Fox Hollow ~ it isn't a place ~ it's a taste! And becoming the choice of many coffee lovers in Pierce County

“At right Robyn Saathoff, left, manager of the Fox Hollow Coffee drive-through stand at 19th and Mildred in Fircrest, participates in a coffee cupping with Kent Holloway, founder and president of Fox Hollow Coffee, at Dillanos Coffee Roaster in Sumner. Dillanos roasts the coffee blends that Holloway has selected (Photos by Fox Hollow Coffee staff) (Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about coffee-its history and the people who make sure a quality product ends up in the user’s cup. The main subject of this story is Kent Holloway, founder and president of Fox Hollow Coffee).For many of us, morning does not officially begin until we have had our first sip of coffee. These days that first cup can be as simple as a traditional black, steaming hot cuppa Joe brewed in a coffee maker, or as exotic as a latte made with a shot of coffee from a espresso machine.Regardless of the end product, it all starts with imported green coffee beans that grow in countries located within a narrow subtropical band at the equator that wraps around the world. It should come as no surprise that the scent of freshly brewed coffee is so attractive to those of us who love the beverage. The coffee plant first produces delicate clusters of white blossoms that resemble jasmine in shape and scent. Within a few days of the flowers blossoming, small, green coffee cherries appear–that’s right, it’s a fruit–and ripen from yellow to red, when they’re hand-picked. The growers return again and again to the same plant as the cherries ripen throughout the year. The coffee plants are cultivated on large coffee plantations as well as maintained and picked by individual families. An average coffee tree, which is kept pruned about eight feet high, produces one to two pounds of roasted coffee per year and takes four to five years to produce its first crop. It takes about 2,000 coffee cherries, which contain two beans (seeds) each, to produce one pound of roasted coffee. Once picked, the fruit is removed from the green seeds (coffee beans), which are then dried, sized, sorted, graded and selected–all by hand. They are then bagged and readied for shipment around the world.One port those burlap bags of coffee beans arrive at is the Port of Seattle.Waiting for them is Kent Holloway, a man who has a passion for high quality coffee beans. Ten years ago, the Fox Island resident began Austin Chase Coffee, (which became a popular franchise-like concept with 13 stores in the Puget Sound area), wrote an extensive book on coffee, and then traveled nearly three years as a consultant on an international level.He traveled to the Philippines and Honduras to help coffee growers sell their product to the U.S., and in Mexico he helped entrepreneurs set up a roastery and café.I got to do wonderful things, Holloway said. I also helped retailers nationwide (in the United States) open up espresso bars.What he didn’t like was the travel. I decided to come back (on a local level), but I asked myself, ‘What am I gonna do that’s different?’First he named his new business Fox Hollow Coffee–after the island he lives on and from part of his last name.He also decided to roast his coffees differently this time around, adapting to coffee-drinkers’ newer taste preferences.In 1989, people preferred a lightly roasted coffee, he said. Now people’s tastes have darkened considerably be-cause of Starbucks.Another decision was to develop a concept for drive-through espresso coffee stands with an eye to a consistent, attractive design that would identify Fox Hollow Coffee stands on a national level–and they would all be owner operated.The one thing that would not change would be Holloway’s passion for choosing the best beans for his finished product–an excellent cup of coffee.Which brings us back to those coffee bean-filled burlap bags sitting on the docks at the Port of Seattle.For the past four years, Holloway has maintained a close working relationship with Craig Holt, one of the owners of Atlas Coffee Importers, Seattle.Holt knows from experience that the only coffee beans Holloway will purchase are the highest premium coffee beans available. I think the thing that should come across about Kent is his enduring enthusiasm for the business, Holt said. He loves what he does. You can’t be an exceptional coffee roaster or have an exceptional product unless you have a genuine love for the product. His information about the coffee business is encyclopedic and it sets him apart. He doesn’t try to make a quick buck off the coffee fad. He’s in it because he enjoys it.Most companies, Holt added, Folgers or MJB for example, buy commercial grade coffee that doesn’t taste that good. So do a lot of companies that call themselves gourmet companies. Most coffee is judged by the defects it has–blackened beans, moldy beans, rocks and twigs and bugs mixed in.Holt said the kinds of coffee Kent buys are coffees judged by their nuances and subtleties of flavors–and only the top two percent of coffees purchased offer that. Instead of saying nothing is wrong with it, we talk about what’s right-exceptional-about it, he said. And you pay a premium for that nuance.Holt tests the beans by roasting a small batch, then goes through a cupping to judge the coffee for aroma, body acidity and finish. To find out what’s right with the beans, Holt roasts a small batch and then goes through a process called cupping to judge the coffee for its aroma, body acidity and finish.The roasted beans are ground, added to a cup of very hot water, and left to sit for a moment. When the grounds reach the top they form a crust. The crust is broken with a spoon and the coffee smelled to be sure the proper aroma is present. Then the coffee is sipped, and rated on its flavor characteristics.For example, Holt said, I may roast beans from Guatamala and say, ‘This has a good, strong aroma with a medium body, high acidity and a smooth finish.’ But in addition I say, ‘It has a hint of smokiness and a creamy body.’ I know that’s the stuff that Fox Hollow would like to buy. Then I’ll have Kent cup it before he makes a decision on what he takes.And you already know what percentage of the top coffees in the world he’ll be taking. “