Buena Vista Roastery

Coffee and the Mountains

Archive for June, 2008

Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

We’ve found a great Ethiopian. It’s smooth with a medium acidity, medium body and an apricot finish. It’s very complex, from the mesmerizing aroma through the final drop. It’s also certified organic.

Of interest in particular is the country’s new approach to coffee: Ethiopia has developed it’s own national label, as noted in the November 9, 2007 CS Monitor article,

Ethiopia recently shook up the industry with a new tactic: trademarking its specialty coffees. Overcoming resistance to the idea from distributors – notably Starbucks – the country is hoping to empower its coffee industry to earn an estimated $88 million more per year, according to Oxfam America. The move could inspire producers of other commodities throughout Africa to harness branding and capture more value from the goods they sell to consumers in rich countries.


The K Cup Phenomenon

Does anyone use K Cups for their morning coffee? My father in law now uses them, and they are available on-line. You can buy coffee from a few larger roasters, as well as teas and cocoas. The way it works – take what looks like a large creamer container from the diner down the street, only it’s filled with your drink, and costs about $0.55 each. Stick the ‘creamer’ in the front of the brewer. A spear pierces the top and bottom to create two holes. Water passes through, steeping the coffee and fills your mug. Viola, a hot cup of coffee. The only clean up is tossing that little plastic creamer container into the waste bucket. With friends over, just use a few more K-Cups. You never have to make another pot of coffee.

It’s a heck of a marketing campaign – you have to use the Keurig specially-designed K-Cup brewer. They’ve got the lock on the $200 piece of equipment that anyone who wants this luxury item has to buy. Plus, any roaster who wants in on the game needs to invest the capital in a K-Cup packager. I don’t know how much those cost, but imagine it’s several thousand. It also takes any roaster out of being a specialty coffee roaster, in my opinion, which is not for us at the Buena Vista Roastery.

Brewing a K-Cup is extremely easy with little clean up. Still, there seem to be too many health and environmental concerns for us. Besides I enjoy watching our spent grounds turn to compost. But it appeals to a great number of people and I understand the allure, especially as we all are running around from place to place. As Adam Smith said, when demand is there, the supply will follow. There is also demand for the small batch, hand roasted coffee by people in touch with the nuances of the bean as it roasts. I’ll try a K-cup when I can, and in the meantime I’ll ask my father in law about how the butteriness in his K-Cup Sumatra compares with the body and sweet finish in ours.

Scratching Biofuels with Coffee

The Washington Post has an interesting op-ed this morning, by Vinod Khosla. You might need to be signed up with the Post to read the whole article. In his piece entitled, “All Biofuels Are Not the Same”, he answers a Wall Street Journal critique of his advocacy of subsidies for food-based ethanol. He says,

Cellulosic biofuels offer a chance to have an environmentally meaningful impact on petroleum use while benefiting farmers, entrepreneurs and consumers…biodiesel from food oils such as soybean or palm oil has traditionally created environmental negatives. But corn ethanol has been a stepping stone to cellulosic ethanol, a preferred alternative that is likely to achieve unsubsidized market competitiveness with oil within a few years.

His arguments seem sound from a certain perspective, yet some may question whether they get to the root of the issue and may be rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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The ‘Localness’ in Local Coffee

I know Localness is not a real word. But local coffee may be just as real a concept. It depends heavily on the boundaries that we the consumer define as acceptable and okay. Consumers will define ‘local’ upteen ways, and then the retailer or wholesaler has to decide which definitions fit his or her business plan, or create their business model based on what’s important to them and let the chips fall where they may.

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Nothing but Lungos and Ristrettos

There are times when I fancy a lungo and times when I favor the bitterness of a ristretto. Using our own machine, I’ll experiment with our High Country Espresso to explore the nuances of the long pull and the short pull. Of course I prefer the smooth character that we get with proper tamp and a proper grind – 25 seconds and one heck of a crema.

But why is it that I go into some coffee shops nearby, order an espresso, and am given only a ristretto or a lungo? There is no option. The barista has not played with the grinder settings, adjusted their tamp, nor allowed more or less water to pass through depending on the shot length. In most cases the barista doesn’t even know what a lungo or ristretto are, or so it seems. In one coffee shop that I have frequented, I have been given a nine second shot in the morning and a two minute shot in the afternoon. This happens regularly in this shop. I know the barista is aware of the length of pull, for I have seen them reject a ten second shot only to replace it with a 12 second shot.

The issues, as I see them:

  1. improper grind
  2. improper tamp
  3. improper barista training and follow up/accountability
  4. a non-discerning public who have grown accustomed to the Starbucks machiatto culture

The solution: Don’t order straight espresso, or move to Europe.