Michael Butterworth - Why La Palma?

As many of you are aware, we are sending our Michael Butterworth back into the trenches. After placing fifth in the Southeast region of the Barista Competition, Michael qualified for the U.S. National Coffee Championship in Seattle April 24 - 27. Michael has chosen to compete with the Colombian La Palma and below he tells us exactly why...

Quills is committed to roasting only the highest quality coffees at all times. But sometimes we come across a coffee that’s so remarkably delicious, even we’re surprised. La Palma from Tolima, Colombia is one of those coffees.

La Palma comes to us from producer Leonor Gonzales through Cafe Import’s Aces Program. The coffees in this program scored an impossibly high 90+ points on cupping table, which means professional quality graders were especially impressed with this coffee’s flavor, body, and sweetness. The farmers in this program are rewarded with higher premiums for their produce- on average more than double the rate Fair Trade and other organizations pay.

At only 5 hectares, La Palma is tiny. By comparison, Brazil’s famed coffee farm Daterra is 3,200 hectares. But at 5,500 feet above sea level, La Palma has the perfect environmental conditions for growing exceptional coffee. Coffees from Tolima are known for their vibrant acidity and La Palma is no exception. Sweet flavors of tangerine and plum gave way to tangy rhubarb. My favorite part of this coffee, however, is the mouthfeel. Brewed with a V60 or pulled as an espresso, this coffee has a velvety tactile session that makes for some very pleasant sipping. A cane syrup sweetness lingers on the palate and leaves this barista wanting another sip.

Next week I’m excited and honored to use La Palma to represent Quills at the United States Barista Championship in Seattle. It’s a nerve-wracking endeavor to compete against 35 of the best baristas in the nation, but I’m positive that La Palma is on par with any other coffee that will be served. Now it’s just up to me as a barista to serve it in a manner that pays proper homage to Leonor Gonzales, Cafe Imports, my coworkers at Quills, and the city of Louisville!

Colombian Triple Crown

They say that the best things come in small packages. And we say what could be better than multiple small packages grouped together into one big awesome package?!!

In this land where coffee flows like wild horses (sound familiar)? It's flowing proudly now as we gear up for the Kentucky Derby - the first and the favorite of the annual Triple Crown of horse racing.

In celebration we are now offering our own grand Triple Crown. And ours consists of some of the finest tasting coffees the world has to offer - roasted with the utmost care, attention, love and goodwill by yours truly.

The Colombian Triple Crown
La Palma   Pradera   Nariño

Each bag will contain 4 oz. of each roast - packaged together - all three for $21

La Palma

We've been raving about this one for the short time we've had it - specifically that it's a part of Cafe Import's Aces Program which rewards farmers for extra exceptional coffees. This one scored super high on the cupping table (more on that very soon when Michael Butterworth tells us why it's the coffee he'll be competing with in the US Barista Competition in Seattle). It's thick and juicy with plum, tangerine and strawberry rhubarb. We've served up a lot of it lately through the V60 and Chemex - with ecstatic reviews. 

La Pradera

This coffee is one of the 20 finalists from a regional competition in Huila -which you can read about HERE  It's a full-bodied coffee that exemplifies a mellow, luxurious Colombian profile. Soft and creamy with white grape, chocolate and caramel. 

And our newest addition...

Excelso Nariño

This coffee comes to us from an exciting new program for our importer called “Regional Selects”. Highlighting four distinct growing regions- or departments- within Colombia, this program blends coffees from each area to showcase the unique flavor profiles inherent to each.

More from our importer, Cafe Imports, on this program: “We think that the terroir…sun, weather and placement on the planet contribute largely to the flavor of these coffees when picked ripe and handled properly. These coffees are selected by cup and then blended together like a Rhone wine or a local honey that comes (from) many fields in a four mile radius.”

This regional select -from the Nariño department- shows its regional characteristics well. Nariño generally tends to produce coffees that are floral and perfumed, with bright and intense citric acidity. This coffee in particular is tangy, bright and juicy with a velvety body and chocolate-orange overtones. It’s been a dynamic contributor to our Inkwell house blend for a few months now, and we’re excited to bring it to the forefront as a single origin offering in conjunction with the other stellar Colombian coffees in our lineup right now. 

Quills Coffee and Louisville's Stoneware

Quills Coffee is elated to once again be partnering with a proudly local maker of top-class, quality goods. And this time it's one that's earned the respect and prestige of nearly 200 years of fine crafting. 

