Tag Archives: economy

A Return to Relevance?

Some of you may have been tracking the moves of Starbucks and its renovation of the 15th Ave store in Seattle to transform it into something a little more down to earth. The shop has been renamed 15th Ave Coffee & Tea and aesthetically revamped to look more like your neighborhood cafe and less like its cookie cutter brethren — they even have community spaces for performance, art and meetings. Oh, and a Pooch of the Month feature, which is just plain marketing savvy in a dog-crazy city like Seattle.

The lead on this project came into the store earlier this week to pick-up a few last minute items, and he was lamenting a bit that people were talking negatively about the store even before it opened. He felt it was being judged not on its individual merits, but on its lineage — everyone likes to complain about the big companies, whoever they may be and regardless of industry, so this is really no different. Starbucks is an easy target for many to rage against, and, let’s be honest here, their business practices have often given more than enough ammunition to their local competition.

But is there anything so wrong in an effort to rediscover the initial roots of a company and possibly expand on them in a new way? In a resetting economic environment, does the search for relevance in the marketplace have to be anything other than what is necessary for survival? It’s true, this shop was going to be closed down, until Cohen was offered the opportunity to do something different — and that difference maintained jobs in an increasingly virulent employment market. So, if anything, it’s worth exploring and keeping an open mind because, instead of leaving another open storefront, someone got creative and is trying to take things back to the drawing board a bit.

We’re definitely going to check it out. They’re opening up today and we wish them well!

Buena Beans: You Know, For Kids!

Social Entrepreneurship is the new Dot Com and you can find a great selection of new start-ups that are focused on balancing capital growth with giving back to whichever cause they happen to believe in. Enter Kate Schneider, founder of Buena Beans, a Massachusetts-based coffee importer and roaster with a business plan devised very specifically to help a cause close to her heart. Schneider spent a year teaching in the small town of La Violeta, Costa Rica, through Harvard’s World Teach program and decided that she wanted to give back to that area by assisting them with their primary agricultural export: Coffee.

The idea was inspired by the fact that thirteen families in the area were looking for distribution after they had a negative experience with a coffee cooperative. Schneider decided to get into the direct trade business and is now selling both green and roasted beans under the Buena Beans label. The company then donates 50% of the profits from each sale directly to the school in La Violeta, which serves about 40 children from the village. You can read more about the Buena Beans story in this excellent profile written about them for The Herald News, or you can contribute to her business by checking out the website.

To All The Ladies In The House

Economic equality between genders is still quite disparate around the world, and the coffee cultivation industry is no different. In many places, women cannot even own the land they work and if their father or husband dies, the ownership reverts to the state or another male relative, regardless of who is inhabiting and working the land. There are many organizations that are working around the world to change this, because one of the major contributors to cyclical poverty is if a country does not support the personal ownership of land and property. Of course, the reasons for a state to not promote this kind of empowerment are varied and complex — and often can be attributed to long-held cultural beliefs around class and status. Since women are often considered a lower class in many parts of the world, they don’t have a lot of rights around changing laws and systems in order to improve their circumstances.

One project in the coffee industry that is taking on this issue is Cafe Femenino, a consortium of female coffee cultivators that seeks to secure land rights and financial security for its members. What began as a group effort by Peruvian coffee farmers in 2004 has grown into an international organization, which is supported, in part, by the Vancouver, WA, based Organic Products Trading Co. OPTCO is the sole importer of the coffee grown by member farmers and resells to many roasters and retailers around the US.

Learn more about Cafe Femenino, the evolution of the project, where you can purchase this coffee in order to support its growth and Organic Product Trading Co.’s history by visiting the project’s website.

Independent Espresso: On Wheels and Wings

One thing that we really love about the world of coffee is its diverse economic lifecycle: It’s putting food on the table and roofs over the heads of millions of people, from its cultivation through its brewing. A rather rich and unique dimension of this portrait is that of the small espresso or coffee shop — and we found a couple of examples of really cool independent businesses that are worth checking out.

First up, Redeye Roasters in Hingham, MA. Based out of a brightly colored truck, Bob Weeks founded his java-on-wheels when he elected to change up careers and get out of the advertising business. In 2006, he started roasting his own beans out of his house and in the subsequent three years has grown to distributing them in specialty groceries around the Boston area. This excellent profile goes into detail on Redeye’s past and present.

Another great little operation we ran across is the Celtic-influenced White Horse Coffee and Tea Co. in Sutherlin, OR. Owner Kristin Lusk has been roasting and brewing coffee and teas to an exotic bird aviary backdrop for the last 11 years — and you can balance their Kilted Ladies of Hell blend with a cinnamon roll that measures 10 inches across! She’s been taking in “stray” exotic birds like cockatiels and parrots so often that her roost has expanded to nearly 100 birds.

If you live close to either of these businesses and have had the chance to sample their goods, let us know what you think!

Peruvian Coffee Co-Op Receives Environmental Stewardship Award

We’ve been talking a lot recently about the sustainable and environmentally-minded coffee cultivation in different parts of the world and here’s another dimension to add to that discussion: The Peruvian co-op CECOVASA recently received a national award for the positive impact their work has had on preserving and promoting biodiversity in the region.

CECOVASA is probably like many coffee co-ops around the world: A collection of small farmers who have banded together in order to take advantage of the economic opportunities of Fair Trade. But like so many labels, the real faces and people behind them can get lost in the shuffle, and we found this great article on a visit to the remote Andean farms that comprise CECOVASA incredibly informative.

