How is Coffee From Drip Roasters Different?
The coffee we use is not just of generally higher quality than what you get elsewhere but also differs in the way it is roasted and traded. In Switzerland there is still a strongly Italian-influenced espresso culture which is why most cafes sell dark roasts which usually taste bitter. Drip Roasters philosophy is to create lighter roasts, this is a modern way of preparing coffee and the ultimate aim is to achieve high quality and enjoyment when drinking the final product. The big difference lies within the roasting process: if beans are roasted until they are dark, they lose a lot of their vast original flavours. Are they roasted lightly, though, the desired natural flavours remain and find the way into the cup. This is what we are trying to achieve. Furthermore, our coffee is different in the way it is traded, more about that can be found below.
There are countless labels that declare food produce as «organic». On one side this helps the consumers to choose products that correspond to certain requirements. On the other hand those requirements differ significantly between the various labels. Sometimes important criteria for a sustainable production are missing. Furthermore, working conditions for farmers, trade routes and transport arrangements are often not playing an important role or not considered at all.
To sell organic coffee not only the requirements of the label need to be complied with, the label also charges expensive fees for providing a certification. Producers often struggle to pay these fees. And if they do, their raw product - the green coffee (=unroasted coffee) - may be certified, however, that does not mean yet that the final product in the shelve will also be certified and therefore «organic». That is only possible if all parties in the supply chain are certified. At least part of the cost for the certification will in the end be born by the consumers who are willing to pay a higher price for their coffee.
Because of this we are not certified and do not believe that we have to be. We prefer choosing our coffees based on our own requirements for a sustainable production.
We do not have a fair trade certification. Why not? First, also this certification results in high cost, which need to be paid by the consumers in the end. But sometimes it is worth it to invest money for a good cause? That is true. But the question is how to invest money in fair trade. The required fair trade price for an American pound of Arabica coffee is USD 1.55-1.60 + 0.30 for organic coffee. This has not changed since 2011. That corresponds to approximately USD 3.40-3.53 + 0.66 for organic coffee per kilogram. We normally pay around USD 6 to 15 per kilogram of green coffee, often even more. Depending on the coffee part of it goes to a trading company, but most of it goes to the producer. We like to invest our money in fair trade and a sustainable development of the farming regions, however, prefer to support the producers themselves than a certification.
When buying coffee we prefer direct trade. Whenever possible we buy the coffee directly from the producer or a cooperative. That is often not that easy for a small roastery and requires a lot of logistics and can be risky. Nevertheless, it is preferable to be in direct contact with the producers, not only to be able to pay a fair price but also for the exchange of knowledge about quality and production methods. That is beneficial for both of us so to improve the quality of our coffee.
Whenever we cannot buy directly from the producer, we buy our coffee from established and experienced green coffee importers in the area of specialty coffee. They have the opportunity to travel more often to coffee growing countries than we can. And they have long-standing relationships with many coffee producers. Also in this case it is assured through higher prices, trace-ability of the product and direct trade that the producers receive a fair price for their product that allows them to sustain their living cost and re-invest in their business.
Why Does Drip Roasters Coffee Cost More Than Coffee in the Supermarket?
The classic way of buying coffee leads over many intermediaries. The prices are incredibly low and the producers, who do the hardest job under the worst conditions only get a fraction of this already very low price. Many of them live under difficult conditions or even have to give up their farms and businesses. In April/May 2019, the coffee price («C-Price») was at 87 cents (US dollar) per American pound of coffee at the commodities exchange and thus at its lowest since 2005. Current studies (e.g. by UC Davis/WWU Münster/ICO or by Caravela Coffee) show that the average production cost for one pound of coffee amounts to USD 1.05-1.40. This means that the majority of producers lose money with every pound of coffee they sell, despite hard work under tough conditions.
We pay a significantly higher price than the much too low C-Price for our coffee. One kilogram usually costs us between USD 6 to 15, sometimes much more – in addition to delivery, import and taxes. This means that the producers
- receive a fair share for their work.
- are motivated to farm and deliver good coffee, as they see that it is possible to earn good money with it.
- are willing and can afford to experiment with different ways of growing coffee which helps to increase quality.
