In March of 2020 when the pandemic parked buses and shuttered venues across the country, Chicago-based touring professionals Jimmy Ibanez and Rick Roman found themselves staring into the void that had become virtually every roadie’s reality.
The break in touring left their production lives in furlough, but it also created an opportunity to dive headfirst into their other passion: coffee. Roman’s affection for roasting raw beans and Ibanez’s desire to present a perfectly crafted cup created a new avenue for the office-sharing colleagues. The two capitalized on their newfound free time and created Backstage Coffee Roasters (BCR).
“There are so many people in the touring industry who are amazing at what they do,” says Roman. “You can’t help but be in awe of the passion that these people have for putting on a great show. If you’re not moved by that environment to deliver a superior product, then you’re in the wrong crowd. Our coffee is a reflection of that. The work ethic of our industry drives the passion for our company.”
The road to Roman’s love for cracking coffee beans started at a young age. “Growing up in a Mexican family, coffee stood out as a staple during morning breakfast,” he recalls, “the spoon stirring in the right amount of sugar every morning was fascinating to watch.”
The hands that grow and deliver the beans to their roasting location in Chicago are held in high regard. Roman’s grandfather instilled the idea that harvesting a living out of the ground was an honor: “Everyone wins when the producer of the bean is in a healthy partnership with the roaster.”
If Roman is the roasting master behind BCR, then Ibanez is the caffeine. He put in tireless hours to bring their two-person operation into existence. From tax IDs to building the website, the design of the product bags to hands-on marketing, he cares for the business as much as Roman cares for the beans.
Typical of touring professionals, systems they’ve put in place streamline their processes. Ibanez speaks about his planning notebook as if it’s his child. He also takes on the role of head barista to ensure the taste the two discovered during their initial cupping phase translates when the beans are used in different brewing methods. “We give ourselves time to play with the coffee and get different things out of it,” he adds. “I love the brewing part.”
As office mates at their former production company, they would discuss coffee daily and share the dream of one day opening up a small shop of their own. “Jimmy would talk about how he loved this coffee shop and that coffee shop.” Roman says, “He was always introducing me to new ways of consuming coffee.”
When setting out to create their blends, they select each bean with care to meet their standards, approaching the cupping process with a goal in mind of developing the exact flavor they want to achieve after roasting. After making their selection, they put the beans through a thorough testing and tasting process.
“We have a blend called Rigger, a dark Columbian bean,” Roman adds. “The first time that Jimmy prepared it for me after we roasted it, he prepared it in an espresso style, and I absolutely loved it because he hit it on the spot.”
A Trio Of Options
BCR currently offers three flavors: the aforementioned Rigger, with beans from Columbia, is a medium-dark roast; Headliner is a Mexican Chiapas, and Roadie is a medium Guatemalan roast. It’s also paramount that the product packaging look great while properly maintaining the freshness of the beans.
“Jimmy put a lot of time and effort into making sure our bags release the gasses properly,” Roman adds. “He just wants a great cup of coffee – that’s it – end of story.”
Through rigorous testing on a gig this past fall, the crew I was with found that drinking the coffees in an order that made logical sense fit the bill. Rigger was first in and got us going through mid-morning. We switched Roadie around noon to keep us perked up during long daytime “talking head” sessions, and then Headliner got us through evening sessions of mixing and didn’t leave us too jazzed to walk it down at the end of the night.
Years after his experiments roasting beans out of a popcorn popper on loading docks, Roman has made serious upgrades to his rig: “We now roast on a 1985 Probat GE12 roaster, a very artisanal machine. It all comes down to heat, air, and drum speed. Every coffee bean wants to be roasted a little bit differently to bring out the full flavor. Once you find the profile for a particular bean, you stick with it.”
The same care that goes into prepping an arena sound system is devoted to the details behind the delivery method of their beans. “You want your loudspeakers to look black from the first load-in to the last load-in, and the same goes for Backstage Coffee,” Roman concludes. “We want it to taste the best from the first pour to the last.”
An Update From The Clinic
With the fast-paced re-opening of our industry, we found it imperative to get some essential training for our team, starting with Suicide Prevention + Mental Health education with Hope for the Day (HFTD) in Chicago. I’m thrilled to share that I’ve started my official training to be an adjunct instructor for HFTD, which will allow me the ability to offer this education through The Clinic, under their umbrella.
In addition, TEMPO (Training and Empowering Musicians to Prevent Overdose) has officially launched, and we’ve already been able to train two roadies in overdose prevention and how to administer Naloxone. They each now have a box of Naloxone to bring along on their upcoming tours. This means that there are two tours out there who have the ability to save a life from opioid overdose. Let’s make it more! Reach out for more info at [email protected].
We also offer our thanks for new sponsors who have recently come onboard in support of our efforts, including Ultimate Ears, Optimized Touring and the Choose Your Attitude apparel brand. – Courtney Klimson