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Our Thoughts, Ideas, & Inspiration

Women for Women International

Landon Porter
Landon Porter

UTOPIAN COFFEE CO. is proud to be a supporter of a project called “Women For Women International“, which works with socially excluded women in eight countries where war and conflict have devastated lives and communities. Women who enroll in their one-year program learn job skills and receive business training so they can earn a living. They come to understand their rights and how to fight for those rights in their homes, their communities and their nations. Here at UTOPIAN we have been able to help five ladies from the Democratic Republic of Congo go through the various classes that Women For Women has available. We are currently assisting Aimerance, also from the DRC, in completing the 12 month program. We just received an update on her progress and we would like to share that with you so you have a better understanding of how your support of UTOPIAN is making […]

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Light roast, dark roast, my roast, your roast

Landon Porter
Landon Porter

During my time in the coffee world I have witnessed the battle of the roast preference. I have heard about every debate out there, from light roast coffee is acidic to dark roast coffee is burnt. Everyone has their favorite place on the roast spectrum, and with a patriotic spirit they will rise up to defend their roast preference if anyone dares to attack it. We are creatures of habit and if we came into the gourmet coffee world liking one roast over the other, then that’s probably where we have remained. I hope to challenge your favorite roast preference and shed some light on why you may appreciate that roast you happen to look down upon. I will take on the light roast first since this is all the rage in the specialty coffee industry. Light roasted coffee is often praised because you can taste more of the coffee’s […]

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Brewing Ratio

Landon Porter
Landon Porter

I have come to notice that one of the biggest factors in getting great tasting gourmet coffee is the water to coffee ratio. Previously, I was satisfied people were simply brewing with Utopian Coffee regardless of the ratios they were using, but now I am more focused on proper water to coffee ratios. I hope this doesn’t come off as snobby, but I have started to see that people enjoy their coffee so much more when brewing with the correct proportions. The most common mistake in brewing is over-extraction, mainly caused by using way too little coffee compared to water. This produces a very bitter cup, which most of the world has come to recognize as the normal taste for coffee. That’s also why cream and sugar are so popular! We describe coffee in terms of “strong” or “weak” as opposed to the natural flavor of coffee because we came […]

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Burr Grinder

Landon Porter
Landon Porter

The best way to improve your coffee experience at home other than using fresh roasted coffee and proper water to coffee ratios is to use a quality burr grinder. If you are are not already using a burr grinder, hopefully I can win you over! Coffee loses most of it’s aromatics within 10 minutes of being ground. By the time you brew pre-ground coffee, most of the olfactory components have escaped and the result is a flat, but still fairly decent, brew. If you’re like me, you have decided you need something to simply chop up the beans. Easy enough, right? Once I was told that my coffee would taste much better if I ground it fresh, so I did what anyone would do and immediately got one of the $15 Mr. Coffee blade grinders. The problem with this, as I later found out, is that the blade grinders will […]

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Q&A: Coffee by Volume

patrick smith
patrick smith

QUESTION: I use a burr grinder that has automatic settings (so it grinds for a predetermined amount of time, depending on the setting). I measure my beans by weight, though. I have noticed that there are, at times, significant differences (like 15%) in the volume of bean that can be ground in a set time. Clearly, different coffees have different weights by volume, why is this? -Nathan D.

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A Glimpse Into Coffee Roasting

patrick smith
patrick smith

I take for granted that I watch coffee roast every day. I always enjoy it, but often fail to remember that it is really quite novel & interesting to many people. I was thinking about blogging this week. It occurred to me that I should compose a brief write-up of the roasting process & include some photos so that you could get a glimpse of what coffee roasting is like. It’s fun. The smells range from the chlorophyll-dominated scent of green coffee (think: fresh grass clippings in spring) to spicey cinnamon-esque aromas ¾ of the way through the roast to the final stages when the smoke intermittently stings your nose if you really breathe it in & the smell is that of toasted bread &….well, roasted coffee. I know that last one’s a cop out, but there’s nothing else really like it—it just smells like roasting coffee. So the work […]

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Rustic Coffee

patrick smith
patrick smith

I took the fam up to northern Michigan this weekend to visit some of Sarah’s (my wife) family. They live in a beautiful house in the middle of a mature poplar forest. They had a 2-3ft snow base, and despite the cold, the 2 older boys loved being outside. We rode around a bit on snow mobiles, built most of an 11ft wide igloo, got trounced at Settlers of Catan, and—my favorite part—took the boys on a “camping” adventure. Willard (Sarah’s cousin) has a yurt (huge tent) set up in the middle of the forest. It isn’t exactly roughing it, as the thing has a wood burning stove and camp cots. However, it was literally sub-zero outside, and I don’t think my 4 and 2 year-olds would have been too keen on spending the night outside otherwise. We had such a nice time. The boys were warm and comfortable enough […]

