Around the perimeter of the wooden table were 10 plastic cups, each with a number noted on a white piece of paper. In the center, a couple of water cups with spoons, and five shot glasses, one for each of us who would join in cupping.
It’s a weekly occurrence for the Indaba Coffee roasting staff, and I was invited to partake. As we chatted, owner Bobby Enslow ground beans from 10 distinct coffee varieties, and placed a sampling into the 10 cups. We rounded the table slowly, each of us inhaling deeply, picking up specific characteristics, then moving on until we’d filled our nostrils with the aromas of each cup.
The crew, of course, was prolific in identifying the slightest trace of fruit or a scent affiliated with a country of origin. “Pomegranate,” said Sarah Wellenbrock. “Raspberry La Croix,” said Josh Adrian. On and on they went. Cedar. Fajitas. Raisin. Beef broth. Nougat. Kombucha. Cocoa Puffs.
A novice, I was ashamed that a writer who loves coffee struggled to find better adjectives than “mild” and “bold” in my head. It was a proud moment when I said, “I’m picking up hints of alcohol in #2” and Adrian later validated it, explaining that #2 was Rwandan coffee from fermented beans.
After two more rounds for tasting, I jotted in my notebook, numbers 3, 4, 6, 8 and 10 as favorites. When Enslow revealed the names of each coffee in our blind test, it was no surprise, these were Sumatra, High Drive, Bowl & Pitcher, and Lilac City – selections I’d bought from Indaba off and on for a few years.
The Science of Coffee
Today it’s easy to find videos demonstrating virtually every method and aspect of coffee service. But they were were slim in 2009 when Enslow was starting his business, so he learned from industry leaders in the Pacific Northwest – like DOMA, a Post Falls wholesaler, and Stumptown Roasters in Portland. He also purchased a service from Facsimile, which provides blind samples for experimental purposes.
Everything about coffee production is an experiment, he says. You learn which cups hold a consistent temperature, what percentage of coffee to extract for its full potential, the time a specific selection should roast and on what setting. You test the moisture and color, not just with the eye but with digital scans that provide precise analysis.
The complexity is why he fell in love with coffee. “I love the academic part – the constant learning.”
He supports ongoing education for staff members, too. Everyone who wants to roast must complete a related certification from Barista Hustle, and then any additional certifications they wish to pursue on their own will yield them a pay raise.
From my brief experience with the cupping team, it was clear that the learning was not the only perk (pun intended).
“What I love most about cupping is our team collaboration in perfecting our quality control,” says Wellenbrock. We’re always trying to determine how our coffee could be better, and in the process, it’s elevating our team.”
That synergy was apparent. Josh, perched on a stool, had the clipboard and a detailed chart for scoring 10 attributes of each sample, from aroma, texture, and flavor, to acidity, sweetness, and aftertaste. Wellenbrock and Crystal Walton called out their observations at each stage and Adrian handled the scoring.
A Shift in Focus
The same humility Enslow embraced in learning the science, he also built into his motto and business philosophy. In the first decade, “Simply Great Coffee” reflected his passion for quality. But entering the next era, Enslow wanted to focus on the reason he opened his first shop in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood: He cared about creating and fostering community.
The new Indaba motto – now plastered on mugs, posters, and stickers – is “Love People, Love Coffee.” And Enslow only hires team members who understand that putting people first is non-negotiable, no matter how great a person’s coffee-making knowledge and skills are.
Choose Your Indaba Adventure
- 1425 W. Broadway: The original shop, two blocks west of the Courthouse. Neighborhood feel with indoor and outdoor seating.
- 1315 W. Summit Parkway: Great for a quick pick-me-up while shopping in Kendall Yards.
- 419 N. Nettleton: In a shared space with Hello Sugar donuts, this spot is mere steps away from Centennial Train and a lovely spot that overlooks the river.
- 210 N. Howard: Grab a drink here and mosey to some of downtown’s best shops, or across the street to Riverfront Park.
- 518 W. Riverside: Pre-COVID, this location featured live musicians on weekend evenings, providing a fun yet chill atmosphere for hanging out. Here’s to future tunes and treats.