Howdy coffee friends!
It’s March, and fresh coffees from South America are continuing to roll in, including this month’s fantastic featured microlot from El Vergel in Colombia. We’ll be in Guatemala and Mexico in the coming weeks, as their harvests start to wind down, to visit partners and cup fresh offerings, so stay tuned to our blog and social media for updates from our travels. In addition to El Vergel, we’re featuring our Messenger Espresso as this month’s Roaster’s Choice. I’ve talked a lot in the past about the origin story of our espresso blend and its components, but this time around I started thinking about my personal relationship with espresso and realized I’ve got a long way to go.
I’ve said it before and hope to not have to say it forever, but I’m not a very good barista.
Unlike so many of my colleagues, I never worked in a coffee shop, and once I got involved in the industry, I was more interested in learning about green coffee and roasting . Consequently, I never got that into espresso. I fancy myself a filtered black coffee kind of guy and enjoy a nice espresso drink from time to time, but for years I chose not to address this blind spot in my coffee education. After all, there are a lot of great baristas out there; how could I possibly do better than a professional and what could I possibly add to the craft?
The truth is, probably not much, but if you are going to commit yourself to a career in coffee, or anything for that matter, it’s important to understand all sides. It might not be my dream to compete in a latte art competition or pull the perfect shot, but without a general understanding of extraction, how can a roaster make decisions about how they will treat a coffee intended for espresso? And without an appreciation for espresso styles, flavor profiles, and drink construction, how does a coffee buyer make decisions about coffees to source for their company’s espresso blend?
This year at Little City, we’ve made it a major objective to update our in-house training program. A key component, and one that we discuss often, will be cross-training. The obvious benefit here is that we can all help each other out if we’re shorthanded or in the weeds, but in the long term we believe that in order to have an industry-leading team of coffee professionals, we all need to be well rounded and every member of the team needs at least basic skill sets and an operational understanding of each of our departments.
The front-of-house vs. back-of-house struggle (or barista vs. roaster, in our case) is nothing new in hospitality. But in the modern coffee era, where relationships drive quality and we value our connection to the people who grow our coffee more than ever, it seems appropriate to work to strengthen our bonds across the consuming side of the business as well.
So, barista friends, if you want to learn more about green coffee or roasting, give us a shout. We’re still finalizing our formal training program but would be happy to share our experiences and offer some resources. Inversely, I challenge all of my roaster friends to set a goal for yourselves outside the roasting room this year. Whether it’s pouring a perfect tulip or taking a class in water chemistry, everything we do to step outside our comfort zones and improve ourselves as professionals helps to level up our industry and ultimately means better coffee for all!
Featured Coffees: March 2023
Roaster’s Choice: Messenger Espresso Blend
What can I say (or write) about the origin of our Messenger Espresso’s name that I haven’t already? To read about Gen X’s fastest folks and their deep connection to our original Congress Avenue shop, check out my blog post from last June. The blend combines a pulped natural Brazilian for a chocolatey and syrupy foundation, a natural Ethiopian with fruity and floral notes, and a washed Colombian coffee for caramel sweetness and a pop of refreshing citric acidity. The result is a complex but balanced shot that is full-bodied, sweet, juicy, and bright. And no worries if you don’t have an espresso machine. In our opinion, the brewed version of this coffee is also fantastic and highlights its complexity just as effectively as its pressure-extracted counterpart.
Featured Microlot: Colombia El Vergel
Brothers Elias and Shady Bayter first came to Little City while visiting Austin after taking a Q Grader class in Houston. Their instructor, friend, and colleague, Tim Heinze, recommended that we meet and that we might enjoy some of the unique profiles they were offering. And boy, was he right! We were instantly impressed by the brothers’ coffees and even more by their approach to and passion for post-harvest processing. Through diverse plant genetics and progressive processing experiments, including the now en vogue Koji process, the Bayters, along with their business partner Santiago Carvajal, have developed a deep portfolio of offerings from their family farm, El Vegel, in Tolima, as well as from partner growers across various other regions of Colombia.
Our current offering from the Brothers Bayter is the result of an anaerobic natural process that they lovingly call “Guava Banana.” The name started as a joke, a play on a Gringo visitor’s attempted pronunciation of the tropical fruit guanabana (aka soursop) that grows amongst the coffee trees at El Vergel.
The blend of Yellow and Red Caturra is fermented in sealed stainless tanks for 48 to 60 hours while temperature and pH levels are closely monitored. The cherries are then slow-dried for 15 to 25 days before being moved to silos to rest and homogenize for an additional 45 days.
The result of this meticulous process is a complex coffee with intense red fruit and tropical notes with a rich chocolatey base and syrupy body. While extended fermentation coffees like this have the potential to go off the rails into “funky” territory, the brothers’ careful attention and perfection of their process is showcased in a cup profile that is intense while remaining clean and balanced—a difficult feat for any coffee producer to pull off.
Stay tuned to our blog for more content on El Vegel and the Bayter brothers, including an in-depth interview with Elias later this month.