Archive for August, 2012

Too Big For Its Former Britches, Stumptown Opens a New Roastery

Stumptown is officially a player. Hot on the heels of a major venture capital investment in 2011, the company has finally moved out of its scattershot, undersized digs and into a rehabbed, 37,000-square-foot space that will house its roastery and administrative offices (these were formerly spread over three buildings, two of them houses in a SE Portland neighborhood). With a new 90-kilo Probat, and a major investment in top-notch sustainable technology, Stumptown is off to the races. The new facility, whose construction reportedly contributed 200 jobs to a depressed local market, was feted by the major of Portland as well as U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer in a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.

What started as a tiny microroastery in 1999 is hitting the (sorta) big time. With 2 million pounds of coffee a year and upwards of $35 million in revenue, Stumptown sits firmly among the ranks of other mid-sized regional roasters like Batdorf and Bronson and Caffe Vita.

The new space is gorgeous, full of refurbished old wood, with floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere, including looking into the roastery from the street.

Below are some pictures from a party celebrating the new space took place last night with Stumptown employees and friends.


Photos from the Left Coast Roast launch party, August 27

Coffee roasters, media, friends and family gathered to celebrate the launch of Left Coast Roast last night. We had an incredible turnout, selling out of books by 9pm. Spirit of 77 made the party a party with amazing coffee cocktails by barman Kelley Swenson (my favorite was some sort of ginger, coffee, and bourbon confection), as well as Migration Brewing’s Coffee IPA and Laurelwood Brewing’s Cascara Obscura (a Belgian-style beer brewed with the dried fruit of coffee cherry—yum). Roasters faced off against one another in Pop-a-Shot, and I played Skeeball until midnight. Not bad for a book launch. Thanks to everyone who attended and hooted/hollered for west coast coffee.

And you can check out more pics over on the Timber Press blog.

Sprudge Reviews Left Coast Roast

When came into being a few short years ago, it was modeled on the Drudge Report: Links to coffee news and gossip, packaged into a simple, sprawling list. In the last year, their coverage has gotten simultaneously more serious and more fun—they are pretty much the go-to place for learning about what’s happening now in “third wave” coffee.  I was extremely flattered that they wanted to have a first look at Left Coast Roast, and that they have such lovely things to say about it:

…The book manages to be introductory and authoritative at the same time, no small feat considering the breadth of Ms. Neuschwander’s subject matter – the 90 page primer that begins the book should be required reading, and not just for West Coast coffee types.

Left Coast Roast is an absolutely beautiful printed object, stunningly designed by Timber’s Breanna Goodrow and rife with lively, playful illustrations by Allison Berg and Ryan Bush. Sprudge was lucky enough to score an early copy of LCR, and seriously, it’s a playground of information and art.

I couldn’t agree more about that last part, but the way. It really *is* a lovely book, thanks to the work of Bree, Allison, and Ryan.

Launch party in Portland—THIS MONDAY, AUGUST 27

Please join us for a public party celebrating west coast coffee and the launch of Left Coast Roast:

Spirit of 77
Monday, August 27, 7-10 pm
500 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., Portland
Coffee IPA, specialty cocktails, coffee-inspired menu, cold brew — and advance copies of Left Coast Roast!

Free to enter — buy a book, get a free beer!

International Interlude: Coffee Collective

On a recent trip to Denmark to visit family, I was fortunate to get to visit one of the contenders for best boutique roastery in the world: Coffee Collective.

Years ago, I met the Collective’s founder (Klaus Thomsen, then of Estate Coffee) in Portland. After winning the World Barista Champion title he was hosting a local competition at which I was judging. I’m not sure he could have been any nicer. Regardless, he went on to found and foster one of the most highly regarded coffee companies in the world.

What’s so great about Coffee Collective? For one, the fluffy stuff: The design geek part of me is instantly enamored of their look. The whole colorful geometry thing may have jumped the shark a bit (especially in Europe — jeez, it’s everywhere) but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.

