Our Story

Coffee is about pleasure. It’s that moment when your hand is warmed by the mug, you raise it to your nose, inhale deeply and then take a sip.

That sip is the culmination of years of work, three-thousand mile journeys, and passion. Here is how we make that sip perfect.

Tasting

While you are holding that cup of coffee, close your eyes. Open your mouth slightly. Breathe in deeply through your nose.

You are smelling the most complex thing humans consume. When people talk about the flavors of coffee — notes of orange, or hints of clove — it’s because those organic molecules are contained in the coffee bean. If a coffee reminds you of apple pie, it's because coffee shares some of the same components as food, like lactic and malic acid.

Inside that small bean are the same natural components that make flowers smell so lovely, the same ethers that let you know when a piece of fruit is ripe. Coffee has twice as much going on, molecularly speaking, as red wine.

When tasting coffee, try waiting for it to cool down a little — you’ll be able to taste (and smell) the most when it’s the same temperature as your body.

Flavor only matters in the context of you. What do you like? What does this scent remind you of? Are you looking for a full-bodied cowboy coffee, or a delicate, tea-like finish? Chocolate aromas, or hints of jasmine?

Don’t worry if you can’t describe it precisely, or have a different perception than someone else. Even when you can’t put it into words, you’ll know what you like.

You experience the full flavors of the coffee bean if and only if nothing has gone wrong during…

Roasting

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We believe that roasting should be transparent. It's our responsibility to honor the hard work already invested in the coffee by roasting it to showcase its distinctive qualities. And if you want to roast good coffee, roast coffee every day. Roast coffee for years and years. Roast coffee in a way that shows off not only the coffee that you're roasting, but the skill you have honed over your career. Your skill is like the arc of development in the belly of the roaster: each minute or experience is inextricably tied to the minute or experience before and after it. Our roasting team brings 121 collective years of roasting experience to work with them every morning. That depth of knowledge allows them to greet our long-term offerings back to the menu like welcoming an old friend: with warmth, familiarity, and a practiced eye for the nuanced ways the coffee may have changed from its last visit.

Roasting is one of the most delicate and critical parts in the chain of events leading to a good cup of coffee. We attempt to highlight what makes that particular variety or farm exciting, rather than imparting our own fingerprint. We're here to bring out the best in the coffee, and if we do our job correctly, no one should even be thinking about the roast when they drink it.

Drinking coffee is a pleasure. Coffee drinking is fun, and it feels good, and underlying all our hard work is pride in cultivating pleasure.

—Jim Kelso, Director of Quality Assurance

Sourcing

Since our beginnings, Stumptown has searched the world for the best coffee out there. That coffee grows in mountainous regions of the tropics -- farms are perched at high elevations with warm days, cool nights, distinct rainy and dry seasons. Microclimates, soil composition, coffee cultivars and post-harvest processing methods can each contribute distinct dimensions to the cup.

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Our coffee team spends about half the year in producing countries, meeting directly with our producer partners on their farms and mills and in their cupping labs. In 2019 we’re looking at 180 days on the ground in countries as distant (from us and one another) as Ethiopia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda.

The effort is worth it. We’re not doing it the easy way, buying bulk, mid-quality beans anonymously from a trading house. Instead, we go right to the source of the best coffee — that farm atop a hill in Ethiopia, for example. We hike through fields, stand along coffee drying decks, and sit down to share a meal and talk about the crop with producers we’ve met many times. We routinely pay producers well in excess of what they could receive on the commodity market, but we understand that our coffee demands more work—hand-picking each cherry at ideal ripeness and processing it with great attention to detail.

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Traveling the world to visit producers reminds us of the differences in every region, every farm, and our approach to sourcing and roasting aims to highlight and honor these distinctions. It’s humbling to be welcomed by producers with generosity and hospitality; this is also something we try to honor and reflect, in turn, to our customers.

—Shauna Alexander, Vice President of Coffee and Sustainability

Direct Trade

We're proud to have pioneered the Direct Trade model of sourcing green coffee. Since we started buying coffee directly from producers in 2002, the industry has changed dramatically and lots of other folks have adopted similar-sounding approaches. For clarity's sake, here's what we mean when we say Direct Trade.

Direct Trade is built on three principles: pay higher prices tied to quality, not the commodity market; work with producers we know, so we have transparency into their side of the supply chain and they have transparency into ours; and maintain those relationships over many years, striving to build truly collaborative partnerships. These pillars support Stumptown's vision of what a coffee experience should be, and that vision permeates every level of our business.

Price Incentives

Stumptown pays price incentives directly linked to a coffee's quality, which we determine based on the internationally accepted "Q grading" protocol, which provides a framework and transparency to both parties

Producing great coffee is expensive. We don’t take that for granted and we never expect to get great coffee on the cheap. We don’t set prices based on the “C” (commodity market) price because we don’t buy commodity coffees. We pay outright prices guaranteed across multi-year partnerships. Divorcing our decisions from the unpredictability of the commodity market allows everyone along the supply chain to focus on what’s important: producing, roasting and serving the best coffees on the planet.

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Know the Producers

From the beginning, it's been critical to us that we know where our coffee is coming from -- the farms, the people, the regions. Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson pioneered this approach in 2003, when he began our foundational direct relationship with the Aguirre family of Finca El Injerto, whose coffees are, to this day, vital and beloved menu offerings. Los Delirios (Nicaragua), El Puente (Honduras) and Bella Vista (Guatemala), and we've steadily grown our relationship network over the last fifteen years. Every region and producer is different; when many producers come together to form a community lot, as in the case of farmer associations, we negotiate with a representative of the producer group; such is the case with perennials Colombia El Jordan and Ethiopia Mordecofe. This level of transparency allows us to negotiate pricing, whenever possible, directly with producers. And in all cases, our coffee team aims to visit the producers every year to walk the farms, choose the lots, and focus on our common goal: high quality, delicious coffee.

