Finding the best coffees from around the world starts with taste

How do you find the best coffees in the world? It’s a huge task for any coffee roasting company and is something Kaldi’s prides itself on being one of the best at.

Knowing how and why you taste when drinking coffee is large part of that equation. I took a moment to talk with Kaldi’s green coffee buyer, Tyler Zimmer, about how he does that.

The world produces about 18 trillion pounds of coffee a year. Picking through the bad beans to find excellent coffees from around the world requires a highly developed palate. Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. roasted 550,000 pounds of coffee last year, all of which was specialty coffee, a designation given to only 3-7% of all coffee produced.

Kaldi’s green coffee buyer Tyler Zimmer recently completed Q gradercertification to become St. Louis’ only Q grader. Tyler’s Q grader certification allows Kaldi’s to further develop direct relationships with farmers focusing on the quality of the coffee they produce.

“The reason I wanted to get the certification is to improve my cupping skills,” said Zimmer.

The Q Coffee System, developed by the non-profit Coffee Quality Institute, locates specialty coffees at origin and helps to improve those that have the potential to meet specialty standards 

Every coffee that Kaldi’s sources go through a very technical evaluation scoring process. Coffees are given a score across various categories by cupping, or tasting each coffee after roasting.

“Nobody else does this level of evaluating in St. Louis at all,” said Zimmer. “We’ll cup a coffee when we visit the producers at the country of origin, again when it’s imported into the US, and then again at St. Louis when it arrives to make sure the quality was maintained at each level.“

The Q grader certification process gives a unique opportunity for coffee buyers to cup coffees with other buyers and cuppers from around the world.

“When you really learn a lot is cupping with other experienced cuppers and getting to ask, ‘What are you tasting in this? What do I taste in this and why?’ said Zimmer 

The real purpose of the Q system and Q grader certification is when buying and selecting coffee.

For a coffee to be considered “specialty coffee” it needs to score an 80 or higher on a 100 point scale.

“It’s unusual for a coffee to be rated in the 90s,” said Zimmer.

Kaldi’s current World Tour rates as an 89 point coffee through our evaluation. Kaldi’s single origin coffees require an 85 or higher point ranking.

“Say we don’t like a coffee, we then give feedback to the producer based on how it scores following the Q system grading and list why this won’t work for us. The coffee may not be worth what producers or the exporter say it might be because it doesn’t grade at a certain level.”

Kaldi’s maintains direct relationships with coffee farmers that produce coffee for Kaldi’s around the world.  Coffees that are the products of these relationships are designated as Kaldi’s Relationship Coffees.

Building on the success and wisdom of the Fair Trade Certified, Kaldi’s Relationship Coffees provide even greater transparency into the otherwise complex coffee transaction chain – from coffee grower to coffee lover.

The Q system allows for a consistent scoring standard to use when grading coffee at transaction chain points.

“That’s the key to the whole chain and how transparency with relationships work. If you cup an 87 point cup coffee at origin and then receive it in St. Louis and it cups as an 83, that’s a huge difference in quality,” said Zimmer