We love our coffee and it seems like we don’t mind paying for it, either. You don’t have to look very hard around almost any town around here to find some sort of coffee shop; from the ubiquitous Starbucks to the specialty mom-and-pop roaster, they all use coffee beans to get you your daily jolt of caffeine, and more importantly, a true coffee flavour. That’s why some coffee shop owners even get involved in auctions to make sure they get the coffee beans they want.
Coffee sure has come a long way from 20 years ago when your only choice was brewed or instant. The quality of coffee and the selection of different beans have been on the same learning curve as wine has been in BC for the past 20 or 30 years. People are more discerning, they want more selection, they enjoy learning about different flavours, and what effects the flavour and aroma. I’ve been invited to wine tastings where the bottles cracked open were never going to widely available because they were quite rare, and I got to do kind of the same thing at a ‘coffee cupping’ at my local coffee shop in Cobble Hill last week, Drumroaster Coffee.
At this coffee tasting session we cupped 10 different coffees. The green beans have been lightly roasted and coarsely ground. Then these rough grounds are placed in cups specially made to capture the aromas of the brewed coffee….hot water is poured in, and then you sniff and finally sip from special spoons. Our cupping leader was Carsen Oglend of Drumroaster: “We use special spoons as well, they have a flat lip on one side and a deep scoop to them so you can slurp the coffee quickly from the spoon and aspirate it over your tongue and palate so you get all the flavours and aromas coming through.”
These coffee beans all come from one coffee producer in Panama called Esmeralda Special. They have been ranked as some of the top tasting coffee beans in the world, and have been auctioned off in the past at up to 170 dollars a pound. Carsen and his father Geir want to offer some of this coffee to their customers at the Drumroaster. So, they are going through this tasting to see what they like, what they think their customers will like, getting ready for the online coffee bean auction which takes place in a couple of weeks.
Who would pay so much for coffee beans? It makes for a very expensive cup of coffee by the time it gets to the coffee shop counter. Some cafes do it for a fun promotional thing, once a year, charge you ten dollars for a small cup of these kinds of coffees….but Carsen doesn’t plan to go for the really expensive lots of these beans. He will choose something that can still be affordable to his customers, particularly say at Christmas, when they will sell half-pound or pound sizes for people looking for something special. He says they won’t pay 170 dollars a pound, but: “Not everyone will pay $80 for a bottle of wine, say, but some people will, and I think some people might be willing to pay, say, $20 for half a pound of coffee.”
The range in the ten different beans was quite broad. Some I thought smelled like chocolate, others more lemony, and a couple even reminded me of cooked tomatoes. They were all very smooth, not bitter. I don’t drink a lot of black coffee…I’m a cappuccino and latte kind of guy. But this coffee I could drink straight, black and not need any sugar or milk with it at all. Keep in mind that all these coffees come from the same valley in Western Panama, but they are grown in different locations at different elevations, which has an effect on the flavour. They are all from the same type of coffee bush called Geisha, which was imported from Ethiopia years ago.
The people invited to the coffee cupping were mostly doing it for fun last week. But Carsen was going to do much more tasting on his own, taking a lot of notes about each coffee to zero in on what he wants to bid on in the auction. In the coffee world there are people who have jobs cupping coffee, and I wouldn’t want the pressure of making decisions on which thousands of pounds I would be recommending to buy. It would keep me up at night…not to mention the coffee would keep me up at night! And there is a certain amount of fun and challenge in this process for Carsen along with the great coffee flavour:
The auction takes place May fifteenth, so if I’m around I will pop into the coffee shop to see how they fare in their bidding, but apparently everyone can watch online as the bids go up.
To listen to my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts about this on All Points West, visit this page on the All Points West website.