East Lyme — Many businesses roast their own coffee or provide their own blends, but few can claim a family connection to prime Colombian farmland where some of the best beans in the world are grown.
Niantic resident John Sciarretta, who sells Duke Farms Coffee every Thursday at the downtown farmers market here, said that in 2009 two of his uncles bought a Colombian farm within 15 miles of three volcanoes. The 170-acre farm run by Paul and Fredy Duque harvests coffee in altitudes as high as 11,500 feet, he said, and since May he has been importing the beans and selling them locally to a growing following.
"Our company was the first to bring it into the United States," Sciarretta said.
Operating under the business name Anastasia's Premium Coffee Imports LLC, Sciarretta and his wife and company co-owner, CydMarie Valentin, currently sell their fair-trade product in only three retail locations downtown: Covino's Groceria Italiana, Smith Acres and Ray's Pizza. They are negotiating with others, however, and hope to include a few more retailers soon.
"We like to deal with other family businesses," Sciarretta said.
In addition to the farmers market, Sciarretta also is selling and sampling his so-called Excelso coffee at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall near McCook's Point Beach on Fridays through Wednesdays, giving a percentage of every sale to the VFW. Earlier this month, he introduced locals at the Sailfest and Celebrate East Lyme festivals to the rich-bodied coffee that he sells through his home-based business.
"With ours, you don't have the bitter after-taste," he said. "It's smooth through and through."
While many Americans are convinced that a blend of coffees is better, Sciarretta said the Duke Farms brand demonstrates that a "micro-origin," single-bean premium product is more flavorful.
"We don't blend our beans," he said. "With a blend, only 20 percent is actual product; the rest is lower-quality beans."
While beans of this quality could sell for $50 a pound or more, Sciarretta said that by cutting out the middle man and importing directly from his uncles' farm he can offer the coffee for $16.99 a pound retail, with a lower price for wholesalers.
After testing the local market starting in May, Sciarretta said Duke Farms sales started to take off and he imported his first ton of beans last month. He is selling medium-roast, dark-roast coffee and decaffeinated coffees in pound and half-pound packages, the decaffeinated beans processed without chemicals in a Swiss water bath.
He also offers hand-selected green beans for adventurous coffee lovers who want to roast their own beans.
"We'd like to see this product nationwide," Sciarretta said. "We have a product that basically stands alone."
Sciarretta, a native of New Jersey who admits to having more than a few run-ins with the law in his early years, said he got into the coffee business as a way to make a living while he turned his life around. He had a small painting company for a while, but much of that work dried up last year, and with two small children, 19-month-old Anastasia and 9-month-old Joseph, Sciarretta said he is driven to make a success of his new venture.
"This is exciting to me," he said. "It gives me motivation to wake up in the morning and do something positive for my family."