The American coffee renaissance is, at bare minimum, twenty years old. The '90s saw an upswing in java consumption that ran alongside the exploding information age (maybe you've seen the programming language named after it), the same way the stimulant fueled the the industrial age in times past. And the biggest return to form is local roasting taking the reins from international supercorporations, as the upswing in public demand isn't just for caffeine but quality.

Mike Charleville still sees changes after twenty years of roasting.

"The thing is, even five or six years ago, people were still getting much more educated about coffee, the quality of beans, the differences in roasting styles," he says. It's a trend Earls sees happening even earlier, although he credits a little surprising source. "Starbucks actually did a very good job on educating the public about good coffee," says Earls. He can't resist a dig, though: "Now, we roast our beans, and they burn theirs, but at least they got people in the right direction."

Chauvin Coffee Company’s "Java Joe" Charleville on a delivery.
Chauvin Coffee Company’s "Java Joe" Charleville on a delivery.

Location Info


Chauvin Coffee Company

4160 Meramec St.
St. Louis, MO 63116

Category: Retail

Region: St. Louis - South City

At the beginning of Charleville's career, variety wasn't an option.

"The thing is, Joe was probably only dealing with about three to five different kinds of beans," Earls says. "That's just what was available." Today, the business in St. Louis has reversed: Instead of dozens of companies roasting a few kinds of beans and competing with each other — "Cutthroat doesn't begin to describe it," remembers Tom Charleville — the market instead offers beans imported from Yemen to Indonesia, a wider variety of quality roasts and very few competitors. Names like Blanke and Forbes and Biston have vanished, replaced with Goshen and Kaldi's and Chauvin and Mississippi Mud. How many competitors? "There's really about four of us, give or take," says Earls.

In 2011, the market is more congenial than cutthroat, Earls says, because everyone in the area has pretty much found their niche. "I can't imagine what it was like in Joe's day," he says. (Tom, who rode with his father from the time he was young hauling bags and repairing equipment, remembers: "'You don't sell any coffee out of a desk,' he always told me.")

Since Charleville's time, technique has sharpened. Brewing has changed from the massive steel samovars to one-cup brew baskets. Owing to weather irregularities, political turmoil (prices for Yemen mocha are way up) and commodities trading, the beans are themselves getting pricier. "We got stung a little" in the recent crash, Mike says, "but not bad. There's a lot of things people are willing to give up, but this isn't one of them."

After all, Mike says, "luckily there's much better coffee to drink today then there was back then." One the labels on the packing table at Chauvin is "Joe's Special Blend," a medium roast with a clean finish. Did the old man design it himself?

"Nope," says Earls, "that was Mike. But it was Joe's favorite. And actually, it's our most popular."

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