Kansas City and St. Louis may not be on your mind as must visit cities for coffee, but our new Featured Roaster will change your mind. Opening their doors in 1994 in St. Louis, presently with locations in Kansas City and Columbia, OH as well, is Palace's newest partner in coffee, Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Company. Patrick and I have had the opportunity to meet so many great people in the coffee industy and the guys and gals from Missouri are some of the best. In fact, on Palace's trip to St. Louis for America's Best Coffeehouse, our first stop was Kaldi's where the coffee and the company were truly memorable. From there, we have hung out and competed against the Kaldi's crew at numerous competitions. It is from these encounters that we were able to build a relationship and say that we are proud to bring Kaldi's amazing coffee to Palace's bar.
As a company Kaldi's has had many successes. They have been around since 1994 and have been growing ever since. Their success and growth has not deterred from their quality, however. Kaldi's recently won the Good Food Awards, of which they were a finalist the previous two years, and in 2012 was named one of America's Best Coffee Bars in Food and Wine Magazine.
One of the reasons for Kaldi's success is the passionate people they have behind them. For our interview today we are featuring Tony Auger. Tony is a roaster and quality assurance manager for Kaldi's. I have had the opportunity to get to know Tony over the past two years at the Big Central where he has competed in the Brewer's Cup. This year Tony placed first in the Big Central Brewer's Cup and last year he came in third at the national level. Needless to say, the guy knows how to make delicious coffee.
Tell us a little bit about your career in coffee.
I kind of fell into specialty coffee as a career. My hometown of Haverhill is a half hour north of Boston, MA. There, an extra-large-iced-French-Vanilla-extra-extra (that's with 4 creams, 4 sugars for those who don't speak Northeast Dunkin Donuts) gave me enough caffeine and sugar to barely stay awake at high school.
When I went to college in Boston I began to get an introduction to tasting coffee. I worked in a small coffee shop there, but it definitely wasn’t specialty coffee. Everything was pretty dark roasted and there was zero care when it came to creating a quality product. I didn't get interested in specialty coffee until I moved from Boston to St. Louis, and it totally happened by accident or fate depending on how you look at it.
I started visiting one of Kaldi's cafes and quickly became an everyday customer. One morning an employee suggested I try a pour over instead of my usual. He told me that the upgrade was on the house as long as I tried the coffee without my normal cream and sugar. Supposedly, if he did his job right, it would be sweet and smooth enough on its own. I was game, and watched as he casually but proficiently made me a Beehouse of Kaldi's Colombia Narino. He explained what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how it all would affect the coffee's final taste. When he was done with the pour over, he told me a little about the community in Narino that Kaldi's buys from and what I should be looking for in the cup. I thanked him and walked to my seat.
When I sat down, I took one sip and felt my life change. The body smoothly coated my entire palate. It was sweet like caramel, and I could even detect citrus notes with hints of floral tobacco. I was impressed by the product of such a small community that Kaldi’s had a relationship with. And right then, I knew that I had never before experienced coffee how it could be, and I was certain that there was no going back. I was so captivated with the coffee at Kaldi's that I applied to work there in order to be around the coffee as much as I could. Over the course of two years I went from working part time in the café, to full time in the café, and then was fortunate enough to be offered a roasting position.
However, I loved coffee so much, I couldn't slow down when I finally got the roasting position I desired! I pushed myself more, continued to learn and grow as a roaster. I started attending and competing in Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Coffee Championships where I've been lucky enough to place very well in everything I've competed in so far. Last year (2014 season) I placed 2nd in the South Central Brewers Cup, 2nd in the United States Roaster's Choice and 3rd in the United States Brewers Cup. More recently this year I placed 1st in the South Central Brewers Cup. I've also taken on more responsibilities with Kaldi's by creating profiles, sample roasting, leading cuppings and heading our Quality Assurance initiative.
Tell us about your company
Kaldi’s Coffee first opened it’s doors in 1994 and was the first specialty coffee roaster in St. Louis. Very early on the company took the approach of sustainably sourcing some of the best coffees available to us. And since we are sourcing some amazing coffees with unique stories, our roasting philosophy has always been searching for balance. I like to refer to it as the “Goldilocks” approach; not too dark, not too light, but just right!
