Tag Archive: coffee
According to the International Coffee Organization, 71.93 million bags of Arabica coffee were exported from approximately 70 coffee producing countries around the world in 2016. This is a baffling number, but considering the average consumption per capita is nearly equivalent to 1 cup per person, the United States alone consumes around 325 million cups of coffee each day.
As a roasting company, our main goal is to provide fantastic coffees to our customers. At each level, we are working to break down the barrier between delicious coffee and the consumer, but this is no simple task. In essence, part of what Utopian does is filter through innumerable coffees to find what’s best and bring it to you. This past week, the Utopian team cupped about 50 different coffees to hopefully find new offerings for our customers. We would like to share a bit of this process and hopefully give you some insight into our day to day work.
Ashley cupping coffees
Step 1. Order samples from producers and importers
The first step in choosing what coffee we will offer is to connect with people who work exclusively with green coffee. This takes several shapes and forms; one day we will be communicating with a large coffee importing organization, and the next day we will be exchanging emails with farmers and cooperative owners in Latin America. No matter what we do, Utopian works hard to establish relationships and partnerships with various members of the green coffee community.
Once we have made a connection with a producer or importer, we will then start choosing green coffee samples. The goal of this is to obtain a small portion of a given coffee to evaluate before purchasing several hundred pounds. Samples come in various sizes, but typically we will receive anywhere from 150-500 grams at a time. This may seem like a small amount, but with this amount we will be able to fully evaluate any given coffee and decide how to move forward.
Our Ikawa sample roaster with green coffee
Step 2. Sample Roast
When green coffee samples arrive at Utopian, they are stored in our Coffee Lab until they are ready to be roasted. The most difficult part of evaluating samples is creating consistency. Without this, we would not be capable of making sound judgements regarding what coffees we will purchase. One way we eliminate variables, mistakes, and inconsistencies is by roasting all of our samples using the Ikawa sample roaster.
Using the Ikawa to create great samples!
The Ikawa is a small-scale fluid-bed roaster which uses hot air to roast the beans instead of a flame. By using air, we keep unwanted flavors away from the beans, resulting in very clean cups of coffee to evaluate. Additionally, the Ikawa Pro is a profile-driven roaster, which creates consistency throughout the entire sample roasting process. For those curious, a profile is a graph created for the beans to be roasted. By following this graph, we are able to pull forward all the unique characteristics from each sample batch roasted. Even moreso, with the Ikawa I use our standard sample roast profile for 10 different coffees, which roasts each sample to to the same level, leaving only the coffee’s natural flavor to be the defining difference as we begin to taste.
During cupping we will taste several different coffees and compare the unique characteristics of each
Step 3. Taste!
The third and final step in evaluating a coffee is tasting the roasted samples. At Utopian we do this by “cupping” the coffees side by side with as many as 10 coffees at a time. Cupping is a form of brewing and evaluating the coffee with limited variables so we can taste the essence of each sample. We do this by taking a small glass and filling it with several grams of the ground sample. We then sniff the dry coffee grounds, taking notes of any scents we perceive. Afterwards, we fill up each glass with hot water and return to smelling and inspecting each glass individually.
After letting the grounds steep (brew) for several minutes, we break the crust and smell the wonderful aromas beneath. At this point we begin tasting each cup, meticulously writing down what we taste. We do all of this while remaining completely silent to avoid any interference that could cause bias against or for any given coffee. After each team member has tasted the samples, we compare our notes and talk about which coffees will best fit into our lineup.
To break the crust we use a spoon to stirr the grounds at the top which “breaks” the crust formed, releasing aromatics!
More often than not, all of our team members enjoy the same coffees and agree on which ones would be best to source for our wholesale and retail customers. However, arriving at the correct coffees becomes an intricate and often trying process as we scrutinize every coffee that comes through the door. We taste many coffees only to find one which we are excited to share and present. Nevertheless, when we receive positive feedback for even one coffee, it encourages us to continue pursuing the best coffees in the world.
One of the most challenging parts of enjoying coffee is understanding what you’re tasting! Trying to put into words the flavors we all taste in coffee can be a huge feat. As a professional, part of my job is to come up with “tasting notes” that reflect the coffee, and sometimes even I am at a loss for words for what I’m tasting. This can be even more difficult for a person who wants to learn how to taste coffee at home! Luckily, the skills necessary for developing a palate for coffee is available to anyone. Here I’ve listed five completely practical steps that will help you learn how to taste coffee like a professional!
Eat diverse foods!
