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5 Years of Sagebrush Coffee, A Love Letter 0

I asked Jenna, my wonderful wife and the glue that keeps Sagebrush Coffee together, to write an update / history of Sagebrush Coffee email to celebrate our 5 year anniversary.  It's pretty long and super kind.  Thanks Jenna for the great letter.  You didn't give yourself enough credit in it!
  • Jenna Kellso

Want To Know The Secret of Sagebrush Coffee? Fluid Bed Coffee Roasters. 2

Have you ever heard of a fluid bed coffee roaster?  How about a drum roaster? Do you remember the terms endothermic and exothermic reactions from chemistry/thermodynamics classes?  If not, that's fine... I'll give you the highlights.

At the highest level, the process used to roast coffee is like a popcorn popper.  You heat up the beans until they hit the point that you get the best flavor from them.  Now think back to the popcorn poppers that you may have used as a kid.  There were two types that were popular before we all just microwaved our popcorn.  There was the stove-top popper or Whirly-pop.  It was a kettle that heated up on the stove and popped your popcorn.  Then there was the electric air roaster.  A device that you poured a small amount of popcorn in and waited until it spit the popcorn out of a spout on the side (usually a gold or yellow spout).  Coffee roasting is similar.  

A drum roaster is like the stovetop popper.  It heats a drum, and the drum creates an exothermic transfer of heat from the drum to the beans.  This 'cooks' your beans and develops the roast profile.  This is by far the most common roasting technique and is an excellent method of coffee roasting.

A fluid bed roast is like the air roaster.  It heats the air within the chamber and causes an endothermic reaction within the beans themselves from the air in the chamber.  This heated air 'cooks' your beans and develops the roast profile.

So what's the difference concerning coffee roasting?  I believe that a fluid bed roaster produces a brighter and cleaner cup of coffee.  The beans have less of a tendency to scorch and in turn, have a better chance at getting good flavors without burning or in contrast without the risk of under developing the profile.  I like a coffee roasted in a fluid bed roaster significantly more.

But there are trade offs.  Drum roasters can produce a little bit more caramel flavor in the bean, because of the way the Maillard reaction develops (the process that produces the sugars in the coffee). Fluid bed roasters also have to use a MUCH smaller batch size.  A drum roaster can get in the hundred of kgs per batch size, but I haven't seen a fluid bed roaster that can produce more than a couple of kilograms per batch.  This means for production, a fluid bed roaster is much more costly to operate and most roasting shops just find to be too cost prohibitive to roast using this method.

I believe there is a place for both roasting methods in a coffee shop.  Some beans beg for a drum roaster, while others need to be roasted in a fluid bed to get the right flavor.  For now, we are committed to keeping our batch sizes smaller, our roast profiles bright, and our roasters fluid bed. We will likely build a mixed style environment within the year, but our commitment will be to improve our roast profiles, not increase our capacity.  We hope to be able to keep it this way for many years to come, so you'll continue to see and taste what makes Sagebrush Coffee different.  A commitment to the appropriate roasting process for the beans we sell.

Action Shot Of Our First Fluid Best Roaster At The Sagebrush Shop

Action Shot Of Our First Fluid Best Roaster At The Sagebrush Shop

  • Matthew Kellso

Roast Day Shipping Explained 0

I'm sure that you've seen notes on our website about how 'We don't roast until you want it." or "Roasted Fresh After You Order," but have you thought about why and how we setup our business to do that?  If you have, you'd realize that not a lot of others do it this way.  I think they don't for a couple of reasons, 1) it's expensive 2) it's pretty tricky.  The expensive comes from our batch sizes. We've built our shop around crazy small batches and a planning system that helps us run multiple batches at once and in series.  If you came to our stop while we're roasting, it is cool to see. Unfortunately, we usually lock the doors during this time, because it takes a crazy amount of concentration to pull off.  Which touches on the "it's pretty tricky."  I don't know if you've ever roasted coffee before, but the process ebbs and flows and changes a little each time based on environment and batch size and bean.  Roasting a batch of coffee is a complicated process.  Now imagine someone doing four batches at the same time on four separate roasters.  We do this with the help of some really great software and all five of our senses.

