Many baristas dream of starting their own coffee company. Charles Korson in Traverse City, Michigan decided to make his dream a reality. We asked the founder of Fortunate Coffee Co. what inspires him to work in coffee, how he brews coffee at home, and what we should do in the Great White North.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Why do you work in specialty coffee?
I think about how lucky I am every day, to be able to work with so many delicious things and to serve so many awesome people. I get to watch customers’ children grew up in the shop, just as I get to watch certain coffees grew and change from one harvest to the next. It’s a relationship, it’s emotional, and it is really meaningful to me.
What inspired you to start Fortunate Coffee Co.? What’s your roasting philosophy?
I started FCC because I needed to know more about coffee, and I wanted to really know what a coffee could taste like. I was searching for answers and insight into the coffee brewing process, but I think what has happened is that I’ve actually thought of more questions and possible variables to explore.
I’ve messed up some coffees pretty badly, but I’ve learned a lot from those mistakes. When I first started roasting I was constantly under developing the coffees for fear of taking them too far and burying them. My approach to roasting now is to try to ensure that as much of the coffee’s inherent flavors (and it’s terroir) are showing through while keeping the acid levels up and in balance with the sugars.
I’ve never been to Traverse City, MI. What sort of place is it? What are your favorite places to eat or grab a drink after work?
You should come to Traverse City! It’s a small city, but really over performs for its size. I love the agricultural heritage of the area, and how everyone coming back to Traverse City is realizing what a gift it is to have all of this abundance in our backyard. Also, it’s located on a giant lake, which means summer’s here are amazing. I don’t eat out much because I love to cook, but when I do it’s Cook’s House or Trattoria Stella. I also frequent Roaming Harvest when the truck is out on the streets. Workshop Brewery, 7 Monks, Low Bar, and The Little Fleet are all great places to grab a drink in town.
I read that Traverse City is famous for its annual Cherry Festival. Coffee is a type of cherry. Have you thought about the significance of roasting what’s essentially a cherry seed in a city known for its cherries?
Oh yes, the infamous Cherry Festival! I think the idea of celebrating an agricultural product is a great idea, unfortunately our Cherry Festival has strayed quite a bit from its original intents. I think FCC might start it’s own Coffee Cherry Festival this summer. It would be an awesome opportunity to make the connection for people that coffee is an agricultural product, and that it suffers from the same problems as any other. In this area people really get it that some years the prices that a cherry farmer gets paid for his crop are better than others, but I don’t know how many people take that scenario into consideration when their favorite coffee isn’t around for long or its gone up in price because of roya or catastrophic rains.
What coffee have you enjoyed roasting the most lately?
I’ve been having a many month long love affair with the coffees of Ethiopia. I feel like I have never tasted as much complexity and sweetness out of such a range of coffees. It has been a pleasure working with every one of them that I have gotten my hands on. I recently roasted both a washed and a natural Ch’elelk’tu, both of which I particularly loved and obsessed over.
What’s your favorite way to brew coffee at home?
I drink coffee at home from a press pot filtered through a Chemex filter, as it’s the best of both worlds in my opinion. I love the heavy sweetness from full immersion, but love that well delineated cup from the paper filtration.
Who are some of your favorite micro-roasters?
I have recently really enjoyed coffee from Madcap, Tonx, Heart, Tandem, Oddly Correct, and Heartbreak. I know they aren’t really “micro” any more, but I drink a ton of Intelligentsia coffee every day and am quite happy about it.