Coffee Notes from All Over

It’s gotta come from somewhere… To the surprise of nobody at all, Starbucks is looking to double its coffee imports from Africa by 2009. “People are looking for something different, and East African coffee is very exotic in terms of its flavors and characteristics,” says Philip Gitao, director of the Eastern African Fine Coffees Association. The fine Arabica varieties found in East African highlands currently provide 18% of the world’s coffee, the largest share from Ethiopia, which claims to be the birthplace of coffee although Yemen disputes that claim. Says Gitao, “Starbucks is now taking African coffees very seriously.” I don’t know just when it started but I’ve taken to calling the collective of Stumptown, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture the usual suspects. Not only are they consistently purchasing the top lots at auction, but they’re also on the ground at origin wherever great coffee is to be found. Or is it that great coffee is getting found because they are on the ground at origin? Hmmm. In any case, they’re all getting some great press this week in the NYTimes in the feature, To Burundi and Beyond for Coffee’s Holy Grail, a piece that highlights the nascent Direct Trade model of coffee sourcing. “Direct trade — which also means intensive communication between the buyer and the grower — stands in stark contrast to the old (but still prevalent) model, in which international conglomerates buy coffee by the steamer ship, through brokers, for the lowest price the commodity market will bear. It also represents, at least for many in the specialty coffee world, an improvement on labels like Fair Trade,...

Rwanda’s Golden Cup — The Results Are In!

It’s Labor Day in these United States — a celebration of the working stiff, the last gasp of Summer — and to mark the event I’ll be… laboring on the garage. (sigh) I can’t help but take a moment, however, to mark the outstanding results of Rwanda’s Golden Cup competition and auction. In a few short years Rwanda has emerged from its national nightmare to become an increasingly prominent player in the specialty coffee trade, and perhaps nothing to-date has marked this more significantly than the results of the events of the past few days. The cupping jury has seen some phenomenal coffees, some scoring as high as 95 — even 98! — and the results of the auction itself are now in. The winning bidders? The usual suspects: Stumptown walks away with the top lot from the Muyongwe cooperative, at $25 per pound. Lots from Ngoma, Karaba and Kanzu fetched in the neighborhood of $15/lb. and winning bidders included Zoka, Counter Culture and Intelligentsia. Look for some of these stunning coffees at a winning roaster — perhaps even before the turn of the...
Stumptown, Downtown

Stumptown, Downtown

I just happened to be in the neighborhood… Okay, that’s not the entire truth. I was in the neighborhood after a meandering stroll (some might call it a walkabout) that ranged some two dozen blocks of downtown Portland, with a couple stops for coffee along the way (Peet’s, where I found their brewed Mocha Java blend a little lifeless, but picked up a half pound of Colombian Caracol for later, and Portland Coffee House where the knit-capped barista offered a lil’ Rorschach rosette on my espresso macchiato. He scores for effort.) In the end, I found myself at Stumptown’s downtown spot. The place itself is austere, much the way a purveyor of serious jewels might might refrain from tarting up the place with unneeded bits of luxury. And there are jewels here, for those with eyes to see them… two — count ’em, two! — of Kees van der Westen’s 3-groups grace the bar. More, there are people behind the counter who use them to great advantage. Here my customary espresso macchiato offered rich notes of dark chocolate and a complex, fruited nose that proved astonishingly good with the artfully textured milk in the cup. My two words on Stumptown, Downtown: Awesome,...
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