At Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Company, coffee is about relationships. Yes, the company is delighted when two friends meet for Café Maltas at one of its five area locations. But another kind of relationship that Kaldi’s wants to continue to grow is the personal connection it makes with individual coffee farmers around the world.

“Fair Trade is a great program,” says green coffee buyer Tyler Zimmer, whose family owns Kaldi’s, one of only two certified organic roasters in Missouri. (‘Green’ refers to raw or unroasted coffee.) “Probably 28 percent of our coffee is Fair Trade, a certification that has brought a lot of awareness, like where the coffee comes from and the type of people who grow it. A lot of people look for that certification, but just because a coffee doesn’t fit that criteria doesn’t mean that it can’t actually be more sustainable, which is our goal with Kaldi’s Relationship Coffee program.”

Through this program, Kaldi’s identifies coffees that it will offer every year so quality standards can be set, according to Zimmer. “We establish with the importer/exporter and the community the quality level we’re looking for,” he explains. “We agree on a guaranteed price, typically at least 15 percent above the Fair Trade minimum price.” Zimmer adds that he has visited about 90 percent of the farms in this program. “We usually take a couple of trips a year. I don’t get to every farm every year, but these are ongoing relationships.”

Because of varying growing seasons, certain coffees are available and are fresher at different times of the year. Currently, Kaldi’s is offering a coffee from the Republic of Burundi called Burundi Kinyovu, which is the name of the co-op in this particular community. “It’s in Northern Burundi, and we purchased it for the very first time in 2009,” Zimmer says. “We sent it in for an independent review with, and it scored 95 points out of 100, making it one of the top-scoring coffees that year.” Zimmer notes that in 2009, coffees from Burundi were even less prevalent in the U.S. than they are today. “Coffees from East Africa tend to be unique and special with a lot of citrus-type acidity and very sweet, and Burundi Kinyovu definitely displays those characteristics. We were one of the first roasters in the country to sell Burundi coffee as a single-origin coffee.”

In addition to Burundi, Zimmer says that Kaldi’s is currently developing relationships with communities in Columbia (called Monserrate), Nicaragua and Costa Rica. “Our working with these farmers is a huge deal to them,” Zimmer explains. “These communities are in very remote areas. In Burundi, we gave the growers packages of their coffee and marketing materials with their name on it. They thought it was the neatest thing because they had no idea we were selling their coffee in this way!”

While buying quality coffee is an important first step to a great cup of joe, the next step—the roasting process—also is imperative. Zimmer feels Kaldi’s is very fortunate to roast all of its coffee in a 1937 vintage German cast-iron roaster. “It’s the only one of this exact model—a G75 Probat—that is still in commercial use in the U.S. today,” he says. “A lot of roasters use these vintage machines, and it’s because the cast iron provides a great source of heat in cooking and for roasting coffee, as well.” And when it comes to the finished product, Kaldi’s goal is simple: “We want you to taste the coffee. We’re not adding any roast flavor to the coffee—we are just unlocking the flavor profile that’s already there.”

To better understand the varied world of coffee, Kaldi’s offers ‘cuppings,’ which is the industry standard for tasting coffee. “It’s how we evaluate quality, but cuppings also are a great way to learn how coffee from Guatemala can taste different from Columbia that can taste different from Ethiopia,” Zimmer explains. Kaldi’s has cuppings every Friday afternoon at its Mid-town roasting facility. Because space fills quickly, Zimmer says it’s best to call 727-9991 or email for details. “We try to get people excited about coffee, and we’re happy to help anyone increase their knowledge.”

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