Striving for Roast Consistency
Part 1: Sourcing Blend Components, A Balancing Act
Written by: Emily Phillipps, Lead Roaster
Here at Ruby, we pride ourselves on giving our customers a consistent coffee experience. Each time you brew a batch, make a pour over, or pull a shot of espresso, we hope you can rely on us for a sweet, high-quality cup every time. Whether brewing up an everyday drinker like Creamery, or trying a dynamic new single origin offering, you shouldn’t have to wonder if you’ll enjoy it, or take a wild guess on what grind size or coffee-to-water ratio you’ll prefer. There are so many ways we strive to maintain consistency that, when I began writing about this subject, I was quickly overwhelmed by its broad scope! At all the different stages in the pipeline, from sourcing, to roasting, to quality control, to packaging, the measures we take to make sure you receive a reliable cup feel almost countless. It’s behind much of what we do on a daily basis, so we decided to break it down and bring to you a series of blog posts on this large topic.
In this post, let’s start towards the beginning of the pipeline, with some sourcing considerations, specifically when it comes to consistency in our blends. As you may know, our blend components change over time based on seasonality and availability, so we are periodically tasked with selecting a component replacement. The way I see it, there are three main factors that contribute to consistency here: flavor, price, and quantity. We’ll explore these factors using Creamery as an example.
When we are tasting potential Creamery components, we are typically looking for some notes in particular like cherry, dark chocolate, and perhaps some nuttiness. We aim to prioritize characteristics like richness, full body, sweetness, and balance. Not too wild or too simple, and just the right amount of acidity. Down the middle, crowd-pleasing traits: that’s what’s important in Creamery. It can be a fun time to make our selections based on taste, but it’s not the sole determining factor of the decisions we make.
The price per pound of green coffee is crucial for keeping Creamery a reasonably-priced specialty coffee blend. Luckily, there are wonderful options at a price that make Creamery both a viable product to sell, and also relatively affordable for the consumer. Similar to how we aim for balance with taste, we aim for balance when we purchase green coffee too. It’s important that we purchase green coffee at a price that makes sense for all parties involved. It must be profitable for the producers, viable for Ruby as a business, and result in consistently priced bags of roasted beans for those who purchase Creamery and drink it regularly. Though Creamery may be a mainstay for some of you folks, the blend components that we bring back every year are truly mainstays for Ruby.
If you keep an eye on our Creamery label, you’ll notice that we try to bring back the same components when they are available each year, for example Colombia Buesaco and El Salvador Familia Mendez. When we do this, we are able not only to maintain relationships with the producers, importers, and exporters who we rely on, but we are also able to maintain consistency in flavor and price over the years. This is a great reminder that it’s the excellent producers we work with who make up the backbone of Ruby’s consistently tasty, high quality coffee year after year. As much as we like to purchase tons of green coffee from outstanding producers, there is a fine line here.
There is a sweet spot when it comes to how much green coffee we purchase at once. Too much, and we take too long to get through our inventory, risking a deterioration in quality over time as the coffee ages. Too little, and we need another component change all too soon, which results in extra work for us and too-frequent blend changes on the consumer end. Here at Ruby, we are mindful about the quantity of green coffee we buy, considering our future coffee sales and green coffee needs. The goal here is threefold, and repeats the theme of making decisions that make sense all around. One: producers we work with can anticipate how much we are likely to purchase (and at what price point, with what taste qualities), which can help them run operations accordingly. Two: we can roast fresh coffee. Awesome. Three: you can drink a consistent cup, even with components changing throughout the seasons!
As you can see, sourcing for consistency is a balancing act, keeping in mind many parties (the producers, Ruby as a business, and our consumers), and many variables (taste, price, and quantity). At the end of the day, the time and energy we put into this balancing act is totally worth it because we can proudly get you that reliable, delicious cup without fail. Ruby is so glad to share great coffee with you, and I am so glad to share the details of what goes into making it happen. Next time, I’ll dive into a topic that may seem mundane to some, but I promise that the subject is in fact a fascinating and very important aspect of our routine operations: green coffee storage. I know, I know, I’m really selling my point here, but stick with me, and you’ll see how when it comes to green coffee storage, the devil’s in the details.