How we focus on quality for specialty coffee
How we focus on quality for specialty coffee
Talk is cheap and anyone can make statements about sourcing and buying the finest quality coffees from around the world. Who's really checking or holding to account ?
We are living in a modern era where fake news, lies and deception have become a daily part of society and rarely rebuked or punished.
Unfortunately, the coffee industry is not immune from excessive hype, mis-representation and at times coffee companies can be loose with the truth, especially around the freshness of their products or inherent qualities.
It all stems from excessive competition in our local Australian coffee market and a desire to establish key points of difference within a crowded, saturated industry.
Our approach to coffee is not driven by marketing, but instead from a long and successful history of engineering. You see, we engineer our coffee - it's a combination of science, facts, structured analysis, precision and utilizing the very best equipment available with expert skill.
No smoke and mirrors here and definitely no over-the-top promises.
We also know that when it comes to great coffee there is no substitute for experience. Our team's 50 year history in coffee throws a lot of shade over the limited knowledge of the hundreds of new market entrants desperately seeking attention.
For us, there is no greater reward than product excellence.
Being able to produce better coffees to what's generally available in the market is our greatest pride and achievement.
We don't want fame, riches or glory......we have won plenty of coffee roasting medals and competitions over the last decade there's really point or desire to compete anymore. We have more than proved ourselves time and again in the modern era of coffee roasting competitions. Today's awards are diluted with 5 competitions and 300+ medals handed out.....just like the wine industry, yet barely 10% of the coffee industry actually participate.
You won't see us beating our chests proclaiming "award winning coffees" or using images of medals to impress you with credentials.
For us, we like to keep it simple - create the best coffee product using elements of ingredients, process, freshness, value for money and service.
Never easy to achieve all these goals simultaneously, but it's what we have been perfecting for more than 12 years, so we have plenty of practice and experience.
From an outsiders view, it would be natural to assume that roasting coffee is just like baking a cake or cooking meat on the BBQ. It's just the simple process of applying heat to food with some technique ?
If only it was that simple and to be honest, as recent as 10 years ago coffee roasting was that basic (unfortunately, some companies these days still think it is).
Today it's almost as complex and landing a man on the moon. The stakes are high - reputations are incredibly important as customers demand the best flavours and enduring sweetness from their coffee beans.
It's no longer possible to turn green stuff brown as customers are spoilt for choice. You are only as good as the last batch of coffee........there is no such thing as trading on past glories when it comes to coffee - reputations are made and broken in an instant and customers will immediately go elsewhere - nobody has a monopoly.
The entire process needs control - right from sourcing raw/green coffees, roasting infrastructure, inventory management and logistics. You cannot let any step fail or drift out of specification - requiring absolute focus and discipline for doing all the small things right.
In 15 years of roasting coffee, we have developed significant intellectual property associated with supply chains and sourcing of our ingredients and this forms a major element of our R&D program along with testing and analysis.
We believe one of our key advantages is realised through the management of our raw coffee assets with exceptional rigour - few of our competitors can match our control programs - we are on the extreme edge of care.
Major investments in plant and systems are critical to maintaining quality and consistency. Coffee roasting is no longer about romantic artisan flair - those days are long gone, coffee roasting is about computers that monitor roast cycles and having the discipline and processes to enable products to constantly improve.
Coffee roasting has never been about freaky talent or possessing a 6th sense.....it's based upon solid foundations of experience and structured processes.
Roasting coffee is just like playing a skill-based elite sport such as golf or tennis, there are no short-cuts, no fast-tracking, no hacks or cheat-sheets........only the hard, enduring slog of practice and experience from doing it over and over thousands and thousands of times.
Everything we do exists within a loop - testing, analysis, feedback, checking, optimizing. The work of change and improvement never stops with coffee - it's constantly throwing challenges to us from the variability of the raw ingredients.
Every week we receive new coffees and each time they present subtle or major differences - our quest is to work out the optimal way to manage this change event.
When we source coffee, each bean, or blend requires careful analysis of the raw coffee attributes - moisture, density and screen size. These metrics are measured immediately after the raw coffee arrives into our warehouse and compared against our quality standards.
Out of specification product is put aside for further investigation and engagement with the supplier. Another more sophisticated measure is emerging - water activity, but it's incredibly difficult to measure - except with skills that we won't disclose here as our competitors will pounce on our ideas.
Small lots are drawn from the raw coffee sacks for roasting on our Lab equipment.
Most coffee companies use sample roasters for testing, however, these systems are too small and unable to replicate real life production roasting profiles. Sample roasters impose considerable limitations in controlling and logging the entire roast cycle.
Sample roasters are designed for micro batch sizes - just 50 to 100g, they tend to only work well for roasts up to a relative light depth used in traditional cupping protocols. Therefore, we deem sample roasters unable to do what is actually needed in a typical production roast stress test.
Our lab equipment is a smaller scaled-down version of our full production grade system, complete with detailed controls and monitoring. This enables us to perform accurate roasts that measure a raw coffee's response to typical production roasting profiles.
We believe our lab strategy provides us with a key differentiator versus the rest of the industry relying upon basic cupping procedures from small sample roasters.
It's during lab roasting analysis that we determine the best suited profile for the new raw/green coffee. Each of the test batches is roasted with a slightly different method based upon our extensive roasting experiences, e.g. we use profiles that are typical or applicable to that type or raw/green coffee.
Test batches are marked with codes and after a controlled rest period of de-gassing, the test samples are blind tasted using testing staff who are not told anything about the coffee or the roast profiles used in preparing samples. This approach provides a distinct level of unbiased review and enables us to arrive at the best target profile in preparing the coffee for production.