Smoke pours from the chamber of a coffee roaster on Zions View Road as a 56-year-old grandmother reaches for the nearest fan, tucked near a 150-pound burlap sack of beans from Ethiopia.
On this 90-degree summer day, Sherry Dunbar of My Coffee Guru is nearly roasting herself along with the batch of Colombian simmering in the two-room backyard facility -- a $20,000 investment -- where she browns, packages and taste tests beans from across the globe.
Now and then, she casts a glance at the vast manufacturing center in the distance, framed by her tiny shop window in East Manchester Township.
Dunbar knows that building -- one that seemed to spring up out of no where in her neighborhood during the 1990s.
Rumor had it, some company called "Starbucks" was building a factory.
"At the time, nobody really knew what Starbucks was," said Dunbar of the Seattle-based coffee giant.
The high school graduate -- recently laid off from her job -- applied for a job at the neighborhood plant, where she was hired as a roaster.
After just four years, she earned the title of official taste tester for the East Coast. The gig took her to Costa Rica to visit coffee farms, to Switzerland to meet buyers and to Amsterdam to fill in for a sick co-worker.
She slurped and spit Starbucks by the spoonful, a java tasting technique called "cupping," while collecting a salary of more than $50,000, with just a high school diploma.
Then, in June 2008, it hit her like the bold taste of a Turkish roast.
Her position, like many during the early days of the recession, had been eliminated. Starbucks, she said, freed up a job in one of its retail stores.
"It was hard to be angry at Starbucks," she said. "Looking over my career, I went places I never would have gotten to go."
And the timing was perfect -- as far as layoffs go.
Dunbar focused her time on her younger sister who had fallen ill with Sjögren's Syndrome, an autoimmune condition that attacks the liver.
"I was trying to do things to cheer her up. We just kind of laughed about Starbucks," Dunbar said. "Getting laid off was like nothing compared to what she was going through."
The former coffee specialist couldn't do much of anything anyway. She had signed a non-compete agreement that banned her from doing any work similar to that of her former employer for 18 months.
During that time, she traveled to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to donate a portion of her liver to her sister.
Following recovery, Dunbar got back in the game, working with what she had: a severance package, her trained taste buds and some completed business and accounting courses at Penn State York.
Her dream of finishing college was put on hold as she and her husband, an engineer at Voith Hydro, invested $20,000 in equipment, beans and the roasting facility where she spends at least 40 hours each week.
Still, her main sales channel -- Internet orders -- hasn't taken off as expected.
"Some weeks, I don't get any," she said. "Some weeks, I get four. ... I'm paying my bills, but I still need to make more of a profit."
My Coffee Guru's first big customer was the cafe inside Penn State York's library, Dunbar said.
About a year ago, A Little Bit of Heaven in Spring Grove started using her beans as it's main source of coffee, said the shop's co-owner Kim Hersh.
The coffee shop, located on North Main Street, heard about Dunbar's operation from a fellow member of the newly formed Spring Grove Chamber of Commerce.
"One of the board members bought her coffee personally and recommended that we try it," Hersh said. "We did, and it's phenomenal."
They stopped their orders with a Virginia coffee company and haven't looked back.
"From what I understand -- what my customers tell me -- her beans don't have the bite at the end," Hersh said. "It's smooth. It doesn't have that bitter bite."
In Gettysburg, Mom's Coffeepot owner Mary Eastman searched for a new bean supplier after learning six months ago that Green Mountain, a bulk supplier, was no longer catering to small coffee houses.
"We probably tried six different companies, and our customers were the happiest with hers," Eastman said. "We had Green Mountain and hers, and we kind of did taste tests."
Other vendors include Sunrise Soap Co. in York and Mayapple Market in West York.
The coffees, she said, taste nothing like Starbucks.
"I stay away from their blends," she said. "Plus, I don't remember them after three years ... and I want to keep myself out of trouble."
Samples of those beans sit in 8-ounce cups on the table in Dunbar's quality control area adjoining the roasting room.
This time, she's slurping and spitting her own roasts, testing for acidity and flavor.
"You kind of build a tolerance to caffeine," Dunbar said. "My first couple years doing this, I was hyper. I cut myself off at a certain point so I can sleep at night."
The goal, she said, is to sell 25 pounds each day of coffee at about $9.50 per pound on average.
She isn't discouraged with the slow start, she said.
Afterall, Starbucks wasn't built in a day.
"Everybody has a coffee story," she said. "People can connect with coffee."
Colombia: A single origin coffee from South America with an overall smooth taste. No single attribute (acid, body or aroma) overpowers the other. Great with any food, any time.
Costa Rica: A single-origin coffee from Central America, lightly roasted with a tart/ tangy acid. This coffee has a low body with a crisp, palate-cleansing, citrus-like finish.
Guru Gourmet Blend: Dunbar's blend of coffees from Central America and Africa. Mild acid and body with a smooth finish.
Guatemala: Made with beans from Central America grown at 4,500 feet above sea level. Contains a slight hint of dark cocoa at the finish.
Sumatra: A single-origin coffee from the Indonesian region. Roasted on the dark end to bring out the earthy/herbal attributes. Contains low acid, big body, mild herbal/earthy finish.
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