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Rock Canyon Coffee: Neither bitter nor burned
Basalt roasters provide java for much of the central Rockies
Coffee beans
Beans come out the roasting bin to cool before being bagged up and shipped to businesses. Rock Canyon Coffee roasts anywhere from 500-1,000 pounds a week. - photo by Jordan Curet

Americans are drinking more gourmet, specialty coffees in the same way that craft brewing and craft spirits have captured consumer hearts. Capitalizing on that niche trend is Rock Canyon Coffee in the Basalt Industrial Trade Center. Originally formed by Craig Fulmer in 2012, John Farrell came on as an owner in 2015 to apply his love for coffee and his aptitude in finance toward building a successful craft-coffee business.

Farrell came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2011 after working in finance and accounting at a wholly owned subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. He came to ski and stayed to rock climb, working as a ski instructor for the Aspen Skiing Company. In 2014, on a climbing road trip of the United States and Canada that doubled as a coffee tour, Farrell became more and more interested in pursuing coffee professionally and joined Rock Canyon when he returned to the Valley, where he continues to refine his style of roasting.  

Rock Canyon coffee
All of the Rock Canyon coffee is roasted on demand, to ensure freshness and premium flavors. - photo by Jordan Curet
Rock Canyon Coffee is a wholesale coffee roaster with business-to-business accounts in the Roaring Fork Valley, Vail Valley and Summit County. Locally, you will find their coffee in Aspen at The Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Public House, and Meat & Cheese. In the Mid-Valley, you can stop in for a cup of Rock Canyon at CC's Cafe in Basalt or Batch in Carbondale. They are also a regional brand for Whole Foods, so they roast, package and ship coffee to 25-plus stores throughout the Rocky Mountain region. And, soon, they will be in a café in New Jersey. 

According to Farrell, there are a few advantages for businesses purchasing coffee from Rock Canyon: “We pride ourselves on delivering a product that is neither bitter nor burned. We also roast all of our coffee on demand to maximize freshness for our customers.”

Operations manager Dayton Knutson points out the large 70-kilo, or approximately 150 pounds, of biodegradable jute sacks containing green coffee beans that are stacked on the floor of the roasting room.

“This is our bean inventory, as you can see,” explains Knutson. “We have them sorted by origin, and usually have 10 or 11 different varieties that we roast. We have Nicaraguan, Ugandan, Brazilian and Columbian. Brazil is the biggest coffee-producing country in the world. Second is Vietnam.”

Operations manager Dayton Knutson, who has been with Rock Canyon Coffee just over a year, pours unroasted beans, which are green with a grassy smell, into the roaster. - photo by Jordan Curet
Knutson pulls open the flap on half a sack of Ugandan coffee. The unroasted beans are greenish-gray in color and smell slightly grassy. Not the characteristics that you would normally expect of a coffee bean.

He points out the royal blue metal roaster with a computer screen attached.

“These roasters are 12-kilo roasters, so you measure out 12 kilos of beans, put them in the loader here, and they are sucked up into the bin,” Knutson explains. “There’s a big black roasting drum that lives inside this chamber with ceramic infrared heating elements. The beans go in at a specific temperature. This lever drops the beans into the roasting drum, and they will immediately start to roast. The ceramic elements save quite a bit of energy compared to an open-flame roaster.”

Rocky Canyon manually refines its “roasting profiles” in a roasting computer, which tracks the process every single time over thousands of roasts. Once they develop the flavor profile, the machine does the work for them. 

One of the unique aspects of Rock Canyon is that they don’t usually sell or roast single-origin coffees. Instead, they create a brew, a mix of their own creative sensibilities.

Rock Canyon
Dayton Knutson, operations manager, and John Farrell, who has owned the business since 2015, stand amid stacks of beans ready to be roasted and brewed at their location in the Basalt Industrial Trade Center. - photo by Jordan Curet
Owner Farrell explains: “We try to manipulate the molecular compounds inside the beans to bring out the nuance. Our dark-roast beans look very similar to a medium and a light roast, but, from a scientific perspective, the dark-roast flavor characteristics are there.

Can you talk about how you do that in the roasting process?

Farrell smiles, but notes that their specific recipe is trade proprietary.

Knutson continues, detailing the roasting process, pointing out that it takes “from 14 minutes to 23 minutes; it’s pretty quick.” Afterwards, the hot beans are upwards of 440 degrees, so they are cooled in a bin that takes five or six minutes to fall back to room temperature. Smoke from the roasting process is pushed out of the room and up a silver stack out of the roof.

When cooled, the beans are run through a destoner, a density-based machine that recognizes what a good coffee bean is and what a reject is.

Then the coffee is packaged to order and ready to go out the door. It’s delivered to the accounts in the Roaring Fork Valley twice a week, so any Rock Canyon Coffee that you drink is super fresh.

The beans are still “alive” when they come out of the roaster, and it takes about 24 hours for the beans to be degassed. That’s why there are valves on the bags of coffee.

Rock Canyon Coffee
Rock Canyon Coffee is roasted and blended in the Basalt Industrial Trade Center, using beans from 10 regions and then distributed locally and in five states. Knutson’s interest was sparked from previously working on a coffee farm in South America. - photo by Jordan Curet
“The valves also preserve freshness because it’s a one-way valve,” Farrell says. The valve allows gas out, but not in.

He also points to two labels on the bags of coffee. One is a “Local Hero Winner,” by Edible Aspen magazine, while the other proclaims “Protect Our Winters.”

Rock Canyon partnered with the nonprofit group, Protect Our Winters, with their seasonal “Winter Cabin” coffee this past winter, contributing a portion of proceeds on sales of this blend to POW.

“We want to be a business that’s about trying to get the climate message out,” Farrell says. “We’re a small company, but we’re trying to align with those values and those objectives.”

Since Rock Canyon is a wholesaler, you can’t stop by and purchase five pounds of coffee. You can buy their coffee in Willits at Whole Foods, and you can purchase it online.


Rock Canyon Coffee. (970) 471.2601

Here’s how you can make your own cold-brew coffee at home, per Rock Canyon Coffee:
  • You will need: Two one-gallon pitchers, coffee filters, plus a wire mesh strainer, measuring cup, spoon and one 12-ounce bag of Rock Canyon Coffee, coarse ground. We recommend the Brazilionaire Blend.
  • Pour ground coffee into one of the gallon containers and fill with cold water.
  • Stir to mix water and coffee completely and let sit for 12-18 hours.
  • Place coffee filter in mesh strainer, place on top of second gallon container.
  • Carefully pour coffee and water mixture into coffee filter. You may need to do this process with the coffee filter twice. 
  • You now have a cold brew concentrate. Pour directly over ice or dilute with your favorite milk or non-dairy product.