For whatever reason, I didn’t drink coffee until I was 32 years old. Then, my wife and I had twins. Suddenly, coffee became a very important part of my life. It remains a key ingredient to my day five years later. It’s not just the caffeine that’s so important—it’s the ritual of sipping that first cup each morning as I ponder the day ahead. Those Folgers commercials I grew up with were dead on. “The best part of waking up…”
And yet, as highly as I regard my cup of coffee, I’ve never really paid attention to what coffee goes in that cup. Folgers, Dunkin Donuts, Waffle House, Starbucks…didn’t really matter to me.
Then I found Craft and Mason, a micro roaster out of Lansing, Michigan that carefully chooses beans that can be traced back to specific farmers and co-ops (if you look on the bags, they actually list the farm, region, and elevation of where the beans were sourced). Their roasting practices are just as thoughtful, and the result is a balanced, intriguing cup of coffee that makes you want another sip, another cup.
I tried the Bodhi Batak, which has a smooth, rich mouthfeel and a subtle hint of sweetness to the bean. There’s also an undercurrent of orange running through the entire sip. The El Zapote Geisha was more floral, and a bit more acidic with hints of lime and lemon. Call me naïve, but I didn’t think coffee could be this complex. I didn’t realize you could have so much going on in a single cup of coffee. I had a similar awakening when I first fell in love with craft beer. And good bourbon. And good tacos…
So I talked with Jeremy Mason, who owns Craft and Mason with his friend Eric Craft, about the art of roasting the bean and the state of coffee in America.
How did you get into roasting coffee?
Jeremy Mason: We started roasting as a hobby at first, when we tasted some coffee from a few micro roasters and learned a bit about the process. We were blown away by the different flavors that could come from different coffees. It is very much like the craft beer revolution and the more we learned, the more passionate we became. We started Craft & Mason Coffee after a few years because we wanted to bring a focus on specialty coffee to Lansing, Michigan and beyond.
How do you select the beans?
Mason: We work with a supplier who works directly with individual farms to buy the beans. This is not how most of the coffee trade works, as most farmers or cooperatives are usually part of a much bigger system with prices set by the global market. We like when farmers and cooperatives trade their coffee directly because they are usually rewarded for quality and it is a win for everybody. We work with our supplier to find coffees from individual farms or coops that we love and then work to find a roast level that maximizes the complexity and flavor potential of the bean.
There is a common saying that we completely agree with when it comes to coffee roasting that says “you can’t roast quality into the bean.” This is why we work so hard to find incredible green beans and why we put so much information about the origination of the bean on our packaging. We want our customers to know the farm or co-op that worked so hard to create an incredible tasting coffee. Factors such as growing elevation, how often coffee cherries were picked, the processing of the cherry and bean, varietal, country, region, farm/co-op…are all important to final flavor.
One of our major goals is bringing the coffee farmer into the coffee value chain. The global coffee trade has traditionally been very opaque. Many coffee roasters and suppliers have come before us in the past few decades to make a direct trade environment possible. We are thrilled to be a part of it.
What’s the state of coffee in the U.S. today?
Mason: Coffee is seen as “coffee.” The flavoring is typically added in the form of sweeteners, milk products, flavorings…There is nothing wrong with this, but a shift is happening and has been happening for decades to create amazing flavors and experiences with coffee starting at the farm level. This is a focus on the entire process, from farm to cup, and every step in the process is hugely important. When we finally get these green beans we are so excited about, it requires focus and passion to roast the coffee so that the flavors in the cup showcase the work of the farmer and are not overtaken by the roast character. Coffee, much like high quality wine or any other food product, can express so many different flavors when passion and hard work happen at every step in the process.
What do you wish people understood about the coffee in their cups?
Mason: I wish they understood how hard coffee farmers and co-ops work to create excellent coffee. One fact I always bring up is that it takes about 2,000 handpicked coffee cherries (each cherry usually contains 2 beans) to create a pound of coffee. Specialty coffee is usually handpicked multiple times throughout harvest when it is ripe. From there, hard work and great care take the coffee from cherry to a dried roastable product. This is why we are so passionate about roasting. We have huge respect for the work done at the farm level.