One of the coolest things we got to do in Seattle was to pay a visit to Atlas Coffee, one of our main coffee importers. Aside from the typical meet and greet type stuff, the purpose of the visit was to spend some time in their coffee lab working on creating a new signature blend around our friend Luis’ Nicaraguan coffee that will arrive later in July. Their lab roaster Drew and Craig the owner spent three hours with us as we cupped different coffees and began crafting our blend.
For those of you who may not know this, coffee importers like Atlas are the people who actually source and move the coffee from origin to our shores. They have the incredibly difficult job of standing between roasters here in the USA and third world farmers and their governments. Not a great place to be sometimes! They are the ones who are on the ground going from farm to far, auction to auction, looking for great coffees and building relationships with all the right people to get those coffees to us year in and year out. They are the proverbial middle men. But in coffee, they’re essential to roasters. Apart from Starbuck, Green Mountain and a few other big boys, none of us would have any coffee to roast without them. We’re just too small to make moving it cost-effective.
The whole day was a really cool process if you like to geek out on coffee. Drew and I had emailed back and forth several times discussing what we wanted the blend to represent. Without being too deep, I wanted it to be comprised of the types of relationship coffees that our brand champions, which is why we chose to use Luis’ coffee as our base and main component. With that in mind, he had gone ahead and selected five additional coffees that met our criteria and that would potentially work well with the Nicaragua.
As it turns out, Drew and Emily went to the same college and just missed each other by one year (he graduated the year she entered). They both also played the clarinet in the band and went to the same church. Talk about a small world! That made for some fun conversation as they discovered quite a few common friends that they share.
Back to the coffee… We began by cupping each of the coffees individually. What was really great was that these two “professionals’ made this experience very accessible to us, especially to Emily. Coffee people can sometimes be really snooty about this sort of thing but these men were the complete opposite. They made us feel incredibly welcome and valued throughout the process.
After about an hour of tasting and discussing each of the coffees we landed on three that we wanted to try together. Drew then prepared four variations on how these coffees could potentially blend together and we did a second round of tasting. After more conversation we landed on one that we all agreed was the standout. We found our blend! Now we have to do the hard part and wait until they all arrive and we can start roasting it!
Walking away, we could not believe how much these people went out of their way to value us. When you’re small and you are walking into a company that works with industry leading roasters the likes of Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Café Grumpy and the like, it’s easy to be afraid you will get a cold response.
To Craig’s credit, he’s done an excellent job creating a culture that places value on all his clients, big or small. He seems to be one of those men that values integrity and humility. Several times he thanked us for being honest, for being real about what we know and don’t know and for actually doing what we say we’re doing as a business. Today I have a deeper respect for Atlas Coffee and the vital role of importers and the role they play in helping all of us source high quality equitably priced coffees. Without them I would not be able to offer you the level of product we do.
A little long-winded, but hopefully an interesting peak behind the coffee roasting scenes. Keep a look out for our new signature blend later this summer!