Intelligentsia Watertown

We’ve landed and we’ve brought out Direct Trade coffees and the meticulous process of sourcing, roasting and brewing them to Watertown. We’ve opened a new Coffeebar and Training Lab and could not be more excited to be there. The location is our first in the Boston area as we expand our East Coast presence and the first to operate adjacently. The Watertown Coffeebar and Training Lab invite guests to fully experience our vision for serving exceptional coffee, while illuminating the finer points of crafting it. Open 7:00 a.m. daily, the new Coffeebar and Training Lab are located at 810 and 818 Mt. Auburn Street, respectively.

We will be serving up a full menu of coffees on-site, including In Season™ single origins, blends and espressos. The Coffeebar is also among the first to serve our sparkling iced tea and cold brew coffee poured from our tap system. We are proud to be serving an array of fresh pastries from Boston-based Forge Baking Company.



Built with an engaged and consistent customer experience in mind, our daily coffee menu will feature multiple brew bar services, as well as custom urn-brewed coffee for a delicious ready-to-go option. For espresso service, we will be working with La Marzocco’s Strada AV.


We can not wait to serve you. If you are in the area please stop in!

Extraction Theory, and You!

“Extraction is a measure of the solubles yield. It is also expressed as a percentage, comparing the amount of coffee flavoring material in the beverage to the amount of coffee grounds used to prepare the beverage. Approximately 28% of the organic and inorganic matter matter contained in roasted coffee beans will readily dissolve in water. The remaining 72% is cellulose bean fiber that isn’t water soluble under normal brewing conditions.”

— Ted Lingle, The Coffee Brewing Handbook, 2011 Specialty Coffee Association of America.

When we talk about extraction, we are evaluating the process in which particles dissolve from the ground coffee into the water. Roasted coffee is a wonderfully complex thing. Though only 28% of every coffee bean can dissolve in water, that 28% represents 800-1000 different flavor compounds, half of them aromatic gasses, and half of them soluble solids. It’s much, much harder to track what gasses we’ve pulled from the ground coffee into the brewed coffee, so we’re usually more concerned about the coffee solids we’ve dissolved: what are they, and how much of them have we dissolved?

It’s pretty easy to break up the soluble material in coffee into four basic categories: fruit acids, which come from the fruit itself; fruit sugars, which are also derived from the coffee fruit; caramelized sugars, which develop during the roasting process; and bitter, dry plant solids. Acids dissolve pretty easily, sugars take longer to dissolve, and those bitter, dry plant solids are pretty dense and are made up of large molecules that take the longest to dissolve. Because these all dissolve in the same order, when we calculate an extraction yield as 15%, 21%, or 25% of the total soluble material, we can usually assume a certain concentration of those four main categories of coffee solids. From 0-18%, we’re seeing the fruit acids dissolving in high concentrations. From 18-22%, the fruit sugars and caramelized sugars start dissolving in higher concentrations, and from 22% to 28%, we see the dry, bitter plant solids dissolving in higher concentrations. Therefore, ideally, we’d like coffee extraction yield readings to land around 19-21% for the sweetest brewed expression of what that coffee has to offer.

The extraction yield is just an average though — anytime you’re brewing coffee, the smaller particles will dissolve quicker, and the larger particles will dissolve slower. So in a 19% extraction yield, we’re assuming the larger particles might only be extracted to 17%, while the smaller particles maybe would have extraction to 21%. The more consistently even your grind setting, the more consistent your extraction yield will be. This is the main crux for the importance of not only just using a burr grinder, but a quality, precision burr grinder.

The reason for this disparate extraction yield has to do with how the coffee actually extracts. There are three main phases: Wetting, in which the coffee particles absorb water and push the remaining gasses out; Extraction, in which the solubles inside the particles actually begin dissolve into the water and start exiting the coffee particle into the overall solution; and Hydrolysis, in which larger insoluble carbohydrates are broken down into soluble ones. With smaller coffee particles, the water can penetrate and dissolve the solubles very quickly. Larger coffee particles require the water to penetrate deeper, and have more solubles to extract, so it takes longer inside the particle to dissolve the desired solids before the brew leaves the particle to join the overall brewed coffee solution. 

It’s because of this relationship between brew time and particle size that we are able to control our coffee brewing process more specifically. When paired with an appropriate ratio of coffee to water, a brew temperature around 200ºF, and controlled agitation, extracting the positive flavor solids and leaving the negative ones behind becomes an easy solution. (Please forgive the pun).