So we talked about how we're able to keep the batches small enough to allow our customers to request a roast date, but I want to speak a little bit about our daily process.

As I said above, we never roast a bag of coffee until after it is ordered. So each morning we run a 'pick list' report of all of the coffees that are scheduled to roast that day. This typically happens around 7 am and at that point, we tag those orders to ship and anything that comes in after that gets pushed to the next day.  We then plan our batches and start roasting.  We'll finish making and stamping the bags, fill them with the coffee that we just roasted, package, and ship.  If there is extra coffee, we take it home and drink it or and yes this heartbreaking thing happens, we throw it out.  This is why we are super careful about batch size because no one wants these precious beans in the trash.  

We ship everything on the day it was roasted using USPS priority, which USPS promises is 2-3 day. This works perfectly because most beans need 48-72 hours of rest after roasting for optimal flavor. Coffee brewed the day after roasting isn't very good. There is too much CO2 build up in the beans that need to degas. 

This Process takes some time and means that you could get coffee 4 or maybe five days after you order.  Let's follow an example:
If an order is placed about noon on a Saturday, it doesn't make Saturday's batches. USPS doesn't ship on Sundays, so we take a day off each week.  Then we take Saturday afternoon through Sunday nights orders and send those on Mondays (those are always crazy days in the shop). We would roast and ship that order probably around noon on Monday. That means that the coffee would likely be delivered on Wednesday and the customer would drink it on Thursday (5 days after they placed the order).  But it will be perfect in that sweet spot of 48-72hrs after roast. Process design perfection!

We know this process and delay requires some patience and goes against the Amazon Prime same day delivery world, but we believe it's worth every second to get some of the best fresh roasted coffee out there!
  • Matthew Kellso

Washed Coffee, Dry Process, Natural, Honey Process; Making sense of the coffee nerd terminology. 0


Coffee Processing

To start a discussion on coffee processing, I have to start with the ten steps to take coffee from seed to a cup. When I first learned there were ten steps, I thought, "Grow, roast, grind, brew. What else could there be?" As discussed on National Coffee Association's website they are as follows:

  1. Planting
  2. Harvesting the cherries (yes, coffee grows on trees and looks like a cherry at this point)
  3. Processing the cherries (if you're bored scroll down, I'll be talking about this one in this blog post)
  4. Drying the beans
  5. Milling the beans
  6. Exporting the beans
  7. Tasting the coffee (this is where Sagebrush Coffee enters the supply chain)
  8. Roasting the coffee (you'd think this is where we excel, but step 7 makes all of the difference to a good roaster. You can't roast goodness into coffee. We just try to take what everyone before us did well and put it on full display)
  9. Grinding the coffee (it's best if you do this, but we can help)
  10. Brewing the coffee (your job)

Every single one of these steps is vital to a great cup of coffee. When you drink an amazing cup of coffee, remember that great care was taken in all of these steps.

Below, I'll talk about step 3, processing the cherries.

Coffee Processing Details

Note that this is a very brief very high-level overview to help you with your coffee buying. If you want more detail, I can direct you to great resources that go into way more detail.

At the highest level, processing the cherries is removing the fruit from the bean. This happens very quickly after the fruit is picked and is so important to the coffee flavor profile.

Washed / Wet Process

A washed bean has the pulp completely removed before it is dried. This is typically done with a mixture of water and a de-pulping machine. It is an excellent process that does not add a lot of variability to the bean. Meaning, it has a higher likelihood everything will go correctly, and the harvest will produce great fruit. I think because this is such a common method it gets a stigma for not being as good. This is completely untrue. Washed coffees consistently score very well all over the world.

The way a washed coffee tastes has a lot to do with this method. You tend to get more of the flavors unique to that origin in the beans. It almost always produces a brighter and cleaner cup of coffee. In a Latin American coffee, a washed bean is going to show more of the caramel or nuttiness so prevalent in that region.

