What does Ryan Brown look for when sourcing coffee?
The simplest answer is kind of cliché: what’s in the cup. But there’s an involved tasting process. A producer doesn’t necessarily have a finished product. What I go and do is taste hundreds of lots from one coffee producer, or at least from one wet mill (a buying station that works with small producers). And from that, I can sort of designate what is better quality and what is lacking in some way. Then I work with them to kind of figure out why what’s working is working and why what’s not working isn’t working.
It can go back to something with the plant husbandry or the actual picking of the cherries — perhaps too ripe, very often not ripe enough. It kind of depends on the country and what the established traditions, cultures or methods are. For example, in El Salvador, there’s a growing culture in picking what most people would consider overripe cherries to be, and that’s great if it works out, but there’s invariably problems where something will be slightly past that overmature stage and that can ruin an entire lot or batch of coffee.
I begin with the cup, but, from there, it’s sort of figuring out what’s making this work. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for years, so I’ve gotten to know which coffee farmers really are interested in working to improve their quality and don’t just want to coast and make it easy. Like anything else, you gain an intuition to understand who wants to really work at this, make coffee taste better and work with you to show your customers that coffee can be this awesome beverage.