Though the craft coffee movement in Colorado has been booming for years, no roaster from the Centennial State had ever made Coffee Review’s (sort of like Wine Spectator for the coffee world) top 30 coffees list. That is, until last year, when Dragonfly Coffee Roasters‘ Nicaragua Pacamara Reserve Los Congos tied for 29th. You could say that Tamas Christman, founder and CEO of the Boulder-based roastery, has been training for the distinction for most of his life. Growing up on a secluded wolf sanctuary in southern Colorado, he began roasting green Kona coffee beans in a pan at age 8 with Joey Chase, a then-volunteer at the wildlife sanctuary who would go on to found the Coffee Roasters Alliance. After a passionless career in data, Christman returned to coffee and founded Dragonfly with in 2011 with Hilary Clark. (Chase is involved as a collaborative partner and advisory board member.) Christman’s ethos of direct-from-farm sourcing, impeccable quality control (illy’s senior head of quality mentored Christman, Clark, and Chase) and science-based roasting makes for truly unforgettable coffees, even in such a fiercely competitive market. Here, we catch up with Christman on the pros and cons of trendy light-roast coffees.

(Read more stories from our Ask a Chef series)

5280: Lighter roast coffees have been a huge trend at many hip coffee shops all over the nation. What’s your take?

Tamas Christman: I love these very interesting, sweet, bright, fruit-driven coffees, but that’s not the classic palate, so I don’t want to push. If I go to any shop in Boulder and in Denver right now, I get the same profile. I get a lemon-forward, tart, tangy wicked acid driven coffee. That’s where everybody has gone because it’s supposedly cool. Now if I want lemon juice, I will drink lemonade. I’m not going to try and get that out of my coffee. The thing is, 90 percent of the new third wave roasting culture is centered on that flavor profile. But not all coffees shine at that roast. Some may need to go a little darker, and some darker still. You can’t put coffee in a box. That is what I’ve seen, the industry really trying to put coffee in a box, and in a way, that removes the art form.

My background is in chemical engineering; I’ll talk to you all day long about the chemistry and the numbers behind espresso, but for me, at the end of the day, what matters is that it tastes good. Did you have a good experience? Did you walk away with a warm blanket sort of vibe? Or did you walk away thinking that the barista pulled the shot seven different times and he was scrunching his face the whole time, and I finally got it and it tasted like atomic lemon Warheads? I’d much rather be about the experience and the flavor. Coffee doesn’t live in a box, and nor should you as a coffee drinker, coffee connoisseur, or home consumer. When you focus on one expression of coffee in this microscopic way, you miss all the other beautiful things that could happen.

Coffee is the second-most highly traded commodity on earth next to petroleum. You have so many folks drinking coffee every single day. You can corner yourself into these niches, and that’s fine, but I really like to look at it as, [coffee is] a seed, and it came from a community, and they’d want it to be enjoyed in a compassionate and more community-driven way.

Tip: Dragonfly Coffee Roasters doesn’t have a coffeehouse location (yet), but you can order beans online, or find them in Boulder at Trident Booksellers and Cafe, Que’s Espresso, Lucky’s Market, and Alfalfa’s Market, or in Denver at Marczyk Fine Foods.

Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin
Callie Sumlin is a writer living in Westminster, and has been covering food and sustainability in the Centennial State for more than five years.