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Is there a "funk" in Ritual's coffee?

  • Pei Sep 13, 2009 10:22 AM
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I've always liked Ritual Roasters coffee, though for some reason I've never liked how their beans brewed at home in a french press for me. So at home I drink Peet's or Blue Bottle, but I've never disliked being served Ritual at a restaurant or having it at their cafe.

Recently, my friend said she had Ritual at Salt House several times, then again at a cafe in Oakland (I can't remember the name) and each time there was a funky taste to it. She described it as almost rotten, like spoiled milk. My first reaction was to think maybe they'd let the beans sit too long before using them, but she said she heard Ritual ages their beans because some people like that funky taste.

I have a pretty high tolerance for funny flavors, so I'm probably just not tasting whatever she's tasting. But maybe subconsciously it's why I've never liked Ritual at home. Does anyone know what she's talking about?

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  1. I’ve noticed that sometimes when I have gotten Ritual's beans at home they tend to have a stale aroma. I think they have better roasting quality control and/or techniques at Blue Bottle.

    1. Not so much of a funk, but a sour taste. For some reason that is the taste desired by all those new wave coffees like Ritual, Four Barrel and Dynamo. I hate that quality. Ritual didn't have that taste when it only had the one shop. When they started to be more available, that's when that quality started.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        The "Gatina" (92 points Coffee Review, apparently) that they sometimes offer at Local 123 is another coffee that's too sour for my taste.

        I've occasionally had coffee (can't remember if it was Ritual or not) that has a faintly urine-like taste to it (sorry to be gross about it). Don't know if that's what the O.P. was talking about.

        1. re: abstractpoet

          I think I know what you're talking about. Sometimes that sour, urine...i usually call it peroxide taste can come from the beans being roasted too recently. It's impossible to get rid of in a lot of fresh roasts. They need a few days. But it could also be any number of things...

      2. What your friend is describing is likely poor storage or preparation at the restaurant, like coffee that's brewed and left on a burner, or beans that aren't in a sealed container away from heat and moisture. Beans or grounds that aren't fresh typically have less taste, not more. Although the restaurant may then try to compensate by letting them sit in a press longer, which could taste muddy.

        But that's not the same as mildness, which you describe at home, and which I've also found occasionally. I've bought many different Ritual beans and agree some of them tend to be a bit mild for drip (I use an Aeropress). One solution is to buy their espresso roast, or someone else's.

        When Ritual first opened, they used Stumptown beans. They then began roasting their own, which were variable in quality and to my palate had less character. However I find them more consistent now since Jeremy left and started Four Barrel. (Dynamo Donuts serves coffee made from Four Barrel beans; they are not a roaster.)

        With coffee as with tea, if it's too mild, first try using more of it and less water. If it's too strong, water it down. Letting a weak brew steep longer will not produce richness, only bitterness or other off flavors.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Windy

          No. It is not storage. It is the way they roast those beans. Coffee geeks love that quality ... tho I'm kind of loving the urine-like description. Yeah, I know Dynamo is Four Barrel. I have the flu (oink, oink, oink) and am not thinking clearly. I was thinking of that new place on Valencia whose name escapes me right now.

          1. re: rworange

            The new place on Valencia is Four Barrel. Feel better.

            1. re: Windy

              Oh yeah. Thanks. I thought swine were supposed to be intelligent, butthey made off with my brain

        2. In the past I've posted an admission that my tastebuds couldn't recognize what stale coffee tastes like (granted, I take milk and sugar, which disguises a lot, I guess), but I'm here to say Ritual, and Four Barrels, have both changed all that for me. I've had trouble buying beans from both these shops that didn't taste like pencil led, tobacco, sourness. They have fresh roast dates, but it's meaningless if their green beans are sitting around.

          I've also posted wondering if anyone else was having problems brewing it at home. I still think part of the problem is they're focusing more on pricier small batch single origin beans with too much change over in their stock to really master their roasting now. I've had the same imported beans from different roasters which tasted complex and fit their descriptions, but with Ritual, I do better with the less exciting darker beans they sell, like say, their Sumatra, when they have it.

          As an aside, Four Barrels supposedly roasts their own, but the green beans still come through their partner at Stumptown.

          14 Replies
          1. re: sugartoof

            What difference does it make if green beans sit around? The unroasted bean is good if stored correctly for up to a year. Much longer than any of these roasters hold them.
            As far as FourBarrel partnering up with stumptown. Many small roasters do this so they can compete for price and availability with the big companies (Peets, Starbucks etc)
            If you are having problems brewing these beans at home, maybe you should look at your technique and equipment.

            1. re: chipman

              A small local roaster thinks all the talk about bean source is hilarious. I forgot the name of the company but almost all locals roasters buy their beans from the same supplier who also supplies Pete's. He says occasionally coffee auctions come up and the source might be different ... some small plantation ... but usually almost everyone is buying from the same company.

