Kaldi’s Coffee has been my favorite St. Louis-area coffee roaster since I moved here in 2009, back when I was first getting into coffee. But as my love for coffee has grown over the years, so has my appreciation for Kaldi’s and their mastery of the craft.
I’ve always wanted to visit the Kaldi’s Roastery and do a cupping and tour, which they do on Friday afternoons. Though they were put on hold for a couple of years due to the pandemic, I finally was able to attend one in February 2023. It was even more fantastic than I had imagined.
The Kaldi’s Roastery Tour and Cupping experience takes place every Friday from 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM. They have occupancy for up to 10, and it’s completely free. Just make a reservation online and you’re good to go.
After checking in, I was led into the Cupping Room and introduced to Este and Jake, who are two of the four roasters at Kaldi’s. To think, I’ve drunk gallons of coffee that was personally roasted by these two!
For the uninitiated, a cupping is a standardized means of tasting and grading coffee, based on its aroma, taste, etc. The preparation method is an immersion style similar to French press, but instead of a plunging filter you just scoop the grounds out carefully with spoons before tasting. So, after 10 minutes of immersion in hot water, you use a spoon to break the top layer of grounds and immediately get your nose in there and give it a good sniff. There were six coffee varieties that we went around the table smelling. After this, Este and Jake carefully removed the grounds with spoons and we were able to taste each of them. Traditionally you just dip a spoon in, sip off the spoon, and then rinse the spoon in water between coffees. Because of COVID, we now use the spoon to scoop some out into a separate cup that we use to taste. No complaints here – I’m all for being more sanitary!
Here are the six coffees we tasted, in my order of preference:
- El Salvador El Retiro Bernardina (natural)
- Ethiopia Sheka Haile Natural
- Honduras Adelmo Ramirez Riviera
- Costa Rica Roger Urena Hidalgo
- Colombia Community
The El Salvador one was incredible! So fruity and floral, which is what I’m looking for in my coffees. Come to find out, it’s a limited release that they don’t make much of, so I won’t be picking that up at the local grocery store for $9-10 a bag like I usually do. The Ethiopia was a close second, and that one is apparently easier to find, so that’s a nice consolation prize.
Throughout this whole process, Este and Jake shared their expertise and were fascinating to talk to. They both said their go-to is the 700 espresso blend. I like it – especially as far as espresso blends go – but I love the fruitiness of their natural processed single origins.
I talked to Este and Jake about my brewing methods and preferred coffee styles and they made personalized recommendations. I was very appreciative that these guys who get to the roastery as early as 5 AM to start heating up the roaster would take their time to give a free tour and answer so many questions.
After we finished tasting, we were led to the production area. Amazingly, most of Kaldi’s coffee is roasted on a vintage 1937 Probat roaster – allegedly one of two left in the world. It’s cast iron and every component is as heavy duty as they come.
When ready to roast, the green coffee beans get poured into a feeder and then lifted up via auger before falling into the drum. There are two temperature probes inside, one for air temperature and one for bean temperature. The roaster watches the computer very closely as the temperature curves populate the screen. When it gets close, they have their hand on the lever ready to dump the beans, as a few seconds can make a difference.
On the wall next to the roaster is a whiteboard that has the basic recipe for each of the currently produced coffees. For example, the 700 espresso blend is 40 pounds Brazil, 50 pounds Columbia, and 40 pound Peru.
Next, we saw the fulfillment area, with dozens of pallets loaded up and ready for distribution. Right next to it were all of the bags of green coffee beans.
They recently entered into a partnership to distribute to Costco, for which they created a special blend named after the roaster, “Vintage 1937.”
Going back the way we came, we passed the 1937 roaster and came to the future of Kaldi’s – a brand new massive Probat roaster which is going to help with both roasting automation and volume. It takes months to install because you have to take into account things such as ceiling beam placement and ventilation, but Este was pretty excited about getting to use this soon.
The last roaster is a very small Probat roaster that is used mostly for small batch single origins where extra precision is needed.
After this, we walked by some of the offices, the repair shop (where they clean and repair coffee equipment for local coffee shops), the Firepot tea room, the barista training kitchen, and through a room with an incredible coffee bean mural of St. Louis before finally returning to the lobby as our hour-and-a-half experience came to a close.
Before we left, Este ran back into the warehouse and prepared a bag of coffee for each of us on the tour based on what he thought we would like. He wanted me to try out a fermented coffee they had been experimenting with, Costa Rica Black Diamond. He was curious how it is as an espresso, since he knew that I liked to use fruity/floral espresso in my lattes. The verdict? It’s incredible! Truly one of my favorite coffees I’ve ever had. It tastes like vanilla cake! He also gave me a bag of one of my favorite beans from the cupping, the Ethiopia Sheka Haile Natural.
I left the tour feeling like I needed to get involved somehow. No, I’m not going to quit my job as a UI Designer to go roast coffee beans for a living, but this crew’s passion for coffee is contagious. I loved being surrounded by fellow coffee enthusiasts. If that’s you, know that these are your people and you owe it to yourself to make it out to a Kaldi’s cupping as soon as you can. If you need somebody to go with, give me a shout!
Just a Sip More About Kaldi’s
Kaldi’s was founded in 1994 in St. Louis, Missouri. There are currently 10 Kaldi’s cafes in the St. Louis area, but my go-to is the Kirkwood location since I can ride my bike there and it has a massive outdoor patio space. Both their drip and espresso drinks are fantastic, but my go-to is typically the Sidecar. For $4, you get a small latte, a shot of espresso, a glass of sparkling water, and some chocolate-covered espresso beans. The idea is that you get to taste the coffee both on its own as espresso and mixed with milk in the latte. Their default espresso, 700, is lighter than most traditional espresso blends, but I like to take it a step further and get the featured single origin, which I think adds more nuanced flavors and aromas.