Tag Archives: history

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.

Brown Bean : The Community!

If you have read our About page before, you know that we spun off the blog from Seattle Coffee Gear a few months ago in order to start building out a community resource site under the moniker of Brown Bean. Well, the Brown Bean Community is now live and we’d love it if you’d check it out!

Featuring equipment reviews, forums, a comprehensive repository of all of our videos, articles, how-to guides and recipes, the site has a ton of great resources to help you make a better cup of coffee at home. We’ll be adding to it regularly and updating it often, so definitely take a moment to register and see what we’ve been up to.

We hope you’ll find it useful and make it one of your regular stops on the web. See you there!

Another Feather in the Cap of Shade Grown Coffee

A recent report released by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) indicates that climate change may cause an increase in the pest known as the coffee berry borer. ICIPE studied plantations in Colombia, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, discovering that the projected increase in global temperature would make sub-tropical regions more susceptible to one of the most devastating pests to coffee crops.

The solution? Revert to cultivating the plants as an understory crop beneath taller forest trees. This was the traditional method for growing the plants, and is how coffee plants are often found in the wild– the forest canopy not only protects them from direct temperature changes, but it also supports a host of wildlife which are predators of the coffee berry borer pest, among others.

In fact, this isn’t the first biological threat to coffee that has come as a result of moving coffee out from under the forest: Over a hundred years ago, the fungus known as coffee rust eradicated many of the coffee plantations throughout Asia, resulting in that region’s heavy adoption of alternative crops such as tea and rubber (the move in India and Sri Lanka to cultivate tea is largely responsible for its ongoing popularity in the UK). Historians have theorized that the voracious spread of this fungus was largely due to the deforestation practices that coffee plantation owners underwent in order to increase their available crop space. The fungus’ spores are easily transported on wind currents, and not having any protection to block the winds from affecting them resulted in a widespread blight.

ICIPE is recommending that coffee farmers transition to the traditional shade-grown method to limit the impact this pest has on their crops as the global climate changes. Growing coffee in this manner, however, decreases the available crop yield and so can result in more expensive products down the line. Whether or not larger plantations begin to adopt these practices before nature forces their hand 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.

Coffee Roasts: Shades, Names and Flavors

Back in May, we wrote a little bit about Italian vs. French Roasts, but lately we have been sampling a lot of different roast and blend types and decided to read more about the basic theory behind roasting and blending. In our research, we ran across Kenneth Davids’ excellent table describing the different roast styles and their corresponding flavor, so we thought we’d reprint it here for easy future reference.

The big question that was on our mind was in regard to dark roasts: Peet started an American tradition back in the 60′s by taking his roasts well into the very dark brown degree and we wondered why. Particularly because, for us, the darker roasts just aren’t as complex flavor-wise, so we were curious about his roasting theory — one that would ultimately be imitated by the founders of Starbucks and eventually influences hundreds of small specialty roasters around the world. It seems that it’s largely due to the fact that, when taken to a darker roast, the oils and sugars caramelize in a manner which imbues the roast with a bittersweet tone — if it’s not taken too far, it will still retain much of its richness and will also feature less caffeine. However, and we think this is where we have often found ourselves, when the beans are taken to a really dark black brown, they’re just charred at that point — dried out little husks with little to no coffee oil or sugar leftover, so very little can be imparted during extraction.

So while we personally prefer something in the medium brown range, we’re glad we now understand why all the dark roast lovers out there are such ardent fans. If you want to learn more about roasting and blending — as well as pretty much anything else to do with coffee — we highly recommend picking up Kenneth Davids’ book.

Right now, however, you can check out his handy reference table after the jump.

Continue reading Coffee Roasts: Shades, Names and Flavors

Giro D’Italia Giotto Charitable Auction Status

We were able to secure one more limited edition Giro D’Italia Giotto, so we’ve auctioned three so far and now have three more to go!

This beautiful espresso machine is limited to only 100 total in production, and we’re the only folks to have imported them into the US! Get this gorgeous and functional collector’s item while also contributing to the wonderful cause Coffee Kids. The auctions are closing at around the price of the non-limited edition model, and all proceeds will be donated to the charity, so please help us raise some cash!

Watch Gail show us the unique features of these machines as they compare to the Giotto Premium Plus — the differences are aesthetic only and this machine functions exactly the same as the Giotto.

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.

5 Giro D’Italia Giottos Auctioned to Benefit Coffee Kids

You know we’re big fans of Rocket Espresso and think that the Giotto Premium+ and Cellini Premium+ are some of the best home espresso machines on the market. When Rocket contacted us about a limited edition model of the Giotto that they designed in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Giro D’Italia cycling race, we thought we’d make buying this collector’s item a little bit more special.

And what better way to do that then to auction them off and donate all the proceeds to the non-profit organization Coffee Kids? We love their mission and we love Rocket, so for us they go hand in hand.

Beginning on 6/19/09 and continuing through 7/24/09, we’ll be auctioning off one Giro D’Italia Giotto each week, 5 of the 100 total espresso machines available in this limited edition run. If you or someone you love digs cycling, owning this little piece of history will give you something to brag about — not only because these machines are so unique, but you’ll be giving to a really great cause, too!

Coffee: The World in Your Cup Lecture Series – Third Lecture Update

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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)
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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.