Category Archives: Articles

For the Birds

A couple of interesting articles that caught our eye recently are in regard to how coffee agriculture and birds interact.

The first, written about a biologist’s plea for people to purchase shade-grown coffee, talks about the effects that growing coffee in full sun (for increased production) have had on the migratory bird population in Vermont. The plantations they’re referencing are specifically in Central America, where historically coffee was grown under a tree canopy to help protect it from winds and pests. These older growth forests and complex ecosystems were inhabited by birds from North America as part of their migration pattern, but as the birds continue to fly south for the winter, their previous hospitable digs are being systematically cleared in favor of larger plantations. The use of heartier (more Robusta?) strains of coffee plants and pesticides are eliminating the need for the protection of a towering forest and increasing output, which farmers understandably love.

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the story is quite different: Recent research reveals that the shade-grown coffee may be adversely affecting the bird populations of Ethiopia. The study researchers suggest that moving farming to open farmland and leaving the forest canopies alone for awhile may actually increase the bird populations in this area. One major benefit of shade-grown coffee is that the birds assist in pest control, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides. It would be a shame to move coffee agriculture to an open prairie that would require chemical pest control, so we love the suggestion that tree planting should be part of this process. Instead of just plowing down the forest, plant coffee and trees elsewhere and, perhaps, significantly increase the habitable footprint available to more birds.

What these two articles demonstrate is the need for regionally-based agricultural and environmental impact studies that enable us to keep our world filled with all of the vibrant and lovely animals that keep it balanced. It’s a difficult prospect, however, given that coffee cultivation often takes place in some of the poorest countries in the world — and starving families understandably don’t really care about how their ability to feed themselves will reduce the number of woodthrush in Vermont.

Health Watch: Coffee & Strokes

A recent analysis of the much-lauded Nurses Health Study (which followed over 80,000 US women for nearly 25 years to document their lifestyles and health conditions) found a preliminary correlation between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of stroke.

Performed by members of the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, the analytical study found that women who lived a healthy lifestyle (particularly, non-smokers) and drank 4 or more cups of coffee each day had a 20% lower risk of stroke. Since it tracked the intake of several types of beverages that contained caffeine such as tea and sodas, the study was able to focus in on the effect of drinking coffee itself, meaning that the benefit is likely not sourced in caffeine but another molecular attribute unique to coffee.

Since the study is just out and will no doubt go through further analysis, it opens up an interesting discussion around diet and behavior — namely, do women who drink coffee at this level share anything else in common, specifically in regard to physical activity? The study authors are careful to note that this is just the first stage of analysis and that further research will be done in an attempt to determine the exact source of the benefit.

Bodum Shin Bistro French Press Wins 2008 Good Design Award

Bodum’s awesome Shin Bistro double-walled French press was awarded the coveted 2008 Good Design award from the Chicago Athenaeum — one of three of their double-walled, borosilicate glassware to be bestowed this prestigious honor.

French press coffee is not only some of the most delicious coffee available, it’s also probably the “greenest” — since it doesn’t use electricity to brew, it’s a great method for home use…and we love to take ours camping! The double wall provides increased thermal regulation and keeps the outside cool to the touch.

Also, borosilicate is the glass used in test tubes and beakers, so you can really drop some science when you brew up coffee for your pals (sorry).

Amp Up Your Ink

Just in from the ‘Green for Green Sake’ department, a new printer that uses coffee or tea dregs in the printer cartridge. The dreamchild of Korean designer Jeon Hwan Ju, this sepia-toned gadget utilizes a mixture of old coffee grounds or tea leaves and water and is powered by your brute force.

While form is definitely outweighing function here, in our opinion, this is a great step in a lovely-scented new direction and may be the basis for further development of more automated methods for using ink alternatives (and supporting more homegrown recycling methods) in printers and faxes.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see coffee expanding it’s expressive scope from just accidental mug circles and spills to work histories and haiku.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Little Green Men

A few weeks ago, the coffee news world was inundated by newspaper and blog reports regarding a study that stipulated the discovery of a cause-effect relationship between high caffeine intake and the possibility of experiencing hallucinations. When we read through the study, however, we felt it to be lacking any truly cause-and-effect data and it seemed the sample group was too small and specific to imply any accurate general population claims.

And we’re not the only ones! One of our favorite study assessment sites, The British Medical Journal came to the same conclusions — and many more — regarding this study’s accuracy and data collection process. If you were confused or alarmed by the recent news, reviewing the study is well worth the read.

