Stumptown Coffee - Roaster Interview

All pictures provided by Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Eight vaccines, malaria pills (you know, the ones that cause hallucinations, nightmares and nausea) and non stop traveling through some of the worst roads ever constructed. These are only a few of the hardships Stumptown's Green Team go through to source the best coffee around from the world.  

Today, Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters has grown into one of the biggest and most respected specialty coffee roasters in North America. They seemed like a great source of information for coffee aficionados... so we interviewed them.

What is your preferred brewing method to start the day?

Nothing beats a pot of good ol' drip coffee first thing in the morning. Round two is usually a Chemex.

Who, at Stumptown, drinks the most coffee?

We have Cold Brew on draft here at HQ and a couple employees drink at least two pints a day. For reference, 32 oz of Cold Brew is about 4 servings, and would have the caffeine content of around 6 cups of drip.

What is the next upcoming coffee trend in Portland?

Coffee "sodas" and other cocktail-style Cold Brew drinks are popping up in a lot of cafes. Last summer we started offering a few different concoctions ourselves; one was the "Endless Summer", a mix of concentrated Cold Brew, sparkling water and mint syrup. Our take on a Mint Julep. 

Beer or coffee? (Hint, it's not beer)

How often should roasters visit the farmers from whom they buy their coffee beans?

For Stumptown, that really depends on the farm. We have a full time Green Coffee Team that visits each farm we work with at least once a year and in many cases more! Farms that we have worked with for many years (like Finca El Injerto who we've partnered with for over a decade) don't require as much time on the ground as they are consistently delivering quality coffee. 

It takes three full crop cycles from a consistent supply chain for us to classify a farm or co-op relationship as "Direct Trade". So, while we may be on the ground and working directly with a farm, we will wait to see its consistency over time before we classify it as Direct Trade. 

Which coffee farms are you impressed with and why?

All of the farms we work with are impressive in their own right. We have super high standards for the producers that we work with and they all still find ways to impress us. 

One of our longest standing partnerships is with the Aguirres of Finca El Injerto in Guatemala. Coffee from Finca El Injerto has placed 1st at Guatemala's Cup of Excellence seven times!

They not only produce amazing coffee, they are also a model for sustainable farming practices. Coffee parchment is used for fuel in their mechanical dryers. Water used in wet milling is filtered in ponds before returning to the rivers to avoid pollution downstream. Native species are replanted in reforestation efforts. They use worm culture technology which breaks down the coffee cherry skins to produce lombricompost which is then used as a fertilizer at the nursery and the final plantings. To avoid pests and diseases, the leguminosae Araquis pintol, a competitive plant that suffocates other weeds, is planted around the coffee plants in place of using fungicides or pesticides. Shade trees are planted throughout the farm to promote air circulation and control the amount of sunlight received by the plants.

El Injerto also has many social projects which promote the well-being and health of the workers and their families. We could go on and on about their awesome work. Check them out here:

Stumptown - el finca

Handpicked in Guatemala

How important is the Fair Trade (US or INTL) certification when you decide to purchase coffee? Why?

We actually do not purchase our coffee through the Fair Trade certification process. Instead, we have our own Direct Trade program. "Direct Trade" can mean different things to different companies but Stumptown's Direct Trade model revolves around three basic pillars: improving coffee quality, incentive-based rewards to the farmer, and transparency of the supply chain.

Our Direct Trade program pays farmers a much higher amount than Fair Trade pricing. Fair Trade has a few restrictions that prevent many farmers from getting certified, including the fact that only cooperatives can be certified "Fair Trade". A number of our coffees are purchased from smaller, family-owned farms which could never be certified Fair Trade because of their size. There are also no quality tests or comparisons for Fair Trade coffee, and we like to reward our farmers for a job well done by paying them more when their coffee is of higher quality.

Our price incentives for the farms are based on quality; we pay more for coffee that scores higher on our cupping table. We are able to continuously provide some of the most exquisite coffees available because of this model. For all of our coffee sourcing, labeled or not, we use our Direct Trade philosophy and criteria to help guide us - always seeking quality, transparency, and fair coffee purchases above anything else.

Stumptown Coffee offers home brewing classes. What’s the most common mistake people tend to make?

Our trainers say that the two most commonly overlooked details in home brewing are coffee dose and grind. If you really want to step up your home brewing game, getting a scale and a burr style grinder really make a difference.

If you really want to step up your home brewing game, getting a scale and a burr style grinder really make a difference.

In our home brewing class we often recommend using a French Press and that surprises some folks. We suggest having two pour stages; initially pouring only half of the total water volume and letting your coffee "bloom" for about a minute before filling it to the top.

Also, preheating! Put some hot water in that French Press while you are grinding your coffee. 

After traveling half way around the world, it's respectful to roast the beans with great care

Thank you so much for doing this. Where can people learn more about Stumptown? 

You can read about our sourcing and producer partners here:

Check out our Brew Guides here:

And if you're in the neighborhood, pop into any of our cafes:

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