Guest Blog Series Part II : Ricky Keane - Balzac Brothers

Balzac Brothers is a family owned coffee importer located in Charleston, SC. For four generations, they've been supplying sustainable, specialty coffee to roasting companies like us. Ricky Keane is our main dude over there! He plays a big role in the specialty coffee industry and we decided it would be cool to give you a little look into his perspective of coffee! 

Tell us who you are and what you do with Balzac Brothers?

My name is Ricky Keane and I help source/analyze/sell sustainable specialty coffees.

What does Balzac Brothers do and who do you sell coffee to?

Balzac Brothers is a 4th generation family owned green coffee sourcing company.   We sell coffees to like-minded companies who want to provide delicious coffee to their customers while knowing that the coffee they buy helps to support farmers throughout the world.

Do you buy directly from farms or exporters around the world?

We buy from farmers, coops, and exporters.  Some are both. We try to cover as many origins as possible.

What has 4 eyes but can't see?

Hmmmm, the word Visibility. (so ironic)

(The answer I was looking for was Mississippi, but yours is better!)

How did you get into coffee? What was the first coffee that blew your mind?

I started my coffee career here at Balzac Brothers when I was still in college. I helped run a little experimental roastery called "Good Coffee" which is how I first started to learn about coffee. The first coffee that blew my mind was probably the Guatemala Iglesias Antigua which we buy every year. I love Guatemalan coffees. They are super balanced!

How has the quality of coffee changed over the last 10 years? Why are we seeing a shift in the cost of coffee? Is it that much better?

I would say that the quality of coffee, if it has really changed, has really just become more segmented.  There are certainly more farms producing specialty grade coffees with specially processed methods to go along with some awesome stories.  Coffee, though it may be more expensive at your local specialty cafe, is actually at extremely low and frankly unsustainable levels. Farmers, rightfully so, are requesting much higher differential prices to combat the very low C-market prices that we are currently experiencing.  Coffee is still too cheap! Quality coffees are well worth the price. Though discerning between different levels of quality can be difficult at first, anyone can learn and enjoy specialty grade coffees.

What does Balzac Brothers look for when you are purchasing a new coffee?

When Balzac Brothers decides to bring in a new coffee, we look at a number of factors.  Each factor is no less and no more important than the other. We looks at quality, price, and seasonality.  The one factor that stand out the most (I know I just said you can't pick one haha) is our relationship with our partner at origin.  Without them, there is no Balzac Brothers.

What is the importance of relationships in the specialty coffee industry?

The one factor that stands out the most (I know I just said you can't pick one haha) is our relationship with our partner at origin.  Without them, there is no Balzac Brothers. The best part about the coffee industry is the people that make it happen.

Have you been to any coffee growing regions of the world? If so, what rocked your world while you were there? If not, where would you most like to visit?

I have been to Guatemala and Costa Rica.  Both places are incredible and I fully plan on visiting every country that we buy from.  The biggest thing that stuck with me was the magnitude of work that goes into producing coffee.  Everything has to be processed meticulously. You can start with the world’s best coffee in the cherry but then you can ruin it anywhere along the chain.  Producers still don't get enough credit for how much work they do.

What's next for specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee seems to be heading in the direction of many, many small companies while the rest of the industry seems to be headed in the opposite direction towards consolidation.  

What are you brewing at home right now?

I have been brewing some delicious Colombian Micro Lots which we purchased from our partners at DeLos Andes Coffee. (I stole some of the leftover samples from the office)

If you could be any kind of doughnut instead of your job at Balzac Brothers, what would you be?

This is definitely the trickiest question.  I would say I would be a jelly filled doughnut because that stuff is my jam.