When Intelligentsia Coffee started in Chicago in 1995, its means of making the best coffee it possibly could was to serve it within days of roasting it.
The company has since grown from retail to commercial sales, from one city to three, and from specialty coffeehouse to mass specialty purveyors, with a key lesson learned:
If shortening the time between roasting and cup mattered, so does lessening the time from field to roasting.
“I lose a lot of sleep over the fact that specialty coffee is an emerging market. They all do the same things. We all roast fresh,” said Stephen Morrissey, director of communications for Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, now based in Los Angeles. "We get the coffee from the farm to the cup more quickly. Fresh-roasted, fresh-brewed is important. Fresh-grown is another shelf life that’s important."
Imagine a list of five luxury goods, and it’s unlikely coffee will be among them. The global coffee supply chain feels the same way. At the shipping port in Honduras, containers of once-fresh coffee beans are likely to be “baking in the sun for weeks and weeks and weeks,” Morrissey said. “It’s a stinky hot-air town.”
Bananas are shipped quickly, while port officials think coffee is more durable, he lamented.
But customers pay more for goods with...