If you’ve been in the shop lately, you’ll already know this, but this month we’re featuring Upper Left Roasters for a second time. Their coffee was so stellar the first time, we just had to bring them back!
We have their Ethiopian Rakussi Hill (notes of fresh fruit, pineapple, & fruit punch), their Ethiopian Cheri which is Upper Left’s first natural processed coffee (notes of blueberry, chocolate, & grape), and a Colombian Manatiales Del Frontino (notes of red apple and orange). We’ve tried really hard to pick a favorite from these three, but it’s honestly impossible. They are all absolutely amazing – especially via Chemex or Kalita.
All that said, I had the awesome opportunity of interviewing Christopher Alspach, the lead roaster at Upper Left. He has incredible intuition when it comes to roasting coffee, and he can truly make the coffee flavors shine. So without further ado, here’s a look behind the scenes at Upper Left!
Tiffany: What is the story behind Upper Left?
Chris: The idea for Upper Left Roasters originated with Jim and Katherine Harris in late 2014. I was brought on board shortly after to help their vision for the coffee program materialize by starting the green coffee buying and roasting operation. In August 2015 we opened a beautiful coffee roastery and cafe in a former jazz club on the fringe of Portland’s Ladd’s Addition neighborhood.
Since day one the plan has been to offer a refined approach to breakfast and lunch offerings and an emphasis on excellence in service in addition to a seasonal menu of single origin coffees.
Tiffany: Why did you decide to start roasting coffee?
Chris: The shop I started in as a barista at had a roaster operator who sat in the back at a Diedrich IR-12 and was constantly roasting. I talked to him a bit and noted that his day-to-day work demanded a detail oriented jack of all trades kind of person and was possibly well suited for me. I then started on a slow path toward this career that included 5+ years as a lead barista at shops in Boston and New York City.
Tiffany: What is your favorite aspect of roasting coffee?
Chris: Roasting coffee as a pursuit continually encourages the roaster operator to learn about their surroundings – you have to be somewhat attuned to the environment and the effect weather and seasonal changes have on roasting and brewing coffee. You get a slight sense of interconnectedness when digging deep into roasting great coffee. As a home brewer or barista you can go down this wormhole as well – check out the effects of water quality, which can vary greatly geographically and seasonally.
Tiffany: What is one thing that you feel is important for people to know about Upper Left?
Chris: We aim to provide a truly beautiful experience for our customers and friends, and we think enjoying great coffee and food is what it’s all about. Also, the only way to get what we’re doing is to come by – stop in and say hi sometime!
Tiffany: Relationship coffee is something that we really value at Lionheart, do you currently have or have plans to start doing direct/fair trade?
Chris: We don’t include certifications or other claims on our packaging or literature and don’t intend to in the near future. I’ve liked that our preference for buying fair trade organic coffee is clear if you visit the shop – there’s always a bunch of green coffee bags labeled FTO by the roaster. It’s been about 90% of our offerings.
I am very excited at the prospect of further developing relationships with folks at origin as ULR grows.
Tiffany: What does the future look like for Upper Left?
Chris: We will reach our one year anniversary as a coffee shop and wholesaler in a couple months, and the future looks like many more of these anniversaries! In the near future please expect to see further integration of our food and coffee programs with extremely delicious results.
We will be carrying Upper Left Roasters through the end of this month, but if you find yourself craving their coffee after June 30th, then you should definitely check out their cafe in SE Portland. They have a super welcoming environment and would love to chat with you 🙂
– Barista, Tiffany