For Old Soul Co. artisan roaster Lucky Rodrigues, you have to “do the coffee justice.” This means espousing the virtues of “correct-coffee knowledge,” which includes getting the best beans directly from international growers, understanding the “slow-moving train” roasting process and handing over the goods to able baristas and savvy consumers. Old Soul’s excellent coffee is available in the cup and by the pound, but Rodrigues shares his love and knowledge of the bean (which begins as a cherry, he reminds) free of charge:
Tell me about Old Soul’s approach to coffee trade.We try to be as involved as we can, i.e., we’re still small and we’re on the other side. It’s really hard … to take a few weeks off and go to origin and spend time there, so what we try to do to lessen the links in the chain between us and the farmer is carefully decide the farms that we work with and buy from. …
But that’s the objective: to have more of what now people call “direct trade,” where a farm is directly connected with a roaster.
Do growers embrace this business attitude?I think they’re impressed. … Direct trade is a more interactive trade where … you’re paying a higher price, but you have a little bit more interaction. “How about trying this coffee? How about this?” You get a higher quality than what fair trade can provide.
Which coffee regions do you gravitate toward?That’s a hard question, because I’m pretty eclectic. If it knocks me on my ass, then that’s what it does. Coffee is one of those things that keeps me fresh. I have a pretty eclectic palate, to the point where I’m blown away by various regions. A region that I’m into right now is Guatemala.
Describe a good cup of Guatemalan.For me, Guatemalans are one of the more diverse coffees, because they can vary from a having a very even body with a lot of complexity to a really bright, fruity, acidic, lively cup. And within that spectrum there’s so much to enjoy.
Is that specific to the region?It is, because there are so many microclimates in Guatemala, numerous amounts, that it gives you that spectrum of complexity in the coffees. …
I find myself in certain moods. Sometimes I’m looking for a lively cup that’s more earthy, more smooth, a little bit more heavy in body. But sometimes I’m in the mood for something that tastes like crème fraîche and lemon.
As a roaster, how long does it take to learn to pull these flavors from the beans?I’m still learning. I’ll be learning till I’m an old man, honestly. It’s such a culinary art at this point that you’re always finding and developing new theories. …
There are some 1,500 compounds in coffee that you manipulate during the roasting process, and I think we only have a decent knowledge of maybe a third of that. So there’s still a lot that we have no clue about coffee.
So what does the everyday-joe coffee drinker teach?I think that’s the best feedback for a roaster, because many times, on this side of the counter, you can really get caught up in your world and really start to split hairs about cups and processes. But what it comes down to in the final step of this agricultural process is the consumer and the consumption, and their feedback and hearing their likes and dislikes helps balance you out and bring you back to reality. Which is why a lot of guys that I know, when they’re out traveling, go out to Starbucks, go out to Peet’s and get a cup.
What do Old Soul drinkers enjoy?You know, I’m really impressed with our clientele. Right now, I think I’m running close to 18 different coffees, and they are all respected and consumed almost equally. … If you can introduce people to coffee, to reach out as a roaster and say, “Hey, I know you’re used to thinking of coffee as this, but coffee can also be this, too,” then you may find a new audience by doing that.
With Starbucks culture shrinking, is artisan coffee culture evolving?I think so, and I think that part of it is in the reaction to the growing artisanal roasting, closer-to-the-farm, closer-to-origin aspect that we’re taking on. …
Most people walking down the street have never seen a coffee plant and have never held a coffee cherry, because it doesn’t grow close to here. So we have to work harder on our side to bring them close to the origin, to help them understand a little bit more the depth of our business.
So how did you first get into coffee?Man, I was young. I’ve been drinking coffee a long, long time. I don’t know if it was the stimulation aspect—I started drinking coffee in the fifth grade, and my parents didn’t even allow me to at that point in time—but I loved where it put me as far as my energy level, so maybe it was the caffeination process.
But I found coffee much later in life to have these interesting nuances, and I enjoyed the culture that came with it. And because coffee and these places help perpetuate local culture, I think that’s what really got me into coffee, and from then on coffee became something deeper to me. Everyone’s got their battle, and coffee is just mine.