Stewardship is not easy to maintain day in and day out. Kyle Kmetz and his family exemplify friendly small business owners. Kyle is one of the most welcoming and genuine small business owners I know. He kindly gave me a few hours of his time to record this podcast in his coffee roasting facility.
I'm not kidding you when I say that Wander Coffee maintains its quality and consistency every single batch. I've been a customer for years and I've never had any coffee that wasn't perfectly roasted and delicious.
Kyle has extended a generous offer to you - head over to their website and use the code WANDERFUL to save 25% at checkout. My personal favorite at the moment is the Wilder blend.
All right. Welcome to the Apollo road podcast. I'm here with Kyle Kmetz from with Wander Coffee up here in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Yeah it's good to see you Alex.
Yeah, it's been a while. It's it has definitely been a couple of years, I think since I've touched base with you. And lots have since you've been into the shop. Yeah, definitely. And it's, it's cool to see the old Probat still kickin'. And you've got made quite the quite the change and leaps and bounds over the last couple years. And we were just talking about your new packaging for the coffee bags. And that looks great. Thank you. always been a fan of the coffee. Of course. My dad usually orders a couple pounds at a time.
Oh, no, your dad. He's a huge supporter, man. He's like he orders a five pound bag every month.
Yeah, he goes for it.
Yeah. You guys definitely like it. Strong and dark.
Yep. Yeah, he, he runs the Moka pot every morning. That's kind of his routine. And that's actually what got me into coffee. Back in the day, we went on a camping trip, I think. And I never drank coffee. And he pulled out the Moka pot. And when you're camping, you know, it's just everything's so much more romantic. And you always get... have fond memories of it.
Everything tastes better. And
yeah. But since then, I think I was like 20 at the time. Then I started getting into buying whole beans and grinding it. And that was like the next killer step of like, Oh, this this is so much different than going to the grocery store and buying pre ground. Literally,
I think shortly after that, that's when we came into contact. Yeah, I think so. I think I jumped in on our one of our very first cuppings that we held.
Oh, that you were in the very first first one we did. That's right. My buddy James and I yeah, we had just looked for like local roasters and your you know, Wander came right up. Man, that's a few years ago,
it was a we haven't done we haven't done too many public cuppings since then. But I think we're gonna, you know, of course, once we're allowed to be within six feet of each other. We're gonna Well, I think we'll start holding a few more public cuppings. Maybe one a month or something like that. Cool. Yeah.
So how was uh, how'd you get into coffee? I know. I guess give us the backstory.
Yeah, I'm so I'm a I'm a Wyoming boy originally just born and raised up over the border in Laramie, Wyoming. And my experience i'd you know, probably similar to you. I worked a ton of different jobs. And then through college, I started working at a coffee shop up in Laramie called Coal Creek Coffee. And he actually John Guerin, the owner there, they roast all their own coffee. So then kind of work in the shop. first couple years and then they had a roasting position open up there. And so I apprenticed I apprenticed with a, with their main roast Master, and that's kind of where I got my first initial intro to roasting.
Awesome, what kind of volumes were they doing?
Actually about similar sized roaster to this? You know, he's got two shops in Laramie Two Coal Creeks in Laramie. And then he's, he does a bit of wholesale around the state. But yeah, roughly the same size batches. I'm not entirely sure what how many batches a week they're doing.
Yeah. I'm just trying to think like, when people get into roasting coffee, I mean, that's got to be kind of nerve racking, because when you've got a batch of coffee, it's typically like 25 pounds. Is that what this capacity is? so well?
Yeah, sort of 17 16-17 pounds, is what I run just, I like to kind of have a more nimble batch size, you know, so I can really, whether I want to, it's just a lot more receptive to your heat application. Okay, you know, but I totally understand that, you know, when you have that much product in there, it's definitely nerve wracking. That's why those the roasting positions are tough to get, you know, it's a lot. You have to really be on your game in it. Then. So after, after I graduated, my wife moved out to Indianapolis, took a job out there. And so I started super fortunate to work for this company called Hubbard and Cravens out in Indianapolis and that talk about pressure that was a you know, their roaster on the high limit it could do for whole bags. So, roughly, I mean, our batches were 500 to 700 pounds. [Oh my gosh.] So that s where it's like, okay, you're p at another level when you scr w up a batch.
Yeah, you definitely not. Yeah, has that. had that ever happened?
I never screwed a batch up on that big roaster. They also had a Small roaster that would do 100 pound batches. Okay, and I didn't actually, I didn't damage any coffee, but I ended up starting to fire in the, in the cyclone. Okay. And that was a little nerve wracking. Yeah. But the guy that trained me and I still keep in contact with Nick Hubbard. He uh, a batch went sideways on him one day when I was I was throwing bags for him. And yeah, it was a heck of a lot of product
Yeah talk about being forged in the fires of coffee roasting. Did you always like coffee? Or was that always something you wanted to do? Or did you just kind of fall into it
kind of just fell into it, the owner of Coal Creek, his son was the one that was roasting at the time. And that trained me how to roast and him and I were good buddies. So basically, I was kind of I took a year off of college, and it's kind of figuring things out. And when I came back and jump back into classes, he was like, Hey, man, come come work at Coal Creek. never really liked coffee before then. But, you know, when you're just working in a shop every day, I just started taste testing everything and just developed a taste for it. Of course, you know, I started out black coffee with quite a bit of cream in it was my thing, and then, you know, eventually you start taking little shots of espresso and, you know, go from there.