We also have a constantly growing line of Kaldi’s Relationship Coffees that we take great pride in. In order for a coffee to be labeled as one of our Relationship Coffees it must meet strenuous premium quality requirements. The coffee producers must also commit to quality driven practices while also using farming practices that preserve and protect the environment. If these requirements are met, we then routinely visit the farm while keeping an open and honest dialogue with the producers, exporters and importers of the coffee. We also commit to paying a premium price for everyone commitmed to creating a premium product. This means that we pay at at least 15% higher than Fair Trade minimum pricing.
Our dedication to quality comes through in everything we do, whether it’s traveling to far-away coffee farms, winning barista competitions, volunteering with the SCAA, hand-roasting and hand-brewing coffee, sharing knowledge or supporting the communities we’re a part of. People have really taken to our dedication too, since 1994 we’ve grown to 13 cafes across Missouri and we’re moving into a roasting facility this March that will triple the size of our current facility.
How did you get into roasting?
I quickly started to get obsessed with coffee during my first few months of employment at Kaldi’s. It was like I couldn’t get enough of it, and I wanted to try all the coffee I could. I think I drank more fluid ounces of coffee back then compared to today, and a lot of my job today is cupping coffees! However I really believed it helped tremendously with rapidly developing my coffee palate. My cafe’s General Manager noticed all of this and when a roasting position opened up in the company he put my name in for me and gave me a great reference. I ended up losing out on the job the first time around but it just made me work harder and push to learn more. A year later another opening came up and I jumped on it. Being persistent worked and I was offered a roasting position with Kaldi’s.
What is your philosophy on coffee?
I think coffee is arguably the agricultural product that touches more lives than any other in the world. It’s such a beautifully complex beverage that has shaped entire cultures, borders and individual lives. And yet most of that coffee supply chain is severely underpaid, so I believe as coffee professionals we need to showcase the fruit of so many people’s labor to the absolute best of our ability. We should be constantly educating ourselves to be able to showcase the coffee even better! Whether it’s roasting the coffee, preparing it for consumption, telling the coffee producer’s story or committing to more sustainable business practices, we need to ensure that the coffee consumer sees the reasons why we do what we do.
Is there any one coffee or region you love the most/is most memorable for you?
It’s constantly changing, but right now I’d take a solid Guatemalan or Mexican coffee over a high scoring African coffee. I just love the subtle complexities found in these Central American coffees. They are also super fun to roast because they take a little coaxing to get those subtle complexities to shine through. They keep me on my toes and I love that!
Kaldi's just won an award at the Good Food Awards. Can you tell us a little bit about the GFAs and how you won.
The Good Food Awards celebrates people and organizations who push their industries towards craftsmanship and sustainability. This was the fifth year they’ve held the awards and there ended up being 1,462 entrants. The coffee category selects winners by using 5 committee members to comb through a company’s business practices and the coffee producer’s sustainable practices. Then 9 expert judges participate in a blind cupping of all the coffees.
We’ve been a finalist twice before but this was the first year that we have won. This year we submitted our Ethiopia Dama Cooperative which is Fair Trade Organic certified. It’s the fourth time we’ve purchased coffee from the Dama Cooperative since visiting there in 2009. This year we were actually able to purchase both a Dry Process and a Washed Process coffee from the Dama Cooperative. We submitted the Washed Process version after I did a long weekend of roast profiling on them both.
What hobby/interest do you have outside of coffee?
Wait, there’s life outside of coffee?! Ha! Well, I play music in a few bands. I also write poetry and short stories. I really enjoy developing my palate in other categories too like food, beer, wine, spirits, ect. I love traveling, exploring, hiking, and spending time in nature.
We will continue to serve Kaldi's coffee for the rest of this month and we will definitely have them back in the future. Right now we are serving their Fair Trade Congo Muungano from the South Kivu region of Congo. It is a washed process coffee made up of 100% Bourbon varietal. Sweet and clean, flavors of black tea, spices, and dried fruits abound in the cup. Come try it on aeropress at both Palace locations or take a bag home to enjoy anytime. If you can not make it by to try out this amazing coffee, do not worry, we will have Kaldi's on bar for the rest of the month.