              He does talk about handling those green beans correctly. He was saying the reason that places like Costco can sell inexpensive coffee is they often buy beans that have been mishandled. For example, a country has a war or uprising and beans that were about to be shipped, sit around in less that optimal conditions way too long. None of the local roasters will touch something like that so they get snapped up by the discounters.

              Four Barrel does buy from Stumptown and since they are out of the area, don't know where those beans come from.

              Why should beans be so tempermental that one must have the correct technique and equipment?

              1. re: rworange

                mostly true yeah, but more and more roasters are buying those auction beans or microlots.

                gimme coffee on the east coast has what they call "relationship coffee", which i think means they visited the farm once. the last time i checked, gimme and ritual had almost identical offering (give or take the "relationship" stuff) and if you do mail order, the gimme version is much superior right now. unless it's just a coincidence, it appears they're using the same importer with entirely different results.

                1. re: sugartoof

                  Hey there,
                  I just resigned from Gimme coffee in Ithaca. I was their quality control specialist. I'm moving back to Cali! The relationship coffees, and I am not bullshitting here, were not about just visiting farms but truly making a commitment to have that relationship in regards to CONSTANT feedback with the exporters/producers and being committed to buying their coffee every year. Pretty simple. We get samples from these noted coffees every week, and every week we cupped and sent feedback. They came to Ithaca and Gimme's director of coffee went down there a couple of times. This is a new thing for Gimme! so it will be a while, but I get the feelings from cupping the results of the efforts, that it is something they will continue doing. btw, what is you email address?

                  1. re: lamaquina

                    Thanks so much for posting and sharing some insider knowledge!

                    I actually didn't mean to be that flippant about their relationship coffees. The website is pretty compelling, and it's certainly an exciting extra element to picking out coffee, now that everyone is doing fair trade, and/or single source. Ritual also seems to be doing this, with pictures of farmers on their site, and the claims of paying above the going rate, so they can upgrade/refine their growing equipment.... and I'm a sucker for it, as far as marketing goes, but taste wise, their product has declined. Rather then just describe the coffee as wine, it's great to see a more personalized approach above and beyond the sales aspect of it. In the case of Gimme, I didn't think they could compete with our local roasters, but I've tasted a huge improvement, and somehow or other the brewed coffee does really reflect all the eccentric flavors, as described. So you all have been working hard. Welcome back to California, by the way.

                    1. re: sugartoof

                      Thanks Sugartoof! I brought a little west coast style to Gimme! But the coffee has improved due largely to a change in QC/roasting personnel and really trying to push the envelope of what coffee should be. I like to think Gimme succeeds because it really doesn't buy into any roasting style except what suits a particular coffee best...seriously. I am no longer a company man, so I am not sucking up...I am speaking from a place of having worked for several roasters and Gimme! is going great places...keep them o your list. You are right, there is NO WAY Gimme can compare to other roasters in regards to scale. Gimme is not in the league alongside Stumptown or Intelligentsia, but I would say they are definitely toe to toe with Ritual.

                2. re: rworange

                  "Why should beans be so temperamental that one must have the correct technique and equipment?"

                  Light roast beans have a lot of flavors that are destroyed by heat. If you make coffee with super-heated steam/water (most drip machines, or boiling water in a french press), you'll obliterate the flavors that were preserved in the lightly roasted bean. Darker roasts have a wide range of other flavors produced by roasting, which do not get obliterated by over-heated water, and thus are more dependable with a variety of styles of home equipment. Those flavors are also less volatile, so the coffee can survive grinding before sale.

                  Put another way, instant espresso will always taste the same regardless of equipment or technique. Maxwell house will not be harmed by passing it through a coffee maker loaded with rancid coffee oil residues. Peets or Starbucks are clean enough they benefit from clean coffee makers, most often a french press that cycles through the dishwasher, with clear glass that shows when it needs cleaning. Then you get to nerd levels of coffee where requirements get more complicated...

                  As for bean sources, the reason Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Ritual, Four Barrell, and Mr Espresso are notable is they source beans outside of the commodity market where Peets, Starbucks, Costco get their beans. Starbucks & Peets make fail-safe blends that stand up to a lot of abuse, but the other roasters, and especially single-source beans, are very finicky in terms of what temperature and amount of time they need to be brewed at to show off the good qualities of the single-source coffee and avoid accentuating the negative qualities. That said, it would be nice if they were a little less snobbish and just put a recommended brewing temperature on the side of their bags so the home consumer doesn't have to experiment and only work out the right temperature by the time they've finished their bag of beans. One of the primary skills of a barista is figuring out exactly the right temperature/extraction time for a good espresso with a particular batch off beans, which may change during the course of the day as humidity and temperature changes.

                  1. re: SteveG

                    Wouldn't the extra heat from a grinder, or the boiling water, just cook the bean some more to alter the taste?