So what are we sipping on right here?
This is a Mexico Monte Alban.
I think you might be familiar with that coffee. It's the third year in a row that we've worked with him. Cool. Yeah,
I think I have my, my buddy is into the Chiapas. Yeah, he likes that a lot. And then for a period of time, we were kind of ordering through a trade coffee. And we just kind of picked a few throughout the country. And I think we did like a little Mexico coffee sample pack.
Yeah, Mexico, it's, it can often be overlooked. But yeah, this has been, at least for our customers a crowd favorite, which is why we keep bringing it back in year to year.
Yeah, it's a it's really good. For people that don't quite understand the coffee industry, maybe we could, or you could just break down or kind of the difference of like, quote, unquote, coffee, and just the broad, most people are just bad coffee, it's black, it's put cream in it, right. But once you start realizing that each country has its very specific type of roasts, and, and then you know, single origin versus blends. I guess just give people that might not have no clue, just the shapes that
I'll give, I can do a cut and dry version here. And that's what's kept me interested for over a decade now. It's, it's literally a rabbit hole. Once you start, you know, you have these questions about coffee, what it is where it's grown. And as you start to follow up on these questions, more and more questions arise, you know, and so it's, it's honestly, even, still, to this day, I'm finding new things out. And it's always keeping me interested. But so really coffee, it's, it grows inside of a cherry on a tree. Basically, it kind of hovers in between kind of hovers the equator, that's your main growing zone. But it's anywhere from the Tropic of Cancer to Capricorn, and that belt is where coffee grows. So really, people ask me like, Oh, do you buy it in your coffee? You know, where do you Where does coffee grow? In the United States? I'm like, well, pretty much just Hawaii, you know, it's been the only place I think California, they got some coffee, they actually because one of the big issues when you're growing coffee is that once you plant your tree, it's anywhere from four to seven years later, when you get your first harvest out. And and so it's a heck of a long time. But I was reading that. I don't know if it was in a greenhouse, but I must have had to have been in a greenhouse, but they grew the first and harvested the first coffee out of California. And it was, you know, I think they were selling bags of it for like $100 a bag.
So it's a matter of time. Right. But yeah, I figured that out. Wow, that's actually. That's, that's pretty expensive, though. Because today, so that period of four to seven years. I think that's somewhere like grapevines for wine. Sure, yeah. That's got to be as a financial. That's like a financial hurdle if you want to start growing off. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I guess that's why all of the countries that have already been roasting for decades and decades, they did just have it locked in.
Yeah, yeah, there's a there is a lack of just genetic diversity within the species of coffee, which, you know, there's people that are a lot smarter than me trying to tackle that issue. But that's a definitely a huge risk factor for the farmers, you know, if they spend all these years growing these trees and then any sort any number of diseases or you know, insects, pests can just completely tarnish their crop and they have to, you know, basically slash and burn and start Again, you know, so that genetic diversity and what some, especially different coffee organizations are working towards creating a little bit more robustness. And that is definitely beneficial.
Interesting. I think I had heard about that. And I didn't quite understand it. genetic diversity in the uh, I guess, the species of plant, essentially, like what they all can be traced back to the Ethiopian that right,
yeah. Yeah, Ethiopia, it's one of those origins that you know, coffee, consumers and coffee professionals alike go crazy for, you know, there's a ton of just heirloom varietals hanging around Ethiopia, and, you know, those coffees can always be, you know, very floral tea-like fruity, just a whole wide spectrum. And so those are often very coveted. You know, people, people tend to love those Ethiopian coffees for that reason. But yeah, you're totally right, it started there. And I think that, you know, there's some folklore that, you know, you know, the first people that probably roasted coffee was just sheer accident, you know, those coffee, somehow out of that cherry, those coffee seeds, made it out and kind of landed next to a fire and then ended up like, roasting that way.
And then yeah, how did they make the leap from like, you know, extracting it and realize that there's caffeine in there? And
that's always gonna be the cool part of the folklore.
Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, I mean, that if you really start to follow the supply chain, starting from the grower, it's just endlessly fascinating, especially, you know, when I'm, when I'm training different baristas at coffee shops, I try and, and bring that up, the importance of, you know, you are the very those baristas are the very end of the supply chain, before it hits a customer, you know, and so, literally, that coffee is probably been touched by about 100 different hands before it makes it to your cup, you know, you've got your growers, everyone that's working on the farm level, and then you'll have your pickers coming through picking that. And then if it's not processed on the farm, it's sent to a processing facility, you know, you have a couple of other dozen people touching it, you know, then you got your import, export import, you know, that's going into different warehouses, and then on the trucks, and then finally, to me, and then for me, you know, out to different coffee shops. And
that's a that's a good point, actually, that the supply chain is, it's so complicated. And like you said, hundreds of hands handling coffee. I mean, just for people that if you can't quite grasp how complex it is, think about wine, you know, all of the processing takes place. Typically, like the vineyard grows the grapes, and they press them and they ferment them, and then they bottle it. And then you just go by the bottle, open it, drink it, and you're good to go. But with coffee, it's totally different. I mean, that you're buying Green Coffee, right? And so it's still like, that's like almost where it begins the second half of the journey, and don't totally and yet, the whole thing took so much work just to get you those beans. Mm hmm. Yeah.
