It was shortly after I landed in Los Angeles, that I began to hear murmurings from Doug Zell about importing our own coffee. At the time, I knew enough to make a good cup, but I had little understanding of what actually importing coffee would mean. To me, Intelligentsia importing our own coffee was simply a sign we were growing. Maybe business was getting better. I really didn’t think it would have much of an affect on me, a barista.
Here we are, two years later. We’re importing many (almost all) of our own Central and South American coffees on our own. I have a little bit more knowledge of coffee and the path it takes from seed to cup, but I still have a lot of questions. Regardless, I am seeing why importing was such an exciting endeavor to Doug.
Start with the Flecha Roja (Our project in Costa Rica), which we just started serving in the last couple of weeks. The coffee arrived a little late last year (which means even later for our Los Angeles roasting facility) and so we didn’t get to begin serving it until sometime in late summer. I remember how much anticipation there was for this coffee during most of June and July. We were so excited to taste it.
Upon arrival, the coffee was stunning for about three weeks. Then, quickly, it began to lose it’s luster. It didn’t show defect. It didn’t taste rotten. It just wasn’t the same coffee we first had. The brilliant pop! that had us excited, was gone.
It’s June 20, and we’ve already been serving this coffee for a couple weeks. It’s arrived so much sooner, you can almost feel that the green still needs to settle a bit before the coffee will peak. It’s still got that pop, and shows only signs of getting sweeter, with more clear and perceptible flavor.
Yesterday, June 19, we released the coffee from our project in Guatemala. Last year, this coffee was released on August 1st. That means that things are arriving 6 weeks ahead of last year. So, where in 2008, the coffee was sitting in a warehouse, waiting for a boat. This year, it’s already in my hands. I, the barista, am already preparing and serving coffees that last year were just sitting there.
I guess that’s what importing our own coffee means. Nothing is waiting. We’re getting to experience these coffees as the world should. Fresh, poppin‘, and with little delay.
My favorite question that I get from customers is “Who do you get your coffee from?” or “Where does your coffee come from?” They’re such innocent questions, and in a city filled with hyped businesses that come and go as quickly as our seasonal coffees do, I love to take that moment to tell them about how the store they are in is merely a small piece of bigger pie… And how it is the work outside of retail that really makes our coffee worth the experience.