I recently shipped out some coffee and a day later I got the following email – “This is much better coffee than I’m used to!”. It’s always wonderful getting positive feedback about our coffee but this might be the best compliment I could ever get.
Through most of our history, coffee has been transported and sold as a green coffee and roasted and used. In fact, home coffee roasters were in vogue in the US in the late 1800s and were popular items from Sears and Roebucks and Montgomery Wards catalogs. In the early 20th century, mass production values started taking over. The local coffee roaster disappeared and instead we started making our coffee from the big red can (or blue). Coffee was no longer considered a delicacy but what you would chug down in the local diner. Other than specialty grocery stores, the coffee you get at most retail locations has been languishing in storage for as much as 9 months before you get it. While not stale, the vibrancy in flavor are lost.
In the early 1990’s, the luxury coffee boom started. Although our friends in Seattle rode the crest of that wave, there were a number of places instrumental in those early trends. Consumers became aware that coffee could be celebrated for its diversity. That region, varietal, and growing conditions play a part in how coffee tastes. Today you can find small roasters all around the country.
What makes Night Kitchen Coffee a little different is that we are committed to small batch roasting. My goal isn’t to be in every grocery store on the east coast or every restaurant in the state. I want to produce enough coffee to serve our local community. It gives me a tremendous flexibility that other businesses don’t have. I’ve worked hard to keep our overhead low. Our packaging is simple, flexible, and effective. We don’t offer a lot of bells and whistles for brewed coffee at The Shops, simply we try to make a good cup of coffee.
This all gives me the chance to focus on small farmed coffees. By carefully controlling the packaging and production costs, I can spend capital on getting really unique small farm coffees. Our production and facility works well with half or partial bags of coffee. I jury every coffee that we offer. I try to find examples that capture the essence of a region. Ultimately the quality in the coffee you drink is driven by the quality in the green bean I start roasting with. I can make a great coffee taste terrible by roasting it wrong but I can’t make a bad coffee taste good. Small hands on production at the farm and in the store provides the best chance for consistent coffee.
As a small roaster, I am able to manage production levels. I have a maximum planned capacity of around 60 pounds a week but I don’t roast any more than I’m projecting I need. It makes sure that the coffee you get is at its peak point of freshness or even reaching that level by the time you get it home. After roasting, coffee needs a few days to recover and complete the initial off gassing period. Depending on the roast level and green coffee, that can take from one to many days.
The other thing that being small does is that I am the quality control on all roasted coffee. The roast is influenced by my taste in a particular coffee. A part of testing a coffee out, I try to identify the roasting approach – the time, temperature, ramp rates – that bring out what I think is the best flavor for a coffee. Then I roast and package every coffee we sell. My tastes may not match everyones, taste is such an individual experience, but I can ensure that every coffee we sell is one I want to drink.
Much like we do with all other foods, we should have higher expectations for coffee. Find a local roaster, buy coffee you like, and drink it at its best.
Life really is too short for bad coffee.