Meet the Roaster: Todd Carmichael of La Colombe

A peek inside the world of a man who is dedicated to coffee

Founded on a certain ethic (both Carmichael and Iberti come from farming families) their focus was, and always has been, the farmers. “Early on we decided that whatever became of coffee, whatever pressures were on us, we would first and foremost do right by the farmers,” Carmichael told me, “to us that meant — and means — sticking with our source farms through thick and thin, lukewarm cuppings and the like, frost, rot, disease or bumper crop… we were in it with them.” La Colombe has a certain trademark roast. “I tend towards smoky flavors in food, and I like the same to come out in my coffee,” Carmichael told me. He and Iberti roast dark, enough to make it smoky while maintaining the complex flavors of the bean.

But in coffee circles, no roast is without controversy. La Colombe may have brought us culinary coffee, but a few years later a new movement emerged, later deemed the “Third Wave.” Duane Sorenson became the new face of coffee, founding Stumptown Coffee in Portland in '99. He roasted a bit lighter, believing that anything too deep would mask the complex depth of each bean. Chicago’s Intelligentsia, North Carolina’s Counter Culture, already on the scene (both founded in '95), were grouped with this new movement. And La Colombe, with their interest in a deeper roast? To Third-Wavers, they slowly became the new Starbucks.

So Carmichael, a writer himself, took to Esquire in 2010 to create some dialogue on the matter. Not one to soften a blow, he published a guide, “7 Steps to Avoid the Horrible Hipster Coffee Trend,” and later broke the news that “Stumptown Sold Out,” referring to Sorenson’s controversial transaction with a private equity fund. “It was never against Third-Wave, per se. It was more about extreme hipsterism,” Carmichael explained. What followed suit was a barrage of hate directed at Carmichael and his coffee, circulating the blogosphere.

These recent events made my trip to Philly to meet with Carmichael all the more exciting — with this controversy circulating, I was curious about him. Surely a man who immerses himself in humanitarianism, adventures, and coffee can’t be all that bad? And he wasn’t. In fact, he was kind, funny, animated, and honest. He could talk at length about his expeditions and adventures, about coffee, music, and Africa. He was quite pleasant to be around, actually.

So you aren’t into the smokey flavors of coffee? Fair enough. But if you are, making the trip to a local La Colombe cafe is becoming easier, as they’re slowly growing their presence in major U.S. cities. But even with a new shop in Chi-Town, and a third New York City location, La Colombe is still Philly’s baby, their pride and joy.

And the roaster just won’t stop. Carmichael and Iberti set up a bottling plant at their Philly roastery to turn out Pure Black, a cold-brewed coffee. Steeped for 16 hours, then pressed and filtered twice, it’s a rich and strong brew, housed in a beautifully designed bottle. Also new is their southern blend, the “Lousiane.” It’s smoky, of course, an attempt to create a blend that embodies the rich coffee history of the South: a bit of ‘Nawlins for your morning cup.

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