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Coffee 101

La Marimba Road winding through the hills

Our Approach

Countless steps are taken to ensure the quality of every cup of Parlor Coffee. We’ve been to eight countries in Africa and Latin America, traveling across mountains, high plains, desert valleys, and tropical rainforests to meet farmers, cooperative managers, exporters, millers, cuppers, and traders. We’ve tasted tens of thousands of coffees—and we’ll taste thousands more!—in pursuit of the perfect ones to roast for you.

Picking cherries on Finca Los Angeles

But we have a broader ambition as well: to increase access to truly great coffee. We publish Parchment​ to tell the stories behind the coffees we source, and below we present a 101 to share the fundamentals that guide our approach to sourcing, buying, roasting, and brewing coffee, as well as the systems we’ve honed to ensure consistent quality in every batch.

The Story of the Seed

The box of coffee you bring home is actually filled with roasted seeds: coffee seeds, to be exact. These are harvested from the fruit of the coffee tree, a plant which grows primarily in the tropics. Coffee is a seasonal fruit, like apples and grapes. And like those fruits, there’s a vast range of varieties within the species. Every coffee we source belongs to the species ​Coffea arabica​, and the varieties we find at origin are as diverse as the landscapes we explore and the people we meet.

Each variety is the result of a particular combination of geographic and climatic conditions that will impact the coffee’s flavor profile when it’s brewed. Parlor sources coffees from high-altitude microclimates supported by a precise balance of soil composition, moderate temperatures, sufficient rainfall, and abundant sunlight. When we speak of a coffee’s “origin,” we don’t just mean its country of export. Origin can refer to the farm, a specific parcel on that land, or even a particular slope. Farm sizes in producing countries depend as much on regional farming traditions as they do on a given farmer’s resources.

Coffee Cherries
hands holding green coffee beans

Each tree on a coffee farm requires precise maintenance throughout its growth cycle, and every coffee cherry must be picked within a small window of ripeness to capture its peak flavor. The way the coffee is then pulped and dried will determine its flavor and how it reacts to roasting. Washed coffees, for instance, undergo a process almost immediately after harvest that removes the fruit and pulp from the seeds’ endocarp before they’re dried. We tend to prefer washed coffees for the clean, sweet flavors they present.

Unroasted, raw coffee (or “green coffee”) is practically inedible and can’t be brewed. Roasters unlock the flavor trapped in these compact vaults: unleashing aromatics, developing complex sugars, and cultivating a flavorful final product. We use a half-century-old steel and cast-iron Probat 22kg batch roaster, retrofitted and customized with modern equipment that roasts by means of conduction, convection, and radiant heat transfer and can monitor each roast to a tenth of a degree. In our process we aim to accentuate the inherent character of each coffee we source, and you’ll find that our roasts emphasize sweetness, balance, and the unique complexity we seek from each origin.

Brewing Parlor Coffee

Pouring whole coffee beans on to a scale

Parlor adheres to a few basic brewing principles in our approach to making coffee.

Our coffees are best enjoyed within one month of their roast date. We believe the notion of freshness is relative: indeed, certain methods of preparation require proper resting prior to brewing. Store your coffee in its original packaging in a cool, dark, dry corner of your kitchen. As espresso, our coffees brew best between one week and one month off roast; as a pour-over, they require only a few days of rest.

cups of different coffee grinds

A cup of coffee is mostly water. During the brewing process, water dissolves solubles from ground coffee, so clean-tasting water is naturally an essential ingredient. We highly recommend brewing with soft water, preferably filtered or from a spring source—and avoiding distilled water, which lacks the trace minerals required for a flavorful extraction.

Grinding coffee is the topic we’re asked about most often. Simply put, the best way to step up your brewing game is to invest in a good grinder. Use a burr grinder if possible; the blades of a spice mill or blender can create inconsistent grind size distribution, resulting in sour and bitter flavors. Grind size affects the rate and evenness of extraction: if your cup tastes overly bitter and astringent in the finish, you’ve extracted too much coffee; coarsen the grind for your next brew. If your cup tastes sour and salty, extract a bit more coffee by setting your grind finer.

Making a french press coffee

We use scales and timers throughout the brew process to ensure consistency from one cup to the next. Whenever we test a new coffee, brew method, or grinder, we start with a 1:16 coffee-to-water ratio (for pour-over methods). For more coffee methodology, see our brew guides. Espresso is a whole different animal—you’ll find a reference point in our FAQ.

Oh, one more recommendation. There’s nothing better than a hot cup of coffee to break the fog of a cool morning, but let it sit for a minute before you take the first sip. Warm your hands, but resist the urge to drink it immediately. Your patience will be rewarded with a sweetness and complexity otherwise hidden by heat. As the brew reaches room temperature, its aroma and flavor will come to a crescendo. Savor each sip, and enjoy.

Making a chemex