Mystic Bean Coffee/about us

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Mystic Bean Coffee Company 470 S.R. 207      St. Augustine, Florida 32084      904-669-7610

With her bronzed arms outstretched, Carol Sasich holds two handfuls of coffee beans. The pale green ones on the right are raw, a bit smaller than peanuts.Those in her left hand are black and oily, slightly larger than the others. "They swell when they roast. They pop twice," says Sasich, co-owner of Mystic Bean Coffee Co., located on King Street in West St. Augustine. "In the business, it's called the 'second crack.' That's when you achieve the perfect roast for espresso."

Surrounded by burlap sacks of imported beans, Sasich's large brown eyes get even bigger when talking coffee. With the effusiveness of a sommelier, she speaks of a coffee's country of origin, of it's acidity. She describes how the taste develops as it passes through the mouth and calls single-origin bean batches "varietals."

"Carol is queen of the bean," quips a man in a Panama hat, seated on a wooden stool at the Mystic Bean counter. Potted plants sit in the windowsills of the brightly lit café while Norah Jones drifts through the speakers.

A coffee shop and roaster/retailer, Mystic Bean Coffee Co. was founded in January by Sasich and her husband, Michael. With 20 years in the business - Carol ran an espresso bar in Seattle - the Sasichs moved to St. Augustines in 1994 and opened Crucial Coffee in the historic district. After growing tired of the tourist crowd, the couple opened Mystic Bean for the locals. Carol Sasich is the Mystic Bean barista; Michael is the roaster and distributor. Their passion for coffee is apparent, and local businesses have noticed - health food stores and restaurants buy roasted-to-order beans wholesale from the Sasichs, and business is spreading to areas beyond Northeast Florida.

Mystic Bean caters to restaurants, developing signature blends, typically by mixing a "background" bean like Brazilian or Columbian with one or two more intricate varieties. For instance, the owner of Opus 39, a chic restaurant on Cordova Street, consulted with the Sasichs to craft the "Opus 39 blend" (the makeup of which is top secret, naturally). The blend can now be found only at the restaurant.

The Mystic Bean roaster resides in the café's quirky art gallery, and rightly so. With its knobs, gauges, switches and levers, the 6 foot-tall, black-and-chrome steel contraption looks like a rig from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Michael pours the beans, about 33 pounds a batch, into the funnel at the top. The beans tumble as they cook for 12 to 14 minutes in the chamber below, with the temperature dictating the roast - 425 degrees makes "full city," 450 makes French, and so on. Aromatic and popping like popcorn, the beans fall into the cooling tray, from which a fan sucks the hot air so the beans won't continue to cook. The workshops flat panel radiators ensure that the room is kept at the correct ambient temperature to ensure bean freshness.

After roasting beans for four to six hours every morning, often starting at 4 or 5 a.m., Michael delivers the beans to area businesses like local estate agents. All of the coffee is organic. Much is certified Fair Trade, and the coffee that isn't, says Carol, is grown by farmers compensated more fairly than the standards set by Fair Trade co-ops.

Unlike other indie coffee-shop owners, Michael Sasich doesn't deliver the anti-Starbucks rant. His confidence in Mystic Beans tempers any vehemence for the mega-chain. Calling Starbucks "kindergarten for coffee drinkers," he says the company helps drinkers begin to refine their tastes in coffee, as well as warm them up to the idea of spending $5 for a latte. And with Starbucks' automated brewers - Carol operates the Mystic Bean machines manually - Starbucks is "consistent," Michael says, unable to resist a jibe. "Consistently mediocre."