News from 44 North

Roast Summit 2024 - Portland, OR

Roast Summit 2024 - Portland, OR

Heyo coffee fans near and far - Alix Sarain here, 44 North Coffee Head Roaster & Production Manager.

Roast Summit opening slide

I recently got to meet with other coffee nerds in Portland, OR to learn more about coffee, roasting, while tasting and touring some amazing coffee facilities. I haven't been to Portland since I was a teen, certainly not since the growth of third wave specialty coffee hit the city, so it was fun to go back! All in the name of making some sweet bean juice!

Line-up of speakers

Let me tell you the level of geekdom was at a 11 a few times during the first day of lectures; talking about the electrochemistry of coffee and concept of introducing electrodes to reduce acidity in a brewed cup. We also learned about the developing field of coffee roasting kinetics in relationship to color change and creating a color control chart for roasting. These 2 lecturers are in the science behind coffee - a professor at the University of Oregon and a phD student at the UCDavis (my alma mater) Coffee Lab - their lectures blew my mind and reminded me that yes, there very much is an extremely scientific side to coffee roasting.

Roasting color curve model

The parts I love and know, are the intuitive, artistic sides of coffee roasting, which are similar to cooking in my opinion. And I love cooking. Those skills come with time and experience and also trusting your gut and palate. The first lecture of the conference was the first coffee professional to describe coffee roasting the same way I do - a balance between art and science - where you have to make interpretive choices, and the more you do, the more you learn, and those choices start to have predictable outcomes. But also we have to factor in environmental factors that is different region to region and roastery to roastery. The fact that we roast on an island off the coast of Maine really does factor into how we roast each day, and while I intuitively knew that, and adjust as needed by my senses, it was nice to have that confirmed, and to learn about the helpful tools out there for us actually measure these environmental factors.

While there is a science, and an art and intuition, to coffee roasting, the coffee business is mostly about relationship building; with our farmers, our customers, within the staff, and also as a specialty food company in the larger global market, and that was evident throughout the summit. The connection and importance around those interpersonal relationships shone through and matters from crop to cup, which we fully know and try to highlight as much as possible here at 44 North Coffee.

I learned so much about green bean sourcing and sorting. Did you know that it takes 1,036 lbs. of coffee cherry to yield ONE 152.12 lb. burlap bag of dried green coffee! 70% of the coffee is lost in during the milling process and on average it takes 6 people to pick enough coffee cherries to get that one 152.12 lb. bag of green coffee. The average picker can pick 176-220 lbs. of cherry per day. I don't know about you, but knowing these numbers made me incredibly apprecaitve of each and every coffee bean. Each bean is hand picked and it takes multiple hands in order for us to enjoy our hot cuppa in the morning. I hope you think about that often, and have gratitude each morning for that beautiful cup in your hands, and the many hands that made it possible. I know I certainly do.

Green bean sorting

It also made me wonder about the industry standards for exporting coffee and while obviously necessary, we tried 6 different cups of coffee with upwards of 25% defects in the brewed cup. Of the 6 cups, only 2 were unpalatable. The other 4 were quite delicious and we, as a well-trained coffee professional, group considered high enough quality to be exportable - but they were not! The industry standard is strict, permitting less than 5 full defects in a single 300 gram sample, which is often why when you travel to a world-known coffee producing regions of the world that the coffee you find there is not as great as when you drink it at home - all the high quality beans are exported out of the country! What is deemed unexportable is left at origin for the farmers and locals to drink.

Day two of the event, was all hands-on, my favorite! We sorted green beans and learned about all the defects and stages of the milling process. We roasted on baby 1 lb. capacity San Franciscan roasters, we toured Coava and Roseline Coffee, and we tasted some amazing coffees that were scored by Cup of Excellence. Each coffee on the cupping table was a Cup of Excellence winning Colombian coffee in the 88-90.5 specialty excellent to outstanding coffee range according to the SCAA. These coffees were priced at $20-50 / green bean pound! It was fun to try such outstanding coffees. Each year Cup of Excellence tastes, judges, and values over 3,000 specialty coffees from around the world, giving millions of dollars back to the winning farmers each year. I also learned that anyone can be a Cup of Excellence judge and they are always looking for new tasters.


Baby roaster

What I love about these events is letting my coffee geek flag fly and sharing common ground and knowledge around coffee with other coffee nerds. Sourcing and roasting coffee really is an amazingly fascinating and beautiful industry that I feel so honored to be a part of. Roasting coffee here at 44 North Coffee is the perfect balance for the two sides of my brain, which is equally split between the science-y, analytical, logical side, and the artistic, flavor-loving, intuition-based side.

Thank you to Megan and Melissa, and all the staff at 44 North, for letting me go on this adventure, to learn more, to share more, and to expand my coffee knowledge with all of you. Cheers!

Roastery at Coava, above: green bean storage silo, fits 3,000 lbs. of 8 different coffees

Coava roastery production space

Cup of Excellence cupping

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