I'm a pretty big believer that a lot of the intrinsic flavors and the goodness that comes from a particular coffee, a lot of that is done on the farm level and at the processing level. So you know, they'll send that their coffee cherries to a process processing plant to get de-pulped and, you know, washed or if it's a naturally processed coffee. And so for me, my main thing, for at least in my mind, is to do the least amount of damage to that coffee, you know, basically try and maintain those flavors that are already in there, you know, those flavors are there, I'm, I'm, I'm just adding heat to it in a specific way, you know, in order to bring out all those qualities. You know, I don't, as a roaster, I don't think that I'm necessarily adding any sort of flavors to it, you know, interesting, that's kind of my philosophy, you know, and that's, that's what I push on to the baristas. You know, just try and maximize the flavors that are already in there, you know, and pay your respects through your quality of work to those people on the back end that, you know, are doing that hard, hard labor. Oftentimes, you know, when you're growing coffee, especially the specialty grade coffees that we're bringing in. Generally, as a rule of thumb, higher elevation means higher quality, you know, your, your coffee plant itself, it takes a lot more work for it to grow that that coffee, cherry. So it's often a much denser, much more complex coffee at higher elevations. And so what comes with that as you can't drive your mechanical machines up there to harvest so a lot of times when people are like, oh, especially Coffee, you know, those higher quality coffees? It's so much more expensive? It's like, Well, yeah, I mean, people have coffee sacks on their back, and they're hiking these, you know, mountainscapes trying to harvest these coffees, you know, and so a lot of what you're paying for is that labor on the back end, you know, at the very beginning of the supply chain,
yeah, that's just kind of letting that sink in. Because I'm, I went down the rabbit hole of coffee early on in my coffee drinking career, which I mentioned, it started at 20. But it's, it is fascinating, and every seems like every year, there's always more and more that you learn, and there's more than a whole process that you learn. And just the density of labor, that goes into coffee is sometimes at least from my perspective, it seems like there's a mismatch in public awareness, appreciation. Even for me, I mean, I, you know, we, we buy your coffee, and we love it. And, and yet I, you know, I'm guilty of, I'll read the label, cool. It came from here, I like the way it tastes, and I kind of go on with my day, but I haven't really done sort of a deep dive into all these farms and seeing like, where the money comes from, and where it goes, and maybe at which points of the supply chain. Maybe there should be more attention brought to
Yeah, and I think I mean, there's some, you know, you've got your big players like Peet's and Starbucks, and, and they're, they're paying over the C price, which is what the coffee prices traded on the stock market. And so that's what they say they're paying above, and it's it might be a penny above what the C price is. But there's a lot of other there's some bigger companies that are in the specialty realm, that have definitely paved the road, you know, like your Intelligentsia, Counterculture. Stumptown, you know, and those guys, I just have the utmost respect for him, because they were, they were really breaking the ground on, you know, like, let's really put a spotlight on these individual farmers, or if it's a cooperatively ran group, you know, highlight this Co Op, and, you know, try and buy these coffees year to year, paying them a good price. And a lot of those guys, because they were buying that coffee directly, they could dictate what price they were paying. But even for me, you know, our main, we have a couple main importers that most of our coffees, you know, they're essentially Relationship coffees, you know, we have, we work with one collective called San Sebastian, it's in the Wheeler region of Colombia. And it's literally the bedrock of our whole coffee program, you know, all of our blends are have some portion of that sense of passion in it. And that's a collective of 100 farmers that, you know, year to year, it's the most consistent coffee, you know, and we we're paying them a good price for it. And the nice thing about the importer is that they'll send transparency reports and show you, you know, this is where all your money is going like the farmer is making this much money per pound. From what you're paying, which is good thing, you know, because I think some roasters are like, yeah, I mean, we're paying $2 over fair trade price. You know, we're paying a good price. It's, uh, yeah, I mean, that's great. I'm glad you're paying a good price. But you, there's just so many hands between the farmer and the roaster that you don't know how much is truly getting back to the farmer. Yes, you could be paying a lot of money for your coffee, and the farmers still getting none of it. Wow, very minimal.
I hadn't really considered that. Thank you. So the transparency reports seem to be key. Because I think they're I mean, there has been a lot more awareness in the last couple of years about specialty coffee and like the farming, and I think most people are now aware of it. Because Starbucks, they've done. You know, they've done a good job of kind of putting some awareness on it.
Yeah, whether Starbucks deserves some credit, because they definitely opened up the door for all of the rest of us, essentially, you know, like your Stumptowns and your Intelligentsias she has have Starbucks to thank for opening the market to it.
Yeah, you know, so is it. What is it fair to say now that, as a consumer, like, maybe for people at home that want to be more, I guess, accountable, or at least know, like, yeah, it's not bad to support a bunch of different coffee suppliers, regardless of whether they have this sort of fully transparent supply chain. Like it's not the end of the world if you buy something at the grocery store, from whoever, but it's, I guess, for people that want to that are interested in it, what would you recommend?