This is another example of how choices we make in our daily lives — for example, purchasing coffee imported by Equal Exchange — can have a positive impact on both the ability of small indigenous farmers to put food on their table and to keep the ecological balance intact around them. These are market factors that can help define what kind of world we live in — not just in 50 years, but in even 2 years from now.

Stir It Up: Marley Coffee

Maybe your days of rocking knatty dreads are over, but you can give a little shout-out to your quasi-Rastafari roots by imbibing in Rohan Marley’s new papa-inspired coffee beans.

According to this interview in the Jamaica Observer, “My father came from farmland of Nine Miles,” Rohan recalls, “There, he learned a deep respect for nature and humanity – respect that helped guide his life and ours. He said he would return to the farm one day. That was his dream.”

Incorporating the Rastafari ideal of ITAL (pure, vital foods), Rohan and his business partner Shane Whittle work to partner with farms around the globe that are engaging in ecologically and socially sustainable cultivation practices — organic, shade-grown, ethically-treated workers and environmental balance are some of the attributes they look for when sourcing their beans. Their own beans, cultivated in the world-renowned coffee growing region of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, are similarly produced and they firmly believe that coffee grown in this manner just plain tastes better. From Rohan’s own experience, he draws on early memories of his grandmother hand-hulling and roasting wild coffee cherries for her daily cup of coffee and he seeks to embody this rich, handcrafted and smooth flavor in all of his coffees.

Marley Coffee has five different blends on offer, each name inspired by one of Bob Marley’s songs:

  • Simmer Down – Swiss water decaf
  • Lively Up! – 5 bean espresso blend
  • One Love – Ethiopian Yirgacheffe
  • Mystic Morning – Wake up coffee
  • Jammin Java – Bold full city roast

Jah mon!

Historical Indian Coffee House at Risk of Closure


As we wrote about yesterday, India has a rich history with coffee. One of its central, caffeinated icons is the Delhi-based Indian Coffee House, a cafe that has served up common folks and Indira Gandhi alike, is at risk of closing after 52 years. The BBC has a collection of photos of this storied coffee house, including the experiences of some of its long-time staffers.

Giro D’Italia Giotto Auction Opens Today!

We are thrilled that today kicks off our series of five auctions of Giro D’Italia Giottos to benefit the non-profit organization Coffee Kids! This is such an awesome machine — we’re still waiting for them to arrive (they needed to engrave the name of 2009 winner Denis Menchov) and we can’t wait to get our grubby little paws on them.

These machines take all of the excellent performance and functionality of the Giotto Premium Plus and accent it with several specialized touches that make this limited edition stand apart — and since we’re the only US importer bringing these machines in stateside, these unique collector’s items are incredibly rare as well. But while your friends will be coveting the gorgeous stainless steel design or perhaps the Maglia Rosa-inspired pink manometer, the bragging rights will really be about all the money you donated to Coffee Kids, giving you a direct hand in helping to support tons of community projects for coffee growing families throughout Central America.

How Green is Your Coffee?

As the national obsession with greening our lives grows, examining how the things we love impact the environment has become a common topic of discussion. Up now: How green are different coffee beans?

The folks over at Greenopia devised a Leaf Awards rating system that is used to evaluate a coffee company’s overall greenness by gauging its percentage of organic, ethically sourced, naturally decaffeinated, eco-friendly packaged and efficiently produced and transported¬† beans. They also looked for sustainability and environmental impact reporting. They then assessed 25 different brands from all over the US to determine how they measure up.

We can’t help but feel the findings a bit disheartening: Of the brands they evaluated, nearly half of them didn’t rank at all! Coffee that we love by the likes of Illy or Lavazza didn’t get a single leaf, while large American brands like Starbucks or Stumptown got just a couple of leaves.

One ranking that shined was Bellevue-based Kalani Organica, coming in at 3 leaves! We have a personal connection to this truly lovely coffee: In the mid-to-late ’90’s, we cut our barista teeth slinging java at the Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle’s Belltown district. The cafe was a devout supporter and server of Kalani Organica until the cafe was closed by a fire in 2002 — despite the fact that we regularly had small competitive roasters try to convince us to switch. We stuck with Kalani because of the founder Karen’s commitment to organic, ethically-sourced coffee — something that is talked about a lot these days but wasn’t seen as particularly important 15 years ago. We’re thrilled that her work is getting recognized and hope that a rating like this will help expand Kalani’s availability around the country.

Sidamo Slipping?

With the rains in India threatening their coffee harvest and the financial strife of Brazilian farmers unable to secure the necessary funds for nurturing and harvesting their crops, Ethiopia’s recent revelation that drought is adversely impacting their coffee crops in two significant regions gives us pause. Is it possible that such an essential staple of countless cultures around the globe is at risk of exhaustion?

Government assessors evaluated Ethiopia’s coffee harvest during this past November and found that coffee production in Sidamo and Gedeo may fall nearly 60% this year as a result of the extended drought in those regions. Combined with the falling commodity prices and the rising costs of food, the risk of a severe increase in starvation in a region already so brutalized by ongoing famine is a sobering thought.

Throughout its history, coffee has been a crop that has rolled with the proverbial punches: It has withstood civil wars and economic collapse, its ripening cherries at the heart of stimulating debates and late night international judgment calls. Yet it seems that the current agricultural methodology may not be able to support itself — and if we don’t make a concerted effort to address some of the systemic issues that are resulting in these symptomatic losses, we just might find ourselves in a significantly less stimulating world — literally.

After all, if coffee can’t make it in its own home town, where can it make it?