News from 44 North

Sourcing and Quality Virtual Cupping

Sourcing and Quality Virtual Cupping

As part of Cooperative Coffee roaster-members, we have the privilege of also sitting on committees at the Coop, helping facilitate the many nuances and ongoing conversations about the ever changing specialty coffee industry we are so honored to be a part of. Melissa is on the Impact Committee, Megan is on the Leadership Team as well as on the main Board, and Alix our lead roaster and wholesale production manager, sits on the Quality and Sourcing Committee.

The Sourcing and Quality Committee has an ongoing conversation about the quality of the beans we are sourcing from our farmer-producers around the world. As well as talking about price and market fluctuations due to climate change, producer set-backs, shipping delays, civil unrest in producing regions, damage to the beans during harvest or transport, etc., the board is comprised of Coop staff, other roaster-members, as well as some farmer-producers. This Committee is invaluable in its ability to stay on top of the sourcing and quality of the green beans we are growing, harvesting, importing, roasting and selling. As our green bean buyer, Alix has found great value and knowledge in being part of the Sourcing and Quality Committee with other Coop members.

While we have monthly virtual meetings to stay in touch and also talk about the most pertinent issues on hand for the month, in late April, Alix had the pleasure of taking part in a Sourcing and Quality Virtual Cupping with other Coop farmer-producers, roasters, Coop staff, and people who are committed to the Coop mission (read more about that here and why we are proud Coop roaster-members).

For 2 days Alix virtually met with over 30 people committed to expanding our love and knowledge of specialty coffee. As well as expanding our palate and facilitating a conversation around tasting and enjoying the coffees our farmer-producers work so hard to provide us with.

Prior to the 2 day event, roasters were asked to submit a production roast, meaning a roast that we perform everyday and use in everyday production and service. The Coop chose an origin that most of us had in rotation - COMSA in Honduras and Fondo Paez in Colombia. We submitted our roasted beans along with several of the other 23 roaster-members across the USA and Canada. We blind cupped them as a group and then we anazlyzed them and shared feedback.

We were asked to submit our Honduras production roast, which as some of you may know, is one our darkest roasts. We have been working hard to make Honduras a more exciting dark cup of coffee. What has long been the back-up player, providing smoky notes to the beloved Royal Tar blend, is starting to establish it's own stake in our year-round line-up. We have several wholesale accounts that exclusively get our Honduras beans. Alix has worked really hard to fine tune this roast, so that it provides a creamy, well-balanced, smoky and sweet dark cup. Alix actually suggested that we started offering Honduras as single origins coffee only a couple years ago, even though it has been an origin in Royal Tar since the beginning of 44 North. 

We were nervous to submit this coffee as our sample for the virtual cupping because it is so dark. Typically when you are cupping coffees they are light roasts to really enhance and highlight the nuance of the bean and origin. Also we were nervous because we knew our experienced Cooperative audience and fellow coffee aficionado professionals have a seasoned knack for tasting high quality light roasted coffee.

At 44 North, we roast a full spectrum of roasts from light to medium to dark, because we know our customers have preferences and there is no judgment in your preference, hence why we offer the spectrum. While many of us here at 44 love light roasts, we can appreciate and understand the love and importance of dark roasts as well. And this is where Honduras, Peru and Sumatra, come in, for our dark roast lovers.

When Alix received the box of cupping samples for the event she immediately noticed the dark and oily beans that were Honduras sample 4. She was concerned because all the other samples were noticibly lighter in color and had no oil. She was pretty sure she knew which sample was ours and it didn't look like the others.

We cupped the 5 Honduras samples, all from the same farmer (who unfortunately couldn't participate in the event. Alix would have loved to have heard their thoughts on how we roasted their beans), as a group and then talked about them, gave praise, critique and feedback, and then revealed which roaster produced the sample. The first two samples the group liked; light roasts, with notes of brown sugar and vanilla, some citrus and molasses, both scored well on the standardized Specialty Coffee Association cupping metric. Sample 3 was darker than samples 1 and 2, and had cereal notes, and unfortunately also had a noticeable defect that several of us pointed out and were not pleased with (Alix feared with was our sample and started to panic even more). Sample 4 was by far the darkest coffee of both days, which made Alix question really if she knew which sample was ours. Sample 4 had balanced tasting notes of chocolate and fruit, a tapered acidity, with a creamy, full-bodied sweetness. And the group liked it even though it was by far the darkest coffee we sampled! The farmer-producers in Latin America immediately commented how much this coffee reminded them of the coffee they know and love and drink at home, with a lot of milk and sugar. Everyone in the group really enjoyed and were grateful to have a dark roast option among all the many light roasts, rarely do we get to cup a dark roast. The reason for this, is that a light roast is preferred for sampling, ie cupping, to truly highlight the nuance of flavors of the origin and beans, as well as highlight any possible defects too. Rarely on an official cupping table will you find a dark roast, in fact the standard SCA cupping metric, which we all use to judge coffee, isn't set up to grade dark roasted coffee. But they asked for a production roast. It was considered very clean and a highly enjoyed dark roast by the group. Lastly, sample 5, we all identified as not the same coffee as samples 1-4. It was bright and very fruity, noticeably a natural or honey processed coffee. We were all confused why this coffee was being cupped along COMSA Honduras coffees when it clearly was not the same bean, although the group favorite on the table for that cupping

Can you guess which sample was 44 North's Honduras? It was sample 4!! They loved it! The group raved about it! The farmers loved this coffee and said how it reminded them of what they drink in their homes. Sure, it is not the super nuanced light roast version of this origin that sample 1 and 2 highlighted so beautifully, but there is a familiarity and love for a dark roast. It is that cup of coffee when we think of coffee; creamy, dark, smoky, pleasing mouthfeel, it stands up well to lots of cream and sugar and is best enjoyed first thing in the morning while still in your pjs. This Honduras, our dark roasted, Royal Tar back-up, is this dark roast cup a lot of us know, love and crave. And these coffee experts from around the world loved our roast of this coffee! They completely know, understand, and value the market for dark roasted specialty coffee, especially when it tastes this good. Alix was complimented by all and specifically by a much more experienced roaster, who said that when he was trained he was told anyone can under-roast, ie light roast, a coffee, it takes a really talented roaster to be able to roast such a well developed, balanced, and delicious dark roast. Alix feels really proud of how much she has worked on getting the Honduras to where it is now, and to have that validated by such talented people in the specialty coffee world really was encouraging.

As suspected sample number 5 of the Honduras samples was a Honey Processed Honduras from COMSA, which we carry annually. We know and love this coffee. And the Coop staff thought it would be fun to throw a little trick at us to see if we could catch it. We did! It is the same producers in Honduras, just processed differently. Lastly, we cupped the Fondo Paez Colombia roasts, which were all incredibly delicious, but lighter than we roast these beans here at 44 North, and tasting these made Alix excited for when her personal seasonal medium roast favorite will be available in a couple months.

We also had the privilege of presentations by two farmer-producers and a fellow roaster out of Wisconsin. They talked about the ever changing dynamics in the coffee industry, climate change, inconsistent weather, encouraging youth and women into the industry, rising prices and fluctuations in the market, as well as sustainability, meeting market demands and the ever changing freight, shipping logistics and costs that peaked during the pandemic. While none of us has the exact right answer or solution to any of these challenges that the coffee industry faces, it is nice to work and communicate alongside fellow specialty coffee professionals dedicated to figuring it out, continuing to try, regularly communicating and sharing, and bettering this industry so that we can continue to produce, roast, and serve incredible coffee from these incredibly hard working farmer-producers around the world.

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