A family member recently introduced us to Blanchard’s Coffee (a roaster out of Richmond, Virginia) — and what an amazing find! Given we’ve gotten so into the nuances of coffee recently, and also that our last name is Blanchard, there was an immediate sense of connection.
As our past two posts have shown, Jessica and I are enjoying the experience of learning the intricacies within the the world of specialty coffee. So far we have been hesitant to write about certain brands of coffee. As novices, we felt it would be a little unfair to the roaster for us to point out certain things we may like or dislike. Our beginner skills at home brewing (we prefer the Chemex or pour over method) could throw off a good cup, and blaming the beans might be unjust. However, with a few training classes (and many, many cups of coffee) under our belt, we’re ready to share our opinions. So we felt there’s no better way to start than with a roaster who shares our family name (even if they may not be in our direct lineage).
Blanchard’s Coffee offers a wide selection of coffees from around the world, ranging from single origin to original blends. They have been roasting coffee since 2004 and, like many third-wave roasters and brewers, focus on sustainability and community. This is one of our favorite aspects of the coffee community, but we’ll get into that in a future blog post.
Stephen from Blanchard’s sent us three bags to try: Occidente and La Violeta (light roasts), and Sumatra (medium light roast). All three of these are sourced farm-direct, with 75% of the purchased price going directly to the origin farm. Again, this is a fascinating operation in sustainability, with economic, social, and environmental advantages, but we’ll save that for a future post. Suffice to say it’s a more ethical way to buy coffee.
We sampled each coffee by way of the “coffee cupping” procedure, smelling the grounds (wet and dry) and tasting for flavor, brightness, and mouthfeel. And then of course we just drank a couple of cups after brewing in the Chemex.
Three Types of Blanchard’s Coffee
The Occidente from Honduras smelled earthy and tea-like when ground, with a mild and smooth flavor when brewed. A chocolate finish rounds it out. Of all three, this was my favorite. This would make for a great morning coffee. It’s a light roast, but bold enough to start your day.
The Violeta from Costa Rica smelled bolder but had a sweet honey flavor when brewed. We’re still learning to pick up on different flavor notes, but could pick out a hint of sweet lemonade in this one. It had a bright finish.
I found the Lintong Estate Sumatra sweet with a distinct taste of cherry. This was a more complex roast and one I had trouble picking out other flavors but they seemed familiar. I would say this one for savoring on a lazy Sunday morning in the winter. All three roasts can be found here
Note that your tastes and experiences with the coffee may vary, and that’s fine. What we feel is important in a good cup of coffee is the ability to discern a flavor profile. It’s nice to close your eyes and be able to place yourself in a location based on aromas and tastes. It takes coffee drinking to the next level. Even if a particular cup isn’t to your liking, you can appreciate its origins.
If you’re interested in checking out Blanchard’s, you can find them at www.blanchardscoffee.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter. They sell 12 oz bags of beans (whole or ground) and also offer wholesale.
Stephen was also incredibly nice and took the time to answer a few questions of mine. Below are his responses via email!
1. Why did you start roasting coffee?
David Blanchard and I share similar stories as far as why we got into roasting coffee and ended up becoming good friends because of that, long before we actually started working together. We love great coffee, simply, and there didn’t seem to be anyone in town, at the time, consistently roasting coffee the way we thought it should be roasted. David bought a roaster in 2004 and founded Blanchard’s Coffee Co. At that time I was building a roasting program with a coffee company that has since moved their focus to wine and food. We became friends and eventually I came to head up marketing and development for BCC.
2. What’s your preferred brewing method? Pour over, chemex, clever coffee?
I like to use all of those methods, as well as others, because I think they all have specific benefits that can help specific types of coffee. That said, in general, I usually gravitate towards a V60 pour over.
3. Are there any others Rosters that you’ve enjoyed? Maybe some in Virginia?
Yes. I keep a pretty open door as trying other roaster’s coffee. Clearly, the big “third wave” roasters like CCC, Stumptown, Intelligentsia etc. are consistent choices, but some smaller guys like Blue Bottle are getting acclaim, and rightfully so. Locally, there is a roaster in Richmond called Lamplighter that often has some good stuff. In Charlottesville there is a micro-roaster called Shark Mountain that is doing a stellar job on a very small scale. In general, I prefer an East Coast style roaster – I’m not a big fan of a lot of dark profile coffees. Unfortunately, a lot of smaller roasters lean heavy on dark coffee because its safe, easy, and sells well.
4. What are your most popular selling single origin/blends.
In reference to the previous answer – our two top sellers are Dark as Dark (a dark blend) and Decaf… *faceplant* – the bottom line is, the average shopper in a Whole Foods is a busy mother with a cranky baby on her hip who is late for whatever and picks coffee based on “light” “dark” or “decaf”. Most people gravitate towards “dark” because it is sort of seared in our collective consciousness that darker is bigger/bolder/better – boring. Dark as Dark is a pretty awesome cup of coffee, as dark roasts go though. We do have some really popular single origin lighter roasts though. Some current favorites are Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Ethiopian Harrar and our series of Direct Trade coffees including Jarabacoa Dominican Republic, La Violeta Costa Rica, San Rafael Urias Guatemala, Occidente Honduras, Gayo Mt. Sumatra and Lintong Sumatra.
5. You seem to be in a lot of stores, have you ever thought about opening one of your own?
We actually started out with a coffee shop – Richmond City had never seen a strictly wholesale coffee roaster so we had to open a “coffee shop” to get a license – that “coffee shop” was on the second floor of an old antique shop with a back-alley entrance up some steep stairs with a table and two air pots beside our roaster. Over the course of several years though, it became a really popular coffee destination, so popular in fact, that it became a hinderance as our wholesale business grew. We got our identity straight with the city and eventually sold the retail side of our business and moved into a larger space that could accommodate our volume. The original coffee shop is thriving and uses our coffee still. We aren’t totally closed to the idea of having our own place but it would have to be in an arrangement in which we don’t run it, because we’ve found that our area of expertise is in roasting awesome coffee – retail sales is a totally different animal. In the grand scheme of things, we really want to see our coffee on as many retail shelves as possible.
6. What else should I know about the coffee that I’m not asking?
There is always something to learn about coffee – it is an ever changing thing because, simply, it is an agricultural product that is farmed and harvested largely by people who own tiny, often garden sized farms – anything can happen. I think the coffee world, as a whole, is finally recognizing that the best way to get better coffee is to focus on the farm. On our end, it means dealing directly with farmers which allows them to get a greater percentage of the sale price for their product. That helps them by simply improving their quality of life. It helps us because they’ll invest more money and effort into their craft, thus, we get better coffee. This is a cycle that helps everyone involved, minus brokers and old-school commodity coffee moguls.
Chemex: 52g Coffee (slightly coarser than a “drip grind”) and 836g of water.
Dripper: Note, my numbers are for a V60 cone. The BeeHouse pours a little differently because it has that flat bottom – it should be comparable though.
26g Coffee (slightly coarser than a “drip grind”) and 330g of water.
It is very important, especially with the Chemex, to presoak the filter to get rid of any paper residue.
Make sure you’re using water that has not been softened. Softeners like Britta add dissolved solids to the water – those dissolved solids take up space that you want to fill with coffee. If your tap water tastes good, use it. Otherwise go for cheap bottled spring water like Deer Park.