Thursday, August 28, 2014

Can Specialty Coffee be Mass Produced?


Sam’s  Club has recently begun selling “FIREHOUSE COFFEE ROASTERS” whole bean coffees in their clubs here in the Phoenix Valley (http://www.firehouseroastery.com/ ). FIREHOUSE claims to be exclusively a Specialty Coffee roaster, so I had to try a bag. After sniffing each type through the vent while physically abusing the poor bag, I decided to try the “Island Blend”, which is described as “South Pacific coffees with sweet & complex notes. Wonderful aromatics”. That is about as specific as my horoscope today – You will be presented with great opportunities if you know where to look – but it did smell good.
The big question in my mind remained: Can specialty coffee be mass roasted and distributed, or would the excessive shelf time be a violation of Geneva Conventions?
At the office, we opened the bag and whipped out the pour over paraphernalia to the usual rolling of coworker eyes. The coffee smelled delicious and had a beautiful, even roast, somewhere in the City to City Plus region. We weighed out the standard 16:1 ratio, ground it in the Hario Skerton, and brewed it in the Hario V60.
Results: The coffee is indeed quite nice. It is clearly a high quality coffee, roasted with care and expertise. The individual flavors are hard to pick out, but dried fruit and floral notes are certainly present. Despite the quality and special character, the flavor may be muted compared to what FIREHOUSE can serve in store.
To be clear, the coffee is much better than all of the other coffee I have tried from Sam’s Club or Costco. The downside to this coffee is that it sits on a warehouse shelf for too long. How can I make such a statement? Sadly very easily: The coffee does not bloom much.
When I roast my own coffee or purchase freshly roasted coffee from my favorite roaster, the coffee blooms beautifully in the V60 or Kone. That freshness is obvious not only in the filter, but also in the cup. Flavors pounce on my palate, slapping my taste buds around in a frenzy of joyful stimulation. If I fail to brew those beautiful, fresh coffees quickly enough, the coffee is still quite nice, but the taste bud slap-fest is gone.
Sam’s Club FIREHOUSE coffee is nice, but I would argue they have still not figured out enough of the supply chain to guarantee only the freshest coffee reaches the end consumer. It is also unclear if FIREHOUSE nitrogen flushes the coffee while packaging: I e-mailed this question to FIREHOUSE but have yet to hear back. I will probably purchase their coffee as a nice fallback for those times when I cannot find time to roast my own, but I honestly hope FIREHOUSE refines the supply chain to accomplish “Just in Time” delivery.