Natural / Dry Process

A naturally processed bean is probably the oldest method. You will find this process exclusively in some areas, although most of the farms we buy from have selections of all three processes. In this process, they will pick the cherries and dry them with the pulp and skin still on the bean. They are spread out on a drying bed and dried in the sun. There is a lot of labor in the method because they will turn the beans regularly to avoid molding or spoiling. This process can take weeks depending on weather and is something to behold.

This process, regardless of origin, will almost always produce a more fruited cup of coffee. It kind of makes sense when you think about it because for weeks the fruit just seeps into the bean. Some of our richest coffees are dry process

Honey / Semi-washed / Pulped Natural Process

This is easily the most confusing process out there. Maybe it's because we call it 'honey process' and it has nothing to do with actual honey. This process is very similar to dry process coffee. Except the skin is removed before it is dried. As you can imagine, this makes for a very sticky / honey-like feel to the beans. These coffees are dried with the skins off. How much pulp is left on and how they're dried is a much longer discussion. The key is, they are a hybrid process that ends up with its own flavor profile. Some of the best and most popular coffees we've ever sold were honey processed (pour one out for Costa Rica Terra Bella).

When I taste a honey process coffee, I always notice a distinct sweetness to it. It doesn't get the fruitiness of a natural, but it is more complex than a similar washed coffee. I have noticed a more syrupy body and in some beans a more rich flavor.

What does this all mean?

Pay attention when you drink a cup of coffee. I always list the process for every bean we sell, both on the product page and on the info card on the bag. I've also just added process as a filter on the left-hand side of our collections pages. So see which one you like best. I love dry process Ethiopians but prefer the honey process in Latin America. It wouldn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out though... look at our offerings.

Also, when you pour your morning cup of coffee tomorrow (or maybe you're drinking it right now), think of all of the time and effort that went into it. Be thankful that someone on the other side of the world raked pounds and pound of coffee cherries so that you could enjoy that cup of coffee right there. This world is an amazing place. 

  • Matthew Kellso

Direct Trade, Fair Trade, Organic, Rainforest Alliance; What Does It All Mean? 0

There are a bunch of certifications when it comes to coffee production.  Today, I just want to look at four key ones.  I've chosen these four because they are the most talked about and the only ones that we as a coffee business have paid attention to.

Fair Trade

The idea behind fair trade is rooted in ensuring that the farmers are being paid a proper wage for their beans.  In the past, there were many men in between the exporter and the farmer. These people would take their cut and price the buyers out of many beans. As the fair trade model developed, coffee improved, quality of life improved for farmers, and we all did our part to help save many lives from starvation. Over the last 20 years, this organization has done and continues to do a lot of good in certain areas. However, as any organization is flawed, they are falling prey to strict certification requirements and are losing some of their advantages for the coffee growers.  About a year ago, Sagebrush Coffee stopped worrying about this certification, because we have seen it hurt some farmers.

Direct Trade

Because of the problems with Fair Trade, we have worked to build a more focused direct trade model.  In our case, this does not necessarily mean that we have personal relationships with the farms where the coffee is coming from (however, we do with several).  It means that our importer does.  They work as deep into the supply chain as possible to ensure that the growers are receiving a fair price.  In the direct trade relationships we support, the farm will always receive more money from the importer than in a fair trade sale.  In the fair trade model, every person in the supply chain pays a fair trade tax, which supposedly goes towards the certifications, but I'd rather the same money go to the grower.  The best way to ensure that is to join the direct trade supply chain.

Organic Coffee

Organic coffee and this entire topic makes me laugh.  Several years ago we went to a vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  We saw during the tour this focus on the organic development of the grapes, so the wine was better. However, just up the mountain was a farm that didn't bother. The vineyard we were touring was upset because rain run-off would bring chemicals into their vines and kill the entire idea of organic farming.  That was a real issue in an area and industry that focuses on those types of things.