Yeah, you know, there's a there's a lot of talk to about Fair Trade, and people, some people are all about fair trade, and some people are like, No, I don't I think there's some things that are wrong with that. But in my mind, I think when in doubt, if you don't know what to get, if it has a Fairtrade certified Fairtrade label on it, that's a good start. You know, in a Fair Trade, to me, it's a really great baseline price to be paying a farmer, you know, but it's not the best price that you could be paying, right? So that's one way, you know, if it has a Fair Trade label on it, that's, you know, it's better than most. And then also, a lot of roasters have that information on their site, you can look up, you know, what, what their relationship is, with their importers, and, and, you know, a lot of times they'll have a lot of some companies will even, you know, they'll put up what they're paying for their green coffee, and stuff like that. And then the other way is, if you're curious, you know, I get calls like this every now and then. And I'm more than happy to chat with a customer if they want to, you know, dig a little deeper into where their coffee comes from. So I think if you get a hold of a roaster, and you know, they're not super interested in talking about that, or talking to you and said, Well, on someone else, you can kind of feel there's, there's a, there's dozens and dozens of really high quality roasters, specialty roasters that are doing a great job and, you know, paying great prices for their coffees, and they know where that money's going. Yeah,
that's what I've always liked about you and your business, is that, you're right there on the other side of the phone. And, you know, when we signed up for that initial cupping, so yeah, you call me right back. And, you know, we talked to you and we see, see, see the roaster, and you know, you're super open and friendly, and that's just that's the kind of, like customer service, and, you know, it's like you're a real person, I think people really, really value that this age,
that that goes back to the dozens and dozens of roasters that are doing a good job, you know, that, it hit me early on that. You know, Coffee Roasters, especially ones that are buying specialty grade coffees, and we're all buying pretty similar coffees from, you know, the same countries, and we're roasting them in a relatively similar way. And we're pricing them in about the same spots. So there's, you know, the one big differentiator is customer service in my mind, you know, and, and that's the one piece you know, doing wholesale that, of course, the coffee shops and restaurants and everyone else that we work with, I, you know, when I'm doing deliveries, I'll chat their ears off, because a lot of times, I'm standing here by myself all day, in my own thoughts. So I missed that component of it, you know, chatting with customers. And that's, I think that's something looking towards the future that, you know, whether it be an expanded roastery with maybe a tasting side of things, you know, having a small bar where we can chitchat with customers, and that's the one piece you know, and we do what we can for being a wholesale roaster to give people the best service possible. Yeah.
Cool. Another thought that crossed my mind, what about the, the roasters that buy their own farm, or they have like a family farm that I've seen, I've seen that more often. Now,
I've seen it.
pretty rare, still, I think is
relatively rare and import export, it can be a logistical nightmare. Yeah, I'm not super versed in it by any means. But I know enough to know that it's extremely difficult. And I know of roasters that, you know, are banging their heads against the wall, as they're, you know, they're literally setting up export, and then they're setting up import into their roastery. And, you know, they'll be banging their heads against the wall, because all of their whole container of coffee, you know, it could be $100,000 $200,000, with the coffee is sitting on a container at a super high temperature, high elevation stuck at port for a couple of weeks, you know, and so, literally, that coffee is just gaining moisture and, you know, confirm it and there's a whole whole slew of reasons of a whole slew of things that can go wrong. And so yeah, it's it's definitely it's not very common because of that.
Is the volume to the volume might, it might be a weird, like, I'm not really sure how the how the import export business works, either. But like I said, if there's a huge volume of coffee, it's almost easier to ship a huge volume instead of smaller batches from the farm.
Yeah, most of the time, you're filling a container, right? It's the only way to make it work and financially, a lot of times, and we've been doing a little bit of this with some roasters and some roasters that are really close to us, we've been, essentially they're going in a couple of them on containers together. So basically, they have a little bit more, you know, they don't have to fill out 300 bags on a container, they can partially portion off, you know, we'll take these 100 bags, you take these 100 bags, and so I've been jumping in on a little bit of that,
oh, cool, helping, you know, getting in and some containers and trying to fill those out. And just a quick note for people that don't know, when you buy a coffee, like I said, it's green, and the shelf life when it's green is how many months typically it's roughly
six to nine months, nine months, it starts to get called what we call past crop flavors. Okay, so it's still those coffees. I mean, they're, especially a lot of our high grade coffees are still exceptional coffees, nine months later, they just don't quite have that pop or that punch that they used to.
So there is a little leeway I guess, in the import/export but it could still I can imagine it could get pretty, pretty, pretty hairy. Yeah. Especially in times like these where like the ports are backed up. And I'm not sure if that has affected your business at all.
We're seeing a little bit of that, for sure. We we've had one coffee that was supposed to get in in October, and then it ended up getting in mid to late December and finally got into the states and landed and got in a warehouse. And so that there's some definitely when you're buying coffees, you know a lot of roasters, a lot of the smaller roasters buy what's called spot coffees and spot coffees, essentially, it's in the United States, it's in a warehouse, and it's available for someone you know, it doesn't have anyone else's name on it. And so those ones, that's, that's easy, you know, you just get those on a on a truck. And there's even with trucking right now, they're having some issues as well, you know, I've had pretty good luck. But, you know, you could be stalled out a week or two, in some cases, especially in this region, you know, where we get lots of snow, those things can be stalled out and you know, your, your customers want coffee regardless, so you got to figure it out.
