Café Imports--the Twin Cities' elite coffee importer
Recently we received a cupping invitation from Café Imports, the St. Paul wholesaler whose beans fill the Clover machines of all the best Twin Cities coffee shops, and we jumped at the chance. Cafe imports knows the process from plant to cup, and the invitation offered a tour of its headquarters, plus a chance to experience a cupping with its expert staff.
The staff at Café Imports has cuppings regularly, assuring the aromas and flavors of each coffee are as promised when sold to roasters. Noah Namowicz, part of the marketing team, showed us the warehouse stocked with fragrant burlap bags full of green beans. The organics and fair trade coffees were in one room, while the rest were in another as per strict regulations. Some were in GrainPro bags, which is the latest innovation in keeping the flavor of the beans better preserved at the green stage.
From there, we went into the lab that houses the serious roasting and brewing equipment. The sample roaster handles the smaller amounts for cuppings, while a larger model Probat looms next to it. Small bags of green beans sent from hopeful farms and estates wait to be prepped by Jamin Haddox for quality control testing. His inbox has no papers -- just green beans in line for the cupping and grading process. After being roasted, the beans are tested on the Agtron M-Basic II, to analyze their roast level. If deemed within the correct range, it's on to the cupping.
This day saw 10 coffees presented with metal spoons, a container of hot water and handy spittoons under the table. Noah joined sales manager Tim Chapdelaine and colleague Anna Mrdutt in evaluating the varietals that included two decafs, four El Salvadors, and several others. Starting by smelling the dry roasted grounds they set to work sniffing, slurping, spitting and scoring. For a great explanation of the cupping process, check out this step-by-step guide from Café Imports complete with great photos.
Comments are reserved exclusively for the end, when the staff scores and discusses each coffee. Words like "chocolate," "bright," "earthy," "musty," "dirt," "citrus," and even "grandma's attic" were bandied about. After comparing notes and giving each coffee an average score on a scale from 60 to 100 (they strive for at least scores of 80 for their inventory), they agreed that one of the El Salvadors was stellar, while the Ethiopian Decaf was admirable despite its inherent decaf-ness. Meanwhile, they also clarified why it's called Monsoon Malabar, how toll decaf is different from the old style, and what a supertaster is.
Just another day for the upbeat and energetic (go figure) staff at Café Imports, which was founded in 1993 and now has a few hundred clients, including local chain Dunn Bros. As wholesalers, they sell to roasters, who then provide coffee shops with the roasted product. On the lookout for beans from all over the world, they take pride in their high-end coffees and strive to improve sustainability practices as they affect both people and natural resources. Already serving many elite Northwest coffee businesses, Café Imports is excited that the Twin Cities' appetite for top-quality coffees is on the rise and recommend Quixotic, Bull Run , Kopplin's, and Black Sheep as good single-brew destinations in town.
While we may not yet be on par with Portland as a coffee town, we are home to Café Imports. Use their website to bone up on beanologies, educational videos, and country descriptions to become literate before the java revolution fully hits the Twin Cities.
2140 Energy Park Drive
St. Paul, MN
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