December 2008




Taste maker
Duane Sorenson

Coffee mogul, US

When Duane Sorenson founded Stumptown Coffee roasters in 1999, his intention was simple: to source, roast and sell the best coffee out there. Almost a decade later, his company – which started with a single café/roastery in Portland, Oregon – is a leader of the US’s growing specialty coffee movement. Stumptown consists of five cafés in Portland, two in Seattle and another, which will open this winter in New York’s new Ace hotel (see issue 18). Sorenson’s method – to work directly with farmers in Africa and Latin America to find beans from one region and heirloom varietals – was born out of frustration. As a young barista in Washington, he would travel to meet farmers, only to discover that they didn’t know where their coffee cherries went after being picked. This concerned him, as did the mediocre beverage that passed for coffee at many chains. “The coffees I tasted weren’t very good,” he says. “The only way some chains sell coffee is using marketing and bells and whistles.” In comparison, signs at Sorenson’s Division Street café in Portland indicate which region, and even which farm, the coffee comes from and customers are encouraged to taste coffees side-by-side at regular tastings, or “cuppings”. he also founded Bikes to Rwanda, which ships custom-made cargo bikes to the south of Rwanda. The bikes are used by farmers to transport their coffee to coffee bean washing stations more efficiently. Stumptown offers its roasters internships in Portland, covering their plane fare, English lessons and a US salary. Thanks to Sorenson, the average Portland resident knows the meaning of terms such as “cupping” and “single origin”. “It’s my mission to help people understand how special and complex a cup of coffee can be,” he says. — hw