South Bend's Rapha Roast and its air-roasted coffee look to expand with mobile trailer – South Bend Tribune

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Rapha Roast Coffee Company almost didn’t offer cold brew. 
For customers that have followed the South Bend-based roastery and coffee company since its inception in 2019, the thought may be unfathomable. But it’s true.
“I fought him on it,” Rapha Roast co-owner Marco Micola said. “He said, ‘Dad we need the cold brew,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ But sure enough, it literally did this” as he shows a steep incline with his hand. 
“If we had to attribute it, at least from my perspective, our rapid growth and the way we’ve been able to grow is because of the cold brew,” son Michael Micola said.
The father-son duo started Rapha Roast after father Marco had a revelation. A religious man who worked for a Christian-based fundraising foundation, Marco said he was praying and reflecting one morning while having a cup of coffee and began to think about what it all means. 
“All of a sudden, it just became coffee,” the Mishawaka native recalled. “The name ‘rapha’ is Hebrew for God that heals. … The coffee side of it was just an impression that was made on me. I didn’t know anything about making coffee, but I knew how to drink it.”
The insight prompted Marco to research more about the coffee making process, ultimately coming to the decision that air-roasting was the way to go. 
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Unlike the more commonly used gas drum roasters, air-roasting (also called fluid bed) is an open system that suspends beans in a chamber and roasts them using hot air. During the process, Marco said, the beans are “cleaned” when a small outer skin called the chaff is removed, ridding bitterness and creating a smoother taste.
“I liken it to a peanut that you crack open and that red skin and how most people don’t like to eat that ’cause it’s bitter,” Marco said. “Well, that’s one of the reasons our coffee isn’t bitter. … It’s two components — one, there is not skin on the bean and, two, there’s no hydrogen sulfide in there so it’s clean, (which means) the acidic levels are going to be lower.”
Starting initially in humble beginnings at Marco’s garage, the duo has since moved roasting operations to a 1,000-square foot space originally earmarked as storage units in Mishawaka. There, the family creates 11 different coffees, ranging from $16 to $18 for a 12-ounce bag, with the most popular being the medium roast Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, followed by the dark roast Haiti Blue Zombie. 
And, of course, the beloved cold brew also is available, a product so popular that Marco said the Notre Dame football team has opted to have it in their locker room on game day. The secret is in the recipe, but the Micolas keep it close to their hearts. 
“It’s a very special process,” Marco said. “We have people ask us all the time, but we’re going to hold onto it.”
The air-roasted beans are available to purchase online, but most in-person retail occurs at farmers markets, such as in Goshen, Buchanan and Mishawaka. The group moved its booth from the South Bend Farmer’s Market to the River Valley Farmers’ Market in the Commerce Center building in May, citing challenges being open four days a week to avoid fines while also managing production.
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Stores such as Oh Mamma’s on the Avenue and Whistle Stop Ice Cream also offer the coffee, with Whistle Stop offers a popular Cold Brew shake. Recently, the business has begun offering coffee at Ben’s Pretzels in Shipshewana, with possible plans to open at more locations across the state.
And soon, owners are planning to take it even a step further. 
This fall, the Micolas plan to unveil a mobile coffee trailer, which will offer full espresso bar options and smoothies. 
“Our thought process was, ‘Let’s take our coffee to people versus having people come to us,'” Marco said.
With many people still working from home, the Micolas plan to strategically place the trailer around town and partner with businesses such as area hospitals. The coffee trailer is set to make its debut Oct. 2 at the Chapel Hill Artisan Market in Berrien County. 
The Micolas have said people have even reached out about potential franchising opportunities with the business, but Marco wants to move conservatively. 
“You go from a small roaster in a garage and you think, ‘OK, maybe once a week we’ll just sell at market here and there,'” Michael said. “Now its over at Ben’s Pretzels … and expanding.”
“We know that we are doing things right,” Marco said. “But we also know that we can’t run faster than what we are expected to do.”
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.

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