Roast of the coast

Situated right along the Route 113 corridor, just north of Millsboro, the Indian River Espresso and Coffee Company has been one of lower Delaware’s best-kept secrets for five years. Owner and “roastmaster” Dennis Lasher has been singlehandedly helping hundreds of people nationwide wake up to some of the most exotic and richest blends of coffee and espresso from across the globe.

Coastal Point • Ryan Saxton: Owner of Indian River Espresso and Coffee Company, Dennis Lasher has been roasting and serving coffee to area residents and others around the country for years.Coastal Point • Ryan Saxton
Owner of Indian River Espresso and Coffee Company, Dennis Lasher has been roasting and serving coffee to area residents and others around the country for years.

“It’s a great business,” said Lasher, who switched over to the coffee industry after acquiring the company through a friend.

Every few months, Lasher receives 130- to 150-pound bags of coffee beans, coming from lands stretching everywhere throughout Central America to South America, Africa and parts of Asia. They are then prepared and shipped across the country or brewed right in the shop for customers stopping by on their morning or afternoon commute.

Indian River Espresso and Coffee caters to java drinkers from Florida to the state of Washington, from Massachusetts to California, and everywhere in between.

“I’m out here mailing orders of coffee every day,” said Lasher.

Each packaged order is unique in flavor and body. From the traditional Columbia blend to the citrus hint in Ethiopian’s Yirgacheffe harvest, there’s something for everyone. There are a variety of organic coffees available, as well. The authenticity and freshness of each sip speak for themselves, as Lasher tends to steer clear of flavored coffees.

“Every person’s taste is different,” said Lasher, who is partial to an African coffee referred to as Kenya AA. “It all depends on what you like.”

For customers looking for a little stronger of a pick-me-up, there are espresso selections, such as the classic northern Italian flavor, or the smooth Tiger roast, the company’s best-selling espresso.

Frequent customer John McLaughlin drives up to Millsboro at least twice a week from Ocean Pines, Md., for a few pounds of the espresso.

“This is really the best coffee around,” said McLaughlin, “and there’s a great selection to choose from. [Dennis] takes his work very seriously.”

Indeed, one step inside the aroma-filled shop, and it’s easy to see the science and detail that go into Lasher’s process. Plastic containers, labeled with portioned beans from a variety of countries line the shelves. Beside an authentic Italian coffee bean roaster is a notebook in which Lasher tracks and records the recipes. Next to that, the cooling pan of a larger roaster churns the beans until the temperature is brought down.

Getting the right temperature and time in the roaster requires meticulous attention, as a few degrees higher or minute longer can be the difference between a robust Columbian full-body and a burnt batch.

Grinders regulated at a precise setting prepare the beans, grinding them down to just the right fineness, to prevent the coffee from tasting too bitter. The coffee is packaged minutes after orders are made, and, in most cases, they are shipped the next day, to ensure the freshest taste upon arrival, even if that means they’re heading across the country.

“Everything’s done right here,” Lasher said proudly. “I get it all ready for the customers, aside from picking the beans. There’s no middleman. Once I get the beans, I do everything that puts the coffee in your cup.”

And, working with his customers, Lasher has developed a connection with them that is unsurpassed by your typical café shop.

“I offer that personal service you can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “All of my customers talk directly to me. Those who know about the coffee either drive past here or have friends or family who have told them about it.”

Lasher has mailed his coffee throughout the country, to more than 200 customers to date.

Aside from getting great coffee, customers who stop in can learn something, too.

“People usually walk out of here knowing a little more than they already did about the coffee,” noted Lasher.

The international coffee industry is constantly evolving, from harvest seasons and techniques to the introduction of new blends. Indian River Espresso and Coffee Company works with farmers worldwide, but the ones that Lasher aims for are the shade-grown farms and those belonging to the Rainforest Alliance.

Lasher said these farming techniques benefit sustainable agriculture, in which the farms give back as much to the land and people as they receive, seeking independence from non-renewable resources and taking extra measures to minimize pollution and care for the environment and its employees.

While Indian River Coffee blends are available at several locations in Kent and northern Sussex counties, it’s still a well-kept secret to much of the world, as marketing the product, on top of preparing and shipping it, would be quite a task for one man to do alone. And that’s fine with Lasher.

“The business is a good size right now,” Lasher said “It keeps me busy, and it’s easy to give my customers what they like.”

Indian River Espresso and Coffee Company is located on 28300 S. DuPont Highway, just north of Millsboro, and is open Monday through Wednesday, from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. For more information, stop in or call (302) 236-9444.