coffee thrives near the equator.
Equator takes its name from the place where coffee grows best, the equatorial zone that encircles the globe. The evergreen coffee shrub thrives at high altitudes in the tropics, where moderate temperatures, adequate rainfall and rich soil allow coffee plants to yield sufficient quantities of fruit to make its cultivation a sustainable endeavor. Of course coffee beans are not legumes but instead the seed of a berry, known colloquially as coffee cherries.
Just as with wine grapes, there are numerous varieties of coffee plants. We favor older heirloom variety coffee such as Bourbon, Caturra, Gesha and Typica and tend to avoid newer hybrids that are engineered to be higher yielding and disease resistant, often at the expense of flavor.
COFFEE NEEDS THE RIGHT BALANCE OF ALTITUDE AND TEMPERATURE.
Altitude is important. If grown roughly between 4,000 – 6,500 feet (~1,200 – 2,000 meters) above sea level, coffee fruit has the opportunity to develop slowly, which means denser coffee beans and the potential for more complex flavors. If coffee is grown too low in the tropics, the fruit matures rapidly resulting in a soft, insipid coffee. On the other hand, if grown too high, colder temperatures hinder development of coffee fruit resulting in low yields. It is believed that coffee grown at higher altitudes produces a better tasting. While this is true to a point, latitude also plays a role. The further a growing region is from the equator, the lower the coffee must be grown due to colder temperatures at comparable altitudes closer to the equator. This does not necessarily result in inferior coffee.
THE WAY COFFEE CHERRIES ARE PROCESSED HAS A PROFOUND IMPACT ON TASTE.
Geographic and environmental factors are only part of the story. The way coffee cherries are processed has a profound impact on taste. There are three primary coffee processing techniques, but there are infinite variations on these methods. Although industry terminology can vary, we usually refer to these methods as—washed, natural and honey.
The washed method is the most common method when it comes to specialty coffee. After the skin of the coffee cherry is removed, the fruit laden seeds are fermented, the fruit is washed away and the coffee is dried.
The natural method is less common, but increasingly popular. It is the oldest and most traditional way of processing coffee—the coffee cherry is simply dried whole.
The honey method (sometimes referred to as pulped-natural in Brazil) is the comparatively newer than the others. Here, the skin of the coffee cherry is removed, but the fruit mucilage is allowed to cling to the bean during the drying process.
One cannot have a complete picture of coffee without considering the degree of roast.
Although the environment where coffee is grown and how it is processed has a much greater impact on the way a coffee tastes, one can never get a complete picture of a single-origin coffee or blend without also considering the degree of roast. There are many roasting terms used throughout the industry but there is little agreement when it comes to definitions. One roaster’s Full City can be another roaster’s French Roast.
That is why we gravitate toward more general roast degree terminology (like Light, Medium and Dark) that is straightforward and easy to understand by all, including those who do not care to study the differences between Enzymatic Browning and the Maillard Reaction.
Coffee is about relationships.
In an increasingly competitive environment, we work hard to establish direct relationships with coffee producers. By visiting farms and cupping labs in the countries where coffee is grown, we are able to develop the trust needed to secure the highest quality coffee available. It takes an investment of time to do this because coffee is an agricultural product with one main harvest season per year. We talk with individual farm owners and cooperatives about ways to improve quality and encourage experimentation with variety separation and new methods of coffee processing.
Beyond simply purchasing coffee, we look for opportunities to extend micro credit loans and grants to coffee producers to help make quality improvements but also for food security and other social needs. The results of these relationships yield rewards beyond outstanding coffee, friendships focused on a common goal of bringing a product we all love to coffee drinkers everywhere.