Single Serve Coffee Visits Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
We visited Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Waterbury, VT in early August. The drive up from Boston is nothing short of breathtaking as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters does is in fact exist in the "Green Mountains".
As we got closer to Waterbury, we pulled off the highway to stretch our legs, and in the rest area was a coffee center sponsored by Green Mountain Coffee. We knew we were close. After another 30 minutes or so, we pulled off the highway and into Waterbury, VT itself. Waterbury is a smallish town with lots of charm. There is a main street with several restaurants, small shops, and there's even a Green Mountain Coffee Roasters store (which we visited later in the day).
We proceeded up to the Green Mountain headquarters to meet Ken Crites, Joe Anderson, and Gaelan Brown. Our day was to be quite the visit. We started in their K-Cup production facility, got a full tour of their coffee roasting area, moved on to coffee pod making, and then finished the morning with a cupping and tour of their "coffee lab".
The Facility Itself & Roasting Coffee Beans
The Green Mountain Coffee roasting facility is massive. It's nothing short of the biggest set of coffee production facilities we've seen. The entire plant is clean, well lit, and smells of coffee. The coffee flavors are here and there, and as you go to the different areas, the smells change.
We had the pleasure of seeing them roast actually green beans into roasted coffee beans. The setup looked as if we had stepped on the set of Star Wars and right onto the Death Star. There are buttons, lights, sounds, smells, and people working very hard to make consistent roasted Green Mountain Coffee.
What's very interesting is the fact there is the "old button stuff" and then an integrated LCD flat screen with the coffee profile they are roasting. The LCD Screen constantly shows how spot on the roasting process is compared to the last time they roasted the coffee. They can fine tune the roasting coffee as they roast it to get a perfect roast just like the last time they roasted this coffee roast each time.
Learning About Making K-Cups
Green Mountain is making K-Cups of their coffee for the Keurig line of brewers. Lots of K-Cups. More K-Cups than you can count on both hands and toes. There are over 35+ K-Cup varieties and Green Mountain produces over 4.5 million K-Cups a week.
They have a very rigorous process they follow for each production run. Joe Anderson leads up the quality control for the entire K-Cup lines which Green Mountain produces and he took us through how they make sure things are 100% correct.
Green Mountain Coffee spot checks each run of K-Cups and have different K-Cup machines to test the different flavors to maintain consistency in all of the K-Cups. Each K-Cup is tested to ensure that it also has less than 2% oxygen inside to ensure a fresh cup of Green Mountain coffee from the K-Cup each time.
Joe also told us the top selling roasts they make for the Keurig K-Cups are: French Roast, Our Blend, Hazelnut, and Columbian. They also put the coffee into K-Cups in less than 24 hours from roasting. This ensures for a fresh cup of coffee from your Green Mountain K-Cups each time.
The K-cup machines themselves are more like a packaging machine. Though they are similar to coffee pod making machines in the fact they suck up fresh roasted coffee beans and then grind them each time for packaging into the K-cup, the K-Cup machines make more K-cups per minute than the coffee pod machines we've seen. They are also about a 1/3 bigger in overall size compared to a typical coffee pod making machine.
Green Mountain is currently making two types of K-Cups. They make the standard K-Cup with a conical filter and the larger rounder filter for the Extra Bold K-Cups. This allows for the K-Cup to pack up to 25% more coffee into the K-Cup and make a stronger, darker cup of Green Mountain Coffee.
Making Flavored Coffees
We did get to venture over into the flavored coffee area. There is a rack of "coffee flavors" they use to mix with roasted coffee to make Green Mountain flavored coffees like Rainforest Nut. You'd think the smell is overwhelming, but you don't really notice a big difference. Joe Anderson explained how they don't use as much "flavor" as you might expect. It take very little of the concentrated syrups to coat the coffee beans for a batch of roasted flavored coffees.
There is also a rather large, very cool, giant nitrogen tank in the area. They use the nitrogen in the K-cups, coffee bags, and individually wrapped coffee pods to ensure very little oxygen gets in to keep the coffee fresh.
Green Mountain Coffee Pods
Green Mountain is making coffee pods. They may make 4.5 million K-Cups a year but they do have a coffee pod making machine. Currently they are making 4 different coffee pod flavors: Breakfast Blend – Fair Trade, Certified Organic, Colombian – Fair Trade Certified, French Roast – Fair Trade, Certified Organic, and House Blend Decaf – Fair Trade, Certified Organic.