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Hope CSA

patrick smith
patrick smith

I had the best time last evening! I have to confess that I was rather dreading it, and I am now ashamed at my pessimism. My friend Jeff Hawkins, owner of Hope CSA (community supported agriculture), asked me to donate coffee for a fund raiser. Additionally, he asked me to come out to the event & speak briefly about the coffee to those in attendance. Between Heaven & Earth is a slow food, fine dining experience situated among the gardens of the Hawkins family farm. It features exquisite, locally sourced foods and serves as the annual fundraiser for Hope CSA, a non-profit educational organization. Jeff has an understated magnetism about him that renders him universally likable. He is charismatic but not overbearing, meek but confident, and slightly idiosyncratic. Seriously, I can’t help but like him. Clearly, then, I could not refuse his invitation to participate in the event. My wife […]

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Gratifying Coffee Chain in the Workplace

patrick smith
patrick smith

I received a phone call from my friend last week.  He is my primary contact at one of our wholesale accounts (We have a wholesale division of the company, D.b.a. Red Brick Coffee Roasters).  This particular wholesale account is unique in that they are a large corporation employing about 1,200 people & they offer Red Brick Coffee as a bona fide employee benefit. Honest!–employees can elect to have $10 per pay period ($1 per work day) deducted from their check for unlimited freshly roasted, freshly brewed specialty coffee. They’re a delight to work with because they get it. They invested in top notch grinding & brewing equipment.  They weigh out each batch carefully & brew at the proper proportion.  They keep the coffee fresh.  The employees are thrilled–they get their fill of world-class coffee for less than they’d pay for gas station coffee.  The employer couldn’t be happier because the […]

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Espresso: In Pursuit of Excellence

patrick smith
patrick smith

A coffee lover and serious home aficionado came by the UTOPIAN roastery yesterday. We looked over our La Marzocco Linea, talked specialty coffee, & philosophized about espresso. As the discussion progressed, the gleam in his eye became more apparent. We swapped stories about knockout double espressos & where we’ve had them. Then, I think we came to a tacit agreement on something: Part of the reason that espresso is enrapturing is that really great espresso is so tough to create and duplicate. The number of variables in the equation is so great, and many of them are outside of our ability to directly perceive. We have to read the finished product, and work backward to isolate, eliminate, and dial in variables. When it is early in the morning, and it’s just me here in the roastery gearing up for the day, achieving a great doubleshot is like solving a small mystery. It […]

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Specialty Coffee & Delayed Gratification

patrick smith
patrick smith

We live in a society driven by instant gratification.  We–myself included–live beyond our means, eat less healthy than we should, & miss some beauty in life simply because we want things now.  I am guilty of this–especially when I have made an online purchase.  That’s part of the reason we work so hard at UTOPIAN Coffee Co. to get your orders out the door asap.  One of the million things I love about my work is that specialty coffee is increasingly the picture of delayed gratification. There is a significant movement toward on-demand drip methods where you watch your cup being brewed right in front of you. The Clover brewer, Melitta style drip “brewers,” the Chemex, etc.  These require some patience, but in exchange you catch a glimpse of the art of coffee.  You also get (when these are fed good coffee & properly operated) great cup qualities.  This renewed focus on one-cup-at-a-time […]

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Sustainability within Specialty Coffee

patrick smith
patrick smith

As we at UTOPIAN work to build a holistically sustainable specialty coffee company, we regularly consider a number of stewardship issues: fair wages & safe working conditions for workers at origin, sustainable agricultural practices, environmentally friendly roasting/packaging/handling, etc. To date we haven’t made much noise about these things because to date we haven’t done anything truly remarkable or unique. Such themes guide our purchasing habits, the charities with which we partner, the packaging materials we use, etc. But there is so much more that can and should be done. One of the ways they we’ve always desired to contribute to holistic sustainability is to elevate specialty coffee—to show it for what it is. It is a livelihood, a passion, a luxury, a pastime, and so many other things. At the end of the day though, it is a drink, a consumable. It is art. It is brief. It is gone. […]

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Via Starbucks Coffee: Good Enough?

patrick smith
patrick smith

There are scores of Starbucks haters among the ranks of specialty coffee. In many cases I agree with their complaints. Starbucks’ coffee quality continues to diminish. It is over-roasted, and it sits too long from roast to brew. However, sometimes I wonder if the naysayers miss a growth opportunity as they hurl stones at the green giant. After all, the specialty coffee industry in the States is young, and—like it or not—Starbucks is largely responsible for the ubiquitous nature of it. They’ve done a world-class job of branding, diversifying their revenue stream, & employee retention. They’ve also become the benchmark for part-time employee benefits. Might we be better off if we were slower to demonize them, and a bit more willing to learn from their strengths and weaknesses? Realistically, if you’re doing high quality, holistically sustainable work in specialty coffee, you have nothing to fear from Starbucks. If yesterday’s rollout […]

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