The arrival of a new origin into your coffee program is always an exciting time for a coffee roaster. It gives us the chance to experience a whole new spectrum of flavours and textures that are the result of years of investment, research and toil from a far-flung corner of the world.  It is the chance to celebrate the people, cultures and places without whom this coffee simply would not exist.

But for a specialty coffee roaster, it’s also the greatest challenge of our skills, craft, and expertise.

I like to think of a new origin as an exquisite hallway with a million doors. (Did I mention I love a good metaphor? Fair warning, dear reader—there’s quite a few ahead!)

Behind every door is a room bursting with a unique coffee experience that will excite the olfactory and taste systems, open our minds, and—hopefullyeven hearts.  But every room is slightly different. Although branching from the same hallway, each room has a unique tone, feel, scent, colour and style.

Every door requires a unique key to unlock it. And that key is the specific roast profile we have developed. 

A particular beauty of coffee is that every roaster will have a favourite room they want to unlock. And thus we all have a key—a favourite style of roast—that will open a specific door.

There is a world of nuance to be discovered among those floral and zesty lime notes infused by the red, iron-rich soil of the Yirgacheffe region in Ethiopia. A thousand interpretations of those beautiful fruit and berry flavours produced in the Natural milling process. Brazilian coffees can be a cacophony of chocolate, or even take us 80s kids back in time with purple Hubba Bubba bubblegum (yes, really).

We roasters have the privilege of being able to wander down this beautiful hallway and choose our favourite room. At any moment, we can also magically change our key, and explore other rooms and discover all the new and exciting magic therein.

It’s a rather wonderful thing. Exploring how different roasters interpret the same coffee is a fascinating sensory experiment. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here. If you enjoy it, how could it ever be ‘wrong’? Embrace the work of master roasters who have in turn embraced the kaleidoscope of opportunity each coffee offers.

This is assuming, of course, that we all take the time to fashion the exact key we want...

Imagine now then that your key is a bit worn around the edges. Slightly out of shape. And it no longer opens the door you want, but instead the slightly tatty one next to it. You walk in, and it looks largely like the room you wanted, except—everything is slightly off. The brand name is there but a letter is wrong. Much like that time, you were in Camden Market in London back in 2008 and inadvertently bought Roy Bons sunglasses, you’ve opened the door to the Benadryl Cabbagepatch of coffee.

The fruit is there, but tart and souring. The chocolate has been overwhelmed by dark, roast notes and descends into bitterness. The mouthfeel is chalky, and the body is thin and watery. The acid is unbridled. The complexity lost.

In short, it becomes, simply, ‘coffee’. You now see the room is actually quite bland. Harsh fluorescent lighting washes everything out. Elevator music is playing.

Which of course is fine, for some. But not us. Not when we know that right next door is a magnificent room filled with music, light, colour and joy.

Taking the time to fashion the right key—the right roast profile—is thus the greatest task we set ourselves. It may not be like those of others, but in a way, that is the entire point. What remains most important of all is that it will always strive to be a most beautiful representation of this coffee.

After all, what is the point of travelling the world, sourcing such incredible beans from such incredible producers, if you’re not going to do them**—**and all the hard work that went into producing them—their due justice?

This human and environmental aspect is probably the single biggest motivator pushing us to be better and better at what we do. I’ll never sit here and claim what we roasters do is rocket science, or that we’re changing the world. But every origin that arrives at our roastery comes with a direct human legacy: from the grower and their families to their workers and their families, and the wider community it helps support. These people have often experienced enormous challenges in delivering these coffees. The next step is hoping that you, the consumer, will enjoy them, and in turn, more people will look to buy from the next harvest. This will help provide stable jobs, security, and sustainable livelihoods for their children and their communities in the years to come.

So that’s how I see where we roasters fit in. We’re in the unique position of being able to undo and undermine all that hard work, investment and hope, simply by not taking the time to fashion that perfect key, to build the right roast profile. We’d merely deliver a standard product destined to be lost amid the thousands of other coffee origins that hit the market every year. All that sweat and toil and hope was wasted, simply because we roasters decided it was enough to produce ‘just another coffee’.

Well, not on our watch. We can do something better. We can do the growers and their communities justice by delivering a wonderful reflection of a coffee, with all its beautiful idiosyncrasies and character and flavours, and thus give it the best chance of success. This then hopefully means not only do you get to enjoy the world’s best coffee experiences, but we’re also helping build sustainable and thriving coffee communities all around the world.

So, how do we go about doing this? How do we ensure we build a roast profile capable of unlocking all those unique flavours and qualities? How do we do it justice?

That is the stage we set for the second part of this blog, where we will sit down, grab a cup of our favourite coffee, and I’ll look to explain just how we’ll do it…

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