Intelligentsia Coffee’s San Francisco Roasting Works and Training Lab Now Open
By Kathryn Holland Besser
Intelligentsia Coffee celebrated the grand opening of its San Francisco Roasting Works and Training Lab with afternoon and evening launch parties on Thursday, February 19, 2017.
The special daytime event featured an intimate coffee tasting and in-depth discussion with Intelligentsia’s coffee sourcing and sustainability experts, Geoff Watts, Vice President, and Michael Sheridan, Director of Sourcing & Sustainability. The lively after-dark party served up coffee-inspired cocktails by mixologists, Two Sisters Bar and Books, food by Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, and Bicycle Banh Mi, music and a sip-along presentation narrated by coffee-guru Watts that highlighted some of the world’s best coffees.
Before a standing-room only crowd, Intelligentsia’s top green coffee buyer delivered a passionate treatise on the uniqueness of the specialty coffee industry and the interdependent relationship between coffee quality and economic prosperity. To call Watts an evangelist feels like an understatement. He preaches a simple message: that pursuing beauty for beauty’s sake–in this case, growing and serving high-quality coffee– is a noble quest. Seeking quality in coffee escalates the product’s value, which leads to economic success. In practice, Intelligentsia aims to create a more tangible link between sensory experience (quality) and purpose (commerce). To underscore this point, four specialty coffee tastings were timed to geographic points in the presentation: Gaspard, Zambrano, Kurimi Organic and Tikur Anbessa. Two happen to also be 2017 Good Food Awards finalists: Intelligentsia Coffee/Ethiopia Kurimi (Chicago profile) and Intelligentsia Coffee/Ethiopia Kurimi (Los Angeles profile) with beans sourced from METAD Agricultural Development, PLC, one of Ethiopia’s premier growers.
A philosophy major at UC Berkeley, Watts at first didn’t realize the intense journey he would undertake in the coffee world. His initial goals were modest: to coax as much deliciousness out of coffee beans as possible. Fifteen years ago, he began traveling to coffee farms all over the word. He delved deeply into local farming practices in a single-minded quest for quality. It doesn’t sound like such a radical idea today but at that time, only a handful of other purists were on the scene and none was as relentless as Watts. On average, he spends about 200 days a year on the road — going from farm to farm, gathering ideas like pollen. And like a bee, he cross pollinates good ideas wherever he goes. For example, he will bring Ethiopian and Kenyan practices to Guatemala and Colombia and vice versa. As always, he emphasizes quality first. And it’s this intense focus on improving coffee flavor that actually helps small farm holders become profitable.
As a company, Intelligentsia takes the concept of idea sharing seriously. In 2009, the team established a workshop known as ECW, which stands for Extraordinary Coffee Workshop. Every year, the workshop is held in a different location around the world; the first ECW was held in Colombia. The setting itself is part of the educational experience. In Costa Rica last year, for instance, growers and roasters encountered a coffee “Ferris wheel” (which looks exactly as it sounds…drying trays that rotate on a wheel). The Ferris wheel design offers a six-fold increase in available drying space versus the same footprint on a concrete patio–an important consideration for a tiny farm with open space at a premium. According to Watts, something magical happens when you get growers together to talk about coffee: cooperation and community. Over the years, ECW has increased its reach, becoming a virtual help desk for a multitude of coffee growers: a peer-to-peer support network grows wider each year as members share practical information on quality improvements as well as support each other’s efforts to streamline processes. When the ECW was held in the U.S. (Chicago and Los Angeles), the workshops brought growers behind actual coffee bars in order to inspire them to make even better coffee.
FEATURED COFFEE – Gaspard (Rwanda)
Rwanda offers some of the most meticulously produced coffee in the world. This is largely due to the country’s dense population. With so many people participating in the production of coffee, the result is the ability to hand select for highest quality and thereby maximize economic value. Gaspard Rwanda coffee, with its notes of pineapple, ginger and black tea, is grown at 1900-2000 meters in Kigarama by Nshimiyimana Gaspard, a single-farm smallholder lot.
FEATURED COFFEE – Zambrano Yellow Maragogipe Special Selection (Colombia)
In the Andes Mountains in Southern Colombia lies the town of Linares and the farm of Corona Zambrano. Situated at 1900-1955 meters, Finca La Primavera, was originally a somewhat haphazard operation. But Zambrano’s rescue and revival of a small stand of Yellow Maragogipe trees, which produce some of the world’s largest-sized coffee beans, has brought her small farm economic prosperity and a bit of reknown within the close knit specialty coffee community. Zambrano Colombia coffee offers delicate notes of grapefruit, cherry and blackberry.
