Discussion 07.01.21

The Art of Accessible Coffee


James Wilkins

As a roaster, I spend many an hour thinking about fantastic, exciting coffees to source. Coffee that challenges perception of what coffee can taste like. Coffee that challenges my experience as a roaster and cupper. Coffee that I feel proud to showcase to my peer group. However, experience has taught me that this can sometimes go against what my customers really need or want (relative to their journey into speciality coffee).

I roast coffee for two quite different audiences - retail and wholesale. Roasting for retail is where I can confidently enjoy experimenting with roast profiles and sourcing*. Yes, I'm restricted by what coffee is seasonally available, but most other constraints are left behind. I can find micro-lots that challenge. Roast in ways to accentuate fruit qualities. Roast to maintain brightness of acidity and clarity. However, this currently represents the smaller proportion of the volume of coffee I sell. I am not in any way suggesting that coffee I roast for wholesale is not exciting, more that it needs to be accessible to a wider audience. More often than not, an audience who may not yet be aware that coffee can show flavour beyond 'bitter' and 'strong'.

This used to trouble me. However, over recent times, I've come to accept that it's OK to chase more accessible flavour profiles. Not everyone wants to be challenged each time they pull an espresso shot. Not everyone wants to brew by filter, not add milk and not wait until the perfect temperature to drink. Many people (like I did when I took my first foray in to speciality coffee) need a 'comfortable' transition. This has become my new challenge. Source, roast, cup and sell exceptional coffee that's accessible to everyone*

* My retail mix is derived from those who are already aware of speciality coffee (internet searches etc), or have bought from me face-to-face and are engaged in talking to the roaster.

** This doesn't mean that I will now disregard those exceptional lots that blow me away on the cupping table. More that I'll use the higher volume of accessible coffee to facilitate sourcing even more 'exclusive' coffees.


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