Radio Roasters’ Chip Grabow turned his love of coffee into a business

Plus 12 other questions for the Scottdale coffee roaster
Photo by Whitney Ott

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. A former radio producer, Chip Grabow is a CNN editor and runs Radio Roasters Coffee, a Scottdale-based single-origin coffee roaster. 

Why did you decide to take roasting coffee from a hobby to a business?
It might not sound believable, but it never was just “a hobby.”  I always thought of it as “I want to start a specialty coffee roasting company. What do I have to do to get there?” Of course, I did practice roasts at home for a few months and didn’t immediately start out with the operation we have now. But if it ever was a “hobby,” it was not at that stage very long before I knew I wanted to pursue it as a business.

What was your first experience with coffee?
My first coffee was finishing the dregs of my dad’s coffee growing up. He would add a little cream to it, which kind of reminded me of coffee ice cream. As a kid, I always would get coffee ice cream. I really got into coffee in high school. I went to boarding school where I was the only kid in the dorm who had my own little coffee maker. I was making seriously dark-roasted espresso, assuming that it was really strong and really good. It was kind of a European affectation that went in hand with the music some of my friends were listening to.

How did you get into media?
I was always fascinated with documentaries, but I ended up being an English major because I wanted to be a good writer and see how I could pursue film through there. I was also a big public radio fan even in high school, so I decided to do an internship. Christian Science Monitor had a radio outlet in Boston doing radio-style stories, so I did one with them.

What do you listen to?
I stream the BBC music channel Radio 6 Music. I’ve gotten into the French band M83, the Avalanches, and more through it. I just love discovering things that are overlooked, whether it’s bands, products, companies, or podcasts. I am on an endless pursuit of what’s new.

What do you do with your free time?
I have very little free time. The rest of the time I’m spending with my family, my wife and our nine-year-old daughter, Piper. We go to the High. We love traveling. We just had an amazing three weeks in Italy. We went over to see a Christo installation in Northern Italy of floating piers, then we moved down to Venice, Rome, and Tuscany.

If you were in a Starbucks, what would you order?
I am more apt to get an iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. But at Starbucks, probably some sort of iced drink; they do dessert coffee really well. I am not a snob when it comes to coffee.

What was the last TV show you bingewatched?
Downton Abbey or Brooklyn Nine-Nine with my wife. Individually, I am always binging Louie and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

What’s your favorite Atlanta coffee shop?
[For a lot of people] the appeal of the coffee shop is, “Is this a cool place to hang out? Does it have Wi-Fi?” As a roaster, the focus should be on the coffee. But for the spaces they’ve created, Grant Park Octane and Dancing Goats on Ponce.

What was your first concert?
Either the Doobie Brothers or Moody Blues in Indianapolis when I was 12 or 13.

What’s the best-kept secret about your neighborhood, Decatur?
Dish Dive. It’s totally tiny. We don’t want to go out and spend a ton of money at some new trendy restaurant. Dish Dive is really affordable, really amazing, nonpretentious food. I am sucker for their pork belly, and the shakshuka is always good.

What’s the biggest mistake people make when first roasting coffee?
I don’t know the “biggest” mistake other people make when roasting.  I know the biggest one I make, or have made, is taking the roast too deep and covering up all those great origin flavors, like a well-done steak.

What was the last great book you read?
I am tackling Lydia Davis’s short stories. I am huge short story fan; they’re like the espresso of literature.

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
It’s gone way down. Since I’ve been drinking better coffee, I drink less of it. I have an espresso-based drink in the early morning, then maybe late morning a 12-ounce pour-over. After noon, I lose interest.