John Johnson – Head Roaster

Bluestone Lane’s Head Coffee Roaster, John Johnson took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about roasting coffee.

Read on for John’s interesting insight on the New York coffee scene vs other cities, his favorite beans and why he loves roasting.

BL: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and how did you find yourself in New York and as Head Roaster of Bluestone Lane Coffee?

JJ: Hey!  My name is John Johnson and I am the head roaster for Bluestone Lane.  Before this, I was a partner at a small boutique roastery in the mid-west, and I oversaw all our green buying, roasting, and barista training.  I wore a lot of hats, as most small business owners do.  I was getting burned out, and desperately wanted to re-locate from the midwest, and was lucky to be put in touch with Bluestone Lane when they were looking for a roaster.  It was a good fit.  I was immediately impressed with Bluestone’s ambition and friendly demeanor.  I was like ‘oh man, I want to work there.’ 

BL: What was your hospitality and coffee background in Cleveland?

JJ: Well, I’ve always worked in the service industry in some regard.  In high school and college I worked in kitchens and restaurants and thought working as a barista would be way easier and more fun.  Ha, I was a dumb kid.  So I got a job as a barista and didn’t really care about coffee at all intentionally.  Honestly, I just wanted to learn how to pour latte art because I was trying to impress this girl that was super into it.  But, trying to learn latte art exposed me to good coffee, and made me aware of where coffee comes from and I fell in love with the industry and with the human connections coffee fosters.  I eventually teamed up with a business partner that had a roasting background, and we opened 3 shops in Cleveland Ohio.  I built our roasting, sourcing, training and cafe programs from scratch, and that was an awesome (and stressful ha) learning experience.  

skyline of Cleveland Ohio.
Cleveland, Ohio (Wikipedia)

BL: What’s your general impression on the NYC coffee/cafe scene and do you think it’s changing?  How does it compare from your hometown scene?

JJ: Well, when I was outside the scene it seemed giant and kind of intimidating.  So many new roasters and cafes have opened in New York in the last 3 years it was kind of hard to even know where to start.  But being in the scene for a little bit now it’s great to see that there are companies doing great coffee all over the city.  There is enough room here for any kind of concept or style, and the diversity of coffee styles is amazing.  Cleveland has a nice little scene, but New York is next level in terms of scale and ambition. 

BL: Whats the best coffee you’ve cupped so far?

JJ: Man, I don’t even know where to begin haha.  I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to travel the world and drink delicious coffee, and there is just so much delicious coffee out there I don’t think I can pick a “best”.   But my most memorable coffee is probably the first coffee I ever had that made me realize “holy crap, coffee isn’t this awful bitter drink its actually super good” and that was Intelligentsia’s Honduras La Tortuga.  That was the coffee that opened my eyes to the world of coffee, made me aware of the farmer & producers role, and basically made me decide to make a career in the industry.  

“holy crap, coffee isn’t this awful bitter drink its actually super good”

BL: Coming aboard Bluestone Lane, what do you think makes it different to what everyone else is doing?

JJ: I think the biggest thing we do differently is our dedication to service.  There are a lot of great coffee roasters in New York, but when you go to Bluestone Lane you get a level of genuine friendliness that can be hard to find in other cafes.  On top of that, our ambition and desire to serve really world class products are what really attracted me to Bluestone Lane.  

Coffee beans in coffee roaster.
The Bluestone Lane Roastery in action. Photo Jai Lott

BL: How many pounds of coffee do you think you’ve roasted in your career?

JJ: Oh man.  Well, just doing the numbers it looks like I’ve roasted about 200,000 lbs.  My old roaster only roasted 12 pounds at a time though.  Haha, yeah that took a lot of time.  

BL: Why roasting?

JJ: Huh, haha I dont know.  I’ve never really thought of that.  I really like crafts.  I like tasks where you can make a small adjustment and see a big result.  And I really like the struggle for constant improvement.  In many ways, roasting scratches some kind of deep OCD itch in me.  Learning about coffee personally made me realize how disconnected I had become from my food sources.  It made me want to connect with the people who grew my food, learn about their lives, what makes them tick, what makes them passionate, that kind of thing.  And what really excites me about roasting is being able to share the hard work and passion of our farmers and producers with people.