Thursday, December 15, 2011

Aida Batlle story in The New Yorker

It's always great when the pioneers of truly specialty coffee are recognized in mainstream media. Such is the case with the article in November 2011's The New Yorker, "Letter from El Salvador: Sacred Grounds -- Aida Batlle and the new coffee evangelists." The journalist, Kelefa Sanneh, was on-site in El Salvador at Aida's beautiful and captivating farms. She writes with touching vignette's about Aida's career and the challenges she faces as a coffee farmer. The article highlights well the many challenges any professional in specialty coffee has come across at some time. This makes it a delight to read.

But you'll need some time -- and a good cup of (decaf) coffee. (The story is captivating enough to not need the caffeine.) But it's 10 pages of New Yorker fine print!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finding Flavorful Decaf Coffee

Dec. 5, 2011
It's been fun hearing stories about people in search of great tasting decaf coffee. One student on his junior year abroad wanted decaf coffee for his mother's birthday. She's been looking for something that really tastes good -- not flat and burned. AND, if possible, it should be organic and certified as fair trade. He found it by searching the internet.

Peru, Swiss Water Process, organic, fair trade is what he bought!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 launches!

Calling all gourmet decaf coffee lovers!
The website of your dreams has just launched - It gives you the opportunity to buy roasted premium decaf coffee on-line, from a source you can trust: Artisan Coffee Imports (the only importer who specializes in great-tasting, high end decaf coffee.)

I've tried the decaf Kenya AA Meru-Riankune, and it's excellent. For those that want an organic and water-processed coffee, try the Peru.

The site is great, because it categorizes the coffees by decaf process. And ALL the coffees are single origins -- no blends of "nasty + moderately bad" trying to masquerade as good coffee. There's even a decaf espresso that's a "custom design" for great decaf espresso drinks.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Decaf Admired - Ann Arbor.Com Newspaper

My local newspaper, AnnArbor.Com, just published a touching review of coffee culture in our county - Washtenaw County, Michigan. From a 1924 Men's Morning Coffee Group, to Frank's and the S.S. Kresge, the article recounts the history of coffee in our community. Love the Steinbeck quote, "The hot bitter coffee scalded our throats. We threw the last little bit with the grounds in it on the earth and refilled our cups."

Now the coffee scene is diverse and offers a wide variety of quality choices. Love it that one of my favorites, Zingerman's Coffee Co., is called out with a quote from a decaf drinker -- "I only drink decaf, and their decaf blend of Americano is really wonderful," she said. She is so right. When I've ordered decaf Americanos there I almost always am stopped in my tracks for a few seconds thinking, "DANG, that's good coffee!"

Keep doing that decaf right out there, folks! And if you need a source for good decaf grounds, besides Zingerman's, I've heard of another local provider who has great-tasting roasted decaf coffee.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Decaf Coffee In Europe - Data and Mysteries

Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, October 2011
This month's issue of Tea & Coffee gave a rare and detailed insight into the world of decaf coffee in Europe. A glimpse at Europe is, in many ways, a glimpse at the entire world of decaf coffee, because so much of the the world's decaf coffee is decaffeinated in Europe.

The article takes a look at the first ground-breaking compilation of market statistics on decaf coffee done in 1999 (using year 1997 based figures). The result back then? "Above 10% in Austria, Germany, Holland and Spain; just below 10% in Belgium and France; below 5% in Itlay and the UK; negligible amounts in Scandinavia." Averaged out -- "15 years ago the decaf tonnage consumed within the EU amounted to about 7% of the global [EU] coffee consumption, on a green bean disappearance basis."

Interesting terminology, eh? "GLOBAL EU coffee consumption? I assume that means there is also a "GLOBAL North American coffee consumption figure? As an editor, I would prefer to use "combined" to describe combined data, and save the word "global" for when we're really talking about the whole world.

Anyways -- the article goes on to estimate decaf consumption by country today. Unfortunately, there is no directly comparable report to the one done in 1999. Instead, Tea & Coffee has compiled various data and reports: France at 7% (down from before); Germany at 7.8% (also down). Decaf growth appears to have happened in Italy, now reporting 7% and Spain, "remaining the champion" is at 20%.

Wow! 20%! Why would that be? How could that be? That's a bit of a mystery. The article says "the Spanish decaf manufacturers have been intensely communicating about the benefits of decaf consumption." But who are the Spanish decaffeinators? We only know of plants in Italy and Germany.

So not surprisingly, an article delving into the world of decaf also digs up new mysteries in this shadowed and barely understood market!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Valuable by-products of the QGrader Exam

Maybe it's this way with every training course, but having just completed my QGrader re-takes, I've now had the opportunity to do 1.5 QGrade courses with two different sets of 10-12 coffee professionals. That experience, whether one passes the test or not, is truly valuable. I'm not saying I'd pay $1000 just to hang out and cup with 1o people for a week -- but there is a truly valuable learning aspect that one probably doesn't anticipate when one signs up for the course. At least I didn't.

