Collectively Calibrated pt.2: Paul Massard

IMAGES BY DAN KARRAM | STORY BY MICHELLE HOPPER

On March 25th, 2015 Paul Massard sent his longtime college friend and fraternity brother, Chris Nolte, a text on his birthday. A seasoned coffee professional, Paul was working in Hawaii on a coffee farm at the time, and probably didn't expect that he and Chris would one day own and operate Per'La Specialty Roasters, an incredible specialty coffee roastery in Miami, Florida. Serving coffee with the utmost professionalism, hospitality and kindness, Paul and Chris complement each other with contrasting personalities.  Paul has the "artist brain", and as a Certified Q Grader he selects the coffees they sell, roasts the coffees on a Loring, and handles all the logistics in between.  As Dan and I spent an afternoon with the two, we enjoyed seeing how each partner brings something great to the table and how their teamwork sets Per'La apart. 

In part two of this special story, Paul shares his coffee story, the benefits of being a Q Grader, and how he selects coffees for the Per'La lineup. 

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on your coffee story…

I’m originally from Colombia and I have family ties in coffee farming there, but I really didn’t start drinking coffee until college. Freshman year I would drink Starbucks Mochas, which is pretty bad. My sophomore year of college I interned at First Colony Coffee & Tea in Norfolk, Virginia as a finance intern. I would sit with the buyers and cuppers as they were cupping, and I realized that I could taste what they were tasting as they were talking about the coffees. That’s really when I fell in love with it. So I was there for the summer doing finance and accounting work, but also cupping with them every day and then going up to the roaster. I came back to Miami and I worked for Filipe Isaza at Coffee Resources as an intern.  Filipe does a lot of brokering of coffee so he buys futures, sells futures and to kind of hedge the coffee he sells to other people. There I continued to do more cupping and sample roasting with him. I just kind of followed him around for a few summers just learning about coffee, and I really fell in love with it.

After college I went to Naples to work in the family business of marble and granite. Then the financial crisis happened and nobody was really building houses or redoing their kitchens anymore. Because of this I had to find something else to do and I knew I wanted to get back into coffee. So I went and interviewed for a company in Mexico City, where I would have been a warehouse superintendent for a coffee processing station in Oaxaca, Mexico. My other option was going to Kansas City and becoming the Apprentice Green Buyer for a company called The Roasterie. So, I chose Kansas City instead of Mexico because I felt like the company there was more family oriented, and in Mexico it would have been a large multinational corporation. At the Roasterie I started off as the Apprentice Green Buyer, then became the Head Green Buyer. I also ran the production floor and did all the purchasing for them. I was there for a little over five years which was amazing and I learned a lot. Norm Killman took me under his wing; he’s been in coffee for over 50 years. I was able to travel all over the world, to Central and South America and Eastern Africa, doing Cup of Excellence Competitions, meeting farmers and buying coffee. They really gave me full reign to do whatever I wanted and buy whatever I wanted.
I came to a place where I felt like I’d done every aspect of coffee: trading with Filipe, buying with the Roasterie, production, roasting, everything except for farming. And then I got the opportunity to go to Hawaii and work for Honolulu Coffee. The reason that I really wanted to go there was because Hawaii is the only US state that grows coffee, so there I could actually see the coffee from seed to cup. I spent two years there and we did a lot of really fun stuff on the farm like, planting new varieties and trying new pruning techniques on the trees to get higher yields. I also had to deal with coffee berry borer, which had just hit Hawaii the year before; it decimated their crops. It was pretty bad. So the year after berry borer made it there they lost two-thirds of all the coffee. We had to spray all the time and monitor for pests. But it was a lot of fun, a lot of experimenting with coffee and different varietals that I would have never done other than in Hawaii. We planted caturra, bourbon, and there are farmers there growing gesha and pacamara. At that point in Hawaii I felt like I wanted to come back to the states, and that's when I sent Chris that message, randomly, not ever thinking that we’d start a coffee company together, it just said “Happy Birthday!” We started talking about it and wrote a business plan, bought the roaster, and here we are roasting coffee. It goes to show you, that you never know what’s going to happen.


"I would sit with the buyers and cuppers as they were cupping, and I realized that I could taste what they were tasting as they were talking about the coffees. 
That’s really when I fell in love with it."


on how you and Chris met...

Freshman year of college at the University of Miami, we were fraternity brothers. I don’t exactly know when we met, but I know that my sophomore year he lived down the hall from me in the fraternity house. We always hung out, he came to my parents house for Thanksgiving our freshman year, and then maybe an Easter or two after that. We were always close friends.
I knew we'd be a great team when we were doing the business plan. He could see the way that I thought about something, and then add his thoughts on it, and I’d be like “yeah, I hadn’t thought about that”, or he’d say “oh, I didn’t think about it that way.” I think we come at a problem with two different mindsets; I’m more of the artist brain and he’s more of the business brain.
 

