The Relentless Search for the Best Coffee

Hubbard & Cravens: Crop to Cup

By Rachel D. Russell | March 09, 2017
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coffee tasting
A coffee tasting on one of the Hubbards many journeys for the perfect coffee. All photography courtesy of Hubbard and Cravens.

Most of us don’t give it much thought when we grab a cup of coffee in the morning. We probably give even less thought to where that cup of coffee came from. But what’s out of sight and mind for you and me is at the forefront of the minds of husband-and-wife team Rick and Marcie Hubbard, co-owners, along with Jerry Cravens, of Hubbard & Cravens Coffee & Tea, headquartered out of south Broad Ripple in Indianapolis.

Beginnings

“It was just a job,” Rick Hubbard says of his time loading trucks with giant bags of commercial coffee in Cincinnati when he was in high school, “and I just gradually moved up. Jerry Cravens worked with me and after working with that company—this was before coffee was cool—we were familiar with Peet’s Coffee on the West Coast and we wanted to do that in the Midwest and there was no roasting company in Indianapolis.”

Marcie Hubbard, a Valparaiso native, will tell you with a charming smile she married into coffee.

Regardless of how they got here and the fact they don’t plan to go anywhere—“It’s not for sale,” Rick says, quieting my fears—let there be no doubt they know and appreciate coffee, as do two of their children who work in the business now.

Abroad

When I call to schedule my interview with the Hubbards, it becomes obvious their time is precious and limited due to their demanding travel schedule. In 2016, they traveled 12 times to search for and learn about coffee. And for two decades they have traveled multiple times to Africa, Europe and Central and South America.

In Central America, they typically work with family operations and some co-ops; in Africa, it’s mostly co-ops. There might be as many as 2,500 farmers because one farmer may only handle a half-acre on a large farm.

“Technically, a micro-lot is a really, really specialty, high-quality coffee,” Marcie says, referring to these half-acre plots.

And yes, you can find coffees from farms like this on the shelves of one of the four Hubbard & Cravens retail shops in central Indiana.

“We literally pick those coffees out,” says Rick. “There’s no coffee that we buy that we don’t know who we buy it from and they all score 85 plus [coffees are scored on a 100-point scale] no matter what.”

And let it be known you don’t get to be this good at coffee without knowing the people who sell you the goods.

Rick and Marcie Hubbard
Photo 1: Cupping: There’s a lot behind this, and only professionals can officially grade coffees, but standard cupping procedure involves sniffing and slurping the coffee to score it.
Photo 4: Rick and Marcie Hubbard in Kenya.

Relationships

A good example of building relationships goes back to 1995, when Rick was asked to be a judge at Costa Rica’s Cup of Excellence. Back in those days, the Hubbards tell me, competitions like these weren’t all that common. Today, nearly every coffee-producing country has its version of the competition.

The day before cupping—see sidebar—Rick and Marcie visited a small new farm, named Herbazu, run by a local family by the name of Barrante. Little did they know two brothers from that farm were in the crowd when the curtain was drawn up the next day (yes, it’s that big of a deal) to reveal the judges to the anxiously awaiting room of about 500 people, most farmers. Their livelihood rested in the hands of these skilled judges. And little did Rick know one of the coffees he was judging was from the farm he had visited just the day before.

And what came to pass can only be explained by Rick as happenstance: He rated this new small farm’s coffee with his highest score that day. Today, that once-unknown Herbazu farm is one of the most awarded coffee bean producing farms in Costa Rica, if not in the industry.

“They win the Cup of Excellence, like, every year,” Rick says, expressing his pride in these farmers. The Hubbards refer to them as “coffee superstars.”

And because of that relationship two decades ago, the Hubbards are now approached yearly for first right to buy when this farm’s crop comes available. And yes, that coffee is available to you and me.

And this is just one example of how close Hubbard & Cravens is to their sources.

“This morning I got pictures from Carlos in El Salvador because they are harvesting right now,” Rick says as he hands me his phone, which shows a photograph of two proud men with a welcome sign. He then shows me another picture, of the “cherries” blossoming on the tree, they had sent him to show pride in their beautiful crop.

But not all travel is easy or productive. And when you ask about safety, Rick will tell you it’s always on their minds. For example, recently they went to Tanzania and the farm was run by the military.

“In Tanzania, [local citizens are] forced to join the military and then that is meant to educate you on how to grow coffee so after you get out of the military you can support your family … that was the purpose of that farm,” Marcie says as I look through photographs from their trip, all carefully placed in a small photo album. They’ve organized photographs like this for several of their trips.

This Tanzanian company’s coffee was sold to an exporter and the coffee market turned for the worse right after that.

“They marched down with the troops and took the coffee back,” Marcie says. “I don’t want to really buy from them.”

And this year when they went to Colombia, they were finally able to visit a region once controlled by anti-government forces. When they planned their trip they were told they couldn’t go to that particular region because there was no agreement; by the time they left, there was. And to get four 150-pound bags of coffee required a 10–12-hour drive and then a two-hour horseback ride. Marcie and Rick got a good chuckle out of the fact that their thirty-something son Nick made the trip, even though he had never ridden a horse before and had some reservations. It’s all in the name of excellent coffee after all, right?

And once, when they were in Ethiopia, they ran into an extremely sticky situation.

“We get out of this little village and we’re looking to the left. Now we’re in the Rift Valley, the Sahara, and we notice all of these camels,” says Rick “We pull over to the side of the road and stop and have the windows rolled down on the SUV. The driver is not in the coffee business, just a driver, and we get this boom on the front of the vehicle. It’s one of these warriors with a giant spear. Instantly, another guy puts another spear to our driver’s neck.”

I can tell by the look on their faces that the situation did not sit well at all.

“We assume they didn’t want [us] to take pictures of their camels. We don’t know,” Marcie says, shaking her head at the intense memory; the warriors finally backed off after their warning that photographs were forbidden was received and understood.

Just another example of the lengths the Hubbards have gone through to bring only the best to their customers.

Appreciation

Countless words could be written about Rick and Marcie Hubbard and their passion, knowledge and dedication for what they do. The most important words, however, are probably how lucky central Indiana is to have a company so thoroughly committed to knowing and sharing high quality coffee with us.

Perhaps the next time you sip your Hubbard & Cravens coffee you’ll think about the farmer who pulled the cherries from the 100-year-old tree on his farm, or the brothers who smile thinking about how their coffee is being appreciated by a Hoosier, or maybe even Marcie and Rick facing down an African warrior’s spear in Ethiopia. Either way, I hope you appreciate each sip and what brought it to your cup. 

HubbardAndCravens.com 

            11 S. Meridian St., Ste. 102, Indianapolis

            4930 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis

            6229 Carrollton Ave., Indianapolis

            703 Veteran’s Way, Carmel

 

 

Article from Edible Indy at http://edibleindy.ediblecommunities.com/food-thought/hubbard-cravens-crop-cup
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