Tiny Joy

Sept - Oct 1998: What's up in Indonesia?; The Bizarre World of Grading Coffee; We're Upitty and We Recycle; Coffee Notes

What's up in Indonesia?

It's been a rough year down south and way east ...or is hat west. Either way, here's my impressions of recent Indonesian coffee samples, some of which we stock, some we turned down:

Sulawesi Toraja

It's odd that some broker's lists will have Celebes listed beside Sulawesi. Maybe they are getting Celebes from some old colonial source, but really it's all about the name they screen on the bag. In a year of weird wether patterns, how can Sulawesi remain unscathed while other Indonesians are such battered little beans. I can't explain, but we stocked up on beautiful washed Sulawesi Toraja.

Java Djampit/ Java Blawan

We won't touch Java this year, and don't understand why others are scrambling so frantically to secure this overpriced, low-quality crop. David at Royal SF told me that they have contracts on 1500+ bags of Java that roasters have pledged to buy. But the coffee is months late. I think when crops are bad and pricey, it's the roasters and brokers duty to protect customers from wasting their money ...instead of caving to "the customer is king" motto and selling them whatever they demand. Educate them; coffee is a crop, not something in a can. Like any agricultural product, it varies. But that's our slant.

Papua New Guinea (PNG)

I called a broker to ask what PNG A/X was; the crop was so small this year that they weren't,t sorting coffees into the higher A grade and the lower X grade. When samples arrived, they were considering an outright rejection of the container, or monetary recompense. I don't believe the tidal wave had any bearing on this disastrous crop, just bad weather patterns that damage the flowers and fruit, or prevent proper development of the cherries. (The scenarios are endless; there's cases were rain starved trees that are fruiting will quickly swell and produce large beans that are bland in the cup.) Anyway, we have a stash of past crop A grade that are nice 18 screen beans with tons of varietal character ...but we won't be buying PNG this year.

Sumatra

(Sumatra Mandheling, Batak, Golden Pwani, Gayo Mountain). Sumatra is producing fine coffee this year. Does it look good? No. Does it cup good? Yes. Throw away your Green Coffee Classification chart. That ugly dry processed (DP) Mandheling has more body and character than the premium Golden Pwani I cupped, or than the Batak either. The Batak Mandheling looks nice, appears to be washed or semi-washed, cupped out nicely than others. But frankly we stock it because the 11% weird beans (not defects) that I weighed out in our DP Mandheling has been causing concern among some customers. I wanted to give you the option of a better prepared Sumatran ...but still think that the DP, roasted into 2nd crack, produces one heck of a cup.

Our new supply of Gayo mountain Organic is cupping a lot stronger, more aggressive, and with improved body. the beans are also ugly, with a deep blue green color that indicates high moisture content.

P.S.: What's a Mandheling?

Mandheling is arabica coffee from northern Sumatra, from the area around Lake Toba and Lake Takengon. Batak is the tribal group from the Lake Toba area. Lintong is coffee from a small area within the Lake Toba region, so it could technically be considered a type of Batak Mandheling. That's why our bag of Batak (cont.) Mandheling reads "Batak Farmers". Mandheling is not a geographic region perse, as many books on coffee imply. This information comes from a broker who specializes in Indonesian coffee and has been there many times, and that's as straight as the arrow flies in this case....

The Bizarre World of Grading Coffee

Case Study: Ethiopia -Quoted from David Kastle, coffee broker.

"Ethiopian grading: who knows? I have only seen grade 2, 4, and 5 Ethiopian coffees. Technically there are 8 grades, theoretically based on the number of defects. Grades 1 through 5 are UGQ (usual good quality), below that? Maybe FAQ (Fair Average Quality) -- I am not sure. Every washed coffee I've seen has been labeled grade 2. Naturals (Harrar, Ghimbi Sidamo, Djimmah) are always grade 4 or 5. Sometimes (in fact, quite often) an exporter will label a grade 4 coffee as a grade 5 because it is cheaper to export it that way. When small lots of washed coffees (like Yirgacheffe) come in from the mills (I'm not sure if it is milled at the farm) it is labeled either grade 1,2, or 3, but it all gets sold as grade 2. Naturals are always grade 4 or 5, but the 4 often is labeled 5 because the export duties are lower. Does this make any sense?" Answer: No!

