After seven years and two cafes, Aaron Ultimo is getting into the coffee-roasting business at Ultimo Coffee.
Last year, he bought a Probat roaster that needed TLC and spent much of the winter taking it apart and putting it back together.
The roaster and a lab are now set up on the second floor of a building among the auto-repair shops on a side street near 17th and McKean Streets in the Newbold section of South Philadelphia. (It is around the corner from the Ultimo Coffee shop he opened in 2009. There's a second location at 22d and Catharine Streets in Southwest Center City, and Ultimo handles the coffee program at the Hungry Pigeon in Queen Village.)
The idea is to eventually supplant the Counter Culture Coffee that he now buys.
"I love Counter Culture, and we have a great friendship," Ultimo said. "Being in coffee, though, we want to keep learning. [By not roasting], there was a gap in our education. Roasting is also a way to grow the business and to do something new. It also puts more of our good people to work."
Brendan Boruch, for example, started with Ultimo about six years ago as a barista. He's now helping to roast.
Asked how he learned to roast coffee, Ultimo replied: "I'm learning right now."
Just as he learned the coffee business. After moving to Washington, D.C., in 2001, Ultimo got a job at a coffeehouse. He and his wife moved back to Philadelphia in 2008 to open their first coffee shop, at 15th and Mijfflin Streets.
The first official roast was March 30, using Bwayi beans from Burundi. Ultimo is starting slowly, running 15 pounds at a time and roasting about three batches a week. They're going for a light roast with bright, lively notes.