by Jill Ragar Esfeld
LEAWOOD — 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.
“You know, it’s still a little bit of you scratch your head and wonder,” he said. “How did a guy from Lexington, Missouri, end up doing this?”
Growing up in a Midwest farming community, Allen’s strong Catholic faith was influenced by his grandparents, who helped raise him, and his mother who worked two jobs to keep her children in Catholic school.
While in college in the early ’80s, he developed an interest in coffee 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 and 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 had a roasting company and lots of retail stores,” recalled Allen. “And I listened to people complain about how bad their lives were every day.
“And I thought, ‘I want to go help people that really have true problems.’”
Allen knew firsthand about faming and how farmers are often exploited — and that’s where his heart led him.
Eight years ago, he started Brewed Behavior and based it 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.”
So far, from his home office in Overland Park, Allen has expanded to offices in Italy and Costa Rica.
And in the process, he’s made a big difference for coffee farmers and roasters all around the world.
Doing the right thing
The goal of Brewed Behavior, said Allen, is to get coffee consumers, buyers and everyone in the value chain as close to the dirt as possible
“We do two things,” he explained. “There are about 50 coffee-producing countries; we work in around 30 of them currently.
“We’ll go in and do assessments or any type of project with coffee producers that will improve quality or openly raise the GDP (gross domestic product) of that country in the coffee sector.”
On the other side of the business, Brewed Behavior works in consuming countries.
“We’ll take buyers from our consuming countries to [where the coffee is grown] and teach them about production,” said Allen.
“We help a coffee roaster learn how to roast coffee, how to sort coffee, how to grade coffee — everything they need to be prepared to continue the value chain to the consumer,” he added.
The beauty of the process is that Brewed Behavior facilitates relationships between farmers and buyers.
“We introduce the two,” said Allen, “so the buyers can go down and meet the producers and create relationships with them.”
Led by his Catholic faith, Allen has truly found his vocation.
“The business came from seeing an opportunity and knowing in my heart that was the right thing to do — to facilitate those relationships, educate producers and buyers, and raise the bar on quality,” he said.
And of course, it has given him an opportunity to make coffee for the pope.
The Lamborghini connection
Through his European office in Italy, Allen connected with a renowned Italian family — the Lamborghinis — and fame soon followed.
“The Lamborghini family sold the car company,” he explained. “They started a food company and I was paid to manage the coffee piece of that company.
“So there was a lot of media and stuff about that in Italy.”
As a result, Allen travels to Italy three or four times a year, often speaking at coffee and food events.
His notoriety got him connected, through a client, to the Vatican.
The pope’s handlers, familiar with Allen’s reputation, requested his expertise in making a special coffee for the U.S. tour.
And how did Allen feel when he got the request?
“Every day, we just get caught up in our typical lives,” he said. “And we just think today is another day, just be grateful for another day.
“But some days, you’re a little bit more grateful for.
“And I have to be honest, without sounding entitled or anything — that will always be one of the sweetest days of my life.”
Profiled, not blended
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.
“I knew he wasn’t a guy who was just going to pick hot, brown water,” he said. “The one that he picked was really the most interesting as far as complexity.
“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 that the public understand 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.
“This is just a celebration of the pope’s visit. It’s a reaffirmation of the future of Catholicism in the United States.
And Allen’s own attitude is one of gratitude for the experience.
“I go to church,” he said. “And I tell God how grateful I am for everything I achieve or receive — everything that’s ever happened in my life.
“And I’m always quick to tell my kids, ‘Don’t have conversations that ask God for things. Let things happen and go and thank God.’
“And I just remember the day I got that call. I wanted to stop what I was doing and go to church.”
Allen admits he will reap some benefit from his efforts.
“That will happen,” he said. “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.’”