Defiant to the last drop |

Defiant to the last drop

Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – For any coffee lover, a walk through the front door at the Defiant Bean Roasters warehouse in south Glenwood is like walking into Arabica heaven.

An aromatic rush of fresh-roasted coffee beans immediately greets the olfactory receptors. Inside, the walls are adorned with jute bags from coffee-growing regions all around the world, which carry the magical beans to this small-batch roasting shop.

World maps pinpoint the places where Defiant Roasters is currently purchasing its organic beans, through fair- or direct-trade relationships with the farmers themselves.

On this particular day, brothers Brian and Jeff Hollenbaugh are gathered around a tall coffee table for a “cupping,” while Brian’s 6-year-old son, Sam, looks on with curiosity.

Cupping is a technique used by coffee importers to evaluate the aroma and flavor of different coffee varieties before deciding which ones to buy.

“It’s a process we use for quality control, and it also allows us to select for personal preference,” said Jeff Hollenbaugh, a partner in the business with his brother and their father, Gary Hollenbaugh.

For this cupping session, the samples come from Columbia, El Salvador, Peru and Rwanda. Freshly ground coffee beans are spooned into the bottom of an empty cup and boiling-hot, filtered water is poured in each cup.

A crusty thick foam forms on the surface as the water fills the cup. The samplers sniff each cup for an initial fragrance analysis. Then, the crust is broken using a preheated spoon and the coffee grinds are pushed to the bottom to create a potent burst of aroma.

After the coffee has cooled a bit, it’s time for the flavor test. This is done by taking some of the coffee in the spoon and slurping it loudly, which causes droplets to spray over the entire tongue, down the throat and into the nasal passage.

Quality coffee starts with a quality coffee bean, and the Hollenbaugh’s search out only the best of the best.

There are two major species of coffee plant, Jeff Hollenbaugh explains.

Beans from the robusta plant are more common in mass-market commercial coffee brands. It tends to grow better in lower, warmer climates and has a higher yield. But it’s also more bitter and typically has twice the caffeine content as the arabica bean.

That’s why drinking robusta coffee can result in a common side effect, the jitters.

The arabica plant, by contrast, is a species that thrives in high-elevation, moderate temperature regions. Cooler temperatures and thinner air produces the specialty beans more commonly found in gourmet coffee shops around the world.

Over at the roaster, Gary keeps an eye on the temperature reading as a blend of Sumatran and Brazilian beans, called the “Garage Blend,” rolls in the tumbler oven.

The electric roaster they use is fairly small by industry standards, with a capacity for about four pounds of beans at a time.

“Did you hear that? That’s the second crack,” Gary said, as the beans near the desired temperature of 450 degrees. “It’s not unlike popping popcorn.”

Soon, he pours the hot beans out of the roaster and into a small basket with a mechanical stirring device.

“You want it to cool down pretty fast,” Gary said. “Once it starts to cool we try to get all the charcoal ones out of there.”

It was Brian Hollenbaugh’s experimenting in the kitchen a few years ago that began the family’s foray into commercial coffee roasting.

On a whim one day, he pan-roasted his first batch of coffee beans in a skillet.

“He called me up and said, ‘You won’t believe what I just did,’ ” recalled the elder brother, Jeff, 39.

“From there, I just went crazy with it,” 36-year-old Brian adds. “I tried some in the popcorn popper, which worked. But I burned out the motor pretty quickly.

“My wife wasn’t too happy about that,” he said of his spouse, Abby Hollenbaugh. She has owned and operated Cook a la Carte, a cookware store in downtown Glenwood Springs, since 2005.

About 2 1/2 years ago, the brothers and their dad, a semi-retired optometrist with 20/20 Eyecare in Glenwood Springs, started Defiant Bean Roasters.

The name comes from Fort Defiance, the original name for the local settlement before it became incorporated as Glenwood Springs in 1885.

“We realized that the coffee we were roasting at home was some of the best coffee we ever had,” Jeff says. “We have local bakeries, and local breweries, so we might as well have a local coffee roaster.”

They’re one of a handful of local roasters in the Roaring Fork Valley, along with Back Alley Roasters in Basalt and Ink Coffee, which is based in Cherry Creek but has its roasting warehouse in El Jebel.

Modern-day micro coffee roasting in the United States got its start in places like Seattle and Portland in the 1980s, inspired by Starbucks, the pioneer of specialty coffee in the United States.

“These days, people are kind of quick to bad-mouth Starbucks, but it almost took something like that to clue people in to what good coffee really is,” Jeff said of the Starbucks empire, which has grown from a small coffeehouse in Seattle into an international phenomenon.

Defiant Roasters first started selling their roasted beans in Brian and Abby Hollenbaugh’s Cook a la Carte store, and have been doing direct sales online since 2009.

More recently, they expanded their product to the Book Train in downtown Glenwood Springs, Sunshine’s Coffee and Deli in South Glenwood, as well as locations in Carbondale, Aspen and New Castle.

The new Bonfire Coffee shop in downtown Carbondale serves almost exclusively Defiant roasts in its coffee drinks, and sells it by the pound, as does the nearby Carbondale Food Co-op.

Bonfire co-owner Charlie Chacos said he and his partners, in developing their business plan, sampled some of the top-tier roasters from around the country before settling on the local roasters.

“We tested some really big names against Jeff’s roasts at a number of different tastings, and he just blew everyone away,” Chacos said. “We’re amazingly fortunate to have someone with such expertise right here in our local community.

“He’s more knowledgeable in the field than anyone I’ve been involved with,” Chacos added. “What they do is really part science and part art, and it takes a certain touch.”

Defiant blends can also be found at The Blend and Grana Bread coffee shops in Carbondale.

“Carbondale is kind of the epicenter of coffee in the valley right now,” Brian Hollenbaugh observes.

Other area locations carrying Defiant coffee roasts include Eagle Springs Organics Aspen Market in Aspen and Osage Gardens, located between New Castle and Silt.

In addition to the Garage Blend, other current blends from Defiant Roasters include a seasonal Mocha-Java Holiday Offering, a 50/50 low-caffeine blend, a moderate dark roast Blend X, available in both regular and decaf, an Espresso Blend and a French Roast.

Another moderate dark roast combining Sumatran and Guatemalan beans is the charity Bean Fever Blend, sales of which are going to support the nonprofit Alpine Mentors program.

Defiant Bean Roasters will also sell whatever they have in stock directly from the warehouse, located at 3421 S. Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs. For more about the business and to place online orders, visit

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