Yeah. Yeah, that's a thing. We touched on this before we started recording that. It's such a complex industry and there's so many different angles. And you know, we could spend hours and hours going over like all these, oh, yeah, nuanced aspects of it. But let's take it back to when you started Wander. Oh, sure. Going from - you said you apprenticed as a roaster and then you got in with a bigger player and you really cut your teeth. Then opening up your own shop, that's a step. So
I'll just continue that on. So I was working for Hubbard & Cravens, and, you know, phenomenal company. I was I to this day, I feel really fortunate that they even hired me at the time. I still keep in contact with a lot of those guys. And yeah, I just learned a heck of a lot from them. You know, they are the owners Rick Hubbard, and Jerry Cravens super good guys, you know, they know, almost as much as you can know about the coffee industry, you know, a good 20 or 20-30 years of experience between both of them. So that was a huge resource for me when I was working there, you know, because I was I was a super curious guy, you know, so I had questions about everything. And so they were more than happy to sit down with me after work and, and chit chat and their son, Nick Hubbard, I still keep in contact with him. And we we chat coffee, and it was really working through those guys. They were kind of the catalysts that, you know, showed me that rabbit hole, and were like, an, you know, for them, Rick, at the time that I was working there. He was traveling, you know, had to have been more than six months out of the year to every country imaginable. You know, Sumatra, any country that was growing coffee, you know, from Central South America, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sumatra, you know, he was on the farm levels, just trying to find those, you know, really high quality coffees that a lot of times, you know, your importers, they have very specific specs on what coffees they need. So you might have, you know, four or five cups on a table. If you're in, Costa Rica, for instance. And you have, you know, 150 coffees to cup, there might be like five or six for this importer in the US that they already matches their qualifications. So, you know, that's their coffee. And what, you know what I've heard from those guys that you really have to get there and cup all those coffees in between the other coffees to mine, those hidden gems, you know,
so there's definitely like some skill and there's a little bit of luck almost in like finding something before. So yeah,
yes, you certainly have to have a pretty darn good palate, especially when you're copying 150 different coffees. You know, Nick's told me that he's like, yeah, by, you know, we'll start at seven or eight. And by lunchtime, everything just starts tasting the same, you know, like, your palate just gets out. I guess he called palate fatigue. Almost,
I'm sure yeah, that that's actually a really key point. I'm glad you brought that up because palate and tastebuds and that's one area where everybody's so different, and that can influence your taste in everything. I mean, coffee, wine food,
absolutely. You know.
And I wonder, like, what you think your palate and like your sense of smell is as a roaster and maybe Can you develop that because I think I know I've noticed that when I started off as like, I tasted like a Blue Bottle coffee and this was like back in, like 2011, kind of before they blew up. And it was the first time when it's like, man, I can actually taste something resembling chocolate in this coffee. And that just blew my mind. And then Ever since then, I don't think I have the best palette, but I think I've just been
willing to bet yours is better than most.
And so that's that's cool. It's maybe there is some sort of trainable aspect to it.
Oh, yeah. No, 100% that's trainable. You know, through working in Indianapolis, we just kept in cupping coffees is basically what roasters, importers, even coffee shops. It's a very standardized way to qualitatively analyze coffees. And so I was basically just copying all the time, tasting coffees all the time. And even more than that, like when I was working in coffee shops, every single batch that I would brew on a brewer, I would just have my little espresso cup. And I would just take, you know, if I was brewing 10 pots of coffee throughout the day, I was tasting every single one, you know, and mostly looking for strength, you know, is it too strong versus too weak, but tasting, it's certainly a skill that you can hone, you know, and mine's very attuned these days to roasting defects. So that's basically I'm, I'm just when I'm buying coffees, for instance, I'm looking at, you know, I'm looking at different flavors, and if that kind of tickles my fancy that way, but a lot of times, my biggest qualification is I try coffee. And I just continually go back to it and want to drink a second cup third come like, okay, that's a good coffee to me, you know, when I'm doing production roasting, and then I'm cupping those coffees that can be that for me, that's more, it was something going on with the roast, you know, is my airflow. Not quite right is, you know, was my time or temperature slightly different than the week before? Or maybe like, oh, wow, I liked this a lot more than last week? What was different about it? You know, how can I figure that out? And so yeah, these days, I'm not always I'm not really necessarily drinking coffee for pleasure. And it's when, especially when I'm, it's kind of sad, but when I'm drinking other people's coffee, I'm not really, you know, drinking it for the pleasure of it. I'm just thinking like, What is wrong with this coffee? You're like, Oh, yeah, I think there's an all around very solid coffee. Yeah, it was roasted well is brewed well.
That's actually a good point, too, is you can roast a perfect coffee. But then if you don't have a good grinder, or a good brew method, or a good espresso machine, you know, it will make a difference.
Now, that's my biggest, if people are asking how to make their coffee tastes better. Number one, is clean your stuff, clean your equipment, clean everything, make sure it's spotless. And you would not believe even, especially with us, when you're pulling espresso with a porta filter, it can be two or three days of not cleaning it, it's just coated in black shit, you know. And so that's my number one piece of advice, make sure everything's spotless clean. And then the second one goes to what you're saying good sharp burrs on a good grinder. That's about the most important thing. And then third is coffee quality, right? Make sure you have good coffee. But other than that, that's the big three, you can get some phenomenal cups is following those rules.
Cool. Sounds like you got you refined all of these skills of both the production and then the tasting and the operations going back to the journey.