                    1. re: SteveG

                      >>"If you make coffee with super-heated steam/water (most drip machines, or boiling water in a french press), you'll obliterate the flavors that were preserved in the lightly roasted bean."<<

                      Well, yes, but the only way to get superheated water is to put it under pressure. Cheap boiler-driven espresso machines are notorious for extracting at temps that are too high. That isn't the problem with drip machines, though - they tend to use water that's too cool, not too hot. And when you put boiling water into a (room temerature) french press, it immediately drops to near the ideal temperature for making coffee.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        If you use a filter-based system or a french press, you can try different temperatures and divine which temp is best for your beans and taste. I like about 170.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          To each their own, I suppose. The SCCA recommends 200 +/- 5 degrees for optimal extraction, and I tend to agree.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            I find the optimal extraction temp depends greatly on the roast. I have found a super light roast that I like, and prefer a low extraction temp on it - I've tried 200 and it makes the taste "brittle".

                            I simply suggest people try various temps!

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              My experience matches bbulkow's, which is why I commented above that I wish the roasters would just put a recommended brewing temperature on the beans. Doesn't have to be totally specific, but some beans do better for me in the 170-180 range, and others do better in the 190-200 range. A hint would help.

                  2. re: chipman

                    I've read 9 months for green beans at best, and some regions have one harvest a year.

                    Four Barrels is literally partners with one of the Stumptown people. It's not a matter of pooling resources, Stumptown is their supplier from what I understand. If you have an opinion of Stumptown, one way or another, that may be helpful to know.

                3. "but she said she heard Ritual ages their beans because some people like that funky taste. "

                  I think your friend might be referring to the resting period freshly roasted beans have to go through in order to eliminate all the CO2 or as commonly known as degassing. This is standard procedure for all coffee roasters.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chipman

                    I think she might be mistaking de-gassing (which all coffee needs and doesn't impart sourness) with a roasting style that favors bringing out the sourness or other underlying flavors in coffee that more traditional places don't. I've definitely tasted that sourness in coffee before and not particularly enjoyed it, but I always figured (perhaps incorrectly) that it was more due to the type of bean than the roasting process.

                  2. I just tried Ritual's coffee for the first time this last Saturday, and I tasted the sourness that other folks here are mentioning. Before I tasted it, I bought a bag to take home (dumb, I know), and that batch tasted sour, too. It wasn't a funky sour, but a fruity-tart sour. It was not what I like at all in a coffee. It's just not my cuppa java.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: teela brown

                      I had really hopped that Ritual would be better than it actually is. There is one at Oxbow on the home from my partners work. The beans have been ok to use in an automatic espresso machine but not as good as others. Also, they are almost all new world coffees, which are usually not my most preferred beans. I love African (particularly the more full bodied of the Ethiopians and the in your face Yemen coffees) and Indonesian coffee beans better. We are currently finishing up a batch of Stumptown beans (including some great new world coffees) and will start soon on some bluebottle beans I purchased last Friday. It would be nice if Ritual could strive to achieve the high quality of Stumptown and blue bottle.

                    2. Everybody here seems to be talking about coffees from each roaster as though they're monolithic. Ritual coffee, Blue Bottle coffee, Starbucks coffee, etc. That ignores one of the most important factors - the kind of coffee being roasted.

                      There are definitely some funky coffees out there; Sumatrans and dry-processed Ethiopians come immediately to mind. There are also coffees that have strong notes of flowers, fruit, chocolate, and, yes, cat pee. These flavors come from the beans, not the roaster. Yes, Starbucks can take any bean and over-roast it until it tastes like, well, Starbucks coffee. But the recent trend toward lighter roasts lets the flavors of the individual varietal come through. Problem with that is that not everybody's going to like that varietal flavor.

                      Going into Ritual, Intelligentsia, or Blue Bottle and asking for "coffee" is like going into a fine wine store and asking for "wine." You need to provide more info. Each coffee is different, and they're roasted in a way that the differences are noticeable. My guess is that you're noticing the characteristic flavors of the coffee you're drinking, maybe for the first time. But Ritual roasts a variety of different coffees. Try a different one. Better yet, try a few in a side by side tasting. Taste them like you would taste fine wines. Enjoy the differences, and discover your own preferences.

                      23 Replies
                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Oh alan, I'm obsessive about things.

                        When Ritual first came out I tried every single one of their coffees. They all had that sour note ... let me correct that ... they started to taste sour the second they started to expand. I liked them well enough before that.

                        After two or three, I just couldn't do that to myself with Four Barrel and gave up.

                        One must remember it is also the coffee maker just as the winemaker that is responsible for the end results. The wines from Preston may use the same varieties of grapes that Vella uses with vastly different results.

                        There is also a lot of lousy expensive wine out there too that people proclaim wonderful.

                        I have to say that steve's explanations were the best.

                        But to say ...to people .... especiially the food inteligent Bay Area people ... "asking for "coffee" is like going into a fine wine store and asking for "wine." .... that is the type of response the new wave of coffee makers such as Four Barrel and Ritual try to foist on people ... you poor ignoramuses ... you've never had coffee until you drink ours.

