Stumptown’s Guatemala El Injerto Reserva

You should know something about coffee people… we’re *constantly* tasting coffee: our own, the stuff from the guy across the street, and across the country. Oh sure, part of it’s about keeping tabs on what other folks are doing — but that’s a small part, really. The larger share is just ’cause we like coffee, and love the origins and flavors of coffee the world over, even if it’s not us that’s selling it. Consequently, things like family vacations are sometimes interrupted with a brief dash into an unfamiliar coffee shop to sample the brew of the day, or — in the case of a recent trip Don Holly made to Portland — a quick jog in to Stumpies to grab a bunch of beans for the gang back home ’cause you just *know* they’re gonna be good. “The thing about El Injerto,” says Holly, “is they have the most amazing worm farm.” I ponder this for a moment. “So…” I ask, “how do you judge a worm farm, anyway?” Don shrugs. “It’s like art. I know it when I see it.” There *is* something artful about this cup — Guatemala Finca El Injerto Reserva, by Stumptown Coffee — that’s just about as challenging to pin down. It’s something experiential: the rich, spiced cocoa and savory herbal note as it brews, the tremendous expression of jasmine and coffee flower aromas in the cup; the lush, saturated flavors of dark fruit — raisin and plum and ripe mango — matched with ample body and just enough of a bright, crisp, acid snap to counterbalance the richness of it all. The...

Coffee Notes from All Over

Super-size me? Not any more. Doug Zell and the gang at Intelligentsia Coffee are ‘just saying no’ to Big Gulp portions of brewed coffee, as they discontinue their 20-oz. serving size. Is it about the bottom line? Doug says no, it’s not that at all… “Drinking our coffee is not like drinking jug wine,” said Intelligentsia Coffee founder and Chief Executive Doug Zell on Tuesday. “We’re focused on intensity of flavors and providing coffee in the way it tastes best. And it’s not in that size.” As a coffee snob, I think it’s a good call… coffee does not want to be slurped in giant takeaway cups. As a commentator on the business of coffee, I worry about the timing: folks are minding their pennies these days, and “value shoppers” may migrate to someplace where they feel they get more caffeine for their buck. ‘Course, that might be offset by an increase in same-day sales… folks who used to buy a Venti to last them the morning may visit twice for two twelve ounce cups. Maybe. P.S. Speaking of Zell, have you seen his Amex ad? He’s the new Mr. Big, man. Rwanda preps for its first Cup of Excellence! Rwanda is rightly celebrating one coming out party after another… last year it hosted its first Golden Cup competition, and this year it’s joining the ranks of the prestigious Cup of Excellence program. “As the host country of the first Cup of Excellence competition in Africa, Rwanda will set the stage and create the benchmark for the rest of the quality coffee-producing countries on the continent where coffee was...

Starbucks’ Extreme Makeover Continues

Continuing its excruciatingly public extreme makeover, Starbucks does a full-court press (release) on… a new coffee blend. Oh, goody. Sure, while most every other coffee roaster in the land releases new roasts seasonally — you know, to align with new coffee crops and all that — Starbucks’ latest blend is different, apparently. Word is, it’s not… you know, burnt. More, Howie would have us believe this is a pivotal event in Starbucks’ history, even suggesting that it’s a peek into a future that isn’t steeped in an espresso + milk monoculture: “We’ve been so focused on espresso … that we haven’t done anything to reinvent brewed coffee,” Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said in an interview. Profoundly true. Not only has Starbucks done virtually nothing to reinvent brewed coffee — or even support it — their general disregard for drip coffee, press coffee and the like spilled over into the marketplace, where thousands upon thousands of competing independents likewise ignored the possibilities of unique origin coffees. Unless, of course, they could chuck it in a portafilter with decent results. It’s fair to say that only very recently, I’d say the last five or six years — or a time line roughly consistent with the rise of the Cup of Excellence auction program — that the indie retailers have promoted non-espresso coffee with particular enthusiasm. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And then Howie slips in this dubious bit… Mr. Schultz says he believes Starbucks has underplayed its expertise in selecting and roasting coffees, something its main competitors don’t specialize in. It’s left as an exercise for the reader whether Schultz...
Starbucks’ Shiny New Shamrock

Starbucks’ Shiny New Shamrock

Listen… Hear that? . . . . . . That’s the sound of thousands of coffee retailers gasping for air, reeling from a sucker-punch. These are folks who’d aspired to get themselves a Clover… the commercial, cup-at-a-time coffee brewer that’s been described as the signal development to usher in the age of brewed coffee, the way to change how we think about brewed coffee, and — most earnestly — as a major point of differentiation between independent coffee shops and the behemoth that is Starbucks. These are folks who’ve just found out that Starbucks has decided to acquire the company that makes the Clover brewer. That’s right… Goliath just bought David’s slingshot. And that odd tap-tappity-tap noise you hear? That’s the sound of every single coffee retailer who has a Clover on order speed-dialing Seattle to see if they’ll still get theirs. But honestly, how could Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz resist? After all, it was Howard who issued the much-leaked clarion call that railed against the commoditization of the “Starbucks experience.” Howard wanted romance; Howard wanted theatre; Howard wanted the smell of ground coffee to once again permeate Starbucks stores. And most recently, Howard showed us all he wanted a consistent experience, by shuttering every single retail Starbucks for a day to retrain its barista staff. The Clover brewer delivers all that — and most importantly — it delivers a really, really great cup of brewed coffee. Provided, that is, that you start with really great coffee beans. So far, the couple hundred Clover brewers in the market today can be found at boutique (call ’em Third...

Coffee Notes from All Over

Clearly, the town runs on caffeine. Hollywood-based coffee businesses are reeling in the wake of the writers’ strike as the cast and crew of television and film studios, er… nap, apparently. For 35 years, Richard Anderson’s Hollywood coffee delivery service has kept the casts and crews of an endless array of television and film productions alert – until two weeks ago when the Writers’ Guild of America went on strike and Hollywood abruptly lost its thirst for coffee. “It dropped off immediately, on the first day,” said Mr Anderson, who estimates business has fallen 40 per cent since the strike began. Meanwhile in New York City, coffee consumption among striking writers has likely tripled, owing to the cold temperatures and rigors of walking in circles for hours. Has Starbucks peaked? Pundits are wondering whether the caffeinated-bunny-like proliferation of Starbucks stores has, um… climaxed?. The ubiquity of Starbucks has become a joke almost as common as the coffee shops themselves. Not so long ago, satirical newspaper The Onion claimed Starbucks was opening a Starbucks in the toilet of a Starbucks. But for the Seattle-based coffee company, the joke isn’t funny any more. Last week, the firm revealed that the amount of traffic flowing through its US stores fell during the fourth quarter — the first dip since the company began disclosing the figure three years ago. While the Siren may be showing signs of having thoroughly saturated some markets, I can’t help but think their recent same-store sales slump has less to do with the chain’s ubiquity, and more to do with consumers’ shrinking purses. After all, there’s only so...

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