Night Kitchen Coffee & Spice Company’s Taylor Hale and Leslie Grove create small batch, locally roasted coffees and spice blends.
Coffee Talk: A scientist describes his approach to roasting
Taylor Hale likes to know how things work. “I’ve always been curious,” says the NASA instrument systems engineer. “If I like something, I want to try to make it.”
This also applies to food. “I’ve made pretty much everything I’ve ever eaten,” he says. “Except for distilling and making wine.” That’s how Hale came to roast coffee, in small batches after hours, at the Preston farm where he lives with his wife, Leslie Grove. “Over an eight-year stretch, I roasted about 120 pounds – 6 ounces at a time,” a nocturnal activity, Hale says, that led to the name Night Kitchen Coffee. Eventually Grove, who operates Luck & Love Homestead, an agricultural cooperative, suggested Hale move the coffee business out of the family kitchen. So, he opened a facility in Denton to process beans for local restaurants and coffee shops, including Eat Sprout, Out of the Fire, the Bartlett Pear Inn, Cambridge Snifters, Ugly Pie and others. He also sells coffee on the Chesapeake Harvest online retail market when capacity allows – as all the roasting is done to order.
Hale purchases small lots of beans directly from independently owned farms that only produce around 4,000-5,000 pounds a year. This “direct buy” system means more money for the individual farmer than “fair trade” programs, where farms sell their beans to a cooperative, he says. Knowing the precise origin and variety of bean gives Hale the chance to share his own obsession with customers. “I want people to be aware of how many amazing small batch coffees are out there,” he says. “The growers should be the star, and as a roaster, my job is to find good growers and not screw it up.”
Recently, Night Kitchen added spice blends to its offerings. Hale describes the dozen or so concoctions as “takes on regional flavors,” like the Silk Road blend, named for the ancient trade route from China to Europe–with flavors inspired by the Middle East and North Africa. Azteka resembles a traditional Mexican mole, with a five-chili blend and roast cacao. He also mixes Za’atar, Creole and Vindaloo blends. (His five-spice blend is featured in a Sweet Potato Pie recipe just below.)
Both Night Kitchen and Luck & Love Homestead, says Hale, appeal to “curious eaters.” Grove grows a variety of herbs, chili peppers and eggplants, which she sells at local farmers markets.
Hale is a lead engineer on NASA’s GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation) project, which measures tree heights around the world with laser altimetry. He brings his scientific bona fides to coffee, using an air roasting system developed in the 1970s by a chemist at MIT. The convection-style process, known as fluid bed roasting, means heat is distributed more evenly, he says. “Picture a fancy hot air popcorn popper,” resulting in “freshness you don’t get from an old drum roaster.”
Hale describes his approach to business as “self-limiting” – not only due to his day job, he says, but also “because the coffees I want to drink aren’t available in large quantities.”
5 Spice Sweet Potato Pie Recipe
Five-Spice Blend is a traditional Cantonese flavor that is typically used in savory dishes. Taylor Hale and Leslie Grove have been experimenting with using it in desserts since they started making the blend at Night Kitchen a couple years ago This take on a sweet potato pie uses the anise, clove, and cinnamon in the five-spice blend as a counterpoint to the sweetness of the brown sugar and sweet potatoes. The other twist is using a Mexican styled crema in the batter to get the dairy portion of the batter. It is optional but is worth trying. Simply blend 1 cup of sour cream with 1 cup of heavy cream and the juice from one lime. Use any color sweet potato you want, and be sure to look for them on our wholesale and retail markets if you’re in the area.
1 lb sweet potato (2 medium or 1 large)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons Night Kitchen 5 Spice Blend
1 cup crema (see note below)
1 pie crust
Heat the oven to 350F and roast the sweet potatoes until soft (about an hour for medium size potatoes and an hour and a half for large). Allow to cool, cut in half and scoop out the flesh. Mash and reserve.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time beating until fully incorporated. Add in the 5 Spice blend and a pinch of salt (if you are using unsalted butter) and blend in the crema. Finally add in the sweet potato mash and blend in well.
