Some predict we're on the verge of a 'coffee revolution' here in NH, and a small Bedford-based roaster is leading the charge.
It's a cold, raw morning, but in Claudia Barrett's climate-controlled garage-turned-coffee-roastery, the tastes and smells are tropical. Today, she's tasting four selections from her company, CQ Coffee Roasters, slurping up a spoonful at a time and describing the flavors. “Good grape acidity, red currant...” announces Barrett, Licensed Q Grader (and “Coffee Jedi”), using the standardized cupping method and terminology used in coffee tastings the world over. “Some Merlot,” she adds after another slurp. “Some guava fruit punch...”
At CQ Coffee Roasters, everything is meticulous, each carefully-selected variety roasted just enough, in pursuit of flavors far beyond your standard cup of joe. “What we really try to do with each coffee is bring forward one mind-blowing tasting note from that coffee,” Barrett explains.
And it looks like they're succeeding.
Every year, a ranking of the thirty best coffees comes out from a magazine called Coffee Review (think Wine Spectator for coffee, with its own highly trained tasters). This year, CQ's Kenya Kirinyaga Peaberry was ranked fifth, beating out submissions from some of the biggest names in the specialty-coffee world.
Barrett says that recognition puts her little roasting company – and New Hampshire – on the map. “It's very exciting when you wake up and you get coffee orders from Portland, Oregon, or Seattle, Washington,” she says. “These coffee meccas are coming to a website, to a roaster in New Hampshire.”
But she says her goal is to be a roaster in New Hampshire, for New Hampshire.
Specialty coffee, more associated with the West Coast and big cities, is just starting to get a foothold in the state, but Barrett is no newcomer to high-end coffee. “I was in a grad school program for my PhD in American Literature, and I went to a cafe to work, and I began tasting all these things in the cup,” she recalls. That was in the early '90s; she dropped out of the PhD program and dove into the coffee world, learning, tasting, writing, roasting, and actually helping launch Starbucks. She took a break to have her kids, now 8 and 6, and last year decided she had the experience and the passion to make a go of starting her own company here in Bedford.
CQ Coffee Roasters is small by design, just a couple of employees in a garage, and one roaster – a machine about as tall as a person, that looks like a cross between a washing machine, a countertop mixer, and the front of a steam locomotive. Most sales are mail-order, but CQ also delivers door-to-door in the Bedford area.
CQ also supplies D Squared Java in Exeter, which might be the state's only specialty coffee cafe. Dan Demers, who owns D Squared, says Barrett just came into the cafe one day. “When she came in she strangely enough had an air pot of brewed coffee,” he recalls. “So she ran out to her car and brought it back in, and we just tasted some of her coffee.”
“It was like a super strawberry bomb,” he says. “You just tasted sweet, juicy strawberry, and it was pretty much at that instant that I knew that we were going to have to start offering some of her coffees.”
CQ is one of three area roasters supplying D Squared, but Demers expects that number to grow. “We're on the cusp of a coffee revolution,” he says. He's seeing a growing demand for this kind of carefully-crafted coffee, and plenty of pleasantly-surprised faces when customers find out it came from Bedford.
For her part, Barrett hopes to open up a storefront of her own, selling bags of specialty-roasted beans like bottles of wine – that is, plenty of variety, plenty of quality, and plenty of tastings, “where they taste how sweet it is, how juicy it is, how unique it is from cup to cup, and they want to keep coming back,” says Barrett. “They want to learn to brew right at home, they want to buy a grinder, and we're there to take them on this stairway to heaven.”
Fueled by passion, and a fair amount of caffeine, she just might make that dream come true.