Laura Meunier: How Ensambles Café use IKAWA for Quality Control in Mexico
There were over a million roasts on IKAWA sample roasters last year, each of them for a purpose – usually sample evaluation, and there are inspiring stories behind each and every customer. In this post Laura Meunier, UK & Europe Director for Ensambles Café, shares her experience sourcing speciality coffee in Mexico, and how the IKAWA has helped her and the team on the ground set up mobile labs, get access to remote coffee-growing communities across this vast country and improve their quality control.
Ensambles Café is a Mexican coffee exporter/importer specialised in sourcing coffees from the regions of Veracruz, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero. In April 2021, Laura Meunier left the UK to source coffees with the team on the ground, she took her IKAWA ProV3 with her.
“Once you have found the right profile, you can use it for all samples being delivered. It frees up a lot of time allowing you to be very efficient”
After successfully convincing border officers that the machine she was carrying was a genuine coffee roasting machine (one they had never seen before), she headed to one of the main coffee producing regions in Mexico: Oaxaca.
In order to access and purchase coffee from producers all over the country, the Ensambles team has to set up different local quality control labs. This can be logistically challenging because of the size of the country and how far apart the coffee growing regions are. A basic QC lab should include a sample roaster, moisture level and water activity readers, grinders, scales and cupping gear etc – which is costly. The most expensive item is the sample roaster – especially when classic barrel sample roasters are installed – so setting up several QC labs is a big investment. And that’s before we consider training of staff to be able to roast the samples.
IKAWA roasters are as small as they are mighty, and Laura was able to move between coffee labs, accompanied by her sample roaster, increasing efficiency in the buying process – and meaning the multiple locations did not require multiple roasters. You can read IKAWA’s advice on traveling with your roaster here.
Thanks to the peli case, the roaster remains safe being carried from place to place, often on uneven ground. “It was great walking down the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca city, wheeling the IKAWA in its case without the worry of damaging it” remembers Laura. On one occasion they sent the IKAWA from one city to another via a ‘buseta’, a minivan service very popular within the state to transport people and goods. “I needed to urgently roast coffee in Oaxaca city, but the IKAWA Pro was in a lab in the North of the State. The quickest and cheapest way to receive the roaster was to use a buseta. We were quite nervous as the roads are pretty bad, but the roaster arrived in perfect condition. We were quite impressed!”.
Aside from seasonal stationary cupping labs, Laura and the Ensambles team also organise mobile labs, where they bring their quality and cupping equipment to coffee communities in very remote areas.
Ensambles Cafe is on a mission to bring comprehensive support to producers on the ground, helping with the transfer of knowledge and technology, while working on making the coffee supply chain more sustainable. Being able to show producers the entire quality control process helps make everything very transparent; most producers in Mexico have never had a cupping session and the power has pretty much always been in the buyer’s hand.
During the 2021 harvest, part of the Ensambles team organised a trip to purchase coffee in the very remote community of Xochiltepec in the Sierra Sur, Oaxaca, located more than 3 hours from the closest town. Ensambles have been buying coffee from this group of producers for a few years. Once the coffee had been harvested, processed and dried, the Ensambles team brought with them the IKAWA Pro, bottled water, all the necessary cupping gear, to set up a mobile lab in the community.
They asked all of the producers to join them and bring samples of their coffees, milling, testing and roasting them on the IKAWA then setting up a cupping with the producers.
Producers are accustomed to having other people telling them what their coffee is worth, something that they are not often able to question. By including producers in this whole process, Ensambles is able to share knowledge and build trust with them.
Laura explains that the IKAWA Pro is very helpful in these types of settings: the portability, ease of use, reliability and repeatability of the roast profiles is unique to IKAWA.
The producers who joined were really curious about the IKAWA Pro, as they had never seen a machine like this before. “We explained them that the roaster worked a bit like a popcorn machine, blowing hot air into the green beans and roasting them”, Laura says. ‘We told them that most of our customers on the other side of the world would be using an IKAWA as well to roast and evaluate samples of their coffee. This reinforces the link we create with the producers and helps them understand what happens to their coffee once it leaves their farm.’
By the end of the 2021 harvest, Laura had developed 3 different IKAWA roast profiles. She used the IKAWA online library as a starting point. “I found a couple of profiles that worked well for more delicate coffees like Geshas, and I adjusted the parameters of the roast to better suit the fresh Mexican samples that I was working with”, she describes. For the washed Typicas of high altitude, she developed more profiles herself. I kept tweaking the profiles as I received more fresh samples from producers, assessing the results through cupping, until I found a profile I was happy with for our washed Typicas”, she explains.
“It is very practical – for example in the North of Oaxaca, pretty much all coffee grown is Typica or Bourbon washed”, she adds, “so you don’t need to develop 100s of profiles”. “Once you have found the right profile, you can use it for all samples being delivered. It frees up a lot of time allowing you to be very efficient, especially when you have a reduced team. You can start your roast and go do something else while it’s roasting.” In addition to the Gesha / delicate profile and the washed Typica one, she developed a profile for natural process coffees.
To view these profiles, tap on the buttons below from a mobile with the IKAWA Pro App installed.
Laura also finds the IKAWA convenient when someone on the team is not an experienced roaster. “I had a new member join the Quality team this year. She was very busy preparing samples, welcoming producers, but didn’t have a lot of time for roasting training”, Laura tells us. “I had to leave the remote lab in the North of Oaxaca and head back to Oaxaca city for a week. I was able to leave the IKAWA Pro with her, after briefly explaining how to use it. I showed her how to download the IKAWA app, shared my profiles via Whatsapp, so she could keep roasting all of the samples delivered by producers that week, ready for me to cup upon my return a week later.”
“It was also a good introduction to roasting as you can see the curve on the app, you can see the colour changes through the glass lid, smell the roast development and roast changes”, Laura adds.
A big “Thank You” to Laura for sharing her experience sourcing and buying coffee in Mexico and how she used her IKAWA Pro to helping to improve coffee, from farm to cup.
Learn move about how IKAWA can help your business.
Aïssatou Diallo is a coffee professional with over 8 years of experience in the speciality coffee industry. She has worked across the whole coffee supply chain, from roasting for industry leaders, to quality control, green coffee sales, sourcing, and overall management of the European operations for a Latin American green coffee exporter. She is the founder and director of Coffee and Fripes, a new concept store in East London, combining speciality coffee and vintage clothing.