Behind the Lens: Specialty Coffee Edition

Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Stories | One Comment

I can easily argue that coffee can and should be enjoyed all day, every day.  However, there is something truly magical (yes, magical) about waking up on a Sunday morning and enjoying your first cup of truly great coffee on your porch overlooking the snowcapped mountains during a crisp, fall day in Colorado.  I discovered my love of coffee rather late in life, at least late to me.  I was a freshman in college and my roommate got me hooked on the caffeine high that enabled me to get through the all-nighters that I had to pull.  Over the last decade, my love affair has evolved.  I no longer only enjoy the beverage for the spike in caffeine, and ensuing productivity, that it brings.  I have become a connoisseur of the taste and all the varietals that great coffee offers. Photobucket’s coffee club, as we have been deemed by those who don’t quite have the same palate that we do, is a small club of two.  Brandon and I kick start each weekday by making French press coffee.  Read along to see how each bean makes its way into our cup.

From Farm to Cup

Coffee is a seed found inside a grape-size coffee cherry. There are many varieties of coffee, but they all fall under two types: Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is considered to be less desirable due to its inherent bitterness and lack of acidity. Specialty coffee focuses on Arabica.  Its many varietals have significant effects on the taste of the coffee, with some being sweeter, floral, more complex, etc.

Coffee is an agricultural product that is primarily grown in countries near the equator that have elevations above 1000MASL (meters above sea level). The higher the altitude, the slower the growth. Altitude is typically associated with quality of the acidity in coffee, in which, the higher the better. It is vital for the quality of the coffee that only the ripest cherries are picked.  This is typically done by hand, except in Brazil where machinery is used.  Just like any other fruit, if the coffee cherry is unripe, it lacks the essential qualities that make it best. Mature coffee can be red, yellow or orange, depending on the varietal.  If super ripe, red cherries can look almost purple or cranberry in color.

Three things are considered when looking to purchase a particular coffee:

  • the altitude at which it was grown
  • the processing methods and
  • the varieties of the coffee

There are three main ways of processing coffee.  Processing coffee refers to how the fruit around the seed is separated from the seed.  The first way is known as the washed process.  Washed coffees are the most common. In this process, the fruit is removed from the seed by a ‘depulping machine’, which slices the cherry and squeezes the two seeds out. The seeds are covered by a layer called mucilage, composed of natural sugars and alcohols, which are vital for developing a quality coffee. Washed coffees are cleaned of all mucilage (by machinery or fermentation) before drying. Fermentation is done in tanks where existing bacteria breaks down the mucilage.  This process can take a few hours to a few days, depending on temperature and humidity. After all mucilage is removed, the coffee is dried.  It dries on concrete patios, on raised beds (with or without covering), or in mechanical dryers. Washed coffees are typically considered cleaner tasting than the other two process types.

The second process is the honey process, or semi-washed or pulped natural.  Honey processed coffees do not have all the mucilage removed from the bean before drying. Instead, they are dried with the mucilage still intact, resulting in a fruitier and ‘sweeter’ coffee. In fact, honey process gets its name due to the sticky nature of the mucilage.  There is no fermentation or washing with honey processed coffees before drying. In honey processed coffee, the sugars and alcohols dry into the bean, thus changing the profile of the coffee.

The third is called the full natural process, or dry process, because it doesn’t use water to wash the coffee. In this process, the entire cherry is dried around the bean until it resembles a raisin. Once the coffee has dried, the skin is removed and it is ready to be shipped. Full natural coffees typically are fruitier, heavier and possibly drier. There is a risk of rotting while drying the coffee with honey and full natural processes if the surface is uneven, there is no airflow, or the coffee is not rotated frequently. Regardless of process, only a certain amount of moisture should be removed from the coffee. If drying occurs too quickly, the beans could be damaged internally. If too slowly, they can ferment and taste funky. Once the coffee is fully dried, it is shipped with a layer called parchment to protect the beans from further drying out.

Once coffee arrives in Denver, it is stored airtight in grain pro bags or vacuum sealed bags until it is roasted. It is essential that the moisture level in the coffee does not degrade before it is roasted. When roasting coffee, you don’t want to “overcook” it so that it still has as much of its essential qualities left.  Dark roast coffee tastes more like its roast than it does the inherent character of the coffee.  On the other hand, if you under roast the coffee there can be a lack of sweetness and a vegetal note to the coffee.

Once the coffee is roasted, the fun of making amazing coffee begins! Regardless of how, it is both an art and a science to balance the coarseness/fineness of the coffee grounds, the time/duration of contact, and the temperature of the water.

History of Commonwealth

Our favorite coffee roasters are right here in Denver.  Commonwealth was founded by Jason Farrar and Ryan Fisher in Fall 2013.  The two originally met when Jason was the head roaster for the company that supplied Ryan’s café.  They both had Denver on the mind (Jason used to live here and Ryan was always up here visiting friends) and knew that Denver was a no brainer in terms of growth potential.  Since they had worked together previously, they knew they would be a good fit in terms of coffee theory and commitment.

Their company is founded on the belief that amazing coffee deserves to be shared.  Their two gifts to the people they serve?: genuine community and outstanding coffee. The name Commonwealth was born from the desire to share an amazing experience with their customers while enjoying an amazing cup of coffee.  Commonwealth’s goal is to roast every coffee bean to its fullest potential, favoring sweetness and fully developed flavors.  Their strategy has worked well for them.  Commonwealth boasts sixteen accounts in six states nationwide.  Drop in to any one of their locations and see why Commonwealth is adored, not only for their amazing and unique coffee flavors, but also for the sense of “home” and community in their ambiance.

Step by Step How to Brew with French Press

Our preferred way to brew coffee is using a French press.  For those of you not familiar with this method, follow this easy step by step how to:

  1. Start with an empty, clean French press
  2. Choose your favorite whole bean coffee (our fave is Commonwealth’s Burundi Kinyovu Micro- lot #7, lovingly deemed “Christmas in a cup”)
  3. Grind the beans and pour into the glass beaker
  4. Boil water and pour into the glass beaker until it is just under the beaker’s spout
  5. Stir
  6. Slightly submerge the plunger to ensure that all the coffee is in the water and place the lid on top of the coffee
  7. Wait 2-3 minutes to let it infuse
  8. Fully press the plunger down so that the grounds are at the bottom of the beaker
  9. Pour into your favorite coffee mug
  10. Enjoy!


What’s that you say? You don’t have anything to set your cup of coffee on without leaving those nasty coffee rings? Well, you do now! Visit the Photobucket Print Shop on Android and iOS for all products that we offer, including these nifty coasters that I created:


From our cup of specialty coffee to yours, we encourage you to start your mornings with a flavorful cup of amazing coffee that, if you are lucky, locally benefits your community as well as tickles your taste buds with a treat.

1 Comment

  1. Alan Cottee
    November 29, 2014

    I’m a lover of coffee also , even registered names and had zip lock packs designed to sell online 15 years ago but was told by everyone that selling coffee online would not work..My BIG mistake! I loved your article on coffee and its inspired me to go make one while a design a mousepad!