Ian Holiday sources all of the beans for Tower Roasting and roasts all of single-origin and blends in Tower’s roster.
What Ian knew as coffee growing up was a far cry from what he started tasting in craft coffee shops. “My grandfather used to drink Folger’s or Maxwell House mixed with a little hot cocoa mix,” he explained. “So I had no idea about flavor notes — or where coffee even came from.”
But even before starting his coffee journey, Ian started his education in flavor at a roadside fruit stand in his hometown of Bend, Oregon. “Our boss mandated that all the fruit sellers taste each fruit so they could accurately describe them to customers,” he said.
Discovering Craft Coffee as a Student
As a college student in Southern California, Ian would sip craft brews and study at coffee shops. He was amazed at the different flavors that would show up with each cup.
Curious about the different flavors, the coffee roasters explained that the same bean had been processed in two different ways — one batch with a wet process and another with a dry process. Ian took the two coffees home and brewed them side by side. He was amazed at how many different notes he could taste in each roast. And that’s when he started his journey in coffee roasting.
After college, he moved back to Bend and kept up his cafe habit. At one of his favorite coffee shops in his hometown, he asked the roaster if he could watch how he roasted the beans. A few weeks later, he was hired at the shop as a coffee bagging assistant.
Ian has now worked as a roaster for the last 10 years for two different coffee companies. “When I started working in the coffee business, I worked in just about every position — from office assistant to sales manager,” he said.
How Ian Helps Tower Source Their Coffee
As Ian explained, Tower Roasting looks for high-quality beans from farms that are using organic and sustainable growing practices. Some of the beans that Tower offers are part of the Rainforest Alliance. “We love partnering with farms that also give back to their communities and protect the environment so that everyone benefits,” he noted.
For example, Tower’s Peruvian single-origin coffee beans are certified fair trade and organic. This particular coffee is sourced from a collective of 124 women producers. The collective gives back to its community by investing in basic infrastructure and providing training in sustainable practices. Besides having them in our single-origin roast, we also have them in our Empire Blend.
Another example is Tower’s Mandheling Sumatra single-origin roast. These beans are grown in harmony with the surrounding tropical forests, which are teeming with life. The canopies are loud, and fields are almost impenetrably thick with coffee plants, fruit trees, and vegetables, all of which are constantly flushing with new growth. Exporter Gayo Mandiri works with local cooperatives, operates a central dry mill, and promotes a relationship-based sales model with their buyers. Gayo Mandiri is personally invested in their community’s success. It regularly distributes farming tools and cash dividends to cooperative members, as well as invests in drying tents for their central operations to reduce the risk of coffee spoilage.
“We choose the highest-quality beans we can get for all of our roasts,” Ian noted. “And we’re always trying to dial in the flavor to bring out the unique notes.”
Making Tower’s “Flavor Above All” Motto Come to Life
When putting together the Tower Coffee blends, Ian conducted extensive research and development for each one.
Beans start out green and grassy flavored. In the first phase of roasting, the beans go from yellow to light cinnamon-colored. Like cooking an onion, the sugars in the beans start to change and get sweeter. The longer the coffee is roasted, the more fruit-like flavors come out. The roasting temperature is carefully controlled to bring out the best in the beans. At higher temperatures, the subtle flavors are lost. To bring out the various flavor notes, he roasted the same beans in 3 different ways to highlight different chocolate and citrus notes. After tasing each roast side by side, he has found a perfect blend of flavors.
As he explained about creating the Empire blend, “I really felt like I could bring more out of the Peru coffee and pair it better with the Ethiopian coffee. The result is a really approachable coffee that has broad appeal.”
All of Tower Coffee blends have gone through a similar process to bring out the best flavors and harmonize them into one delicious cup.