History

About McMenamins Coffee Roasters:
A Bottomless Cup of Passion, Aroma & Tradition

Originally published in October 2007

Recently at McMenamins Coffee Roastery in Northeast Portland, Martyn Leaper was talking about one of the benefits of his job. "After being here all day, you go somewhere else and it stays with you." He was talking about the comforting, pungent aroma of coffee beans roasting at 400-plus-degree temperatures in the unassuming building's Probat roaster. The wonderful scent envelopes him during his day-long shift, then follows him wherever he goes after work.

Similarly, McMenamins' original master roaster, Dahna Maskell, had a wonderful, embracing personality that stayed with you even when she was worlds away. Around her, the most mundane parts of life could become new adventures just from the enthusiastic delight she infused into them. Dahna's passing in October 2007 has left a sadness in the lives and hearts of her vast circle of friends and family, but her embrace will long be felt from all that she gave us.

Dahna brought her roasting business into McMenamins' fold in 2001. She schooled us in coffee and coffee service with a fascination and passion for the subject that in turn had us genuinely captivated.

She was a great teacher and passed her knowledge along to McMenamins' next master roaster, Jen Apodaca. Jen talks of Dahna's encyclopedic mind for coffee - not just roasting techniques but the character and quality of beans, their color, smell, shape and consistency, their place of origin, farming practices and much more. "There's just so much to know," Jen exclaims. "It's ridiculous." Dahna had acquired a lot of books about coffee over time and she shared this library with Jen. During her first year working for Dahna in 2005, Jen devoted many, many hours poring over these tomes. Now she is bringing them out again for Martyn and assistant Cheryl Golden to study. "You just have to do it," Jen declared, "and you just need time."

Dahna didn't have the luxury of time when she first got into craft coffee roasting. In the mid-1990s, she, her husband Joe and two kids relocated to Portland from Santa Cruz, California, and they scoured the city for viable opportunities to get a business going - any business. They came across Capt. Bean's roastery in Southeast Portland. Neither Dahna nor Joe had any experience in the field, but the owner was anxious to sell in order to launch a charter cruise business in Hawaii. The deal was sealed, and after receiving a two-month crash course in the finer points of roasting, Dahna was roasting on her own for the first time ever.

For a consummate tea drinker (to that point), Dahna took to her new vocation remarkably well. It became her new passion - she worked and studied very hard, becoming in the process one of the region's first female master roasters.

After a year or so, she relocated her roastery to its present site in Northeast Portland, and she gave it the new name, Café Splendid, which she soon rechristened Café Amour. Along the way she won several awards for the excellent quality of her coffee products. So, clearly McMenamins gained a lot when she agreed to join us six years ago.

Dahna also gave us a handmade traditional whirling dervish costume, which has everything to do with coffee's long, rich heritage and is a spirited reminder of the fun she brought to life. The costume, with its colorful embroidery, special buttons and charms, is a descendant of those first worn by the Sufi order of Shadhili mystics who inaugurated the art of coffee brewing in the 13th century. These Muslim mystics used the potent brew to sustain all-night spinning ceremonies intended to get closer to God by altering their consciousness through ecstatic gyration. They were dubbed whirling dervishes by westerners who witnessed these ceremonies. As the Muslim religion was spread by these wandering Shadhilis throughout the Islamic world, so too was the popularity of coffee. Before long, the steaming beverage shed its religious associations and became a common drink in secular households around the globe.

Dahna delighted in wearing this wonderful relic at social outings. And it's no stretch to say that like the Shandhilis of yore, she spread the love of and sophisticated palate for good coffee throughout the McMenamins' Kingdom. And that's a tradition that continues through her apprentice, Jen, at the company roastery.

Next time you have a mug of McMenamins coffee, pause and savor the aroma that embraces you. There's more there than just a cup of Joe.


 

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