Local Coffee Crafters Explain What Makes Their Grinds Distinctive
By Brad Goins
A journalist can easily delude himself into thinking that because he works at a magazine he’s somehow at the center of things and knows just what’s going on in town.
Let’s take an example. A few weeks back, I was reading a newsletter from the Convention and Visitors Bureau that mentioned a local company called Acadian Coffee Roasters. “A new business!” I thought. If I moved fast, I might be able to scoop the other media in covering these entrepreneurs who were fresh on my scene. I went straight over to the Acadian Coffee Roasters office at 2908 Hodges St.
When I arrived, imagine my surprise at learning that the company had been in business nearly four years. The office was small and far from the beaten path. Still, I was a little surprised that I didn’t seem to have been aware of it.
“How do you advertise a wholesale roaster?” co-owner and Lake Charles native Nancy Holmes asked me. I could see her quandary. Very few in the media-viewing public are out to buy coffee in bulk. I thought, perhaps, that the best thing was to try to extend the presence of the coffee in the local area. And believe me, the co-owners of Acadian Coffee have been working hard to do just that. (I’ll give you the details in just a minute.)
Acadian is a specialty coffee roaster. This means that the coffee — all of which they roast themselves — is graded at an 80 percent or higher rate by a sommelier who’s been certified to grade coffee.
The company is also a USDA organic certified coffee roaster. There are no man-made chemicals in any Acadian coffees. To take an example, most decaffeinated coffee is produced by means of the chemical methyl chloride. In contrast, Acadian’s coffee is rendered caffeine-free with either Swiss or mountain water. (Methyl chloride is listed as a possible carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute. It is nevertheless used to make decaffeinated coffee because it shows up in the coffee in amounts that FDA regulations state are safe for human consumption. A Wikipedia entry on methyl chloride that probably needs to be updated states that the chemical compound “is no longer present in consumer products … due to concerns about its toxicity.” Regardless of all this, the brand name decaf coffees you buy in the store are very likely perfectly safe. But they are a good example of why some members of the public want to go organic.)
Acadian Coffee remains a certified organic product by means of an annual inspection by a USDA agent specializing in organic coffee. (Holmes notes that some food and drink makers put the USDA logo on the front of their packages in spite of the fact that they are not inspected. That is illegal, and there’s a very steep fine if one gets caught doing it. Holmes showed me how to clear up any doubts about whether a product is really USDA-inspected. Turn over the package and look at the bottom. Along the left hand side, in small lettering, will be the words “Certified by” followed by a list of a few letters or numbers that indicate who the inspector was. At the very bottom, also in small type, there will be a tracking number. If those things aren’t there, someone’s hustling you.)
The Local Picture
The fact that the Acadian coffee product is “organic and fresh” is what sets it apart from popular coffees, says Holmes.
In Southwest Louisiana, Acadian sells its coffees to grocery stores (including the CajunGypsy Corner Market), restaurants and coffee shops. Acadian Coffee can also be seen at the Tuesday farmer’s market.
Acadian coffee can be found at such places as Luna’s, The Bekery, Main Squeeze and Embers. When Chef Lyle Broussard of L’Auberge’s Jack Daniel’s Bar and Grill presented southwest Louisiana food at a 2017 event in New York City, he used Acadian coffee as a rub for the steaks, then served the brewed coffee with dessert.
At Crying Eagle Brewing Co., the business’ coffee can be tasted in the Acadian Coffee Common and the Acadian Coffee Porter, which is soon to be canned.
At Pops and Rockets, the To Brew Or Not To Brew ice cream is made with an Acadian coffee that has a chocolate and raspberry flavor.
Acadian has developed three blends for a new “metro city” men’s boutique in Lake Charles called Iron Shop Provisions. In the front of the enterprise are the styles; in the back are honest-to-goodness metalworks made out of a variety of metals. Two of the specially made Acadian blends are named Blacksmith and Morning Forge.
“We’re crafters, really,” says Holmes. She says Acadian Coffee is part of an SWLA “movement of crafters” that includes such enterprises as Crying Eagle or Sulphur’s Yellowfin Vodka. Lake Charles, she says, is starting to get the sort of small-scale in-house food and drink makers that have traditionally been found in such places as New Orleans or Austin or Lafayette.
The Inside Buzz On The Coffee Bean
It was stated earlier that in order to be considered a specialty coffee, Acadian Coffee needs to score above 80 percent.