on the process of becoming a Q Grader…

It’s really just about experience and giving myself confidence that I actually know what I’m talking about when I do taste something, a defect or a positive attribute in the coffee. The process of becoming a q grader was really just lots and lots of cupping. We would cup coffees all the time and just randomly do triangulations for fun. We also  had a Le Nez smell test that we would play around with randomly. It was really just on the job experience at the Roasterie that helped me pass that exam. The exam is pretty intense, I think it was 35 tests. I took it in 2012, with Rob Stevens. I think there were only 2 or 3 of us in the class that actually passed the test the first time they took it. It was a lot fun, and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done professionally, just because there’s a lot of self doubt when it comes to coffee. A lot of “this is my personal preference on this coffee and I like it because I like it. I mean, hopefully everyone else likes it.” When I’m roasting, after I cup it, I go back to the roaster, and then cup it again. I think that’s when the coffee comes out best. Usually, if I do a cupping and there are like 5 or 6 people in here telling me what they think about the coffee, then I’ll be like “oh maybe I should try this or do something else.” But if it’s just me, the coffee and the roaster, I feel like I can really nail it. But then the Q Grader exam gives you credibility with farmers, with other roasters and with other cuppers. They know how hard the exam is and they know you’ve passed it, so you obviously have skill and some sort of taste experience. So when you tell them something, they believe it. It really helped in Hawaii. Hawaii is very inclusive in nature, especially to the people there, so coming in as an outsider and then telling them we should try this pruning technique on these trees, they would be like “this guy doesn't’ know anything”. But if you’re a q grader they would take it more seriously. They are very weary of outsiders.

Being a Q Grader helps me analyze coffees in a way that I didn’t prior to take the exam. It also helps me talk to brokers and farmers. I can say “hey I’m looking for this coffee with these notes, that’s going to score this”, so if they’ve also taken the exam then I know that they are on the same page. Let’s say I need a coffee last minute, my shipment is late or something, I can call one of the brokers who I know is also a Q Grader, and talk to them about what I need. I can then trust what notes they have on the coffee, that they are going to match what notes I have on the coffee.

I think that’s where it really started, was to give everybody a common language and a common scoring technique. So that if I score this coffee an 89, another Q Grader will come in a score it within one and half points of that score. 


"Being a Q Grader helps me analyze coffees in a way that I didn’t prior to taking the exam. It helps me talk to brokers and farmers- I can say “hey, I’m looking for this coffee with these notes, that’s going to score this...” and if they’ve also taken the exam then I know that we're are on the same page." 


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on your Daily coffee routine…

When I wake up in the morning I hand grind 40g of whatever coffee I took home that week from here (Per’La), usually an African or a Colombian coffee, while the water is heating. Then, I make a french press. Once the four minutes is up, I press it and then I go get ready. So, I don't drink it for like 15 minutes after I make it. I drink the whole french press and I also have 10oz of non diluted cold brew with protein, that’s the morning coffee ritual.  I come here on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. I’ll turn on the espresso machine, which takes about 20 minutes to heat up, and then I’ll have espresso when it’s ready. I’ll probably have 5 or 6 throughout the day.

on how you work together to make Per’La happen…

Like Andy Giambarba was saying, it’s a left brain/right brain kinda thing. So Chris is very much on top of customers, following up, invoicing and billing, and all of that stuff. Pretty much the business aspect of it, which lets me do all the coffee. So while he’s sitting over here at the computer, emailing customers and checking in, I’m roasting, cupping, tasting and doing all the stuff that I like to do. It really frees up my time to be more creative with profiles, blends, make sure that everything is done properly, and to make sure that every roast comes out the same. So I think it lets us each do the aspect we enjoy doing, and then because both sides are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, it works well together. If I had to worry about invoicing while I’m roasting then I could mess up a roast, or I wouldn’t have time to cup that coffee before it went out and it could be bad.

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on how you select new coffees…

We aim to source coffees that we feel our customers will enjoy but also try to guide them in directions to origins that may be different or toward flavor profiles that they may not have considered before.We have our staple coffees: a natural Brazil, a Guatemala that is very clean but also has notes of dried fruit and raisin when roasted a little bit heavier, and we have a really clean Colombian from Huila. We also have a Sumatra and a water processed decaf. Sometimes we wil just randomly buy bags of really nice african coffees that we rotate through. We have some awesome new coffees coming in I’m really excited for a Papua New Geuna that’s just landed, it’s actually a peaberry. It’ll be our first peaberry.

With the Loring I can mute acidity and highlight different notes in the coffees. Depending on what the customer is wanting and also depending on the brewing method. It’s really awesome because the way that the Loring works and lets me manipulate it, I can really get a whole lot of different things with the coffees.

on what you enjoy outside of coffee...

Eating. I like to go to new places like Pinch, Ghee, any of Gorgio’s places, and Mandolin. I’ve also really gotten into doing CrossFit and yoga.

 

on where you hope Per’la goes in the future...

We aim to build the Per'La name into a brand that customers know, trust, and love. Obviously, South Florida will always be our home but are constantly open to seeing where the Per'La brand takes us, both locally and beyond.  Our ultimate goal is to be considered among the premier roasters and we are incredibly excited to be on that journey.