Since this summer, with the arrivals of our Central American coffees, the Red Brick components have changed a little more frequently than they have done in the past, and with the next change coming up in December, I thought I’d talk a little about the reasons for this.
When I source our coffees, I don’t just buy from offer sheets of coffees that an importer has already brought to the UK and selling on to roasters here. As much as I can, I travel to the producing countries and meet with growers and exporters, tasting coffees and visiting farms, strengthening existing relationships and establishing new ones. This year was a difficult one for most of the farmers I visited, as the effects of the leaf rust that hit the coffee growing regions we work in continued to ripple through the farms. Farms where I would normally have no problem sourcing the number of bags of coffee I normally would, were down by anywhere from 50 t0 75%, and in some cases, there was barely any coffee at all. Instead of finding 100 bags of coffee, I might only find 20 or 30.
This posed a difficult situation for me as a buyer; trying to find enough coffee for my customers while maintaining the ethos behind how we trade and the relationships we have built. I could decline the 20 or 30 bags and go to larger, more commercial producers who might have less of an issue filling a 100 bag order. Or I could stick with my small producers who were facing severely reduced crops and income, buy their coffee anyway and jump on the opportunity to work with a larger number of new growers to make up my volumes. I chose the latter, supporting the relationships I had and hoping that continuing to trade with them would contribute to a small part of their recovery from the rust.
However, smaller lot sizes mean shorter runs of our blend recipe for Red Brick. You as our customers get the challenge of dialing in, but also (I hope) the enjoyment of getting to know new blends more frequently. And instead of blending only two or three components at a time, at the roastery we’re now enjoying the challenge of profiling and putting together blends of 4 or 5 components at a time. It’s given us an opportunity to showcase more farms, but also to think more about what the concept of a ‘single origin’, and ‘blend’, is. Our current Red Brick, for example, has 3 coffees from El Salvador (and one from Kenya, cause I love the fruit!). While the 3 El Salvadors are from one single country of origin, they have different personalities and roast different, smell different and taste different. Our next blend, due to start roasting next week, will be 4 different Guatemalas (and a Kenya, can’t stop the fruit!). A 5 bean blend, which I don’t think we’ve had since our first year of roasting, and it makes me both nervous and excited!
In the new year, our new lots of Brazils, Colombias and Ethiopias are coming in, and since these countries have suffered a bit less with the rust we’ve been able to source larger lots again. We’ll have less frequent changes to the blend, which will give you all the opportunity to spend more time with the different recipes and delve deeper into the adjustments you want to make to your brewing styles.
We hope you’ve had fun with the different incarnations of Red Brick we’ve showcased since the summer, and that you will enjoy the longer runs we’ll have next year. Here at SQM we’ve learned a lot from the process of sourcing, managing and roasting Red Brick over the last 6 months, and we look forward to taking these experiences with us into the new harvests!