If you’re the type of person who appreciates farm-to-table restaurants, a well crafted beer, or premium extra-virgin olive oil, you know the freshest ingredients always taste the best. So why have so many of us settled for convenience when it comes to something we drink every day, like our coffee? This is the exact reason why I joined Carrier Roasting Co.’s CSA a few months ago. Every week a half pound bag of freshly roasted beans is delivered to my door and fills the apartment with the greatest aroma every time I open up the package.
Carrier Roasting Co. is a micro-roaster and coffee CSA that ships fresh Specialty Grade coffee anywhere in the United States and was started earlier this year by Ross Evans and Scott Kerner. One of the qualities I admire about my friend Ross is that in true Vermont spirit, when he can’t find something he wants, he learns how to make it himself. This unique and very rare practice has led to the creation of Carrier Roasting Co. After searching for a better tasting coffee, these guys figured out that the best way to get it was to start making it themselves.
Carrier follows the global coffee harvest in order to search out Specialty Grade coffee beans from farmers all over the world. Since joining the CSA, I’ve tasted coffee from Costa Rica, Kenya and Ethiopia. For each new coffee they roast and ship, the story of the farm and how it’s processed is documented on their blog, allowing members to know the exact location and altitude of where it was grown.
This interview with Ross Evans sheds some light onto the various ways coffee is cultivated, processed and brewed all over the world, as he shares valuable tips and information on how to get the most enjoyment out of your morning coffee.
Nick Santora: When did you start Carrier Roasting Co.?
Ross Evans: In Vermont, fresh roasted coffee really isn’t available in small batches, so in true Vermont spirit, I just decided to do it myself. That was in 2014. At the same time, my buddy Scott Kerner started roasting small batches as well and we began talking about potentially starting a coffee business. We continued to talk about it until January (2015), when we decided to buy a coffee roaster. We officially started selling coffee in March of this year through our website and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).
Where do you source the beans that you’re roasting?
We have a couple different distributors that we work through who are buying it from origin. They’re traveling around the world and publishing lists of what they have coming in. We do a lot of research about the farm that the coffee comes from. We’re trying to follow the coffee harvest in order to buy what’s most fresh. We look for coffee that’s direct trade so we’re getting as close as possible to being the buyer from the farmer without traveling there. This also ensures that the coffee farmer is getting the best price for their coffee, which is important to us.
What are the most important questions you ask to ensure high quality?
If it can be traced back to a cooperative or a farm, you know that it’s been handled with care and has been bought in a thoughtful way. If you can’t trace it back, it’s likely that it was purchased through a larger auction and not what you would consider Specialty Grade coffee.
There are a few different ways in which coffee is processed. When it’s grown it basically looks like a cherry. The fruit needs to be removed on the outside to get to the bean, which is the seed of that fruit. Most of the coffee we’re buying is either wet-processed or fully-washed and that basically gives you the cleanest cup. Some coffee is natural processed which means it’s dried with the fruit on and then is milled to remove the fruit. Ethiopian coffee is natural processed so they always have a lot of fruity flavor to them.
We write a blog post for every coffee we bring in. We write about the origin, the farm and the farmer. If we don’t have enough information to do that, we aren’t even going to taste the coffee. Especially here in Vermont, people like to know exactly where things come from. Traceability is probably the biggest indicator of quality.
Where does the regular stuff you get at the supermarket come from?
Specialty Grade coffee, which is the type of coffee we buy, is basically only 5% of all the coffee that’s grown and sold in the world. The remaining 95% is what goes into mass market brands. Brazil is still the number one producer of coffee in the world because they produce volume. They produce some Specialty Grade coffee but the majority of what they grow doesn’t meet the criteria of Specialty Grade. It’s grown at a lower altitude which means it’s not as dense and therefore doesn’t have as much flavor.
How long before I drink regular coffee is it typically roasted?