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has introduced a system for the objective rating of coffee which has been the industry standard for a while now. Based on pre-defined criteria such as sourness, sweetness, mouth feel or after taste the coffee is evaluated on a scale from 0 to 100. The evaluation is done by certified, experienced experts, so called «Q-Graders» who develop sensory skills over many years to be able to objectively rate coffee.
Coffees which reach a minimum of 80 points are considered «Specialty Coffee». These are extraordinary coffees which only account for a small percentage of the world-wide produced coffee and contain special flavours. This is achieved by careful production methods. The berries are often picked by hand and the coffee is grown on special soil, for example volcanic soil or in climatic interesting areas. Coffee can, similar to wine, develop a huge spectrum of flavours of which the most common are listed on the SCA «Flavor Wheel». In comparison to wine, coffee is roasted after its production to green coffee, which leads to a never ending variety of flavours and aromas that can end up in the cup.
There were three waves of development in the coffee industry. The third wave has recently happened and reached Europe and Switzerland.
In the 60ies the world-wide coffee consumption significantly increased and suddenly people all over the world started drinking coffee. Nowadays this is called the first wave.
The second wave was the time during which coffee of higher quality was made available to a wider audience. Now big companies such as Starbucks entered the market and started their big businesses. Coffee developed from a basic product to a luxury good. Moreover, the industry began to examine the supply chain and started to understand that the origin and the production methods play a huge role for the taste of the final product.
The third wave designates the valuation and appreciation of the coffee’s quality. This is not only about the taste in the cup but also includes key words such as sustainability, fairness and transparency. In third wave coffee shops coffee which is produced in an environmentally friendly way, traded fairly (often directly by the farmer to the roaster), roasted lightly and brewed with the most up-to-date scientific recipes.
Instead of bitter specialty coffee now tastes sweet and rich of fruity sourness. Instead of cheap it is sustainably produced and fairly traded. Instead of anonymously mixed blends specialty coffee should be of single origin with as much information about origin, production and flavour as possible.
Single origin coffees originate from a single producer, region or country and from a single harvest. Terms such as single farm, single estate or estate grown are nowadays also commonly used to designate coffee originating from a single farm or cooperative.
One of the biggest advantages of single origin coffee is the trace-ability. You know exactly where your coffee is coming from. Often the names of the producers or cooperatives as well as a lot of further information about the production process is known.
Single origin coffee is not mixed, neither before nor after roasting, to a blend with other coffees. Because of that the contained undesired flavours cannot be hidden very well and only high quality coffee is suitable to be sold as single origin coffee.
A «Microlot» is a separately grown, picked and produced batch of coffee. This can come from several producers and defined by certain criteria such as the age of the trees, the kind of fertilizers used, the special weather conditions during a certain time period, etc. These lots are not regularly found in the same way but are often unique batches. Therefore, a unique coffee is being produced which often differs from the same kind of coffee grown in the same region.
«Community Lots» or «Macrolots» on the other hand are coffees that contain flavours that stand for a certain region or group of producers and are more predictable.
Microlots are not necessarily better than macrolots but they usually have a more special flavour profile which leads to new experiences for coffee drinkers.
Cupping is the sensory evaluation of coffee. To evaluate coffee, the coffee is ground and put in a cup. Then the cup is filled with hot water. This is always done in precisely the same way. After that the coffee can be evaluated with nose and mouth. Traders, roasters, Q-Graders and everyone else in the coffee industry uses this method to evaluate coffee and to create the basis for a purchase decision.
Besides the SCA 100 points scale for the evaluation of coffee there are several other, less common standards that can be used for specific purposes. For example there is a separate standard for the Cup of Excellence competitions. Moreover, some roasters or green coffee traders use their own, self-created scales and systems to evaluate the coffee after their own criteria.
How is Coffee Produced?
Coffee grows on a tree with white flowers and red coffee berries. Once ripe, they are picked and collected.
Preparing & Drying
The berries are now being sorted and dried. There are two main ways to make green coffee out of the berries.
«Washed»: The red berries are opened and separated from their red shell by some kind of mill. Out of each berry two yellow-whitish beans surrounded by a slimy skin («mucilage») appear. To remove the slimy layer the beans are then fermented either in the water for 24 to 36 hours or this step is being completed by machines. The remaining yellow beans are then being dried in the sun for several days or weeks. The usually positive fruity acidity remains in the bean with this method.
