When a Serbian sunflower farmer named Zoltan Zelenka brought her to the brick shed near his cottage in a small farming town, Marijana Stojanovic saw the rusted, defunct machine with jammed gears, chipped paint and missing belts.
It was September 2017, and Stojanovic had driven about four hours through Eastern Europe on a sunny day to inspect the old coffee roaster. She snapped some pictures and emailed them to the man who hired her to make the trek.
Todd Millar, wearing his black horn-rimmed eyeglasses, had already decided he was going to buy it before he saw Stojanovic’s pictures, but looking at them wasn’t pleasant.
“Boy that’s in really bad shape,” he remembers thinking while sitting in his house near Yacolt with his wife, Mary Millar, the two holding glasses of wine. “It looked like it might be seized like an old train that might be frozen. I thought it was old, but I didn’t know how old.”
He figured it would be worth his time because “it’s a piece of history,” he said.
It would be the newest addition to his coffee roasting business, which is likely the county’s most rural and isolated coffee shop, near the eastern border of Clark County. Mary and Todd Millar’s decision was solidified after receiving the photos of the coffee roaster, made by a company called Probat — a brand that Millar sees as the Mercedes of coffee roasters, he said.
But the machine became more than a way to roast coffee.
It took Millar on a journey to haul it to his rural plot of land. It sparked a massive restoration project. And it ignited in Millar a deep urge to chase coffee’s authenticity that separates himself in an industry that’s evolving into sugary, flavored coffee drinks.
But it also brought Millar something that he didn’t expect: a minor international conflict rooted in a World War II aerial bombing and his own personal quest to prove one thing: That his roaster is the oldest known Probat in the world.
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The drive from Vancouver to Millar’s coffee roaster and cupping house, called Pull Caffé, at 33111 N.E. 236th St., takes about an hour. The road stretches along the East Fork Lewis River, past little waterfalls surrounded by a forest that in October sheds red, orange and yellow leaves on pastures and homes.
Settled in the hills, Millar’s green steel shed doesn’t display any signage. He pulled open the garage door and the sunlight fell through the coffee smoke and onto the Probat.