So, assuming the coffee was roasted well, it should taste good, right? As in all questions of quality, to answer this we need to go back and look at the raw ingredients.
Most of the coffee grown on earth is bad. Really bad. Seriously. There is good reason why most people assume they don't like black coffee, because they're probably correct. Until very recently most of the purchases made by 'speciarty' coffee roasters were selections from very large lots, with very little specificity regarding the details of production (farm history, size, elevation, processing methodology). This was typically (and often still is) a very large blend, composed of green coffee from hundreds of producers' harvests, at a generally consistent level of quality, in order to achieve a reasonable degree of uniformity in the cup while allowing for a more efficient way to pack, ship, market and sell the coffee to brokers. While this model can be excellent if the blends of coffee are all of very high calibre, the more common reality is that the blends are mediocre, or worse. So how would a roaster sell mediocre coffee? Simple: cover up the sub-par flavour of the coffee with flavour from the roasting. After the more delicious flavour-producing chemical reactions of the Maillard reaction and caramelization, the eventual effect of roasting is carbonization, or in other words, burning. The flavours associated with this reaction are strong, dominant, carbonic, smoky, and earthy. While a little of this can sometimes be pleasant, and is arguably somewhat inevitable when roasting coffee for an espresso profile, carbonization always comes at the expense of diminishing a coffee’s innate flavour. Start with two very different tasting coffees, and the darker the roast becomes, the more similar they begin to taste. Not surprisingly, darker roasting offers significant opportunity for consistency and profitability for roasters who purchase large amounts of commodity grade coffee. The darker a coffee is roasted, the less apparent the flaws in that coffee become. Many roasters have taken, and continue to take advantage of this.
Our approach is very different, and a lot more risky. We roast all of our coffees quite light – the degree of roast of our espresso coffees is similar (or lighter) to what many roasters would describe as a medium roast. However, as outlined above, to roast coffee correctly, it must be developed adequately. Even coffees brought to the same final temperature but roasted in different manners can have wildly different flavours and textures, from underdeveloped (woody, doughy) to overdeveloped (carbonic, ashy).
The problem is, if coffee tastes bad, very few people will celebrate it. They may drink it for its medicinal qualities, but they won’t savour it. Historically, bad coffee has been covered up with aggressive roasting and branding, and we've allowed ourselves to celebrate the brand on the tin while giving little thought to the people who produced the product inside of it.
We are aiming for a different approach: one that focuses on finding coffees of a high calibre and roasting them so thoughtfully that they demand the question “where did this come from?” If we can encourage this question in our community, we’re doing something right. Once people start becoming curious about what distinguishes one coffee from another, we’re strengthening the line between our consumption of that coffee and the people who produced it. To us, the only way for this to happen in a sustainable way is to recognize and celebrate truly amazing coffee. If we begin to give credence to outstanding coffee, we prevent the people responsible for that coffee from becoming invisible.
When people purchase our products, we want to illuminate their direct contribution to a well-researched and vetted supply chain, which takes into account as many pieces of the puzzle as possible and ultimately helps enrich the lives of everyone involved. It’s a lot to try to fit into a small bag of coffee, but it’s what makes this worthwhile.