Psychologist Follows Slow-Roasted, Highly Caffeinated Dream

Tucked among the summer crop of food trucks in Anchorage is a vintage bus, a frying pan, and an exceptionally mellow public school psychologist following a highly-caffeinated dream.

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Uncle Leroy's Coffee parked at the Muldoon Farmers Market. Hillman/KSKA
Uncle Leroy’s Coffee parked at the Muldoon Farmers Market. Hillman/KSKA

The inside of the bus is open and simple. A few of the original 1960s era benches flank the sides of a coffee counter where a teakettle sits on one corner. A two-burner propane stove stands against a wall.

Austin Schwartz pours green coffee beans into a pan and sets a timer. For the next 8 minutes, he slowly shuffles them around.

“Never try to rush the roast,” he says as he slowly swirls his wooden spoon. “It will all happen. In the eight minutes for the first crack. And then just a few extra minutes.”

From his demeanor, it’s unclear if Schwartz has ever actually tasted coffee. “I think people usually regard me as an easy-going person who has a lot of patience,” he says. “I work in the schools with teachers and kids, so I have a lot of practice with patience.”

But he didn’t exhibit that quality when jumping into his new summer venture – Uncle Leroy’s Coffee. Schwartz says he’s always loved a good cup of joe. Then, last December, he had his first cup of small batch roasted coffee, and his adoration bumped up a notch. He bought some green beans and started roasting at home. Less than a month later he saw an old bus on Craigslist, and by June, he had opened up his new mobile coffee roasting shop.

“I’m a day dreamer, so I have ideas. And when I have an idea, sometimes I like to see if I can actualize it. Kind of follow through on it,” he pauses, looking down at the pan. “Because I don’t want to live with regret.”

Now, he drives his aging bus slowly around the city, hoping not to stall in traffic. He pulls into farmers markets, parking lots and food carnivals, roasting and serving simple, black pour-over coffee. No espresso, no lattes.

Austin Schwartz roasts coffee in the back of his vintage bus. Hillman/KSKA
Austin Schwartz roasts coffee in the back of his vintage bus. Hillman/KSKA

“The bus is actually really nice for roasting because there’s so many windows,” he explains as the bus begins to fill with smoke, coffee smell filling the air.

The beans start to turn different shades of brown, bouncing about the pan like low-key popcorn.

Schwartz says he can roast about four pounds per hour, then he grinds it up, one cup at a time, serving it like was done 150 years ago. Slowly, patiently, yet still buzzing.