Chances are you’ve had a cup of coffee from Red Rock Roasters, the Albuquerque-based, family-owned coffee roasters—you just never knew it. That’s because, since 1993, the bulk of their business has been dealing directly to restaurants, finding terrific coffee the world over and offering instruction and technique to their clients. At Red Rock's new, renovated tasting room (not a cafe), Coffee Director Rachel Langer aims to not only teach you how to make your daily cup (or three) taste better, but to demystify some coffee trends while sharing tried-and-true methods so you’ll get the most from your morning cup of joe.
“Sometimes I wish I could just have a cup of coffee,” Langer says. Call it the dangers of going down the rabbit hole of deep knowledge, or the fact that she doesn’t ever just sit down to a cup of coffee without, as she admits, “over-analyzing it.” In the same way wonks verge on the ludicrous when describing a wine, the world of serious coffee could easily suffer from that pretension and wordiness. That is, unless you have a knowledgeable, grounded and charming torchbearer lighting your way.
Red Rock Roasters offers free classes about once a month that are aimed at improving the flavor of the coffee you’re making at home. I asked what the average Joe could do to get a better cup without necessarily reinventing the wheel. Using freshly roasted coffee, checking roast dates and matching your grind to your brew method were some quick and easy steps. “Get a burr grinder,” she said. “I hate recommending an expensive piece of equipment, but it’s important.” That’s because a burr grinder will give you excellent, consistent control over the size of your grounds, no matter what grind you’re going for. And how do you figure out what you like best? She recommends two things: blind taste tests and, surprisingly, YouTube videos about technique.
“And don’t cook your coffee!” You know that glass decanter sitting on a hotplate at every diner and office break room in town? That coffee keeps cooking as it sits there—and not just cooking, but burning. Learning more about technique, along with how to recognize the enemies of good coffee—oxidation, and either under- or over-extraction—are precisely the kinds of things you’ll pick up at a class. “Oh, and the ratio,” she said, “you have to get the ratio right.” That’s 1 part coffee to 16 parts water. Again, it’s the kind of thing you could get very specific about—taking into account geography and altitude, as if the bean, the roast, the grind and method weren’t already enough to keep track of. Langer advocates for a more controlled, scientific approach to coffee, one designed to eliminate variables and inconsistency—one built around finding the best flavor possible.
As for their current offerings, I tried a few. Even if flavored coffee is gauche (and I picked up on some pretty strong non-verbals suggesting it is), I’m just the rube that likes it! Their French Vanilla is basically off-menu, but I’d had it before, so I knew to ask. It’s a lighter roast, bright and clean in the mouth, with a luxurious kind of smoothness to accompany the vanilla—definitely an easy drinker. If, like me, you don’t mind when your morning pick-me-up shares something with last night’s dessert (also gauche), then this could well be the coffee for you. I refuse to apologize. Their Ethiopia Harrar, on the other hand, is an intense and complex coffee. There are sweeter notes while the whole thing stays balanced, but what’s really surprising was the blueberry. I’d bet this will be a crowd pleaser—something for the dark roast drinker and some fruit and wine notes for those after a lighter cup. If you aren’t sure which coffee to try, I think this is your go-to. The Espresso Strata, as expected, had huge, deep-roasted flavor. Described as “cedar and chocolate,” this coffee is a beast, but it finishes so smooth and subtle that you almost forget it’s high voltage. If you know you love coffee, and especially if you’re grinding for espresso, this one won’t miss.
I asked about making the best iced coffee and cold brew, and the advice was simple: Use good coffee to make iced coffee, and avoid oxidation. If you must cold brew (ugh), use your oldest beans.
As if teaching how to get the best possible cup, even at home, wasn’t enough, consider Red Rock Roasters’ commitment to the entire supply chain. They’ve made it a point of pride to partner with fair trade and certified organic producers, and support expanding opportunities for women “from seed to cup” via the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. They donate to a variety of local charities, adhere to ethical sourcing standards, and pay their people a living wage—all business practices that ensure their great coffee will remain available long-term. Teach people what good coffee is and then they will demand it, either directly or from their clients. That sounds like a pretty solid business model.