by Harley Taff
Artisan coffee sounds fancy, and it can be such, but it is also fairly simply defined in two words. Artistic and micro-form. A more romantic way to describe it is a beautiful marriage between science and taste.
Artisan coffee is when individuals decide to take it upon themselves to do what large coffee brands do but with their own hands, using creative techniques to make their coffee unique and more flavourful than your average bag of coffee. Artisanal coffee growers and roasters work hard to learn what makes coffee beans tick, listen to them, and learn how and what creates distinctive tasting beans. The key to artisanship, however, is micro. Micro-growing, micro-milling, micro-roasting.
Artisanal Coffee Farming
For coffee to count as artisan, it has to start in the fields. Coffee growers are the start for a perfectly unique cup of hand roasted artisan coffee. The guiding principles of an artisan coffee farmer are separate, differentiate, and define. It requires meticulous bean selection and milling. Drying at the location of where the beans were picked is also incredibly crucial to the artisan process.
Many farms are following in the wine business’s footsteps by identifying and promoting their “terroir” meaning the complete environment (including climate, topography, and soil) in which the coffee is produced. Where the coffee bean is produced can be just as impactful to the taste as how it is grown. In fact, there are many factors that can affect the taste of coffee.
Artisan coffee farmers have come up with incredibly creative ways to change the taste of their coffee. Some farmers strictly control how much sun and shade their beans are allowed. Others plant different crops right next to their coffee so that unique cross cropping happens to change the flavor palette. Most interesting to me is how sometimes, artisan coffee producers will let certain fields grow wild, allowing the coffee beans to develop in their own way.
All of this is the strong base for a perfectly unique and incredibly flavorful cup of hand roasted artisanal coffee.
Artisanal Coffee Roasting
Just like artisanal coffee farmers, artisanal coffee roasters work in micro-form. The coffee is roasted in small batches (less than fifty pounds counts as a small batch, despite fifty pounds feeling like a monstrous amount of beans still) and is carefully roasted into specific flavor palettes. There are even more variables, more tactics, more creative avenues available to create a unique artisanal roast.
Roasting is where the science and experimentation truly takes place. It is roasting a small batch one way, perhaps starting the roaster at a high temperature then lowering it as the coffee beans cook, grinding them, steeping the ground beans into a hot cup of coffee, and cataloging the flavor profile that that roasting strategy produces. And then, it is starting the process all over, but using a different experimental procedure.
It can take time getting to know how each kind of bean needs to be roasted, but that is the science aspect of artisan coffee. And a true artisanal coffee roaster enjoys the experimentation. Most, if not all, coffee roasters start by using a recipe they found online and then slowly explore divergent ways of roasting a perfect cup of coffee.
I remember, long ago, Timm’s humble beginnings of being an artisan coffee roaster: a small, at-home, air fryer popcorn popper. My most prominent memory about Timm’s first coffee roaster was that it was… loud. So loud.
The tinny VVHHRRR! of the popcorn popper penetrated through every wall in the house. I could hear as if it was right next to me in my room that was across the house! Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but that little popcorn popper could yell.
Eventually, we kicked Timm and his popcorn coffee roaster out to the back patio. And there he went, rain or shine, snow or storm, Timm was outside happily learning how to create a perfect cup of his favorite drink.
After the tooth shaking sound was removed from the house, however, I was able to think of just how fun and creative what Timm was doing was. He had something he wanted to do, roast his own coffee, saw a popcorn popper in the back of a cupboard and thought, I could throw a few beans in there.
That was when a baby artisan coffee roaster was born.
Then only a few years later, Timm went from roasting a cup or two at a time to roasting with the big green beauty he dubbed Fiona. The Diedrich roaster held up to five pounds of fresh coffee at a time. Timm was even able to get out of the back yard and into a concession stand out on the county fair grounds. But that wasn’t the end.
As Conversatio bloomed into the amazing artisan coffee company it is today, Timm and Lori needed more and bigger. Now there’s a barn in the backyard–one that matches the color scheme of the main house, of course–that houses a new dazzling Diedrich, this one orange and can hold twenty four pounds of fresh coffee. Fiona’s older sister, Lorraine had taken over the reins.
Through all that change and upgrading, Timm never stopped roasting and experimenting. He never stopped working to polish his recipe for the perfect artisanal roast.
So other than the start of Conversatio being within a popcorn popper in our family home kitchen, what makes our coffee artisan? What makes it unique?
First of all, Conversatio coffee has a proprietary profile, meaning our roasting recipe is handmade over years of trials and hundreds of pounds of coffee. Our methods of roasting coffee are not used by any other coffee roasting company in the world.
We also only buy premium beans based on their flavor profile to make sure you, fellow coffee lovers, can experience the same great taste from a bag of beans you bought a year ago to a bag you bought just yesterday. Our selection of beans to choose from is substantial too. There are not many roasters where you can purchase coffee beans from six different countries, each of which are coffee growing havens.
Conversatio’s coffee is always fresh. We roast to sell, not to stockpile. Every bag of coffee you purchase from us will have just been roasted so you can rest assured you will not get a single stale bean in your bag.
Finally, we care. Conversatio cares about both coffee and people. We are not just in it for the money, but because we yearn to share something we love with others and that is good coffee.