roasting coffee beans creates smoke. the smoke is pushed up the exhaust pipe. the pipe is left with deposits of creosote. creosote is flammable, so buildup becomes a fire hazard. we have 25 feet of pipe, so once a year we get up on the roof, unassemble the exhaust system, and brush it clean.
one peer in the industry told us that we could just light it on fire at the bottom to create a controlled fire all the way up the pipe. but we choose to do it the old fashioned way and not play with fire.
last week was spent on the phone, talking to dozens of importers and farmers about their very best coffees and ordering samples of these coffees. all this week, boxes have been arriving and we’ve been roasting and labeling small bags of beans as anticipation builds. “here’s a coffee grown on a secret island in a lake in rwanda” “this box has three coffees from the island of java!”
today we gathered mid-afternoon with seltzer water, crackers, and 40 of the very best coffees on the market. even the bad coffees garnered serious discussions.
“this coffee tastes woodsy”
“more specifically, i think it tastes like a pencil”
“yes!! and not a cheap pencil — one of those fancier pencils with cedar in them”
“this coffee tastes like grass”
“not farm grass — more like lawn grass”
“maybe grass mixed with weeds”
“i would say something like a clover leaf”
“yes! a clover leaf!”
(both coffees were unanimously rejected after their thorough evaluations).
we found 5 exceptional coffee beans — mostly indonesians — but also some africans and central americans. tomorrow will be spent on the phone, and next week: we will have some fun new beans to offer to you.
Matt – his customer service background in coffee shops and grocery stores has built an attitude of exceeding expectations of every customer — a passion for perfection in every package that leaves this shop. when a customer opens up an order it should feel as if they are opening a christmas gift. favorite brew method: french press desert island coffee: sumatra (but there is no denying his weakness for fruity natural ethiopians and the elusive yemen mokka)
Stacy – teaches anthropology at the local university and has lived in peru, so she knows the life and culture of where coffee is grown. she works in every department as needed, and she is also our in-house tea expert and keeps the shop organized. most savored coffee: india favorite teas: earl greys and pu-erhs
Miles – has a doctorate in chiropractic care and a background working with motors and mechanics. his appreciation for top-shelf bourbon translates into a talent for blending and evaluating quality espresso, and he is our in-house forklift operator and equipment specialist. most satisfying coffee: sulawesi island most consumed tea: lemon-mint-ginger
Jason – has a master’s degree in library science and also works on a farm. he is the newest addition to the team and brings a background of home-roasting. he hopes to use design and photography talents to help our branding. his creative experimentation contributes fresh ideas and opinions to tasting, selecting, roasting, and blending. favorite hot drink: oolong chai latte
Darlene – (or “matt’s mom”) has a nursing license and handles our paperwork and accounting and some deliveries. homemade biscotti and cookies show up when she’s been around. she is our kenya coffee taste expert, but also handles quality-control of the decaf coffees. favorite espresso drink: vanilla soy latte favorite tea: chocolate mint
we have many friends who contribute to tasting notes, special events, technology, and deliveries. we listen to everyone who has ideas, criticisms, and complements about what we do, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you have something you’d like to talk to us about. between all of us, we can get you the right answer.
about once a week we have to grease the fittings on the roaster and keep all the moving parts lubricated (just like you would grease the fittings on a tractor.) however, unlike a tractor, there is a chance of incidental contact of the grease with a coffee bean. so the hardware store special-orders us cans of grease that are “food grade” and consist of vegetable and mineral oils with no carcinogens or harmful chemicals. it is mostly tasteless and odorless. it fits right into a standard grease gun and works on any machinery lubrication fittings — but technically, you could eat it. mmmmmm
Internet orders that are received by noon Eastern Time typically ship that same day. We have about an 80% fulfillment rate of this policy, but we’re working to get it up to 100%. Remember that we roast coffee AFTER the order is received, so on a particularly busy day (like a Monday), a few orders that are complicated don’t make it out until the next day.
We use Priority Mail for most orders, but if your order weighs less than 13 ounces it will ship first class mail. If it weighs more than 40 pounds, it might ship via UPS.
We rarely ship on Saturday. Orders made on Friday afternoon will probably not be roasted and shipped until Monday.
We understand the importance of shipping on time ALL orders received the weekend of December 20th. We will do everything in our ability to ship out 100% of the orders received by noon the 22nd, by Monday end of business. It is extremely likely that orders shipped the 22nd will be received by Christmas regardless of destination. Most of the United States are in 1 and 2 day shipping zone from us. Just remember that the USPS does not put a guarantee on its delivery dates, and both volume and weather this time of year can slow things down.
We carry a LOT of coffees, and it can be intimidating to new customers. the three best-selling coffees this year have been:
2-Inspirational Artist’s Blend
3-Get in Gear Morning Blend
They sell the best because they are crowd-pleasing. Nice, medium to dark roast coffees that appeal to everyone. Nothing particularly special, but great everyday coffees that we can consistently roast all year round and have a large fan base.