                        No ... I've tried them all ... new school and old school. Those coffees just suck and no one is going to 'educate' me to like swill.

                        Though I'm not a fan of Blue Bottle mainly due to temperature, I exempt them from this. The coffee doesn't taste sour. It may be mild,but it is not sour. And yes, BB has all sort of nuanced flavor, but I hate lukewarm coffee .... then there's the whole bean grinding issue.

                        There are responsible coffee roasters that escape the hype while producing a good cup. Flying Goat is one of them.

                        Yeah, they have that nonsense where they require a special coffee maker by restaurants, but they can do what they want as long as the result is great ... and for my tastes FG is great. Ritual and Four Barrel should take note.

                        And you know ... incredible as it sounds .... my ground when I buy it FG coffee ... made in a plain old coffee maker ... God knows what the temperture is ... I can tell the difference of each beans ... and there are nuanced notes.

                        Not that I might not get more out of it if I had a coffee degree. It is the hype of the coffee makers like Ritual and Four Barrel that gets to me ... we use special beans from select plantations and when you try thiese you will try something unlike anything else.

                        It's coffee. They didn't discover it ... or IMO ... do anything to improve it.

                        1. re: rworange

                          As somebody who roasts coffee, I can state unequivocally that it's a much simpler process than making wine. There's nothing to it, really. At its simplest, it's just a matter of applying heat until the beans reach the desired darkness. And it never gets more complicated than gradually increasing the amount of heat applied over those few minutes.

                          Which is why I don't think it's possible for a roaster to do anything that gives all its beans a funky (or sour or fruity or whatever) flavor. If those characteristics are present across all the coffees, it's a function of the roaster's preference for a certain flavor profile in the beans rather than anything done during the roasting process.

                          Of course, I'm a novice roaster. If somebody has better or different information, I'd be glad to hear it.

                          Sugartoof mentioned that the Sumatra lacks the "sourness" that people are talking about. That's consistent with my take on what coffee cuppers refer to as acidity. Low in Indonesian coffees, high in those from the Americas. Especially when the New World coffees - which Ritual focuses on - are roasted fairly light.

                          That's not to excuse any snobbishness on the part of the people who work there. Especially since Ritual's range of coffees is extremely limited. It's like a wine store that limits itself almost exclusively to, say, reds from Bordeaux. The shop can make the argument that they're the best coffees (or wines) in the world, but to suggest that everybody should share that opinion, or that other things aren't worth drinking, isn't just provincial, it's stupid.

                          For me, coffee isn't about hype, it's about flavor. I'll drink a cup of Blue Bottle or Ritual or whatever when out and about, but mostly I drink the stuff I roast myself. And given that I get results that are every bit as good as the stuff the boutique roasters produce, I gotta figure that the roaster is a relatively minor part of the equation.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            mr.barnes, your hypotheses are partly accurate. but acidity in coffees comes from a variety of factors, and geographic origin is just one. as you note, the lighter roasts mutes the acidity less than darker roasts. the degree of roast in fact can noticeably shift the flavor profile. i've had Flying Goat coffees--they're fairly ubiquitous in Sonoma Co--and i believe they use organic Sumatra coffees fairly prominently in many of their blends, and they roast pretty dark--i'd guess past the second crack, since you roast your own. the same coffee can taste fairly different between city roast (med.mahogany, but not to the second crack) and full city ++ roast (just past the second crack).

                            some roasters like to avoid roasting new world coffees very dark because that can mute the bright, fruity acidity that make them distinctive. however, it's the method use to strip the fruit pulp off the bean that can make a bigger difference in the flavor profile--the large majority of new world coffees are wet processed, and you'll find fruitiness and bright acidity in african coffees processed that way too, in Kenyas for example. Ethiopian coffees can be processed either wet or dry, and might be useful in making a comparison if you can get reliable info on how a particular coffee was processed. like cacao, the method of stripping the pulp from the seeds involves fermentation, and this was the most likely source of the sour, funky, or urine smells people noticed in coffees, assuming the water and equipment used to roast and brew the coffee was well taken care of. many Sumatra coffees are processed semi-wet, with some soaking and washing but not to the degree as in conventional wet processing. the other big variables other than geography are the specific cultivar of coffee grown in a particular area, the soils and altitude, the latitude of origin(which is geographically determined of course) that determines day length variation. in many coffee producing countries the different regions that grow and process the crop have significant variations between them.

                            a lifetime of heavy coffee drinking has taken its toll on me and i've become pretty sensitive to acidity--have to limit my intake if it's too high, and i don't enjoy Kenyas as much as i did twenty years ago. recently i found some new world coffees other than Brazilian (which are mostly wet processed, but there are some done dry as well) that are dry processed, and have many of the vibrant flavours one associates with their more conventionally produced versions, but with mellow acidity.