So, we’re not saying that you won’t hallucinate if you drink 15 cups of coffee in a 24 hour period, but we do think your daily java habit is highly unlikely to inspire deep conversations with an imaginary Marvin the Martian.

What’s Your Water Profile?

We’ve talked a little bit about the water mineral content for great espresso, specifically in terms of descaling vs. using distilled water, but we didn’t have a great understanding of how the water can effect coffee and tea brewing — until now.

In this informative article, Joshua Lurie of Food GPS introduces us to Cirqua, a customized water company employed by Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Intelligentsia, among others, to create a water profile specific to enhancing the flavor of the brew. He walks us through a taste test of both coffee and tea, with the only variable being the type of water used. The results? Low mineral content water produced a more bitter taste, high mineral content yielded a muted taste and the customized water…well, it was delicious.

While Cirqua’s products have been available only to commercial groups until now, they will be launching a kit for you to use at home in April at the Specialty Coffee Association of America. We’re excited to try it out and compare the difference!

Jura Ena5 Wins Good Design 2008 Award

This is cool!

One of our favorite machines, the Jura Ena 5, recently received a 2008 Good Design award from the Chicago Athenaeum. It’s one of the most prestigious design awards and focus on a high quality blend of form, function and aesthetic. Judging was performed by a panel of design specialists, who based their selections on concept, materials, utility, energy-efficiency, cutting-edge design, construction and sensitivity to the environment.

Winners of this award become a permanent part of the Chicago Athenaeum’s exhibit, touring around the US and abroad. We also honored Jura in this video on all the awesome features and functionality.

Caffeinated from Morning ’til Night

We don’t talk about it much here because, well, this is a coffee blog, not a boozin’ blog, but we really truly love stouts with all of our heart. It’s our favorite microbrew, hands down, and when we find a brewery that’s crafting one with the words chocolate or coffee in the flavor description, it’s hard for us to find a reason to leave (much to our — and the proprietor’s! — chagrin).

So when we stumbled across Guelph, ON, Canada-based F&M Brewery’s newest concoction — Stonehammer Oatmeal Coffee Stout — we almost considered jumping the nearest flight to Toronto to get a sip. But doing so would be ridiculous…right? Uh, right.

If you’re in that area and you get a chance to imbibe, drop us a line and let us know how it tastes!

Blue Mountain Coffee: Dodo or Buffalo?

We found this very interesting letter to the editor of a Jamaican newspaper, which describes the state of the coffee agricultural industry in different regions around that country. The writer references the fact that the farmers in non-Blue Mountain areas decreased their coffee output as a form of protest against the commercial industry’s treatment and pricing. Over the last eight years, output has plummeted by nearly 85%, yet it hasn’t been addressed — or even picked up on — by the international coffee community.

Now, even Blue Mountain farmers are fed up with the industry and may head in this direction, as well, which would be a real shame. People often dismiss the essential influence of climate, environment and soil in the end result of any agricultural product — and Blue Mountain coffee has a distinctly unique flavor. While varietals were transported to Hawaii and form the basis of Kona coffee, the environment is quite different and Blue Mountain still retains its special taste.

This is part of a larger picture, however, that encompasses how we get our food — who grows it, how it’s grown, preserved and delivered. Applying a mass market ideology to our food supply has been detrimental in many respects, most poignantly in regard to the basic economic viability of smaller scale farms. If you’ve ever been part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group with an annual subscription, you understand that the cost and time involved in growing food on a smaller scale is significantly higher than what you might find at the local Safeway. It may not seem worth it — you know, when you can’t get oranges in December or your eggplants don’t last 6 weeks.

Could the Direct Trade or Fair Trade movements help balance this out? Will an international acceptance of more equitable trade practices happen quickly enough to address the issues these Jamaican farmers are experiencing? There is something to be treasured in the limited, hard-to-find, micro-production of artisan foods and we hope there will continue to be an avenue for Jamaican coffee to be shared with the rest of the world.

With the explosion of the Robusta coffee industry in China, whether or not the international coffee industry will see the value in quality over quantity remains to be seen.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

It would make sense that the purported origin of coffee would proffer an elegant and traditional ceremony that highlights the importance and appreciation of this little bean. Taking you from green bean to brew, the Ethopian Coffee Ceremony begins with freshly roasting beans before your eyes and ends with the sipping of a rich, delicious cup of joe — or three.

We found a great description of the ceremony, which covers both how you might experience it in a restaurant versus a traditional ceremony at home.

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