«Natural»: The whole berries are being dried without opening them. Therewith, they remain longer within the sweet and fruity layer which leads to more sweetness in the coffee. Only after drying the skin is removed.
«Honey» or «Pulped Natural»: This is a mix between the first two methods. The outer, red skin of the berry is removed and the beans are stored in the white, slimy layer for a day or bit more before the slimy part is removed as with the washed coffee. Coffees that are being prepared in this way usually contain more fruity sweetness than washed coffees but also keep more of the desired fruity acidity compared to naturals.
No matter how coffee is prepared, at the end you always get yellow coffee beans or so called «Parchment Coffee». This coffee then goes through a mill to remove the thin, yellow layer and finished it is, the green coffee bean.
Before coffee can be sold, it is sorted with sieves of different sizes. Especially high quality beans are also examined for defect or otherwise unwanted beans.
Export & Import
Finally the coffee is packed, sold and transported to its buyer, often crossing a number of different countries on its way.
The green coffee arrives at the warehouse or, in case of a direct trade route, at the roastery, where it's stored until roasted. We roast and pack the coffee at our facilities and a few days later it is ready for consumption as espresso or filter coffee.
In a red coffee berry there are two coffee beans covered by several layers of different colours. Those two coffee beans become the brown beans we all know and out of which we make our beloved espresso or filter coffee.
However, there are also exceptions. If there is only one instead of two beans in a coffee berry this is called a peaberry. There are many myths about the peaberries supposedly superiour quality. Peaberries are sold for higher prices than normal beans. In reality they do not really differ in terms of taste, as long as they are produced in the same way.
Filter coffee? Isn’t that a relict from the time before capsule machines? Well, it is not that simple. For many of us filter coffee is this black liquid that has been simmering for hours and hours in a big jug serving only as caffeine supply. We also know that.
For some years filter coffee has been consumed in a very different way though: with high quality, flavourful coffee, freshly prepared with precise brewing recipes. Variables such as coarseness and water temperature are crucial. The brewing method is as well. And there are plenty of new ways of brewing a cup of filter coffee. The time used to brew coffee also plays a central role in this complex way of producing the desired liquid. But hold on, it is not that complicated after all: within 3 to 4 minutes the coffee is usually brewed and ready to be enjoyed.
The look of the coffee has also changed: instead of black it shimmers with brown and red nuances. It looks more like tea than coffee and does not taste bitter and burnt. Instead those subtle flavours and aromas of chocolate, caramel, spices, berries and fruit can be noticed. These flavours have not been added to the coffee but are contained by nature and preserved and stressed based on the various steps in the production chain of this wonderful product.
How fresh should my coffee be?
Generally speaking, fresh coffee is better than old coffee – but that's only part of the truth.
After roasting, coffee contains a lot of CO2, which escapes slowly throughout the following weeks. This is also the reason for the valve on the coffee bag (it's not there so you can smell the coffee): CO2 can leave the bag, which won't inflate, and oxygen won't get into the bag, which prevents a quick oxidation.
Back to freshness. If you drink coffee right after roasting, it contains too much CO2 and this will affect your extraction, so you want to avoid super-fresh coffee, especially so when using an espresso machine (as opposed to, say, a v60 pour over brew).
Most coffees taste the best two to three weeks after roasting. This applies to both espresso and filter roasts. After this time, the coffee does not just turn bad instantly, but it loses aroma gradually from week to week. Even after a couple of months, coffee can still taste great. If you use pre-ground coffee, freshness is lost much more quickly, which is why it's best to grind coffee right before brewing.
While filter coffees can be drunk as soon as a day after roasting without any problems and taste great, we recommend to wait around two weeks before brewing fresh coffee on an espresso machine (if possible, of course). Espresso extraction will most likely be influenced strongly by the CO2 and your espresso might be both under- and overextracted at the same time.
In short: the ideal time to use coffee is 2-3 weeks after the roast date, if possible avoid using espresso roasts any earlier.
Do you have more, unanswered questions about coffee? We're happy to try and answer all of your questions as best as we can.