James Spohn. Photo: James Spohn

Jameson Spohn, the operator of the small but nationally known Uncommon Grounds coffee-roasting company in Berkeley, died Aug. 24 at his home in Vallejo of heart failure. He was 54.

Spohn had purchased the small coffee company in 2010 after serving as chief coffee roaster there for a number of years. As “roastmaster” he developed a roasting technique that produced strong but mellow coffee — contrasting with harsh-tasting coffee from corporate-chain coffee roasters.

Based largely on a word-of-mouth reputation, the small firm has developed a broad group of clients and currently ships its full line of coffees to restaurants, stores and businesses nationwide.

Spohn attributed part of the mellower flavor of his coffee to a vintage roaster, a 1958 cast-iron Probat UG22 imported from Germany and discovered in a Berkeley garage in 1983 by the firm’s original owners.

He developed a roasting technique he referred to as “roasting to the bean,” or matching the roast to the nature of the bean to bring out its best characteristics.

A major innovation he introduced to the coffee-roasting business was to support organic and Fair Trade coffee growers. The firm was the first in the Bay Area and statewide to adopt and advocate Fair Trade practices that help farmers receive a fair return on their coffee.

He also created a community-donation policy, called “cause coffee,” that supports community-benefit programs: Proceeds from the Big Sur Fire Brigade Blend and the Fair Trade Organic Conservation Blend support the Ventana Wilderness Society, the Big Sur Ornithology Lab and other community-based programs.

Longtime staff members are continuing to operate the business, located at 2813 Seventh St. The firm’s website is UncommonGrounds.com.

Spohn is survived by his longtime partner, Valerie Adinolfi, who is assuming management of the firm along with Spohn’s father, James Spohn of Vallejo, assisted by current roastmaster Damon Earlewine and others.

Spohn also is survived by his mother, Patricia Spohn, of Cool, CA; two brothers, Aaron Spohn and Damon Spohn, both of Los Angeles; and several uncles, aunts and cousins.

Spohn loved the outdoors and off-roading and was a founding member of an Oakland-based group known as the Cruiserheads, for the Toyota Land Cruisers they drive on such off-road trails as California’s Rubicon.

In recent years, Jameson developed serious health problems that limited his cruising and other activities and contributed to his death, attributed to congestive heart failure and respiratory problems.

A private family memorial service is being planned, and the Cruiserheads group is also planning a service.

The family prefers memorials be donations to community-based nonprofit organizations in Jameson’s name.

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