But really, they take coffee to a higher level. From buying to roasting to serving, they pretty much nail everything—and they do it in their own way. CC follows a Nordic approach to coffee, which emphasizes filter coffee over espresso (but of course they offer both), and really plays up the fruitiness and nuance of great coffees. They roast light, but do so thoughtfully—you won’t find a grassy or sour flavor profile in their lineup. Kenyan coffees shine with them. (I brought three bags home.)

And I adore any high end coffee company that serves a shakerato (espresso with simple syrup, shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice). Something magical happens in the shaker that brightens the acidity to a crisp, refreshing peak. It’s proof that not all sugar is anathema to good coffee. It’s summery and fun.

In Portland, Heart Roasters has worked to bring the Nordic approach to the West Coast, and I’m thrilled to have been able to visit one of their muses.

I’ll say one critical thing, though—not about the Collective specifically, but about high end coffee more generally. There’s an aspect of it that does exactly what I think it’s proponents have tried to avoid: It repeats itself. Coffee Collective, while gorgeous, is not terribly different looking or feeling than other high end coffee bars in Europe and the U.S. (This isn’t necesarily because they have intentionally mimicked others—perhaps the reality is more the other way around.) In any case, it’s a place I feel instantly comfortable because it speaks the same visual language as other high end coffee bars. I know exactly where I am the minute I step inside one of these spaces. Don’t get me wrong — I love ’em. But there’s a sameness to them that I think goes unquestioned. And it goes deeper than just how things look: I was somewhat surprised to find on their small menu a coffee from the Finca Vista Hermosa farm in Guatemala. The farm is owned by Edwin Martinez, who spends the better part of each year in Bellingham, Washington. Partly as a result, his direct trade coffees are almost ubiquitous in high end cafes in the Northwest. It’s a bit of a shock to go all the way to Denmark and find the same coffees as I would in Portland. But the apex of the coffee market is a small place. Which also makes it a crowded one—and occasionally an echo chamber. This is especially tricky for roasters that focus on single origin coffees. Without a house blend to define them, these roasters become in some ways an extension of the farm brands they carry (and let’s not mince words, farms like Vista Hermosa have indeed become brands). That makes it doubly difficult to differentiate in substantive ways from other high end roasters that carry the same coffees. It’s something I’ve been mulling for a while—and running into a familiar coffee in Denmark just brought it all home.

Roaster Roundup: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters

Honestly, sometimes I’m flabbergasted by how many coffee roasters there are in the Northwest. I included 56 roasters in Left Coast Roast, but it could easily have been 112, or 168. Today, a newbie made it onto my radar via a blog post over at A Table in the Corner of the Cafe: Bluebeard Coffee Roasters. They’ve been up and running since spring 2011, after I had done all the research and most of the writing for the book. It sounds like a beacon of good-coffee light in the wilds of Tacoma:

With three different siphon pots, all-glass and wood-handled chemexes, an aeropress, porcelain V60s with your choice of regular paper filters or a Coava Able cone [ed.], a clever coffee dripper, french presses and press pots, and I’m pretty sure I saw a woodneck around here at one point in time.

The cafe was chosen as Best Cup of Coffee, Best Coffeehouse, and Best Place to Meet Someone by the readership of one of Tacoma’s  alt-weeklies, The Weekly Volcano—not too shabby for a year-old operation. I’ll be in Tacoma in October or November for a book event, and I’m looking forward to stopping by.

