Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an event that was the first of its kind in Chicago. The Chicago Roaster Jam brought together roasters all in one room in a roundtable discussion, which was then followed by a blind cupping. The jam was organized by Miss Shannon Steele-Knuckles of Passion House Coffee, Andrea Otte (Otter) of HalfWit Coffee and was part of the New Gotham Coffee Community list of events. Hosted at Counter Culture Coffee‘s training lab, a large group of coffee professionals and coffee enthusiasts gathered to hear [aggregated] decades of experience opinionated in one short span of time.

chicago roasters jamWhy was this event so significant?

  1. It is difficult to have so many roasters all in one room.
  2. Blind cuppings (tastings) do not often occur in a public space.
  3. Chicago coffee is starting to really expand, it was truly wonderful to see that our community is still as tight-knit as ever.

Honestly, I think last night was a turning point in Chicago’s coffee community. It was the first coffee event where there was a significant amount of consumer attendance and more DSLRs than I remember seeing.

The roundtable discussion included:

There were four questions that started off the discussion, mostly relating to green coffee purchasing, storage, direct trade, and brokers. To be honest, I didn’t hear most of the discussion, because either people were speaking too quietly or the nearby train interrupted too often. What I did do was write down a few quotes & watch the interaction between the roasters.

Notables from Tim: The phrase “farm-to-table” is what he uses in place of direct trade. My assumption here is that the phrase is already established in the greater consumer vocabulary and makes it more understandable. Also,

“To be honest, I’m not going to train a coffee farmer how to farm. I’m a roaster.”

I like the above quote, mostly because you do hear about roasters visiting the farm and working with the farmers on their methods. I think both approaches have their uses. And to be clear here, Tim does give constructive criticism when the cup could be tasting better. He also cited the use of Skype & email in increasing the lines of communication between farmer and roaster.

Joshua from Passion House also pushed back on the idea of one “direct trade” label:

“We try and buy any coffee necessary, not based on label.”

Trends of the night included a spirited talk on whether Cup of Excellence coffees were worth the money (point: what about all the farmers who don’t place?), the idea of more roasters moving in on the space (i.e. Stumptown), and the import decision differences between a large and small roasting operation.

The night moved on to a blind cupping of the aforementioned roasters plus an addition of Dark Matter Coffee. Either my taste buds were not working or the parameters were off. Or third option, the coffees were too cool by the time I reached them. Regardless, it was interesting to see how the coffees compared to each other without a brand attached. You can see a full list of the coffees sampled in the photo above. It was also  great to watch a modulated exchange of ideas and opinions between the people who have a large influence on what you taste in your cup.

To end, on the subject of trusting brokers, Chris of HalfWit & Gaslight said that

It all comes down to the relationship.

Coffee is an industry built on relationships. Trust along every part of the supply chain is required for it to continually grow.

Wonderful way to end a Thursday night.