Broadsheet Coffee Roasters’ Scientific Approach

Broadsheet Coffee RoastersPhoto by Irina M. / IM Creative Photography.

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100 Kirkland St., (617) 945-2867

Remnants of Aaron MacDougall’s former life as a high-up finance man are evident: his charisma, his sharply logical thought processes, the strength of his handshake. But he’s traded in his suits for sneakers, or, as he puts it, “I ran a big trading team, it was a massive business, and [now] I’m washing dishes on the weekends.” And he’s very happy about the swap.

MacDougall grew up in Cambridge and Newton, and went to Harvard. His finance career landed him in Hong Kong, and let him retire early to Hawaii. While that scenario might seem idyllic to many, MacDougall was itching to convince his wife to move back to Cambridge.

In Hawaii, he channeled his excess energy—of which there was plenty—into a budding coffee passion. Disappointed with the variety of coffee options in the state, he took to home brewing.

“When I started to get coffee crazy, and was cluttering our kitchen, at one point I had probably three espresso machines in the kitchen, and like five grinders,” he says.

MacDougall’s interest in coffee continued to grow as he moved to Greater Boston five years ago with his wife and son, who is now 9. He’s honed his palate and skills, placing high in large coffee tasting and roasting competitions. He was tempted out of retirement, and opened Broadsheet Coffee Roasters in July 2017.

Broadsheet Coffee Roasters

Aaron MacDougall. Photo by Irina M. / IM Creative Photography.

The coffee shop is clearly defined by MacDougall’s precise approach to roasting. The focus is on the quality of the coffee, which is why he recommends a straightforward drink to first-time customers. “Coffee nerds like myself typically gravitate more toward brewed coffee, because it gives you the truest signal of what the coffee is all about. So I would say have a cup of hot batch coffee, or drip coffee. And if possible, wait until it’s a little bit cooler. Try it without milk, try it without sugar first, if possible, just so you can taste what the coffee itself tastes like.”

MacDougall makes sure to filter and re-mineralize the water used at Broadsheet, decrying the quality of Cambridge’s tap water. He took equal care in choosing a coffee roaster, and says the one in the shop is the most environmentally friendly one available.

“We use a lot of tools to measure the coffee. When people think about coffee, there’s a school of thought that says it’s an art, there’s a school of thought that says it’s an engineering, or more scientific process, and I’m very much in that latter camp,” he says. “When I roast, I’m taking a lot of data on a real-time basis, logging data from four different thermometers … looking at things like the rate of heat transfer.”

Having a coffee roaster onsite to begin with speaks to Broadsheet’s focus on coffee quality. Most shops roast their coffee elsewhere, MacDougall explains, but he wanted to make the roasting a tangible experience for his customers and employees. The City of Cambridge told MacDougall that Broadsheet was the first place to operate a commercial coffee roaster in the city, he says.

While MacDougall describes coffee as his “first love” at Broadsheet, he and his team have put a lot of thought into other aspects of the shop. A bright “COFFEE” sign faces the street through the glass facade, offering a glimpse into its bright, clean interior. MacDougall wanted to open Broadsheet in Cambridge because he saw a diverse community that he thought could engage with him in his “geeky” coffee passion.

Broadsheet also offers food, ranging from breakfast sandwiches to Georgian egg boats to potato crust quiche (part of the weekend brunch menu). MacDougall recommends that first-time customers pair their black coffee with the beet hummus sandwich, and opt to top it with halloumi cheese and an egg.

“I think we’re adding to the conversation. It’s a different type of coffee shop,” he says. “It isn’t your corner coffee shop, it isn’t a chain, it’s something that has been put together intentionally and very conscientiously. We drill down on the coffees, we drill down on the roasting process, we drill down on the brewing process, so we actually know a lot about coffee.”

This story originally appeared in the 2018 Scout’s Honored issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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