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A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: In Newmarket, a Coffee Shop Chases the Perfect Cup

Todd Bookman/NHPR

Nori and Sarah Kozuma opened up the Horseshoe Cafe on Newmarket’s main drag last year.

The Bay Area-transplants, married and heavily tattooed, divide the duties: Sarah handles the baking, including fresh breads, spreads, and a few pastries. Nori is the one-man coffee department, doing everything from importing to roasting.

“So I’m still baby roaster. We normally say about 10 years to be called a roast master,” Nori says with a laugh.

While he may classify a novice, Kozuma knows more about coffee than he’s letting on.

(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

Enter the small shop, and there’s a good chance you’ll see him sitting in front of raw, jade- colored coffee beans spread thin on a baking sheet.

Before roasting, Kozuma physically inspects every bean. He doesn’t know any other roasters who go to this trouble.

“A lot of people will ask me, what are you doing Nori? I’m sorting coffee beans.”

One by one, he plucks out the misshapen beans, beans that are undersized, or maybe have a tiny splotch on them. It takes Kozuma two hours, sometimes more, to go through a couple of pounds. He pulls out up to 25% of the raw beans for failing to meet his high standard.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Raw coffee beans imported from Honduras. Kozuma inspects each bean by hand before roasting.

“Some coffee roasters might laugh at me, are you crazy? Why you spend hours and hours hand-pick all these defective coffee beans? But in specialty coffee field, we always talk about the cup quality: lets bring out the best flavor out of coffee that you purchase.”

To do that, Kozuma believes you need consistency, a purity in the roast. Uniform beans will produce a uniform cup of coffee.

Kozuma turns on the roaster, which is in the front corner of the cafe, and lets the drum heat up to temperature.

“I tell my customers this is like Toyota Corolla, or Honda Civic of coffee roaster.”

Not the fanciest roaster, but it’s reliable. When it reaches approximately 400-degrees, he adds in the beans and assumes the role of conductor, working the dials that control the fan, the drum speed and the heater.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

“We focus more on the rate of the rise,” he says. “If you go too quickly, you scorch and burn. If you go too slow, you bake the coffee beans, and you make a stale coffee.”

The beans--this batch is from Honduras--heat up, dry out and then crack. He releases them onto a tray, and then inspects them one more time.

“I’m just checking everything is right. Smells right. Looks right,” he says, sifting through.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

After grinding and brewing, the result is a delicious, bright, balanced cup of coffee. Despite his manual labors, the cost is a modest $2.50 per cup.

The Kozumas say they put just as much effort into the baked goods and customer service as they do the coffee.

“Good enough is not good enough for us. We shoot for the best always, then probably end up being somewhat good. We never say that’s good enough,” he says.

Kozuma chalks up this drive to what he calls his Japanese-ness: what he learned watching his parents run their grocery story in his native country.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
Coffee and an egg sandwich at Newmarket's Horseshoe Cafe.

Inside the Newmarket cafe on a recent weekday, a steady stream of customers come in, some who know how much the Kozumas obsess, and some who probably don’t. The co-owners hope everyone enjoys the experience.

“That’s all I’m living for. I’m working hard everyday just to hear that: your coffee is great,” Nori says.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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