In our quest to produce something other than a star nebula atop our lattes, we asked Louie Poore to come tutor us in the ways of latte art. And we had a blast!
Watch Louie give a basic lesson to Gail, Allison and Rob — including tips and tricks on steaming, pouring technique and keeping things in perspective.
No, there weren’t any wrestlers present, but there was a high concentration of coffee related ninjas on the floor. Last week, we were lucky enough to head down to Anaheim, CA, for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Main Event, which is a specialty coffee industry educational and trade show that covers everything from coffee growers to roasters to equipment suppliers to mad skilled baristas. This year, it also hosted the United States Barista Championship — with Mike Phillips of Intelligentsia defending and re-securing his title. He’ll be heading out to compete with the rest of the national barista champs from around the world at the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) event this summer in the UK.
But back to the show. We attended a few different lectures, talked with many of our vendors on the trade show floor, watched Midwest Barista Champ Mike Marquard compete in the USBC semi-finals and even headed to a little partay that Intelligentsia, La Marzocco and Espressi (makers of the MyPressi TWIST) were throwing at Intelligentsia’s roastery in L.A. Yes, Grammy got her groove on.
In this video, Gail talks to us about what she learned from the lectures we attended, discusses some new products we saw and even shares with us her new love for TWIST-inspired cocktails.
This past Tuesday, we headed into the third lecture of the Coffee From the Grounds Up series, being held at the University of Washington in conjunction with the Burke Natural History Museum’s exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup.
Unfortunately, we had a last minute scheduling conflict, so weren’t able to attend last week’s lecture on Direct Trade — very bummed about that. Tuesday night’s lecture was from an anthropological perspective and was entitled Why We Love Coffee. The speaker was professor Eugene Anderson and covered the social, cultural and economic factors that make caffeine-based drinks such an essential element of so many societies. Professor Anderson explores the impact of all types of drinks that contain caffeine — from coffee to tea to yerba mate to even cola — and it was quite fascinating to hear about the importance these stimulant-based beverages have in different societies.
Some of our notes from the lecture were:
- Purchasing shade grown coffee is one of the most powerful choices we can make as consumers because they’re promoting fabulously diverse nature preserves around the planet
- Caffeine works by preempting the adenosine receptors in our brain which regulate our sleep cycles and the acclimation process inspires our body to create more adenosine receptors, which is why we need more caffeine over time to experience the same result — your body will keep producing these receptors because you need to sleep, eventually
- Chocolate was used historically in a similar method as coffee, but the chocolate houses around the world slowly transitioned to coffee houses because it takes less coffee than chocolate to produce the same result, and coffee has little-to-no calories, whereas chocolate will make you feel full after awhile because of it’s high caloric composition
- The UK and other members of the Commonwealth are so tea-centric due to the coffee rust blight that wiped out the coffee plantations in India and Sri Lanka — after this happened, the plantations replanted with tea instead, which is why these societies became such renowned tea drinkers
- Coffee houses were historically notorious hotbeds of rebellion — the American Revolution was born out of coffee houses, and it’s no secret that the Beat generation, which fed into the 60′s hippie movement in the US, spent a lot of time fomenting their resolve in coffee houses (Cafe Trieste in San Francisco is one such legendary place where the likes of Alan Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs wrote/read/ranted)
- Feminist politics were also born from coffee, although more so in private spaces, the coffee klatches of yesteryear were spaces in which women could get together in order to discuss their own version of what many considered subversive politics — that is, equal rights
- The rise of what some consider ‘yuppie coffees’ — ie. Starbucks gourmet lattes, etc. — has turned the coffee house from a place of the working classes to the haunts of the leisurely, privileged class
- There is intense ritualization of coffee and caffeine-based drinks around the world; the highest per capita coffee intake is in Finland, which has an incredibly sacred, detailed and intricate ceremony that developed over hundreds of years and involves the evolution of the bread that was adopted/adapted by several different cultures — one notable evolution is Jewish challah
- Many of the aforementioned ceremonies were developed as a method for creating community or celebrating the sacred. For example, the Sufis developed a ceremony that involved coffee simply because it helped them stay awake for the other aspects of the ceremony
- The explosion of coffee consumerism over the last 300 years can be tracked to an increased adherence to time/alarm clocks (something driven largely by the industrial revolution), work discipline trends and the gourmetship/connoisseurship of the bean
- Coffee houses were also historical places of business. We’re used to seeing folks working on laptops at the local cafe, and this is a natural evolution of what used to be considered the poor man’s or working man’s office. Establishments such as Lloyds of London began as a coffee house, frequented quite often by members of the maritime industry, which eventually developed into an insurance/bonding firm that is now famous for some of their more unique insurance policies. It was quite typical that community or labor leaders would have their specific hours at a specific table and the locals could find them there during those ‘office hours’ at the local coffee house
- Coffee houses — and all houses that serve caffeine-based drinks — serve the very vital function of the 3rd place. The 3rd place refers to a non-work, non-home environment that allows for community, society and brings people together — they are intrinsic locations for humans and the societies in which they live, as they help them to both adapt to and survive the system
Overall, the lecture was very involved and the above notes are just a selection of what we gleaned from Professor Anderson. Wonderful food — and drink! — for thought.
Last night was the kick-off of the Coffee: From the Grounds Up lecture series that is being held in tandem with the Burke Natural History Museum’s Coffee: The World in Your Cup exhibit. The series was kicked off by Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds, and was quite enjoyable. He discussed a lot of what is in his book, but here are some bits n’ pieces we picked up that we thought were interesting:
- Caffeine is likely a natural pesticide that exists within the cherry to keep it from being decimated by tropical pests. This is similar to how coca leaves have a small amount of the chemical used to produce cocaine.
