In the midst of the third wave where coffee has become a specialty product that reflects a particular place and growing season, coffee roasters are increasingly going beyond sourcing the best beans possible and supporting the players at all levels of the supply chain, particularly the coffee farmers that have the most to lose from dropping global coffee prices.
For the roasters highlighted below, their efforts are not a marketing strategy but rather a commitment to helping create a more sustainable industry to ensure that smallholder farmers – 25 million of which produce 80 percent of the world’s coffee supply – continue to cultivate these unique beans. Specialty coffee requires hands-on work and the utmost care at every level, from the farmer picking ripe coffee cherries one by one to the coffee roaster mapping out a coffee’s roast profile to determine optimal roasting time and temperature, to produce a superior final product.
Kickapoo Coffee Roasters
Where: Viroqua, Wisconsin
Who’s behind it: Co-owners TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes (pictured above), who founded the company with two main principles in mind: “great-tasting coffee and fairness to farmers.” Fostering social change has been top of mind for Semanchin following his work and travels in Latin America which centered on sustainable development, and Nicholes’ expertise and appreciation for boutique wines and the culinary arts seamlessly translated into the world of specialty coffee. The Kickapoo Coffee team is made up of expert roasters and other key operations staff, sales and marketing people, and cafe owners and managers; all of which help to shape the brand and convey its message to customers.
What makes it unique: “At our core, we are committed to making coffee better and making it better for all parties involved,” reads the company website. To this end Kickapoo Coffee participates in direct trade as a member of Coop Coffees, an importing cooperative that allows for a more transparent and fair relationship between roasters and coffee farmers because it “brings farmers and roasters to the same table, bridging the gaps that traditionally exists in the coffee market.”
To further its commitment to sourcing coffees that meet its high quality standards and securing the future of the coffee farmers and farms it sources its coffee from, Kickapoo Coffee guarantees a minimum price of $2.75 FOB(the price paid to farmer co-ops or in-country exporters). This price is well above the $1.60 Fairtrade price (the Fairtrade Minimum Price of $1.40 per pound, plus the Fairtrade Premium, $0.20 per pound), and consistently reviewed by the company to account for inflation.
What to try: Kickapoo Coffee’s recently released organic Revelry Holiday Blend has notes of cocoa, fruitcake and honeysuckle. It features a blend of natural and washed coffees from Colombia and Ethiopia. The natural coffee lends an “aromatic, fruity aftertaste.” If you’re popping into a cafe, go for a pourover at the Third Ward Milwaukee cafe, a spiced caramel latte at Bayfield or a maple latte (a seasonal favorite) at Viroqua.
Kaladi Coffee Roasters
Where: Denver, Colorado
Who’s behind it: Co-founders Mark Overly and Andrew Melnick, plus a talented staff dedicated to mastering their craft and producing “consistent, excellent-tasting coffee.” Overly has decades of experience in the industry and was previously the president and coffee buyer of Anchorage, Alaska-based Kaladi Brothers Coffee.
What makes it unique: Overly and Melnick’s vision for Kaladi Coffee was to put the specialty coffee revolution back on track, bringing consumers quality coffee and away from the “chain mentality of over-sweetened beverages that may or may not contain coffee.”
Kaladi Coffee takes pride in “sourcing the highest quality coffee beans from farmers who demonstrate sustainable growing practices and respect workers rights” as well as creating an environment “where coffee aficionados could communicate with knowledgeable staff who can accurately convey the variety of coffee’s nuanced flavors.”
A peek at the company website reveals that great coffee involves complex decisions and a skillful hand at every step of the process, from picking and processing methods to precise roasting that reveals the nuanced flavors of specialty coffee beans. Kaladi Coffee air roasts its coffee beans, using convection heat for an even, consistent roast instead of the traditional drum roasting method in which beans come into direct contact with a hot metal surface.
What to try: For folks new to the brand, Overly recommends Kaladi Coffee’s Peru Cajamarca Andes Gold. “It encapsulates everything a person is looking for in a great coffee,” said Overly. It’s the brand’s most popular single-origin coffee: Fairtrade certified and full-bodied, with a sweet aroma and a baker’s chocolate aftertaste. If you’re visiting one of Kaladi Coffee’s Denver cafes, try a Latte Kaladi. It features a housemade flavoring blend of vanilla, chocolate and coffee that is added to enhance the flavor of espresso.
Where: Chicago, Illinois, plus locations across the US
Who’s behind it: Co-founders Doug Zell and Emily Mange, plus a robust team running coffee bars, roasting facilities and training labs in six major cities across the US: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and Boston.
What makes it unique: A true OG in specialty coffee, Intelligentsia was years ahead of its time and pivotal in shaping the future of the coffee industry and bringing on the third wave. Founded in 1995, Intelligentsia sought to create “great tasting, fresh roasted coffee,” which was difficult to come by at that time. They roasted their coffee in-house and introduced the direct trade model to the coffee industry, according to its company website.
“We didn’t adopt direct trade practices because it’s a trendy way to do business,” the company website states. “Our commitment to direct trade allows us to cut out unnecessary importers and exporters, and enables us to truly partner with our growers.” Intelligentsia’s buying team travels the world to find new growers to work with and connect with existing partners, bringing them data, insights and best cultivation practices to improve the quality of their coffee beans. The brand stands behind adhering to sustainable farming and environmental practices as well as paying its farmers well above Fair Trade prices to ensure a sustainable business model and bring its customers “exclusive, remarkable coffees you won’t find anywhere else.”
What to try: At the coffee bar, check out the seasonal single-origin coffee being featured that day as a pourover. The coffees served at Intelligentsia rotate with the seasons, with coffees from countries north of the equator gracing menus in the spring and summer months and coffees sourced from south of the equator highlighted during fall and winter. In the warmer months, Intelligentsia Cold Coffee is a popular pick – hot brewed coffee that’s immediately flash-chilled to seal in flavor and aromatics for a sweeter final product with a balanced acidity and more fruity flavors.