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ReAnimator: From corporate to coffee

This is the story of two Marks. Two Drexel graduates. Two Fishtown residents roasting up beans in one Old Kensington warehouse.

They're dedicated to the so-called Third Wave of coffee – a movement focused on turning coffee into a high-quality, artisanal production.

"Third Wave means really letting the coffee speak for itself," said Capriotti, 30. "You roast the beans to a not overly dark level because you want to preserve the flavors. You're not blending it or cutting it with cheaper coffee that doesn't taste as good, which happens a lot with a lot of the bigger companies."

This is in contrast to the so-called Middle Wave, which instead focused on European-styled brews with really dark roasts, like those of Starbucks, and espresso-based drinks, like lattes. (The First Wave began decades ago, when mainstream brands like Folgers emerged.)

For years, Capriotti's business partner, Mark Corpus, 29, had been passionate about the attention to detail and quality of Third Wave coffee. He spent his free time testing home roasting. In April 2011, Capriotti and Corpus made their first sale. They now roast upwards of 700 pounds per week - a tiny drop in the bucket by coffee-roaster standards.

"A mindless cubicle life wasn't what I wanted to do," says Corpus, who two months ago quit his job in finance to devote his efforts full-time to ReAnimator. "It was a little scary. You don't really know at first whether a business is going to succeed or not, but that's what really had to be done in order for us to grow and thrive."

Before Corpus' career shift, he and Capriotti were logging 40- to 60-hour weeks, on top of their other jobs, to launch ReAnimator. Capriotti said he will hang onto his day job for a little while longer; the long hours are worth it.

"My other job is just a corporate job," says Capriotti. "I'm active, I'm creative. I'm not only learning about coffee everyday but about how to run a business. At the end of the day, you're your own boss. You make your own hours but you don't care about hours because you're surviving on what you love."

Both Corpus and Capriotti agree that while creating their own craft-coffee business has felt liberating, it's tough work.

ReAnimator launched at a time when La Colombe's dark roasts pretty much ruled the city. Blue Water Coffee and Philly Fair Trade Roasters (formerly Joe's Coffee) also were on the scene. However, in search of Third Wave-styled roasts, many of Philadelphia's newer "craft" coffee shops - such as Ultimo and Shot Tower Coffee - looked to Counter Culture Coffee, a North Carolina roaster, or to Stumptown Coffee Roasters, from Portland, Ore.

With the city's coffee culture growing, ReAnimator saw opportunity. Philly now also has Rival Brothers Coffee  and GreenStreet Coffee, which grew out of Blue Water.

Sourcing from such countries as Nicaragua, Ethiopia and El Salvador, ReAnimator Coffee sells primarily single-origin beans, excluding its espresso blend. The partners work with up to five importers, and now directly with two different farmers, and look to take chances on interesting coffee -whether it's a bean slightly on the more expensive side or a variety not on the main importers' offering sheets.

Most of their selections are from microlots – a plot in a farmer's growing area sectioned off to cultivate smaller batches of beans. Essentially, microlots are for the roasters who want better coffee and are willing to pay a little more for it.

"It's an experience for the coffee drinker, especially for someone who's really into it," says Capriotti. "They can drink a cup and may not ever experience that same taste again."

In February, both Capriotti and Corpus will travel to Costa Rica to meet and tour a few farms directly. Corpus will also go to Ethiopia and Nicaragua early next year.

As the business continues to grow, ReAnimator hopes to open a coffee shop. The intention is to not only demonstrate what the partners can do with their roasts, but also to help expand the culture of quality coffee in Philadelphia.

"We're a long way from places like New York or cities on the West Coast," says Corpus in reference to Philadelphia's coffee culture. "Here, coffee is still in utility mode, but I do think we're starting to move away from that."

The two like to compare coffee to craft beer (of which both also home brew). "If you look at the craft beer bar scene 10 years ago in the city, it was nothing compared to what it is today. And it's still growing," says Capriotti. "The food culture here is always expanding, and we know that specialty coffee is becoming a part of that."

Among ReAnimator's customers are Northern Liberties' One Shot and South Philly's Grindcore House. At the moment, the company offers nine varieties, which change every three to four months as the growing seasons shift.

"My regulars come in here, and are like, 'Wow, the coffee's so good,' " says Café Chismosa owner Jugo Stevcic, who shifted entirely from another company to ReAnimator in July.  What really convinced him to make the switch was the partners' approach. "They come in here, have me sample their beans, and now they're making weekly drop-offs on a bike," he says. "I love it. It's all so personal."

His current favorite is the Natural SCFU Sidamo from Ethiopia, a new, fair-trade coffee.

Capriotti and Corpus say it is hard to favor one variety but agree that there's only one way to drink a cup– straight up.

"There's no other way," says Capriotti. "We're not taking as much care as we are to doctor it up with sugar and cream. Properly roasted coffee is naturally sweet and contains enough flavor it won't need anything added."

Corpus compares coffee to wine. "If you're drinking the coffee black, you're able to take in the nuances of the region, the different processing methods that the farmers use to bring out different aspects of the beans," says Corpus. "Great coffee doesn't need any cutting."

Grace Dickinson writes at FoodFitnessFresh Air.