There have never been as many coffee roasters and as much great coffee as there is today, and in our opinion, we’ve never had it so good! But what do coffee roasters actually do? In a series of blog posts, I'll talk through our experiences in sourcing and roasting and all the steps involved in making a product we can be really proud of.
Sourcing is the process of selecting the ‘green’ or raw coffee we’re going to roast, and this has quickly become my favourite part of what we do. There are many ways to buy green coffee, and each one comes with different amounts of risk and reward. Like most small roasteries, we buy our coffee through importers. This enables us to purchase multiple coffees in small quantities, and take on the least amount of risk associated with transporting the green beans from origin. Today, there are lots of importers to choose from and each specialise in different producing countries. Caravela, Nordic Approach, Primavera, and Café Imports are the four importers we use. Not only do they connect us with outstanding coffees, but their company values align with ours too, which is equally important to us.
As a seasonal roastery, our offering is constantly changing and we try to not have a coffee in our range for more than three months. This way, we ensure the coffees we’re roasting are fresh and at their most flavourful. This doesn’t come without it’s hard work though. We’re constantly on the lookout for new coffees, reading harvest reports, and tracking shipments leaving and arriving at port. Stock management is tricky - if we buy too much, we risk the coffee developing faded and aged flavours, and if we buy too little, there’s the possibility of running out before the next shipment arrives.
We quickly learnt that great coffees don’t hang around for long. We need to be aware of which countries are harvesting and when, so we can request samples ahead of time. As a general rule of thumb, coffee in the northern hemisphere is harvested in our winter months and ready to be shipped in the spring, and coffee in the southern hemisphere is harvested in our summer months and shipped in the autumn. We receive samples to the roastery throughout the year, but the majority of our purchasing is done in the spring and autumn when the biggest variety of pre-shipment samples are available.
Importers are more than happy to send samples to the roastery, but this can take time and on a few occasions, we’ve missed out on some amazing coffees because they were snapped up before we even had a chance to taste them. No doubt, travelling to the country of origin gives you the best access to the freshest coffees, but this can be expensive for small roasteries. On top of this, if your team only has one dedicated roaster (like we do!) this can be a logistical nightmare for production too! Right now, we find it really valuable to attend fresh harvest cuppings organised by the importers, particularly Nordic Approach’s spring and autumn cuppings in Oslo. On our most recent trip, we tasted over 100 coffees from four origins over two intensive days. For us, this is the best way to secure the coffees we really love to roast.
When we taste samples, we’re looking for coffees that are balanced, sweet, and fresh, and it’s important to remind ourselves what brew method we’re choosing the coffees for. At Calendar, our coffees fall into two categories (filter and espresso) and the way we source and roast for each is very different. In our opinion, coffees that work well for espresso are balanced and sweet, have medium to low acidity, and the flavours must complement milk. When we're choosing for filter, we’re looking for those coffees that are bright, juicy, and complex, often with more unusual flavours and characteristics.
Whether espresso or filter, we want all our coffees to be the best expression of both variety and terroir, and we find that choosing washed processed coffees is generally the best way to do this. In the washed process, the sticky flesh that surrounds the coffee seed is removed and the coffee is then physically washed before drying. Of all the different processing methods, we find this one delivers the ‘cleanest’ cup and imparts the least amount of fermented flavours commonly associated with natural processing. This is not to say we only roast washed coffees. In fact, one of the best coffees I ever tasted was a naturally processed coffee, but the really good ones are simply more elusive.
I’m incredibly proud of the quality we’ve achieved over the past 14 months, but I know we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to sourcing! I’ve always maintained that the quality and freshness of the green coffee we roast is the most important part of our operation, and I’m excited to see where the next chapter will take us. One day, I hope we’ll be fortunate enough to organise our own origin trip and visit some of the farms and producers behind the coffees we love to roast.