Roast with the Most
Acme brings blue-collar cafe culture to a Seaside alley.
Thursday, December 8, 2005
Something fresh is happening at Acme Roasting Company in Seaside—and it’s more than the startlingly fresh coffee. That’s saying something at a place where each cup of dark roast Valve Job organic, Kenya Peaberry or Motor City Espresso was roasted yesterday, fresh-ground upon order, and immediately, individually dripped.
It’s the fact that the tattooed caber-tosser behind the counter, owner and Monterey native Larry Thurman, fastidiously roasted and cooled the beans personally with no small amount of pride. The man knows beans. Fifteen years ago, while a student at SF State, he worked at Café Trieste in North Beach—the first espresso coffee house on the West Coast. He was schooled on roasting and tasting and selecting coffee beans by an Italian family that had been making coffee old-world style since 1956.
But it’s more than that. It’s that their headquarters is a converted garage tucked away in an alley on the industrial side of Seaside. Its unique ‘50s-industrial decor—accented by a big comic book burst that says “Kapow!”, pictures of Thurman’s 1960 Ford panel truck, big woven bags of coffee and gleaming glass jars of fresh beans—drips with accessible, urban ambiance.
It’s that the character of the clientele is as rich as the popular Acme-roasted Sumatra Mandheling—a coffee-centric procession of policemen, mechanics and teachers.
“It’s super fun,” says Larry’s wife, co-owner and Seaside native Jacki Thurman. “Most of the usuals have become our friends. They’re loyal, committed customers.” The camaraderie is plainly apparent on a recent morning as each customer is greeted with a grin and an accurate anticipation of their order, then lingers—in front of and behind the counter. It grows hard to believe Acme’s only been open since April.
The closeness with the community extends to business relationships. Larry grinds and drips from 6:30am to 3pm six days a week, then shuts down for the afternoon to roast the 12 to 20 varietals he has on hand (depending on the season). His wholesale client list ranges from Earthbound Farms in Carmel Valley to Kind Grind in Santa Cruz and back to Morgan’s in Monterey (Acme has revived longtime Morgan’s favorites, such as Storm the Tower and Boot of Italy, which Thurman created).
But freshest of all is the whole nuclear-family-unit-taking-on-corporate-coffee-one-cup-at-a-time thing. (Twelve-year-old daughter Zoe stops on a Tuesday afternoon and by request prepares a cup for a regular customer. “I better have made it good,” Zoe says.)
“I don’t obsess about competing with Starbucks,” says Larry, “but we are the antithesis.”
The difference comes down to the coffee—and the Thurmans wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Who can run a coffee shop in an alley in Seaside?” asks Jacki. “Nobody! Only if the coffee is that good!”
“If a company is going to be as large as a place like Starbucks,” says Larry, “it’s impossible to put your hands on every batch of beans that comes out of the roaster.”
This commitment to, as one patron puts it, “the integrity of the bean,” means Acme needs no heavy promo. “I want people to believe in the product,” says Larry. “I like word of mouth.”
Word is good. A colleague of mine who swears by their Road Dog house blend calls Acme’s coffee “what you come to know and expect as great coffee if you’re an experienced coffee user.” After a cappucino (his first Acme go), another colleague excitedly scribbles
me a poetic (if vulgar) note that includes this: “A shot in the face. Black mamba fires my belly…this is great f--king s---. Buy it. Do great things instead of sleeping.”
My mouth tells me the same. The Mexican Chocolate, made from fresh grated Abuelos Mexican Chocolate, actually tops the traditional Sunday drink I had in Mexico City. It’s less thick and more dynamic as it goes down.
On another visit, the seasonal Nicaraguan coffee does as much for my senses as a good steak. It charms my nose and warms my tongue with rich, complex roastiness and fades slowly. I understand why the sugar and cream table looks unused.
But actions may just speak louder than word of mouth. Acme patrons and local teachers Brad and Simone Woodyard often drive out from their Carmel Valley home to pick up coffee on the way to work…in Pacific Grove. (Note: It’s not on the way.)
“We went to Italy recently,” Brad says, looking refreshed
by the Macchiato he holds with a pair of fingers. “This is the
only coffee we can drink.”
ACME COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY485 B Palm (on the alley), Seaside
6:30am-3pm | Closed Sundays | 393-9113