Taking A Coffee Roastery Tour as a Non-Coffee Drinker
Hey everyone, this is Alexa from the Javaya marketing team! I’m pretty new to the coffee world so I thought it would be good for me to learn more about it by going on a roastery tour. A few weeks ago, I went on a tour at Metropolis Coffee Company, which is a local craft coffee roaster based in Chicago. The tour taught us everything about the journey a coffee bean takes from vine to cup; where it comes from, how it is roasted, and all the precautionary measures it takes to make sure the final product meets high craft coffee standards. I was not sure what to expect, but it was an amazing experience! Here are the highlights of the tour.
We Learned About Coffee Origins
All the craft coffee that Metropolis Coffee Company roasts is grown in (and then imported from) various regions of the world; depending on if you buy a single-origin or blend. Coffee beans are grown in Central America, Caribbean, South America, East Africa, and Oceania (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Hawaii). All of these coffee growing regions spread out around the equator look like a big belt wrapped around the globe, otherwise known as the coffee belt.
One thing I never knew before this tour is that coffee is a seed that comes from a coffee cherry tree. Each coffee cherry only has 1-2 seeds; So you can just imagine how time consuming it must be to get enough seeds out of the cherries just to fill one bag! Coffee processing can either be washed, pulp natural, or natural. Washing is when they completely wash the seed from the fruit and dry it, usually with machines. Pulp natural is leaving some of the fruit pulp behind on the seed while drying it (this process method is sometimes called “Honey processed”). Natural is letting the cherry dry up before removing the seed (this is the oldest tradition). Before these coffee beans are roasted, they are called green beans!
We Got To See The Coffee Roasting Process
The craft coffee roasting process was interesting to learn about. I was surprised to learn it only takes approximately 10-15 minutes to roast the coffee beans. They are roasted between 400-500 degrees Fahrenheit. After they are roasted, they move right into a cooling section of the machine to cool down while rotators continue to move the beans around so they cool evenly.
Once cooled, the beans are moved to the de-stoner machine. To me, this was the coolest part of the process. Somehow this machine knows the exact mass/density of the coffee beans so it separates anything that may have gotten in there when transporting from the growers. For example, sometimes when they are picking, washing, and drying before exporting to other countries it is normal for little stones, coins, and even bugs to get inside. They have a collection of all sorts of things, including a dead, roasted foreign cockroach. You can thank the de-stoner for keeping him out of your coffee!
We Observed Metropolis Testing Their Coffee For Quality Assurance
Metropolis Coffee Company constantly makes sure that their coffee comes out to their craft coffee standards. The have a color trek machine that looks like an old microwave. You can put a tray of the coffee grinds (after roasting) in the machine and it will give the color of the beans a number. The numbers match up to actual coffee bean colors. If the coffee does not match up to their standards, too dark or too light, they put it to the side for donating or discarding. Too dark means the beans are over-roasted and too light means the beans are under-roasted.
We Participated In Cupping (Sampling) The Coffee
Now you would think that after all those precautionary measures that they would be done testing. Not yet! Now we move on to the cupping/sampling part of the tour. It is the final step in assuring the coffee tastes delicious and that there were no bad beans in the batch. The testers from Metropolis Coffee Company take 3 cups and put a little bit of grounded coffee from the same batch in each cup. This is to make sure the batch is good and there are no bad beans mixed anywhere inside that batch.
Next they pour hot water over each and let it sit. Once it is brewed, you take a metal spoon and lightly break up the layer of coffee on the top (coffee experts call this the “crust”) and smell it right away. When I did this part, I did not really know if the smell was supposed to be good or bad. But, with them having years of experience, they would know if it has a weird smell. Next step, time to slurp! This is the funniest part of the tour but also the most serious. When you scoop some coffee into your spoon to taste it, you have to slurp it, all noises and everything included! This allows air inside you mouth so the coffee goes all over your taste buds. Only then can you get a full picture of the coffees’ delicate and complex tastes and aromas.
I Learned A Lot While Tasting Coffees
Tasting all the different coffees was really interesting because I rarely drink coffee. I got to taste the different flavors that are created depending on the region the coffee was grown. I preferred the Colombian light roast coffee because it had more fruity taste notes. My favorite actually had peach taste notes in it. The coffee from Brazil was a little bitter to me because it had date-like taste notes. It could be the fact that I do not like dates in general. I think over time I will be able to distinctly tell the different taste notes of coffee but my first time was pretty hard. I kept going around and trying the same ones over and over again because I forgot what it tasted like. Professional coffee roasters like to spit out the coffee after they taste it, to ensure they don’t get over-caffeinated. I definitely should have taken that tip, because I got super hyper from all the coffee!
My Overall Experience
Overall, I had a really great first experience at the Metropolis Coffee Company roastery tour! Seeing the difference between big commercial coffee brands and a craft coffee brand like this was awesome! Big coffee brands do not have the time to take all those precautionary measures to make sure the beans are roasted properly and they usually sit in a warehouse for months. There is even a lot of love and care that consumers do not get to see behind the scenes. Metropolis Coffee Company roasts coffee daily so it is as fresh as can be. If an order comes in, they prepare it that day. There is even a worker there that individually labels and seals each bag by hand. Would you ever think if you ordered a bag of coffee that someone actually prepared it for you by hand? Normally people only think of the growers and roasters, and not anybody else in between. Moreover, I used to hate coffee because I thought it tasted bad. Turns out I love coffee and I was just drinking burnt, old non-craft coffee the whole time! I give this experience a 10/10!