The smell of roasted coffee beans wafts beneath the slightly ajar garage door of a beautiful Clovis home. Those who listen carefully can hear the soft pops of Brazilian beans cracking as they are heated to temperatures higher than 400 degrees.
Sixty-three-year-old Orlando Costa is at work, preparing fresh coffee for packaging under his own label, Sloth Coffee.
“When you are nervous, you should roast coffee to calm down,” he says as he checks the color of the beans he’s roasting. “It’s enjoyable.”
The roasting process is fairly quick — less than 15 minutes — but it’s important to check the beans periodically to ensure they are removed from heat as soon as the desired roast is achieved, Costa explains.
For a medium roast coffee, the beans are pulled out and cooled just after the “first crack.”
“It’s like a steak,” Costa said. “At the first crack, it’s rare. Then it gets more and more cooked. A French roast is like a well done steak, because you burn the cells and all of the flavor is done; there’s no quality anymore.”
Costa prefers medium roast coffee, but this particular batch is well done. Costa roasts the beans until they release a bit of oil, becoming slightly shiny — a perfect French roast.
“It’s a matter of appreciation. If a person wants dark roast, I’m not going to tell them, ‘no, you’re wrong,” he said. “I make what customers like.”
Costa is all about quality. He buys coffee beans from Brazil and has all of the tools to test its quality like he used to in the lab back at Exportadora de Cafe Guaxupé, where he worked for 15 years.
But his roots in coffee extend further than that.
“All my life was about coffee,” Costa explained. “I grew up on a coffee and dairy farm.”
He was born in Monte Santo de Minas, Brazil, and worked about 30 miles away in Guaxupé.
“I learned how to cup in Brazil,” he said. Cupping coffee is the process of observing its aroma and flavor using very specific protocol. “I got the opportunity to visit many countries and talk with many people about coffee.”
The business took him all over the world to meet hundreds of coffee farmers and roasters in Guatemala, Scandinavian countries, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania and more.
At work, Costa cupped coffee and sent it all over the world based on its quality. Germany demands the highest quality coffee over any other country, Costa said.
“Thirty years ago, the United States used to drink the lousiest coffee in the world,” Costa said.
American importers would buy coffee blends of both arabica beans, which are the highest quality, and robusta beans, which are very low quality, Costa said.
“Robusta is like filler, it’s tasteless,” he said. “But they mix well with arabica and give it volume.”
Then came Starbucks.
“Starbucks began buying high quality coffee and teaching people how to drink coffee,” Costa said. “But, it taught people how to drink dark roasted coffee.”
In Costa’s humble opinion, the darker the roast, the worse-tasting the coffee is.
“For a steak, if you don’t get it a little pink, you don’t get the juice. It doesn’t taste good,” Costa said. “You can buy a very expensive steak, a filet mignon, but if you get it well done, it’s no good.
“Medium, you can taste the flavors, or even with the dark brown roast. But when you go to the French roast, which is carbonized coffee, you don’t feel the flavor anymore. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right. They like dark roast, but for me, it doesn’t have the taste anymore.”
Medium roast coffee actually has a higher caffeine content, as well, Costa said.
Thirty years ago, the United States used to drink the lousiest coffee in the world.
Orlando Costa, owner of Sloth Coffee USA in Clovis
Perhaps surprisingly, Costa doesn’t typically drink his coffee hot.
“I’m an old-timer and for me, coffee is hot and strong,” he said. “I never liked cold coffee. For me it was a sin. Now I love cold-brew coffee.”
He prepares his the day before he drinks it, letting Sloth Coffee brew in a French press in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.
Clovis coffee connoisseurs can learn all there is to know about their favorite beverage right in Costa’s garage. For a fee, Costa offers a class for small groups up to three people who want to learn the roasting process and take home a sample.
Costa roasts about 300 grams of coffee beans at a time and packages it immediately, either whole or ground.
“I tell my wife, ‘They may not like my coffee, but they can’t say it’s not fresh!’ It’s as fresh as it can be,” Costa said.
His wife, Jo Paulino, is an occupational therapist in Clovis. Costa is semi-retired.
“I’m kind of slowing down and doing what I like, which is roasting coffee,” he said.
Costa — who has three children in Brazil, ages 37, 35, and 33 — visited California a lot while attending school in Gainesville, Florida, and working in the dairy industry.
“I traveled along the 99,” he said. “Here was part of my life.”
When he moved to the United States in 2005, he chose Clovis because of its agricultural ties and its public school system. His fourth child, a daughter, was 4 at the time.
Costa became a citizen last year and launched Sloth Coffee this year.
“I have been planning this for two years,” Costa said of his micro-roasting business. “I had planned to do coffee quality control for other companies, but my friend in Massachusetts said ‘why don’t you start roasting coffee?’”
Costa imported his coffee roaster from Brazil to get started.
“I am like a sloth, you know, I do things very slowly,” he said with a laugh.
The name Sloth Coffee came from Costa’s love of sloths, which are very slow-moving mammals that live in the rainforest canopies of Central and South America.
“It’s a funny animal; I believe that everybody loves sloths,” he said. “Also, sloths come from Brazil, where 40 percent of the world’s coffee comes from, so it’s all related.”
His now-14-year-old daughter, Maria Paulino, who attends Buchanan High School, designed his logo, which features a sloth holding a cup of coffee.
“If you feel like a sloth, drink a cup of coffee,” Costa said with a laugh.
Costa buys his coffee from a Brazilian coffee broker and picks it up in San Leandro.
“I can get any kind of coffee that I want,” he said. “And I do three types of roasting: medium, dark brown and French roast.”
So far he has just a few customers, but doesn’t seem worried.
“It’s something I really enjoy,” he said. “I would like to buy a bigger roaster and grow, but I’m always looking at quality. I can’t grow too much, too fast.
“I just take it slow like a sloth.”