C.A.F.E. Through Rose-Colored Glasses

C.A.F.E. Through Rose-Colored Glasses

It’s hard to peer into Starbucks’ notoriously opaque coffee sourcing standards. In a Sunday article in the Seattle Times — Changing the Way Costa Rican Farmers Grow Coffee – and Live — writer Manuel Valdes offers a glimpse, through the eyes of Rodrigo Vargas of Santa Eduviges — one of Costa Rica’s largest family-owned coffee-farming operations. Vargas is one of the hundreds of farmers — large and small — in Costa Rica who have benefited from Starbucks’ arrival after an influx of cheap beans from Brazil and Vietnam saturated the market and sent prices tumbling in the late 1990s, creating a crisis for coffee growers. As Starbucks’ presence grew in Costa Rica, Vargas’ relationship with the Seattle specialty coffee-shop chain tightened. He replaced 25 percent of his coffee plants with better breeds of arabica beans to keep up with Starbucks’ growing demand and quality standards. By 1998, he sold 1.2 million pounds of coffee to Starbucks. In 2002, Vargas visited Seattle, met CEO Howard Schultz and sat courtside at a then-Schultz-owned Seattle Sonics basketball game. Should you unwittingly get the impression that Starbucks’ coffee growers were all new-found members of the Seattle jet-set, chomping cigars and playing poker with Howard, the article further suggests that Starbucks still must wag the occasional disapproving finger at their naughty kids coffee suppliers… Much like his boss, Yeiner Chacón’s life revolves around coffee. As head agronomist for Santa Eduviges, he knows coffee. He’s a fan of Café Practices, but he no longer deals with the certifiers that visit the farms. “I almost killed the last guy,” Chacón says half-jokingly. But his attitude reflects...

Wayback: The Web Is Not Walden Pond

From the Bloggle Archives, circa March, 2002. I wrote this as an antidote to what struck me as a surge in misplaced web design ideals; ideals that, in fact, turned out to be the beginning of ‘Web 2.0,’ for all that’s worth. I think it’s as relevant today as it was six years ago… The Web is not Walden Pond… and attempts to make it so through increasingly stark simplicity are well-intentioned, but badly aimed. Simplicity often belies the truth. The truth if the web is that it is the most mind-boggling array of unstructured information that has ever been. And it’s growing exponentially, and it will not stop. It is increasingly the de facto body of reference for all of us. It will inexorably be the sum total of explicit knowledge on our planet. How do you simplify that? By making it “…as simple as possible, but not simpler.” As simple as possible… Consider the works of Matisse and Picasso. Not your style? Try Keith Haring. Simplicity is alluring. A line-drawing can evoke far more than it actually reveals, by distilling the subject to its most essential form. It’s not coincidental that great art illustrates this… there is more than a little art to conveying the very essence of something. …but not simpler. Mere simplicity can dilute meaning. Consider Starbucks coffee stamps… at-a-glance labels that would tell you what the coffee in the bag is all about. Starbucks coffees are — very simply — Bold, Mild or Smooth. Does it really suffice to say that Sumatra, an earthy, dry-processed Indonesian coffee with loads of body and a caramelly...

Coffee Notes from All Over

NYTimes: Tasting the Future of Starbucks Tasting Clover-brewed coffee at Starbucks with George Howell. (Mr. Howell is not an easy mark.) Coffee’s Benevolent Mr. Bean Profiles Stumptown’s Duane Sorenson. (No mention that Stumptown is ditching the Clover in the wake of Starbucks’ acquisition of the...
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

How do you love Peet’s? Peet’s wants you to count the ways. Share your story of Peetnickety devotion, and you could win free coffee for a year — for you and five of your friends. The “Why I Love Peet’s” contest is part of the company’s Founder’s Day activities honoring Alfred Peet, the grandfather of specialty coffee. While I suspect it might be something of a conflict of interest for me to participate, myself, feel free to count me among your friends. 😉 Survey says… According to a recent NCA survey, more Americans are drinking specialty coffee, but the amount being consumed every day is falling. Could it be that folks are starting to wake up to a bit of an economic pinch? Surely not. And remember, your beloved leader wants you to click your heels three times and say, “We’re not in recession. We’re not in recession. We’re not…” Resisting the Siren… The Colombian profiles four independent Vancouver coffee shops who’ve each found themselves pitted against Starbucks, and — so far — are living to tell the tale. After conferring with Taylor Clark — author of Starbucked — the Columbian looked for just what these shops were doing right: “Clark’s research revealed, and the Columbian’s anecdotal reporting confirmed, that successful coffee shops develop a loyal customer base that prefer s the independent coffee maker’s brew over Starbucks’. They maintain a narrow focus and don’t try to imitate Starbucks in look or products. They benefit from a segment of consumers who will drink anything but Starbucks. And, perhaps most importantly, coffee has become a part of daily life for...

Could a Coffee Maker Be Worth $11,000?

Clover’s sitting pretty. They’ve picked up positive ink in the New York Times, Economist, The Atlantic (warning: PDF). And just yesterday evening while you were loosing sleep over the presidential primaries (you were, weren’t you… admit it!) Paul Adams posted a refreshingly cogent piece — How the Clover is Changing the Way We Think About Coffee — on Slate. He covers a bit of ground — gets in a good plug for Cafe Grumpy, takes a swipe at the “soy-foamers at Starbucks” — and eventually buries his lede on page two: I’m becoming a Clover addict, just as I feared. It’s not the tasty coffee itself that’s drawing me in—although that caffeine euphoria certainly colors my mood. It’s the joy of tinkering, really delving into the possibilities of a coffee bean in a way I’ve never considered before. After several more cups, each with their own quirks, it’s time to go: The baristas have finished sweeping up around our feet and are clearly eager to leave. But there’s one more cup I want to try: I dial in the same settings that produced cup No. 2, the greatest success so far. Forty-four seconds later, there it is, the exact same delicate, floral-scented brew I remember. That’s the consistency you pay for. Quoth Jerry Espenson:...
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