- There is a resounding myth around the discovery of coffee — replete with dancing goats and monks — but there is some evidence that, at some point, nomadic Ethiopian people discovered that grinding up the beans of the cherries, placing them in fat and then ingesting the mixture would help them travel long distances…and this practice is still in existence among nomadic tribes in that African region today.
- Brazil became such a big player because of two primary reasons: They had a lot of land and they were poised to take over the crop when the coffee rust disease nearly wiped out all of the bushes in Indonesia.
- Americans have a very emotional relationship to coffee and kind of act like it’s our birthright that we should have access to cheap beans, regardless of market, environmental or political forces. There have been several times that frosts in Brazil resulted in an increase in bean prices — which then spurred congressional hearings to discuss the cause of the prices and find a way to resolve it! Communism was listed quite often as a cause during much of the cold war, and in 1962 there was an international coffee price agreement that was in affect until 1989, when the cold war ended. It was in our best interests politically to support the large coffee growing regions of the world, lest they fall pray to the evils of communist ideals!
- There has always been and always will be a boom/bust cycle in coffee agriculture, due in part to the economic drivers of coffee growing regions as well as the basic growing cycle of the bushes themselves. They take a few years to produce quality cherries, so a time investment can be lost if too many are grown or not enough, etc. Around 2001, there was a huge bust due largely to an overproduction of robusta coming out of Vietnam, which was being grown to the detriment of the native highland peoples there that were being systematically and forcefully removed and persecuted in order to make room for coffee plantations. This is something that hasn’t been talked about much that we’re going to look into more.
- Haiti was the site of the first and only successful national slave revolt, which included the burning down of coffee plantations and tons of the native trees. There are some theories that posit that the heavily denuded nature of Haiti and the removal of the colonial structures could play a part in the fact that hurricanes ravage it so often and it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere to this day. Another interesting topic for further research.
- Because carbon dioxide is produced during the roasting process, coffee has to be a bit stale to begin with if it’s going to be packaged for export; this makes it not an easily manageable product for mass production, because the packaging can explode if the coffee wasn’t allowed to sit long enough. With the invention of the one-way release valve that is seen on many high end coffee bean bags these days, however, the coffee can be packaged more freshly and this could mean that roasting could take place in the growing country instead of after it’s exported to the consuming country. This could mean that there is room for future economic benefit in the growing countries, who could start roasting the coffee as well and then ship it out in bags with release valves.
Next week’s lecture is on direct trade and we’ll provide a similar synopsis of our thoughts here then. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or comments on what we shared here.
In January, we wrote about the University of Washington Burke Museum of Natural History’s exhibition called Coffee: The World in Your Cup. The accompanying lecture series begins next week, kicked off by Mark Pendergrast on Tuesday, April 7th. Mark wrote one of our favorite books on the history of coffee and its impact on the world as we know it, Uncommon Grounds, and we’re really looking forward to his lecture — as well as several others in the series.
We’re hoping to make it to all of the lectures and will be writing up a synopsis of each of them here, so folks outside of the Seattle area, or those that can’t give up a Tuesday night easily, can also benefit from an excitingly holistic discussion of coffee and its place in the world.
Here’s a brief run down of the series — if you’re interested in learning more, you can read full details and sign up for the series here. If you plan on attending one, let us know — we’d love to meet you!
April 7: Mark Pendergrast
Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
April 14: David Robinson
Direct Trade: Bringing the World Community Together Through Coffee
April 21: Eugene Anderson
Why We Love Coffee
April 28: David Browning
A High Quality Cup – Securing Futures by Increasing Coffee Quality
May 5: Paul Rice
Fair Trade – Using Markets to Empower the Poor
May 12: Stacy Philpott
Brewing Biodiversity: Looking at Coffee as an Ecosystem
May 19: Reps from Espresso Vivace, Grounds for Change, Pura Vida & Stumptown
Coffee, Sustainability and Seattle
May 26: Ben Packard & Peter Torrebiarte
Local to Global – Conservation and C.A.F.E. Practices at the World’s Largest Coffee Company
Beginning this weekend and extending through June 7, 2009, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington will be holding the exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup. With the intention of illustrating the broad influence that coffee has on the cultures, economies and societies the world over, this exhibit will feature photography, coffee plants, regular tastings, coffee bag displays, videos and a lecture series beginning in April.
Warm up this opening weekend with a series of special events — including guided tours, cuppings, tastings and talks led by coffee experts. If you don’t live in the Seattle area but may travel here sometime over the next few months, this exhibit is definitely worth checking out — and you can hit up the museum for a tasting every weekend from January 31st – March 29th!
We’re really looking forward to the lecture series (kicked off by one of our favorites, Uncommon Grounds‘ Mark Pendergrast). This is an excellent opportunity to deepen your relationship with where your favorite bean comes from and we hope to see you there!
We’re having our first tasting event at our Lynnwood location on Sunday, 12/7/08, from 10am – 12pm. This event will feature local roaster Velton’s coffee and you’ll have the opportunity to taste four single origin beans plus the blend Velton created with them (the Bonsai Blend) in a traditional, plantation-style cupping.
At this free event, you’ll:
- Learn about regional flavor trends
- Have the chance to determine which kinds of beans taste best to you and why
- Get information on coffee roasting & blending theory
- Pitch all of your coffee and espresso machine questions at Velton & Gail
- Be entered in a drawing for an awesome door prize!
Please join us as we taste and learn more about coffee in a fun, interactive and casual environment. Space is limited to 20 participants, so if you’re interested, please sign up here.
Hope to see you on the 7th!