The world of online coffee subscriptions has become crowded, and crowded in problematic way: Most subscriptions operate with a similar model—coffee drinkers settle on their preferred flavors and coffee-making method, then the company chooses a bag of beans to match that. It’s hard for drinkers to know if they’re getting something good, and it’s hard for coffee companies to stand out. But Quintal Coffee is breaking that rather rigid mold and shipping fantastic coffee as they do it.
Quintal distinguishes itself from most other coffee roasters selling beans online by answering one of the ever-present challenges in specialty coffee: How can you brew the freshest, most flavorful cup? The answer that Eduardo Umaña, an engineer by training, settled on is one that is gaining steam in the coffee world but remains uncommon: Roast the coffee in the place it is grown, a system known as origin-roasted coffee.
The high-quality coffee beans most of us typically buy, either via a company like Trade or straight from our favorite roasters, come from their country of origin as unroasted green beans. “The coffee we drink in the U.S. often just sits around green for three to four months,” says Epi contributor Ever Meister, a longtime coffee educator and writer. “Then there’s however long it takes to ship it and however long it takes to [prepare] those green bags—you might be looking at coffee that was harvested eight or nine months ago.” Sitting unroasted for the better part of a year doesn’t do the coffee any favors in the flavor department. Umaña pointed me to a lengthy academic study in the Annals of Botany exploring why this is the case. There is a lot of chemistry that may not matter to you, the coffee drinker, but the basic upshot of that study is that “prolonged storage of green coffee is accompanied by typical decline of quality.” The way to avoid that loss of quality and flavor is to roast the bean while it’s still viable, that is, alive and capable of growing a coffee plant.
That’s what Quintal does, roasting its Central and South American beans as soon as possible after harvest, then shipping them straight to subscribers once a month. Having worked my way (too quickly) through a few bags, I found that the coffee has a real depth of flavor that is sometimes missing even from coffee that’s been recently roasted in the U.S.
The origin roasting model also means that the coffee Quintal sends is actually seasonal—something many people don’t think of when they think of coffee. But a coffee is at peak flavor right after it's harvested and that happens at different times in different parts of the world. “Right now coffee is in season in Central America,” Umaña says. “We’re getting coffees from Honduras, Costa Rica, then Colombia. We’re probably going to have a coffee from Peru around October when that coffee is in season.”
First question: Are you team automatic or team manual?
Beyond providing excellent coffee, Quintal is doing some service for the countries we all rely on to keep us caffeinated. Most of the credit (and the money) for good coffee goes to the boutique roasters with the cool logos from San Diego to Portland, Maine, which is decidedly not coffee country. “The farmer, the producer, takes care of his coffee crops for years,” says Umaña. “Then this green coffee gets exported and in a matter of 15 minutes, or however long it takes to roast, the roaster gets all the glory.” Meister put it even more bluntly: “Producers have historically been kept out of conversations about quality…they were considered ignorant about what tastes good. There’s this patronizing colonial attitude of only Americans can roast beans.” Umaña, whose grandmother has a coffee farm in Colombia, is a big believer in the need to transform the business of coffee to be fairer to producing countries. Right now, for a $20 bag of coffee, says Umaña, three or four dollars stay in the producing country. He thinks with an origin roasted model that can be doubled or even tripled.
If you feel stuck in a coffee rut with whatever subscription you’re using, or if you’re still trying to figure out which one to use, an order from Quinta can shake up your morning routine. And it may shake up the coffee industry’s routine too.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious