As Pope Francis prepares to embark on his historic six-day visit to the United States, his assistants at the Vatican are most likely in the process of checking off the list of travel essentials: Papal regalia? Check. White zucchetto? Check. Sustainably sourced specialty coffee? Check.
The latter item on that list is coming from Tracy Allen, the owner of the Kansas City-based coffee consultancy Brewed Behavior and current Specialty Coffee Association of America Board President. These, of course, are just two of the many hats Allen has worn throughout his remarkable career in specialty coffee, through which he can now proudly say, “I roasted coffee for the Pope.”
“It’s kind of a feel-good thing,” Allen told Daily Coffee News, adding that his 76-year-old mother has never been prouder. “When I look back on this someday, I’m sure it will be something to talk about — and, of course, it’s quite an honor.”
Allen himself is Catholic and he stressed that the coffee supply arrangement with the Vatican team is far from a typical business supply or consulting relationship. He was contacted by the Vatican after building something of a reputation through his previous work in Italy with the Lamborghini family — yes, that Lamborghini family — as well as Brewed Behavior’s own Italian office in Belforte del Chienti.
Allen has been quietly working on the Pope’s coffee for months, sample roasting and cupping alone, and grouping and coding the coffee for group cuppings in order to maintain the coffee’s anonymity. He received positive feedback from the Pope’s team just days ago, and is donating the 60-pound roasted coffee shipment. “I’m Catholic from day one, so I consider this a donation and an honor,” said Allen. “I don’t want people to think it’s the kind of situation where the Vatican just came and hired me.”
For Allen, the excitement about the project doesn’t come necessarily from the fact that he personally was approached, but rather in the Pope’s interest in specialty coffee at large. “He’s a fan of fresh and local, and not everything, even in Italy believe it or not, is fresh and local,” Allen said. “And he also knows that there are a lot of layers between producer and consumer. What I care about with anyone we work with is getting them as close to the dirt as possible. They’ve chosen something that’s specialty based and that obviously infers fair labor practices and transparency and all those things.”
To that end, Allen has shipped notes on the producers and production methods, along with formal cupping scores, a gesture he hopes the Pope will appreciate as an occasional drinker of good wine.
As for the coffee itself, Allen is not at liberty to discuss it in detail, although he says he approached the profile by considering some of the Pope’s most relevant demographic factors, and expanded on those with some sourcing and roasting touches that may resonate with someone with such worldly experience as the leader of the Catholic church.
“As a rule, when you’re 55 or older you tend to struggle with acidity a little bit, your ability to taste sweetness is a little compromised, and you tend to like things a little more earthy,” Allen said, noting that this profile tends to beg for certain Indonesian coffees. “But we were able to come up with some artistic touches that I think might work for someone who appreciates the finer things.”