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6 Roasters, 6 Questions: What’s the Greatest Coffee You’ve Roasted?

With so many coffees crossing cupping tables day in and day out, it takes a unique confluence of factors for one to shine above all others, particularly among roasters that deal primarily in high-quality coffees to begin with. From the roaster’s perspective, greatness can be a matter of rare, extreme quality alone — a vivid rainbow for the senses. Or, sometimes, it’s also just as much about the story, an inspiring context from which fleeting greatness once sprang.

At the third annual Golden Bean North America event that took place in Portland, Ore., last month, Daily Coffee News took the opportunity to gather a six-by-six snapshot of the life and times of a roasting professional — six general questions asked of six randomly selected roasters in attendance. We were fortunate enough to chat with:

  • Rio Prince of Corvallis Coffee Works, based out of Corvallis, Ore., winner of several bronze and silver medals in various categories both this year and last.
  • Golden Bean pourover/filter coffee Bronze Medal roaster Stacey Lynden, who’s been at it on Vancouver, BC-based Pallet Coffee‘s 15-kilo Joper for almost four years.
  • Mike Perry of Klatch Coffee, whose 21 years of roasting have culminated lately in a three-time Golden Bean top prize streak, among other distinctions.
  • Rhys Gilyeat, who’s rounding his first year roasting for Groundwork Coffee and used the company’s 2-kilo Primo sample roaster to snag multiple medals this year.
  • Will Andrews, roaster for Press Coffee out of Phoenix, Ariz., a Golden Bean gold medalist this year in the coveted Straight Espresso category.
  • Last but not least, 2017 US Cup Tasters Champion Steve Cuevas, the head roaster for Ukiah, Calif.’s Black Oak Coffee Roasters who has been manning a 15-kilo Probat and took home the title for Overall Champion Roaster at this year’s Golden Bean.

For our first question, we asked what people mean when they describe roasting as an art. For the second of our six questions, we asked:

What’s the greatest coffee you’ve ever roasted?

Will: The last full natural Ethiopian we had. You know when you roast a full natural Ethiopian you’re going to get some nice floral notes, a lot of fruity notes, but this was just wild. It jumped out at me on the cupping table and I took a step back like, “Oh my God.” It was raspberry lemonade. It was so wild. I’ve roasted plenty of washed coffees, and been like, “Oh, this is so good, it’s really balanced.” But getting a natural coffee like that, that just jumps out in your face, it makes you forget about everything for a second. Those are the best coffees to show off for people who know coffee and who don’t know coffee.

Steve: I just went to Brazil… The farm I went to visit was Minamihara, a fourth-generational Brazilian Japanese family. His family bought a farm; he took out some of the coffee plants and put up avocado trees because there was more money in it, and so those trees created shade for the plants. He’s doing shade-grown, but he’s also organic and biodynamic. So I’m like, organic coffee? Eh, it’s ok; Brazil? It’s gonna be ‘ok’ as well. This guy blew my mind — what they’re doing in that family on that farm. They scored a 90+ for me. They only made 10 bags of coffee… They’re working on growing coffee excellently, not growing a huge amount. Quality over quantity. If I could, I would take it to competition. Onyx Coffee bought all 10 bags. I’m waiting for them to release something.

Rhys: I’m a natural boy. I do love them. We’ve had a couple Ethiopian naturals come across our table recently that have been really nice.

Mike: Esmeralda Geisha. No doubt.

Stacey: Canada just did our first Brewers’ Cup… It was the first time I had the opportunity to roast something for myself to compete with. It was a Kore from Kochere [Ethiopia]. It was the first time I got to roast something and then talk about it and present it, put it out there for the world, not just dialing it in or getting a coffee from somebody else… It was a natural process coffee. I’m a pushover for something that’s big and juicy and fruity, and has a lot of oomph to it. It had it all, but it was also a little bit different, because it had not just those big fruit berry notes that you’d expect from an Ethiopian coffee; it had this peachy, fuzzy peach candy moment to it, too.

Rio: My friend in Costa Rica, his farm is Down to Earth. Ever since he was a kid he’s been listening to the old guys talk about Villa Lobos, which was an endemic if you will — a mutation that showed up there in Spaniard times. Modern times and modern roasting got rid of it because it didn’t produce a lot. There’s just little patches left, and he found a patch on his farm. It almost all got killed by a hurricane, it’s this long story from since he was young, and it’s the first time that it’s been roasted by a roaster other than himself. It’s the first time it’s been on a table in the United States, and right now that’s the greatest offering that I bring, because that’s the coolest thing that’s happening in my life.

(Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the the Minamihara farm in Brazil.)