Something in the water? Colorado Springs’ coffee takes Seattle

Bevan Cammell, head roaster/co-owner of Loyal Coffee in Colorado Springs, competes in Seattle, on April 20-22, at the U.S. Coffee Championships. Cammell is fresh off his recent victory in New Orleans, at the qualifying competition, one of two regional proceedings (the other in Reno, Nevada) held on February 3-4, scoring highest amongst all the participants.

RMFR catches up with Cammell, and co-owner of Loyal, Tyler Hill, to learn more about roasting procedures, the inner workings of these “big events” and to discuss the meteoric rise of Colorado Springs’ craft coffee culture.

Bevan Cammell, head roaster and co-owner of Loyal Coffee. Photo credit: Samuel Yongbo Kwon

Hill is well-versed in the nature of these competitions and breaks down the different sections which includes: roasting, barista, brewer’s cup, cup tasters, “so there’s a whole kit and caboodle,” says Hill, who is an awarded barista himself, this year opting to enter Loyal into the roaster championship.

For nationals all participants receive the same coffee “so what’s really cool about that is it’s an even playing field,” says Hill. “They’re all starting with the exact same green coffee so it really is an opportunity for roasters to show their skill. It doesn’t have anything to do with their buying power.”

Tyler Hill, co-owner of Loyal Coffee. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

Cammell and Hill mention that the format at this level is “a bit tougher” than the qualifying rounds and the roasters are only supplied with a small sample to familiarize themselves with the style. Cammell decides on a roasting approach and brings a conservative amount to the competition where they brew it to the same parameters for everyone. There he gives a five minute presentation on his theory and strategy as well as specific tasting notes.

“Roasting is ten times more complex than anybody gives it credit for,” says Hill. “You’re not just turning it brown right? There’s just so much science involved to an incredibly intricate level. Every roaster across the country has their own ideas on how roasting the coffee will impact it in one way or another.”

Little beans responsible for big ideas. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

This year provides beans from a single farm in Brazil, which Cammell readily admits is an origin he is far less familiar with.

“This is my first time ever roasting a coffee from Brazil,” says Cammell. “My initial reaction was that I don’t like coffees from Brazil because they’re very nutty but this coffee surprises me. It has a very rich raspberry flavors followed by notes of hazelnut and simple syrup.”

Cammell tells us that Brazil has a complicated history with specialty coffee and struggles with growing at very high altitudes. We consider the obstacles that certain geographical areas encounter, as Colorado manages similar issues with roasting at elevation, likening it to the difficulties associated with high-altitude baking. Yet as the demand for coffee rises, Cammell informs us that Brazilian farmers are choosing to evolve and shift their processes to supersede expectations and produce an attractive export.

“There are a lot of interesting factors: altitude, type and size of equipment, technology,” says Hill. “All of that matters. “That’s why roasting is a really elite profession. [Roasters] reference tricks of the trade, recognize defects and go into their memory bank to manipulate the coffee and create the best possible product.”

Work, work work. Loyal uses a PROBAT drum roaster. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

The Loyal crew walks us through the relatively short yet involved process of roasting, which takes as little as nine to eleven minutes, and continues as they taste and refine their methods.

“Within that time frame a lot of chemistry happens and there are a lot of variables all at once,” says Cammell thoughtfully. “It’s just like a bakery and you’re trying to replicate that recipe every time.”

For many people there’s an assumption that dark roasted coffee yields a superior, stronger end result but Hill expounds upon the subject with a logical and amusing analogy:

“Say you and I are going to bake cookies,” says Hill. “I get a bunch of shitty stuff from the corner store and you get stuff from the farmer’s market. All those ingredients we would consider our green coffee. If we both baked our ingredients black, both of our cookies would taste exactly the same, charred. But, if we both baked our cookies golden brown, your cookie would taste better than my cookie. If you under-baked, we might not taste everything it has to offer, and if we baked it too much, it might not be as pleasant as it could’ve been. It’s a matter of, it has the potential to taste great so how do we bake it, and there is a sweet spot that is exactly right for this cookie.”

Sweet spots. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

Cammell says that an important element of his roasting techniques, and for all of the co-owners at Loyal, is to create “a coffee that is inherently sweet and it’s not just something you put milk in.” He hopes to pull out the most palatable flavors that showcase how “valuable” the commodity truly is.

“You get a green coffee and that has it’s own DNA,” says Hill. “Roasting makes it consumable but when you add heat, it changes it. When we’re roasting we want to make changes that positively reflects what’s in that green coffee bean. If you’re just going to roast everything dark or light you’re not really paying attention to or considering the unique characteristic to it on the inside. That’s why we roast and taste, roast and taste. We want to highlight and accentuate, bringing out the potential in the coffee.”

The nose knows. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

As Cammell readies himself for Seattle, he also stands in awe of his arrival and says he “had no idea I’d be a business owner, let alone competing for a national title.”

“I consider myself a very young roaster,” says Cammell, who has only been in the game for the past five years. “I haven’t had a lot of experience but thankfully I’ve had tremendous mentors.”

He credits his rapid rise to guidance from former co-worker, and fellow competitor at nationals, Evan Schubarth, from Colorado Springs’ Switchback Coffee Roasters, and industry friend and respected roaster, Andy Springer, from Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters in Denver.

“Coffee is really open so we talk with one another and want to help each other,” says Hill.

Potential vessels. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

Cammell, who moved to Colorado Springs six years ago from Pauo, New Zealand, tells us that his journey into coffee and to the states was by happenstance as he “chased my American sweetheart across the water.”

“I was just coming for the adventure and I found a great city to call my own,” says Cammell. “Colorado Springs is home now.”

With such a strong presence at nationals from the Springs it makes us wonder if there’s something in the local H2O that breeds or attracts such talent? Cammell gives himself a small slice of credit but attributes his personal success, and that of Loyal, to a “supportive community” that “has been very generous to us.”

Colorado Springs, Colorado, is becoming a craft coffee haven. Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

Whoever wins at nationals will represent for the U.S. at the world championships in Dubai, this November but Cammell says he hasn’t “thought that far ahead” as he is up against “people I’ve looked up to for many years, such as the guys from Onyx in Arkansas,” well-known within the coffee industry.

Cammell even humbly admits that he isn’t sure he deserved his win at regionals but concedes that he fully dedicates himself to the prosperity of his new home town and to the art of his craft.

“I certainly feel like if, I’ve spent the last three years really trying to create a product that was the best I could, that probably validates the hard work,” says Cammell.

Photo credit: Loyal Coffee

Hill progresses that sentiment and says “everybody’s learned from other people and we’re all standing on the shoulders of people before us. But Bevan has taken the things he has learned and his experiences, combined them with a ton of experimenting and come up with his own way, which is why Loyal is unique to what it is.”