Sorry no pictures this time but this is what Intelligentsia sent out the other day for the roasters choice.
Greetings. To introduce myself quickly, my name is Deaton Pigot, and I am one of the Roasters at Intelligentsia’s Los Angeles Roasting Works. My buddy and fellow LA Roaster, Steven Lee, and I will be taking over the writing in this space from the one and only Geoff Watts. (No, Mr. Watts hasn’t gone anywhere; it’s just time for the Roasters to own Roaster’s Choice.) I hope that you enjoy reading about our exploration of coffee and the roasting process.
I had been involved in Barista competitions in Europe and my native Australia before coming to Intelligentsia, and I’ve got to tell you that competition time rolled around quickly this year. And then it amazingly screamed past us in what felt like a fifteen minute dust storm, a coffee dust storm that is. Here in Los Angeles, as soon as we fired up the roaster in March and began dialing the roaster and ourselves in, the LA Baristas were asking for favors for the upcoming Western Regional Competition in Berkeley, California. Kyle Glanville purchased four different lots of Brazilian coffees from Carmo Deminas for the Baristas to use and Sarah Kluth and Geoff Watts purchased the now well-known Finca Matalapa from El Salvador.
I’m not really sure if many people know that the competition season for some of the Baristas started way back at the Southwest Regional in Las Vegas on February 26th, 2008. Devin Peddy and Ryan Wilbur competed as out-of-region entrants, which meant that they were technically not allowed to place. So even thought they couldn’t go for the win, it was a great chance to dust off some cobwebs. This meant the Intelli LA team, which also included Kyle Glanville and Nick Griffith, started training at the beginning of the February. This just goes to show how long of a road our guys have had to tread.
Like I mentioned, we were working with the competitors’ coffees after just having started dialing in the roast process as a whole. Thinking back on it now, what better way to become better acquainted with our coffees and equipment? Steven Lee and I had spent many months working on theories of roasting, cupping, etc., and we were just back from an enlightening trip to Reno to visit Karl Staub, so we were itching to put those months of learning into practice.
The Finca Matalapa was an absolute delight to work with and still is to this day. (This coffee was part of the April, May, and June Roaster’s Choice; that’s how much we liked it!) The bean itself is really resilient. When the Baristas asked us to hit an exact profile and we missed, we were secretly happy as we were then able to take some delicious coffee home with us. We were ecstatic when Nick and Kyle decided to use the Matalapa as a single origin espresso as we knew in our hearts that those big maple notes and sweet clean citrus were going to stand out.
When Intelligentsia placed 2nd, 4th and 6th at the Western Regional, we had new vigor and determination to press on. If you have heard that these competitions are easy, then you are being misled. On most days you don’t eat until after the event closes, so the whole time you are just running around on caffeine and adrenalin. You are up till 3AM each night cleaning, ironing and polishing for the next day’s competition. You have logistical nightmares as everything you have with you is just so fragile and is just looking for a reason to break.
In the build up to the Western Regionals we were really dialing in our coffees, cupping and pulling shots every day trying to reach the perfect roast. During the experimental stages the Baristas would taste the coffees and ask for 30 seconds more here, longer roasts at this point, and speedier development there. It had Steven and me using all of our concentration and putting all of our theories to use. It was great to see that all the involved pallets were becoming fine-tuned instruments that no amount learning of theories or reading of books could ever achieve. After all, this is all about tasting and tasting a lot!
Onto the SCAA show in April at Minneapolis and more of the same long days and nights confronting us. Since I was Kyle’s coach, I would be up ironing while Kyle and the rest of the team were sleeping. I tired to block out the thoughts that kept creeping into my mind: How did a 30 year-old man at this stage in his career find himself ironing clothes and linen for other men? I took my licks and took it for the team, and Kyle’s 1st place was more than enough payment.
Now I’m taken back to back to February when a small lot of experimental coffees from Panama came across our cupping table. This coffee was, to say the least, controversial. It quite literally had us, the guys and gal in QC, split right down the middle. Half of us wanted to “X” it straight from the table and the other half thought it was one of the most interesting coffees they had ever tasted. It was a pulp natural coffee from Finca Santa Teresa, and it was the first time that this particular farm had played around with processing coffee this way. Kyle Glanville and K.C. O’Keefe ended up purchasing it, and I remember Kyle saying that the coffee would make a wonderful espresso and he projected that he would use it for at least the Nationals. Now, due to some logistical set backs we never got the coffee in time for Minneapolis and with Kyle winning the finals on the Matalapa, he decided to pin all his hopes and dreams on this, still yet to be proven as an espresso, coffee from Panama.
Time was ticking as we sat patently waiting for this coffee to arrive and all the time we were steadily increasing production at the LA Roasting Works. Each week we were doubling production whilst fine tuning all of our systems on the fly. So once again we were all running around pulling huge hours with only the smell of fresh coffee to fuel our desire and ambitions. I never told Kyle this, and I am not really sure why I am telling you all out there in coffee land, but Kyle’s Panama coffee landed in our warehouse and unbeknownst to us, the few bags he had ordered were at the bottom of a mixed pallet where it remained for half a week, until we finally got the chance to go through the pallet and discovered it. Like a shining ray of hope uncovered, it popped its head out, to be sheepishly noticed by the entire world (or at least, our world). What a surprise, and please don’t tell Kyle!
Now with only 3 weeks until the event, we got to roasting. The coffee was once again so fresh that it reacted unlike any other coffee I have roasted to date. It was heavy in the drum and had much higher crack and end temps then we were used to. It was really like flying blind as we tried to navigate through our profiles. As we did not have much of the Panama in the warehouse, we were tying to roast very small batch sizes, which means you have to rely more on instinct then on technology.
It was so delicious though, with huge jam-like notes and sweetness that equaled, and in my mind actually surpassed, the Matalapa espresso that we used for the USBC. We were all so excited. When the day came to finally roast for Kyle’s trip to the World Barista Competition in Denmark, a huge wave of emotion fell upon me and thoughts of a “small town country boy from outback Australia” (that’s me) doing this work hit me and a lone tear did well. All of Kyle’s, mine and the rest of the Intelligentsias team’s hard work had come to this point, and the pressure to nail a roast had never been so great.
Well, we did not get the exact result that we were after at the Worlds, but we can definitely look back at our build up to Copenhagen and we can all say we gave it 110%! Kyle’s 8th place is something to be proud of. Even though he has not said it to me personally, I am sure that he will compete again. One thing that we have learnt from all this out here in LA is it is so important to have a close relationship with your Baristas. After all, they are the ones tasting and pulling your shots everyday.
On returning back to LA from Copenhagen, more one surprise that came my way as a torrent of fresh crop coffees had flooded our warehouse and once again we are on a steep learning curve as we try to hit the perfect roast profile for each coffee.
This is why I love this game!