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Long Term Relationships

Direct Trade is also our way of saying “we’re in it for the long run.” We don’t call a coffee Direct Trade until we have sourced it for at least three consecutive years with the intention to continue purchasing from that producer.

In 2019, 91% of all the coffees Stumptown purchased were from relationships where we’d sourced coffee for three or more consecutive years.

We invest in relationships with suppliers who produce exquisite coffees. We both get better results as we invest and grow together over many years.

Producers & Processing

We don’t call them farmers, we call them producers, which gives credit to the fact that they are production experts. They are the ones who make this coffee great. They are the ones who are like-minded, who go the extra mile for quality.

Producers are the heart of what makes great coffee.

Their skills, expertise and craftsmanship is the difference between mediocre coffee and coffee that is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. The coffee will never get any better in quality once it lands in our hands, after all. We rely on the producers for that pristine bean. A good roaster works tirelessly to preserve that coffee’s inherent greatness.

The producers grow the coffee trees. They pick the cherry when it is perfectly ripe. They remove the outer fruit, leaving just the bean covered in a thin parchment. They rest the beans, let the beans develop into their full selves.

Everyone on this page does something slightly different — he may tend a small patch of coffee trees on the farm he inherited from his grandmother; she may oversee the cherry soaking in a big tank of water, fermenting at just the right rate.

They live on four continents. They speak at least 30 different languages. Some use traditional methods that are centuries old; some have taken out four-year loans to get that new top-of-the-line piece of equipment that will lead to a greater, cleaner cup.

It’s not the easy way. It’s not the fast way. It’s the right way, and it creates the best coffee possible.

Varieties

Coffee is a tree, and you probably prefer one branch to another, even if you don't know it yet.

There isn’t one kind of coffee, there’s a coffee family tree.

 For hundreds of years, humans have been cultivating, hybridizing and perfecting it, and today there are hundreds of types, or varieties.

The variety of coffee tree matters—or at least, it usually does. Just as different types of grapes yield different wines, the variety of the bean can have a profound impact on the finished cup. 



There are hundreds of varieties, and we’ve chosen roughly a dozen that we find truly special. But here are the first ones you should know.

Bourbon

So sweet, so complex and so delicate, this is the pinot noir of coffee. The plants are fragile and don’t produce as much cherry as some other varieties, but they’re worth the effort. A cup of Bourbon-type variety is lush and classic. It’s the coffee of coffee. It charms the snob and the rookie alike. And no, it has nothing to do with the delicious brown adult beverage, though we at Stumptown are big fans of that kind of bourbon, too.

Related: SL28, Tekisik, SL34, Villa Sarchi, Caturra, Colombia, Castillo, Catimor, Maracatu, Catuai

Villalobos

This is an offshoot of the Typica family, which is delicate, floral, at times even citrusy. This variety was brought to Indonesia in the late 1600s by Dutch traders. We love it for its nuances and high, fine acidity. Villalobos in particular brings strong flavors of stone fruits like apricots, peaches and plums.

Related: Jember, Pacamara

Ethiopian Heirloom

The beauty of these is in their mystery. They are the wildflower varieties, descended from the natural coffee forests of southwestern Ethiopia. Each village has its own variety, handed down over centuries and shaped by the soil, elevation and weather.

Related: All of them, really but these in particular: Typica, Gesha

Gesha

Think of Gesha as coffee from an alternate dimension. It's like a Szechuan peppercorn, or the Sun Ra Arkestra, complex and otherworldly. It’s as far as it could be from diner coffee, a delicate, black-tea body, with a zest of bergamot. Gesha is picky—it will only grow when, where and how it wants, in tiny microclimates. But whether you grow it in Indonesia or the Americas, it is always thoroughly itself.

Related: Nothing. It’s in its own orbit.

Which, finally, brings us to the very beginnings of coffee…

History

Ten thousand years ago, the Coffea trees grew wild and tangly on the mountain slopes of southwestern Ethiopia.

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There, you can still find people performing traditional coffee ceremonies many times a day—one woman will prepare it for the circle of her friends and family who stand around her. She roasts it in a pan, grinds it, pours hot water over it, serves it in the predetermined social order.

The Dutch traders, enamored of this tradition, brought cuttings of the plants to Indonesia. French missionaries, who also saw the beauty in this hot, euphoric brew, spread it throughout Africa and across the sea to the Americas.

Today, coffee trees are cultivated in every hemisphere on four continents. In 70 countries, you will find those shrubs and their cherry. You’ll also find the farmers who tend them, the pickers who select them, the processors who obsessively convert fruit to bean. You’ll find the roasters who delicately transform them, and you’ll find the coffee drinkers.

You’ll find the earliest riser in the backpacking crew that stokes the fire and sets the water on to boil. You’ll find the barista who pulls the first shot of the morning for the go-getter. You’ll find the group of 70-year-old men in the diner at 6 a.m., spending hours discussing the issues of the day over their bottomless cups.

Drinking coffee is a pleasure. Coffee drinking is fun, and it feels good, and every once in awhile I remember that we’re actually cultivating pleasure. Why do you put anything in your mouth? Because it’s delicious.”

—Jim Kelso, Quality Assurance, Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Everything that came before—the shrubs, the farmer, the journey across the sea, the hybrids and the mutations—is for this moment. Because the only thing required for the smallest, quietest and most personal of coffee ceremonies are some good beans and a way to brew.

You’ll hold that mug possessively. You’ll inhale deeply. And then you drink.

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