                            1. re: moto

                              Terrific posts

                              To find the best things to eat in the Bay Area, sign up for the Chowing with the hounds picnic
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/652687

                              1. re: moto

                                I agree that geographic origin is only one factor in a coffee bean's flavor. The cultivar of coffee tree, the microclimate in which it grows, and especially the processing method make huge differences in flavor. I've had the opportunity to roast two Ethiopian Koraties - one wet-processed, the other dry-processed - and taste them side by side. You'd never guess that they came off the same trees.

                                But all the flavors that show up in the final cup are present in the green beans by the time they get to the roaster. Roasting can mute certain flavors and enhance others, but that's almost entirely a function of how dark the beans are roasted.

                                I see a roaster's function is less akin to that of a winemaker and more like that of a grill station cook. Your steak can be nearly raw, burnt to a cinder, or anywhere in between, but other than a little bit of carmelization and carbonization, whatever flavors are there come from the steak, not the cooking process.

                                Some people prefer old-school dark roasts and don't care for bright, light-roasted coffees. That's their prerogative. Some of the roasters who are new to the scene distinguish themselves from Peet's and the like by turning up their noses at darker roasts. But it's a simple fact that you'll taste the coffee more at lighter roast levels. Those flavors develop and change as you go past a city roast and through full city. Once you get past the beginning of the second crack, though, you're just turning flavor into carbon.

                                Back to my original point, there's nothing a roaster can do that will add a "sour" or "funky" flavor to coffee. Those flavors were present in the green beans when they came in the back door. If you taste a coffee and don't care for its flavor, you can either blame the roaster for having failed to cook the flavor out of the beans, or you can try to find a coffee you like better. Isn't the second option more interesting?

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  The variations are still pretty drastic, and costly for the typical consumer. Even once you do find a bean you like, Ritual will change it up the next month, and you have to start all over again. There are roasters claiming to be artisans, and while that's probably a little bit of a stretch, there's a reason why we can't count on generic consistent flavor profiles from any region/farm or roaster.

                            2. re: rworange

                              Is there currently a place to buy or drink FG coffee in SF? According to their website the answer is that there's no retail in SF, but have you happened upon any restaurants that serve it?

                              http://www.flyinggoatcoffee.com/

                              1. re: Pei

                                If you can't find FG (even if you can), try Equator from San Rafael -- never had a bad blend or single origin from them...I order in the morning and pick up roasted-that-day beans...plus, they're nice people.
                                http://www.equatorcoffees.com/

                                1. re: Husky

                                  They're not selling it, currently, but the Equator Ethiopian Yergacheff won some kind of roasters competition last year, over a lot of the trendy shops.

                                  They do sell what's known as a single origin coffee ... as opposed to just blends... http://www.equatorcoffees.com/store/p...

                                  I've never found Equator to have really complex flavors, personally.

                                2. re: Pei

                                  Closest is Berkeley. Local 129 and soon Chocolatier Blue Patiserie

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                I've actually walked into Ritual, Four Barrel and BB asked for flavor suggestions, and I don't suggest anyone actually bother unless you want a good laugh by putting someone on the spot. It was nothing like walking into a wine shop. I've done better reading the ridiculous descriptions myself, and trying to guess what they translate to in real life.

                                I've had the exact opposite experience with Ritual's Sumatra, which is why I mentioned it in particular, earlier. No sourness that I could tell (purchased from a plastic container at one of their retail vendors).

                                RW - Which BB did you experience lukewarm coffee at ? I've burnt my tongue on the first sips of BB in Hayes.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  To bean aficionados: the current batch of Yemen beans from Blue Bottle is excellent and one of the more memorable beans I’ve tried lately. Very rich and complex, low acid and chocolaty.

                                  1. re: Ridge

                                    Thanks for the tip!

                                2. re: alanbarnes

                                  you are mostly right Alan, except that chocolate is a roasting product. Chocolate is not inherent in the bean. I am a coffee roaster, and have worked for Stumptown, Ritual and Gimme (true story). Floral and fruit notes are inherent in the bean since it comes from a fruit that has a flower that is reminiscent of jasmine blossoms. Cat pee is certainly an agricultural/processing defect. Sourness is a combination of both process and roasting, but mostly it is a product of an underdeveloped roast...close to baking if not roasting.

                                  1. re: lamaquina

                                    I agree with you to an extent on sourness. IME most coffee will lose its sour notes if roasted to City or better. But the acidity or wineyness of some coffees comes across as sour even when roasted City+.

                                    As far as chocolate goes, I'm not sure I agree with you. While it's true you usually have to roast coffee fairly dark for the chocolate flavors to develop, some beans develop more of it than others. For example, the DP Mexico Nayarit coffee I just got is **very** chocolatey at FC+. When I roast, say, a Sumatra Lintong in exactly the same way, the chocolate notes are much more muted. So common sense tells me says that the flavor is inherent in the bean. But if you've got more info I'd love to hear it.

                                    1. re: lamaquina

                                      With the little credit I have on Chowhound, I'm fully vouching for you, lamaquina. lamaquina is truly a master of roasting IRL and knows what he's talking about. He can teach us so much more about coffee if we are open to it.