FEATURED COFFEES – Kurimi Organic and Tikur Anbessa (Ethiopia)
Ethiopia is unrivaled among the world’s coffee producers. It is the actual birthplace of the coffee genus (Coffea Arabica) and its fertile soil and ideal climate offer near perfect conditions for growing quality coffee. The country’s unparalled geography is uniquely suited to coffee production, too, and Ethiopia is home to more genetic coffee diversity than any other place in the world. Most native Ethiopian coffee varieties are found no where else on the planet; if they exist elsewhere it is through transplantation. At this point in the presentation, Watts turned the microphone over to Michael Adinew, President of Rift Valley Trading LLC and brother of Aman Adinew, who runs METAD Agricultural Development, PLC, (METAD) in Ethiopia.
Michael and Aman’s coffee story begins with their grandmother, Muluemebet Emiru, who was the first female pilot in Ethiopia before inaugurating a coffee dynasty. After riding the tumultous waves of Ethiopia’s 20th century political upheavals, the METAD company, now run by the Adinew family’s third generation, currently has two farms (Gedeb, in Yirgacheffe and Hambela in Guji) and supports 4,000 farmers within their “Out Growers” programs representing the two farms’ communities. Female employees comprise approximately 70% of the workforce and the company is heavily invested in local communities, supporting schools, provide scholarships for university students and building community centers whenever possible. By focusing on greater consistency via a meticulous approach to pre- and post-harvesting care and lot separation pioneered in Latin American countries, METAD is also one of the world’s premier coffee producers. Five out of the twenty-five finalists in this year’s Good Food Awards source their beans from METAD. Intelligentsia’s Tikur Anbessa coffee (meaning “The Black Lion”) offers notes of kiwi, pear and honeysuckle; the Kurimi Organic coffee features lychee, peony and passionfruit flavors.
COFFEE AND CULTURE
Watts believes the world owes an enormous debt of gratitude towards Ethiopia– primarily due to the extent to which coffee is valued all over the world but also for its position as the nucleus of specialty coffee culture, which has only really blossomed over the past thirty years. Coffee is an integral part of the social fabric of Ethiopian life. It makes its way into almost every aspect of local communities, being both the glue that binds people together and the lubricant that facilitates communication. Inspired by this example and by other coffee producing areas, Intelligentsia feels a strong calling to be an emissary for coffee as a singular culinary experience. Overall, Watt’s takeaway is that when you learn what went into the cup, you’ll understand the true impact of coffee and its positive benefits in the world.
The San Francisco outpost was remodeled under the direction of Marco Veneziano (Intelligentsia’s in-house Construction Project Manager) with custom furniture by Matt Bear/Union Studio (based in Berkeley). Intelligentsia SF will offer classes, trainings and tastings. The target audience is primarily Intelligentsia’s wholesale partners (for ongoing education) as well as prospective customers (cafes, restaurants, etc.).
Intelligentsia plans to offer FREE events for the public every Wednesday at 10am – topics and featured coffees will rotate weekly with brewing demos and complimentary tastings of both coffees and Intelligentsia’s line of Kilogram teas (follow @IntelliSF to notifications on local events). At present, there is no plan to offer a full-time cafe at the training space.
ABOUT INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE
Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Inc. started in October 1995, when Doug Zell and Emily Mange left San Francisco to open an in-store coffee roaster/retailer on Broadway Avenue on the north side of Chicago. They hoped to bring delicious, fresh roasted coffee to their own coffee bar with the help of a charming but erratic 12 kilogram roaster.
Intelligentsia prides itself on building collaborative and sustainable relationships starting at the roots of the industry, its coffee producing partners. Intelligentsia’s buying team cumulatively spends over 365 days a year at origin. They guarantee a price that is paid directly to growers, one that is set above international Fair Trade Certification standards. Intelligentsia has both a retail presence with ten coffee bars in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, and an established wholesale business with plans for expansion in existing and new markets. Each coffee bar is recognized for innovation in design, and is notably different from the other.
The company’s re-designed website showcases Intelligentsia’s work with coffee producers around the world. To purchase coffee directly, visit: https://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/coffee
To learn more about factors that influence flavor, visit: https://www.intelligentsiacoffee.com/learn-do/coffee-playground
ABOUT GOOD FOOD AWARDS
The Good Food Awards celebrate craftsmanship and sustainability in American food producers along with the farmers who provide their ingredients. Now in its seventh year, Good Food Awards are presented in 14 categories: beer, cider, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, honey, pantry, pickles, preserves, spirits, oil and preserved fish. This year, in the coffee category, there are 25 finalists. The 2017 Awards Ceremony and Marketplace will be held tonight (January 20th) in San Francisco.
For a complete list of 2017 finalists: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/2017-finalists/
Interior photography by Ami Sioux.