Clear. Sweet. Vibrant. This is where it all begins and ends for us. These three words are the hallmark of all Verve coffees. When we buy coffee, this is what we look for. Whether searching for this year’s most ripper Honduran coffees or cupping through hundreds of day-lots to build our next iteration of Streetlevel, this is what we think about and this is what we ask ourselves. Is it clear? Is it sweet? Is it vibrant?
Now let’s fast forward. We’ve purchased the latest ripper to grace our palates. The coffee has cleared customs, arrived at the warehouse and is waiting to be launched on our menu. We know it’s clear. We know it’s sweet. We know it’s vibrant. It’s time for it to be roasted and these attributes need to shine. That’s where my job begins.
"I have developed new ideas, thoughts, and experiences that are constantly being put to the test and continually changing."
It’s been said that the craft of coffee roasting is a series of known knowns and known unknowns. The job of a production roaster is to follow and track each roast profile as precisely as possible, but when it comes to roast profiling aka “a blank slate”, the possibilities are seemingly endless. There are a million ways to roast a coffee, and even more ways to do so poorly. In my experience with roast profiling, I have developed new ideas, thoughts, and experiences that are constantly being put to the test and continually changing. I’ve quickly come to realize that coffee roasting is a lifelong pursuit that lives in between knowing how each and every manipulation you make will affect that coffee’s flavor, and the feeling of not knowing much at all.
The true test of a roaster is to uncover and accentuate the inherently beautiful varietal flavors that exist in the coffees we buy in the most balanced and evenly developed way. To sum it up: FLAVOR and BALANCE are king. Balance at Verve does not mean subdued or lessened, but that the coffee’s flavors are ordered and in alignment with one another – kind of like using an EQ on a stereo. But how does this tie in with clarity, sweetness and vibrancy? Quite simply, actually. Let’s take the wonderfully vivid tropical fruit that can be found in our current Kenya Karuthi as an example. If it weren’t a clear, sweet and vibrant coffee, the FLAVOR of tropical fruit would not be as present as it is. It would not be clear. It would not have the sweetness or vibrancy of tropical fruit. It would be muddled. The term ‘muddled’ is defined as a state of bewildering confusion or disorder. Which is kind of the opposite of BALANCED, no? Ultimately, CLARITY + SWEETNESS + VIBRANCY = FLAVOR and BALANCE.
We are taught as baristas how to manipulate flavor by altering the extraction. Just as with a barista dialing in espresso each morning or determining the best pour over recipe, there are a series of ideas and variables that I believe directly affect flavor during the roasting process (which I will talk more about in a future post).
Ultimately, coffee roasting is the application of HEAT over TIME. At Verve, every single coffee is roasted with a uniquely developed profile of heat over time (aka the Roast Curve). Without diving into the science of it (i.e. humidity, density, Maillard reaction, etc), it is important to note that we approach our roasting with the end goal in mind. For us, the goal starts with which group our coffees are split into: Blends vs Single-Origin coffees. Our Blends are built from coffees that are selected and roasted with balance and consistency in mind, while our Single-Origin coffees are selected and roasted to highlight their uniqueness and vibrancy. How we go about this varies between the consistent goal of a particular blend (say Streetlevel vs Sermon) or the intrinsic and unique qualities of a single-origin coffee (like the beautiful lilac botanicals that present themselves in our newest Ethiopia Yukro). Whichever the goal (Blend vs Single-Origin), the roasting process is the most important tool we have in relaying a coffee’s intrinsic qualities and keeping our goals as consistent as possible.
One of the most important aspects of coffee roasting to note (of coffee in general, actually) is that ALL COFFEES ARE DIFFERENT. They come from different places. They are grown differently. They are processed differently. They react differently to heat applied from roasters. The challenge becomes not only knowing what you’re working with, but also knowing what manipulations to make in order to achieve your desired results in the cup. Is the mouthfeel too heavy? How can I lighten it? Is the acidity present, yet muted? How can I make it pop? Where did the sweetness go? Was this coffee baked? These (and many, many more) are all questions that continue to run through my head during the trial roasting process and consequent tastings. And of course, when I am certain I’ve got something figured out, I am often proven wrong! Coffee has a way of doing that.
At Verve, we are continuing to find new ways to tell the story behind our coffees, how they are different, and the effort that goes into them from Farmlevel to Streetlevel. Whether it be our new Farmlevel Digest, which highlights our insanely special lineup from Santa Bárbara Honduras this year, or our upgraded packaging and simplified labels, we will strive to find new ways to further this story.
We believe the coffee experience is our responsibility from seed to cup. Coffee is our craft, our ritual, our passion. It drives us and inspires us. With this simple truth and responsibility we are bridging the gap from farmlevel to streetlevel. We are verve. Made in santa cruz.