September 22, 2015
Leawood, Kan. (CNS)—Before he became the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis was known to wander the streets of Rome on foot, searching for a good cup of coffee.
"He's a big fan of taste and texture and body," said Tracy Allen, owner of the coffee consultancy Brewed Behavior and a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood.
So it comes as no surprise that the pope's visit to the United States has been commemorated with a special coffee profiled to his taste.
The surprise is that Allen was asked to roast the pontiff's special brew.
Allen developed an interest in coffee while in college in the early 1980s and started experimenting with roasting beans and blending flavors—in his popcorn popper.
Armed with a degree in economics and his affection for coffee, Allen was recruited by Procter & Gamble, where he developed their Folgers and Millstone brands. He went on to co-own a rotisserie and coffee shops in Seattle. Then, after almost 20 years in the business, he had a bit of an epiphany.
"I thought, 'I want to go help people that really have true problems,'" he said.
Allen knew firsthand about farming and how farmers are often exploited, and was led to start Brewed Behavior eight years ago, based on the principle of sustainable sourcing.
"I feel like that's my calling," he said. "And I've been incredibly blessed in everything that we've done so far."
From his home office in Overland Park, Allen has expanded to offices in Italy and Costa Rica. The company now works in about 30 of the world's 50 coffee-producing countries, he said.
In Italy, Allen works with the Lamborghini family, managing the coffee sector of their new food business. As a result, Allen travels to Italy three or four times a year, often speaking at coffee and food events.
That led the pope's handlers to request his expertise in making a special coffee for the U.S. tour.
And how did Allen feel when he got the request?
"I have to be honest, without sounding entitled or anything—that will always be one of the sweetest days of my life."
A first rule in coffee creation, said Allen, is never use the word "blend." "Blend is like a recipe," he explained. "A pinch of salt, a cup of flour, and it never changes.
"The problem with coffee is it changes month to month, year to year. So the real test is to create what we call a profile."
Simply put, a profile is built based on 10 components that are evenly weighted and equal 100 points on a scoring form.
Allen approached the pope's profile by considering demographic factors such as age, race and heritage.
"We basically did trial and error on those cups," he said. "And then I took some liberty with things that I wouldn't typically do in that demographic. I know (the pope) appreciates certain types of acidity and certain types of mouth feel—body—which is basically the fat content in coffee."
After months spent testing and honing the perfect mixture, Brewed Behavior sent a handful of samples to the Vatican.
In the back of his mind, Allen had an idea of which one the pope would choose.
"The one that he picked was really the most interesting as far as complexity," he said. "And it shows me that he recognizes quality."
More important, Allen knows the pope appreciates what goes into the making of a single cup of coffee.
"He understands the plight of the farmer," he said. "And he understands all the nine sets of fingers that coffee goes through before it gets to us."
It's important to Allen for the public to understand that no money has been exchanged in this process.
"I don't want anyone thinking the church spent a bunch of money to stroke somebody's ego," he said. "We wouldn't take a dime for this."
But Allen admits he will reap some benefit from his efforts. "People will be like, 'He's the guy that made the pope's coffee.'"
But the real benefit is seeing his mother's joy.
"My mother is on top of the world," he said. "She's, like, 'I put those kids through Catholic school and finally God validated one of them.'"