But if you ask me what you SHOULD be drinking…..here’s what’s extra special right now:
1– if price isn’t an issue, Yemen. Yemen and Ethiopia Harrar are the only two places that can grow the Mokka varietal of coffee bean. This coffee is the original heirloom strain that other coffees came from, and most countries would grow it if they could. A farmer in Guatemala managed to grow 8 pounds of it a couple years ago, and sold it for $500 a pound (http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/500-50-a-pound-for-coffee-beans/?_r=0) Yemen coffee is incredibly hard to import, and even when successful, they are rarely as amazing as this one tastes, and rarely traceable back to a responsible co-op like this one is. If you look at what the few other roasters that have it charge, you see prices from $25-$40 a pound. So the $16 a pound suddenly doesn’t seem so expensive. The trademark for a good Yemen is Malty (taste of grain), bitter (think baker’s cocoa), and fruit (anything from berries to stone fruit to oranges, etc, but this one has a slight banana flavor which I’m obsessed with).
2–Royal Ethiopia Harrar. Most of the coffees out there labeled Harrar aren’t good Harrars. A traditional Harrar is from the Mokka varietal and tastes incredibly sweet with unmistakable blueberry notes and no earthiness. This one is so beautifully complex that it seems a bit “weird” to the average coffee drinker, but the ones who know good coffee can’t get enough of it. (Granted, this coffee is best as a french press or pourover. You won’t taste as much blueberry in your electric coffee pot).
3–Kenya Jungle. Kenya traditionally grew a hard-to-grow varietal called SL-28, and that’s what gave it the red-wine/blackberry taste. Then they mutated it to SL-34 which was almost as good but easier to grow, and they would blend the two beans together. Then the farmers started blending in even easier varietals like Caturra (boring) and Ruiru hybrid (awful!) and Bourbon (nice, but rarely amazing), and little by little Kenyan coffee stopped being so special (but was still just as expensive). We only buy Kenyas that are SL-34 (which are not easy to find anymore!), but this is the first time in 5 years we found one that was strictly pure SL-28. Cost an arm and a leg, but its a classic, old time Kenya that makes you understand why Kenya carries such a good reputation. Each sip has the complexity of a fancy wine or scotch. (Other roasters are charging between $18-$25 a pound for this lot of coffee).
4–Balanced Costa Rica “Bello Horizonte” — We use “Balanced Costa Rica” as our brand for whatever Costa Rica happens to be in stock; but this one in stock right now is a microlot from a particular farm. It was expensive and special and we should have given it its own label but didn’t have time. It is full of complexity — floral, citrus, sweetness, and a mouthfeel like you’re eating a pear. (I see this selling elsewhere online for $19/lb)
5–New Guinea Peaberry from the Kimel Estate — This estate uses the Blue Mountain varietal that they brought over from Jamaica; and this coffee tastes as good as Jamaica did 30 years ago. White wine, dry mouthfeel, chocolate notes. When you consider that only 5% of their crop is peaberry….and this is already the best estate on New Guinea….and a particularly good year for New Guinea….you start doing the math and realizing what a rare and special coffee this lot is. (I see other roasters selling this coffee between a range of $18 to $30 a pound)
Iced Tea is refreshing, delicious, and good for you! It contains antioxidants and often vitamins and fruits. If you want the caffeine choose a Black Tea or Green Tea. To avoid caffeine, choose an Herbal blend. Home-steeped iced tea is a wonderful alternative for children who don’t want plain water, but should not drink so much soda and kool-aid.
We have an extremely simple recipe that works with all of our teas. We take a quart canning jar, and add 2 Tbsp of sugar, and 2 Tbsp of loose tea (in a Tsac). Add hot water. After 4 minutes, take out the Tsac and put the canning jar in the refrigerator. We keep a couple different kinds in the fridge so that there is always something healthful to reach for when we are hot and thirsty.
You can ice any tea, but some particularly amazing ones are Fresh Peach, Berry Black, Tropical Pineapple, Juicy Plum, and Cinnamon Rooibos.
Coffee plants are grown for a year in a nursery area like this before being transplanted next to the mature trees. It will take 4 years for these plants to start producing coffee fruits.
Coffee trees over 100 years old exist and produce fruit, but a commercial coffee plantation typically replaces 15 year old plants with new plants, and keeps the average age of the coffee plants at around 8 to 10 years old. It’s a constant cycle of planting and cutting down.
Here is a picture of coffee plant that I am presently trying to keep alive (it is not a happy coffee plant).
Coffee beans, are not “beans” they are seeds — the pit from the coffee fruit. You can plant unroasted coffee beans, and they will sprout. The germination rate is low, something like 5%, so you have to plant several of them, and coffee can’t realistically grow in the climate of the United States. If you wanted to harvest and process your own coffee, you would have to keep your plant indoors and give it a lot of warmth and a lot of sunlight all year round.
But still, it is fun to remember that coffee is produce. It is a fruit. Hence, it is rich with antioxidants and bioflavanoids and continually linked to health benefits.
Several years ago, coffee tasters sat down and wrote out every flavor and characteristic that might be found in a cup of coffee, and organized it into a circle. If you look at the wheel of flavors as you drink the coffee, it helps you figure out what you are tasting. The only problem, is that the “Flavor Wheel” that has been used for dozens of years is full of words that are not very helpful. Descriptors like “Tipped” “Cappy” and “Horsey” just don’t mean much as we are mulling our latest roast.
Finally, the admired Counter Culture from North Carolina brings us an updated, useful coffee flavor wheel, with flavors and lingo that are common in the coffee world. Look at this the next time you’re trying a new coffee and see if it helps you navigate the tastes you are experiencing. coffee_tasting_Wheel <—-PDF version for easy print-outs