Coffee advocate focuses on high-quality beans as the foundation of good flavor at his Noble Coffee Roasting company in Talent.
TALENT — Say goodbye to "gas station espresso." The noisy and intentional slurps of Jared Rennie as he "cups," or tastes, just-brewed cups of coffee, are announcing what he hopes is a new golden age of java.
Like wine before it, coffee is entering a finer era, with highly trained baristas using organic, fresh-roasted beans, shade-grown at high altitudes, brewed on top equipment and dispensed to an eager public that actively educates its taste buds.
So hopes Rennie, 31, founder of the year-old Noble Coffee Roasting of Talent. His knowledge of coffee recently took him to Nicaragua, where he served as one of 24 judges who cupped and handed out awards for the world's best beans in the Cup of Excellence competition.
Now Rennie is gambling that the Southern Oregon public is ready for excellent brew as well.
With the backing of restaurateur Steve Sacks and his wife, Kelley, Rennie has begun importing beans, roasting them in a new $20,000 Probat machine and offering free home deliveries. He plans to open a coffeehouse on Ashland's A Street in the fall.
In addition to serving java, he plans classes and tastings to educate the palate of the public and train restaurant staff.
"You're going to see a renaissance of coffee in the Rogue Valley, especially in Ashland," says Rennie, "but it's going to be gradual."
Rennie worked his way through Southern Oregon University as a barista and espresso trainer, then went onto a decade of teaching Spanish in Medford high schools.
But his passion — coffee — kept up with him and his off hours were filled with studies of the magic bean. In using and promoting fair trade and organic products, he saw a way to support another passion, that of social justice and environmental harmony.
In its year of business, Noble Roasting has captured many of the big accounts in Ashland — the Ashland Springs Hotel, Chateulin, Alex's, Peerless Inn, Pasta Piatti, Greenleaf and Wild Goose restaurants among them — and has trained restaurant and coffeehouse staffs to make an espresso drink aiming at the eyebrow-raising quality found in larger cities, he said.
The nation's much loved "cup o' mud" has had a jumpy evolution, coming a long way from the brew made from canned grounds in the mid-20th century.
Although fresh grounds and espresso drinks were a big advance, Rennie believes coffee has gotten into a rut in the last several decades, with espresso drinks made from mediocre beans, overroasted for an oily, edgy bite, then overwhelmed with steamed milk and flavorings so drinkers need multiple shots to "blast through" and even taste the coffee.
The budding third era of coffee focuses on the grower, not the coffee blender or barista, says Rennie. It showcases the "single origin" bean, supports growers in using only the higher quality arabica bean (instead of robusta) and, under fair trade agreements, supports farmers at a minimum $1.51 a pound.
"I represent the third wave. It's using traditional espresso, so you don't have to add anything to it," he says. "A 12-ounce double will be the largest drink I would recommend, because after that (bigger, more shots), you're not going to taste the coffee."
Although most Americans dose up for the caffeine buzz, more and more they'll be learning to taste like cuppers, he says, grading qualities including sweetness, mouth-feel, aftertaste and aroma, assigning adjectives like woody, malty, nutty, winey and fancying food flavors like carmelly, citrusy, leathery and tobaccoey — all listed on the cupping form used in competition.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The original headline on this story incorrectly included the word "brewer." This version has been corrected.