The internet and blogging played a huge role in pushing coffee into the modern era.
When an explosion of coffee and roasting information started showing up on our computers from around the world, we all started to question everything and everyone around us. It was an exciting and divisive time to be in caffeine.
I specifically remember when “Direct Trade” first came into my life. Matt Riddle was the man that introduced the term to me, by way of Barista competitions that he competed in was actually quite good at for Intelligentsia (for history buffs, he was US Barista Champ in 2006).
I was in Ireland at the time from late 04 to 07, but the US was now squarely in my career flight line. So much so, I took it upon myself to book a vacation to Chicago with the sole purpose of introducing myself to Intelligentsia’s founder Doug Zell. Hell, maybe I’d even ask him for work and magic would happen.
Incredibly, this plan worked out almost exactly as I had sketched out. Soon enough, I landed in LA, among a bunch of talented implants from all over the country in ‘07.
I bring this small bit of history up because at the time that we started roasting coffee in LA we immediately began to question the company’s techniques. With Zell’s blessing we were allowed to explore and ultimately came up with this one simple question: “How do we make our production roasts taste the same as our sample roasts and get all those same flavor notes matching up.”
So we started down the bumpy path of exploration. This also happened to be the same time that The Coffee Collective and Tim Wendelboe opened up their doors and started what I call (rightly or wrongly) the Scandinavian Roast style.
I have to tell you, for the most part everyone was failing at first. Tim’s, The Coffee Collective were the same and, although Square Mile is not from the same area, I can lump them into the same group as well. From the samples that we were receiving from them and buying from them it seemed consistency was hard to hit and there was so much under-developed coffee flowing out from this area.
Yeah. I know. That’s cold. I’m just trying to tell our history. So, sorry guys you know I love you (we are great friends), but it’s the truth. Please don’t send hate mail just yet let me explain.
This was needed and an open banter occurred with shots being fired all the time. Either Tim W or Tim V wrote on Twitter once that “America should not be allowed to buy Kenya coffees” because Americans roast too dark! In turn when we cupped under-developed coffees (we would say “self cleaning”) we would call them a Wendelboe roast. (Try as I may to find this tweet I could not, I could only find my response which you can see here https://twitter.com/deatonpigot/status/72293859966722049)
These roasters were such a loud voice in the specialty coffee world, it made everyone else sit up, listen and try to emulate. Over the years, their roasting and sourcing has been fine tuned and of course they have more-than-earned every bit of the accolades they get.
As Intelli/ Stumptown/ Counter Culture were to Direct Trade globally, the Coffee Collective, Tim Wendelboe and Square Mile were to light roasting techniques globally as well. All equally important players in Specialty Coffee in their own right.
A few years after all this turmoil in the roasting world and all the debate (in my mind the debate is over), I realized I had hit my roof at Intelli LA, and it was quite timely that Toby Smith from Toby’s Estate, wanted to do something in New York and asked me to join the company.
With Toby’s personal guarantee that the company would not just “rubber stamp” the Australian business model in Brooklyn, but they would get behind me and adopt a style that was neither Australian but was something more local to Brooklyn. Tip of the hat to Toby for that.
I finally would get the chance to draw a line in the sand, well, for the most part…I will explain in more detail about this in my next post titled.