Author Archive for Thompson

Symposium, Imposium, Opposium

I have always had mixed feelings about the SCAA Symposium. And in my inimitable style, I have had them in absence of any actual experience: I never went to Symposium. It is the 2 day event before the SCAA Exposition that is billed as a meeting of Industry Leaders, and features a stacked bill of various personalities, consultants, a couple scientists, market researchers, financial experts, and interpretive dance. Okay, strike the last one.

In any case, it is an orchestrated series of presentations and panel discussions that comes with a high price tag (over $1k to come), but also high value. I had always thought it drew away from the general show,; it represented a retreat from investing in the quality of the educational discussions at the low-cost weekend event. I might still feel this way, but having just sat through my first day of Symposium, it undoubtedly has great value. And I am not just saying that because I got in free, in exchange for blogging it. There, full disclosure.

The core members of SCAA that plunge their hands into green coffee every day, the roasters, don’t get to poke their heads out of the backroom often enough. Along with the Roaster’s Guild Retreat, Symposium definitely offers a rube like myself who is always absorbed intensely in the issues of my own business to consider the broader picture … how the same issues are affecting everyone else. Even if the discussion isn’t speaking directly to me and my struggles in coffee, the benefit of Symposium can be experience tangentially. Just allowing myself to absorb the information, let it wash over me, and consider how I address whatever the speaker’s topic may be, has a certain distinct value.

We have had a lot of alternative names for Symposium, and I think some of them are pretty expressive. To a yokel like me, much of the lingo sounds like somebody went and got themselves one too many MBAs. And the results can be a bit comical too. “Where are the hotspots in your supply chain?” Or “How can we blow apart our assumptions, and make money in a whole new way?” Sounds like revolution-talk to me.

But when do you get to hear multiple perspectives on what is driving instability in the commodity market from people who focus entirely on that? How about some solid criticism of romantic notions about coffee varietals and cultivation from people with 40 years experience in a producing country? How can that not be enriching? When I consider my paltry experience with market watching, hedging coffee contracts, or on the other hand, a week or two in a producing country trying to understand all the complexities of quality and production, can that meager experience not benefit from listening to the folks on stage? Hell yeah.

So that’s part of Symposium, seeing the value in listening to other perspectives, whether you agree or not, whether you think they are relevant to your daily experience in coffee or not. We all know coffee is incredibly complicated. We all know we can’t “do it all” nor can we “know it all”. Coming together is a good humble admission of this fact. Plus, people say some hilarious things. -Tom

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Ye Olde Weblog

Traffic was so low on our blog we simply started ignoring it. We are investing a lot more time in our Library, and plan to eventually combine our blog type posts with our articles over there. We also found that most people are just checking out the What’s New on our home page to find out the latest. So you might not see the web log around too much longer.

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Funny or Not, Here I Come…

So I made a send-up coffee travel video that was supposed to parody the potential silliness of a coffee travel video, and the responses to it range a wide gamut. I am sure many people get a small chuckle from something in it and move on. A few think it is hilarious, others don’t realize it’s an attempt at humor, and a handful are a bit offended. Because some comments were a little “out there”, a couple downright mean, I actually turned on “moderate comments” for the first time ever, and I culled a few. I kinda regret that now, because the responses are far more interesting than the video. So let me earnestly respond to this, because I think the points it raises are interesting.

The fact that coffee buyers travel at all has recently been examined in posts by Kevin Knox and Ken Davids. Aleco Chigounis wrote a great little piece a while back on the same topic. Wish I could find the link to it.  Kevin in particular has raised some points I feel are sentient, that traveling to origin and doing a direct trade deal is not any guarantee of getting the best coffee. It’s dead on true, but its also mildly annoying to me personally because here I am spending a wad of money, precious time (away from Maria and Ben and my important tasks in the cupping lab, not to mention missing possibly good surfing days at OB!) to make sure each trip is relevant, and absolutely does result in better coffee than I can get by trolling the brokers list. And the last thing I want is to ruin my good carbon-neutral standing. LOL.