Announcing Michael Sheridan

We want to share some exciting news: Michael Sheridan has joined the team here at Intelligentsia as our Director of Sourcing and Sustainability.

Michael has spent most of the last 20 years in Latin America, nearly 15 years working for an international development agency, and more than a decade working to help make specialty coffee more inclusive, more sustainable and more beneficial for everyone in the supply chain. For the past seven years, He has emerged as one of the leading voices on issues of sustainability in coffee through his writing, his presentations at industry events and his leadership role on the SCAA’s Sustainability Council.

We first met Michael during a sourcing trip to Nicaragua in 2009. In 2010, we began to kick around some ideas together about what an innovative specialty project might look like in Colombia — one that created real opportunities and clear incentives for determined smallholder farmers to access specialty markets. Then in 2011, we started working closely with Michael to put those ideas into practice through the Borderlands project, which has produced some exceptional coffees over the past five years under some pretty challenging conditions: grinding poverty, the stubborn persistence of coca production and the presence of guerrilla groups and other armed actors. Those of you who have had an opportunity to try our Borderlands offerings over the past few years know that the

Michael’s experience in the coffeelands has given him an unusual level of understanding of the challenges and opportunities at origin. His collaboration with companies like ours and his engagement with the specialty coffee community have helped him understand what it takes to lead in the specialty marketplace. And through his leadership of large, complex, multi-country initiatives, he has developed management skills he will apply to his new role leading our buying team.

Michael’s Re:co presentation a few years ago, A Simple Question: Caturra or Castillo, remains an Intelligentsia all-time favorite and we encourage everyone to watch it.

ECW 2015 – Guatemala

What does it take to create something that truly deserves to be called special? We know that it requires careful, deliberate, and unrelenting effort. Making coffees that are extraordinary in every way is an endless challenge, and is only possible when there is real collaborative effort between farmers, roasters and baristas.

Success is measured both in taste and in the benefit obtained by everyone whose hands helped turn latent potential into manifest quality. It is measured also by progress, in recognition of the fact that developing expertise takes time and there is always more to do.

Our formula has always been a simple one—work together, in close partnership, with coffee farmers who share a desire to do something great. Learn together, experiment together, and grow together. Obsess about detail and pursue quality together with a curiosity that will never be completely satisfied.

That’s it. Amazing coffee is the product of amazing people working as a team; the magic comes from the synergy that is enabled when growing, processing, roasting and extracting coffee are connected in a single ecosystem. For nearly 15 years we have been working hand in hand with farmers around the world; this thing we’ve called Direct Trade is the result. Nowhere is the meaning of Direct Trade more evident or more tangible than at our Extraordinary Coffee Workshop, or ECW—an annual gathering of the Intelligentsia producer community who come together to exchange knowledge, share experiences, and unite in the pursuit of ever better quality.

Every year at ECW new ideas are born. Since 2009 we’ve been using this forum as a place to learn and a place to strengthen our collective resolve to push coffee quality forward with all of our might. We move to a different place each year, visiting farms around the world together to study different approaches to coffee production and quality management in search of ways to get better at what we do. There is no substitute for direct visceral experience. It is not easy to get dozens of farmers from all over the globe together in one place, but the outcome is worth every ounce of effort it takes to make it happen.

This is Quality. This is Community. This is Direct Trade in action.

The 2015 Extraordinary Coffee Workshop was held November 2 – 6, 2015 in Guatemala.

Conan O’Brien Visits Intelligentsia

A couple of weeks ago, we got a surprising phone call from The Conan O’Brien Show. Seemingly, there’s a producer on the show named Jordan Schlansky who’s very into coffee, specifically Italian coffee, and not so much into American coffee. Conan took umbrage with this and asked if he could bring Jordan to our LA Roasting Works for a lesson on what makes great coffee in America. We happily obliged!

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ECW Afterglow

Fortified! That’s the best word I can think of to summarize the way most of us are feeling after the Extraordinary Coffee Workshop that took place just over a week ago in Guatemala. It never ceases to impress me just how much power there is in community, and how easy it is to find inspiration when surrounded by people who share a genuine passion for what they do. That is the real secret to the success of ECW; this unique collection of talented coffee people from very different backgrounds who, when we unite and spend meaningful time together exploring ways to get better at what we do, always discover new strategies to help unlock latent quality potential and more reasons to keep challenging ourselves.



