The Artisanship of Coffee

A critical piece of H.C. Valentine’s history was the decision it should have its own plant, separate from Royal Cup and designed exclusively for custom, high-touch, small-batch roasts—some proprietary to H.C. Valentine and many designed exclusively for H.C. Valentine customers.

With the state-of-the-art, micro-roasting facility in place, the hands-on, intuitive artistry of producing gourmet-roasted coffee begins, first and foremost, with the rawest of ingredients, the green coffee bean. “If the beans aren’t good to start with, I can’t just wave a magic wand and make them into top-notch coffee,” Stacy explains.

To that end, Product Development Manager David Strahl says the company’s standards are exacting. The coffee beans come from what is known as the ‘Coffee Belt’ between the tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn, where the climate is ideal for coffee to be grown. “We only use beans among the top two percent of the best-graded, high-grown coffees,” David explains. “These are typically grown between four and seven thousand feet above sea level. In higher elevations, the coffee beans ripen more slowly, resulting in higher quality.”

David says the goal at H.C. Valentine is clear—to create the best tasting coffee possible. “To achieve that, it’s all about the art of blending after roasting. That enables us to perfect the optimal taste profile for every individual origin of coffee we have at H.C. Valentine.”

When it comes to the delicate roasting’s equal parts science, art and intuition. Stacy says the key is knowing what characteristics are locked away inside in order to coax the desired flavors out—and then going through a trial-and-error using small batches until he and the customer have found the sublime result they are aiming for. “It’s not like an oven where you just set a time and temperature. With a roaster, you’re constantly changing the amount of heat being applied to the coffee, and different coffees need to be roasted in different ways to get the best out of them.”

Next, they put the same care into courting clients that goes into the making of the coffee itself.  “We set out across the United States and did countless taste comparisons with the current coffee being served at the finest resorts and white-tablecloth establishments,” David says, “and started winning business all over the country.”

When a coffee is developed for the exclusive use of a specific chef or dining establishments, Stacy and David have had the privilege of working with some of the best chefs in the industry, including Frank Stitt, the renowned chef/owner of Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega Restaurant and Café, and Chez Fon Fon, who was the very first customer of H.C. Valentine. Director of Operations Kevin Boughner describes it as a collaborative process in which the H.C. Valentine staff begins with asking an almost inexhaustible series of questions before the first bean is even plucked. “We have a discussion about the story of the coffee, why profiles are developed the way they were, the menu planned, even the season and weather in which the coffee will be served,” Kevin explains.

With a roast profile finally established, it goes back to trial, error, and adjustment until the customer is fully satisfied with the final product. It can be like striking gold on the first try or going through batch after batch to get it right…but Stacy has the patience that all artistry requires, whether it’s a breathtaking museum piece or the unmistakable aroma of a blend the chef has always dreamed of serving.