Our Commitment to Quality
I was 35 years old when I tasted the coffee my friend Health had roasted in his air popcorn popper. In that memorable cup, I tasted a complexity of flavor and sweetness that I had never experienced in coffee. In fact, the quality of that coffee was so superior to what I had been drinking that, even when roasted in a $10 popcorn popper, it tasted better than what I was buying. (And I thought what I was buying from the Green Mermaid was pretty good!)
Up to that point I had no idea that coffee could be better than what I was used to drinking. Growing up, coffee was always present. And coffee was, well, just coffee. Sure, there was that moment in the 80s when the Folgers Brick came out—that was pretty cool. But mostly coffee seemed to always promise something with its aroma that its taste did not deliver. The caffeine jolt kept me coming back, but the taste…well, I just tolerated that.
Not long after my Aha Moment, we started a roasting business with the passion to introduce others to what I had discovered.
From the beginning of Carabello Coffee, our commitment to quality was really my commitment to quality. I did not ever want to go back. And, like a coffee crusader, I wanted to liberate others who did not know they were missing out.
Early on I learned that for a farmer to grow and produce really high-quality coffee, the farmer needed to get paid a price per pound that justified the needed investment it would take to grow and care for healthy plants. They would need to only harvest fully ripe cherries, meticulously de-pulp and dry the seeds, and do every step at a 10 out of 10. That meant waiting longer to get paid, paying pickers and workers to take more care and spend more time doing their jobs well, etc.
For decades most producers did not put the time and energy into their coffee because, quite honestly, they were getting paid below the cost of production, often requiring government subsidization in order to stay above the poverty line. For that to change there needed to be people who were willing to pay higher prices and sell that idea to consumers like you and me. From the farmers standpoint, who cares if the quality is higher if the price stays the same?
Traceability & Quality Become Bedrock
Traceability in our coffees is something we are deeply committed to. We want as much of the coffee we roast in a given year to be traceable to specific farmers and cooperatives. When you buy coffee from Carabello, we want you to know who grew it and where it came from. That traceability allows us to celebrate the hard work of those individuals and the distinctives of that coffee’s variety and terroir (or growing environment).
When it comes to quality, coffee is assessed and assigned a score that is then used to negotiate price with the grower or the exporter. We call this a Cupping Score. The threshold for what is considered “specialty coffee” is 80 points. But in our opinion, it’s not really until you hit 84 points that you start getting coffees that manifest solid and undeniable sweetness, character, and complexity. For us an 84 point coffee is the entry level coffee. We refuse to source anything below that level of quality and are willing to pay a premium price that is commensurate with that quality. We believe that holding ourselves to this standard means you are always going to experience exceptionally tasty coffees.
We break down our offerings into several different categories. We begin with our Staple Blends. These coffees have flavor profiles that are repeatable and deliver a consistent cup week in and week out. Coffees going into them are in the 84-86 points range. We then have our Single Origin micro lots, which are coffees that are going to be very small in quantity and often traceable to a specific plot of land on a farm grown by an individual. These coffees get more nuanced and more complex and generally score between 86-88 points.
Then we have our Seasonal Blends where we blend to match what we believe are the flavors of the season. These are typically blends of single origin quality coffees in the 85-88 points range.
Our Limited Release and Grand Cru coffees are typically going to be the highest quality. Our commitment is that these coffees are a minimum of 87+ points with the Grand Crus coming in at a minimum of 90. These are truly exceptional coffees that deliver at the highest level.
Why Does Quality Matter?
Quality matters because it’s directly tied to compensation at the farm level. The more we are willing to pay farmers a premium for top quality, the more it incentivizes them to put in the time and energy necessary to repeatedly produce top quality coffee.
I believe it also matters because it honors the beautiful thing that God created when he gave us coffee. He gave us something that has the ability to communicate a wide range of complex and nuanced flavor experiences. Coffees can be bright and punchy, deeply resident and earthy, yummy and caramel and silky, and everything in between. We believe that the only way that we can truly celebrate the full tastes coffee has to offer is if we are able to work with people who care enough to produce at a high quality because, in turn, they are being compensated fairly for their efforts.