Plant biology and genetics.
A coffee’s intrinsic quality begins here. The fruit of a coffee seed is called a cherry, and looks like one too. Coffee trees are produced in over 50 countries in the intertropical belt. Over 100 coffee species have been described by botanists since the 16th century. But only two species became commercially viable – Arabica and Robusta. Our coffee is produced on tree varieties that evolved from the Arabica species because, this species produces beans with the finest sensory characters.
Coffee beans are a rich source of biologically active compounds such as caffeine, aromatic molecules, sucrose, chlorogenic acids, nicotinic acid, trigonelline, cafestol, and kahweol, which have significant potential as antioxidants. All our coffees are grown at very high altitudes and are exposed to shade from trees. These variables extend a coffee fruit’s maturation and contribute to its development of sweetness and complexity. All of these physiological and biological factors will be influenced by harvest and postharvest procedures.
Coffee farming is an alchemy of available varieties, knowledge, traditions, technical practices such as pruning, fertilization and pest management, and environmental conditions including soil, topography, altitude, climate, and shade intensity. Depending on proximity to the equator and elevation, most coffee producing countries experience one harvest a year that spans an average of several months. All our coffee is handpicked during harvest to ensure only the ripest and most consistent fruits are picked. Coffee that we buy is generally hand sorted after harvest into different densities and grades.
The plant variety, soil quality, origin of a coffee, paired with the quality-focused agriculture and the conditions of that growing season, are largely what gives coffee its flavour, aromatic quality and body – from fruity to chocolaty and nutty, floral and tea like, etc. Though, that can be affected by the next transformative step in a coffees lifecycle: Processing.
Coffee is a heavily processed food. The coffee cherry has many layers between it and the seed. Processing is the transformative step of expelling the green coffee seed from the fruit and mucilage of the coffee cherry, and occurs after harvest and before shipping and roasting. There are two predominant methods of processing coffee, and hybrid methods and experimentation of the two. These are predominant methods are “Washed” or “Dried” coffees. Both have a tremendous impact on the end flavour in your cup. Both require rigorous quality control and scientific precision to prevent green coffee from molding or over-drying.
Wet processing occurs at a Washing Station or Mill and involves breaking the skin of the cherry, fermenting it in water to allow bacteria to break down the fibre of the fruit so that it can be completely removed, and then drying the resulting seeds for up to 2 weeks. Washed coffees require a lot of water as a resource, but often provide more nuanced flavours, flavour clarity and complexity to surface in the final cup that can be prized and rewarded in premiums paid by importers and roasters. This is the oldest process and it uses few resources. The cherry is actually dried ON the seed, so it essentially ferments in its own juices. The cherries need to be turned often to avoid rot or mildew, and the process generally takes 20-30 days. Many dry processed coffees have a funky flavour that comes from the fermentation of the fruit in an uncontrolled, anaerobic environment, ruining the possibility for a “clean cup”. Well-controlled dry process results in a very sweet, fruit forward, heavy-bodied coffee.
Once coffee is processed, bagged and shipped, it lands in our roastery as fresh as possible, about 2-4 months off harvest. For each new coffee we roast we design a recipe based on that coffees unique density and bean size.
Important physical and chemical changes occur when roasting, which lead to the development of the characteristic roasted coffee flavour. Roasting, greatly simplified, is transforming green coffee into brown coffee so that the compounds in the green coffee can extract more easily into a cup. When we are roasting coffee, we are looking for a specific internal temperature for the coffee bean to hit, which we call a “level of development”. Too developed, and the bean may be too easily dissolvable in water and brittle and taste smokey or ashy, and too little development, and the coffee won’t be dissolvable in water and taste like grass, sour or green peas. We use data, sensory evaluation, and rigorous weekly quality control processes in our roastery to produce consistently developed coffees across all of your coffee origins. We’re looking to achieve coffees that taste sweet, showcase each origins intrinsic character, and are easy to brew as filter or espresso – what we call an “omniroast”.
Unlike packaged goods that can be opened and consumed like a bottle of wine or a bag of chips, the coffee beans we roast and ship to you have one final transformative step: extraction, A.K.A. brewing. It’s important to remember that ground coffee is an ingredient. The other ingredient that makes up 98% of a cup of coffee? Water.
In its simplest form, brewing coffee is the process of dissolving some of over 1000 compounds that developed genetically, in processing and in roasting into your cup using hot water as a solvent. We call brewed coffee an extraction. That is, everything that is drawn out of the ground coffee into the water. Sound like a science experiment? It is. What is extracted contributes to aroma, taste and mouthfeel. It can be carefully dialed-in with some variables. 18%-21% extraction of ground coffee mass into water is what is widely perceived in our industry as a desirable flavour. The rest is cellulose fiber that tastes like cardboard and ashtrays. Anything under 18% we call under-extracted, anything over 21% we call over extracted. We call this the sweet spot. At our cafés we measure extraction with a tool called a refractometer, but there is a very simple way that you can taste for extraction: Under-extraction: Sour or “green” Over-extraction: Bitter Sweet spot: Sweet