While Sweet Maria’s is not a coffee shop perse, their influence over the local coffee scene, the industry, Bay Area coffee culture, and the amateur home roaster is beyond noteworthy. Many of my friends travel to see Tom and Maria for all their brewing supplies, green coffee, and most importantly, coffee wisdom. They carry everything from brewing apparatuses to home and commercial roasting equipment. Oh, and some of the best green coffee on the market! These guys are veterans of the coffee world, the exporting and importing of beans, sourcing farming and milling, and the owners of many fine antique roasters!
After learning a lot about espresso, brewing, equipment, and the “art” of baristaing over the last few years, I kind of hit a wall. I am a bit frantic when it comes to learning; it is not uncommon for me to be reading three different books at a time (not literally of course). Since I have learned what I can on bar for now, I have been getting more and more into beans, sourcing, and roasting. What better way to start than home roasting? Everyone pointed me to Sweet Maria’s.
The location of Sweet Maria’s may be my single small complaint. It was a bit difficult to navigate the streets under the freeway and I kept getting turned around by “one way’s.” SM is literally a warehouse in a warehouse district and let’s just say, it is not in the most ideal neighborhood. Suffice to say, this should not deter you from making a trip to their incredible facility. The building itself is pretty neat. They have lots of hand crafted signage, displays, and the gateway entrance is a gorgeous piece of metal work. Once you walk in, you know SM is “all business.” The the pylons are stacked with tons of green coffee from all over the world. The various work stations strewn about the facility for bagging, organizing, and shipping are constantly manned by a professional team. Everything is designed (or seemingly not designed) for work and efficiency and nothing else. Most intruging is the unofficial “museum” of roasters in the office and on the upper level. There is everything from old Probats to early 1900s home-use drum roasters, a pretty amazing collection of coffee history.
Getting beans and set up with my new “roaster” was easy and enjoyable. The staff provided me with tons of resources to get me started. I was given a good variety pack of green beans at half price since I purchased a roaster. The woman who helped us out was very cordial and attentive to the fact I was somewhat apprehensive about getting into the roasting biz; she gave me honest answers about using a popcorn popper as a home roaster, the limitations of the method, and the realistic advantages (both financially and practically) of what I was envisioning. I walked away with a new (thoroughly tested and recommended by SM) popcorn popper and a 4lb sampler bundle for $40, pretty good deal. I also walked away with a ton of information, resources, and confidence in how much they wanted to empower me to become an ametur roaster. They were there to support my new hobby, but they provided me with the means and know-how to do it professionally.
Besides quality green beans and good prices, SM has an incredible database for all things relating to home roasting, beans, sourcing, trade, and equipment. Best of all, it is an open resource to everyone. I highly encourage everyone to take a look at their library of information. Though I initially visited the site to watch their video demonstrations for my specific roaster, I have found myself reading their articles on a daily basis. Their website is amazing and unparalled in its honest explanation of roasting and beans. I really appreciate that they are very self critical of the products they carry and the “ideals” they present. It signifies their unabashed commitment to quality. SM is not out to “sell you” on coffee or strictly profit off its customers. Despite the fact they are located at the heart of coffee importation near the Oakland harbor, Sweet Maria’s is dedicated to serving the home roaster as a hobbiest and professional by offering high quality products and a plethora of accessable information at very low cost. These guys (especially Tom) are some of the best in the business with a huge amount of accolades (and street cred), but have no ego about their business. They aren’t out to be part of the latest trend, just out to do what they do well. Thanks Sweet Maria’s for helping me start my new hobby!
(Upon my second visit, SM surprised me with lights added to their roasting museum because of the article. Thanks guys!)
- The accessibility and endless amount of information
- The “no frills” approach
- The “pat on the back” from professionals
1115 21st St
(between Adeline St & Chestnut St)
Oakland, CA 94607
Neighborhood: West Oakland