If you're remotely familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, you know that Jake Schroeder isn't the first out-of-control drinker to trade alcohol for coffee. (There are more java-dependent people at an AA meeting than there are at a Starbucks employee convention.) But few reformed tipplers have taken addiction transferral as far as Schroeder, the lead singer of Opie Gone Bad and the Colorado Avalanche's soulful "Star Spangled Banner" belter.
Schroeder woke up and smelled the coffee two years ago. When he quit drinking, he started pursuing a caffeine-fueled obsession that led to Jake's Joe, his own business. Today Schroeder and his partner, sister-in-law Becky Berzins, roast and deliver small batches of top-shelf beans, giving customers primo coffee and Schroeder a guilt-free buzz.
"This is one of the only things I figured I could sell where it's okay to get high on my own supply," Schroeder says, speaking over the swoosh and whir of a load of beans spinning in a five-foot-tall coffee roaster in his small, south Denver warehouse. "And I won't get in trouble for driving my car after I've consumed it."
Jake's Joe supplies about a hundred business and residential customers in the area. For $12 a pound (less if they order in bulk), they get beans freshly roasted and blended to their tastes, delivered to their doors by local celebrity Schroeder or his partner. "People are not as impressed when I show up," notes Berzins.
But Schroeder insists that Jake's biggest draw isn't his name, but the fact that his service frees customers from the tyranny of most coffee purchase plans. "They provide you with a coffeemaker," he points out, "and then make you buy their crappy coffee." Schroeder and Berzins, on the other hand, simply provide the beans, which reach buyers a few days after they're roasted. The freshness makes all the difference, they say, because most commercial coffee is long past its short shelf life of 21 days. When ground and brewed, the freshness of Jake's beans shines through in java that's lush with complexity, nuance and layers of elevated flavor.
On this afternoon, Schroeder and Berzins are preparing an order for the $10,000 Diedrich roaster that they purchased with the help of investors. Berzins left a successful but uninspiring real-estate job to be Schroeder's partner. "I had no passion for what I was doing," she says. Now she dumps a couple of pounds of pale green Costa Rican beans into the humming apparatus. The beans tumble past a small window, quickly turning tan, then a warm cinnamon color.
A sound like a roomful of bubble gum-smacking kids issues forth. "First crack," Schroeder says, referring to the point when the beans split and are almost done. As they continue to spin, they darken and gleam with oil, like clothes in a washing machine working in reverse.
Outside, light-gray smoke floats from the chimney, the scent rich with burned chocolate and exotic wood. After a second "crack," Schroeder dumps the blackened beans into a cooling tray. A thicker, more robust smoke floats down from the outdoor stack. "Aren't they pretty?" Berzins asks, rolling the cooling beans in her hand.
But the beauty of Jake's Joe goes beyond attractive coffee. Berzins and Schroeder are hoping to increase their output to about 2,500 pounds of beans per month, which will allow them to buy a bigger roaster, hire a few staffers and start making a profit that would supplement Schroeder's music projects. "I'm always going to play in one form or another," he says. "This is certainly going to allow me to make music more of a creative endeavor than a moneymaking endeavor."
Java success will also help Schroeder support a youth-hockey program, the Denver Cubs, that he and former Av Shjon Podein started in 2000; Schroeder, Berzins and their spouses all coach teams in the Cubs organization. The Cubs are part of Denver's Police Activities League, which offers athletic opportunities to at-risk youths in the metro area. Opie Gone Bad raised about $10,000 for the youngsters with a benefit concert at Red Rocks this past summer; Peter Forsberg and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, a pal of Schroeder's, have also contributed. Schroeder hopes to donate a portion of Jake's eventual profits to the league. "Playing hockey is expensive, and a lot of kids don't have the money," he says. "So we're providing a small window of opportunity. We give the kids goals, male role models, teammates, something to do for a few hours every day."
If Jake's Joe perks along as well as he envisions, Schroeder thinks he'll gain "the financial freedom at some point, theoretically, to pursue my charity stuff. I'm kind of a citizen from Opie Gone Bad, and the anthem, and people know me a little bit. I'd like to parlay every little bit of that into something I can do for the community."
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But in the meantime, he's also out to do something for coffee. "It's just like wine," he says. "There are a million different kinds of coffee, a million different beans; you can get them from all over the world and they have different characteristics.
"Coffee is pretty unique," he adds. "Like music, it adds to the very deep pleasures of life. It really makes people happy. Few products have people stumbling over themselves to get to it."
Schroeder stumbled his way to caffeine when he gave up more guilty pleasures a few years ago. "Coffee was an integral part of me changing my lifestyle," he says. "When I quit partying like a moron, I'd go to coffee shops to keep me out of trouble. St. Mark's up on 17th saved my life."
These days, a good cup of coffee delivers dividends on many levels. "I've never been a reflective person, never reflected a whole lot," Schroeder says. "Now I really enjoy sitting down, by myself, drinking a cup of coffee and being thankful for twenty minutes. I feel the warmth of the coffee in my hand; I get the smell of it. All of those things remind me of when I started taking better care of myself."