Green Mountain is committed to making more flavors of their coffee pods, but won't be adding until the coffee pod market takes off even more in 2006 and they get their initial flavors out to the market. They will launch the coffee pods in the January 2006 time frame on their online store, and recommend using them in the Bunn My Cafe or similiar quality machine. The main reason the coffee pods are not in wider distribution is because Green Mountain feels the current line up of coffee pod machines are not as consistent as they could be when making a cup of coffee. As more machines come into the market that produce a more consistent cup of pod coffee across multiple brewers, Green Mountain feels this is when the market will truly take off.
We been drinking the French Roast and Breakfast blend since our visit and think they are both quite good. The pods are large 10 gram pods, and fit in most single serve coffee brewers including: Bunn My Cafe, Senseo, Krups Home Cafe, and the older Home Cafe machines.
Cupping and The Green Mountain Coffee Lab
We moved onto the coffee lab next to meet Don Holly the head of the coffee lab. Don heads up the testing team for Green Mountain Coffee and also the "cuppers" who test the new batches of beans they receive from coffee bean growers.
If you're not familiar with cupping it's a process to roast a small amount of beans and then sample the coffee produced from them in a unique method. Cupping is the technique used by Green Mountain cuppers to evaluate the flavor profile of a coffee. To understand the minor differences between coffee growing regions, it is important to cup coffees from around the world side-by-side. Cupping is also used to evaluate a coffee for defects or to create coffee blends.
The cupping we attended was used to test the new coffees they would be buying and to make sure they matched similar buys in the past of the same flavors, and to make sure the coffees were basically good. They test the coffee 3 times before it hits the store shelves using this method: once when buying it, once before it ships, and once it arrives at Green Mountain Coffee.
We have to say cupping all day would be very hard work. You have to smell, taste, and spit about 16 coffees in one sitting. It takes a little over 2 hours to do a typical cupping and we were tired after just the first hour. We did enjoy really getting the aroma of the coffee, and also how different the coffees all were when compared side to side.
The Coffee Lab
Green Mountain has just about the coolest coffee lab you could want. Every bean they've used is sampled in little tins on the wall. Don Holly went over many of the reasons why good coffee is good coffee, and we also got to test many of the new coffee roasts in the K-cups coming from Green Mountain this Fall.
One of the most interesting facts Don mentioned to us, was the fact that coffee's grown at higher altitudes have more of the "coffee good stuff in them". The fact the coffee plant grows at such a high altitude makes the plant hardier, and inside each coffee bean there is more material that ensures germination if the coffee bean was used to grow another plant. This good stuff used for germination is what you want in a great coffee bean - and lots of it.
Don also had a great way to explain the different methods of preparing coffee and why it's so controversial for different people when they make coffee. If you look at coffee on an X and Y axis, the bottom X axis being how much coffee you can extract using the method (how much of that good stuff gets in the cup) and the Y axis being the concentration or how much water you put in, you can easily chart out different types of coffee preparation.
So for a drip coffee maker you might get at most 30% extraction, and a very low concentration in the overall pot of coffee making for a weaker cup. For espresso, you might get 18-22% extraction, but a very high concentration of the coffee extracted into the cup given the amount of water you would use.
Each method produces a different mix of the two. Thinking about making cups of coffee this way will help you dial up a darker cup or dial down for a weaker cup the water or pick a better method of extraction to get more coffee into the cup.
Sampling the New Green Mountain K-Cup Flavors
We sampled a bunch of new flavors from Green Mountain coffee including: Wild Mountain Blueberry, Pumpkin Spice, Caramel Vanilla, French Vanilla, and Hazelnut Creme. In the coffee lab they have no less than 8 Keurig testing machines to use in testing new coffees. Patty Vincent took us through all the flavors and was one of the most enthusiastic people we've ever met about flavored coffees.
We really liked the Wild Mountain Blueberry and also the Pumpkin Spice (reviews coming soon). Each has a good coffee taste with a unique flavor finish. The French Vanilla and Caramel Vanilla Cream are both very rich and had strong caramel like flavors. If you like flavored coffees, the new Green Mountain flavored K-Cups are worth a try.
We finished our day quite wired and full of caffeine at the Green Mountain Company Store. If you're in Waterbury, VT or near Burlington, VT, it's a good place to stop and pick up some Green Mountain stuff. They also serve coffee at the store and there's a variety of mugs, shirts, and other Green Mountain stuff you may be interested in.
We want to thank everyone at Green Mountain for such an incredible visit. Every person we met was dedicated to their part of the Green Mountain coffee business, and answered every question we put forth.
You can visit Green Mountain at any time at gmcr.com.
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Posted by Jay Brewer at September 12, 2005 9:27 AM