All week, we're bringing you stories from Dallas' burgeoning roasting community. See other entries from the series in our coffee archive.
A few years back, after years spent behind coffee bars, Gerald LaRue decided it was time to delve deeper into the business of coffee. He ended up in Juno, Alaska with two bags to his name, and spent 18 months learning everything possible about roasting. He was immediately fascinated with the blend of craft and science required to roast good coffee.
"Chemistry, thermodynamics, and physics all play a role," says LaRaue, who started Avoca, his roasting company, in 2010. "And then on top of that you have to figure out what people are going to do with your coffee once you sell it to them. I like having to think up and down both ends of the supply chain, from the farmer to the customer."
For Avoca, this means an emphasis on control at as many links in the chain as possible, from the growing, to roasting, and even brewing.[jump]
When working directly with growers, LaRue is always looking toward the future. One of the main things he looks for are individuals willing to take the time to keep records of farm inputs and outputs. Every year, coffees around the world are scored based on a variety of factors such as aroma, acidity, body, balance and cleanness. If a particular coffee doesn't score as well as he would like in a given year, LaRue and the farmer will work together to make adjustments with the goal of improving the coffee's score the following year. LaRue knows the key to good coffee long term is building those strong relationships now.
On his end, LaRue's mission is to produce what he calls a "constantly excellent" cup of coffee. He considers all the people that might brew his coffee, which varies from baristas at Avoca in Ft. Worth or Mudsmith in Dallas all the way to an individual customer brewing their morning cup at home. "It's important to me that the cup is thought through so that no matter how many hours of training you can brew a consistently good cup," he says. "I try to be really controlled on my end, to allow for the coffee to be more forgiving on the other end."
LaRue believes it is important to offer a variety of coffees to his customers, but also to pay attention to what they want. He makes sure to offer beans from both East Africa and Central America on a regular basis and will then contrast those regular offerings with a smaller lot standout coffee. "Sometimes you want a jalapeno bacon cheeseburger, but most of the time you just want a burger," he says. "But the meat and bun had better be good every time if that's all there is."
Avoca sees most of their coffees as every daily staples rather than boundary pushers. While this might seem like a simpler way to run a roasting business, Avoca actually puts quite a bit of planning into their craft: "Just because a daily coffee ritual doesn't come with a lot of fanfare doesn't make it unimportant or meaningless. Actually I think it makes it the opposite."
LaRue hopes customers feel comfortable enough at his shop to order the cup that they want. "Sometimes people say, "oh I just want a French Press" like it is somehow inferior these days, but the press is older than so many other brewing methods. Right now coffee culture is really into new things, but we try not to get distracted by all that."