Tag Archives: economy

Field Trip: Hario USA – Coffee Roasts & Agriculture

One of our favorite discussions with Edwin Martinez of Hario USA was in regard to coffee and agriculture. He is a third generation coffee farmer in Guatemala, and also participates on an international level in several aspects of the coffee industry and community — from tasting competitions to product development. Because of this, he has a fairly unique perspective and he often sees the coffee chain from end to end.

In this video, he talked with us about roast trends in the US by region, how farmers react to different industry factors and gave us some insight into how coffee grown at different elevations have different flavors and acidity.

Unplug From the Digital Plantation

A cafe in the San Francisco Bay area is taking a stand: On the weekends, during the month of February, wireless access will be shut down and no laptops allowed.

Sal Bednarz, owner of the Actual Cafe near Golden Gate Park has decided to try this social experiment in an effort to spur his neighborhood customers to get to know each other a little bit better. He founded the cafe to create more of a meeting/social space for his community and wants to try this out to see how folks respond. Since it’s not inspired by trying to move customers through and keeping seats free (like what caused a number of NYC-area cafes to outlaw laptops during certain hours last year), it will be interesting to see if this does influence folks into talking to each other more, engaging and taking back the space from those using the cafe as an office outside of the office.

If you’re in the area and have a chance to check it out or participate in Bednarz ‘experiment,’ please comment and let us know your thoughts!

Microloans & Coffee

In the coffee world, there is a lot of conversation around sustainability — environmental, cultural, social and economic. Some specific brands of commerce and marketing (such as the Fair Trade certification or the development of direct trade relationships between larger coffee roasters and coffee plantations) have begun to flourish and really mean something to us, the consumers, at the other end of the coffee mug.

We may try to buy coffee that we know has a socially conscious providence or we may elect to do business with companies that are trying to create more equality throughout the entire coffee production cycle, from tree to cup. Another way we can contribute is to engage in microloans — giving money to an international entrepreneur through an organization such as Kiva, because $25 really can go a lot further in some parts of the world. These loans are mostly paid back to the lending organization and then you can choose to take your money back or to roll it into another microloan to help someone else.

For an example of how such a program can positively affect the coffee agriculture business, check out this great blog article on Kiva that shares the impact of its program on coffee farmers in Costa Rica.

Internet Cafe Hobo

Back in the bad old days when Internet access was not easy to come by in the US, cafes offering a little jitter with your surfing proliferated. They catered to travelers and students, artists and writers; they were community centers and neighborhood hangs. But as the cost and availability of ‘net access changed, their ability to support themselves as a web hub declined — and cafes with computers for rent by the minute morphed into cafes with BYOL(aptop) and misc. wi-fi access policies.

Since we spent some of our coffee slinging years behind the bar of an Internet cafe, you can understand why they hold a sweet little place in our hearts. So it’s no surprise that when we ran across this BBC web documentary series that’s tracking a journalist as he’s traveling around the world from Internet cafe to Internet cafe — reporting on the stories he finds along the way — we really dug it. Now we’re sharing! Complete with maps of his travels, snapshots and audio as he explores how the Internet cafe is still a big part of many communities around the world.

Caffeine, Asian Style

We love reading about the different caffeinated traditions around the world — from Italy to Ethiopia, Argentina to Montreal — so when we ran across this excellent profile in the Wall Street Journal that discusses the best coffee available in different parts of Asia, we were captivated!

Including detail on the history of coffee in different regions and then providing some tips on where to find a good cup in Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan, the writers give great insight into the role that coffee plays in the life of these countries. Definitely worth the read.

Coffee & Climate Change

Last November, we wrote about how the excessive rains in India were adjusting the forecast coffee exports from that country, and they have now reported a 21% decrease in exportable coffee during the 2008 – 2009 growing season. But it’s mostly about when the rains hit — they reported in June of this year that heavy summer rains will likely result in a 17% increase in coffee exports for the 2009 – 2010 growing season that begins on October 1st.