Tasting coffee is all about building up memory reserves where you can recall flavors you’ve tasted before. Imagine if all you ever ate was french fries. You would only be able to speak about flavors in terms of what french fries taste like. Fortunately, there are a number of diverse foods available to the average person, and the more foods you eat the greater ability you will have to create new flavor reserves and recall what you’ve tasted, eventually recognizing these flavors in coffee! I recommend trying new dishes at your favorite restaurant, as well as switching up your grocery shopping list to include new things. Vegetables and fruits are the easiest foods to access when trying to diversify your palate.
Think about what you’re eating
It’s easy to eat an entire meal without thinking twice about the flavors that you’re tasting. Every time you eat without stopping to savor the flavors you miss an opportunity to learn and to make memories for recalling later on! What may begin as an average dinner featuring mom’s spaghetti can now become a challenge to evaluate and discover flavor nuances like never before. Try and pick apart the major ingredients first like tomato paste and noodles, then try and pull out very specific flavors like basil and thyme.
Use high quality water to brew your coffee
Since coffee is more than 90% water, the kind of water being used to brew coffee is very important! In essence, the different mineral qualities of the water will either aid or hinder in extracting the best flavors from the beans. Avoid water with no minerals because the absence of minerals will cause an absence of flavors being extracted. Similarly, water straight from the tap generally has too many minerals and will pull unwanted flavors from the beans. The perfect water can be created at home by referencing the Barista Hustle water recipe or by purchasing some Third Wave Water! If you’d rather keep it super simple, try brewing using remineralized bottled water from the store. Try out different brands and see which one makes the best brew.
Nathan focusing on the characteristics of the coffee
Drink coffee from all over the globe!
Coffee from the heart of Ethiopia will taste completely differently from coffee cultivated in the Peruvian highlands. Because of this, learning to taste coffee like a pro means drinking coffee from different origins. Try buying two coffees from different origins and tasting them right next to each other! Once you’ve mastered this, try drinking coffee from the same country but with different regions, varietals, or processing methods. You’ll soon learn that no two coffees are the same.
Drink coffee with friends!
One of the best ways to learn how to taste coffee like a pro is to drink coffee with others! It’s one experience to sit by yourself and think about flavors, but gettings the opinions of friends can be extremely helpful. While you may taste candied almonds, a friend may taste something closer to vanilla bean. By discussing the flavor of coffee with others you will learn how to taste coffee in an entirely new way!
Lastly, the most difficult part of learning how to taste coffee like a professional is being humble. Sometimes you won’t pick up on the obscure tasting notes that some people will point out. At other times, you will taste something might not be present due to factors influencing your smell perception. But above all, have fun! Learning to taste the nuances of coffee is a challenge but with these simple tips you can develop the skills to taste coffee with industry professionals.
Gabby is an employee of Utopian Coffee, a recent graduate of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an avid comic book connoisseur.
What was your first awesome experience with coffee?
When I was in England I went to the London Coffee Festival with a friend who was much more acquainted with coffee than I was. There was a lot more technology than I ever thought there could be! A group from a local college was testing sensory perception using different frequencies!
What coffee do you recommend from Utopian right now?
The Ethiopian! Every time I open a bucket or a bag of it, it smells like strawberries, which is just awesome! There’s more flavors going on in one bag of the Ethiopian than almost any coffee you can buy anywhere. It’s definitely a coffee that makes you think while your drinking it.
What kind of stuff do you do at Utopian?
I work mostly on shipping and fulfillment, but I do a lot more than that. I also oversee inventory as well as operations in the back of house. If you’ve received a bag of coffee recently I was involved in some capacity!
What coffee producing country would you like to visit and why?
I’d just love to go to the rainforests of Sumatra. Because it’s an island the landscape is so different compared to other coffee-producing countries. Though I would be worried of being eaten by wild animals-it’s the rainforest and I won’t see it coming.
If you’re going to a coffee shop what are you ordering?
Usually a cortado or cappuccino-something small. I like to increase my chance of getting latte-art, and if I go to a really great cafe I know a cap will have some awesome latte art. I enjoy cortados because the ratio of espresso to milk is much more even. I used to always order lattes, but being in the industry has changed me!
What do you love about working at Utopian?
As part of a small, growing business, I can really make an impact with my position. I have the opportunity to really improve within my role, and thus improve overall flow. We’re also a company that’s making a global impact and that matters–I’ve always wanted to work for a company that is socially, economically, and environmentally responsible.
If you had an entire weekend to do whatever you want with no financial restrictions what are you doing?
I’m driving straight to Chicago and eating everything. I would just take a weekend to tour the city’s best restaurants and cafes.