So with Rick Hubbard traveling the world all the time, that just totally opened my eyes to like, Whoa, this is way bigger than I thought. It's not just like, I think to the detriment of the coffee industry, Folgers and a lot of those old school guys that were just taking coffees from all over the place and blending them and roasting them dark. You know, to kind of mask those flavors definitely didn't allow people to really see, you know, just how kind of what going back to what you were saying how diverse and flavor coffees are even within a specific country. I'm always amazed trying different coffees from like Colombia, for instance. And, you know, you've got like a San Sebastian is just really full bodied, you know, you've got your chocolate notes and good sweetness, and then you'll go over to a completely different region, and you're getting more fruit notes, and maybe stone fruits and just the diversity of flavors, just within a single country is absolutely incredible. And so it's going to all those things combined, where I was like, wow, this is endlessly fascinating to me. And then, you know, at that point, I was roughly seven, eight years in maybe a little shorter than that. And it's like, okay, I've, you know, I've done a lot of different types of jobs with just within this specific industry. And, you know, I have my own ideas and my own kinds of things that I'd like to do. So, you know, I'm a young guy, but Don't take the plunge now. You know, at least try it, then. I may never Well, yeah,
I like that. That's the that's the entrepreneurial spirit when you kind of get that itch and like, maybe you know, your right - Maybe I should make a go at this. How'd you end up in Colorado? Or did you go to Wyoming first? Well, we,
so we ended up getting this place. And as we were looking for places to live down in Colorado, we were staying with our my wife's folks up in Wyoming for a few months. So they will, yeah, I basically I had, it was a month or two lead time on the roaster. So I, I purchased the roaster when I right when I quit, in Indianapolis, and then it was kind of a rush because we didn't have a space to put it see, you know, it finished up on production then building it, and they're like, Hey, where do you want us to ship this thing? It was like, Yeah, I gotta find a place to put this. And then that just, that was an invaluable experience getting everything set up. I'm kind of my wife and I were both my wife's the co-owner. Extremely talented, everything she does, but her and I both are super duper stubborn. We just have this tendency to do everything ourselves. We've hired some stuff out here and there, and it never comes back to our quality standards, or, you know, it takes should be a weekly time, it takes three months. So just between all that we're like, you know, we could do most of this ourselves, you know, and so from building the site and getting all of our equipment installed, and but it was a super valuable experience because I hit about every roadblock imaginable, you know, trying to even just getting the equipment going, you know, I had to upgrade gas lines. And
yeah, I guess and for people that don't realize, when when I saw when I first met you, and you gave me a tour of the place, I was like holy shit is an afterburner. I had like seen, I had seen it online somewhere, like some coffee shop tour, and, and you were like, I guess like one of the first shops in town that had an afterburner
is so yeah, I mean, super good reason, it's for good reason there. It can be tricky to set up and just cost prohibitive, you know, they're, they're not cheap. But for us, you know, and you've seen our bags, all of our bags are 100% compostable. And the afterburner, that was another component of basically, one of our main pillars of sustainability, you know, and not throw in endless amounts of packaging into the waste, you know, that plastic packaging, and, you know, like, for instance, this year, or I should say, in 2020, we did roughly 5000 bags, and that's between 16 ounce and eight ounce sizes meant a total of roughly 5000 bags. So if you just stopped to think about that, like, that's like a full, it's a full stack of plastic that you could potentially be shooting back out there. So that's, that's superduper important to us. And then the afterburner was just another component where we just didn't feel very good about, you know, there's a lot of volatile organic compounds when you're roasting that, you know, play into those greenhouse gases and everything that contributes to that. And so it's really important for us to have an afterburner. There's some roasting companies now that have some built in burning units and stuff like that. But having an external, at least on our exhaust system having an external afterburner, that's not built in. It kills 100% of all the VOCs so our big byproduct is H2O and CO2,
right. And even I saw that, like some states or municipalities, even by law are starting to require that coffee shops if they roast certain volume, they have to have an afterburner.
That's I mean, California is the prime example of that, right? I don't even think it matters, what size a roaster is any roaster at all, you have to have some sort of afterburner unit, and then you have to be able to piggyback off of your thermocouple and data log all your temperatures. So that state will, you know, come in and be like, Okay, you've got an afterburner. But have you been using it? Interesting? Oh, I see. Yeah. To prove like, you know, show them your temperatures, right. We're running it at.
I think Colorado is I think we're gonna get there. You know, we have some similarities with California in terms of our you know, we love our clean air and clean water and I'm all about that, too. So I think that I think there'll be a move to that
the it's and that's an interesting concept that I had never even considered until I kind of was you learned about it. That Yeah, I mean, you're, anytime you burn something, you're putting something into the atmosphere. So it's kind of like those oil like mining operations where you see the, the gas flares, you know, top of the smokestack and you see that flame? Well, they they put that flare up there so that it burns off like the really bad VOCs and like burns off the methane and stuff. So it's still converting co2, but it's not as bad. And, you know, I had never even considered like, oh shoot. Yeah, coffee. roasting also was burning something. So that's a valid component of the supply chain in the process. Yeah,
absolutely. And I, I think that moving more towards renewable resources and electric is, is what needs to be done. And that's but for me and every other coffee roaster that's the big dilemma because there aren't a heck of a lot of decent electric roasters, you know, we, roasters, we rely on natural gas and propane. You know, the, the heat application that you get running natural gas just can't be duplicated with electric at this point. But I mean, there's a, I do have my eye on a lot of different technologies, like I actually think it's out of I think it's out of CU, they developed a a thermal generator that you basically put on the exhaust of your afterburner. Oh, so all that heat that and that you're putting out from the afterburner is then getting recirculated, you know, turned into energy and recirculated. I've heard of a, I think it was a company out of Portland, it was like kind of the first tester of that system.