Because we’re working with an agricultural product, the flavor nuances and fluctuations created by the weather really do inform the more artistic elements of coffee overall. The ‘third wave’ of the espresso industry (which Eric from Seattle Espresso Machine Co. and Sam of Equal Exchange talk about in this video) was largely brought about by the ability to source very specific beans from estates around the world. Instead of buying huge blended batches of beans from an exporter, roasters started to go to the plantations themselves and trying different coffee beans, charting how they changed over time — sometimes the plantations produced an amazing coffee, other times they would maybe be just good or not-so-great.

Obviously, the specific plants and the altitude/growing style, as well as how the coffee is processed, will inform the flavor, but a big unknown every year is how the weather impacts the growing cycle. Similarly to how wine vintages are known for having a particularly good weather year, imbuing the grapes with the perfect balance of sugar and acids to make a great bottle of wine, the coffee cherries themselves produce different flavors every year depending on how the weather was in a particular region. This is why a blend you loved a few years ago may have changed in flavor over time — and why there is often a little bit more art than science involved with making really great espresso.

The Fair Trade/Direct Trade movements over the past few decades have helped bring about the opportunity to appreciate coffee on this very micro level, but while they have done a lot to contribute to the sustainable and cultural development of farming communities around the world, this excellent article by The Guardian outlines how contending with global climate change will require a more comprehensive, orchestrated approach. Last year, the rains hit India at the wrong time — a long drought resulted in intense flooding once the rains finally came — and this year they arrived at just the right time. That’s not always going to be the case; in fact, the global climate change projections indicate that this bust-then-boom weather is likely to increase.

Given that coffee is the top tropical commodity in the world, and given that most of the farmers who grow it already spend a few months of year in poverty — despite Fair Trade/Direct Trade/sustainable movements — this is not a pretty picture on the horizon.

Slayer = Control

Yesterday, we posted a video discussing brew pressure and how it applies to espresso extraction. Near the end, we talked about the Slayer espresso machine, which gives another customization option to the barista: Pressure profiling. The first machine to offer this on the market, it’s no surprise that the Slayer is slowly finding its place amongst high end espresso enthusiasts around the world. But if the results are as amazing as we’ve heard, the Slayer could just be the first in a new generation of espresso machines.

Earlier this week, The Seattle Weekly published a profile of the team, speaking with one of the founders, Eric Perkunder, and describing their current boutique-level factory. It’s a great read if you’re interested in the history and theory behind the invention of the Slayer.

We’re hoping to head out on a field trip in the near future to interview the guys and see the facility, plus play around with and watch a Slayer in action!

Starbucks V.2.0 – Take Two

As folks discuss the reasoning behind Starbucks’ recent move to completely retool & rename their 15th Ave Coffee and Tea house, yet another example of the global java giant’s new approach is put on display: The redesigning of the back room of one of their Hong Kong locations to look like that city’s coffee shops from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Literally translated as “Ice Room,” the Bing Sutt style change-up also comes with some specialized additions to the cafe’s menu to further extend the coffee chain’s connection to its local area. We love the design of the space and applaud their attempts to increase their community relevance — whether or not a face lift and menu change will revitalize their market share remains to be seen.

Intelligent Java

With Portland’s Stumptown representing strongly for the West Coast and Durham’s Counter Culture keeping it real for the East Coast, Chicago’s Intelligentsia brings up the middle, melding it all together and offering a similar brand of java-love to folks in the Midwest and beyond. These three companies feature multi-city locations, direct trade values and a commitment to both the art and science of great coffee — to paraphrase Intelligentsia’s David Latourell, it’s about consciousness.

Flavorwire recently sat down with Latourell to discuss Intelligenstia, what it’s about, what the contemporary coffee movement is focused on and what’s next. We loved his references to slowing down and understanding what you’re ingesting, what you’re taking in and why. Sure, a lot of us drink coffee for its caffeine perks, but it’s more than that to a lot of people around the world and it’s good for us to take a step back and appreciate that. We recommend reading the interview — which also includes Latourell’s tips for finding great coffee and great cafes.