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Get to Know Passion House Coffee Roasters

There’s no question what this Chicago roaster stands for.

by Team Trade | November 08, 2019

There’s no question what Passion House stands for. Joshua Millman’s small-batch roaster has pursued the ultimate coffee since 2011, sharing that enthusiasm with Chicago and beyond. And that love goes into everything Passion House does, from its thoughtful blends to experimental micro lot single origins.

How did you get started roasting?

"When I moved to San Diego, I was lucky enough to work for amazing people. I helped open and run a small cafe downtown called Elixir. My bosses were Shad and Tami Baiz - Shad and his family have been a staple in coffee for a long time. Shad also owned an equipment service company. I kept badgering him with so many questions about equipment that he encouraged me to work part-time for him at the service shop and part-time at the cafe. I learned how to service brewers, grinders, espresso machines, and more - it was a dream come true for me. From there I was recruited by Cafe Calabria where I apprenticed as an assistant roaster for about 4 months, and then began roasting solo and developing my own approach to roasting."

Why "Passion House"?

"The name “ Passion House” tells the story of my life and how I got to where I am now.  I DJed and produced house music for many years, and I even moved to San Diego to work with an amazing house music DJ and producer named Miles Maeda.  

Meanwhile, I was becoming more immersed in the world of specialty coffee.  After years working as a barista throughout high school and college, I began managing a cafe in San Diego where I fell in love with the practice of hospitality.  Coffee for me went far beyond the literal buying, roasting, and brewing of beans - I wanted everyone who drank the coffee I helped produce to feel like they were a guest in my house.  My curiosity about coffee led me to be recruited by a roaster in San Diego, where I learned to roast on a UG-22. Through conversations with the owner, we planned that I would move back home to Chicago and we would expand the brand out here, opening up a roastery and cafes.  One day the owner pulled me aside and told me he didn’t want to move forward with our plans because he didn't think I had the passion to make it work. I was absolutely devastated - by this point in my life, coffee had become my fascination, and I was committed to having a meaningful career within the coffee industry.  Feeling driven to prove my passion, I laced up my boots and began plans to open Passion House in Chicago. The rest is history!"

Tell us about your roast naming process. 

"As a house music DJ and die-hard music fan, all of our coffees are inspired by music.  When we name new coffees, we think about each coffee’s specific flavor notes and attributes and how they make us feel.  We select names inspired by songs or lyrics that intertwine with the flavor attributes of a song. For example, our coffee named “ Ocelot” from Guatemala is smooth and playful, just like the song “Ocelot” by the band Phish."

What do you look for when sourcing coffees?

"We strive to present a lineup of coffees that is approachable for everyone from casual drinkers to experienced connoisseurs.  All of our sourcing is seasonal - we buy only fresh crop coffees from small farms around the globe. We break our coffees into three genres (Ambient, Mainstream, and Experimental) to help customers find the best fit coffees for their taste.  Ambient coffees are our year-round blends; approachable, familiar, and consistent. Mainstream coffees are seasonally rotating single-origins; a little more complex, multifaceted, and unique. Experimental coffees are the most wild and varied flavor profiles - limited production microlots that are extremely rare and difficult to find.  We have something good for every kind of coffee drinker!"

*How does your vintage roaster shape your approach to coffee? 

"Roasting on a vintage Probat requires the person roasting to really get to know the machine and all of its little intricacies.  Because technology is limited, you have to learn to respect the flow of the Probat - changes take a little longer to take effect when roasting than many newer machines. Our goal as roasters is to highlight the natural attributes inside each seed and represent supreme balance in each coffee.  The Probat excels at bringing out a rounded sweetness from each coffee to produce a delicious cup!"

How does Passion House approach sustainability? 

"Sustainability is absolutely critical to us at Passion House - the quality of the coffee that we buy depends entirely on the quality of the environment where it grows.  For us, we seek to support sustainable efforts across our whole business - buying from producers who promote sustainability on their farms, instituting composting in our roastery and cafes, and using environmentally conscious packaging materials in our cafes.  We all need to practice sustainability so that we can continue to drink delicious coffee for decades to come!"

What do you enjoy about the Chicago coffee scene? 

"Compared to other cities, Chicago’s coffee scene feels very roaster-driven.  When Passion House started 8 years ago there were only 4 other roasters in the area, and now there are over 40 different coffee roasting companies in greater Chicago. While it may seem competitive from the customer perspective, the back end of the industry just wants to grow specialty coffee and we know there is room for everyone who can contribute positively. When starting Passion House, we relied on the advice and guidance of more established roasters here.  Now as we have grown, we have taken on a similar role in advising newer Chicago companies how to succeed in the coffee industry. We’re thrilled to be a part of the scene here and are excited to keep helping it grow!"

What has been the biggest change in specialty coffee since you got started?

"I’ve seen so many changes in the over 2 decades I’ve been working in coffee, but the greatest changes all center around technology.  Sourcing, roasting, and brewing have made leaps and bounds in quality thanks to technology that helps us better understand the myriad complexities of coffee.  Scientifically, we now know how to improve flavor, sustainability, and consistency across the chain from farmer to barista. While it used to be quite difficult to connect with coffee farmers, technology has enabled roasters like us to have closer relationships with farmers across the world."

Where do you hope to see Passion House in the coming years?

I feel so happy to have seen us grow to where we are now and am thrilled to see an even bigger future for Passion House.  We are imminently about to move into a new roasting facility in Chicago, which will help us expand our capacity and better control our quality.   We are moving from a 2,000 sq ft space to a 7,500 sq ft space, as well as adding a 30 kilo Mill City Roaster alongside our existing Probat UG-15. Our new facility will have a state-of-the-art training center and QC area housing our 4 barrel Jabez Burns sample roaster. 

On the retail side, we recently opened our third cafe on Goose Island in Chicago, adding onto our existing locations in Logan Square and the Politan Row Food Hall in West Loop.  We’re always on the lookout to see how we can share our coffee with more folks in Chicago (and maybe out!).

Another key focus for Passion House is building long-term partnerships with mission driven organizations.  Currently we work with a local company called Veteran Roasters - we help roast coffee for them while training their team of all-veteran employees on developing job skills in the coffee industry.  We are also partnered up with Chance the Rapper's charitable foundation, Social Works. We released a collaboration canned cold brew for their “My State of Mind” initiative, which is focused on erasing the negative stigma of mental health issues and creating a comprehensive platform for people to access mental health services. the most in depth resources ever created for information, doctors, and other resources.  Look out for a bag of beans to be released soon for My State of Mind as well!"

-Joshua Millman, Founder of Passion House Coffee Roasters