Roaster Roundup: Nossa Familia

I recently spent a morning visiting with Augusto Carvalho Dias and Rob Hoos, the owner and roaster (respectively) of Nossa Familia Coffee (“Our Family” in Portuguese). Nossa is a somewhat unusual company in that the coffee they roast comes directly from farms in Brazil owned by various members of Augusto’s family—they call it Family Traded.
Though they have been roasting for more than five years in Portland, the company has kept a mostly low profile, selling primarily to offices and restaurants. But recently, they’ve expanded to a new space in the Pearl District, upped the ante on roasting with a new, energy efficient Loring Smart Roaster (the only one in Portland), and are considering plans for a cafe.
In many ways Nossa Familia is a roasting company that is doing something qualitatively different than other roasters in Portland—with the family traded model, with the Loring, and otherwise. But without a showcase cafe, they’ve lacked the “street cred” of other roasting companies. (It’s a funny thing about coffee—it’s hard to be a well regarded coffee company without a cafe.) Their choices and business model differ from the norm—which is a good thing. (My mantra: Variety, especially in coffee, is almost never bad.) Because they operate a bit differently, people don’t always know what to make of Nossa. For example, the family trade model has both some significant upsides—deep, direct connections to the stories behind each coffee, open lines of communication for feedback and improvement, the ability to focus on one origin, among others. It also had a few possible downsides—sourcing from a small number of farms in a single country limits variety, and poses potential difficulties with keeping coffee fresh.
To that end, I posed a few questions to Augusto and the Nossa team. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you guys handle “seasonality”?

We handle seasonality by making sure that we are only purchasing the freshest available crop from our farms in Brazil at the time. My family knows the quality that we like and expect here at Nossa Familia Coffee. We cup the coffees before each shipment to approve the samples. The harvest cycle in Brazil is long starting in May and ending in September. After the harvest the coffees have to rest for at least 60 days, then they are sorted for screen size, density, and all defects removed. Once this is done they wait for shipment in a climate (humidity) controlled environment. My family is working with a university in Brazil to test the difference between burlap, grainpro and a new material. So this coming year all coffees that are further out from harvest will likely be in grain-pro or the new material they are developing.

Side note: Augusto led a side-by-side cupping of the same microlot of coffee, one stored in GrainPro, and one stored in burlap then transferred to GrainPro for shipping. The different in taste was remarkable. I actually quite liked both (they were only three months out from harvest, so still both quite fresh in the scheme of things), but it was amazing how toned up or down certain flavors were.

Coming from a single origin, does that present a problem?

I see it as an opportunity. All coffees change throughout the year, and instead of ignoring that we work with the coffee to adjust our roast profiles. The humidity controlled environment in Brazil is great, and we have never had any customer issues or drop in quality as the year progresses. Grainpro bags are also a huge help.

It is our goal to have the most optimum Brazilian green that we can get our hands on. It is important to us that acidity and organic volatiles are present at peak levels for us to achieve the best roasted results. With each container, we are purchasing more and more coffee in grainpro packaging to increase green quality in order to move more in this direction.

You hear a lot about strip picking in Brazil—often with a sneering tone. I don’t know coffee harvesting from Adam, but I wonder if you could provide any info on the harvesting practices at Nossa family farms.

This is a subject that we could talk about for 2 hours over coffee, or beer. I used to be a total detractor of strip-picking. It just sounds bad and “unromantic” compared to hand-picking.  That was until I visited Brazil during a recent November and saw a farm where a portion of coffee cherries had not been picked at all and were rotting on the plants. A combination of higher costs and a shortage in labor meant that good cherry went unpicked. I started learning more about the economics of coffee farming and the amount that most farms in Brazil have invested in post-harvest selection.  The mills at the farms do an amazing job of separating ripe, green, dried, and over-ripe cherries. The result is that a farm will have some excellent lots and some sub-par lots. That’s okay—there are roasters buying the sub-par lots. We happen to buy the excellent lots. The total percentage of excellent coffee in a farm is reduced compared with cherry picking, but the high end lots are just as high end and it allows the farm to stay in business.

What are the farms that Nossa imports for/buys from/roasts?
Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama – Owner, Gabriel Dias Carvahlo
Fazenda Recerio – Owner, Maria and Diogo de Carvalho dias
Fazenda Santa Alina – Owner, Joaquim and Lucia (Tuca) Dias
Fazenda Rainha  – Owner, Luis Fernando de Carvalho Dias (this farm was sold a few years ago and is now managed by one of my cousins and her husband, but it is no longer in the family)

Do you have a sense of how large or small your purchases are compared with total sales for this farm (are you a relatively small buyer, or a big one for them)?

A majority of our beans come from Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama. Cachoeira produces up to 5,000 bags annually of which, we purchase approximately 1,200. We also purchase organic farms through my cousin’s export company, they help us source organic beans from a few local certified farms.