Relationships make great coffee. From the farmers, to the roasters, specialty coffee folk speak reverently of relationship coffee, emphasizing the bonds that bring us closer to the origins of coffee. But there are relationships on the other side of the coffee economy, closer to the point of consumption. But once a coffee has reached our roasting facility the number of people directly engaged in fashioning a finished product—say, a new blend or a roast profile for instance—is limited. Most of our customers, as they come to understand more of the labor that goes into roasting, profiling, and blending, are satisfied to choose from the coffees on a cupping table. We seek out—and work best—with partners who are as dedicated to their crafts as we are to our coffees. And they treat our, now their, coffee the way they treat everything else on their menus. But now and then a special customer comes along who wants to go deeper into the process with us.
Our friends at Table on Ten in Bloomville, NY—who seem to have direct lines of communication not just with their local producers, but with the produce itself—are one team for whom buying great coffees was not enough. They expressed to us their desire to be more involved in the production of the coffee they feature in their cafe. And not just for themselves—they wanted the opportunity to involve their local community in the process, to get the whole town together to create a blend. We were admittedly scratching our heads at the prospect of formally presenting, judging, soliciting and recording public feedback on the half-dozen coffees being considered for a Table on Ten blend. Such exercises are usually conducted at the roastery or in our training lab, so we were a bit out of our comfort zone, but excited about the adventure nonetheless.
So, one Saturday in early October, Teresa von Fuchs and I drove out of Manhattan and north into the western Catskills, nervous, excited and uncertain about what we were getting into. Neither of us had been to Bloomville before. But what we walked into that night was one of the most immediately familiar and welcoming communities either of us have had the good fortune to be introduced to. We were greeted warmly as “the coffee people” about whom Inez and Julian had told them so much. We never expected our presence to be so celebrated as it was that weekend in Bloomville. We sat down to a dizzying array of five or six pizzas, each a different recipe, and each incredibly delicious. We shared our table with Julian’s neighbors Cay Sophie and Christian, and it wasn’t until the end of the meal that we realized Cay Sophie and Christian would also be our hosts for the night, after taking us to a bonfire, where we met more travelers who were also in the process of falling in love with this place.
Bewildered as we were by the welcome we received and by the wonderful sense of community crowded into this unassuming house on the side the road, we very quickly began to make sense of what Table on Ten was looking for when they asked if we’d help them and their town create their own coffee blend.
In the morning we set up on a table taking up much of of the microshop/cafe and began brewing. Table on Ten’s only criteria for coffees to be considered were that they come from producers with whom we have strong relationships, and that their town tended to favor darker roasts, which reminded Inez of the coffees she grew up on. We had three coffees roasted with two different profiles and we brewed up batches of all six for any and all who ventured to taste.
There were lots of opinions and votes and tasting notes and smells and stories of coffees shared and loved and longed for. There was a whole family who came in for breakfast after celebrating a son’s wedding the night before. There was a couple visiting from Holland. There were quite a few folks from the city who swore they’d have to move to Bloomville after spending a weekend in its thrall. After all the votes were tallied (maybe we weighted Inez and the Table’s teams input a little heavier…) we blended the remaining small bags of coffee and A3 blend was born.
After much cleaning and shaking of hands, we set back out on the road. With tummies stuffed full of pizza, made from scratch, with ingredients grown by friends and family, baked in an oven built by hand, off tables made from the woods and falling-down barns nearby–we understood the meaning of relationships and local production to the very heart of the cafe, and were proud that our coffee had the extra touch of relationship-building tucked inside. In Bloomville we were reminded of the other beautiful of face of relationship coffee. For this and all our relationships in coffee, we are grateful to no end.