Until they showed up on the finalist list for the Good Food Awards I had never heard of Evans Brothers’ Coffee. It’s not surprising given their out-of-the-way location in Sandpoint, Idaho.
[I was a media observer for the GFA competition this year, and it's interesting to note that one of the Evans Bros' submissions, an Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, was one of the most difficult for the judges, garnering the largest spread of scores (79-87, using the Cup of Excellence 100-point scale). Update: This is a great example of how even with a common vocabulary and calibration, experts often disagree. Of course taste is fickle, and "quality" is not a fixed concept—just like the other shifting value the GFAs attempt to reward: sustainability. In the end, the finalists were all incredible, and worthy of notice. And we should sleep easier knowing that lots of folks have different experiences of the same coffee, even the pros.]
The result is what competitions like the GFAs can do well—bring attention to the work of relatively unknown food producers and the farmers whose ingredients they use.
Randy and Rick, the brothers Evans, have been roasting in Sandpoint since 2009. Sandpoint is outdoor heaven, perched on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, tucked between the Selkirk, Cabinet and Bitterroot mountian ranges. But it has unlikely coffee pedigree, too, as the home of Deitrich Coffee Roasting, one of the only American manufacturers of commercial coffee roasting equipment.
The “Inland Empire”—it’s the country I grew up in, and it’s full of wild magic.
For those who may not be likely to visit Sandpoint anytime soon, the coffee can be gotten around the Inland Northwest, including in cafes and restaurants in Boise and Seattle. Of course, the internet exists, so it’s also available online at evansbrotherscoffee.com.
What inspires your roastery and your roasting?
The roasters and cafes that succeed in telling the whole story, providing transparency on all levels of the coffee chain, inspire us.
How would you describe your roasting style?
We work very hard to source outstanding coffees and we want to show them off. We try to maximize the sweetness of the coffee, showcasing the inherent flavors of the bean. We strive not to mute the fruit and floral characteristics with too much roasty flavor. We feel like we’re pioneering the market up here in North Idaho with sweeter and more nuanced coffees; so far, our customers have responded positively to this style.
What’s your focus: single origins or blends?
We get most excited about introducing exceptional single-origin coffees, and showcasing the coffee itself and the farmers behind it. But we work hard on our blend development, which allows us to maintain a consistent espresso blend—our customers appreciate it.
What kind of roasting equipment do you use and what do you love about it?
We roast on a Probat L12 and use an afterburner built locally by Selkirk Manufacturing. Prior to this, we roasted on a Diedrich IR-12 and a Diedrich CR80. Both are excellent machines but completely different. The Probat offers more airflow, quicker response, and slightly faster roast times. I feel like we get cleaner tasting coffees with the increased airflow. The Diedrichs were also fun to roast on and offered simultaneous roasting and cooling (which is a huge plus!), and had much easier maintenance than the Probat.
How did you get started roasting?
I first discovered a love for coffee living in Italy during college. Soon after 2000, I moved to Maui, where I helped open and manage Honolulu Coffee Company, a high-end cafe in Wailea. Like most coffee obsessives of the era, I trained using the techniques of David Schomer. I spent the next five years learning everything I could about coffee, inlcuding roasting at home. When I moved back to the mainland to be closer to family I landed an apprentice roasting position with Storyville Coffee, a well-funded startup on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. I was very excited; becoming a roaster was my next goal after working as a barista for five years. It was really cool to work with David Schomer as our consultant. I also attended several training courses with Diedrich, Atlas Coffee, and Boot Coffee.
We decided to relocate to Sandpoint to raise families in a true community, near the great outdoors. We both love the outdoor recreation opportunities that this area affords with Schweitzer Mountain and Lake Pend Oreille. We’re fanatical about mountain biking and skiing in particular.
Tell us about the most memorable coffee you’ve had: Where did it come from? How did you roast it (if you roasted it)? What most excited you about it? How was it served?
The most memorable coffee I had was while visiting the Menendez family farms in El Salvador. While exploring one of their farms, Finca El Rosario, we were sampling the coffee cherries. There was a very small section of shrubs where the fruit tasted completely different from all the other cherries on the farm—it tasted exactly like the sweetest peach I’d ever had. It blew my mind that this microlot could taste completely different from the same coffee planted only 20 feet away. We later cupped some of that coffee and the peach was still very present in the cup. It was absolutely delicious. This experience was a great reminder of why I had adopted the philosophy of roasting to showcase what the farmer worked so hard to achieve.
What’s your personal preference: espresso or filter? Do you have a favorite way to make coffee?
We all typically start our day with a pourover on the Hario v60, usually one of our Roaster Reserve coffees. I also like Chemex for a clean cup that highlights sweetness and the delicate flavors of our coffee. But espresso is also great—we always have our Headwall blend along with an exciting single origin to play with. And I really enjoy a traditional macchiato.
What do you love about the coffee scene in Sandpoint?
Artisan coffee is really just being discovered in this area and we’re excited to be a part of the coffee revolution in the region. We’ve hosted all kinds of events: aroma challenges, public cuppings and, recently, the Inland Northwest Thursday Night Throwdown latte art and brewer’s competition. Most people around here had never seen a pourover brewbar before we opened. We love introducing someone who normally orders the darkest roast with lots of cream to single-origin coffees dripped to order, served black. We’ve created a few coffee nerds.
What’s the best thing about being a coffee roaster?
We feel honored to be such a critical final step in the complex journey from seed to cup. We take a lot of pride in this. We’re grateful for the positive recognition we get from customers but also feel strongly that coffee is not just our creation—it’s the hard work of many passionate people along the way. To provide peoples’ first ritual of the day is very cool. We want that experience to be great.
Preferred soundtrack for roasting?
Our music scene at the roastery is pretty diverse. You can hear anything from Black Sabbath to Coltrane to Dylan to Thievery Corporation to Hall & Oats. We dig it all!