” he recalls. Bernie immersed himself in the art of coffee roasting. He became a member of the Specialty Coffee Association and a charter member of the Roasters Guild, and he attended conferences around the country. “I’ve been able to train with some of the best roasters in the U.S.,” says Bernie. “I’ve traveled to Boston, Seattle, Long Beach, and New Orleans roasting with experts.”
Not only is Bernie one of the most highly educated coffee roasters in the area, he has also trained some exceptional roasters, including a group of monks from Silver City’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Benedictine Monastery. “They have monasteries in Mexico and Brazil,” says Bernie. “The idea is that they will get local farmers to supply them with green coffee, pay them a little more, roast it, and then sell it.” Milagro uses only the highest quality, specialty-grade coffee, roasted on site at the University location.
Bernie eschews coffee blends in favor of single-origin roasting, which highlights the unique flavors of the country where the beans are grown. Available coffee varieties come from nearly every coffee-producing country in the world, depending on the season. Milagro provides a traditional coffee house experience that’s also completely local.
“We display art for sale from local artists and we don’t take a commission,” says the community-minded owner. “We’ve never, in 16 years, taken a penny for any of the art.” While they offer a variety of handcrafted specialty drinks and pastries baked by their in-house French pastry chef, brewed coffees are Milagro’s forte. “We’ve only got four coffees on brew here every day: a dark, medium, light roasted, and one additional selection,” Bernie says, and his expertly trained baristas can help any patron find just the right brew.
Available online, and at Toucan Market, Mountain View Market, and other retail locations
If Bernie is the antithesis, Chad Morris of Picacho Coffee Roasters is the consummate picture of coffee culture: young, trendy, and hip with just a touch of geek. Chad is a trained musician with a master’s degree in Jazz Studies. His brother-in-law and business partner, Tony Fassi, introduced him to home coffee roasting as a hobby. “I’m a huge do-it-yourselfer,” says Chad. “I spent ten dollars for a used popcorn popper, and that’s how this whole thing got started.”
Friends and colleagues started asking for his roasts, so in 2009, Chad decided demand was strong enough to launch Picacho Coffee. Today, Picacho Coffee is served not just at cafés and coffee shops in Las Cruces but across New Mexico and Texas, and at several locations in Los Angeles. “We were this small Las Cruces company, and then we branched out,” says Chad. “If you have a really quality product, it’s going to speak for itself. There is a really big coffee culture in Los Angeles and we’re competing out there; that makes me feel really good.”
Chad roasts 100 percent specialty grade, handcrafted Arabica coffee. “It’s the highest grade coffee on the market,” he explains. “It makes up only 6 percent of the world’s coffee, so it’s the cream of the crop.” Coffee beans receive the specialty grade stamp only after they’ve been inspected for any signs of mold, discoloration, or other defects. “Specialty-grade has an aroma like no other,” exclaims Chad. “It’s not bitter and the caffeine is actually lower than what you might expect.”
Picacho Coffee beans can be purchased at Toucan Market, Mountain View Market, and other local retail locations, or they can be roasted to order and picked up weekly at the KOA campground on the west side of Las Cruces. To ensure that customers are getting the freshest coffee possible, every package of Picacho Coffee is roasted to order and never preroasted. Chad takes great pride in his unique business model. “People are just fed up with prepackaged, mass-produced bologna,” he says. “There’s a better way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to mean more expensive.” Chad personally roasts every batch of coffee in a specially-designed warehouse on his property, which is 100 percent solar powered.
In addition to being environmentally sustainable, Picacho Coffee is also committed to being socially sustainable. Chad often works with the same small farmers around the globe year after year. “We actually pay 20 to 30 percent more to our farmers than Fair Trade is recommending,” says Chad. “It’s not rocket science; if you pay people what they’re worth then you get a really good product in return.” Chad plans to open a non-traditional coffee bar location, where he can showcase his roasting technique and offer customers an educational coffee experience. More than anything, Chad loves to share his knowledge of coffee with anyone who has an interest. “We are all trying to grow this coffee culture,” he says. “If people are into it, then they are going to support you. How do you get them into it? You have to educate them.”
The Scoop on Coffee
Surprising facts about coffee
- Single-origin coffees are beans that come from a single known geographic area.
- Single-origin coffees are identified by or named for their country of origin.
- Single origin coffees highlight and showcase the unique flavors of the region in which the beans were grown.