                                      lamaquina, what do you think about the comment rworange made that "almost all local roasters buy their beans from the same supplier who also supplies Pete's" ? Is this true?

                                      1. re: scarmoza

                                        scarmoza, whom do you include in 'all local roasters'? the large-scale commercial operators need quantities on a level that eliminate many of the most interesting coffees i've been able to try as a home roaster. they might be buying the beans from the same importer/distributor as the small, neighborhood roasters or real small fry like me, but they're constrained by the volume of their demand. the guy i get green coffee from does sometimes share an import order/lot with roasters like stumptown, but corporations like peets or star$$ market a much greater quantity than stumptown.

                                        1. re: moto

                                          Just to clarify, I was quoting rworange's comment made earlier in this thread. I personally did not know this to be true, that's why I'm asking lamaquina.

                                          1. re: scarmoza

                                            just to clarify, whether you're an independent dealer like the chap i buy from, or a buyer representing a big commercial roaster/retailer, one starts by buying a particular crop/harvest, usually from an estate or large farm, or a cooperative that processes and markets the harvests of small farmers in a village or area. in the coffee producing area i had time to look at in detail, the Toraja region of Sulawesi (former Celebes in the Dutch East Indies colonial days), there was one big processor/broker, but also smaller brokers who consolidated the crops of many small growers who processed their fruit a mere bushel or two, sometimes less, at a time.

                                            the dealer i buy from runs across buyers from many other commercial roasters/retailers, large and medium-sized like Stumptown, in the cupping competitions, auctions, estates, and cooperatives in the various localities that produce coffees. what you seem to be describing is buying from an intermediary importer/distributor here in the u.s., and there might be occasions that such a resource might be used to get the goods onto shipping containers and brought to the port of Oakland, for example. but i'd guess it's only the really small operation, Blue Bottle or Flying Goat perhaps, that actually buys green coffee from that intermediary source (they could also buy from concerns like the dealer i use, who sells some varieties in amounts compatible to that scale of roasting as opposed to what mr.barnes or myself conduct), only after making sample test roasts and cuppings to verify the quality of course. in this area, Royal Coffee in the past imported coffees and wholesaled green beans in addition to roasting and retailing for its outlets, i believe.

                                            to give you an example of what the difference in the volume of business makes in buying decisions and sourcing, my dealer has from time to time a special sub-category of aged coffee, monsooned coffee. in my visits to hundreds of retailers over the years, i have found it in one small neighborhood roaster in London.

                                        2. re: scarmoza

                                          What RWORANGE is saying is that most of the big local roasters are going through importers. However, he/she is incorrect to some extent. Importers DO buy greens and the offer them to roasters, but importers are also a most necessary tool in getting coffees into the country. Meaning, say Stumptown finds a tiny little farm in Ethiopia...and they love the coffee, they will get an importer contracted to bring the coffee in. They are using the importer as a tool, but they are NOT buying the coffee directly from the importer. Also, as with Gimme, exporting programs will seek our micro-roasters to try some coffees they have been working with, and in this case Gimme would have to find an importer to bring that coffee in, again, NOT buying the warehouse coffee from that importer. Make sense?
                                          so the big boys like Stumptown, Intelligentsia, 49th Parallel...these guys are actually mostly using importers to bring coffee in and NOT buying from an offering sheet.
                                          Intelligentsia only uses ONE importer, as they are importing 95% of their own coffees. That's right, Intelligentsia has its very ow importing company so the coffees are arriving 2-3 months earlier into the country which is fantastic on all ends.

                                          1. re: lamaquina

                                            No. That is not what the roaster I talked to said. He said there is a Bay Area company that everone buys their beans from. He said the name, but ... it was before my first cup of coffee ... I don't retain much prior to the first caffeine shot.

                                            1. re: rworange

                                              A couple of things to add to this discussion.

                                              The Bay Area green bean supplier I suspect the roaster was referring to is Royal Coffee in Emeryville. They're said to be the biggest green coffee bean importer on the West Coast.

                                              There was also discussion above about how long green beans last before going stale. Roasters have never worried much about that, holding each year's crop in jute bags. But George Howell of Terroir Coffees in Acton, Mass., one of the most respected people in the coffee world, freaked out his competitors a few years ago by announcing that green beans should be packed in foil and kept frozen until roasted. This, of course, would involved a huge expense, and it wasn't something anybody was very eager to do.

                                              He doesn't seem to talk about it any more in his promotional emails, so I suspect he's stopped doing it.

                                              1. re: TopoTail

                                                Yes, Royal sounds like it may be it.

                                    2. Just to return to the original topic, today I had a cup of Ritual's Sumatra at Cafe 504, a place I've always found takes a lot of care in brewing its coffees (it's my neighborhood spot, though Local 123 has definitely supplanted it in my coffee shop pantheon).

                                      Anyway, to my taste, this was a good cup of coffee--earthy but still gently bright, not too acidic, no strange odors or flavors. So it still begs the question with Ritual of whether it's an issue of quality control, consistency, brewing technique, or just the specifics of certain bean varietals...

