What’s the process ?
Most roasters use quite basic and rudimentary methods to evaluate and select beans. Unfortunately, many use price as a key criteria to their buying decisions – restricted to purchasing their beans within price-bands to ensure it fits into the operating budget so they have sufficient funds to spend on the stuff that means nothing to cup quality – like marketing and freebies that are demanded by cafes, etc.
Some roasters rely solely on very small samples that are roasted by the brokers and sent in the mail to trial. We are talking here about 100 – 150g samples that are sent in waxed paper bags – reality is that these sample may provide some insight as to the bean character, but it is clearly an insufficient sample size to adequately evaluate a coffee bean’s true potential. You can waste 100g trying to dial in the grinder properly, then you have 1 or 2 shots to taste the coffee – it’s simply not enough.
Some roasters take a 200 or 300g green sample and run it through their sample roaster for analysis, then cup in the traditional method (lighter roast, coarser grind) to detect defects.
We take a completely different approach.
Using a combination of research, past experience and knowledge, we work with brokers to determine comparative data on coffees we are interested in. Once we have drawn up a short-list, we then BUY WHOLE BAGS of coffee beans – yes, that’s right we take 60 – 70kg of a potential coffee so that we can roast it on our own production equipment, cup the results over 10+ days and graph the results.
As you know, coffee changes considerably over time, so something we may think is so-so on Day 8 can be stunning on Day 9 or Day 10 – such is the challenge of working with fresh and developing coffees.
We make decisions about whether a coffee bean is intended to feature in one of our leading blends, or whether that coffee is so delicate that it should remain standalone as a Single Origin. These decisions are made during stage 2 evaluation and testing. You see, not all coffees can be blended together, so it makes sense to trial new coffees in blends to ensure that all components of the blend remain in harmony.
This is the rollercoaster phase – engaging our Beta tester customers. A select group of highly experienced cafe owners and baristas who are only too happy and eager to trial new coffees in the hope of a gratifying discovery. This process takes a few weeks as we release small quantities and the Beta testers provider both their own personal opinions as well as the feedback of their customers.
Costa Rica Bakeoff
During May we are testing a short list of 4 new premium grade Costa Rican coffees. OK, we have a certain fetish (or perhaps obsession) with Costa Rica coffee beans.