But there is something potentially ridiculous about this kind of trip; if you take some of what I do and nudge it a few degrees further, becomes laughable. I thought I would just have a little fun with that, because when viewed form a certain angle, the way I (and other buyers/companies) represent what we do is silly. We go to a place for 3 or 5 or 10 days and pretend we know it? We take pictures of coffee cherry in 1:1 Macro, and that means we know more about coffee? We know the name of the farmer, his wife and kids and his dog, so we understand them? Really? An intern spending a summer in the area might find some humor observing this. A doctoral Anthro candidate living in the area for 16 months would chuckle, and probably an NGO worker who has been worked in the zone for 12 years would guffaw. So what does the farmer who has spent a lifetime there think to witnesses our hit-and-run wisdom?

After all, I come to a place to buy coffee, and if I make videos and photographs to use on our site, isn’t there the possibility that I am just hawking something with these materials, that it is all part of a shtick? Pushed to the levels I attempt to make humorous (I say attempt) in the video, whats the difference between this and Cal Worthington and his Dog Spot?

So the earnest criticisms and parodies of coffee buyers do land some deserved punches, and I think there is good reason to assume the position of the skeptic, and have a dialogue about the logic of coffee buyer travel. Is it to create Direct Trade marketing? To seem more authentic on a web site? To sell a product with more flair? Or is it to understand the source of a product you sell, to get access to a good reliable coffee source. Are these things all intertwined in a way, the noble aims and the not-so-noble benefits of the coffee trip?

In fact, my experience is that the way different buyers travel, what they achieve, the visual materials and stories they come back with, the way the represent themselves and what they do … there is really quite a range of players out there in both style and substance. (And style and substance seem not unrelated). I have traveled with people that are incredibly focused and skilled, who understand the hard job at hand, and who know how to have the difficult conversations with coffee producers that ultimately form the basis for a mutually beneficial business relationship. I travel with others who are “coffee tourists” (we all are a little bit, I would say), who just want pictures of red cherry,  video of themselves with the locals, or just to drink a lotta beer and whoop it up. Fine, but that get’s old really fast. And it’s a big waste of money, time and a very finite amount of energy I possess. Frankly, it’s the reason I usually travel with one or two people I know well, or alone.

Let me say that I absolutely DO try to amuse myself and others when I travel, usually as a way to bear with my jetlag, and the anxiety of being in a new place and missing home. And I do find humor in what I do. But when it comes down to it, I am there to use any observational and intellectual ability I have to make those 3 days, 5 days or 10 days the most meaningful, most informative, and most valuable in terms of sourcing better coffee. I am amazed at the courage some other travelers have, the stories they spin, but I don’t feel like some hero out there, some Indiana Jones pushing through the jungle, all alone (or pretending to be), on a quest, and in the typical Hollywood denouement, “winning” by slinging a sack of fine coffee over my back and coming home.

No, it’s frustrating to deal with language barriers, I am anxiety-ridden to take on the huge risks of a more direct purchase, it’s exhausting to have so little time and try to do so much, and it’s a big bummer to lose so much sleep. Oh, and and I hate missing good surf in OB.

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Wet- Process versus Dry-Process, Light Roast versus Dark Roast.

Wet- Process versus Dry-Process, Light Roast versus Dark Roast.
This weeks roasted coffee is a dramatic comparison of wet process (Ethiopia) verus dry process coffee, but also of roast level. The Ethiopia is a light body, clean, bright coffee and is well suited to the light City roast level I did on these batches. And the Brazil is more about body and chocolate roast tone, so the darker Full City roast plays to the strong suit of this coffee. I think you’ll find these two offerings quite different, and might help you and your household clarify your preferences. Do you like light roasted, bright, high-toned, lively, acidic coffee like the Ethiopia? Or do you prefer the more rustic, slightly fruity, low acid, tenor-to-bass note flavors of the darker roast Brazil? Hopefully you will find pleasure in both -Tom

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Mokha Moka Madness! Yemen Mokha Sharasi, Yemen Mokha Ismaili, Hawaii Ka’anapali DP Maui Moka 16 Screen