What can get a coffee a low score? One thing is a bad bean. Beans that are unripe, withered, chipped or infested or eaten by insects are bound for a low score.
What creates beans of high quality? The soil in which the bean is grown, the farming techniques used, the amount of rain the bean receives and the coffee tree’s environment all play a part. “Elevation makes a very big difference,” says Holmes. The higher the land on which the bean grows, the harder the bean will be.
Coffee can only be grown in the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn; in other words, the range between latitudes 1,000 miles north and 1,000 miles south of the equator. This area is called the “coffee belt.” It’s easy to see the importance of such matters as elevation and rainfall, as this is a part of the earth that contains everything from lifeless deserts to towering mountains to rain forests.
The size of the coffee bean is an important factor. The bigger the size, the better the bean. The size of beans is graded by sending them through a sieve.
Healthy beans of various types look very similar to the layman’s eye. Although coffee beans exist in various shades of green before they’re roasted, they grow on trees in bright red pods that look similar to cherries. As the pod ripens, the tree produces “beautiful” flowers that are like Jasmine, says Holmes.
Each pod contains two coffee beans (that is, two seeds of the coffee tree).
All the coffee beans Acadiana buys are arabica. Arabica beans are the source of 60 percent of the world’s coffee. The coffee was first cultivated in Ethiopia many centuries ago, but is now grown in such far-flung locations as Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica and Costa Rica. It can tolerate cold temperatures, but frost kills it. It takes seven years to grow to maturity and requires 50 inches of rain each year. Although the coffee can be grown as low as sea level, the fact that it is usually grown at high levels accounts for its being called the “mountain coffee.”
Beans from a variety of sellers arrive at Acadian in large burlap sacks stamped with the seller’s (usually colorful) logo. Acadian inspects the beans; gives beans the type of roast that is desired; then gives the roasted beans the sort of grind that is desired.
The final step in the evaluation of coffee is the cupping of coffee. After the beans have been roasted and ground by Acadian, some of the grind will be mixed with a little water in a cup. After evaluating the smell, the taster will try to get a sense of the coffee’s initial taste, mouth feel and body.
The initial taste can vary dramatically from the finish. A coffee may start off with a mild licorice flavor, or a sense of being thin or having the presence of tannin; it may then wind up with a taste that’s smooth or acidic or has some other dominant quality.
If it sounds like the process for evaluating coffee is complicated, that’s because it is. Indeed, Holmes thinks the cupping of coffee is more complex than the traditional procedures for the tasting and evaluation of wine.
Acadian Coffee is gradually moving far beyond the specially roasted coffee put in a specially designed bag. For example, the company is in the process of making nitro coffee. This is a cold-brewed coffee that’s infused with nitrogen. The result is a liquid that pours like Guinness and produces a big head. But there’s no alcohol in it.
Co-owner Nancy Kirby may seem like something of a silent partner in this article, as her colleague does most of the talking. But Kirby has a big role because she handles the graphics for the company.
One of Acadian’s big enterprises is to make private blends with private labels for events, showers, reunions, and any sorts of business meetings. Labelled packages of any size can be made as keepsakes for participants. Kirby’s job is to realize the graphic design these clients have in mind for their particular project and put it in into final form.
Watching The Market With An Eye For The Long Term
As my interview drew to a close, Holmes and Kirby directed me to the front office, where the company displays the coffee made expressly for Acadian. I was going to be offered a sample bag, and was asked what sort of coffee I liked. I simply said, “strong.”
“Well, what do you mean by strong?” asked Holmes. I responded, “Let’s say, something that gives me a buzz.” Holmes then explained that most people feel that a strong coffee is one that has a rich, powerful, biting taste with a bit of a zing. But in fact, the lighter a coffee’s roast, the higher its caffeine content will be. So if it’s a buzz you’re after, drink the coffee that doesn’t taste “strong.”
Acadian Coffee is successful, says Holmes. “We’re growing. We’re doing well. We’re looking to partner up with other crafters.”
The company is also planning to open its own coffee shop in the booming southern part of Lake Charles. This plan is still some months down the line.
The potential for continued success should be there. Holmes says that after oil, coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world. “We watch the market every day.” They’re also watching for entrepreneurs who recognize the value of a carefully and creatively crafted local coffee.