We met these rad folks at the Pulley Collective, a cooperative roasting space in Brooklyn where we've both been working recently. Their coffee is quite impressive, and we are jazzed to share a few of their single origin selections with you! We're starting with two Neat coffees: Colombia Finca El Mirador, featuring the sweetness of panela (unrefined cane sugar) and laced with floral and herbal notes, and Kenya Gathiruini AB with notes of apricot, white grape and tomato. While very different, both of these make for superb Chemex pour overs.
More on Neat's story:
Neat Coffee was founded in 2009 (the same year as HubBub!) by Rachel Haughey in Darien, Connecticut. Before starting the company, Rachel worked as an oil trader but was let go during the economic downturn in 2008. She'd moved to Connecticut for the job, and while living there quickly discovered that the area was sorely lacking good coffee. In the past, she’d worked briefly as a barista and continued to be a coffee enthusiast, so Rachel decided that instead of looking for a new job, she would open her own coffee company. She started off with two other partners (who are no longer with Neat), and in 2010 hired her current partner and head roaster, Kyle Bellinger.
Kyle grew up nearby in New York State's Hudson Valley and had become a Neat customer, stopping in whenever he was passing through the area. When he left his job in his hometown, he asked if Neat was hiring and was welcomed aboard. "I learned later that they weren’t even hiring at that time, but they went out on a limb for me," he says.
Kyle quickly worked his way up to a management position and was tasked with buying coffee for the shop. "We were a classic multi-roaster shop buying from everybody...it helped us develop our palates for coffee and decide what we did and didn't like," Kyle says. "We eventually became dissatisfied with what other roasters could offer."
In 2012, Rachel and Kyle made the decision to begin roasting their own coffee, but neither had experience in that part of the business. So, they traveled to Norway for a three day training intensive with Tim Wendelboe (a legendary figure in modern coffee culture), and came away with a much deeper understanding of the process. "I can honestly say four years later that was maybe the best decision we ever made as a roasting company," Kyle says. "I have immense amount of respect for Tim...he got us started off on the right foot."
The Neat team didn’t start actively roasting until December 2013, when they became members of the Pulley Collective, a shared space where coffee companies can rent roasting time and equipment. At that point, they began roasting for their cold brew and espresso blends, hoping to learn how to roast one type of coffee at a time before tackling their whole menu. In April 2014, Neat began roasting all of their own coffee and have been operating as such ever since. "But," Kyle says, "it doesn’t stop there."
"I wasn’t content buying coffee from importers," he says. "I really like being able to tell our customers stories [about coffee], and the only way to really do that is to visit the places you buy coffee from." As a small company, Neat faces understandable limitations of time and resources and aren't able to travel to every country where their beans come from, but they have made a real push to buy as much as they can directly from growers.
They've also started a project with Jose Jadir Losada Vargas, a grower in Colombia who runs Finca El Mirador (in the town of Suaza in the Huila Department). Kyle was introduced to Jose through an exporter who agreed to take Kyle on a trip there and introduce the two. "That’s been a pretty rewarding experience - we’re his only major client, so it’s really like he and I working very closely together, sharing ideas, going back and forth and maintaining a dialogue," Kyle says.
Last November, Kyle actually purchased part of Finca El Mirador, so now he and Jose are partners in in the farm. Kyle visits at least twice a year for harvests - helping out how he can, tasting coffee, and connecting with Jose. Neat continues to develop relationships with growers: in July, Kyle will visit Brazil, and hopes to visit some farms in Africa before the end of 2016. "I feel a responsibility to be conscious of everyone in the supply chain, from the beginning to the very end consumer," he says. "The best way I found to do that is to work with growers to develop quality at origin, and develop relationships for the necessary middlemen."
As for roasting style, Kyle roasts coffee pretty lightly. "The darker you roast, the more you homogenize," he notes, "and if we’re spending all this time to develop relationships, the thing I have to do is highlight what makes these coffees beautiful." Neat takes education of their staff very seriously - baristas go through rigorous internal training (24-30 hours of training, including an examination process), and most new hires don’t even see the espresso machine for a few months. "Once you get on bar, it’s an accomplishment," Kyle says. "At that point, we can really trust people to be on the front lines of finally serving the coffee to our customers."
We love this philosophy, and have loved getting to learn more about Neat Coffee and all the amazing things they are striving to do to be responsible stewards of coffee on its planet-wide journey. Come try one of their beautiful single origin coffees and enjoy the fruits of their labor!