                                      Personally, I tend to like Sumatras and Ethiopian beans, but those are also some of the ones in which I've on occasion detected the foul undertones described earlier. The Yirgacheffe that they sell at Kefa Coffee, for example, is one of my favorites, but I'm pretty sure I've gotten at least one bad batch when buying it for home French press brewing.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: abstractpoet

                                        “So it still begs the question with Ritual of whether it's an issue of quality
                                        control, consistency, brewing technique, or just the specifics of certain bean
                                        varietals...”

                                        If I had to guess, I think that Ritual uses good beans but there is something about the roasting process they don’t get right. I make espresso every morning and am always trying different beans. The thing I’ve noticed about beans I buy from Ritual is that they often have a stale aroma. And I have never been wowed by a batch of Ritual beans they way I have been from other roasters. Even beans I know I have tried similar versions from other roasters such as Brazilian are never that great when roasted by Ritual. I have wanted to like Ritual beans because they are local and because the descriptions are very good but I have stopped buying their beans because they are always just ok.

                                        1. re: Ridge

                                          I agree with Ridge. The purchased green coffee quality is really, really good at Ritual. their coffee green buyer is Q-certified. I think their profiling is a little different than most folks, and their consistency is not quite there yet. They are still a very young roasting company, and I believe from what i have tasted they are definitely leaning towards the euro (dutch/norwegian) style of roasting...super light and not too far beyond first crack. However in regards to PURE tasting, the coffee I believe is lacking in total development. It smells good, but falls flat/apart in the the cup. I have had several baked coffees, but one that was stellar was one I had last year from Honduras Finca Moreno I believe. It was lovely, and full in the cup.
                                          All that to say that yes, you can buy beautiful coffees but if your roasting is not on, the coffee will not shine.

                                          1. re: lamaquina

                                            Just wondering, now that you're back in town.... have you found any beans that are winners? It sounds like you're probably having fun sampling all the options, but please do let us know if you do.

                                            As an aside, I wish there were blogs that reported on cupping results in a manner that was current and could serve as a buyers guide around town.

                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                              beans as in green? or roasting companies? Would be happy to recommend Ecco's Kenya Gichathaini roasted most likely by yours truly. :)

                                              -----
                                              Ecco
                                              322 Lorton Ave, Burlingame, CA 94010

                                              1. re: lamaquina

                                                Cool! Congrats on the new gig.... and look forward to checking out the Kenyan.

                                      2. Wanted to update this post - went to a cupping at Ritual the other day, during which one of the roasters criticized Blue Bottle's "within 48 hours after roasting policy", saying that one of the beans they were cupping actually tasted better 4 days after roasting than it did the day after. While I only tasted it 4 days after roasting and can't compare, it did taste damn good.

                                        Also, Four Barrel indeed does buy from Stumptown. Ritual buys direct. Blue Bottle does not buy direct, I do not know from whom though.

                                        Also, Ritual is switching over to a new brewing method, apparently they've come across this amazing Japanese filter.

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: vulber

                                          Your post contains a lot of inaccurate information.

                                          Blue Bottle has policies to ensure the best possible freshness for its consumers. I called them directly just now, and if they feel a coffee is best on day 3 or 4 after roasting, that is when they will serve it in their cafes as espresso or brewed coffee. The 48 hour policy is exclusively for roasted beans that are sold as beans to consumers.

                                          As for buying direct vs buying through Stumptown: the Ritual staff person was ridiculously dogmatic with his or her statements. Blue Bottle and probably Four Barrel buy coffee wherever they can get it if they think it is a product they want to have. Sometimes that's direct, sometimes it's from the auctions that follow the Cup of Excellence competitions, sometimes that's probably through a distributor. For example, here's the description for a rather eccentric but delicious Papua New Guinea they have right now:

                                          "The Tribal Aromas is probably Blue Bottle’s most swashbuckling offering. The coffee is grown in Chimbu province, an area of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea so remote that the coffee must be airlifted out and the phrase “first white man seen” is still current. Transport is dicey: Once, when it fell through, Our Man in PNG (Iggy) floated the idea of lashing huge sacks of beans onto the backs of local men and marching them to market. We declined. Another year, Iggy called from his office (which he shares with his chickens) to report he was undercut by a fellow exporter in some shady port dealings. This year, the Gods of Coffee Import Intrigue smiled, Iggy prevailed, and we got our Tribal Aromas."

                                          1. re: SteveG

                                            I LOVE the tribal aromas. Bought some for my cousin, sneaked enough out of his bag to make myself a cup, and ended up buying three more for myself and friends. I usually buy Peet's beans because they let me buy 1/4 pound and no one else does, and I only buy 1/2 pound bags if I really want to try something new. I like trying new things but rarely find myself repeat buying the same roast with all the new brands and blends popping up in SF.

                                            The Tribal Aromas is good enough that I've bought more bags of it than any other coffee in the last year.

