Comparing different coffee bean suppliers in the Caribbean

Besides setting up a new espresso machine, I cannot think of anything more exciting for a barista than to sample and taste different coffee beans. Especially if they’re also from different suppliers.

So far I’ve been able to try a single origin Ethiopian Sidamo and Rwandan bean from Malongo, a French roaster in France with a local dealer. I personally like the fresh citrus flavors of Ethiopian coffee but the Rwandan bean made an excellent espresso and customers liked it better, or so it seemed. The acidity of the Ethiopia beans is too far from home for people who are used to dark French and Italian roasts from more or less generic commercial blends rather than specialty coffee beans.

I also sampled blends from Carib Bean Coffee in Antigua. Though I was disappointed to only receive blends from them, they were well balanced and accessible for everyone. Not just coffee fetishists such as myself! I believe their coffee could replace our standard Starbucks beans for milk based coffees easily and make an excellent coffee. I was most pleased with their Hurricane Brew, a medium dark blend, and the Primo Espresso, a very dark roast. That is surprising because I usually shy away from dark roasts for espresso. The beans were roasted fresh and shipping was swift, so their taste was outstanding!

Lately I have had the pleasure of trying a few samples from Batdorf & Bronson, who’s roasting coffee in Olympia, WA. They roast n demand, after your order and ship quickly. So your order is as fresh as it can be, all things considered. Our shipping office sadly did not pack them on a temperature controlled container so I’m guessing it was a bit below their optimal flavors. However, upon opening the 12 oz “Dancing Goat” sample, we where amazed at the wonderful nutty and caramel odors and a beautiful warm saturated coffee wave came over us. After setting the Baratza grinder to the correct setting and weight, I was deeply moved to finally taste an outstanding coffee again on this island! Wow! The richness of the blend, the balance of the sugars, acidity and bitters was awesome. Full body, rich after taste. Hints of nuts, chocolate and other flavors that I simply could not identity quickly enough. Wonderful!

Besides the beans, however, there are others factors to consider. Cost, of course, but also reliability, logistics, reputation and their green bean sorcerer.

  1. Malongo is the closest but has the worst logistics process. Nothing is roasted to order, roast dates aren’t listed and all those things considered it is rather expensive coffee.
  2. Carib Bean Coffee is not on the island but on regular shipping routes, both by air and seas. So delivery could be regular. The blends are better than Malongo and prices relatively better. It’s a regional respected company with a name to loose so they could make a good partner for introducing third wave coffee in St Maarten and the Caribbean!
  3. Batdorf has the best coffee, it’s roasted to order and shipping is speedy. It’s hard and expensive to get a few pounds here in a cooled container, so we’d probably have to order up and minimize transport costs. However, that negates the freshness of the bean because they’ll be waiting in our fridges,.not someone else’s. They are specialty coffee roaster and have made quite a name, so also a great company to partner with if the logistics can be optimized.

All in all very complex but exciting!

Once I have tasted all the samples, I plan on ordering two coffees from each candidate and organize a coffee tasting for the management team of the Market Garden supermarket and a few others. This way, they get to participate in what I’m doing and learn more about coffee, brewing, roasts, flavors and third wave coffee!

Sourcing coffee beans, next stage

The story continues…

After choosing two US coffee roasters from the short list of four for Double Dutch Café, we have entered the next stage.

  • Amavida.com (Florida)
  • Batdorfcoffee.com (Washington)
  • Carib Bean Coffee (Antigua)

We’re ordering samples from both suppliers, determine how the ordering process works and how we must handle the logistics of getting the fresh roasted beans from the warehouse in Miami to Sint Maarten. I trust they will deliver them appropriately to Miami but the warehouse must store them in a temperature controlled environment and ship them in the same way.

It will be learning experience for everyone on our side, because coffee is usually not treated with this much care.

Sourcing Great Coffee Beans for Sint Maarten

Getting good coffee on this island is a challenge. That’s funny because we live right in the middle of the some of the world’s best coffee countries. So you’d expect a larger selection. Sadly, the opposite is true.

While every coffee selling business here seems to focus on making coffee from cups (Nespresso, Lavazza, Illy) and the local population mostly used to and stuck with cheap, large scale, commercially produced filter coffee such as Santa Domingo ground coffee, very few places have whole coffee beans to begin with.

When I started to make an inventory of the equipment needed to create a Specialty Coffee shop on St Maarten, I immediately noticed the lack of good grinders & espresso machines, long delivery times, uncertain product availability and total lack of good single-origin coffee beans. Malongo, a large French roaster with a presence on the French side of this island (Saint Martin) was the exception. Sadly, their stock was low, the beans old (almost a year after packaging date, no roast date mentioned anywhere!) and the selection limited to four countries: Brasil, Colombia, Rwanda, Ethiopia. And they had just survived hurricane Irma as well but I have no idea how good or bad their stock survived that storm.

So I am doing what everybody here does: if you can’t get it here and people won’t get it for you, you find and buy it yourself in the US, send it to Miami, FL, and have it shipped here by one of the several shipping companies that visit the island at least twice week. Here’s the list of roasters that I’ve contacted and who’ve replied to me they’d be interested in selling us beans at wholesale:

I’m very excited to make a choice from these wonderful companies, their coffee descriptions online give me a lot of confidence that they are indeed “Third Wave Roasters” and take quality seriously. I still have an order coming in from Malongo that will last a while, but their orders take 2 months to fulfill and that’s simply too long. I contacted Smit & Dorlas in Curaçao but they don’t have single origin coffees, only blends – but can ship these in 2 weeks -, and blends are not what I want to serve in the Double Dutch Cafe for black coffees, if at all possible.

I will blog about the progress that I’m making in getting serious coffee to St Maarten and having people take coffee more seriously on this island. 🙂