While walking around at Surf Expo earlier in the month, I saw a booth that, visually, did not appear to be so much about a brand as it was about Haiti. Having actually been to Haiti in 2008 and having been left with very strong impressions of the place after the trip, I wandered over and checked it out. It turned out that the booth was for Tom's, a company that I originally knew for shoes and later for eyeglasses. In a rather interesting move, it turns out that the brand was making coffee their third act.
I got talking with the Mid-Atlantic sales rep for a little while and he gave me a bag of coffee and asked me to let him know what I thought. Cool. But knowing close to nothing about coffee, I took it to my neighborhood coffee shop one morning a few days after I got home from the show in order to get a more expert opinion...
The brand's slogan on the packaging is, "Coffee for you, water for all." The idea is that for every bag of coffee you purchase, you also provide one week of clean water for a person in need. The One For One water program is centered in countries where Tom's sources their coffee beans and is part of the larger charitable giving program that has become a defining element of the Tom's brand.
My son tagged along with me. One of the beautiful things about living in a pedestrian-scale community...
Years ago, I was in Vietnam and, while at a restaurant one evening, got talking with some guys at a neighboring table. One of them was a coffee trader from London and the other was some kind of high-born business guy from Sweden. Taking advantage of the opportunity to talk with someone who knew a lot about something that I knew relatively little about, I asked the coffee trader where the best coffee came from. He said, in order: Ethiopia, Columbia, and Kenya.
With my sample of Tom's coffee having been sourced from Peru, I was curious to hear from my friends at 25–30 Espresso how it lined up with the information I had been given years back. Trevor, who manages the shop and who pulls a great shot, told me that Peruvian coffee beans tend to be a little larger than average and have a slightly sweeter flavor. On first inspection, he said, the Tom's beans were in line with those expectations.
Trevor also noted that the beans had a slightly dark color. While this isn't necessarily a negative thing, it usually is a characteristic of beans from a larger roasting company. Starbucks Coffee (SBUX), which generally sells beans with a dark roast, was the obvious point of reference. In Starbucks Coffee's case, the dark roast is necessitated by the the fact that the beans are stored for so long before reaching the customer, and it's often pointed out by critics to be a sign of an overall lower quality of their product.
The Tom's coffee cupped nicely. It had nice crema and a pleasant coffee smell. The scent was little floral, which is a good quality to find when cupping. Everything about the experience was very consistent; each cup had similar profiles in color, aroma and taste. And that's a sign of good quality coffee.
The most discernible notes in the Tom's blend were chocolate, caramel and nut. To a highly critical coffee drinker, the flavor could be experienced as a little flat, but this was only in comparison to what one would likely get from a small roaster, and not a sign of a general problem with the product. Trevor commented that a lighter roast level might have produced more individual flavor notes, but for a large roaster where the coffee beans normally spent more time in distribution, this result was perfectly acceptable. Tom's coffee actually did quite well in this regard.
So, what were the general impressions? Tom's Coffee provided a full, rich, medium-roast cup with good mouth feel. It had the slightly sweet, buttery flavor that is characteristic of Peruvian beans, and a quality superior to a similar bag of beans from a large chain-store brand. Definitely good on a cold winter morning...