Sunday, March 25, 2007

Communiqué #1: Dispatches From The Coffee Front

Today I’m sitting in my dining room in front of an Apple laptop writing this article. For me this is a little bit of ritual performed every week for the past three months. It would seem that new things are afoot in the world of coffee. For the first time we are introducing no fewer than a dozen new single origin coffees that have never tasted the sun drenched Blue Mountains of Jamaica. This is no small undertaking because our goal remains as rigid as always – to bring the freshest, prime grade single origin coffees to our clients.

As I enjoy the aroma of one of our finalist sent last week from our roaster I can’t help but feel a bit giddy. The Dota Estate Tarrazu has filled my home with the aroma of fresh coffee. Not of the Folger’s percolator television commercial variety but rather of the super duper fresh roasted to perfection variety traditionally found in a roaster’s café. The truly amazing part is that this coffee was roasted on March 2, 2007 and delivered to our offices March 6 where upon we immediately opened the bag and did what we call a “second cupping” on the spot. Imagine a bag of coffee exposed to all of the ravages of light, oxygen and time that can still produce such and aroma a taste. Coffee like this remind me that a great cup of coffee is truly one of life’s true luxuries.

When our little company was first formed the partners all sat around a fresh pot of coffee and had an all out dream session. The ink had barely dried on our bi-laws when we began to pen some of the most fantastical wishes a coffee lover could hope to dream. Tops on our collective list was the ability to aggregate coffee orders from our website, roast fresh batches once a week and ship those coffees the next day to clients. All of us having tasted fresh roasted coffee knowing the singular pleasure that could never be matched by “industrial roasting and preservation of coffee.” The challenge at hand to make turn this dream into a reality for our clients.

Step one was of course finding a roaster but not just any roaster, one with a true passion for coffee and a tongue for detail. The parameters were simple enough but the search proved exhaustive. We wanted a roaster with years of experience roasting top quality single origin beans in innovative ways. Innovation to us meant moving away from prescribed roasts into the area of arcane or perhaps extinct roasts. The roaster we felt was essentially our fourth and most important partner. The process was always the same – we secretly purchased their recommended fresh roasts as consumers, ground, brewed and cupped the coffees. The vast majority failed round one. Round two was a series of conversations with the roaster first as a consumer then as potential wholesale clients. This part is important because anyone who takes the time to engage in passionate, long form conversation with a consumer is a rare chap or lady. The business conversation always came last and always delivered a bit of shock to the roaster. I can still see the “you guys are the guys .“ We are all young, wear jeans (except Damian he’s a proper Jamaican gentleman) and love to talk coffee conversationally.

Step two was understanding how the roaster came to the flavours we had enjoyed in the cup. We are not roasters so a conversation on roast profiles, etc. would generally be lost on us. What we were interested in absorbing, was "the essence of method to the madness" as we put it. For example, why did this particular Kenya AA from the same green broker and the same estate taste to much better than this other one? Hours of conversation and carafes of coffee did much to enlighten us to world of roasting coffee. I personally walk away after each conversation convinced that coffee roasted at the artisan level is truly a craft bordering on an art. The personality of the roaster shines through in the cup – ergo choosing the right roast is perhaps the most important of all the steps in producing an audacious coffee.

Step three, how do we arrived at the selection of coffees on the menu? We work within the boundaries of the roaster’s skills and our tastes to arrive at the very best beans through cupping, varying roasts and ultimately “living with the coffee.” The first two components should be fairly prevalent as the old adage goes “garbage in is garbage out.” So selecting and roasting the best beans then methodically testing them through cupping is a requirement. Living with the coffee is something we do here at Jamaica Blue Mountain Traders. Living with the coffee means that the roasts that pass muster are roasted delivered then consumed in the real world – just like our clients will experience the coffee. The coffees are brought to the office where the receptionists brews pots and makes it available to everyone (clients, co-workers, guests, etc.). The coffee may be consumed fresh pot after pot or poured into a thermal carafe and left to sit for hours – then consumed. This is a free form evaluation so we don’t ask for feedback. However if the coffee is great – we will receive verbal and email comments. If the coffee has “no comments” it is rejected.

At home it’s the same story. Coffees are brought to our homes, ground and served in a variety of forms to family, friends, guest and of course our own consumption. Like today, it’s just me and the Tarrazu. Living with coffee is perhaps the best way to gauge it’s quality because what we call “organic real world consumption” is how our clients will experience it. The client will have a cup of Tanzania peaberry after a garlic rich Italian dinner. Some will brew and consume the first cup of Kona Fancy before brushing their teeth first thing in the morning. Coffee is not consumed in a vacuum but amidst everyday life. So our testing happens in the epicenter of life as well.

Warm Regards,
Jerry Delince
Managing partner

Jamaica Blue Mountain Traders, LLC.
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