One of the most common questions we get here at the shop is our approach to coffee sourcing. How do we pick the coffees we end up buying? All things being equal, what makes one coffee better than another? These questions give us an opportunity to shed some light on our overall sourcing strategy, and that protocol helps us make decisions on the coffees we bring into our position.
First and foremost, the number one factor we consider when sourcing a coffee is the overall quality of the lot. This is measured in a number of ways, but ultimately boils down to cup quality. Working with our import partners, we receive 200g-300g samples of green, unroasted coffee at several points along the import process. Sometimes we receive samples of lots that have been taken directly from origin (before the coffee officially lands in the US), and sometimes we receive samples once the coffee have come into port. In both examples, we take the coffee samples and roast them on our Quest M3 roaster before cupping and scoring each lot.
When we cup samples, we focus on several major quality considerations in line with protocols set forth by the Specialty Coffee Association. Each coffee is evaluated on the following attributes:
Uniformity (is the coffee consistent across multiple cups)
Clean Cup (free of funky, fermented, or dirty/earthy tasting notes)
For many of these elements, we’re evaluating both the intensity and quality of the flavor attribute. After scoring each of these elements on a scale of 6-10, we can arrive at a total score for any given coffee. While a higher score is certainly ideal, the raw cupping score is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to sourcing a coffee.
The second major factor we consider when deciding what coffees to buy is portfolio or profile fit. While it might be fun to have four or five deliciously floral washed Ethiopian coffees on our menu at any time, that wouldn’t be the best fit for our customers. We strive to offer a solid variety of flavor and taste profiles in our coffee offerings, so we need to evaluate a coffee on “menu fit” as well.
To determine how well a coffee fits into our lineup, we use a 2x2 matrix that helps us ensure we have a wide variety of flavor profiles available. The matrix uses two distinct spectrums that help us classify each coffee we sample:
Approachable → Complex
Traditional → Modern
Here’s a visual representation of the matrix with four examples of coffees that might fit into each slot:
As you can see from the chart, we’re now able to classify a coffee as “Traditional/Approachable” or “Complex/Modern,” and so on. By identifying where each coffee fits in this matrix, we’re able to identify gaps in our offerings and make purchasing decisions based on profiles we’re missing or planning for future purchases.
We think this matrix is a great way for our customers to determine their taste preferences as well. If you find yourself preferring one type of coffee in the morning and maybe a different type in the afternoon, using the language spelled out in this matrix will help you make better purchasing decisions at your local roaster or coffee shop.
We hope this helps shed some light on our thought process through coffee sourcing. If you have any questions about our approach, please feel free to leave a comment!