That's like a turbo, in a car. Yeah, it takes the exhaust gas, and then it converts it back into usable energy.
Yeah, that stuff like that. It's those little kinds of things that I really dig. I really get off on that.
Yeah, so that's the, that's kind of the stuff that is coming around the corner. And it's so cool that you're into that, because that's, you know, you're gonna take the new technology, incorporate it into your process. And I'm sure there that's sort of like a new frontier of like, hey, what, what's, what kind of quality? Can we maintain? Are there any new quality improvements that you can gain by the new technology, and at least from me, as an outsider? Definitely like the the technology software side seems to be pretty big these days. is, I've heard that you can kind of upload all of your roasting data. Oh, yeah. Are there any like apps where
That cord you see that cord, it's kind of it's robably hard to see. But once e're done, you can take a look t it. There's a cord there t at I basically plug that in I, I m piggybacking off of this P obat's where the thermo ouple wires go into the comput r system. I'm piggyb cking off of those, and then f om there that can plug into m computer. And that that differ nt app that I that I use is cal ed Cropster. That's probabl the biggest from what I know. T ere's some other ones there's actually one here, I'm pretty ure they're here in Fort Collins Artisan. And that's more like ho e roasters really like that be ause it's absolutely free. I you're like a commerc al roaster, you should probabl be paying for it in good fa th. But that one's a great o e to Artisan, if, if there's home roasters that are interes ed in that, but it's a Yeah, y u know, back in the day, in Lara ie, we were basically just us ng an Excel spreadsheet. So you now, we, we datalog differe t data points, you know, like wh t our low was at the beginni g of the roast, we'd mark do n the time and tempera ure and then you know, we'd hi 300 degrees and we'd marked own what that time was. So very primitive rudimentary way and now having a bit basical y it just, it's a full on in r al time curve of your roast p ofiles. And yeah, I think I m right there with you, man. Th t's, that's going to be the fut re and Cropster for instance they've just implemen ed some AI technology that wil show you basically, if you're a a at a minute 30 and your roa t, it'll show you I think, t o minutes past so it'll show you what were your projecte roast is going to be in about three minutes.
So the obvious question is, Are there going to be auto roasters and as the technology going to be good enough to sort of load the coffee hit go and it produces that god roast? Yeah, you know, I've been
I've been talking about automation for a long time, I think just things are moving towards that way in the coffee industry and that's crops are and doing that. That's one big piece of it. You know, a lot of those, you know, Starbucks at their main facility, they've got, you know, the roaster that I was on, a little bit in Indianapolis at one that did 700 pounds, basically the same roaster that Starbucks has, but they've got eight of them, you know, and so all eight of those are all fully integrated. I think how they do it. I think they have like seven running nonstop and then that eight they just filter in one that they're doing maintenance on so they have like one shutdown a day to do maintenance on but all of them I think it'd be pretty boring to be a roaster for them. Because you're basically no one's standing next to the roasters, they're all I think there's a team of guys that they're in a control room, you know, those roasters are automated, fully, you know, they don't have to touch anything, you know, the door opens and you know, your green coffee drops in automatically pulls it out automatically. And then it shoots it up a conveying system to the packing areas. But you know, there's still certainly, I can only imagine they have a giant team of people that are cupping those coffees, just to make sure so that's the big piece is once the technology. Yeah, that's the one that's missing is the taste component, because you can have everything that looks great on paper, and it looks great on Cropster, and just for whatever reason, it just doesn't taste how you want it to, you know, so being able to translate the automation with the taste component, that'll be the big one.
Yeah, so, to me, it seems like there's enough. I mean, this is a plant product. So of course, even if you get the same variety from the same farm, it's going to be different every single time just by natural variation, right. So to me, it seems like, you know, the real art, and the real dance with roasting is, you know, you as that as the master roaster, you're you kind of know where everything needs to be, but you can adapt to minute changes, better than any software could, perhaps kind
of where the art is, at this point in the art of roasting. And once you know, an AI system, is able to take that intuition that I have for you know, the different variables and inputs that go into the roast, then it might be able to replicate it, but yeah, at this point, I mean, it's, there's just so many variables to get over, you know, I mean, you've got what the processing method was. And then further down than that, you know, what the variable of the coffee was the density, what the moisture content in the coffee is, just to name a few. And then once you're the bags are here in the roaster, you know, you got your shop has to have a consistent ambient temperature and also your green beans before we even load them in will fluctuate and temperature and then you know, your inside temperature, your outside temperatures, those all play a role. You know how humid it is, we're fortunate at least here in Fort Collins, it's always pretty relatively dry. So I don't have to worry too much about that. But and that's just a couple, you know, and then how your stack, you know, your exhaust stack, how that setup how often you clean it, you know, because things, things roast a lot differently from when it's packed full of coffee oils and chaff. And then once you clean it, you know your airflow if you don't compensate for that, and, you know, it's a lot of that just day to day is just, that's where the what I'm feeling when I'm roasting you know, is I'm just analyzing all the different conditions and and then going off of that temperature curve from Cropster, which is, you know, enormously helpful, you know, can help me in a lot of ways,
correct me if I'm wrong, that the kind of the art of roasting, and the reason why it's so tricky is that actually, first How long does it take to roast a batch of say, 17 pounds?
