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The chemistry of coffee
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The chemistry of coffee

David Hurley quit his job as a science teacher at Cascade High School in Turner so he could take a position applying his knowledge of chemistry. Since September, he’s been the coffee roaster for Margin Coffee in downtown Albany.

“It was a hard decision that I struggled with,” Hurley said. “But an opportunity like this doesn’t come by very often. I figured, ‘Let’s see where it goes.’”

Hurley, a 2000 graduate of Jefferson High School, stressed that he loved teaching, but he also loves coffee.

Sights and sounds from the first Farmers Markets in downtown Corvallis and Albany on Saturday. 

As a teen, he worked at the first Starbucks location in Albany, which used to be in a storefront on the Fred Meyer lot.

Hurley, now a downtown Albany resident, said he enjoys the science behind roasting beans. “I have dug in deep into the chemistry of roasting and what they do on the cellular level. It’s like a little experiment every 12 minutes,” he added.

Hurley roasts with data software, so details such as temperature can be graphed out, and he also takes detailed notes in a journal from his roasting and subsequent tastings.

“When you switch something in the process, it’s cool how it changes the flavor,” he said.

The experiments are done with small batches in a sample roaster, often behind Margin Coffee, 206 Second Ave. S.W.

Until it can buy its own roaster, Margin is temporarily renting time on the roaster at Tried & True Coffee Co. in Corvallis for its larger batches – which remain relatively small at 10 to 15 pounds.

Tried & True used to provide beans from its Bespoken Coffee Roasters to Margin.

Gabe Anderson, the owner of Margin, said the owners of Tried & True remain supportive. Boutique roasters, much like craft beverage makers, tend to try to lift each other up based on the belief that a healthy scene benefits all businesses involved, he explained.

Anderson said he always intended on having Margin roast its own coffee, but the pandemic pushed those plans back.

“I think people are excited about something more local, which is nice. The more local you can get, the better. People really appreciate and value that,” he added

The push by residents to support local and shop local helped Margin Coffee survive during the age of COVID-19. “Without that local identity, I don’t think we could have made it through the last year,” Anderson said. “I’m just really thankful for the community.”

He emphasized that Margin can now cater its coffee more to Albany’s tastes.

Margin will still offer single-origin coffees, much like Bespoken and other specialty roasters. But the Albany coffee house can also do a crowd-pleasing darker blend, which people have asked for since day one, Anderson added.

“We want everyone to feel like they can find something they like here and be inclusive in that way,” Anderson said.

Roasting in-house has allowed Margin to diversify its business and pick up commercial customers, and a new coffeehouse in Medford also carries beans roasted by Margin.

The shift will give Margin a better chance to survive as the pandemic continues. Anderson now has seven workers, up from four before the pandemic began, and he’ll have to hire another few employees soon.

Anderson thinks he found the perfect person for the position in Hurley. “I love that he’s roasting because of his science background. He just geeks out on it,” Anderson said.

Hurley also enjoys the everyday moments of caffeinated pep that occur in a coffee shop. “You get to bring a little bit of happiness to people every day,” he said.

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.

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