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 rather modern way of roasting 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 very dark, they lose a lot of their vast original flavors. Are they roasted lightly, though, the desired natural flavors 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 certifications 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. If they do pay them, they will expect to be able to sell their coffees at a higher price due to the certification. Unfortunately, this does often not work out due to dirty deals (read up on «combos» or «confidentiales»). If the green coffee (=unroasted coffee) is now certified, this does not necessarily mean that the final product in the shelf will also be certified and thus «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 will be paying a higher price not necessarily for a more organic or fair coffee, but for those certifications.
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, and prefer to support the producers themselves rather than a certification.
When buying coffee we prefer direct trade and strive for maximum transparency. We buy coffee either directly from the producer or a cooperative or through a trustworthy partner we can rely on. Either way, we want 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 through established and experienced green coffee importers in the area of specialty coffee who have a direct and long-lasting relationship to the producers. They have the opportunity to travel more often to coffee growing countries than we can, especially when focusing on one single country, as many of them do. And they have long-standing relationships with many coffee producers. Through higher prices, traceability of the product and direct trade, this also ensures that the producers receive a fair price for their product that allows them to sustain their living cost and reinvest in their business.
Why is transparency so important?
Not only the coffee supply chain but within the global economy transparency is something, that is being requested frequently. On the other hand, companies have been reluctant to disclose valuable and sensitive information for example from their competitors. How we deal with sensitive information is one of the most complex issues of our time. In general, we see a trend towards more transparency. That's good and important. In our opinion, we need much more transparency. We need to see, know, hear and understand things in the area we work in. Yes, in certain circumstances it is crucial to keep and protect sensitive information. In other situations, though, it is just as important to make certain information available to business partners or to the public. Consumers pay more and more attention to what they buy. They steer the market and the supply chains with their buying behavior to a certain degree. However, if a piece of information – for example the price a coffee farm is being paid for their coffee – is not available for any of the products in the shelf, consumers are not able to force the market to adjust. In that case, all the involved parties have to take responsibility. It is not only up to the consumers to generate the necessary pressure for companies to do «the right thing».
Only when requesting transparency, we can see where the problems are hiding. Obviously, it is not possible to double-check every piece of information one receives: even everything is fully transparent, information can still be wrong/fraud. It is therefore crucial to explore new paths. Technology such as blockchain can help to trace and track products, unified standards can be created, the law could request more transparency and compliance from companies, etc. As a small roastery, we can try to learn as much as possible about the coffee we buy. If we notice any problems, e.g. someone is not paid enough or not treated the way they should be, we have to speak to the producer and/or importer about it and, if necessary, cancel the trading relationship. We believe that in the coming years transparency in supply chains will be an even greater topic in public discussion due to the current economic, political and climate situation.
Why Does Drip Roasters Coffee Cost More Than Coffee in the Supermarket?
The classic way of buying coffee leads through 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 after years of not earning enough money. 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 acidity, sweetness, mouthfeel or aftertaste, 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 that reach a minimum of 80 points are considered «specialty». These are extraordinary coffees which only account for a small percentage of the worldwide coffee production. These coffees have remarkable qualities, which is achieved through careful production methods. The coffee cherries 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 flavors of which the most common are listed on the SCA «Flavor Wheel». In comparison to wine, coffee is roasted, which leads to a never ending variety of flavors 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 sixties, the worldwide coffee consumption significantly increased and suddenly people all over the world started drinking coffee. Nowadays, this is often referred to as the first wave.
The second wave was the time during which coffee of higher quality was made available to a wider audience. Big corporations, such as Starbucks, entered the market and were becoming very successful. Coffee developed from a basic product to a lifestyle product. A little later, the industry began to examine the supply chain and started to understand that the origin and the production methods play a huge role in how a cup of coffee will taste.
The third wave designates the valuation and appreciation of the coffee’s quality. It's not limited to the taste in the cup, but also includes keywords like sustainability, fairness and transparency. Third wave coffee shops serve coffee that is produced in an environmentally friendly way, traded fairly (often in a direct farmer-roaster relationship), roasted lightly and brewed with care.
Instead of bitter, specialty coffee now tastes sweet and rich of fruity acidity. Instead of cheap, it is sustainably produced and fairly traded. Instead of anonymously mixed blends, specialty coffee should be of single origin and have as much information about origin, production and flavor 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 traceability. 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, any undesired flavors present in a coffee cannot be hidden, thus only high quality coffee is suitable to be sold as single origin coffee.
A «microlot» or «micro lot» 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. Some of these lots are not regularly (e.g. every year) produced 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 flavors 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 unique flavor profile, which leads to new experiences for coffee drinkers.
Cupping is the sensory evaluation of coffee. To evaluate coffee, the coffee is ground and a pre-defined amount of it is put in a cup. The cup is then filled with hot water. This is always done in precisely the same way, following a strict set of rules. After a few minutes, 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 make purchasing decisions.
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 created their own systems to evaluate the coffee according to their own criteria.
How is Coffee Produced?
Coffee grows on a tree with white flowers and red coffee cherries. Once ripe, they are picked and collected.
Preparing & Drying
The cherries are now being sorted and dried. There are two main ways to make green coffee out of the cherries.
«Washed»: The red cherries are opened and separated from their red shell by some kind of mill. Out of each cherry, 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. This step is sometimes 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 beans with this method.
«Natural»: The whole cherries are being dried without opening. This way, the beans stay in the sweet and fruity layer for a longer time, which leads to more sweetness in the coffee. Only after drying, the skin is removed.
«Honey» or «Pulped Natural»: This is a combination of the first two methods. The outer, red skin of the cherries is removed and the beans are stored in the white, slimy layer for a day or 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 than 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 we're left with the green coffee bean.
Before green coffee can be sold, it is sorted with sieves of different sizes. Especially high quality beans are also examined for defects.
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 is 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 cherry, there are two coffee beans covered by several layers of different colours. Those two coffee beans become the brown beans we all know and with which we make our beloved espresso or filter coffee.
However, there is an exception. Some coffee cherries (or berries) contain only one instead of two beans. Those are called peaberries. There are many myths about the peaberries' supposedly superior quality. Peaberries are often sold at higher prices than normal beans. In reality, they do not really differ when it comes to taste, as long as they are produced in the same careful way.
Filter coffee? Isn’t that a relict from the time before capsule machines? Well, it is not that simple. For many people, filter coffee is this black liquid that has been simmering for hours and hours in a big jug, serving only as a much needed caffeine supply. We know that, too.
For some years now, filter coffee has been consumed in a very different way, though: with high quality, flavorful coffees, freshly prepared with precise brewing recipes. Variables such as coarseness of the ground coffee and water temperature are crucial. The brewing method is, too. 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 2 to 4 minutes the coffee is usually brewed and ready to be enjoyed.
The look of the coffee has also changed: instead of a deep black, it shimmers with brown and red nuances. It looks more like tea than coffee and does not taste bitter or burnt. Instead, there are subtle flavors and aromas of chocolate, caramel, spices, berries and other fruit. These flavors have not been added to the coffee. The natural flavors in the coffee simply remind us of those flavors.
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.