10 Apr 2017
Gatare: Or, How We Find New Coffees
posted by Jamie Isetts, Green Buyer
How do we come across new coffees for our lineup?
First, we find people. Producers or other parts of our supply chain will reach out to us about the work they’re doing. Other times, Merit will seek out producers whose coffee we have tried and liked. We also meet people while traveling at origin, during coffee auctions, or through mutual friends in the industry. We participate in a global network, and doing so allows us to get better coffee.
In this case, we had an existing relationship with Red Fox Coffee Merchants. They work extensively in Rwanda, so they were my first choice in exploring producers in this country.
Next, we taste. These folks send us small green coffee samples from their farms and mills. We are constantly cupping samples from crazy origins—like Nepal, for example—that never make it to our lineup. We exchange notes, scores, and feedback. Then, we log all of that in our Merit Cupping Database, which stores cupping scores and origin info about every coffee we’ve ever cupped at Merit. This helps us compare coffees from one harvest to the next and remember samples that might not have been what we wanted at the time, but now fit a slot in our line up.
With Gatare, we cupped a wide selection of lots from various mills in the Nyamasheke region in Rwanda, which were vetted by Red Fox. I reviewed their notes first to choose the samples I thought could be a hit. While all had rich fruit notes, Gatare stood out with a distinct flavor of sweet cream from start to finish, literally like drinking milk.
After that, we think about preparation. Having high-scoring coffee is just the first step. How would this coffee be best prepared? We wouldn’t want 10 amazing coffees that only work well for batch, but none that work well for espresso. When possible, we even purchase a small quantity simply for testing on the target brew method. Sometimes this doesn’t even make it to our cafes!
For Gatare, we loved its rich body and dessert-like notes. However, all Rwandan coffees carry at least some potato defect. Since this is our first time working with them, we don’t know how prevalent the potato defect will be and chose to keep it as slow pour, where baristas have a lot of contact with the wet grounds and can smell the defect.
Finally, we buy the coffee using a contract. With each offering, we aim to have everything lined up for a multi-year relationship. But sometimes, the quality or the people are, in practice, not quite right. We will always have space on our lineup for experimentation and new coffees!
We typically contract 4-6 months before we even offer a coffee in stores. Most of the time, the beans themselves are at origin while all of this is going on. Think about this process as you enjoy the Gatare in stores this spring.