We're Upitty and We Recycle

We put a good bit of thought into the paper products or paper alternatives we use in the shop and for mailorder. I hate styrofoam (we use paper cups, glassine-lined paper coffee bags, etc.) partially because it makes for such bad litter ...but then again we use styro peanuts for packing. They are recycled through a local program called ReArt, a reusable materials exchange. We also use the plastic ziplock bags. We hope that you find a way to reuse the packaging materials we send you.

Coffee Notes (compiled by Maria)

*Weather and Politics

Two factors that can influence the price of coffee are weather and politics, or geography and history (which, depending on how you look at it, are not completely independent forces). Many countries that grow coffee have colonial legacies with social, politcal and economic structures inherited from their former possessors.

*Indonesia Unrest

The threat of political and economic turmoil in Indonesia sent coffee and cocoa futures prices up against fears that the harvest will be delayed getting to market. Indonesia is the world's third largest producer of coffee behind Colombia and Brazil.

*Bad for Coffee/Good for Tea?

The particularly wet spring in Kenya has had opposite effects on coffee and tea growers. While the excessively wet season has the potential to delay the coffee flowering (and therefore harvest), tea has spread profusely, rebounding from a particularly dry year in 1996-97.

*Colombian Coffee Park

Combining a nature preserve, educational exhibits and demonstrations, and a tourist oasis, Colombia's Parque Nacional del Cáfe in the central Zona Cafetera is dedicated to valuing the integral role coffee plays in the Colombian economy and society. A museum in the park details the history of commercial coffee production which began in the region in the late 1800s. In addition to information on species varieties, farming methods, antique grinders, roasters and other production equipment, the museum contains exhibits on the life and culture of the cafeteros, coffee farmers. In another area of the park are typical cafetero homes.

*Kona Kai Coffee Indicted

Michael Norton of Berkeley CA was indicted on 32 counts including fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Kona Kai Coffee was the center of a scandal two years ago when it was discovered that Norton was rebagging Central American coffee and labeling it "pure kona coffee." The fraud, perpetrated on a number of roasters and resellers, sends the message that you better know what you are paying for when it comes to coffee.

*Starbucks introduces a new blend and a new CD

The Siren's Note Blend is a mixture of Latin American and East African coffees that is being sold through the Starbucks chain worldwide. As if to drive home the marketing buzz, the company released a CD of female vocalists to merchandise the new blend. As we say in Columbus, "Go 'Bucks!"

*Supermarket Coffee

When a large supermarket chain opens the bids on its whole bean accounts, only the largest national roasters are likely to be able to win out. This is because the supermarket chains operate on the level of hundreds of stores, and the chain deals with one supplier for those stores. The coffee is likely to be only as good as the chain's buyer; "roasters who pursue a strategy of providing the highest quality product will have difficulty winning in the supermarket industry.

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What's Good?

I had the Zassenhaus Grain Mill around for a month, but didn't have time to test it thoroughly. I was prompted to get off my butt and check it out by one of you, who is an all-grain beer brewer and hoped it could handle malt and coffee. I found that this is the most wonderful hand-crank mill I have ever used. It has a huge range of adjustment and produces a true espresso grind for my Pavoni Europiccola, and can particalize malt without grinding all the hulls into dust. The plastic ABS handle and nylon auger made me nervous, but they're made to last, and the thing can be completely disassembled and cleaned. It's a great tool, useful to coffee people, beer brewers and passionate bakers/cooks. It's not too much at $100 incl. shipping.

I was really pleased with some of the green samples we've been getting, especially the Honduran Marcala (yes, Honduras can produce excellent coffee) and Ethiopian Ghimbi (good body, complex). Mediocre samples have included washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffes, Congo Kivu, Guatemalan Fraijanes and Coban. A lot of Guat.s we've sampled have been mediocre to just plain bad, especially since we have wanted a replacement for the good Huehuetenango we had earlier this season. (First shipments seemed like the best). We're happy with the Antigua Apollo --a true Antigua named for the processing beneficio (mill).

The Backside

I have decided, on a trial basis, to follow a suggestion from a friend and publish a portion of my "business diary"as filler. It is largely negative; this is my place to express doubts/frustrations, look for alternatives, and consider what this business is all about. Please do not read this if you find it pointless or whiney.