Not to get overly scientific, but when you’re roasting coffee, you’re expanding the structure of the bean. When the structure expands, it loses water and as a result is more susceptible to oxygen. The structure of the bean becomes more porous and oxygen wants to make anything it touches turn stale. So basically as soon as you roast coffee it starts getting stale. When it was roasted is probably the biggest indicator of whether it’s going to be a good cup or not. Really shitty coffee that’s roasted fresh will always taste better than really good coffee that’s been sitting four to six months. Most companies will print the dates on their bags of when it was roasted and the average is five to six months. At that point it’s definitely stale no matter how it’s packaged. That’s for beans. Ground coffee has an even shorter shelf life.
We roast coffee every week and encourage people to only buy what they need for a week. If you’re in the CSA, you’ll get fresh coffee every week. It’s more of an arduous process for us. We could just roast once a month and give people what they need for a whole month, but they would end up drinking stale coffee at the end of the month. That’s why we give people fresh coffee every week.
Is there a best way to brew your coffee?
It comes down to everybody’s taste and comfort level. I think the best way to brew it is when people are in control of the water temperature and how much they’re pouring in at a time. In terms of being in control, the pour over method is the best in determining how strong or weak you want the coffee to be. I brew probably three or four different ways on a weekly basis. I’ll do a pour over or the Chemex, Bialetti, or French Press. In a week I may drink coffee brewed all four of those ways and they all bring out a little bit of different flavors.
We have people in the CSA who brew all over the map, but we have a How to Brew section on the website where we give instructions on our favorite ways to brew. We don’t want to be pretentious and tell people they have to brew a certain way, but we give them instructions to brew the way we do it. I think the more that roasters like Carrier pop up, the more appreciation people will begin to have for coffee and seek out better ways to make it.
What are you working on developing now?
We are working on developing a single-origin espresso. Most espressos are blends, which is fine. The traditional Italian espresso is a blend of Brazilian coffee and a couple African coffees. Most shops will have this traditional Italian blend but Carrier is really focused on single origin. We’re trying to find one coffee from one origin that we can roast in a way that would make a good espresso. We found a bean from Ethiopia that we really like. We’ve been sample roasting that and getting it into a few shops in Vermont to try out and give us feedback. We’ve given it to Scout and Co. in Burlington and a couple places in Montpelier. I think we should have that single origin espresso ready in the next month.
Carrier Roasting Co. just released a beer with Lawson’s Finest Liquids. How did that go?
It was a lot of fun. Sean is like a mad scientist and has a big following for a reason. He’s a genius in the beer making world. The official launch of the Lawson’s collaboration was at the Brewers Fest last weekend. I just got a couple growlers and the beer is really good. This collaboration has really helped for brand awareness. We’ve been talking to a few other brewers in New England about another one, so Lawson’s legitimized us a little bit.
How did the process work? Did you use dry beans or pour brewed coffee into the barrels?
This is the first coffee beer that Lawson’s has ever done, which is pretty cool. We gave Sean six pounds of coffee and ground it for him. Then he put the grinds in mesh bags and steeped them in the barrel as the beer was fermenting. It was like he was making cold brew, but in the beer. He actually put the grinds in there for 48 hours.
He has a seven barrel system which is pretty small by brewers terms, but it’s 14 kegs so it’s still a sizeable amount. He went through one keg at the Brewers Fest and the rest of the kegs hit pubs this past week. It’s an English-style mild ale. He wanted something that would be good for the summer, so it’s actually dark in color, but lighter drinking. It’s at 4.5% alcohol so it’s definitely a summer coffee beer.
Vermont is a great place for craft beer. Can you learn a lot from some of those brewers and apply it to coffee?
That’s why we started this. Scott and I both felt like coffee was going in that direction, but sometimes Vermont can be a little slower to change. On the west coast or in New York, Chicago or DC, they are further along in their appreciation for coffee. I’m sure Vermont will follow that same trend in the next few years. It’s still pretty new. If you look at the increase of small craft brewers compared to the increase of small coffee roasters, coffee is probably 2-3 years behind where craft brewing is. Just in terms of numbers of small manufacturers. I think it will follow the same trend as we get more people roasting small batches of coffee.
Photos courtesy of Tim Calabro