Rutas del Inca. Translated, literally, to Route of the Inca. It was the given name of the first coffee we ever sampled, roasted, cupped and purchased. Between our love for its name and our love for its place in the Summit Coffee history, we became wary of being too blinded by the process. Was the coffee really this good?
Turns out, yes, Rutas del Inca is a tremendous single-origin coffee from Northern Peru. Thankfully, we didn’t buy 637 pounds of a coffee for just its name.
We haven’t been at this roasting thing for long, but there’s a common question we ask ourselves and, more and more, people ask us: how do you decide what coffee to buy?
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of coffee importers for us to work with. Those companies import green coffee from all of the coffee growing countries around the world, receive and store those beans in port cities and then resell them to roasting operations like us. Within those warehouses, there may be 20 different coffees from a given country — Colombia, Ethiopia, Brazil, etc.
Our first task is to find importers and work with them to land the coffee we’re looking for. All coffees are graded for their quality, and those over a certain benchmark receive “speciality” classification. Some are Fair Trade, some are Organic, some are both. Prices are all over the map. Quality is, too.
Our first go around, we ordered samples of 38 coffees. We roasted them all on our 1-lb. San Franciscan, to the exact same profile, and waited between 8 and 24 hours to cup them. We didn’t make this process up; it’s the SCAA standard. Of those 38, we wanted to buy between 8-10, and since they come in burlap sacks ranging from 60-69kg, it’s a decision process we couldn’t screw up. (Well, I guess, we could screw it up, but that wouldnt be great for our new business).
So as we stood around a table not short enough for chairs but short enough to make our backs ache (we’re getting older, after all), we relied on our senses to make the call. How do the coffees smell freshly ground? What about when you add water? How do they taste? What flavors? What fruits? How is the mouthfeel?
Then, more challenging questions. Will people think this coffee is too weird (hope not)? Is that Lemonhead we get in the Decaf Ethiopia awesome or awful (awesome)? Do we need one Ethiopian coffee or two (one)? How would the Rutas taste as the base for our darkest roast (the early verdict from Alpamayo fans is, great)?
So as Tim, Evan and I circle around this cupping table, literally slurping coffee from a spoon into our mouths as it cools from 200 degrees to room temperature, we taste and we smell and we talk. We end up with 10 coffees, 3600-ish pounds, after literally roasting and tasting 150 grams of each. An art, yes. A gamble, yes. A success? For the first go around, yes.
We’re hitting the sample table again today, so here’s to not screwing up again.