Oh Crap I’m Tired And So Can You

Oh Crap I’m Tired And So Can You

Or, how I spent my time at the 2008 SCAA conference and expo. Day 1. Depart Burlington International and arrive at LaGuardia. Hike between terminals to change airlines. Send a prayer winging to the airline gods that my luggage makes the same trek. It does, but at a cost… as I pick up my luggage in Minneapolis my back makes a *twoing* sound. [Oh, crap.] Arrive at hotel and am shuffled immediately into a lovely cocktail reception with many familiar faces — and some soon to become familiar — from Green Mountain Coffee, Transfair USA, Sustainable Harvest, Grounds for Health, and Root Capital, as well as friends from origin: Peru, Colombia, and Kenya. Have exceptionally productive conversations about content sharing, and the like. Eventually I have to make my apologies, take a muscle relaxer, order coffee from room service and fall asleep before I can drink it. Day 2. Do the registration shuffle. Am impressed that SCAA is *really* taking the “green conference” thing to heart… it’s the first time in a long time I’m not saddled with a worthless bag of swag and paper I don’t need. Begin the day with a press conference featuring Green Mountain’s Lindsey Bolger and Dr. Jane Goodall. Save the day (or at least make the presser go more smoothly) by solving a potentially devastating A/V issue. Why yes, that is a spiffy way for a geek to start his day… I nearly forget that my back is out. By the way, Dr. Jane is just about the sweetest, most present person that I think I’ve ever met. [I’ve mentioned before that I’m...

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...
Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Rating: [rating:4.5/5] You may recall that I was pretty chuffed with Green Mountain’s 2006 eCafe Gold Competition auction lot — Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo. If you don’t recall (or don’t wanna click) here’s the particulars: Extremely fruited, with peach and blueberry aromas, and a little whiff of cocoa and cinnamon when wetted. Fruit plays large in the flavor, too… blueberry, strawberry, spiced peach and cardamom, with a dark chocolate understory. The finish, while not everything it was a year ago, it still sweet and resonant, and fades to a pleasant, dusky leather. Yeah, this is one of those coffees you think about dabbing behind your ears, too. You may also recall that Barry Jarret of Riley’s Coffee got some of the green, too, and I was keen to get my hands on his roast to compare them side by side. Well, I did. And I did. And to sum up, I could simply say, Barry Jarrett is a coffee roasting genius. Barry’s roast of the Shanta Golba is everything that Green Mountain’s offers, and more. The fruit tones in the aroma are more distinct, more pure, more alive. The acidity — while mild overall, as is the Green Mountain roast — is crisper in Barry’s roast. The flavors in the cup are rich, and exceptionally fruit-forward. Strawberry is a predominant note, backed up by peach and blueberry. And where the finish of the Green Mountain cup takes on dusky notes, Barry’s roast remains purely fruited. It’s as if Green Mountain’s jammy cup were made of dried fruit, and Barry’s, fresh: in the finish there’s nothing lost, nothing...
Revealed: The New and Improved Keurig B70 Brewer

Revealed: The New and Improved Keurig B70 Brewer

There’s a new single-cup brewer in town… two of them, really. But you might not notice, ’cause Keurig slipped them into production without much fanfare. The first is an updated Keurig ‘Elite’ B40… the entry-level single cup model. The new model adds a second, larger-volume brew button to its control panel. It’s a feature probably most welcome to tea-drinkers — and it’s especially welcome for iced tea fans — as a 9.25 ounce setting isn’t one I’d recommend for getting the most flavor out of a coffee K-Cup — even an Extra Bold selection. And then there’s the update to Keurig’s ‘Platinum’ B70… It’s a tiny change — one that you wouldn’t notice to look at it — but you can’t help but notice in the cup. Keurig has tweaked the brewing system itself — specifically, the brewing needle that pierces the K-Cup. The change creates more turbulence within the K-Cup during brewing, which, in turn, extracts more flavor from the coffee. (Turbulence — along with dwell-time and temperature — is one of the critical factors for brewing coffee.) The results? Pretty remarkable, really. I’ve been brewing coffee with one of the first production B70s daily for several weeks now, and it makes a decidedly bolder cup at all brew volumes. More, it makes a cup with more distinctive flavors, too. Green Mountain’s Extra Bold Espresso Blend now finally reveals its dry berry top note, the Extra Bold Kenyan AA offers distinctive wine and blackberry flavors, and the Extra Bold Fair Trade Organic Sumatran Reserve is at once rich, and earthy and ever so slightly mossy. That’s not to...
Brewing Justice — The Book — and The Principles

Brewing Justice — The Book — and The Principles

On the recommendation of Just Coffee’s Matt Earley, I’m picking up a copy of Brewing Justice, by Dan Jaffee. Who is Matt, you say, that he should know from Fair Trade? (Apparently today you are a mensch… I don’t know why.) Matt and his crew at Just Coffee make up one of those small, really admirable coffee roasters that’s trying to raise the bar in terms of of transparency. For them, Fair Trade is a movement, not just a market. (Says so, right in their logo.) I like the work that Matt’s doing, despite his tendency to talk crap about roasters — like Green Mountain — who offer a number of Fair Trade coffees (currently about 30% of coffee sales) but don’t offer Fair Trade coffees exclusively. This isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s becoming something of a tradition among “self-certified” Fair Trade roasters… those who’ve who’ve cast aside third-party certification for their own flavor of a Fair Trade label. What tends to get lost in kerfuffles like this is that — despite the noise — the essential principles of companies like Just Coffee and Green Mountain are the same: a fair price for farmers, long-term relationships with growers, and support for sustainable and ecologically sound practices all around. “Fair traders have been way too reluctant to take a critical look at what we are trying to build and this book accomplishes that objective and does it well. Dan makes the point that FT needs to re-connect with other organizations and movements for social and economic justice instead of selling out to the corporations that they oppose. We could not...
Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Ethiopian Shanta Golba Natural Process Sidamo

Rating: [rating:4/5] You make your picks, you takes your chances… that’s how it goes when you bid on coffee at auction. Will the coffee be everything that you found in the auction sample? Will it be shipped carefully and travel well? Will it arrive — and clear customs — sometime in the next… Idunno, twelve months, maybe? Such is the story of the coffee Green Mountain won in the 2006 eCafe Gold Competition — an auction program that highlights some of the best and brightest cups in all Ethiopia. The program includes both washed and natural process coffees, and — while washed Ethiopians (typified by over-the-top, face full of flowers aromas of Yirgacheffe) still rule the Ethiopian market — it’s the unwashed, natural coffees that stole the show in the 2006 auction. We placed our bets on a brilliant and fruit-forward cup from the Shanta Golba cooperative, a garden coffee grown in the far reaches of Sidamo. And then we waited. And waited… Until finally, just a scant few weeks ago, our coffee arrived. Nearly a year after the auction closed. Now you well know that the clock is ticking when coffee’s been roasted… you have only a matter of weeks (just how many is still argued) to enjoy that bean. The clock ticks for green, unroasted coffee, too. You may not watch the second-hand sweep so intently, maybe, but there’s an undeniable tick-tick-tick playing in your head just the same. Green coffee tends to lose its intensity over time and its flavors can become brittle, its finish can fall off, and there’s the very real danger that it...
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