H & S Coffee Roasters Seek Brewing Perfection in a Cup of Java
LARAMIE – An anonymous quote about coffee applies to me perfectly, and you will never want to test me on it: “The most dangerous drinking game is seeing how long I can go without coffee.” In my kitchen is a sign that reads, “But First, Coffee.” Even the dogs know better than to bother me until they observe me heading to the kitchen for a second cup.
Only true coffee-lovers will understand the importance of that first fragrant, piping hot cup of Joe that gets your eyes open and your mind in gear. The folks at H & S Coffee Roasters in Laramie understand.
When I discovered that Laramie was home to a business that not only imports a wide variety of coffee beans for its growing list of customers but stores and roasts them to perfection on the second floor of a downtown Laramie building, I was surprised.
After meeting one of the owners, Coulter Sunderman, at the ribbon cutting for The Rising Café in Laramie, I understood that H & S is serious about coffee. To them, coffee brewing is more than a few scoops placed in the coffee maker and flipping a switch. After a tour of the roasting facility, it made sense as to why the 5-year-old company is growing.
"I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee."
- Burt Lancaster
The bean library room for 100-lb. bags of green coffee beans hold coffee from all over the world, Coulter said. They will roast about 20,000 lbs. of beans this year alone.
“These are just lots and lots of different samples from all over the place: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia, Congo, Costa Rica, Brazil, and some from Yemen, which is a difficult country to buy coffee from right now.”
The room will be converted to a science room, where coffee bean density and moisture content can be measured and monitored. Ultra-Violet light will help them detect fungus and impurities in the beans. A deep freezer for the roasted beans is another addition that will enhance their product.
“New research says that the green coffee, and roasted, too, stored in sub-zero temperature and air-tight, will maintain the desired moisture level and freshness.” The freezer-stored beans will also make it easier to compare beans from year to tear that are grown in the same location.
He said the thing he dislikes about coffee, is that “It’s so ephemeral. It’s temporary. Once we’ve roasted it, it has an expiration date. I’d love to be able to lock that in and produce something that will hold for a really long time.”
The green storage room is climate controlled and stores beans at constant humidity and a consistent temperature.
“Because it’s a big room inside of a building, we don’t get drastic temperature swings, which is nice. We can preserve the coffee that we do have in here for quite a while,” said Coulter.
“As a business owner, there are so many things to do. I just want to roast coffee, but it’s fun to learn all the little intricacies of running a business, too, and things to keep an eye on to make sure that you’re a good business. We try not to focus on that too much. As long as things are running well, we feel free to sort of explore a little bit more, that’s why we’re going into deep-freezing coffee. There’s not really a lot of profit in that, but there’s a lot to learn.”
Coulter went through a quality control testing process that he conducts a few times each week. The blind taste test compared five different beans from Colombian growers, and one from Ethiopia.
“We’re not sure what’s here on the table yet. This is blind testing, trying to help us not to be biased about any particular coffee over another. It’s hard to eliminate bias with something as subjective as coffee.”
They want to focus on the taste. Each small cup of beans was exactly weighed, ground to the exact grind, placed in individual cups, then filled with the exact amount of hot water and allowed to steep for a few minutes.
“We do it the same every time. That ensures that, again, we are being very consistent. Everything else changes. Our taste buds change a little bit every day. If we can keep all the empirical data consistent, we don’t really have any excuses to explain the different tastes, and can focus on the coffee itself.”
Being in Laramie also poses some interesting challenges, Coulter said.
“We have two really unique things that happen here that sets us apart from almost everywhere else. There are a lot of other places doing specialty coffee roasting. We have pretty hard water. We’re served by multiple different aquifers in town, as well as seasonal runoff. So the composition of the water, even though it goes through treatment, changes. And it can change daily,” Coulter said.
‘We could come in on any given day, and things will taste different. And where we’re not sure what happened, it could be the water.”
H & S create a “constructed water,” where distilled water is used, then they add minerals that give the water a more certain hardness and calcium and magnesium concentrate that give it a good base and acid content, giving the water enough buffer and content to “pull” the flavor from the coffee. This process has made a big difference in the consistent coffee produced by H & S.
“We also have the disadvantage of having a low boiling point. Around 199-200 degrees up here, and that’s right in the middle of what our governing body says is ideal for brewing coffee. But we can’t brew at boiling, because as soon as we take the kettle off, it loses the boiling and drops a few degrees. It takes so much energy to maintain the water that near to boiling point. So we have to back off a few degrees. We’re around 196 to 197 most times. So now we’re on the low end of the spectrum there, and the lower temperature takes less ‘stuff’ out of the coffee, and that’s another thing that we have to make sure we’re addressing. Generally, we’re grinding coffee finer to compensate for that. But that could lead to other problems, too.”
Once the six samples of coffee steeped properly, Coulter described the tasting process to evaluate the specific grind to determine different values – acidity, sweetness, body, after taste. Professional, certified graders use this same process to grade each bean, which is how pricing is determined. The higher the grade, the higher the price.
Each small cup was stirred, smelled, then literally “slurped” from a tablespoon.
“The point is to aerate the coffee on our palates, make some noise, you want to get a full impression of the coffee.”
At the end of the tour, Coulter made a great cup of cappuccino, espresso with a Colombian bean, roasted lightly, and it was delicious, even for a dark roast lover like myself.
“We approach things with a lot of data-driven analytics. We are always collecting data, always measuring things. And we’re using all the empirical data that we can to inform how we roast coffee. And that’s what really separates us from everyone else. A lot of the intention takes place behind the scenes before a coffee ever gets released to the public. There’s a lot of work there. We’re doing a lot of it, to make sure everything tastes as good as possible before we ever let anyone else drink it.”
In the past, H & S would offer their coffee at the Friday Downtown Farmers Market, but they won’t be attending this year.
“We do have the go-ahead to announce our pop-up this summer. We will be ‘popping-up’ at 119 South 1st St. (the old Big Hollow storefront) from July through September,” Coulter said.
“We will be there two days per week, with one day of coffee service and one day for public cuppings, tastings, and classes. The exact days and times will be announced soon, with more details to come.”
The H&S Coffee Roasters, owned and operated by Joshua Heien and Coulter Sunderman, is located in the heart of downtown Laramie, upstairs of the Falcon Technology Building, 210. S. 3rd St., Suite 200. Visit hscoffeeroasters.com or the Facebook page for more information.
Coulter added, “Please note, we are not a retail space, and we are not regularly open to the public. We do enjoy hosting cupping events and tours, so please contact us if you would like to visit at 307-223-2600.”