8/18 -- It seems like every broker is trying to sell futures this week. I keep getting sales calls. We're such a tiny customer compared to major roasters, I can't imagine we can help their cash flow that much. Buying futures makes no sense to me. Buying spot means I get samples and can verify the quality. Buying futures is all about money, not quality. The Pavoni thing is nuts. The machines are fine except for Eric Price's that had the bad coil and the dent I missed in that other one. It's the grinders, beacuse the last 2 seemed more worn that demos from trade shows should be. I reread the lit from european gifts. I ask the for demos and I get refurbished. I dont trust them so much anymore. I have spent a hunk of money there and should get better care ...probably like $7,000 at this point. It all comes back but with such low markups the hassles aren't worth it. - The house has so many things to think about. I think it was a mistake to buy it. it's beautiful. It;'s too big. 8/21- The excellent Honduran Marcala sample made today a bit easier to take. I have never had a good Honduran, and this was GREAT! A real almond flavor. I think i should cut pastries. Or just have biscotti that can sit 2 weeks. And as far as that goes, the 100 cases of widemouth Ball jars was a big mistake. Jeez, why do I have to jump into things like that. i know, because I was convinced it was the best packaging and that I was right tio try to sell the coffee in the right storage container. But 100 cases. $800 bucks that I cant afford just sitting there on a pallet in the basement. It was very stupid. David is running the moisture tests on the coffees. he's great, or maybe he's just a good salesman, i don't know. I was impressed that he was right on with the Hartmann panama --citrusy, tangerine. Richard always seemed to be guessing when I asked him, like he was reading someone elses cupping notes. They don't even buy a lot of their coffee, they split containers or piggyback containers with royal SF 8/22 nice weekend, not a lot of business --lotsa cupping of espresso blends, pulling shots on the pavoni --the things Ilike to do witout the distractions of certain yapping iced coffee customers. Testing out the new Zassenhaus Grain mill...very nice. Excellent espressogrind -this is the kind of stuff I can really endorse, stuff to base this business on. The Pavoni has been a lot of headaches and I think I am going to drop the grinder. Rafael wasthe #2 one that seemed more worn than a trade show demo, more like refurbished, but not because the burrs were worn. I feel so stupid for mailing that one out without testing it. It's the employee thing too. 8/25 My big conceit, and I knew it, was that I would open this little coffee roastery etc around the corner in a neighborhood and, because people could recognize the quality and conscientiousness (whew) behind everything we did, they would demand to sit around, drink coffee, tell their friends etc. But this is Columbus, not Oakland, not Chicago. Should I just close the door on people, focus on mail order? It's the green coffee and roasting that i enjoy, and that carries this place. Shouldn't I just stick to and develop the stuff that pays the bills (barely). Then, it makes me sad to think about being a closed door to the local people. I need to find middle ground, cut back, make it easier on myself, keep the focus on what I like to do. Quit trying to be the everything store. It's what we are already. No espresso bar, no food, few pastries. I just can't figure out how to change the mix, and to set a different tone. Roasted coffee (beans) needs to be the first thing people see that we sell when they come in. That would solve the confusion. I don't know ...will that really free me up enough to focus on roasting and green? 8/28 -order of Brass Pavonis arrived, but I ended up paying more for them than I should of; there's no way I can seell these at our published prices. We usually buy a lower "grade" brass than the chrome, ones with more cosmetic problems in order to be able to charge as little as we do but they were out of that grade so sold us top grade ones for a lot more. Ugh. i hate problems with orders. Now I have to call people and say we have the pavoni in they wre waiting for but it's more expensive ...sounds like a scam eh? I feel like we have a good set of retail items we stock, ones I truly endorse, and no "giftware" , designy french presses etc. Just good basic coffee equipment. But its a pain too. i guess it all pays for itself down the line, but I need to think carefully about the costs involved in terms of my time in keeping a big stock of coffee merchandise. It causes cash problems too.rs, or their scensters. Coffee still comes from a can, here. 8/31 sales stink, which is usual for the shop, but it's also very quiet on the mail order. We need to be at $7500/mo in 2 months or the big lump of green coffee debt is going to start hurting more.. On the positive front, it looks like I can reserve another bag of Ugandan Bugisu is I buy now, and the Ethiopian Ghimbi sample I had this am was great ...really great. I am realizing that these lesser knowns are really the most underrated whereas Tanz Peaberry, Java etc. are way overrated and overpriced. Nobody buys the Nic.s, which are great. It's a wierd business. I called david about the Ghimbi but he's out today. I really can take a delivery of coffee and PAY for a delivery of coffee until mid Oct or early Nov. The credit card is just too loaded.