In trying to nail down their roasting approach to the Ethiopia Teklu Chele'teklu that Cup - Fine Coffee & Roasting had picked up from Shrub, they sent a couple different roasts to me in the post. I'm always grateful that a roaster is willing to share their roasts with me, and it's a great passion of mine to talk through roasting and trying to find what a coffee has to offer. What I appreciated about the different roasts was that each of them did aim to find a balance in that particular coffee that can easily be so bright. They did this without sacrificing the floral notes, which were still evident even at a slightly deeper roast level than many folks take this coffee, which pushed a nice buttery shortbread type of sweetness as well.
Hearing Robbie's answers to my questions about roasting, I found his focus on roaster cleaning and maintenance to be particularly important as well as his approach to manually profiling. It is vital to record your roasts in any way that you can, and I've always been more attracted to manually logging a roast because of the way that it draws you into the process.
Coffee Shrub: Who are you, and what do you roast on?
Robbie Dietrich: We are Cup - Fine Coffee & Roasters a micro roaster located in Charleston, South Carolina run by my wife (Esther Senft) and I (Robbie Dietrich). Esther is from Germany and I grew up in New Mexico. We roast on a Diedrich IR-12 which we decided on for multiple reasons. And no, we didn't choose Diedrich because my last name is Dietrich (although sometimes we do joke with our customers and tell them we had my last name engraved on the front of the roaster, but they messed it up the spelling at the factory). One of our favorite aspects of the IR-12 is the way this roaster lends it's self to ease of cleaning and maintenance. Roasters require so much maintenance and get dirty so quickly it can make your head spin.
Even with the smaller volume of coffee that we roast, we are constantly cleaning. Having a clean roaster makes such a tremendous difference, especially with a roaster heavily reliant on air flow manipulation and on this roaster you can easily open panels and check all the key areas for buildup. The profiling capability is great too. It could use a few upgrades like another temp probe to read ambient temp and help get a sense of the roasters momentum. Being in the south it's also nice that it has infrared burners putting off less external heat in the middle of the summer when we can't get the ambient temperature below 85 degrees even with fully functioning climate control.
CS: I got to taste a couple different roasts of yours of the Teklu Chele'lektu, which was great, what were you most trying to achieve with this coffee? What were the challenges?
RD: We really like to clearly bring out the inherent floral qualities of Yirga Cheffe Ethiopians when they are present which definitely applies to the Teklu. In our roast profile of this Teklu our strategy has been to highlight the nice dominant sweetness while supporting it with clear floral qualities and some acidity. I would say technically the most difficult part of roasting this coffee for us has been to perfectly enter and time the length of 1st crack so that the cup is as well defined as possible.
CS: How have your customers reacted to this coffee?
RD: We've gotten a lot of positive response from our customers with the Teklu Chele'lektu. In fact just recently we participated in our local coffee festival "The Charleston Coffee Cup" and were told by a significant amount of people that the Teklu was their favorite coffee out of all the coffees they tried at the festival. Various coffees were offered from 20-30 roasters, coffee shops, etc. including some big names from all over the Southeast were represented. The Teklu Chele'lektu for sure played a key roll in helping us win "People's Choice" for "Best Brew" at the festival this year. It kind of took us by surprise because we certainly weren't expecting to win anything, but are very grateful that we did. I can't imagine much better of a reaction from our local customers here in Charleston, South Carolina.
CS: How are you tracking and logging your roasts now?
RD: Every roast and profile we do right now is handwritten with pen and paper. We keep track of the overall time with a timer at intervals of 30 seconds with correlating temperature. We also record the turning point of the roast as it ascends upwards after dropping the batch into the roaster, the length of 1st crack and time afterwards, heat applied to each stage of the roast, state of the airflow and how/when we change it, ambient temperature and humidity, notes if barometric pressure was low that day and overall notes on our immediate interpretation of how the roast was executed. We do a lot of dry cupping, eating beans right out of the roaster, which can make us pretty crazy by the end of the roasting session, to get some quick feedback on our performance.
CS: What's your strategy when making adjustments to a profile?
RD: In general we are big fans of creating balance within a roast profile. For example making sure the sweetness of an acidic coffee is enough to round it out and make it softer on the palate or vice versa to give a sweet coffee a bit of an edge by bringing out the acidity. We usually aim to avoid a scenario where coffee is roasted to highlight only one characteristic such as acidity while other beautiful and often delicate qualities are ignored or overshadowed by only one flavor characteristic. With that said, we also pay close attention to the naturally inherent qualities the coffee already has and try to manipulate them so they might be brought out or played with in an interesting way. So in short, we explore each coffees personality and support it as best we can.
Some of our favorite coffees in the last few years have been from the Gitesi region of Rwanda. They have tended to be very bright coffees, but we have focused more on roast profiles that highlight other qualities in the beans resulting in a very vividly three dimensional cup, beautifully displayed throughout various brewing methods and a personal favorite as cold pressed coffee.
CS: What's your approach in your roasting in relation to your market? Are you trying to match the tastes of your customers or introduce something newer/different?
RD: The majority of people in our area are very brand identified and still have lots to learn when it comes to quality and specialty coffee as a whole. We stand our ground that quality comes first even though is not very popular in our area and through persistence are working hard to change the current sentiment. Sometimes we feel a little like specialty coffee missionaries spreading the gospel. Through events and participating in multiple local farmers markets we get to personally interact with customers and often introduce people to specialty coffee for the first time.
When asked many people will tell us they like or dislike specific flavors because they have not been properly introduced to them. It's very gratifying to break through these preconceptions and watch one person discover they resonate really well with the fruitiness of a dry processed Ethiopian while another falls in love with Central/South Americans. For this reason we try to keep a variety of coffees in stock and roast them according to our interpretation of what's best.
CS: How do you talk about roasting with your customers, or what role does roasting play in your marketing?
RD: Education about the importance of the roaster is one of the greatest challenges we face with our customers. Many many people in our area have very little knowledge of coffee beyond that it's black, has caffeine and is good when it has a certification of some sort. Our goal when we interact personally with customers is to make sure they take some new piece of information home with them. Whether it's as basic as a lighter roasted coffee can taste good too, more complicated like the difference between a positive association with bright and negative with sour or helping figure out better brewing parameters at home so they can clearly experience all these flavor nuances that we keep telling them about.
We also try to come up with different and inventive ways to lure people into the world of specialty coffee. Earlier this year we hosted a pop up dinner at our roastery organized by a chef friend of ours. There were two guest chefs that were required to use our coffees as an ingredient in every course and pair the food according to the coffees flavor profile. Brewed cups of each coffee with flavor notes were offered alongside so guests could associate what they were tasting in the food with what was in their cup. As an extra draw, one of the coffees offered was from our family owned farm "Mt. Totumas Cloud Forest" near Boquete, Panama which we personally participated in production from seed to cup.