                                            1. re: Pei

                                              Isn't it good? Not cheap, but they're paying a fair price for the raw beans so I don't mind that the extra cost of getting those beans is passed through. Probably not my all time favorite coffee, but it's definitely one that makes you sit up and think about what's in your cup.

                                            2. re: SteveG

                                              Blue Bottle's policy also extends to why they don't sell their coffee in supermarkets.

                                              Nonetheless, their priding themselves to the customer of how they only sell coffee roasted within 48 hours comes across to the customer as coffee needing to be brewed absolutely immediately.

                                              If a coffee roaster has a good reputation for quality, they don't need to be further patting themselves on the back for how soon they sell their coffee, people know taht they're not going to be sold stale coffee.

                                              Also, I never actually stated an opinion on whether buying direct is good or not.

                                              I still prefer Blue Bottle to Ritual.

                                              However, it depends on how much one values the process. Buying direct from the farmer will benefit the farmer more. Buying indirectly might benefit the consumer more.

                                              1. re: vulber

                                                Well, my sense with some of the coffee at Ritual that I've gotten is that it was "at peak" when I bought it, and went downhill with each passing day. Since I don't usually brew at home the same day I buy the beans because I buy a cup when I buy the beans, to me that means I probably miss the peak.

                                                With Blue Bottle, I know the worst of the outgassing has passed, and that I'll enjoy the peak somewhere within 48 hours of buying the beans. That way I get to experience the beans for the better part of a week within a few days of the flavor peak.

                                                I guess I'm just saying that I value the up front communication from Blue Bottle about when things were roasted, because it helps me do a better job of brewing it.

                                                1. re: SteveG

                                                  True, but any reputable coffee roaster will give you specific instructions if you ask on the best way to brew their coffee.

                                                  I just feel that Blue Bottle is starting to develop an elitist feel high-end winery that intentionally limits their distribution to make it seem like a rare commodity, whereas Ritual is actively trying to get their coffee out to whomever wants to sell it, be it at their store or their restaurant. Just my thoughts though, not really something I want to debate here.

                                                  All that being said, I still the taste of Blue Bottle to Ritual, I just prefer Ritual's unpretentious vibe.

                                                  1. re: vulber

                                                    I wouldn’t call Blue Bottle pretentious. They are just very proud of their product (as they should be). And the owner is a very nice and down to earth guy. I really wanted to like Ritual, but the bottom line is for whatever reason the quality of their beans is not that good. My perception is that they start out with good beans but don’t do a good job of roasting them. Whatever the case I am sticking with Blue Bottle because, all other things being equal, the coffee I make with their beans is always much better than Ritual. The Ritual people need to seriously revaluate how they roast coffee if they want to stay in business.

                                                    1. re: Ridge

                                                      Wow. This is a strong statement.

                                                      I think both make pretty good coffee and whether you like one or the other is probably a statement about your personal preferences rather then their quality...

                                                      In any case, to by tastebuds neither is as good as the best in Seattle (Say Vivache or Victrola).

                                                      Here's a final mystery: Why does ritual taste better at the Creamery then ritual proper?

                                                      I am happy though that there is finally decent stuff available in SF....

                                                      1. re: boris_qd

                                                        Just adding my two cents:

                                                        Ritual always tastes better when a professional prepares it than when I bring it home. Maybe it's that the beans are sold at peak and only go downhill from there; maybe it's that they're more appropriate for espresso than for my French Press. Who knows? I just know at home Blue Bottle, Barefoot, Verve, and Peet's from a high-turnover store are all noticeably better.

                                                        And a note on Victrola: it's my absolute favorite Seattle coffee and I also think it's superior to a lot of what we have here, but do you think it's more acidic? I can drink black coffee on an empty stomach with all of my usual coffees, but not Victrola. I need to have it with milk or with breakfast or it hurts my stomach.

                                                        1. re: Pei

                                                          that's my experience with ritual, as well. i've also have to double the coffee per cup just to get anything remotely like the shop. the peak times do not appear to have much science, either. just when i've written off a bean, it'll start tasting incredible. for a few days.

                                                          i also find the beans they carry to be confusing. retail, i'll see a large selection from one region, like el salvador (currently) on shelves, but only one is list on their website, or sold in their shop. the sumatra has been available in bulk bins, almost year round, but again, rarely on the website, or shop. otherwise, they seem to follow the same seasonal buying as everyone else, such as the honduras beans that were everywhere a couple months ago. it also appears everyone has a few cups from the cups of excellence winners, so it's really hard to figure out what ritual has a genuine exclusive on.

                                              2. re: SteveG

                                                Another vote for the deliciousness of the Papa New Guinea. It's the best thing I've tasted from Blue Bottle.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  Another one worth trying is the Blue Bottle Nicaragua Pueblo Nuevo. I usually prefer African coffee beans but I like this one a lot. It has a very forward distinctive smokiness and the body is very full and smooth. Makes a great espresso in my machine. I highly recommend it.