Like many others who are first introduced to coffee, I held a fairly narrow view of what coffee should (and could) taste like for many years. The somewhat harsh astringency, smoky (sometimes burnt) and bitter flavors that accompany many lower end dark-roasted coffee products are what I thought coffee tasted like.
Eventually I became interested in alternative non-drip brewing methods. I purchased a Moka Pot and coffee grinder and began tinkering with them. On a whim, I purchased some light-roasted Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. Every so often, I'd taste the fruity hint of blueberries. That was the turning point for me. I thought the unique flavor was fantastic and started to investigate how to reproduce it. It was a mind-opening testament to the vast array of flavors which can exist within coffee beans.
Reproducing the unique flavor proved difficult. I found that you had to control many variables; grind size, extraction time, water temperature, roast level, and roast date are the most important. People who know me, know that when I become interested in a subject, I tend fixate and over-analyze on it... So, I was soon roasting my own coffee to control the roast level and roast date variables.
Then, focusing on the ethics of coffee farms, I started a coffee roasting business which only sold Rainforest Alliance (RFA) certified coffee beans. RFA-certified beans are a great way to know that all aspects of the coffee production are being handled ethically, including the environment and sustainability aspects. We roasted many pounds per hour using a fluid bed roaster. I eventually sold that business to a friend with more time to grow the business.
Learning from that experience, I found I was becoming disappointed by the lack of RFA beans which had truly unique characteristics. Finding an RFA-certified Ethiopian bean was possible, but finding an RFA-certified Ethiopian bean which has complex and unique flavors was much more difficult. We were producing great coffee with superb caramel and chocolate notes, but the unique beans I was searching for were always seemingly out of grasp. The fluid bed roaster may have been compounding the issue as well, because they are more difficult to finely control.
Not wanting to give up on the coffee roasting business, Backtrace Coffee was established with a focus on low-volume and high-quality coffee which accentuates the complex and unique flavors that coffee can have. We now use an induction-heated drum roaster with computer-assisted monitoring software to help finely control the roast.
Unfortunately, the coffee is not always RFA-certified. However, we do find that specialty green coffee beans tend to fall into one of three categories... RFA-certified, Fair Trade certified, or direct trade. These all offer major benefits to the farmers and do uphold some level of ethical standard.
~ Nathan Barrett Morrison, Founder