Rob Ward reflects on his recent trip to Seattle and Re:co

“I was really pleased to be back in Seattle again after just a couple of years this time and was very interested to see what had changed and developed. But my first stop was Re:co the symposium re(garding): co(ffee), which was as ever a good mixture of speakers, mostly based from America, including one American we know well in the UK, Chris Henderson, who works with Maxwell Collona Dashwood and others in coffee.

A lot of the talk once again turned to sustainability and how crops of washed Arabica coffee are currently in a slight decline, which is making a lot of people nervous. Although, crops overall are slightly ahead on growth, with the main issue being consumption which continues to trend upwards at a greater rate.

So what is the solution? Certainly developments of newer varietals with larger yields and more disease resistance are much needed, and the issue sometimes is the quality of flavour. However, with the potential of learning from other industries like wine, the potential to develop flavour using natural yeast to the fermentation process can help this and help target very specific flavour development. Also, controlling the quality of natural processed coffee can help add the increased demand in the speciality grade demand, with some excellent examples of naturals coming from countries like Rwanda and Burundi at the moment and I am for sure becoming a huge fan of these big funky flavours!

The previously mentioned Chris Henderson brought up some interesting research in the freezing of coffee. This is predominately at the green (non-roasted) stage, which if done under strict environments i.e. Zero moisture and vacuum sealed before freezing, can prolong the quality of the product for around 16 times the length of normal green storage, with little or no degradation of flavour in the coffee once roasted. Certainly food for thought if you get a particularly good crop of a certain coffee.

In Seattle this year it was the launch of the Faema E71 to the US market. We launched the E71 to Europe in Dublin last year and the initial reaction was again very positive with people loving the sleek lines, manual and programmed control capabilities as well as the Autosteam4 which is shared technology with Cimbali to deliver competition standard pours, with ease. Teaching the visitors how we could alter bloom and pre-infusion to tailor to the brew required, maximising flavour in both Artisan style and the more traditional Italian espresso was a great success.

On the whole, the coffee scene hadn’t changed too much. But there were a number of new cafes that had opened who were experimenting with different roast profiles, trending lighter to show off the sweetness and fruits characteristics in the coffee which were a very welcome change and Slate were a great example of this.

I feel I can’t not mention two things worthy of note – the Starbucks Reserve Roastery continues to inspire and frustrate all in one moment! The look branding, accessories and even cocktail making branded items look amazing and the roasters interlinked around the building delivering fresh roasted coffee to various locations is simply stunning. But this is where the problem is for me, that they have gone lighter in the roasting, but not far enough. I wish they would take the bigger step and really showcase true flavours. Some of the coffees – particularly from Africa are capable of delivering and loose that inherent roastiness that overpowers and loses the subtle flavours that the coffee truly deserves. I’m not saying go uber light, but just light enough without that roasty flavour to show both the traditionalist and third wave crew what they can do.

The last concept that I have to talk about is a very brave concept by La Marzocco and the cafe they have opened, which changes itself every month using a different roaster. They change the machine, layout, menu to what that roaster wants, so some months this might mean just espresso and milk based drinks, maybe with the addition of aeropress or V60. At the moment the cafe is under the guidance of Tim Wendlebow and Americanos are a no go, but 6 options of different coffees in aeropress should be enough to keep those drinkers happy! Next month, Toby’s Estate takes over so I wish I could hang around and see how it changes. It’s a must see when you get to Seattle – a bold move but exciting in this ever changing world of Speciality Coffee.

For me now, on to Portland for some R&R, but as ever when in a coffee city I will be looking out for any exciting stuff I see and report back. Catch-up with you again soon.”

Re:co Symposium was held April 19-20, just before the Global Speciality Coffee Expo in Seattle.

For more information on Re:co and future events please click here.

Rob Ward reflects on his recent trip to Seattle and Re:co