- Coffee blends are combinations of two or more single-origin coffees to produce a unique flavor. Caffeine decreases during the roasting process. Contrary to popular belief, light roast coffees contain more caffeine than dark roasts. Brewed coffee also contains more caffeine than espresso because of the length of the brewing process. All coffee originated in Ethiopia. In order to grow naturally, coffee plants need high altitude, volcanic soil, and shade.
Available online, at Toucan Market, and other retail locations. It’s not hard to find Beck’s Coffee at the Farmers and Crafts Market of Las Cruces every Saturday morning. Look for a huge crowd and follow the aromatic smell of freshly brewed coffee. There you’ll find Arianna Parson and Tyrell Thacker brewing up cups and selling beans to the loyal customers who return week after week. It was great timing and a passion for good food that drew Arianna and Tyrell into coffee roasting.
The couple was planning to open an ice cream shop when Rebecca “Beck” Rosnick, founder of Beck’s Coffee, approached them in 2013 about taking over her business. “Beck wanted to return home to Australia, so she needed someone to run the business,” says Tyrell. “She knew food was really my forte so she asked if we’d be interested in learning the coffee business and taking over.” With only one month before Beck’s scheduled departure, Tyrell and Arianna fully immersed themselves in the art of coffee. “You get a pretty good buzz when you’re roasting because of all the caffeine in the air,” says Tyrell. “The first week or so I wasn’t sure if I could do this because I was so shaky.” Tyrell pushed through the initial buzz, mastered Beck’s technique, and is even starting to develop his own unique styles and blends.
In early 2014, the couple opened Beck’s Coffee Shop in the Mesquite Historic District. “We are the anti-espresso bar,” explains Arianna. The shop serves coffee, cocoa, hot tea, and local baked goods; but they don’t serve espresso or other specialty drinks. “Down the road we might decide that’s something we want to do, and we’d approach it with the same philosophy as our coffee.” The converted adobe home offers a uniquely New Mexican feel infused with coffee culture. Re purposed burlap coffee sacks are integrated into the décor of mismatched furniture, local art, and shelves of used books. “The shop is more like our living room than our actual living room because we are here so much,” laughs Arianna.
At both the shop and the market Arianna uses the pour-over, or cone, method to brew a fresh cup for each customer. “We use this method so that we don’t have to pre brew large pots,” she explains. “We really want to tailor each cup to the individual customer.” The couple introduced several new coffee blends as well as a new artist label series in 2014. The limited edition labels—created by local artists such as Chris Bardey, co-founder of West End Art Depot—represent the company’s ongoing commitment to both the arts and to the local community. “It’s a work in progress and that’s the fun part of being in business,” says Arianna. “There’s always something new going on.”
The original location of Beck’s was closed down in January of 2023. Customers can still enjoy Beck’s coffee at their express location on the Plaza de Las Cruces. They are also still doing wholesale so you can find their beans at your local grocery stores.
The Perfect Cup
Step 1: Stay fresh
Coffee beans are best used within one to two weeks of roasting, says Chad Morris of Picacho Coffee. The best way to get freshly roasted coffee is to select a local roaster. Coffee should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container, never in the refrigerator or freezer.
Step 2: Use good water
“If you start with good water you have a much better chance of making a good cup of coffee,” says Bernie Digman of Milagro Coffee y Espresso. If you do not have a water filtration system at home, Bernie recommends starting with a combination of about half tap water and half bottled spring water. But he warns to never use distilled water to brew coffee.
Step 3: Mind your grind
Pre ground coffee is stale coffee, says Chad. Select whole coffee beans and grind only as much as you need for each brew. Arianna Parsons of Beck’s Coffee recommends using courser grind in a drip coffee pot and a finer grind for the pour-over method. Measure grounds accurately, and adjust the amount of ground coffee to increase or decrease the strength of your coffee.
Step 4: Method matters
“The most important thing in brewing coffee is to make sure all of the coffee grounds are wet and steeping at the same time,” says Chad. Most home coffee makers have a very small shower screen over a large bed of coffee grounds, so one area of the coffee grounds steeps while others stay dry. Find a brewer with a large shower screen that pulsates if possible. For coffee pots with a small shower screen, Chad says to make a bed in the coffee grounds so that the water will puddle and disperse throughout the grounds as it brews down. The French press and pour-over method are also great alternatives to the traditional coffee pot.
Step 5: Check the temp
Water temperature does affect flavor. Chad says to make sure that water is between 200 and 202 degrees. Many conventional coffee pots do not get water hot enough, which is another advantage of the pour-over method.
Step 6: Drink immediately
Coffee is at its peak flavor when enjoyed immediately after brewing. Bernie says don’t ever reheat or microwave coffee.
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Posted by LasCruces.com