Have you ever thought a good cup of coffee can be just as exquisite as a good glass of wine? Coffee has evolved from a utilitarian pick-me-up to a more refined drinking culture distinguished by features including fragrance, aroma, flavor, balance, etc.
In this blog, we will dissect these technical terms and learn about the tricks of identifying a good cup of coffee with Milwaukee coffee business owner-Eric Resch.
“We are not coffee snobs. We are not elitists. We are coffee geeks,” Eric emphasized.
In 1993, Eric bought his first roaster and started Stone Creek Coffee in Milwaukee, simply because he loves coffee.
Prior to making his big decision, Eric worked at a Starbucks in Chicago for two years, where he learned the basics of making lattes and serving customers. His passion for coffee grew when he was a business student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While “pretending to study” at local coffee shops, Eric felt in love with the culture and the global nature of coffee.
“I wanted to start a business that would have social impact. I thought coffee was a product that had large global reach,” Eric said. At the time, Eric had applied to work for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. However, he decided to stay and started Stone Creek Coffee because he believes “business is one of the most powerful tool for both social and economic change.” Stone Creek Coffee provides a platform for these kinds of changes.
In addition to donating coffee to hundreds of non-profit community groups, Stone Creek Coffee is also one of the Milwaukee coffee roasters that purchase their coffee directly from the farmers.
“We used to buy almost all of our coffee (90%) through importers in the U.S., now we buy 90% of our coffee directly from the farms,” Eric explained. During Stone Creek’s 20th anniversary, Eric and his wife decided to take their coffee business to another level by changing their buying, roasting, and brewing methods. Their goal is to move up the market and serve specialty coffee that is more craft centric and less mass-produced.
According to SCAA definitions, specialty coffee “refers to the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established SCAA developed standards.” These standards include an 80-point scale and excellent quality in fragrance, aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, uniformity, balance, clean cup, sweetness, and overall better taste than your average cup of joe. Only about 10% of the world’s coffee is specialty.
“I want to produce amazing coffee, not good coffee. Secondly, we felt from a competitive and strategic perspective, it was safer to be a craft company than to be a larger café such as Starbucks and Panera.” Eric said it is safer to be a craft centric coffee shop because there is a specific niche.
“Our main target audience is usually people who care about quality food. Somebody who is a foodie, who likes good restaurants… who cares about that kind wine they are drinking,” he added.
For the last couple years, Eric and his team have been make multiple trips to coffee farms in Africa, Central America, South America and Asia to ensure the coffee quality. They currently have about 10-12 single origin coffees, which means it comes exclusively from one region. Because coffee is a seasonal craft, Eric is actively communicating with about 30 farmers to keep the quality consistent.
The “farm to cup” practice allows the team to control the quality in every step, but also sets transparent payment for farmers who meet Stone Creek’s social, environmental and economic standards.
“The coffee geek is a short hand for we are passionate about coffee. We want to teach it. We want to share and we are passionate about it.” Once the green coffee arrives at the factory, it is then on the hands of the coffee geeks to create that perfect cup. Each steps is an art and science.
The factory is roasting about four to five thousand pounds of coffee every single week. During my latest visit to the factory, I was definitely amazed by the concentration and dedication involved in process.
Although your taste buds can probably give some of the factors away, here are the three criteria Eric recommended if you are planing to pretend to be a coffee expert.
- Sweet. Coffee should be sweet even by itself. Well-processed and quality coffee will be naturally sweet, meaning you shouldn’t have to add sugar, or chocolate.
- Clean. Good coffee shouldn’t have noticeable defects. It shouldn’t have woody taste or roughness to it. You shouldn’t have a dry mouth after you drink it.
- Juicy. Coffee is a fruit. Cherry is the fruit outside the pit we roast. If the coffee is roasted well, it can bring out the complex of acidity of the fruit. The acidity gives the juicy profile to the coffee.
Stone Creek Coffee has 10 retail cafés around the Wisconsin area. Eric is content with the number because they are working on a retail model that could optimize the cafés by specializing different characteristics in each café.
“If we are a Specialty Company, we have to keep going on being more and more special, not keep everything exactly the same on every place. Because we are not Wal-Mart, we are not Starbucks,” Eric said.
The details of the retail model are in an early planning stage, but when asked about how he would see Stone Creek Coffee in 10 years, here is Eric’s response:
“I would see it having this different retail platform, and being in a couple other markets. I would see us being even more geeky. We are finally confident in our own voice, we start to trust. Rather than looking at other companies, we trust in our own knowledge and intuition.”
The analogy he uses?
“We are just coming through our teenage years, and we are ready to be a full grown adult, do more things.”
His favorite coffee?
Eric said it is still in the future, but he knows it will be sweet, clean and juicy.