To say that Paul Gallegos is a coffee pro is an understatement. The native of Mora, New Mexico, opened Cutbow Coffee in Albuquerque in the spring of 2018 after spending almost thirty years roasting for Peet’s Coffee in the Bay Area. At that locus for modern coffee culture, he had an ideal vantage point to witness a lot of coffee trends being made and unmade from the 1980s through the 2000s.
Gallegos credits Alfred Peet, his mentor and the creator of Peet’s Coffee, as the father of the second wave, which prompted Americans to think more about the origin of the coffee in their cup—and to develop some standards about its taste, too. Originally an expert in tea, Peet applied the principles of tea cupping—a tasting process used to determine quality and aromatics—to coffee, elevating it to a gourmet level. Coffee roasters today still use the same technique.
“In that time, coffee roasting was kind of this dark and mysterious art,” Gallegos says. Commodity-grade coffee like Folgers and Maxwell House made up (and still makes up) the majority of the coffee market, but the rise of the independent coffee shop that roasts its own beans was an undeniable force in America from the late ’60s on.
“So many hands touch coffee before it even gets to me,” Gallegos says, acknowledging that roasting is just one step in the process from bean to cup. When he opened his shop, selecting the origins he wanted to serve was a joyful process. “I have this kind of ideal flavor characteristic for [each of] the six single origins that we deal with,” he says, “like, a classic Kenya has notes of vine-ripened tomatoes—it’s a very specific aromatic.” For each coffee he roasts, he aims to reach that ideal flavor profile, which is why having a dependable, consistent supply is so important. Typically, he’ll know when a roast is done when it sounds right: as the beans lose moisture, they get lighter, and the sound of them hitting the sides of the drum changes.
‘It’s difficult to find a blend that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Making coffee blends is a big part of Gallegos’s repertoire, unusual in today’s third-wave coffee culture that’s fixated on single-origin roasts. “It’s difficult to find a blend that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” he says, noting that pairing coffees together in a blend is a skill he developed over many years.
After seeing trends change many times over in the coffee world, Gallegos says that climate change will likely be the biggest driver of coffee’s future. Coffee is already so climate-specific in where it’s grown, and as that narrow band of appropriate climate moves slowly northward, growers might not be able to keep up. But he’s encouraged by some experiments in growing coffee at the University of California at Davis—one of the first attempts to grow coffee in the continental U.S. that actually has potential.