Co-owner Michael Gesser roasts coffee at Alaska Coffee Roasting Company in North Miami, Friday, Nov. 2. Located at 13130 Biscayne Blvd., the café offers estate coffees from a variety of regions across the world, sandwiches, wood-fired pizzas, as well as cakes, pastries, and breads baked in house. DANIEL BOCK / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD
By Brittny Valdes
Read in The Miami Herald
Michael Gesser left his New York home at age 17 to travel the world.
On his first trip to Africa, he learned about coffee and discovered what would become a lifelong passion.
Years later, after settling in Alaska and making a living working on ships, it dawned on Gesser, now 61, that there was no place to sit and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
He opened the first Alaska Coffee Roasting Company in 1992 in the university town of Fairbanks. It has become a community hangout and has created a coffeehouse culture that did not exist before.
Last year, Gesser brought that culture to North Miami when he and his sister opened an Alaska Coffee Roasting Company on Biscayne Boulevard.
“All I’ve ever said is, there’s no good coffee in Miami,” said Karen Tuvia, 52, Gesser’s sister.
Tuvia, who moved to Miami with her parents after her brother began to travel, hated coffee until she visited her brother in Alaska.
“I would buy it from Michael’s shop in Alaska and he would have it shipped to me,” she said.
She was thrilled when their chatting – for a decade – about opening a second coffee house in North Miami finally became a reality.
The Alaska Coffee Roasting Company imports beans from many coffee-growing regions of the world, including Africa, Indonesia, Asia and the Americas, all listed on a chalkboard above the cashier.
Gesser thinks the taste of coffee should take a patron back to its origin.
“We can get the coffee to exactly where it came from,” he said.
The coffee’s origin determines what temperatures bring out its essence, so the Alaska Coffee Roasting Company uses a special process to roast the coffee to the desired degree.
Gesser said the roaster is what gives his coffee a distinguishing quality and identity.
Although the roasting of the beans matters, Gesser said the final taste also relies on how the beans are transported and preserved. He works to lock in the beans’ natural oils and smells while they’re transported, and then freezes them immediately after roasting.
The coffee house sells their coffee directly from the freezers.
Gesser continues to travel between Alaska and North Miami while Tuvia runs the coffee house.
Their food menu includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, signature pizzas, and desserts.
“Everything is fresh baked, from the dough to breads and pot pies. There are no preservatives,” she said.
Tuvia also said she is slowly picking up Miami flavors, like Dulce de Leche, and adding it to the menu.
Photographs of Alaska’s wildlife adorn the interior of the coffee house while talented locals make up the baristas, bakers and staff.
“I prefer to produce onsite and use local talent,” said Gesser. “It makes the cafe more family-like.”
Whatever the coffee house is doing is working, said Trent Orr, a regular customer.
“I continue to come back,” said Orr. “It’s a great place to be.”
Mary Hurtak, 20, who has been working there for six months, agrees.
“It’s a mom and pop shop, so the managers treat their employees like family,” she said. “People often come in to order the coffee from their home origin,” said Hurtak.
Simplicity is the reason for the Alaska Coffee Roasting Company’s success, Gesser said.
“I mastered the art of [having a] passion and letting things fall into their natural state.”