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  • Writer's picturePenny Hieb

Roaster Profile: Cortez Coffee Company

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

I had the highest honor of my nascent blogging career recently when I was invited by Ronald Cortez to tour his company's roastery in Tempe. Cortez was away spending time with family in his native Costa Rica, but he left me in the capable hands of his trusted business associate, Mohammed Mahdy, who really wowed me with a facility tour that included a wealth of coffee education along the way. The highly informative tour culminated with a visit to the roastery's tasting room where I had the opportunity to try some of Cortez Coffee Company's unique offerings.

It was a gorgeous Wednesday morning in February when I arrived at Cortez Coffee Company's headquarters. I walked in at 10 am, at the start of the facility's weekday business hours. Mahdy emerged from behind the roasting doors and warmly greeted me, promptly taking me back for an amazing tour. Our first stop was the company's huge 60 kilo Vicom coffee roaster that yields about 110 pounds of roasted coffee per batch. The machine and surrounding roastery was absolutely pristine, underscoring Cortez' founding principles: cleanliness, precision, and presentation. Advanced computer software tracks the temperature of the coffee throughout the roasting process. It is a highly scientific data driven operation, to say the least. The company also uses state of the art equipment like the reflectometer to gauge information such as the beans' exposure to light, which offers an additional means of accurately controlling the roasting process. Mahdy explained to me that they also roast smaller samples of their coffee in a Behmore roaster before replicating the procedure in the the larger Vicom machine. Cortez has certainly mastered the art of roasting, but he also values the science behind it, too.

Another idea Cortez is passionate about is the ethical sourcing of his green coffee and the personal relationships he forges with farmers. His single origin Volcan Azul hails from a Costa Rican family farm that has been in operation for over 200 years. The farm grows its exquisite coffee in their highly fertile volcanic soil and is committed to the conservation of the area's natural resources. Cortez Coffee Company shares that sense of responsibility to the environment and uses recyclable packages and encourages customers to bring their own cups to their tasting room. Mahdy shared with me that it is his personal mission to drive the company to 0% waste.

Cortez Coffee Company also roasts coffee lots from Nepal and Cameroon. In recent years, coffee from Nepal has been sought out for its sweet-savory profile and its popularity has surged with consumers of specialty coffee in the west. It is, however, a rare find due to the smaller volumes produced by farmers in this rugged high altitude terrain. Cortez Coffee offers a one pound bag of their Nepal, available for $20 on their website The coffee is described as smooth and bold with notes of caramel and a creamy aftertaste. It is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers in small plots known in Nepal as "coffee gardens". The Cameroon Boyo is cultivated at an elevation of 5000 ft in the West African region of Boyo. Farmers process the coffee by hand and carry the heavy bags of coffee on their heads in order to transport it around the estate. These coffees are naturally processed and grown without the use of pesticides. This variety is roasted by Cortez Coffee Company and packaged in 16 oz bags. It is available for $20 on their website and is described as earthy with chocolatey notes. You can purchase both of these coffees at 10% off the regular price through the company's subscription plan. Every bag sent through the subscription plan is roasted to order and is the freshest way to experience these lovely coffees.

Cortez Coffee roasts for establishments all over the world and has been shipped as far as Antarctica. In the Phoenix valley, they supply Original Breakfast House at 32nd Street and Thunderbird Road. In 2017, the restaurant was recognized as the top spot for breakfast in Arizona by Extra Crispy, a Time Inc. website that covers brunch culture. The company also roasts for Songbird Coffee & Tea House, a long time favorite coffee destination in Phoenix's Roosevelt Row neighborhood. Mahdy refers to Songbird Coffee & Tea House as the showcase for Cortez Coffee's roasts. My visits to Songbird have been a testament to this fact, as the beauty of the coffee always shines through in the cafe's hands.

At the end of my tour, Mahdy treated me to samples of their wonderful products in the Cortez tasting room. I tasted the Volcan Azul cold brew that he helps facilitate at their production site in Mesa. The cold brew is smoother and more chocolatey than its traditionally brewed counterpart. It is also known to be less acidic and easier on the stomach. Mahdy then crafted a hot latte with with oat milk using their beautiful Aurelia espresso machine. It is a very technical process he explained to me while he swirled around the milk in a stainless steel pitcher until it reached a paint like consistency. The result was absolutely mouthwatering. Mahdy also brought me a sample of one of the company's new chocolate pyramids. Cortez Coffee Company roasts the cacoa that goes into these pyramids at its Tempe location. They are 90% cocao and 10% monkfruit. The exquisite chocolate is sourced from Equador.

Mahdy shares with me that Ron Cortez cherishes the relationships he cultivates with customers in the company's tasting room. Cortez aspires to put relationships before profit and enjoys the social aspect of their tasting room. Instead of describing coffee, he prefers to offer samples to customers so that they can try it for themselves. Located at 1030 E. Vista del Cerro Drive in Tempe, the tasting room is open to the public on Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm. The staff is on hand to make beverages and teach customers how to brew coffee properly at home. The tasting room is an absolute must see destination for coffee enthusiasts in the Phoenix valley and beyond.

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