One day in the grassy mountains of Bali, a sip of coffee changed a man’s life.
Before working as the specialty coffee roaster at Deet's Place, Michael Goetz had worked in the Middle East as a chef. He already liked coffee before his travels, but he usually kept to the standard tin can coffee.
However, while traveling, he decided to try the coffee at his hotel, and it was like nothing he had ever had before. Immediately, Goetz asked a hotel worker if he could have some coffee to take home.
The worker handed him a fistful of green coffee beans.
“I didn’t know anything about it, and I said, ‘What are you supposed to do with this?’ and he says ‘Well, you’re a cook, you’ll figure it out,’” Goetz said.
With no intention of going back to commodity-grade coffee, Goetz conducted internet research to find out how to roast the green coffee beans given to him in Indonesia.
Once he developed a roasting process, he began to order green coffee beans online.
Flash forward to 2010, when Goetz began working at Virginia Tech as a chef in West End. While there, he overheard that Deet's Place, the dining hall coffee shop on campus, needed a coffee roaster.
Goetz wasted no time turning his favorite hobby into his new career.
“Mike has been a wonderful asset in this field,” said Leann Cook, the operations manager at Deet's Place. “His passion really shines through with the product.”
Coffee roasting requires intense focus, and Goetz must monitor the product every 15 seconds as it roasts, looking for cracks and other tiny details. His passion for quality coffee motivates him to pay attention.
“Good coffee, it has real body, it has body and a lot of depth and character and different notes that you can pick out,” Goetz said.
Most coffee fanatics are familiar with how the nuances of coffee tasting overlap with wine tasting.
For example, wines feature hints of oak, pear and other flavors much like coffee naturally sports hints of chocolate, caramel or fruit. Part of the flavor has to do with where the beans were grown, but Goetz can accentuate different flavors through the roasting process.
While Deet's Place serves more than a thousand people each day, some students do not visit the coffee shop as often as they would like because of its location.
“It tastes good, and it’s a better flavor for the price, it’s just far,” said Madison Irving, a junior financial planning major.
For Matt Grimes, the assistant director of Living-Learning Programs, on the other hand, the locality of Deet's Place is part of its attraction, he said.
Grimes regularly hosts office hours in the coffee shop’s spacious booths. While Deet's Place is geographically close to where he works, the shop's pro-organic, pro-local outlook is also close to his heart.
“I have a practice of supporting local businesses, and... I consider this the local coffee shop,” Grimes said. “I’d rather drink coffee here than go to Panera as a chain, and honestly I’d rather drink it here than at ABP or Dunkin Donuts.”
Goetz also asserts that while Dining Services is anything but a small operation, Deet's Place houses the personality of a small, local company, which gives him room to experiment and treat his customers and coworkers to different flavors and baked goods.
“He is always surprising us with specialties,” Cook said. “(When he roasted) the Mexican coffee bean, he ended up fixing us little breads to go along with it, and that’s just something he does. He is a very kind man.”
Goetz not only works behind the scenes of each cup, but shares the process with students through Coffee College 101, an informative series held yearly by Deet's Places. With the help of his coworkers, he teaches students about the rigorous process that coffee seeds undergo.
For example, at the last Coffee College, Goetz explained how growers in Indonesia keep the young coffee plants shaded from the radiating sun and water them frequently. They hand pick the coffee “cherries,” which is the term for the coffee fruit harvested. The baskets full of cherries, which they carry on their heads, weigh an average of 32 pounds.
Next, the cherries are processed by hand and delivered by boat to other countries. They are carefully isolated, because beans absorb other flavors like a sponge. Goetz said he loves to travel and witness the process firsthand.
“In America, we are kind of sequestered from things like where our food comes from. In other places, it is right there in front of you,” Goetz said. “When I drink some kind of coffee, I always think about the exotic location where it came from and the people that work on it.”
Goetz said he hopes to eventually partner with families in regions all around the world to ensure that Deet's Place enjoys only top-notch quality coffee. Until then, his biggest goal is to attract all java lovers and make Deet's Place a sanctuary for those who share his passion for coffee.
"If I could go back to Bali today, I would go back and find the kid that sold me the coffee and tell him to take me to the farm and see if I could start something up with them," Goetz said.