By Liz LaBrocca | Photographs by Dominic Perri
There’s an open-door policy at Share Coffee’s tasting room in Hadley. While they do have store hours, if the door’s open you’re free to stop in and meet Ken Majka and Patrick McCaughey, the founders of the recently launched subscription coffee service. The tasting room sits in the front of the coffee roasting facility tucked between the bike path and Pioneer Valley CrossFit. The place is “industrial cozy,” as Ken calls it, with a high ceiling, a refurbished mid-century coffee roaster visible in the back, and music playing from a laptop that’s also analyzing data from their latest roast.
Share Coffee is blending the art of taste with science. Pat is certified by the Coffee Quality Institute as a Q Grader, the highest designation in speciality coffee. He’s like a master sommelier of coffee: certified to taste and distinguish coffee’s positive and negative characteristics based on a calibrated scale developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. His palate is paired with data from an analytics program connected to their roaster. But Share isn’t concerned about losing the art of flavor to data. The information collected allows them to repeat recipes after they’ve perfected the roasting techniques for each bean.
Inspired by the abundance of agricultural CSAs in the Valley, Pat and Ken wanted to create the same ideal for coffee and encourage local consumers to view their coffee the same way they view the rest of the produce they purchase. They believe you should be able to get to know the people roasting your coffee, that your coffee should be fresh and seasonal, and that it should come from transparent, socially responsible growers producing a high-quality product.
That’s why the coffee selection at Share will be different every couple of months. They request small samples of beans from growers and roast them in a small sample roaster so they can taste-test the coffee made from each bean. They use a process called cupping that involves evaluating the coffee based on key traits like body, aroma, balance, flavor, and acidity. Share buys small batches of the beans that pass their rigorous tasting guidelines to guarantee the freshest possible cup of coffee for their customers. Even the beans in their monthly coffee subscription are shipped weekly and packaged as whole beans in six-ounce bags to retain as much freshness as possible.
The Share tasting room is more like a beer taproom than a café. They don’t have the space to refrigerate milk or cream (but feel free to bring your own), so there are only four selections: filter coffee, espresso, nitro cold brew, and cuppings of all the current offerings. When you order a cupping, it’s similar to ordering a flight of beer––you’re able to taste small amounts of the different coffees side by side to experience the differences and complexities of each roast. You can also purchase packages of whole beans roasted every Monday and Thursday, and growlers of their cold brew.
There are always four coffee offerings available: two Adventure and two Comfort roasts, brewed every 25 minutes to guarantee freshness. When I visited Share in October, they were pouring an Ethiopian Kochere (the Adventure) and a Guatemalan Sereno (the Comfort). The Adventure line was crafted to satisfy those looking for coffees with more unique flavor characteristics. The Kochere was bright and citrusy, with notes of guava and limeade. The Sereno, on the other hand, was more traditional with hints of cacao and vanilla. The Comfort line is intended to be the warmer, darker offering to satisfy those preferring a more traditional cup of coffee. Ken joked that the two lines are “kind of like an IPA versus a stout or porter.”
While we talked, a regular customer came in for a cold brew and a shot of espresso. Pat poured me some of their nitro cold brew. It was delicious: Strong but creamy, it displayed the same cascading effect you see in a Guinness drawn from a nitro tap. As we drank our coffees and Ken and Pat chatted, it became clear why they decided to open a tasting room. Share has state-of-the-art equipment, an ideal location on Route 9, and the enthusiasm and open personalities of people who genuinely want to be the connection between coffee and their community. Ken and Pat want everyone, from local restaurant owners to people passing by on their daily commute, to be able to stop in and learn about what goes into their morning cup of coffee.