Louisville's well-known Stoneware Art Factory is one of the oldest stoneware manufacturers in the United States! It was established in 1815 and only grows in its commitment to and expertise in the transformation of clay into functional art for the home, kitchen and garden. 

Located at 731 Brent Street, the factory celebrated its largest renovation in over 20 years this past Thursday unveiling new collections and products.

So what does Quills have to do with this besides being huge fans? 

Well all you lucky folks embarking on tours of the new operations will be served cups of yours truly as you peruse. Our coffee will also be available for retail sale there and we are working to develop a line of Stoneware's specialty cups for Quills cafes to sell.

It's all very exciting. and we had a blast at the opening so we thought we'd share a few pictures from the day... 

Quills Welcomes Josh McGee


Quills would like to introduce you to our latest superstar: Wholesale Accounts Representative Josh McGee 

                                              Super hip, close-up photo; Beard: 12% 

                                              Super hip, close-up photo; Beard: 12% 

It's super exciting to be growing so much, so far, so wide, we have need of cool titles like this. It's also super exciting to invite yet more passionate and fun people on board our ship coffee.

So we'll just let the boy introduce himself to ya and you just try, (we dare you) just try not to like him. 

Josh McGee from Knoxville, TN. I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a huge Vols fan. My motto in life is TCB (Take Care of Business). I have been in the restaurant industry for over 13 years and I have a passion for food and drink. I joined Quills because I believe in the culture, the coffee, and the brand. I want everyone to know the importance of buying local and support local businesses. I grew up as a Punk Rock/Hardcore kid so the DIY (Do It Yourself) lifestyle has been in my blood. Local business embodies DIY and that is a great thing. People need to know all over the country and world that Quills has kick-ass coffee. We take pride in the process, show our craftsmanship, and embrace the fruit or our labors. My job is to take those ideals and make it known to Louisville, the nation, and the world.
    Still pretty unavoidably hip candid photo geeking out with the roasters;      Beard 83% (depending on who you ask)

    Still pretty unavoidably hip candid photo geeking out with the roasters; 
    Beard 83% (depending on who you ask)


Quills Loves

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The beloved Charles Schulz once said: "All you need is love but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt"

And Plato said that "love is a serious mental disease."

Well then....

We do agree that chocolate goes right along with love - the friendly kinds, the familial kinds, the romantic kinds, the self kinds... So we're giving you 25% off our incredible hand-crafted chocolate bars when you buy a bag of coffee. That's any of our selection of New York's Mast Brothers and Nashville's Olive & Sinclair (including their Bourbon Nib Brittle). 


We're also offering 10% off all brewing equipment and Quills merchandise

These deals are active now and will continue through Saturday, February 15th.

But there's more! 

On the actual calendar, officially celebrated day - that's Friday, February 14th - we encourage you to "Share the Love" with your significant other, your coworker, your best friend, your mom... (you get the point). All day long we invite you to come into any location, buy a drink and get 50% off a second. And it's all because... well shucks, We love ya! 


In case you missed it...

...looking back at some good stories over the past few months...

*Our partnership with Thrive Farmers and the cool ways they're working to make sure quality coffee and quality pay are provided on all ends. 

*In regards to our manually brewed options- we replaced the French Press with another immersion technique - The Clever. This is our ode to it's lovely efficiency. 

*We've been so unbelievably honored and excited to now have gone out in a Craft Coffee subscription box three times. This is how it happened the first time and it's a pretty amazing story. 

*And while we certainly recommend Craft's quality choices (especially if you'd like to taste coffees from all over), you can also receive Quill's coffee in the same fashion by signing up for our subscription services. Also available are wholesale accounts. Learn about them both here.

*Hard to believe while we're stuck in the middle of this polar vortex but someday it will be warm again. And Cold Brew will be back. Here's something to help you envision it, start looking forward, or just start making it yourself ahead of time.

*People still get super excited about latte art and why wouldn't they? It's like you get to sip on a creamy espresso-infused rosetta or tulip or heart.  Sounds like heaven. It also sounds like a great excuse for a competition. Many Quillsians have taken part but here's an interview with just a couple of them back when they headed to New York for one of the biggest battles.

*Awwww... back when our red-bearded friend Lee Sill was with us and on bar educating the world - or at least downtown New Albany - on brewing really really good coffee (now he does it for Barista Parlour in Nashville along with his wife- and former Quills manager - Emily). Thank goodness we got some COFFEE 101 tips from him recorded before he left. 

