Monthly Archive for July, 2011

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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Roast Coffee Pairing #67: Same Coffee, Two Roast Levels–Ethiopia Guji Suke Quto

This week we are looking at the way roast level affects the cup.  We’ve roasted a great new Ethiopia arrival in two very different ways.  The first batch was roasted to City+ and employed a quicker profile with final thermaprobe temperature of 430 degrees and roast time of 13 minutes.  The resultant cup has a  light body, sweet honey and tea-like notes.  The second batch was roasted to Full City and employed a longer profile with the same final thermaprobe temperature of 430 degrees but a roast time of 15 minutes.  This extra two minutes in the roaster adds more depth to the body along with caramelized sugar and nutty hints.  Both roasts feature a wonderful gingerbread flavor and show how much roast level/profile affects flavor.

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New Coffee: A Quartet Composed of Two Centrals and Two Africans







El Salvador La Divina Providencia, Honduras Santa Barbara Smallholders, Ethiopia Moplaco Yirga Cheffe and Kenya Nyeri AA Gaturiri are four great additions to our current offerings. El Salvador La Divina Providencia is from one of our favorite growers in El Salvador and has refined acidity, orange-peach sweetness. Honduras Santa Barbara Smallholders represents a great new development in obtaining high quality pooled lots of coffee from the Western part of the country, and the exotic tropical fruit profile has impressed us greatly.  Ethiopia Moplaco Yirga Cheffe is a delicate and outstanding Yirg that must be roasted light to be enjoyed.  Finally Kenya Nyeri AA Gaturiri is a complex profile with intense brightness, dark fruit, incredible grape notes and weighty sweetness. We think that these will be some of this year’s best offerings!

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New Offerings: A Familiar Panama Lot and a Decaf










Panama Carmen Estate 1900 Meters and Guatemala Santa Rosa – Jalapa SWP Decaf are both bright coffees that were just unloaded into our warehouse this afternoon. The Panama Carmen Estate 1900 Meters is a wonderfully balanced cup with lively brightness, tangerine, caramel and vanilla hints. Our new decaf, Guatemala Santa Rosa – Jalapa SWP Decaf is surprisingly bright for a decaf with piney acidity and cherry fruited notes as the cup cools.





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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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Welcome your weekend with new coffee offerings!

Start off your weekend right with these new offerings: Costa Rica Helsar de Zarcero – Macho Arce has citric acidity and balance, with mahogany-toned sweetness at darker roasts, Ethiopia Guji Suke Quto is a wonderful new arrival that is the epitome of gingerbread, Kenya Murang’a AA Kangunu is a tongue-twisting Kenya with black currant and violet floral hints, and then two more fantastic decafs: Costa Rica Herbazu SWP Decaf with rindy citrus brightnes, and finally Sumatra FTO Mandheling SWP Decaf which is just what you hope for in a Mandheling decaf: earthy with rustic sweetness and fantastic in espresso blends, or even as an SO!

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