So why does organic coffee farming make me laugh? Because in the places where coffee trees are grown, you see something entirely different. These areas are remote, and chemicals are hard to come by. Most coffee farmers are organic farmers because they cannot afford it any other way. If you have a problem with a coffee borer beetle, you cannot afford to kill it with pesticides.  Instead, you plant trees that cater to the birds that eat your dreaded beetle and hope for the best.  However, if you cannot afford the pesticides, how can you afford an organic certification?  And here lies the problem with Organic coffees.  Many of the coffees we sell are organic coffees without the certification.  When growers sell their beans for as cheap as $1.50 a pound and a day's wage gets you 20lbs of coffee, you cannot afford to pay $5,000 for an organic certification.

At Sagebrush, our commitment is to the farmer, not the certification.  We are not looking specifically for organic beans, not because we don't care about the way the tress are grown, but because we care more about the farmer than about a certification. 

Rainforest Alliance

My opinion of rainforest alliance is not a whole lot different than what I think about organic. However, I have seen more good come from this program. This is another certification, and when I see certifications, I see fees, and where I see fees, I see money going into pockets that probably don't need it.  However, in this case, I like a lot of what they're trying to do.  Either they're trying to enable the farmers to grow those trees that deter the coffee borer beetle, or they are trying to use the ecosystem around the farm to help the farm be more productive.  

Through training and education, they're finding ways to help these farms make up the cost of the certification.  Although coffee has been around for a long time, research in its sustainability is a relatively new practice.  This organization is taking that research to the farms, so they can improve the quality and yield of the coffees they produce.  The production engineer in me loves that, because if an RFA farm could produce 20k lbs of coffee last year, but through improvements made through the RFA group, they can product 25k lbs within five years and implement ecosystem saving practices while they're at it, we all win.

  • Matthew Kellso

Cold Brew Coffee, Everything You Wanted To Know & Probably Something Didn't. 0

Cold Brew coffee; isn't that a new catch phrase?  You hear it everywhere, and it has a bunch of definitions. I've seen Hario iced pour overs called cold brew (I call those iced coffees). I've seen some weird bottled drink that tastes awful called a cold brew. I've also seen an iced Toddy called cold brew.  If you're going to ask me for a definition, the third one is the charm. I believe true cold brew coffee begins as an Iced Toddy.  I love this stuff.  It is so smooth and pure and clean.  The toddy maker produces a pure coffee concentrate that can store in your fridge for up to 2 weeks (although I prefer it within one week).  Once brewed, it is convenient, versatile and delicious.

I usually describe iced toddy as the coffee equivalent of iced tea.  It is smooth, crisp, and refreshing.  Perfect for a 112-degree day like today (remind me why I live in Arizona?).

The Nerdy Details:

Why is the Toddy system so great?  The short answer is, time replaces heat and chemistry guys will tell you that's better.  They're right... we should listen to chemistry guys.

Why is it called a Toddy?  Because Todd Simpson, a chemical engineering graduate of Cornell, developed the Toddy cold brew system.  One day maybe I'll name a brewing method the Matty, but for all of our sakes, maybe not.

What's some technical jargon that you pulled from the Toddy website?  A roasted coffee bean contains many compounds that are extracted during the brewing process. Some of those compounds, including certain oils and fatty acids, are soluble only at a high temperature. During the cold brew process, coffee beans are never exposed to high temperature (this only occurs after a rich liquid coffee concentrate has been produced). Deceptively simple, cold water brewing extracts the delicious flavor compounds (and some of the caffeine) from coffee beans, but leaves behind myriad bitter oils and biting fatty acids, including undesirable elements such as ketones, esters, and amides. These are the same bitter acids and fatty oils that surface to the top of your hot cup of coffee, and give hot-brewed coffee that familiar 'bite' (thus the reason that some 8 out of 10 people attempt to soften the acidic taste by adding milk or cream to their coffee).

Are some coffees better than others when brewed this way? Wow...I didn't expect that question.  I'm glad you asked.  Yes, we have tried most of our coffees as a Toddy and filtered out our favorites.  Check out this link to find them.

  • Matthew Kellso