Black Coffee Roasting Co. – Revisited
Since my last visit, Matt and Jim have been building up the largest portfolio of single-origin coffees available in Montana. They’ve remained the only light-roast choice for coffee enthusiasts in Missoula, rolling out a natural process blend called BLOOM, pulling in a Cup of Excellence from El Salvador, and topping it all off with their lightest roast yet: a Rwandan from the Musasa Cooperative.
Unlike the roasters in Portland and elsewhere, Jim and Matt aren’t roasting everything to a relatively similar level. They’re selling light brown beans as well as slick black beans. So when I visit Jim Chapman on a cold sunny day, we talk about how they determine a roast profile for each coffee and how the lighter roasts have been received by their customers.
But this isn’t just another conversation about light roast vs. dark roast. Black Coffee Roasting Company is in the unique position of introducing lighter-roasted coffees to a market that hasn’t seen anything like it. This is first contact, so they’ve had to offer the dark blends alongside the lighter single-origins in order to retrain the palates of the coffee-drinking community. Going a step further, their Black & Tan blends a light Brazil roast with a darker roast of the same bean, giving their customers a gradual step toward the single origins.
Tell me about the Black & Tan’s conception. How did you discover that you needed a darker Brazil roast, and how did you decide to blend a dark and light roast?
We came up with the Black & Tan when cupping a spectrum of light and dark roasted Brazil. Brazil is an interesting bean because it has unique characteristics on both ends of the spectrum. As of opening here in Missoula, Montanans were accustomed to dark roasts, period. We had a lot of requests early on for roasts darker than what we were offering, so we wanted to find a bean that could go that direction. Blending the lighter and darker style of the same bean felt as natural as blending coffees from different origins, because the light and dark roasts taste considerably different than one another but compliment each other nicely. And so, Black & Tan was born, and people seem to love it.
And the Rwanda is on the other side of the spectrum as far as bean development. Would you prefer to be roasting everything lighter?
We do not really see ourselves as ever limiting our roast style to one end of the spectrum or another. We test every bean we get on a full scale of the spectrum. A crop can be different year to year, and we will roast them according to that crop’s characteristics. This Rwanda is fantastic on the lighter side and we have a few others that seem to do great on that end of the spectrum as well. We have had to explain why we roast the way we do to this market, but people have been very receptive and are excited about the concept of tasting the differences that a lighter roast can highlight in coffee beans. Looking across the spectrum of our coffees I would say the majority of our coffees’ roasts fall in the middle, somewhere between light and dark.
How do your wholesale accounts and end-consumer effect how your roast?
There have been a few coffees in the past that we thought were terrific with a very light roast but would be fairly unapproachable to the masses, and so we took it just a little further. People loved them. One was from Bolivia, another from El Salvador. They were great the way we profiled them, but if it was just for ourselves we might have gone a touch lighter. Matt and I share very similar palates, and often blindly choose the same coffees when cupping. This has made bean development quite easy in terms of agreeing on which direction we are taking a coffee.
But for the most part Matt and I get more excited about the dynamics of lighter to medium roasted beans, where nuance and complexity are more front and center. We want to roast coffee for both the coffee geeks and for those that do not want to think about it. We want coffee to be approachable and simple, but we ourselves delve so far into this we can’t help but focus on the complexity. We want to serve simple cups, but we also want to highlight all the various and unique characteristics. Do those two objectives collide? Maybe. But at least they collide in the same cup.
We do custom roasts for several accounts in which we work with them to find the specific style of coffee they are looking for and that their customers are looking for. This level of development is what we love about the coffee world, because everyone notices different things about coffee and takes different things from it. This keeps our days dynamic, and our palates in motion. We get to highlight different coffee characteristics for each unique account’s needs.
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