From store-bought brands like Folger’s and Yuban to the hotly debated civet beans, which are collected from feces, coffee varies as wildly as the people who drink it.
The key to providing consistency, however, lies in the data, H+S Roasters owner Coulter Sunderman said.
“We keep a log of every single roast in a program called Cropster,” Sunderman explained, pointing to a colorful graph on his computer screen. “The data comes out of the roaster, passes through a bridge and is translated to a USB signal. With all this data, we can really dig into each roast, compare multiple roasts and determine if a problem in a particular roast is a coffee issue or a mechanical problem.”
Inside the H+S roasting room, the air was warm and bursting with coffee aromas, a stark contrast to Sunderman’s frigid, scentless freight processing room just outside the door. White and welcoming, the enclosure, with its stainless steel countertops, could have been a dentist’s office or hospital waiting room were it not for the massive, cherry red machine dominating the center of the space.
With wooden handles, a burnished steel face and decorative red casing, Sunderman’s coffee roaster looked like an oversized kitchen appliance from a 1950’s “Good Housekeeping” magazine ad.
“We roast all our coffees based on a data profile,” Sunderman said. “We try to find the best taste for the coffee through green testing and feedback from the roaster.”
The machine collects data from the roasting process via thermocouples and internal sensors, he said, allowing Sunderman to replicate a consistent flavor throughout hundreds of bags of coffee.
“It’s made me a really good roaster — paying attention to the different phases of the roast,” Sunderman said. “This gives us objective and empirical data that can tell us what happened during the roasting, but the end point is our palettes.”
Cup o’ Joe
Born and raised in Cheyenne, Sunderman moved to Denver after high school, but after a stint in the big city, he said he found himself yearning for Wyoming’s wide open spaces.
“I thought I was going to be a big city kid, big city artist and do graphic design my own way,” Sunderman explained. “But I came to Laramie to visit a friend of mine, and I hadn’t been in Laramie for about 10 years, but something about it was really warm and approachable.”
About 5 years ago, he founded H+S, but Sunderman’s love for coffee was instilled at a much younger age.“In high school, I used to drink coffee at night, then do my cramming,” he said. “It had this effect — my words were better, my sentences more descriptive. It made me a better writer for the big papers and essays I needed to complete.”
Years later, Sunderman would experience his first cupping, the process of testing of a roast by pouring hot water into a cup with dry coffee beans.
“The first time I cupped coffee like this, there was a natural-processed Ethiopian on the table,” he said. “It tasted and smelled like blueberries, and that was sort of the thing that got me into coffee.”
Setting out 5 cups on a testing table in the roast room, Sunderman demonstrated the cupping process.
“We do it the same every time,” he explained “The way we stay in tune is by not deviating from the standards we set up.”
H+S based their cupping standards on water-to-coffee ratios created for coffee extraction by the Specialty Coffee Association in the 60s. As he poured the hot water over the beans, carbon dioxide bubbles rose to the top of the liquid, forming a creamy froth.
“Coffee tastes way different up here and we have to go about it a whole different way to make our coffee taste good,” Sunderman said. “Altitude and our water composition — we have really hard water up here — affect the amount of information that comes out of the coffee.”
After spooning away the froth, Sunderman slurped samples from the cups, noting the difference in “information” his tongue and nose collected from each roast.
“I will actually construct water using distilled water and minerals to sort of emulate water you would taste in Portland, (Oregon),” he said, moving down the line of cups.
“That way we can get an idea what the coffee will taste like outside of Laramie as well as inside. We try to strike a balance to be appealing to both demographics.”
By refining his roasts through data collection and regular cupping, Sunderman’s roasts have gained notoriety nationwide.
In September, H+S won eleven awards — four silver medals and seven bronze — at the Golden Bean, the largest coffee roasting competition in the U.S.
“Golden Bean is a competition that’s all about the coffee,” Sunderman said. “We’ve done it three years now, and this is the North American branch of the tournament. They do one in Australia and one in Europe as well.”
The H+S breakout winner this year was Ethiopia Kossa Geshe, which won three silver medals and one bronze.
“Kossa’s story is one we like to reflect in our business,” Sunderman said. “The first year we bought it, we bought it because it was an excellent coffee that had a lot of quality in it.”
Sunderman discovered Kossa Geshe through the coffee importer Crop to Cup. While the importer provided several options for quality coffee, Sunderman said he was most impressed by the social audits conducted by the company. Instead of simply purchasing from suppliers, Crop to Cup suggested ways suppliers could improve working conditions for their employees and quality-of-life improvements for the communities providing the workers.
“Each year we’re buying more of this excellent coffee, so it’s helping us, we’re growing with the coffee and the community is benefiting,” Sunderman said. “This is the cycle and story that is emblematic of our work. We want to lift all people people up.”
H+S Roaster’s coffee is sold at several locations around Laramie and shipped across the globe. Go to www.hscoffeeroasters.com to learn more about where to buy the coffee.