Getting slow roasted
Out of a small shop in Minturn comes some of the finest coffee beans available today. Can’t find it? Follow your nose.
The Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company provides quality joe to restaurants, hotels, coffee houses and kitchens across the valley. Make that across the country. Working off a steadfast mission to provide only the highest quality coffee, the company has been met with widespread success.
What is it that makes a Vail Roasters cup so much better than the competition? Co-founder Chris Chantler says there are three components that set their brew apart:
“Essentially there are three major elements. First, we only buy the finest coffee beans on the marketplace. We bring the samples in from all over the world and sample roast all of them, to analyze the quality, the depth in the cup, all the varietal characteristics that set the cup apart.”
In fact, in a quiet back room in the factory sits a mini-roaster and several dishes. It is the cupping room, where each blend is tasted and analyzed before being introduced to the client.
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“Quality is very important to us,” Chantler said. “We don’t blend for profit, but for flavor profile and taste.”
So beginning with the beans, Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea is a head above the rest. Next in the process is the roasting, which Chantler says is also carefully executed to promote quality and freshness.
“What we do is roast to order – we have roast dates on all the coffees,” he explained. “It comes down to freshness – none of our competitors have achieved that. We usually deliver the beans the day after they have been roasted. We have to pester clients to be sure the orders are in, but it is something unique that we offer.”
Finally, there is a natural advantage to roasting the beans up in the mountains aside from the beauty, clean air and friendly people. It’s the altitude.
“Altitude is the best way to roast,” Chantler said. ” There is less oxygen, so the roaster can cook the beans at a lower temperature. Just as water boils at a lower temperature, the oils and moisture in the bean vaporize at a lower temperature. It emphasizes the essential oils in the taste. It provides for a much richer, smoother, deeper flavor. It really cuts out the inherent bitterness in some other blends.”
In fact, the low-temperature, slow-roasting process enhances everything about the bean – its components and flavor profiles. Tasting a cup of coffee from well roasted beans is not unlike, say, tasting fine wines.
“We found a market of people increasingly educated about how coffee should taste,” said Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company Sales Manager Kathy Swan. “We allow the flavor of each bean to be represented in the coffee, instead of just the roasted profile.”
The combination of care and altitude is a secret weapon, according to Swan.
“The benefit of high altitude roasting is that it really cuts out the bitterness of the coffee – the oxidation process is on our side up here. It echoes of the Italian coffee-making process – we try to emulate that. They’re known for their superior coffee, and we try to do what we can to follow in that. We don’t want to follow in the mainstream flavor profile. That’s why we prefer the full city (lower temperature) roast, we don’t want to cover up the bean”
A leaf apart
And what about the second half of the company’s name?
“Tea is definitely the fastest growing segment of the hot beverage industry,” said Chantler in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where he was attending a specialty tea convention. “What’s driving the market is the health benefits of tea – there’s a massive concentration of antioxidants in teas. Green tea may put cancer in remission, fight heart disease, help digestion, help diabetics, while black tea can reduce bad breath, fight cavities in teeth, all kinds of things. The market is very health-driven right now.”
And in catering to a health conscious clientele, restaurants and coffee houses are following suite.
“What we’ve done for a lot of restaurants in Vail and on the Front Range, is take away the tea bag,” Chantler said. “Fine restaurants put such effort into great coffee and espresso, then serve a standard tea. Some of finest teas in this country are available in Minturn, which is kind of cool. Restaurants are focusing on that now. Their teas are as fine as the wine they serve.”
In tandem with consumer interest, the Vail Coffee and Tea Company is focusing much of their energy on their blossoming tea collection. In a small storefront adjacent to the coffee factory is a room affectionately dubbed the “tea cave.” The senses are assaulted with more fine scents and gentle aromas than can possibly be identified. It’s a little utopia in the Meadow Mountain Business Complex. And it’s no surprise that the aromas cannot be pinned to one source. The Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company offers sixty-some teas on the menu. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – Chantler has nearly 150 in his personal collection.
“This country has gone from having some of the worst tea in the world to having some of the best, skipped the middle,” he said. “Craig Arseneau (co-founder) and I spent three weeks traveling through India last fall, and managed to buy out some beautiful production areas in India. It’s very promising.”
A cup of your own
In order to indulge in a beverage from the Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company, look no further than your grocery store aisle. But if you don’t find what you want, visit the web site at http://www.vailcoffee.com, or call the store at 845-4008.