The content and the locations change each year, but the outcome is the same: a return home with more vigor, fresh ideas and renewed motivation to try even harder in pursuit of excellence in coffee. ECW serves as a validation to all of us that there is deeper meaning in the labor we do, that all the deliberate, time-consuming effort required by so many individuals on a daily basis serves a tremendous purpose. It reminds us that the frustrations we encounter as a result of being so obsessive about getting things right (and so self-critical when they don’t turn out exactly as we had hoped) are worthwhile because the result of this obsession is something profoundly beautiful. Part of what drives ECW is that spending this time together as a group reinforces our collective understanding that we are all doing some heavy lifting, and the weight feels lighter when we look around and see that we are actively supporting each other’s efforts and helping each other succeed.



The 5 days were full–we visited farms in Antigua and Acatenango to study different management systems, learned about soil microbiology and nutrient cycling, toured a progressive dry mill, worked on cupping calibration and extraction science, got up to speed on some groundbreaking studies on coffee variety behavior, and spent an entire day sharing some of the collective knowledge of the ECW massive with a group of 150 Guatemalan coffee farmers.

The 7th annual ECW was the biggest one we’ve done to date–nearly eighty people from sixteen different countries came to participate, more than double last year’s event in Ethiopia. Many of the producers have returned home just in time to greet the beginning of the upcoming harvest, and our team is charging directly into what is always the busiest time of the year, so there is not much time for rest. Fortunately we’ve got the all the energy generated during the ECW week as fuel to power us forwards.

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An Open Letter from Doug Zell

As of today, a portion of Intelligentsia was sold to Peet’s Coffee, the “Granddaddy” of specialty coffee. Speaking for myself, this is an interesting and rewarding place to land. We’ve pushed really hard for over twenty years. This recognizes that we have transformed the landscape about what is possible in coffee; from the way producers are treated and remunerated to how coffee is roasted and valued, the feedback given to producers, to valuing and transforming the skill, hospitality, and craft of barista.

Emily and Geoff and I will continue to have a significant stake in the company and Intelligentsia will continue to operate independently. If anything, this means we will have more muscle and resources to invest in the things that got us here. Peet’s recognizes that we are special and wants to provide a canvas that will allow more of the world to see the picture we are painting. Perhaps a good analogy is we’ve been showing our artwork at a local gallery and now have an opportunity for a spot at the Louvre.

Rest assured the only changes that will be made is that we plan on getting better every day. Deciding to compromise quality is an active choice. It is a choice I am unwilling to make. We have made mistakes and are far from perfect. And that’s just it, we are still learning and will always be chasing perfection with the hope that each time we get close, perfection winks at us and let us know its going to thwart us again and raise the bar yet again and make itself a little harder to reach. I am sure we’ll fumble on some things going forward and we’ll have ourselves to blame. But the pluck, creativity, hard work and effort that got us here aren’t going anywhere.

So if you work at Intelligentsia, buckle up and get ready to hit the gas, but please, enjoy the ride. You’re how we got to here. There’s open road ahead and a hell of tailwind behind us. The opportunities are endless, but as a friend of mine once eloquently said, “The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.” So, if you’re ready, well, you’ll be ready.

If you are a customer of ours, whether at our coffeebars or a committed wholesale customer, you can count on only one thing. We are going to get better. Now get back to the usual course of things. And if you need a break or some inspiration, might I suggest a cup of Intelligentsia Coffee?

Stars & lightning bolts,

Doug Zell
Intelligentsia Coffee

Geisha Trilogy Reserve Collection

This one is pretty exciting – a collection of three geisha coffees, each from a different continent. The next release in our reserve series, this exclusive Geisha collection offers a rare glimpse into one of the most renowned varieties of coffee in the world. Geisha coffees are famous for their intense floral aromatics, and complex sweetness. Its use in competitions has vaulted farms and baristas to international acclaim, and while many producers have started planting it, the low yield still makes geisha coffees somewhat rare.

Led by Geoff Watts, our team of coffee buyers has assembled three different geisha lots: Gesha Village Estate from the town of Gesha in Ethiopia, Finca Inmaculada from Valle de Cauca in Colombia, and Finca San Francisco in Mogola, Honduras.


The collection contains 50g of each coffee, all beautifully packaged in our custom tins, wrapped in bespoke letterpress details by our friends at Rohner Letterpress, which included a booklet by Geoff detailing the story of Geisha, and the story of each coffee in the collection. The collection will be available for pre-order on August 3, with the first roasts shipping on August 12th.

The Intelligentsia Cup is Back!