Quills Visits Kentucky Distilleries

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Our operations team took some time out to visit a few of Kentucky's treasured breweries and distilleries recently. The goal was to simply enjoy some good old-fashioned team building while further supporting and appreciating one of our great state's finest legacies. Of course- there was also discussion of the craft itself and how closely the creation of the two potent potables -coffee and bourbon- might be related (as opposite as their generally happy effects on our body might be). However it was just that latter consideration that had a bit of a surprising resolution- at least according to what many of us might have guessed. Our roaster -Jesse Myers- and New Albany manager- Justin Taylor- gave us their thoughts on the trip and what they learned.

We got to see everything. It was awesome. We tasted sour mash and sweet mash side by side. Both are appropriately named. The sour mash uses some fresh corn and some that is carried over from previous mashes (yeast and all). Then - something like SIXTY pounds of yeast is added to these massive fermentation tanks filled with mash. It was all churning and bubbling and alive. We tried a few different “white dogs” (high proof whiskey before it’s diluted and added to barrels for aging). One neat thing was getting to to allow the volatiles to evaporate in sequence from our hands. First- we smelled strong burning alcohol. After that evaporated we smelled yeast. And last- sweet corn. Our tour guide was a total nut and we loved him.

I thought it was all fascinating. It’s interesting considering potential similarities to coffee, but I don’t really think there are many. It’s a completely different product and requires a different palate to taste. One thing I found very interesting was how grand everything was. Bourbon has been made in largely the same ways for well over a hundred years. Coffee- on the other hand- goes through so many waves and trends. It goes to show how precarious our product and craft is and how many different ways it can be made to taste delicious.
— Jesse Myers, Roaster
The coolest thing for me was just the history behind it all. Dealing with the coffee industry- which is young itself- everything’s a relatively new development. We’re still working out things and bickering amongst ourselves. It was awesome hearing about storing techniques, test batches and the smells. Oh the smells! Great time with great people learning about an industry similar, though at the same time not at all similar, to ours.
— Justin Taylor, New Albany Manager

Quills Coffee and THRIVE Farmers

There is much discussion and even controversy in the ideas of coffee fairness - specifically the oft-misunderstood label of Fair Trade and how much money actually makes it to the farmers. We will not be taking the time to hash all of that out at the moment but we do encourage educating yourself. There is a lot of easily searchable info out there explaining the pros and cons, ins and outs and various positions

Our recent engagement with the THRIVE Farmers business model is not a statement against other methods of fair business practices, however we are excited about these new endeavors and appreciate how they are bringing us such interesting coffees and seeking to improve the way in which farmers are compensated and able to continue growing their farms. 

The San Cristobal "honey-process" has its own interesting story we've told you about recently. It also was used by Michael in his recent success at the USCC Barista Competition. This coffee was the first we worked with THRIVE in obtaining. You can read more about the specific unique process of that coffee (and order it) here.

THRIVE's basic approach is to allow for direct relationships from the farmer to the roaster without a lot of the costs and logistical challenges that make that impractical for many.

From their website

Farmers normally receive only a tiny percentage of the value their crop generates as it moves through the complex supply chain and is leveraged by multiple players in the coffee industry. THRIVE farmers allows the farmer to share in the revenue generated. Being closer to the consumer, the farmer captures added value from his crop to support his family and community while also investing in the future

This "farm-to-table" approach looks something like this...

  1. Consign a portion of the farmer's crop
  2. Defer immediate payment in order to obtain a much higher price when the roasted coffee is sold at retail
  3. Deliver a higher percentage of the net profit from the retail sale to the farmer

Several weeks ago we were fortunate enough to be able to talk to the farmer -in addition to the guys at THRIVE- through Skype and learned a little more about both the process and THRIVE's practices and hopes. 

Our Director of Operations Luke Daugherty sums it up:

With THRIVE in particular - I think the general reality that we’re excited about is that they are trying to “buck the system” so to speak in how they deal with the supply chain in a way that is more beneficial to farmers for the long term. That along with the fact that they are doing it THROUGH a quality focus, rather than just a baseline certification like Fair Trade, is exciting and I think more sustainable as a model. It’s new and so it will take a few years to see it really begin to pan out for farmers, but it’s exciting nonetheless. When a farmer can walk away with 75% of the cost that a roaster pays for a premium specialty coffee like this… that is a lot of money that can go a long way toward development year after year- and then back to the workers themselves.
— Luke Daugherty, Quills Coffee

But we certainly can't tell the story as well and personally as THRIVE farmer Alejandro Garcia. We encourage you to watch.