From “flavor dog” to Director of Sourcing, Christy Thorns has seen a lot of change at Allegro (and the whole coffee industry) since she started at our headquarters back in ’94. She’s been a true pioneer in the coffee world and we had a chance to sit down and ask all about her impressive life in coffee.
How long have you been at Allegro?
“Over 25 years, I started in March of 1994. Back in the old Boulder days.”
What did you do when you first started and how did you get on the sourcing team?
“I was first hired, it’s hilarious, as what they called the ‘flavor dog’, lovingly. Because back at the old plant we used to flavor a lot of coffee. So we had a little flavoring room attached to the roasting area. I was hired to mix all the flavors. But I very quickly realized after a few months that I didn’t want to do that.
The head roaster at the time, Kevin Knoxx, was in the flavor lab all the time and asked me if I wanted to become a roaster. The other main roaster back then was also a women, which was pretty unheard of back then, I learned a lot from her and Kevin. I did that for five years or so but early on I went on a coffee origin trip to Guatemala and it completely changed my perspective about coffee. It completely changed my life and I realized I wanted to stay in coffee and become a coffee buyer. I was an assistant buyer for a long time and worked under Kevin and then I took over as the Director of Sourcing in 2002.”
How many countries have you been to?
“Oh my gosh. I don’t know why I’ve never added those up. Coffee countries I’ve easily been to 23.”
“Ethiopia, for sure. It’s the motherland, the birthplace of coffee. It’s currently producing some of the best coffees in the world. There’s a lot to choose from, a lot of different regions, different elevations, and varieties. And then culturally, it’s so diverse. At least 80 languages. And it’s one of the few countries in Africa that hasn’t been touched deeply by colonization. You go there and you don’t hear American music which is so great. It’s their own culture and their own food and it’s just so wonderful.”
What has changed and what’s the same at Allegro?
“I think our commitment to sourcing quality coffee has stayed the same. It’s always the first decision in buying a coffee for Allegro, the quality in the cup and where we can use it, that’s always the first consideration and then the other aspects of sustainability – environmental, social, equitable price per pound.
What’s changed… obviously we are buying a lot more coffee than we used to. When I started in ’94 we were buying close to 2 million pounds of coffee per year, and now we are up to 12-13 million pounds of coffee a year. But what we’ve tried to do, especially recently, is not necessarily buy from a lot more supply chains but buy more volume from the same amount of supply chains and have more impact.”
Women produced coffee is becoming more popular and in demand but we’ve been doing it for a long time, how did you figure out all of the positive effects from buying women produced coffees?
“Two of our oldest relationships are with women producers, since ’98. These woman have always been inspirations, visiting Nicaragua and seeing all those women in coffee and the equality, and thinking that we should be doing that everywhere.”
Christy can go on and on about supply chain, the impact of the price of coffee, what makes each region produce different tasting coffees… she’s a wealth of coffee knowledge, but she skips over what a badass she is. Having served as a founding board member of World Coffee Research, back in 2016 when the coffee flavor wheel was re-designed, Christy was on the team of coffee experts who worked with KSU and Texas A&M to develop that wheel. Little bits of information like this are hard to get out of her. She’s wildly impressive, but just as humble. Something Allegro has been so lucky to have over the past 25 years.