Thompson Owen started the company 20 years ago in Columbus, Ohio, out of a basement and sold beans online. “It was back in the day when Friends was on TV,” said co-owner Maria Troy, who is also Owen’s wife. “You had these cafes where people go and hang out, but the coffee was terrible.”
The company moved to Emeryville in 2002, and then to a warehouse in West Oakland. In 2016, they moved into an even larger, West Oakland warehouse twice the size of the previous location. They’re among several food businesses in West Oakland, including Hodo (formerly Hodo Soy), the new Ghost Town Brewing, and artisanal spirits-maker Wright & Brown Distilling Co.
Sweet Maria’s ships beans mostly to people in the U.S., who hear about them largely through word-of-mouth. While they might be one of the largest green coffee bean wholesalers in the country, Troy adds that home roasting is still a tiny part of the coffee industry. “The whole world of home roasting is extremely small,” she said.
Nowadays, you can get green coffee on eBay and Amazon, but Troy says they take a quality approach, selecting each bean from different importers — year-round, they sell about 60 bean varieties, which vary by season. Chain shops mostly use blends so the coffee tastes consistent throughout the year. But some people may prefer variety, and some want a hands-on approach.
“There’s this trend in people being interested in the quality of the things they consume,” Troy said. “People have an interest in producing things themselves — you can make your own bread, you can make your own kombucha. Home roasting is something that’s pretty easy and you get pretty good results, even better than some specialty coffee shops.”
Sweet Maria’s currently ships to about 2,500 home roasters a week, including many regular customers. Green coffee stays good on the shelf for six months, and once roasted, Troy says it should be consumed within a week. Sweet Maria’s also has Coffee Shrub, which is their arm that sells to retailers. Modern Coffee, which has three locations in downtown Oakland, buys beans from Coffee Shrub but roasts all of the coffee themselves. Timeless Coffee, which has locations on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland and College Avenue in Berkeley, also roasts in-house, using beans from Coffee Shrub.
While home roasting may seem daunting, Troy says that it’s pretty basic. “If you can get your hands on green coffee, it’s actually a pretty simple process to roast at home,” Troy said. “You can roast in a toaster oven, hot air popcorn popper, on the stove in a frying pan or wok. And of course, you have to have a grinder, but you can do these things in your kitchen.”
Sweet Maria’s sells starter kits to and is open to walk-in customers during business hours on weekdays at 2823 Adeline St. They’ve offered roasting classes in the past, and will be launching new classes soon.