Q&A with Swing’s Coffee Roasters
Today is National Coffee Day, guys! Celebrate with an extra shot of espresso or finally order that giant Big Gulp-sized cup at Starbucks. If you’re not too wired to concentrate, read on as we talk to Mark Warmuth, president of Swing’s Coffee Roasters in Alexandria, Virginia, about all things coffee. The almost century old institution, part coffee lab, part coffee shop, is where true coffee lovers pilgrimage.
With so many options for coffee out there, how do you set yourself apart?
Mark Marmuth (MW): Swing’s is celebrating its 100th year in business this year, tenure that speaks to the consistency and quality of our coffee over time. Swing’s is unique in our industry – we bear a heritage that is distinctly intertwined in coffee’s historic culture, yet we approach our craft with a decidedly progressive bent. Yes, there are a lot of exceptional roasters in the market, not many have a customer base as extensive and far-reaching as Swing’s. For roasters and consumers focused on quality, options are a good thing – demand for specialty coffee is greater than ever, we are all benefiting by bringing higher quality to the market.
How do you go about finding ethically, sustainably produced coffee?
MW: In 2013, Swing’s launched our “Homegrown Coffee Initiative,” a program aimed specifically at sourcing responsibly and sustainably grown coffees. With this initiative serving as our sourcing mission statement, Swing’s is identifying and working directly with coffee farmers and their families that have demonstrated sustainable agriculture techniques and commitment to best practices in coffee and social enterprise. As a result, Swing’s receives the best quality product and our partners receive the best profit, creating a sustainable model of commerce for both parties. We currently have partnerships in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Sumatra. Since enacting this program in 2013, we have grown our relationships, commitments and dedication to this model and the stake-holders we work with from 18% to nearly 85%. As we create new relationships in 2016, we hope to be at 100% by the close of our 100th year.
Any recommendations on beans or drinks for people just starting to drink coffee?
MW: I’ve always considered the mocha to be the “gateway” beverage for anyone getting started drinking coffee. Espresso in the mocha is still the dominant taste, but is toned down with steamed milk and chocolate as complimentary flavors. At Swing’s coffee bars, we make our mochas with a bittersweet single-origin chocolate ganache that provides ample sweetness without being overly syrupy-sweet. It’s a popular beverage year-round, recommend it on ice in the summertime.
Are coffee preferences evolving and if so, are the beans themselves also evolving?
MW: Consumers are becoming more aware of where their coffee is sourced and the taste differences associated with either country of origin or how the coffee is being processed. With higher consumer expectations, beans aren’t evolving so much as the care going into producing higher quality beans at the farm level. We are seeing a lot more experimentation with process methods in order to bring out more unique and desirable flavor profiles than traditional methods.
Your favorite roast that Swing’s sells? Best way to prepare coffee at home from beans?
MW: I’m still a big fan of MESCo (short for M.E. Swing Company), our original coffee blend dating back to 1918. It is a very approachable medium-roast blend comprised of coffees from Brazil, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Great for all day drinking.
[There are a] lot of excellent methods for brewing coffee at home. Regardless of which method is used, I strongly recommend that everyone interested in making a good cup invest in a quality burr-style grinder. Fresh-ground coffee, with a consistent grind, has a lot to do with bringing about quality in the cup. Also, with brewed coffee being over 95% water, using a filtered water source is preferable.
Swing’s is famous for something called “Cupping.” What is it and how did you come across this process?
MW: Cupping is a coffee brew method in its truest and simplest form – coarse ground coffee, steeping in a small bowl of near boiling water, with no additional agitation or pressurization to enhance or influence coffee flavor. Coffee is then tasted with a specially shaped spoon designed to dissipate heat. Coffee professionals will use this method to evaluate and grade roasted coffees. If you are a roaster in the coffee trade, you become exposed to this ritual very early in your career. We now conduct public cuppings at our roastery every Friday morning. We get a lot of satisfaction sharing our craft with coffee enthusiasts frequenting our location in search of more coffee knowledge.
What are the coffee trends you’re anticipating for 2017?
MW: Interest in nitro-coffee based beverages emerged strongly in 2016, I’m looking forward to its broader acceptance and demand in the marketplace for 2017. We introduced nitro cold-brewed coffee and nitro lattes to our own coffee bars in 2016, experiencing tremendous success and acceptance. I anticipate this trend to continue in 2017, creating new markets and products for Swing’s to introduce at a wholesale level. Nitro coffee will begin to emerge as a staple in not just specialty coffee bars, but also restaurants and other establishments where it hasn’t always been available.
There you have it. Enjoy National Coffee Day and maybe get ahead of the curve and order a nitro-coffee.