This is a long post (and quest) to find delicious coffee for me to brew in the morning. If you don’t brew coffee at home, this might be too much for you to want to read with its accompanying links. The bottom line is that I believe that today’s best roasters, called the Third Wave – have gone too far and are going too lightly, not allowing the natural sugars to develop to produce what I consider to be a delicious cup.
I hope that there will be a Fourth Wave of roasters and retailers featuring a City Roast. Since I began gathering information for this post, I have found a couple of coffees that are tasting just right to my palate. I consulted with Grant Tennille and Badi Bradley, who got some Panther coffee for me from Miami. I have enjoyed their East Coast blend. Locally I have bought Intelligentsia’s Rwandan coffee, which I sampled at Market Street in Chapel Hill. The story of how the women of Rwanda have worked to reestablish coffee as an origin is a great story for another time. MAny of you probably remember it from 3 Cups, as we featured it prominently.
Here’s where I was a few months ago (thankfully my morning coffee is improving):
When I make my morning coffee I often don’t like the result. If it is roasted an eyelash too dark with any hint of carbon flavors I can’t drink it. On the other side of the spectrum, I often find I don’t enjoy the coffees that are roasted too lightly.
In my opinion it parallels the way craft brewers have overcorrected from the atrocities of Budweiser to create a beer that is too hoppy, alcoholic and in your face. Every once in a while I get a coffee that really tastes right to me. When I have asked what the roast level or Agtron number is, it seems what Kevin Knox describes as a City Roast. When I have asked a roaster the Agtron number on a coffee that I really liked, the answer has been an Agtron level of 74 or 75. Agtron is a spectrophotometer that is used to measure degree of coffee roast precisely.
It is appropriate to say that Kevin Cox has forgotten more than I know about coffee. Here’s a link to his site, Coffee Contrarian. Here’s what Kevin has to say about my coffee dilemma. He’s specifically addressing my issue with coffee being over roasted and how Peet’s and Starbucks began a trend with good intentions that were associated to a specific location and roasting conditions. Dark roasting has gotten out of hand. The American culture enjoys plenty of sugary syrup and cream to make those burnt tasting coffees drinkable.
Here’s a little history from Kevin:
“Peet’s opened in 1966. Alfred Peet had a coffee background, but learned the retail side and much else working behind the counter at Freed, Teller & Freed, the great San Francisco roaster-retailer on Polk Street that I’m sure you visited. Alfred didn’t seem to give Freed’s much credit, but they and not Peets were the true specialty coffee pioneers in the Bay area, predating Peet’s by 67 years – and they did the classic Full City Roast to perfection!
The Peet’s roast style was the product of Alfred’s taste, his ability to source super high-acid, dense, high-grown coffees of a quality not previously seen very often if at all in the United States, AND the naturally soft Bay area water, which allowed the modest acidity of his darkly-roasted coffee to still be perceptible (something that would not have been the case with even moderatly hard water). One has to bear in mind that both Alfred Peet and the founders of Starbucks never intended their companies to be anyting but local, so the roast style and brewing were 100% dialed in to their particular place.
Jerry Baldwin, the most articulate of the three founders of Starbucks, once told me that he wished that roasters and roast styles could be local and regional the way great beer breweries were many years ago. I think that during the late 70’s and 80’s he regarded George Howell’s Coffee Connection as the East Coast equivalent of Peet’s, and I know for sure that he loved drinking their coffee and respected their roast style while preferring his own (and vice versa). Personally I still very much enjoy Indonesian coffees in particular from Peet’s, as I think they stand up to the roast style very well, provided the coffee is brewed in an Aeropress or commercial espresso machine. It’s the coffee equivalent of a good Russian Imperial Stout; not something I’d want for a steady diet, but okay once in awhile.”
Kevin has also answered my quest to find a full city roast. Here’s what he says about my inability to find the coffee that I really want to be drinking: “In recent years the classic full city roast, as represented by Freed, Teller & Freed, Schapira’s, Pannikin, Kobos, The Coffee Connection and others (including Allegro during my tenure) has become almost extinct, as Third Wavers push the envelope in the city-to-cinnamon roast range while Starbucks and Peets incinerate mostly crap. Counter Culture and Batdorf are just about the only readily-available coffees I find that are still roasted in that range….the rest is either lemon juice or charcoal.”
On my Facebook page, I included a couple articles about the other end of the spectrum, which is coffee being roasted too lightly. It doesn’t stay in the roaster long enough to develop the naturally occurring sugars in the bean, which I feel is what provides a delicious cup.