Beyond the grind: Meet the man tasked with ensuring quality of Hampton Coffee

Oscar Amada inside the company’s Southampton roastery. (Credit: David Benthal)

Many people say coffee is their lifeblood, that caffeine-loaded cups power them through Monday morning meetings and Friday afternoon slumps.

For Hampton Coffee Company’s Oscar Amada, however, coffee does more than fuel his grind — it is his grind. 

“I sample coffee. I grind coffee. I roast coffee. I live coffee,” said the company’s 32-year-old roastmaster. “It’s impossible to ballpark how many cups I drink every day. I am always tasting and experimenting.”

Amada starts his day at 7:30 a.m. at the Hampton Coffee Experience Store in Southampton. The space, a former Mini Cooper car dealership, is a hub of coffee cultivation for the roastmaster.

The front of the coffeehouse is as familiar as any of Hampton Coffee’s four East End locations, which include a shop on the western edge of the North Fork in Aquebogue. The smell of coffee fills the room, shelves are stocked with freshly roasted beans and baked goods sit front and center nearest the barista. But the Southampton location is more than a café; it’s where Amada lays the groundwork for the company’s signature blends.

“The first thing I do is taste the coffee being brewed for the day to make sure it’s up to Hampton Coffee standards,” he explained. “I try my best to taste all the coffee we have — it’s a lot, but I don’t complain.”

That was not always the case.

Growing up on the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada, Amada watched as his grandfather harvested beans from the garden, grinding and roasting them by hand each morning to sip on his way to work. Amada took an instant liking to the process — though not so much to the result.

“At first taste I thought, ‘This is horrible!’ ” he said of his introduction to coffee. “That was when I was a young kid. Now I depend on coffee.”

Freshly roasted coffee beans on display. (Credit: David Benthal)

The Riverhead resident first came to the States on a work visa when he was fresh out of high school. As a 16-year-old, he worked in the construction industry and part-time at Hampton Coffee. His time spent with hammers and nails was short. Amada had found his passion in roasting green coffee beans straight from the bag. He eventually landed a full-time position at the coffeehouse, working his way up from the bottom.

“I was bagging coffee, cleaning the floors — whatever needed to be done I would do just to get close with the roaster,” he recalled. “I wanted to roast coffee right away, but the first thing you learn are the machines. You need to be able to operate the machines, keep them functional and keep them clean. Then you get into roasting coffee.”

Much of his training came from brotherly love. Dwight Amada, Oscar’s older brother, is the former roastmaster at Hampton Coffee. Following in his footsteps, Oscar moved into a roaster position seven years ago and was elevated to roastmaster in 2016.

“I learned as much as I could from my brother,” Amada said. “Back then we roasted in our Water Mill location. We moved the roasting operation to Southampton in 2013 as the company started growing. I didn’t realize how big coffee was then. When I saw the wholesale department, I was amazed to see how big the coffee industry really is.”

Today, Amada roasts 100 small batches each day.

“It’s very important to us that our coffee is roasted in small batches every day,” said Edythe Collins, Hampton Coffee Company’s public relations and marketing manager. “No matter where you’re getting our coffee, it has been roasted within two days of when you receive it.”

After sampling the coffee in the front of the house, Amada turns his attention to the roastery in the back. He cleans the machines and decides the lineup for the day. The schedule is dictated by the needs of the consumers — not just the ones inside Hampton Coffee, but by the orders the company receives from the dozens of restaurants, coffeehouses and markets from Manhattan to Montauk that stock Hampton Coffee.

“I’ll know what I need for the week, with a little surprise,” said Amada. “I have a good idea and then a customer orders a different blend or roast.”

The finished product ready for consumption. (Credit: David Benthal)

Demand is expected to become a touch less predictable as the company continues to grow. Hampton Coffee recently rolled out franchising opportunities to expand the scope of the business beyond its Water Mill, Southampton, Westhampton and Aquebogue coffeehouses.

The company turns to small coffee plantations around the globe, including Sumatra and South America, and Amada’s attention to detail to ensure the quality remains consistent. Hampton Coffee has put a strong emphasis on where its green beans are sourced since its flagship Water Mill location opened in 1994.

“Our customers like to know where their coffee is coming from and how it’s handled,” Collins said. “We can tell you when the roast was done based on our roasting schedule. It tells a story about the cup you’re drinking.”

Amada works with a broker to secure beans and often buys directly from the farmers.

“We go visit farms, but we also get samples sent to us,” he said. “We’ll roast the samples and taste the coffee — it’s called cupping. We pick from the best. I am looking for the quality of the bean — that they are equal in size, that they roast evenly, and the taste. The most important thing is the taste.”

Taste comes with knowing the beans. Brazilian green beans roasted for 35 to 45 minutes at 410 degrees Fahrenheit makes for the perfect light brew, while Colombian green beans roasted for 45 to 50 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit make the best dark roast. Mix the two recipes and the magic is lost.

“It’s up to you how you want the end product to come out,” Amada said. “There are so many different types of coffee you can roast and so many ways. You can have the same type of coffee bean and roast it 10 different ways and it will taste different 10 times. If the roastmaster doesn’t know what he’s doing, then it doesn’t matter if you buy the best beans in the world.”