Every cup of coffee that the student baristas at Café Circo, part of Reed College in Portland, OR, serve up has something in common: they were all made from beans roasted by Nicholas DiBacco.
The café’s staff and I had the chance to meet the man behind the brew on a tour and coffee cupping at the Seattle-based coffee company’s Portland roastery. After touring the café space and the gorgeous drum roaster that Nicholas uses in his work, the group got to taste four of Caffé Vita’s single-origin and blended coffees, from their chocolatey and rich signature blend, Del Sol, to a spicy single-origin Sumatra Gayo River.
Tasting coffee at Caffé Vita is far from a simple sip. Nicholas had us inhale the fragrance of the ground beans — or coffee seeds, their more accurate name — and invited us to share any adjectives that sprang to mind. He then poured water over the beans, allowing them a few minutes to “bloom” before tapping into the top layer of beans with a spoon to release each cup’s aromatic steam. It was fascinating to observe how much the water had changed the fragrance of the beans!
After many minutes of smelling, it was finally time to taste the coffee. Nicholas gently skimmed the beans from each cup with two spoons — a technique we had never seen before! — and walked us through proper tasting, slurping from clean spoons to aerate the coffee as much as possible. While we tasted, Nicholas told us more about himself and his work as a roaster, how he is mindful of the four elements at play in his work: the earth that produced the coffee, the water that is used to wash the beans and brew each cup, the fire that roasts the beans, and the air that moves through the drum roaster. Nicholas’s passion for his vocation really impressed the group.
Finally, as we took our last few sips, Nicholas and Assistant Café Manager Lisa Fujino told us about the company’s sustainability mission. While Caffé Vita does not require Fair Trade certification, which they feel can be sometimes prohibitively expensive for small farmers to achieve, they focus on farm-direct relationships: their representatives must visit each farm they source from at least once per harvest season. Just as all the coffee they source must taste exceptional, their growers must also be committed to business practices that are healthy for the community and for the planet.
Thanks to Nicholas, Lisa, and the rest of the Caffé Vita team, Café Circo’s student baristas now feel that every cup of coffee they’re pouring is good for the planet and for the community — right down to the last slurp.