Coffee: The World in Your Cup

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!

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!

Using the Handpresso Wild

We’ve had the Handpresso Wild in the store since October, and it’s one of the most handled objects on display. People are often tickled by the thought of taking their espresso anywhere they want — and we’ve had avid backpackers, day hikers, car campers and international (wo)men of mystery who travel extensively pick them up to make their lives a little bit easier and much more caffeinated.

Last week, we decided to film this awesome contraption — and the ever-suffering Gail went toe-to-toe with it. Check it out!

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.

Brew Tip: Temperature Surfing on the Rancilio Silvia

While single boiler machines are extremely cost effective, they do suffer from wide temperature fluctuations which can result in poorly extracted espresso. As such, the technique for ‘temperature surfing’ was developed by home espresso enthusiasts and you can watch as Gail goes through the process on a Rancilio Silvia. This technique can be applied to any single boiler machine — such as the Saeco Aroma, Ascaso Basic or Dream and any of the Gaggia semi-automatic espresso machines.