So what happens next on the trail to the cup? After the beans actually get here?
So next comes roasting. Roasting is key, and is another really complicated process. When we get a new shipment of beans, we’ll try a few different roasts to get it just right. You want to tailor the roast to the bean. If you take one bean and roast it in two different ways, you’ll get a completely different flavor. We work with the roaster to get a roast that will best highlight the flavors that we want to highlight.
A light roast might take eight or nine minutes. Dark roasts can take up to fifteen. During that time there are a lot of nuances. You have specific times when you want to have the highest heat, specific times when you remove it from the heat…and those things can all vary depending on the bean and the flavors you want to highlight.
Coffee goes through two ‘cracks’ when it’s roasting. The beans crack when they’re in the roaster, and they crack when they come out and are cooling. At each crack, oils are released from the bean and they just give off this amazing aroma.
Our roaster is awesome. We’re able to work with them to get it just right every time.
And after roasting…?
Well, then there’s the whole world of the barista – the people who take those beans and make a cup of great coffee with them – and that’s just as complex as everything else about coffee. There’s a whole big world of really skilled baristas out there. It requires a lot of knowledge and skill and artistry to really have the ability to understand the flavor profile of a bean, and to know how to grind it, brew it, and use milk to highlight the flavors in the way they want to highlight them.
This is something that’s really important to us. We put so much effort into sourcing the highest quality beans from specific people in specific places. If the person using those beans to make a cup of coffee doesn’t know what they’re doing, they can easily end up with a terrible tasting coffee. So we think it’s really important to educate our all of our customers – everyone from people making our coffee in cafes to people buying bags to make at home – about how to make a great cup of coffee. The beans only get you halfway there. You can take the best beans in the world and make a terrible cup of coffee with them, fairly easily.
There are so many variables. You can use all kinds of different devices to brew a cup, and each of those devices will have a major impact on the flavor. You can use an espresso machine, a drip machine, a french press, a chemex…or a whole array of pour-over devices where you make a single cup by pouring water at a specific temperature over beans ground to a specific size to bring out specific flavors.
Everything comes into play. The fineness of the grind of the bean, the temperature of the water, the type and temperature of milk, the brewing method…
Water temperature has a huge impact on taste. If the water is too hot it will kill off the nice oils and delicate sugars that add a lot of flavor. If it’s not hot enough it won’t extract all the flavors you want to extract. Same goes for milk – if it’s too hot you’ll lose the sugary sweetness that makes an espresso drink with milk, like a cappucino or a latte, taste so good. You’ll see some baristas using timers and thermometers and all that kind of stuff.
It’s so intricate and there’s so much creativity that can go into making a great cup of coffee. A great barista is really an artist.
OK, so I’m officially fascinated. Once again I am in awe of how little I actually know about something I ingest on a daily basis! So let’s talk more about Crop to Cup’s approach to sourcing. You really focus on transparency and place of origin, right? Tell us a little more about that.
Transparency is really our mission at Crop to Cup. The supply chain that brings coffee from a small family plot on a mountain in Uganda, or anywhere coffee is produced, to a cup that you drink in a cafe or at home, is really complex. Coffee tends to pass through SO MANY hands before it gets to your cup. An obvious side effect of that is that it’s really easy for coffee drinkers to become totally disconnected from coffee farmers. This happens with all kinds of food, but with coffee I think it’s even more extreme.
We want to help consumers to understand who’s growing the coffee they’re drinking, where it’s being grown, how it’s being grown, and we want to help the farmers to understand how their coffee is being used, who’s drinking it, how are they making it…It’s all so simple but it just gets totally disconnected on both ends all the time.
We’re really just bringing that farm-to-table consciousness to coffee. Meet your farmer. Here’s a picture of him. Here’s where he lives. He also grows bananas and papaya. Taylor and Jake really wanted to make that part of the coffee world visible when they started the company.
It applies to the farmers too. I keep hearing stories of small coffee companies bringing espresso machines up into the mountains and actually making espresso for the farmers. I think that’s just awesome. Most of these farmers have never even heard of espresso. They don’t know what a barista is, or a roaster, or a french press. It seems almost funny, right? The farmers growing the coffee often have very little idea of how it actually gets used after they drop it off at a washing station and sell it to an exporter, and the consumers drinking the coffee don’t even know that coffee beans come from a fruit that grows on a bush.
We just want to shine a light on the whole thing to help everyone at every stage to understand how it all works. Because it’s really interesting!
When Taylor and Jake started the company, they also wanted to help people appreciate the role of place in coffee. Place really matters when it comes to flavor. The same type of bean grown at similar elevations 10 miles apart can have totally different flavor profiles.
Most coffee beans from a single place get mixed with beans of a similar grade from lots of other places before it ever reaches the consumer. Most bigger coffee companies are not at all concerned with origin at the level of a specific group of farmers or a specific washing station. They’re just price driven. They’ll work with an exporter in a particular country and tell them I want this much coffee of this grade at this price. And that’s it. They’ll take the same type and grade of beans from ten or twenty or a hundred different places in the same country and mix it all together. So when you buy in large bulk and mix beans from different places, you don’t know where it’s coming from or who’s growing it, and you lose all the nuances of flavor that are specific to the place in which a certain coffee is grown.
We’re really interested in isolating coffee grown in specific places, by specific people, and celebrating the flavor that’s unique to that place.
We just want to keep everything as simple and pure and connected to the source as possible, so we work directly with farmers to make sure they know how much their coffee is really worth and that they’re compensated fairly for it, and to be sure they know how they can grow and harvest the highest quality beans so they can get the most value out of their work.
We also work directly with the washing stations and exporters and farmers to help them understand that we want to create a market for specific lots of coffee from a specific place. Exporters are used to mixing coffees of the same varieties and grades from different washing stations into bigger batches. We work with directly, in-person with exporters and washing stations to get them to put aside specific coffees from specific stations for us – to keep them all separate for us.
And we try to work with our customers here so they can understand who’s growing their coffee, where it’s coming from, and how great it is to be able to appreciate the really complex, pure and wonderful flavor you get from coffee sourced from one place.
We’ve got a long way to go. Originally we used to get coffee from a whole area going into one bag. Now we’re getting coffee that’s specific to one washing station or even to one group of farmers. And we’re working to go further – we want to get it to a point where we can isolate the coffee harvested in a specific place on a specific day or week.
So you hear the word ‘single origin’ thrown around a lot, and it gets used in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people, but that’s what it means to us! That’s what we’re all about!
Stop by Crop to Cup’s Coffee Shop at 541 3rd Avenue, between 13th and 14th Street in Gowanus. Or click here to find a location carrying their beans near you.