Coffee, Live and Direct

If you’ve been reading our blog for awhile, you know that coffee is the 2nd highest traded commodity in the world, which certainly translates into its high impact — both negatively and positively — on the communities in which it is grown. Generally, a farmer sells to either a distributor or a large roaster, who then resells to smaller distributors for direct sale or to retail locations, which then finally sell to you. Each participator in this chain is leveling some profit margin on top of what they paid, so $1.25/pound paid to the coffee farmer ends up as your $12/pound bag of coffee in your home.

The idea of fair trade is often bandied about with regard to several commodity goods, and fair trade establishes a minimum price that, despite market fluctuations, participants will pay for a specific product. Many large scale roasters are taking a different tack: Going directly to the source itself. Perhaps in the past they were working with a distributor who would levy a profit on top of what they paid to the farmers and the costs of importing. The roaster may have been paying $4.00/pound for the beans, but the farmer was only seeing $1.25 of that, so a movement toward direct trade is burgeoning amongst larger roasters such as Intelligentsia in Chicago, Stumptown in Portland or Counter Culture in Durham.

What is direct trade? Well, instead of dealing with all the middle men that add cost onto a pound of coffee, these roasters are developing relationships directly with farms themselves. This means they can contribute to an increased quality of life by paying a higher price that doesn’t affect their overall retail price. It also means they’re able to understand at a more detailed level the quality and origin of the coffee they’re roasting and selling. This gives them the ability to delineate between single origins and to perfect blends based less on generalized bean profiles and more on an understanding of the agricultural product, its environment and how it’s processed.

China Millman wrote this great synopsis of the specialty coffee movement toward direct trade. It urges us to be cognizant of what we’re buying and who we’re buying it from — especially in the context of the current international financial market reset. To skimp and save is on everyone’s minds, but it might just be more about spending wisely than not spending at all.

It’s important to keep in mind that beyond flags, borders and politics, this planet is more interconnected than we sometimes give it credit and something as simple as coffee can make a huge difference in the lives of families on the other side of that planet. To stop and make a choice to do business with someone who is cognizant of that connection and choosing to shift the economic and power balance out of the hands of brokers and into the hands of farmers is a powerful decision that will make every cup of that coffee taste all the better.

Green Machine

We’re all more conscientious these days about our environmental footprint — what we do every day and how that impacts the world around us — and our pocketbook. What started as a random inquiry every now and again eventually developed into a dull roar…people want to find a way to keep their fully intact machine out of a landfill.

So we developed our  Recycling Program to fill this need:  we will break it down into all of its components, reuse any parts that are still good and then recycle most of the rest.

If you’re interested in the program, just contact us and let us know the make, model, age and condition of your machine. We’ll get back to you on how to deliver your machine to us. Feel good when you choose a new, upgraded model that your old machine is still being green!

Recipe: Coffee & Cardamom White Chocolate Biscotti

This recipe sounds absolutely delicious! The creator states they’re a little on the cardamom-side, so if you dig that, you’re going to love these — and they taste great dipped in coffee. This recipe yields about 50 small cookies.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 200 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp cardamom, freshly ground in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 tbsp ground espresso beans
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4-500 ml flour, spelt is fine if you’ve got it or use regular all-purpose
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 100 g white chocolate, coarsely chopped

Directions
Heat the oven to 180C/355F. Mix the eggs, sugar, cardamom, coffee and salt. Add 300 ml of flour, and the baking powder. Add the chocolate. Gradually add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle – don’t use so much
that it gets crumbly, but it needs to be firm enough to be shaped.

Form ropes, about 2-3 cm, and place on a lined baking sheet.

Bake at 180C/355F for about 20 minutes. Remove the sheet, and when the ropes are cool enough to handle, cut them diagonally into biscotti and place them back in the oven at 100C/210F for about 20-25 minutes to dry out.

Zombie-Proof Film Developing

It’s important for all of us to take a step back, assess our particular activities in life and try to plan around how to handle them in the midst of a zombie attack. You might think we’re joking, but we’re not.

First on our list is to make sure that, should said zombie attack take place, we’ll still be able to develop the film from our trusty 35mm SLR camera. After all, how else will we be able to fondly look back at fighting off zombies and putting our loved ones out of their crazed misery if we don’t have any snapshots that document the experience? Sure, most of you might use digital cameras these days, but we have a special throwback love for SLRs that will probably never die — zombie infestation or not.

So you can imagine our glee upon reading about the chemical reaction qualities of instant coffee and vitamin C and how they can be used to develop film. Sure, we generally leave instant coffee related items off this blog because they’re comparatively gauche, but we have to admit that any aforementioned zombie attacks may separate us from our beloved espresso machine(s) and we might have to rough it a bit. Thankfully, now we have a handy guide to refer to whilst developing our bloodcurdling film.

Maui Coffee — Back on the Map?

We all hear about the fabulously delicious Kona coffee, grown on mostly boutique plantations located on the Big Island of Hawaii, but a renaissance in Maui-grown coffee has begun, with MauiGrown Coffee’s record-setting 2009 harvest.

The plantation in western Maui is cultivating four different types of coffee plants: Typica, Red Catuai, Yellow Caturra and a Maui-specific strain called Mokka. Once the holy land of pineapple and sugar, the commodity trends for these products have suffered quite a bit, making room for the reintroduction of coffee agriculture on Maui. Visitors to the island can arrange for a tour of the plantation, or just taste the different blends that are served up at the company’s store, located in Lahaina.

News from the Front: Gail at The International Home & Housewares Show

We sent Gail out on a little recon this past weekend, to the International Home & Housewares show in Chicago. Here’s what she’s reporting back:

Delonghi: Charity Auction
Delonghi had a few artists design different front panels for a limited edition Artista machine — only 5 of each design will be made. They plan to auction these babies off on eBay, with the proceeds benefiting Oxfam International. We’ll post an update here with photos and details once this goes live.

Hourglass Coffeemaker
We wrote about this machine last week, and Gail had a chance to meet with this group at the show. No samples yet, but it is one of only two products at the show that are made with BPA-free plastic.

Handpresso in Color
One of our favorite gadgets for delicious espresso on the go, the Handpresso team has now added different colors to their available models, plus they’ve developed a travel pack that includes a thermos for hot water, 4 demitasse cups and a carrying case — we’re looking into adding some of these to the store.

On Chicago, and Her Cheap Date Ways
“I did go to a pub called Dublin last night and experienced quite a few characters. It was one of the local hang outs. Does that count?  One guy bought a round for the bar, myself included. He was well lubed up.  I had already had one beer and was quite full from that, so I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to choose my second poison. I hadn’t had much food all day so wandered out for chow.  It was interesting and Chicago is pretty cool.”

The show ends tomorrow, so we’ll post a follow-up later this week with Gail’s final notes on the show and possibly photos of the grand event.