Aaron Ramaekers

He’s a complete stranger to most of these people, but his work makes their morning coffee ritual possible.

Roasting coffee is cyclical. It always begins and ends the same, and in the middle, there is a metamorphosis.

The coffee fundamentally changes in this middle part. It fades from green to tan to chocolate. It develops a nuanced flavor profile. It reintroduces itself, born anew, to the tune of a thousand tiny crackles. You can look at a process like roasting coffee, see that it repeats itself, and call it redundant. For Aaron Ramaekers, it’s a form of meditation. The sameness is comforting to him, reliable like a friend. After some time, the same thing over and over shifts from conscious to subconscious action, freeing up space in the brain for creativity. This is where Aaron does his best work. He’s on the hook for creating a new blend each week at Yes Plz, a roasting company that puts coffee directly into the mailboxes of their customers via snail mail subscriptions. He clocks 40 hours a week in a near-flow state, tasting, tweaking and fine-tuning constantly. And much to his delight, he can expect each week to begin with blend development and end in a flurry of packaging and shipping his handiwork all over the country. That saves the magic for the middle, where he can settle comfortably into the liberating sameness of roasting.


Aaron is drawn to cycles in all areas of his life.

Out of work he falls to running long distances to clear his head and focus on something not coffee related. A half-marathon is what he refers to as a “short one,” to put things into perspective on what “long distance” means for him. It’s a form of therapy and an escape from living in the congested metropolis of LA. The consistent rhythm of his feet meeting the ground shifts from repetition to meditation after so many miles. It requires focus not to trip over a tree root and halt the momentum he had been building for miles on end. Falling in the middle of a 20-mile run and burning a batch of coffee aren’t dissimilar. They both disrupt a meditative state following the slightest deviation from focus, resulting in chaos in one form or another. But the reward for finding and keeping a consistent stride is worth the risk of skinned knees or 12 pounds of charred coffee - a clear head and a job well done.

Making coffee wasn’t the long-term plan when Aaron started working in the field almost eight years ago. He was working in one of Nordstrom’s café concepts, where he eventually grew into a management role. The gig paid well enough to cover a couple of bills here and there and dovetailed well with his school schedule. He was studying to be an engineer at the time, a field that has a decent overlap with coffee when it comes to tinkering. There are machines to troubleshoot, formulas to scratch out on a piece of scrap paper, and constant fine-tuning to make sure everything is running optimally. Working in coffee was the first job where Aaron got paid to make things with his hands. In his free time, he’s a self-taught musician and enjoys sewing. Working with his hands has always been a natural fit. But coffee offers an opportunity for creative freedom that engineering doesn’t. Aaron eventually decided to stop pursuing his degree and applied the mechanical know-how he learned from school to his work in coffee. He followed his nose to the Bay Area, where he worked with a few beloved speciality roasters. He managed Sightglass Coffee’s first retail account and spent some time at Ritual Coffee Roasters before migrating south to LA, where he eventually settled into a perfect fit.


Two years ago, Aaron started out shadowing Sumi Ali, CEO and co-founder of Yes Plz, who had been balancing all the roasting with his other responsibilities for years and needed some help shouldering that burden.

Aaron had a wealth of barista and café management experience but hadn’t spent much time behind a roaster. Within two days, Sumi turned over the entire roasting operation to Aaron. It was clear he had a firm grip on the mechanics of roasting and would excel at this craft. He also brought a calm patience and respect for the endless cycle of coffee production to the table. 

Aaron’s relationship with Yes Plz turned out to be rather symbiotic. He had primarily worked customer-facing coffee jobs previously, so his career trajectory naturally gravitated toward management. Though he loved the many processes of coffee and all their respective intricacies, he wasn’t excited by the idea of a career in management. Aaron deeply loves coffee and values genuine human connection but is comfortably introverted. Spending his workdays getting in tune with the roaster and leaning into the rhythmic processes of coffee production is a much better fit for him. 

These days, Aaron sees all the coffee from its entry into Yes Plz’s headquarters to its departure in the back of a USPS truck. He heads up the green coffee evaluation, choosing which samples will move forward to the cupping table. From there, he meets with Tony Konecny, founder and co-owner, and Sumi, and they collaborate on the next week’s blend. They use a process called wet blending, which starts like a cupping and ends with them spooning different coffees together to find which complement each other and which clash. The possibilities are endless. They’ve released blends made up of 10 different coffees. Some have had just two. And occasionally, they’ll release a blend with three coffees from the same country––an origin study of sorts. Whichever combo of coffees they land on, the team always aims for their blends to be approachable to the entirety of their subscriber spectrum and malleable enough to hit the spot no matter how it's brewed. 


Aaron takes this principle of approachability into his roasting process.

He’s always searching for the sweet spot and, with an ever-changing lineup of coffees, that’s a moving target. Allowing each coffee to speak for itself while finding harmony among the flavors is a delicate balance. Week after week he finds a way to represent wildly different coffees through a roast profile that exalts their natural essences. This is not only a testament to Aaron’s expertise, which has grown exponentially in the two years he’s been roasting, but his dedication to his work. He came aboard Yes Plz with minimal roasting experience, but a working knowledge of mechanics and a deep curiosity for how things work. On principle, he goes out of his way to understand the machines in his life. When he bought a car, he learned how to fix it. He taught himself how to troubleshoot the roaster over the years. This foundation of mechanical curiosity gave way to creativity he could channel into engineering roast profiles to match a brand-new blend each week.

He roasts everything analog, keeping precise records of the peaks and valleys of each roast profile, scratching out math formulas in the margins of notebooks with coffee-stained pages. Most roasters these days have software that allows them to run on autopilot, which can be helpful when handling a high volume of coffee. But Aaron prefers analog roasting. It demands his attention in a way that relying on pre-mapped programs doesn’t. Sumi and Aaron’s years of roasting notes add up to almost four full notebooks, the pages rumpled from years of use and archival research. Collectively, the notebooks make up the encyclopedia of Yes Plz coffees to which Aaron can refer when choosing which path to take as he roasts the new blend. With a Peruvian coffee in hand, he can look back at the records to see how he approached Peruvian coffees in the past. From there, he can implement some old techniques or test out some new ones, whichever he sees fit. 

Aaron handles all the post-roast production in addition to leading the blending and roasting processes. This tail end of the process is repetitive and rather mundane but must be done efficiently. He spends hours putting beans in bags, bags in boxes, and boxes in the back of a USPS truck, and seeing that it all happens in a timely manner. Each of those bags is the start to someone’s week. Yes Plz subscribers all over the country wait eagerly for the next week’s new creation while savoring the dregs of last week’s blend. Aaron’s face doesn’t come to mind when they’re up before dawn heating the kettle and weighing out beans. He’s a complete stranger to most of these people, but his work makes their morning coffee ritual possible. Everyone who subscribes to Yes Plz is subscribing unknowingly, yet enthusiastically to Aaron’s handiwork. Their days wouldn’t taste the same without him. And Yes Plz wouldn’t be possible without Aaron’s diligent and careful work. 

Story by Sami Stewart, photography by Adam Shaw of Civilian Visual Media (CVM).


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