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Duluth coffee roasters grow out of old home

Nessim and Deborah Bohbot began brewing their own coffee 18 years ago in search of the perfect cup. Whether or not such a thing exists, the Bohbots have built a business based on that search. The Bohbots are co-owners of Alakef Coffee Roasters, a...

Nessim and Deborah Bohbot began brewing their own coffee 18 years ago in search of the perfect cup.
Whether or not such a thing exists, the Bohbots have built a business based on that search.
The Bohbots are co-owners of Alakef Coffee Roasters, a wholesale roaster company that has been in Duluth since 1990.
Two months ago, the Bohbots moved their business three blocks to a new location at 1330 E. Superior St. For three years they searched for the perfect structure that would allow more room for their 15 employees and for their business to grow.
"It's a great building," Nessim said. "It has a lot of character."
The building was constructed in 1947, and at one time was a Bridgeman's and a creamery. By moving, the Bohbots went from 3,500 square feet of warehouse space to 14,000 square feet.
Besides the main floor where roasting and packaging takes place, a separate room is used to create and store flavored coffee, which is extremely porous and odor absorbent, Deborah said. The Bohbots also have a "cupping room" where they taste and sample coffee. An afterburner takes the smoke and odor of roasting out of the environment.
"We have quite a bit of room to expand," Deborah said. "For our employees it's a lot better."
From scratch, and by noon each day, Alakef employees roast, package and ship beans to various grocery stores and coffeehouses in Duluth, as well as coffeehouses in the Twin Cities.
The Bohbots involvement in the coffee business begins at the coffee farm and ends at the coffeehouse or grocery store where the roasted beans are sold.
The Bohbots said they only sell the highest quality of beans from around the world, which in turn supports fair trade and sustainable agriculture. Beans are never bought from farms that exploit slave labor, and most of Alakef's coffee is organic and shade-grown (an environmentally friendly practice).
The Bohbots said they hire brokers to travel all over the world to inspect the quality of the crops and the treatment of workers. Brokers sample the beans and then send samples to the Bohbots.
"There's a huge amount of care from when the coffee is grown to the day it's roasted," Nessim said.
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Maintaining a human element in the business is what makes Alakef and other non-commercial coffee roasters special, Nessim said. Every batch of coffee has to be roasted to perfection, even though each batch will never turn out the same.
Nessim said there are 800 to 900 different organic elements in coffee, and it's still a mystery how those elements react when roasted.
"It's all in the eye and judgment of the guy who roasts the coffee," Nessim said. "It's a judgment call based on a few seconds. It's an art. It's what we call the moment of truth in the coffee roasting business."
Once Alakef's roasted beans reach the coffeehouse, or the grocery store, it's up to the consumer to sustain the coffee's quality. Alakef supplies buyers with a brochure that includes instructions on how to brew coffee so it doesn't lose its quality: Always use fresh, cold water; never store coffee in the refrigerator; buy only enough coffee to last a week; use natural, brown filters; and always use a clean coffeemaker.
The Bohbots even offer training to coffeehouse owners and employees. Every cup of coffee sold to a customer has to be done right.
"If the customer
doesn't come back, then we're in trouble," Nessim said.

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