Remembering Dustin Demers

The tragic loss of San Francisco roaster Dustin Demers is felt by local and national coffee community

BY SARAH ALLEN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Here is the one-line summary Dustin Demers offered to best describe himself: “Continual education in all things coffee is how I spend most of my time.”

To anyone who had the great fortune to know Dustin, who heartbreakingly lost his life while at home in San Francisco on January 26, this makes perfect sense. Dustin was serious and kind, generous and thoughtful. He was quiet and introspective. That he became a celebrated specialty-coffee roaster is no surprise at all.

Dustin found his way into roasting as a home enthusiast, and went on to work at Orivor Coffee and Stanza Coffee before staking claim to a project that would be all his own, Turning Point Coffee Roasters, in May of 2014.

Pinhole Coffee shared this photo on November 25, 2015, of Dustin when he dropped off some freshly roasted Turning Point Coffee in San Francisco.

Dustin’s best friend, Tom Chips, set up a Go Fund Me page immediately following Dustin’s passing as a way to raise money for his family to cover necessary costs they will face in Dustin’s wake. The tendernesses and sympathies from the coffee community have come as a virtual deluge, with woeful expressions of grief, as well as distinct memories of the beautiful person Dustin was flooding the page along with donations that have already passed the halfway mark on the suggested fundraising goal. (To donate, follow this link.)

In response, Dustin’s family communicated a message of gratitude to the coffee community, which Tom shared on the memorial page:

The outpouring of love and generosity here is a precious balm. What a heart-warming surprise to learn that so many considered themselves to be Dustin’s friends. We (Dustin’s dad: Tom, step-mom: Lisa, mother: Lee, and brothers: Damon, Jack and Joe) want you all to know that your joy in expressing your friendship and care means the world to us. Your kindness softens the edges of our sharp and searing loss.

There has been no shortage of beautiful, heart-rending writing about the incredibly gracious and sagacious man Dustin was. Here, we share the thoughts and perspectives of some of the friends who knew him best.

From Tom Chips, Home-Barista.com
Everyone here knew Dustin was going to be something big. I saw it early on when he was a barista at local cafes in San Francisco and a home roaster planning on starting his own business in roasting. He achieved a status that very few others are capable of doing, in short order. 
 
Dustin Demers started out in coffee as a barista, both in Mississippi and later, here in the Bay Area of California. He was known by many for his laser-like focus on details, his rigorous testing of new ideas, and his dedication to delivering the best out of a coffee was unparalleled. Many, including myself, have said that he was already getting viewed as one of the best roasters in the country. He was that damn good. He could shatter many a sacred cow because he didn’t rely on inherited wisdom. He tested and worked over everything by the sweat of his brow until he knew it better than most.
 
We started out together as hobbyist roasters, hovering over our small Quest sample roasters burning our noses together. Whereas I would profile a coffee three or four times and be happy with most results, Dustin would pour tenfold effort into getting the absolute best out of every bean, even if that meant running 15 or more sample profiles, just to get started on what “was working,” as he’d say, for that coffee. Then he’d double down and hone on that profile until it was mastered. He became one of the finest roasters on the West Coast by his extremes in effort and nothing else. He kept meticulous records of every single roast, archived so he could also refer back to them when new crop arrived, so he’d have a profile to compare to for the new coffee.
 
Dustin was a one-man operation. Yet he painstakingly worked to deliver quality that to others would be seen as just too much work and settle for an easier route. He would pour through 10 times as many green coffee samples (and this, for just one region, i.e. a washed Ethiopia) as businesses much larger than him, then pick the very best one and stockpile it for his customers, perfectly preserved in vacuum-sealed Mylar bags and stored in commercial freezing conditions. He did this for all his coffees, and he did it all by himself. And he spoke very little of it. His coffee spoke for him.
 
His focus was unmatched. His flag quickly climbed, and he became known in the industry as someone you wanted to know or have on your team. He roasted samples for the largest auction lot coffees, for some of the biggest names in the business, showcasing those excellent beans in their absolute finest light to potential buyers worldwide. Being a close friend of Dustin’s meant you’d be witness to some of the greatest coffee experiences one can have.
 
Dustin was caring, dedicated to his craft, and driven beyond average. He wanted nothing more than to fulfill his own dream of owning a roasting business of the highest quality possible. He achieved that in short order.
He left this world too soon. 
Alicia Brown shared this photo of Dustin upon hearing of his passing.
From Thompson Owen, Amanda Amato, and Dan Wood, Sweet Maria’s Coffee
We first met Dustin as an enthusiastic home roaster, who over time developed his love and commitment to coffee quality into a roasting business, Turning Point. He was an enthusiastic member of our close-knit Bay Area coffee roasting community, and brought with him a sense of curiosity and desire to know for himself what worked best. He wasn’t content to just turn the beans the right shade of brown; he kept extensive records of roast profiles and notes. Dustin had an intense curiosity about coffee that was easily identifiable, even palpable, and it seemed clear that he was able to turn his passion into a business, without losing sight of his passion.

One encounter we had that has stuck with us is a moment of humility on his part—a side that I think people in general have trouble showing, and one that might seem especially rare in coffee roasters (!): We hosted an event at our warehouse and invited all the local roasters we could think of to bring roasts of coffees they were particularly proud of. Dustin brought the opposite. Everyone took turns talking about the coffee they roasted, and the “magic” they pulled in order to achieve excellence. (OK, I’m exaggerating a little.) But when it was Dustin’s turn, there was no boasting, and he instead shared with us the trouble he was having finding the right roast development for this particular coffee, and asked for advice from the group. It was a small moment, but an impressive one, and I think everyone there was struck by his modesty. Without knowing him well, this seems to be consistent with what others have said about Dustin: that he was always ready to listen to what others had to say, and also willing to share his own knowledge from an experiential standpoint.

It goes without saying that we will miss seeing Dustin around, whether running into him at brunch in Oakland or at SCAA Expo, sharing a cupping table, (over)loading the Honda Fit he picked up from City Car Share with six bags of coffee, or, as Amanda mentioned, about the last time we saw him, getting your hair stuck in his incredible beard that he’d grown when you’re on hugging terms with him. Our hearts go out to Dustin’s friends and family. He will be missed.

To read more from those who loved Dustin, you can visit the Remembering Dustin Demers Facebook page HERE. To donate to the Dustin Demers memorial fund, go HERE.

Rest in peace, brother.

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