If you want a fine consistency, you can pass the batter through a fine mesh strainer but I actually like the texture of the unstrained batter. As Leslie says, craft can and should be a bit wonky.
Pour batter into a pie crust, depending on the crust, you may want to blind bake it before adding the pie filling, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until cooked through.
Allow to cool and serve with whipped cream (a saffron whipped cream is a nice option).
Sources of ingredients: the sweet potatoes and eggs come from @Luck and Homestead. The picture is with white fleshed sweet potato we planted this year. I didn’t make the pie crust – we bought crusts from Chef Steve Konopelski at Turnbridge Point in Denton. Butter came from Nice Farms and is lightly salted. I use our house take on a Mexican crema, something very similar to Creme Fraiche. You can substitute straight sour cream but the crema is really easy to make at home. Simply blend 1 cup of sour cream with 1 cup of heavy cream and the juice from one lime.
On-farm workshops and a train-the-trainer program are hallmarks of the new grant program.
Chesapeake Harvest and Partner Win USDA Food Safety Outreach Grant
Chesapeake Harvest, a project of the Easton Economic Development Corporation, in partnership with Future Harvest, Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FHCASA), has been awarded a USDA Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) grant. Designed to build a culture of food safety among specialty crop producers in the Chesapeake Bay region, the one-year award of just under $150,000 will fund multi-level education and coaching centered on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.
By providing producers with education about GAP and food safety risk reduction, the project will help farmers establish the foundational components of good farming and post-harvest handling practices necessary to compete in today’s markets. With its broad-reaching food safety education opportunities, the project leverages the strengths of the partner organizations, allowing an expansion of services to enhance competitiveness and market reach for regional growers.
Elizabeth Beggins, Production Manager for Chesapeake Harvest, remarks, “In association with FSMA, increases in consumer concern are driving an increased need for food safety education and certification among specialty crop producers. This grant award will go a long way towards supporting our hard-working farmers in meeting the demands of the marketplace.”
The project offers multi-level education and training, including a program to develop new and much-needed Food Safety Educators, peer-to-peer and expert-led education workshops, and one-on-one consulting to help farmers get to the doorstep of GAP certification and thus overcome a pivotal barrier to selling in the wholesale marketplace. “Education, training, and focused consulting are key for helping farmers tap new markets as well as make their product safer,” says Dena Leibman, Executive Director of Future Harvest CASA.
A program of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the grant is aimed at supporting small- to mid-size farmers, particularly beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Titled “Expanding Farmer Education to Create a Culture of Food Safety in the Chesapeake Region,” the grant project draws on Future Harvest’s extensive experience in farmer-to-farmer and expert-led training’s while reinforcing Chesapeake Harvest’s existing online retail and wholesale platform, event collaborations, and food safety education program.
November Produce Picks
An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but it definitely supports a healthy and flavorful lifestyle. This is the season for delicious locally grown apples, so there’s ample opportunity to test out the old adage while enjoying the unparalleled taste of our regional harvests. In addition to familiar selections like Gala, Fuji, Delicious, and Honeycrisp, look for heirloom varieties such as Arkansas Black, Rambo, Stayman and Grimes Golden. On the Eastern Shore, Fifer Orchards in Delaware and Blades Orchard in Maryland both offer a wide variety of apples from their on-farm markets and at area farmers markets. Right now, local folks can also take advantage of our online marketplace for apples and apple products. After you return home with your doctor-busting apple haul, try out some of these vintage recipes.
Of all the foods that show up at our fall meals and winter holidays, few are more versatile than the humble sweet potato. Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes and potatoes are mostly unrelated, though both root vegetables are nutritionally rich and offer plenty of dietary benefits (especially if you eat the skins). Sweet potatoes grow well in many parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but one, the creamy white Hayman, is found almost exclusively on the Eastern Shore. Check farm stands and farmers’ markets for local supplies, and for fun next season, try growing your own in place of the ubiquitous, edible-but-tasteless ornamental sweet potato vine plant. Both leaves and tubers of the culinary sweet potato are edible!