“Always Smooth, Never Bitter” isn’t just a slogan here at Cameron’s Coffee. It’s how we do things every day and with every batch. Coffee that’s always smooth is no accident.
Cameron’s Always Smooth, Never Bitter coffee starts with Bill Kirkpatrick, our coffee buyer. Bill travels the world looking for the perfect coffee beans and buying only those that meet his exacting specifications. Bill was the owner and CEO of Cameron’s Coffee until retiring from that role a couple years ago. But he’s been buying coffee since he bought the company in 1993 and continues to do so today.
“Coffee is like a musical instrument,” Bill says. “Every coffee has unique flavor characteristics.” Sometimes he chooses a single variety from a single location for a single origin coffee. Other times he’s planning to blend the characteristics of one coffee with those of one or more other coffees to create the specific flavor profile he’s looking for. “It’s like blending multiple musical instruments into a beautiful symphony. Each coffee, like each instrument, has its specific role to play.”
Bill makes several trips every year to different parts of the globe to personally meet farmers and sellers, and to taste the coffees he’s interested in (called “cupping” in the coffee world). “These aren’t always easy trips,” Bill reports. “Some trips require up to six different flights and then a 10-hour truck ride just to get to the location I’m interested in.” Once there, Bill usually knows what he’s looking for. He may cup 25 to 30 samples in a day, then narrow down to one or two that meet his exacting demands for flavor.
But he also has other reasons for visiting these remote locations. “I’m looking for quality coffee, sure. But I’m also assessing working conditions to be sure the laborers have access to good food and clean living arrangements, as well as schools for their kids.” Bill also wants to make sure they have earth-friendly practices related to handling water and re-using the pulp from the coffee cherries, and whether the coffee has the right level of shade from native trees to promote healthy wildlife populations. “Plus, too much sun directly on coffee trees can create bitter taste,” Bill says. “If I don’t see the conditions I’m looking for, I’ll take our business elsewhere.”
“In such a large industry, buying coffee is more about relationships than one might imagine,” Bill says. Bill has known many of his trading partners for many years, and frequently relies on them to provide what he’s looking for year after year. “We’re not looking to buy just any coffee. I could use my telephone for that.” When you only buy specialty grade coffee, and you have very specific flavor expectations for every purchase, Bill says, it’s critical that you know the right people so you can get to where the best coffee is grown and the best practices are being used. “Then I get to experience how our growers live. That’s what makes it so fun and rewarding.”
Next in this series, we’ll introduce our Master Roaster and Q-grader, who designs each perfect blend from the beans Bill buys, and checks each shipment to make sure it’s everything Bill expected it to be.