For the third consecutive year, Intelligentsia Coffee is the proud title sponsor of the Prairie Street Cycling Series. These fantastic bicycle races run in six cities across Chicagoland from July 17 – 26, and attract racers from across the country. The last race takes place right outside our roasting works in Chicago’s Fulton Market!


“To see the series mature and grow into being among the best in the country, a permanent fixture of mid-summer racing, is very gratifying,” said Doug Zell, Intelligentsia Coffee co-founder. “We are hopeful that this is a series that will bring great racers and bike racing fans to Chicago and surrounding areas for decades to come.”

Beginning in 2012 as the Prairie State Cycling Series, it took on the name ‘Intelligentsia Cup’ in 2013 with the initial title sponsorship of Intelligentsia Coffee as well as expanding to seven races. In 2014 the series grew to eight races – seven criteriums and a road race. For 2015 the series is proud that the road race was selected by the Illinois Cycling Association to host the Illinois State Road Racing Championships.


“We are extremely excited that Intelligentsia Coffee has taken the leadership position to help grow the sport of cycling in the Chicago area,” said series partner and former pro cyclist Tom Schuler. “Our goal is to make the Intelligentsia Cup one of the premier cycling events in the United States and thanks to the support of Doug Zell and Intelligentsia Coffee we will be able to bring the exciting sport cycling to even more Chicagoland communities.”

Also new for the Intelligentsia Cup in 2015 is an expanded offering of racing categories. The series is committed to developing women’s racing with the addition of a third women’s category. As well there is a new age group category for 50+ and 60+ age racers. These additional categories gives even more variety of racing options on offer for all levels of racers, while still finishing each day with the top professional men and women from around the country and all over the world.


We’ll be posting photos on our Facebook and Instagram pages, so be sure to follow us and stay tuned. You can learn more about the races series here.

Intelligentsia partners with SOMA Water

Just in time for Father’s Day, we’ve teamed up with our friends over at Soma to launch the perfect gift for the coffee loving Dad.


By some measure, coffee is flavored water. We do our part to make sure the 2% of coffee in your brew is delicious, but the remaining 98% requires great water for the full cup to taste delicious. To help make this easier, we’ve teamed up with the water experts over at Soma to launch the perfect gift set for Father’s Day.

Soma is dedicated to improving life for everyone who drinks water – including coffee drinkers. They’ve worked with the world’s leading water filtration experts to design sustainable, plant-based filters that remove chlorine, odor and improve taste. Their products are beautiful additions to any kitchen, and we couldn’t be happier to announce this collaboration.

Each kit contains a Soma carafe and filter, a 12oz bag of a Soma Blend we put created especially for this, a beautiful customizable mug with a erasable marker, and a bespoke guide to better coffee by Intelligentsia and Soma. Head over to Soma’s website to buy this perfect gift for Father’s Day.


Grado x Los Delirios

It’s been a minute since our last music collaboration, but as Summer approaches and Spring lets us shake off the last cobwebs of Winter, it’s time we celebrate the things that happen around the cup and partner with the best out there. Tomorrow we announce a new collaboration with Grado Labs, a Brooklyn based company that hand makes headphones and cartridges. The team from Grado came by our New York lab last week and tasted a bunch of our fresh crop arrivals from Central America. Their favorite was Los Delirios from Nicaragua. This year’s harvest has been really impressing us, and so to celebrate Grado’s good taste, we’re giving away 12 of their SR-80e headphones.


Once we make the announcement on social media, anyone who orders a bag of Los Delirios online will stand a chance of winning the headphones. We’ll be placing a Golden Ticket inside twelve different online orders throughout the week. The offer applies to online orders only and will fulfill out of Chicago and LA.

Family run since 1953, Grado has seen three generations: Joseph, John, and Jonathan Grado. As Ars Technica says, “…on a quiet street in south Brooklyn is a manufacturing operation that produces some of the most renowned headphones… it’s just the Grados in their narrow townhouse making the little-known, well-loved line of headphones.” It’s nice that they chose Los Delirios, as it’s also a family run business. Brothers Donal, Milton and Norman Canales run the farm, their father is still involved, and his father originally established it.

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Must be 18 years of age or older and a resident of the United States to participate. To enter, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Intelligentsia Coffee Inc., 1850 W. Fulton Street Chicago, IL 60612 attn: Grado Headphone Contest. All entries must be postmarked by Friday, May 15, 2015. Retail value of headphones is $99.00. A purchase of Delirios coffee will not improve an entrant’s chance of winning. Odds of winning dependent upon the number of Los Delirios bags purchased during the contest period.