March 8, 2017

Boardwalk Beans: How a Quest for the Perfect Cup of Coffee Turned into a Business

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Bill Sprouse/Route 40

Damon Germano and Gabrielle Cianfrani just wanted to make a better cup of coffee. Somewhere along the line, their personal mission turned into a business. Now, from a corner of Pleasantville not far from the old Ireland Coffee Company plant, Boardwalk Beans is roasting small batches of carefully-selected coffee for retail and wholesale customers.

Germano used to work for Ireland, back when Ireland had a small store in one of the Atlantic City casinos. “I was really into coffee, I had the beret, the turtleneck – the whole thing,” he said. When Ireland was bought out, he moved on to other jobs and got used to drinking less-than-amazing coffee, he said. Some years later he met Cianfrani, who drank coffee with freshly-ground beans, and he began to get interested in whole-bean coffee again. One night they had an amazing cup of coffee at a restaurant. “That’s when I started being like ‘I need better coffee,'” he said, adding that he remembered thinking, “That is what coffee is supposed to taste like every day.” That was the beginning of Boardwalk Beans – although the couple didn’t yet know that it would become a business.

Some of Boardwalk Beans’ raw coffee, before roasting.

After his coffee revival that night in a restaurant, Germano said he began a quest to find the best whole beans and make the perfect cup of coffee at home. “I got my game up to a certain level,” he said. Then, he wondered what would happen if he roasted green coffee himself.

“It was awful,” he said, of his first effort trying to roast at home in a pan. “But I did it again and it was a little better.” The pair soon upgraded to a small popcorn-style roaster and started buying and testing coffee from all over the world. “We explored all the coffee we could,” Germano said. “Everything we could think of.” Fast forward a year and a half to 2013 and they upgraded their roasting equipment again, this time, to a custom-handcrafted steel drum that they still use now.

Their roaster, which sits outside on space they rent from the sub shop Deli du Jour in Pleasantville, can handle up to 7 lbs of green coffee a go, but Cianfrani says they prefer to roast in small batches under 5 lbs. Boardwalk Beans roasts to order, so they don’t leave their bagged coffee hanging around. In fact, they have a subscription plan called the Rolling Chair Service, that delivers personally-roasted coffee direct to your door.

“We want to get people to fall in love with coffee,” said Cianfrani. “We want them to have an outstanding cup that changes their lives.” Cianfrani, honest and self-effacing, then adds, “It might sound a little silly – how can a cup of coffee change my life? – but it’s really a quality of life thing.”

The raw coffee that Germano and Cianfrani buy is generally organic and mostly fair trade. Being a small business themselves, they are particularly concerned with where the coffee is grown and the working conditions of those growing and harvesting the beans. Germano, who grew up in Ventnor and Atlantic City, and Cianfrani, originally from Philadelphia, are full of knowledge about the coffee industry and where their coffee comes from. They can tell you what makes a bean sweet (some coffees pick up the taste of nearby-growing fruit) and what makes a bean best-suited for a dark roast (high altitude, usually). Germano, who jokes about reaching coffee nerd status, knows about the equipment. Cianfrani can talk about coffee dealers and harvests. And they are both utterly passionate about helping you make a delicious cup of coffee at home.

Boardwalk Beans was at the Bartram Avenue farmers’ market in Atlantic City last year and the duo expect to return to the farmers’ market circuit this summer. Their coffee is available for sale at Deli du Jour in Pleasantville and Hammerbacher bakery in Egg Harbor City. Boardwalk Beans is also served at The Iron Room in Atlantic City. You can find out more information on their website here and watch our interview with the couple below.

Boardwalk Beans is offering 2 lbs of personally-roasted coffee to a lucky Route 40 Member this month. The winner will be drawn from a hat at the end of the month. If you’re not already a Route 40 Member you can sign up here to support local journalism and our small business partners for $5 a month or $50 a year and be entered for a chance to win the best fresh coffee around.


Post script – if you’d like a seasonally-appropriate walk down memory lane, read this 1996 New York Times piece about the calls that Ireland Coffee used to get around St Patrick’s Day.