We are super psyched to add TWO amazing Yemeni coffees today and a new Hawaii Dry Process lot, Yemen Mokha Ismaili , Yemen Mokha Sharasi , Hawaii Ka’anapali DP Maui Moka 16 Screen We know there are lots of folks out there who already know the amazing qualities of Yemeni coffees but for the uninitiated they are wildly fruity and rustic in the best possible way. Yemen Mokha Sharasi has winey fruits and spice hints and is outstanding as SO espresso. Yemen Mokha Ismaili tastes like chocolate dipped banana at light roasts with more licorice at darker levels, again, outstanding as SO espresso. These are both also great coffees to blend with, try your own version of Moka Kadir by mixing one or both of these Yemeni coffees with the Harar Longberry. Last but not least we have Hawaii Ka’anapali DP Maui Moka 16 Screen a unique rounded bean cultivar that is a bit tricky to roast, but delivers maple syrup and melted butter flavors, that’s right: a dry process Hawaii offering! Click through for more notes on the coffees.

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Four More: Espresso Workshop 16 Lenny Dee-spresso,Guatemala Candelaria,Ethiopia Harar,Tanzania Mbinga Ruvuma

New workshop blend and three arrivals: Espresso Workshop #16- Lenny Dee-spresso, Guatemala Finca Candelaria, Ethiopia Harar Longberry, and Tanzania Mbinga Ruvuma Flatbean. Let’s start with the bright shimmering new blend: Espresso Workshop #16- Lenny Dee-spresso. Named after a zesty organ player, this blend has orange, bittersweets, and baker’s chocolate in the profile. The Guatemala Candelaria is customer favorite with hazelnut, chocolate and a twist of citrus. This next coffee should be popular: Ethiopia Harar Longberry. We’re happy to add an excellent Harar back to our stock. This profile has fruit tea, cinnamon and chocolate at dark roasts. Lastly is the intense Tanzania Mbinga with blackberry syrup, creamy body, and bittersweet tang. Click through for more notes on the coffees.

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Roasted Coffee Pairing #62; Guatemala La Providencia Dos & Costa Rica Cafetalera Herbazu

This week’s roasted coffee pairing features two heavy-hitters from Central America, and raises the specter of the never-ending (but not that serious) grudge match between the Ticos and the Guates. It’s Guatemala La Providencia Dos and  Costa Rica Cafetalera Herbazu. Finca Providencia in the area of San Pedro Necta of Huehuetenango; Guatemala is winning out on balance, a well-integrated sweetness and fairly mild acidity, especially for a Huehue. Pay attention as it cools, and mild sweet orange and vanilla-caramel emerge. Herbazu is from the West Valley of Costa Rica, entirely comprised of the Villa Sarchi cultivar. I went for a more developed roast to bring balance and sweetness to the hallmark citrusy notes from this coffee. I am cupping it with, well, ZERO hours of rest after roasting, but I really like what I’m getting. Ripe lemon brightness fading out with zesty bits of rind, cane sugar, honey, barley malt, and a bit of fresh berry. -Tom

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New coffees: Colombia Cerro Azul Gesha, Honduras Ocotopeque Decaf, Panama Org Berlina, Kenya Kirinyaga Kabingara, El Salv Siberia Bourbon

A pentad of great new arrivals: Colombia Cauca -Cerro Azul GeshaHonduras Ocotopeque WP DecafPanama Organic La Berlina Estate TypicaKenya Kirinyaga AA Kabingara, and  El Salvador Finca Siberia Bourbon. We have an exciting first-time offering: Colombia Cauca -Cerro Azul Gesha. Click through to read the farm story and note that it’s a bit more restrained than an Esmerelda Gesha. The flavor profile is a nice balance of guava, vanilla, and caramel flavors. The new Honduras Ocotopeque WP Decaf takes a range of roasts and is a mildly sweet cup with apple brightness and a dry finish. Folks will remember the classic Panama Berlina Estate‘s milk chocolate, praline, and malted flavors and this arrival rates highly too. The Kenya Kirinyaga AA Kabingara is an intense cup with Concord grape, currant and balanced bittersweet tones; it’s a complex cup. Lastly, we have a Salvadoran customer favorite: El Salvador Finca Siberia Bourbon. This is great at a dark roast for espresso too; look for tangy chocolate and almond in the profile.

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