(This article originally appeared in the June-July 2022 print edition of the South Baltimore Peninsula Post.)
Plenty of different coffee products come out of Southeastern Roastery: whole beans from Ethiopia and Colombia, bags of ground coffee from Papua New Guinea, two types of canned cold brew, and hot caramel streusel lattes. But the business that Candy Schibli opened here in 2020 is also dedicated to creating things that you won’t see on a price list.
In its two years in Locust Point, Southeastern Roastery has sponsored an eclectic mix of events that encourage self-growth and community growth, from the recent “Self-Care Saturday” to art exhibits and “ecotherapy paddles” with the Canton Kayak Club.
And the “Coffee Lab” side of the business has been conducting experiments in alternative ways that people can enjoy the flavor of coffee through other senses, research that Schibli presented this spring at a coffee industry conference.
The roastery’s unconventional blend of coffee commerce, community-building, and science stems from Schibli’s professional and academic background before she started roasting coffee in 2016 at a family home in southeastern Virginia (hence the company’s name). With degrees in natural resources and sustainable development, international affairs, and chemical engineering, Schibli worked in Washington, D.C., with government contractors gaining experience in systems engineering, foreign assistance programs, and sustainable agriculture.
“I got acquainted through my work with several international coffee projects, and my master’s degree was in the sustainability of the agricultural production of coffee from a green coffee perspective,” Schibli recalls. “All of this drew me into the idea of coffee roasting being fun and something I wanted to do and explore as a business.”
She was consulting with the U.S. Agency for International Development on microenterprises and microfinancing projects, some of which went to small coffee farmers, when she bought her first roaster and started roasting on weekends nearly 200 miles away from her home in D.C. She gained some steady clients and sold coffee from a pop-up space in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.
By late 2019, Schibli was ready to make the jump to her own storefront location with room for the roaster. Searching for locations along the I-95 corridor between Richmond and Baltimore, to stay near her D.C. customer base, Locust Point fit the bill, with the added advantage of proximity to a major coffee warehouse in Middle River.
Southeastern Roastery opened in mid-2020 at 1443 E. Fort Avenue, next to Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School. Schibli and her four coworkers roast up to 600 pounds of coffee a week, brew and can cold brew coffee, and sell their products across the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.
The majority of sales are wholesale to restaurants, says Schibli, but peninsula consumers can pick up Southeastern Roastery products nearby at Sugar Boat Goods in the Federal Hill business district, Rooftop Hot Local & Organic Market in Highlandtown, Eddies of Roland Park, and at the roastery on Fort Avenue. Other Maryland outlets include two Common Market Co-ops in Frederick and David’s Natural Market in Gambrills.
“Toll roasting,” in which beans are roasted for others and sold under a different label, is also an active part of the business.
Schibli pursues collaborations with organizations and businesses that share her passion for community-building, mindfulness, and personal growth. Before moving to Baltimore, Southeastern Roastery partnered with the deaf-owned Streetcar 82 Brewing Company in Hyattsville to make a red ale. More recently, Schibli partnered with Pigtown Climbs, a nonprofit working to increase outdoor fitness opportunities in Southwest Baltimore, to produce a special “Boulder Blend Coffee” with 25 percent of proceeds going to support the organization.
The “Self-Care Saturday” event on May 14 was another example of Schibli’s vision of the roastery as a social impact business dedicated to “mindfully cultivating the senses.” The roastery hosted makers of candles, soaps, and vegan pastries in recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Mental health, mindfulness, the idea of empathy and compassion are really important for self-growth and community growth,” says Schibli. “I hope that the roastery can be a positive safe space where people feel comfortable to engage in understanding and a healthy exchange of information. And I’d like to see how we can help make coffee, and food and beverages in general, something that just slows people down – like a Spanish siesta – and makes people more aware of their bodies and the environments and people around them and realize that we’re all in this together.”
The roastery also serves as a place to experiment with coffee itself, as the words COFFEE LAB climbing up the outside of the building make clear. “We explore different flavors with coffee,” Schibli explains, “for example, different preparations of brewing coffee, of brewing cold brew, of trying to extract or impose different flavors within coffee to get the most out of the roast of our beans. We want to push the limits on what can be considered a coffee or coffee drink.”
One such experiment will soon yield a new Southeastern Roastery cold brew. “It’s called Chocolate Brown Sugar,” Schibli says. “We’re infusing it with a little bit of jalapeno. It’s a completely new recipe that we’re still experimenting with.”
Schibli is also diving into basic research related to coffee, probing the question of whether flavors can be experienced by senses other than smell and taste. This April she presented her findings to date at the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. The poster presentation, her first in the coffee field, was titled “Alternative Sensory Methods for Experiencing Coffee.” In related work, Schibli conducted a series of blind taste tests in May to explore the impact of Covid on people’s taste of coffee.
With all of these ongoing scientific and community-building activities, Schibli manages to keep her eye on the business side of Southeastern Roastery and plan its next steps as it begins its third year in Baltimore. “Right now we’re focused on growing sales and adding staff to handle more production. Then we’re looking at adding more back-end space. We plan to have that expansion figured out by this fall and put in place by the end of the year.” – Steve Cole