When most folks fire up their back-yard grills it is safe to assume a batch of barbecued chicken, seafood shish kebabs or hearty veggie burgers are bound for a plate. Grilling is deliciously predictable, yet recently I found myself at a very different sort of backyard cookout.

On a bright Oak Park morning, sun spilled through a wooden pergola as I sipped on a cup of impeccable singe-origin cold brew. A swallowtail butterfly flitted through the yard just as homeowner, Ryan Thompson, deposited several pounds of green Ethiopian Suke Quto coffee beans into a drum roaster rigged to his gas grill. 

As the beans churred and the temperature climbed to nearly 500 degrees, the first wafts from the roaster had a grassy scent, but Thomson soon noted the beans were smelling sweeter and leaned in closer to listen for the all-important first crack.

“Do you hear that?” asked Thompson. “As the beans heat, they expand causing the thin coating around the bean, known as the chaff, to spilt. That’s the sound you are hearing.” 

Thompson peeked into the roaster looking for a lighter roast with an irregular surface color. Satisfied, he transferred the beans to a tray fitted over a box fan. As the beans cooled, Thompson whisked away the chaff leaving behind perfectly roasted beans. The process, while scientific, took just 14 minutes.

Welcome to Sideyard Coffee–southeast Oak Park’s micro coffee roastery.

“I’ve wanted to do neighborhood coffee for quite some time,” said Thompson. “This seemed like the perfect time to do it because more and more people are brewing coffee at home.”

A professor of art at Trinity Christian College and an artist himself (credited with creating “Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest,” The story of the curse made famous by the hit Netflix show “Dead to Me.”), Thompson is naturally curious and a self-taught coffee aficionado.

Though Thompson came to love coffee later in life, he gravitated toward controlling the roasting process and relies on smell, sound and sight to yield a clean tasting cup of joe. He has been roasting coffee for eight years and maintains a perfectionist standard for every bean. Though he experimented with air roasting, Thompson now prefers drum roasting single-origin beans or micro-blends to achieve a “roastier-toastier” flavor. 

“My goal is to keep this small,” said Thompson the father of two Irving Elementary students. “Local economy is invaluable. I hope the product draws people closer to production and to me as a producer.

In a recent offering Thompson “mélange” roasted beans from the Aceh region of Sumatra — one batch was roasted darker to bring out “hot cocoa flavors” while the next was lighter to bring out “spiced aroma and fruits. The beans are then blended to create a flavor profile that includes both darker and lighter notes.

Sideyard Coffee is packaged in compostable brown paper bags and sold by monthly subscription. Slots are limited, but Thompson has not reached his full capacity yet. Coffee variety and roast level vary from week-to-week. Subscriptions start at $12/week for a standard 12-ounce bag, but folks ordering a pound or more per week receive a discounted rate of $15/pound. Thompson also sets aside a handful of $8 sample bags every week for those looking to try before they subscribe.

In south Oak Park coffee is delivered on Saturdays by bike. North Oak Park residents can arrange to pick up their coffee weekly. Follow @sideyardcoffee on Instagram and send a note to sideyardcoffee@gmail.com to get your bag of beans.

“I love teaching,” said Thompson. “I would love to help people learn about single origin beans and help them decide what they are looking for in a cup of coffee.”

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