You’ll likely smell Good Folks Coffee Company before you see it. Located in the Shelby Park neighborhood, Good Folks Coffee Company’s storefront is unassuming, simply labeled — the sign on the door noting that they are available by appointment only. Indeed this isn’t your average coffee shop but rather Good Folks is a craft coffee roastery. Just because you can’t order a cup of coffee on site doesn’t mean you haven’t sampled their creations, however. Owner Matt Argo, along with Head Roaster Zach Hensley, specializes in transforming beans from around the globe into the various roasts many of us sip when visiting our favorite local coffee establishments.
Formerly known as Argo Sons Coffee, the evolution of Good Folks Coffee Company has all the trappings of a passion project. Beginning in his basement, Matt Argo grew his humble roasting business quickly, warranting the move to a small space in the back of a music shop on Hurstbourne Parkway and ultimately to his own full-scale roasting facility on South Shelby Street. Local coffee shop favorites like Please and Thank You, Press on Market and Smokey’s Bean each boast their own custom coffee blends thanks to Good Folks, and Matt and Zach love to collaborate with individual shops to find a mix of beans and roast profiles to best fit the shop’s personality. The move to the larger space in Shelby Park was due in no small part to their dreams of expansion and the demand warranting their growth. A variety of Good Folks beans can now be found at ValuMarket and Rainbow Blossom and Matt recently launched a subscription service, allowing customers to select their favorite coffee varieties, which are delivered to their homes automatically, based on a schedule of their choosing.
Good Folks Coffee Company is becoming more accessible by the day and Matt is anxious for Louisvillians to understand that coffee is far more complex than a simple morning pick-me-up. In an effort to educate the community about coffee and the distinctive nature of roasting techniques and beans from around the world, Good Folks has begun offering coffee cupping sessions every Friday at 10 a.m., free and open to the public. I allowed my curiosity to lead me to Shelby Park and Good Folks roasting facility to experience one of these cupping sessions for myself.
I was joined by a mix of approximately 30 participants — coffee aficionados and novices alike — and offered a small sample of coffee. The class kicked off with the following queries: “Have you ever taken a sip of tea expecting it to be coffee? What was it like? Do you know why?” We proceeded to discuss the complex nature of taste, arguably the most dynamic of our senses. It is intertwined with our memories in ways we don’t even realize, defining our expectations of how a drink or food should taste. Putting these expectations aside is easier said than done and is a concept I’ve visited when participating in wine tasting sessions. You may reach over and take a sip of tea, believing it to be coffee, and have an immediate reaction of disgust as this isn’t what your brain was expecting. Does this mean the tea is bad? No. But our preconceived notions can inhibit our taste buds and keep us from fully experiencing the complex flavor profiles of whatever we are tasting.
We were encouraged to push all of the flavors we associate with what we think is “good” coffee aside as we blind-tasted four coffees, each one distinctive in its own right. As we discussed the concept of taste, Matt and Zach filled small white cups with freshly ground beans, setting up multiple cupping stations on a long wooden table covered with butcher paper. Smelling the ground beans was encouraged and we took turns sniffing each of the four varieties before the cups were filled with hot water and left to rest for several minutes, allowing a “crust” to develop at the top of the cup. Once formed, we each took a spoon and broke the crust, keeping our heads close to our cups so that the aromas wafted straight to our noses as the barrier was broken.
It is surprising how singular each bean can be. At first inhale, my brain recognized that, of course, this is coffee but as I pushed that aside, various notes came to light — fruity undertones jumping out of one cup while nutty and earthy flavors alight in the next. Everyone had to say what they believed would be their favorite coffee based on smell alone before we moved into the back half of the space where the roaster resides along with bag upon bag of “green” coffee beans, fresh off the boat from places like Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and Ethiopia. Coffee is an agricultural product and seasonal so Good Folks purchases beans from farmers they’ve developed friendships with and based on the time of year. Certain places like Colombia and Brazil have climates that allow for beans to be grown year-round.
Zach opened a large sack of beans for us to touch and smell. Notes of hay, grass and earth emerging from the bag, the color of the beans indeed a pale green. As Zach was explaining how each bean would be roasted differently, depending on its place of origin and various other factors, sharp slurping noises began to punctuate the air. Matt and his colleague were tasting the four mystery coffees to ensure they had experienced sufficient brew time. The slurping sound was almost comical — so exaggerated and vocal you would think they were joking. In reality, Matt shared that a loud slurp is a badge of honor at the cupping table and explained that you slurp the coffee from the spoon into your mouth as a means of opening up your whole palate, allowing the coffee to hit all sides of your mouth and to interact with each and every taste bud.
We took turns going around the table and slurping all four coffees, dipping our spoons into small cups of water in between each taste. We repeated the tasting two additional times, making note of any changes that occurred as the coffees continued to sit, cool down and open up. “So, now that we’ve tasted, who found that their favorite coffee was the same one that they liked best when they simply smelled the beans?” About half of the room put their hands up while the rest of the group expressed surprise at how different the bean they thought they preferred was once they had the opportunity to taste it.
After a review of tasting notes found in each cup of coffee, it was time for the big reveal: What types of coffee had we been tasting after all? The first was a washed Ethiopian coffee, a bean that was fermented in water for a short time and then cleaned. It was a light roast expressing fruity notes. One of the coffees was an interesting counterpart to the washed Ethiopian — a natural Ethiopian, the “natural” aspect of the coffee referring to the fact that the beans were dried in the sun. It proved to be the most unique of all four blends as it had stronger sugar notes than expected, particularly based on the smell. It was revealed that we also had tasted a Central American blend that aligned with most standard coffee expectations and a coffee from Kenya, which exhibited tomato-y flavors and plenty of earthy notes.
Once we were sufficiently buzzed, two homemade coffee cakes were presented to us — a deliciously sweet way to wrap up my first-ever coffee cupping experience. The hour-long class was fascinating and fun and an enlightening activity for anyone with even the slightest interest in coffee. The folks of Good Folks Coffee Company are just that — good folks! Their care and love for the community their business calls home is evident and their passion for bringing high-quality, dynamic coffee to the people of Louisville and beyond is unquestionable. We raise our coffee cups to you, Good Folks. Cheers!
Good Folks Coffee Company is located at 1151 S. Shelby St., Louisville, KY 40203. They are open by appointment. Coffee cuppings are free and open to the public and happen each Friday at 10 a.m. To learn more, visit their website or call (502) 356-4554.
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