The C-Word, the B-Word and a handful of nuts!

Why is Roasted Brown a single origin roastery?

This is something I get asked a lot and it’s a topic I love because the answer brings more understanding of the process and getting past some of the misconceptions we have about quality.

The C-Word:

I’ve been working with coffee since 2007 and have been drinking it since it 1982! The C-word is always at the fore of people's lips. Whether we like it bad or good, we like it consistent.

When I started my first coffee shop and dived deeper into espresso, I realised quickly that no matter how much I weighed, timed, and counted everything I still wasn’t getting consistent coffee from cup to cup.

Keep in mind that at this stage in the story, I was by no means a savvy coffee taster and couldn’t taste then what I can now, but one thing was for sure, every cup was frustratingly different.

The B-Word

I finally realised that my cherished “House Blend,” blended specifically with me in mind, was in fact the source of my frustration. The espresso blend - a combination of coffees from different origins blended together into one product offering - think of it this way, when you stick your hand into a bag of mixed nuts and grab a bunch, do you always end up with the exact same quantity of each nut? Not even close!

Well this is what happens in a grinder hopper when you have a blend of any number of beans inside. Every dose will have uncontrollable, varying quantities of each bean, a.k.a. inconsistency.

This issue doesn’t only exist cup-to-cup but also from bag-to-bag and sack-to-sack as the same issue only expands throughout the chain. I’ve heard over and over from cafes using blends that every kilo they open reacts differently and takes tedious babysitting.

Don’t get me wrong - I’m in no way against a good blend in the right environment. I love a good blend and enjoy doing it, particularly when we collaborate with a chocolate maker or beer brewer. One of my favourite projects every year is putting together our Christmas blend.

As a taster, it’s great fun and if it works it’s such a kick! But keep in mind that this is a blend of coffees that no cafe can afford to have on the bar on an ongoing basis, but work great for a special occasion or showcase where cup to cup consistency isn’t the name of the game.

After connecting the dots on this particular part of the blending story I was amazed and still am at how much I had, and many still do, associate the C-Word with the B-Word!

So why do roasters blend?

A few reasons really and most reasons are very reasonable.

We’re all running a business and it’s tough to make money! The blend is the easiest way for a roaster to create some solid margin and there’s nothing wrong with that. What happens here is a roaster will buy a good chunk of a cheaper coffee (Blend Coffee) and then choose one or two (or more) nicer coffees to sprinkle in the mix. This for the most part gives the impression that this is a pretty decent coffee, or if you get the magic dose (a lucky handful of nuts) you get the God Shot!

This means the cost of this coffee is brought down significantly and the roaster can create some margin. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. It’s especially hard with all the pressure put on the roaster and the cafe to pay farmers well while the person buying the cup of coffee doesn’t always want to pay more.

So how does Roasted Brown create margin?

You might be wondering at this stage, if it’s so hard to create margin then how do we pull it off and run a sustainable business?

Well, there’s always a cost involved with making money, it just depends where you want to pay it. I’d rather not pay for it with consistency, I wouldn’t get to showcase the coffees and farmers I love to work with and I wouldn’t enjoy my job anymore!

But we do pay for it.

In order for us to offer high scoring single origin coffee to all our customers we run a small roastery in a small premises in the middle of nowhere and keep costs down that way. The money we save on location and premises is the very thing that enables us to sell the coffees we’re delighted to sell.

This means we can be competitive with blend prices while using some great single origin coffees. This makes sure the farmers and workers are well paid and enjoying life. It encourages a culture of paying more for coffee so quality and sustainability are always at the fore.

That being said, there’s a lot of very cheap and not tasty blends out there which very quickly highlight the reality that someone somewhere is not getting paid well and if they’re living, they’re not living well - we don’t aim to compete with this market.

Consistently Good or Consistently the Same

A lot of roasters are expected to offer the same flavour profile all year round and some work tirelessly to try and make that happen.

Blending to achieve this opens up a whole load of other issues that would significantly increase our operating costs if we were to address each one on an on-going basis.

These issues are things like different bean density, different bean size, the rate at which one bean extracts over another, how one bean should be ground over another, crop seasons, and the rate at which some green coffee ages over others.

As a single origin roaster we have other ways of tackling this and it’s all in how we buy our coffee, where we buy it from, how the seasons fall and how specific coffees age from specific regions. This means that our coffee is consistently good and we go for this over consistently the same.

Can we produce a flavour profile that works all year round? That’s the good news, yes we can. Again, we find single origin coffees that have particularly big harvest seasons or even multiple harvests in some cases and use these coffees for our customers who want one flavour all year round.

For the most part though, since coffee is becoming so much more popular we’re finding most coffee lovers are interested to taste coffees from around the world, embrace them and anticipate different seasons as they roll around.

Our decision is based on values and taste

So for us, it’s important that we love our coffee, the producers are paid well and are actually happy. It means a lot to us that when you drink a cup of our coffee you’re directly tasting the hard work and passion of a farm or a co-op. It’s also a complete joy to buy great green bean, roast it carefully, and be proud of how a well-sourced, carefully roasted single origin coffee lacks nothing, offers actual consistency and brings the coffee drinker closer to the source.

Written by Ferg Brown

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