Yeah, so on a drum, there's a few different styles of roasters, you know, you can use what's called a fluid bed roaster. And that, essentially, it's like a popcorn popper, you know, it's using hot air. So your convective energy is a lot higher, it might be 80 - 90% convective heat transfer, as opposed to this drum roaster, which has a lot more conductive heat transfer, which is, you know, your when those beans are riding on the drum, they're literally making contact without hot surfaces, whether that's your conductive heat, and then you've got your convective, you know that it's a certain percentage, I think it's 60/40 on this Probat. But so with a fluid bed, you're looking at seven, you know, convective heat is a lot more efficient. So those rows go a lot quicker. So it can be anything from 7 to 13 in that range on these drum roasters. And it's interesting because with that little sample roaster that does 100 grams versus this roaster versus that roaster in Indianapolis does 700 pounds, it's pretty much you know, 10 to 15 minutes in a batch system. Yeah. You just have your smaller burner here and then, you know, on that big boy, that was essentially a jet engine sized flame, you know, heat, heat all that so well. It's pretty consistent batch times.
Okay. So is the hard part that once you turn the heat off, those beans are still still cooking. It's kinda like when you take a steak out of the oven or whatever. It's still going to cook so you almost want to take it out. Just before it's done, yeah, when it finally that absolutely does,
yeah, you're gonna get a little bit of roast as it's once you get into the cooling tray, it's going to continue to roast for a little bit a minute or two. So you have to know when to pull it. Bigger machines, this one might have the capabilities for it. But on your bigger roasters, they have what's called a quench. So there's a line that literally runs through the drum. And to end the roast, you just hit quench, and it just, you know, boom, pours out on on the on the big roaster hose on it. I think it was like five gallons of water, it would kind of shit and it doesn't add any water weight to it. But essentially, it just stops your roast. Interesting. Right? So yeah, instantly, it just cools it evaporates. But if you don't do that, you know, you're, you have hundreds of pounds that's still roasting, as opposed to you know, 17 or so.
So have you ever had a perfect roast and, or how often I should say?
Yeah. Just with how many variables and different inputs you have going into a roast. That's for any commercial roaster. That's the challenge is consistency. You know, once you hit that roast, that you like, being able to nail it time after time, that's where the difficulty lies. And that's where you kind of use your blend of technology and science with your intuition and kind of the art of it. But I have roasts all the time that I think are killer. And then you know, the next week, it's still good, but it's not quite where it was. Yeah, and a lot of that, like what you were saying to with taste, taste is so subjective. And some days I'm like, I just don't even know if I'm like that coffee might be exactly the same as last week, I might just be tasting it differently, you know, good point to what did I eat beforehand, right? Did I brush my teeth? You know, in the morning, right? That all plays a role too?
Do you have a? Do you have a favorite roast that stands out in your mind? like a like a dream? Almost like I've heard some I've talked to a couple of coffee shop roasters and some of them say like, you know, yeah, back in the 80s, or 90s, I hit this one perfect roast that I've been chasing it ever since. And I always think
No not really, I actually, I guess I'll say I've got a coffee in right now from Peru. And it just roast like a dream. And it's like, you set your initial temperature at the beginning. And then it almost just roast itself. You know, that's, that's kind of what I try and set up I like the beginning of your roast, you know, once you drop your coffee into the roaster, and then you know, it hits its low point, and then it's released in the environment, temp. Basically, then I'm ramping up the heat from that point on and so that low is I kind of see that as like a launch pad, you know, so if I can get that launch pad perfect. And where I don't I basically make minimal adjustments in the end. That means it's, you know, it's set up, right. And that's a good roast for me, you know, but that Peru especially, it's like the all the beans, they're all very uniform in size, it's got a great density, it takes heat really well. So yeah, it just comes out the roaster and it's like the most even beans, I'll show you after this. It's like, Oh, yeah, and that's where you know, you want as a roaster, a lot of times you're paying for a higher quality beans, because they've been sorted a lot more. So it's you don't have smaller beans with bigger beans, because that's just gonna throw everything off. You know, if you have too much differentiation in size, it's really tricky to get an even batch size, you know, you can tweak some things here and there. But so those are kind of my favorite coffees to roast the ones that just take heat well, you know, they just soak up that heat super even across the board. And with your batch and minimal adjustments, you know, they kind of just roast themselves. I've had a couple Perus that that's the case. And then the last one, I remember, it was a coffee from Bali. Totally, probably some flavor profile you've never even had before it was just like super rich. And you know, same kind of region is Sumatra, but didn't have like a lot of that earthiness that you get with Sumatra coffees. And again, it was just it was a bigger bean size. And it just almost roasted itself. It was great.
That's awesome. Well, Kyle, thanks for taking the time to do
and it was a pleasure and it was a great to see ya.
Likewise. Yeah, long time. And I you know, I get a kick out of this stuff too, just hearing about the art of roasting. And it's kind of the part that I never really do as just a consumer of coffee. So it's a real treat. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your skill and the space and so if people want to buy some coffee, just head to wandercoffee.com
Yeah. Anything else you want to kind of mention before we go
no was a man cool to chat with you?
Alright, see ya. Appreciate it. Yeah, I'll put up all the links and your Instagram and you know website and stuff like that. But yeah, I've been drinking wonder coffee for years now. And I think it's it's always the go to. And so for everybody else out there I recommend it.
Yeah, we thank you man. It's because of everyone like you that we've been able to do what we love. Cool for sure so we appreciate you. Awesome. Thanks, Alex.
All right peace.