What I noticed is that because each roaster and importer has different backgrounds and areas of expertise, all week you are on a learning curve about aspects of the coffee industry that are less familiar to you, given your place "in the supply and service chain". And when it comes to the coffee in the cup, it's fascinating to see how one roaster finds a cup "well rounded and bold" and another finds it "too earthy." Of course, it's great when a room of disparate traders, roasters, importers, cafe-owners all have a unanimous experience, too -- "that one sucks!", for example. Now we can debate how and why.

Keep cupping, everyone!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Passed the QGrader - Summary of 4 Retakes

Hopedale, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011
Passed! Yesterday at Coffee Solutions in Massechusetts I got the great news, I had passed the 4th of my 4 retakes needed to complete the QGrader certification.
Indonesian Cupping: took that first thing Thursday morning along with the other 10 people in the class and at least one of the other people doing re-takes. Challenging! The calibration cup was a washed PNG. So bright and clean it hardly seemed like an Indonesian. I gave it a higher score than the rest of the group. That's OK -- this is what calibration is for, right?

I was able to pick out that reference cup on the table when there were 6 coffees to cup blind. Of those 6 one was bad. I got that one, too, but thought (after the review with Rob Stephen, the instructor) that I hadn't dinged it hard enough. On the rest, I surmized that I had scored each relatively low compared to the scores Rob said he would have given them. I had over corrected on the scoring! But it must be that others had scores in a broad range also, because I did still pass. (One's cupping scores have to be within the range set by the group.)

Matching Pairs: This is one of those tests that takes place in a darkened room with red lights. Very Halloween-like! Each cupper faces a table with 8 or 10 sets of 4 coffees. Two of the coffees have an acid added to them, two of them don't -- they're just the same standard coffee that's in every cup. So the test is to 1) pick the 2 cups that have the acid and 2) name the acid that's been added.

Roasted Grading: This is the easy test -- note that one does not necessarily pass the first time just because it's easy. Like me! I honestly did not know what a quaker was the first time I took the QGrader, so I incorrectly identified some light-roasted beans as quakers. I studied up on it in the meantime, though, and this time was able to pass!

Aromatics - dry distillation: I think there are 4 aromatics tests, where one has to name the smell contained in each of 9 different little vials. The dry distillation set includes such things as cedar, clove, pepper, coriander, malt, maple, tobacco and roasted coffee. Again, having the opportunity to focus my study only on these aromas helped me pass this one the 2nd time around.

It's a rigorous test to pass, but it achieved a goal for me -- not so much having the certificate, but having a much more in-depth appreciation for the SCAA cupping form and the skill and craft of cupping. I'd been to many of the cupping classes at SCAA events. They were good introductions to cupping, but even the advanced ones do not have enough time and intensity to force a comprehensive understanding of how we cup and evaluate coffees. There's so many questions and nuances that get questioned and answered when a group of 10 - 12 coffee professionals work through the QGrader exam agenda over the course of a week.

Once completed, one has to say -- "you were right on, Ted!" (Lingle). And to all the QGrader instructors -- especially the two that tolerated and trained me a VERY BIG THANK YOU -- Rob Stephen and Kelly Amoroso, you guys are the best.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Caffeine Discussion in Specialty Coffee Retailer

Sept. 2011
This month's issue of Specialty Coffee Retailer offers a summary of a common discussion I have. "How bad is caffeine for you anyhow?" And if you drink decaf, "how bad are the "chemicals" in decaf"? Jack Groot, owner of JP's Coffee in Holland, Michigan, is a friend and I appreciate his comments in this column. Read it here.

At the beginning, he rightly muses that the caffeine in coffee is much purer than the caffeine in soft drinks because with coffee you don't automatically get the sugar with it. You control the sugar content.

He also explains a little known fact -- the caffeine used as an artificial additive in many products, including soft drinks, comes from coffee. Typically, it's pulled during the decaffeination process. Question -- which is the by-product? The raw caffeine (for sale to CPG cos) or the decaffeinated coffee?

In the middle of the article, Jack somewhat mysteriously jumps to the topic of decaf coffee and the misperception that some of it contains dangerous chemicals. THANK YOU JACK for clearly laying out with facts and reputable sources that coffee decaffeinated with methylene chloride is not dangerous by any stretch of the imagination.

So just the last paragraph is confusing -- Jack states that studies indicate moderate caffeine consumption is beneficial so keep drinking regular coffee (with all it's associated headaches, migraines and bad hangovers). Don't those same studies indicate that moderation to the tune of only 3% (i.e. the caffeine content of decaf compared to regular) is therefore ideal?!

Maybe in your next column, Jack!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

QGrader Re-Takes Coming Up

Sept. 18, 2011
Got the word today that the QGrader class I've been waiting for has been confirmed! Rob Stephen, Coffee Solutions, Boston, MASS, has enough participants to hold a QGrader class Oct. 10-14. So several "almost-Q-Graders" like myself will have the opportunity to do our re-take tests.

I need to pass the Indonesian cupping, matching pairs and the "aroma-therapy" series called "dry distillation". I also have to pass roasted grading -- which is basically the test where you identify quakers.

So the studying begins -- and repeated cuppings of Indonesians. Please comment here if you'd like to suggest some for me to try!

Ruth Ann Church, President, Artisan Coffee Imports

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Coffee on the Hill

Sept. 13 - 15, 2011
I was in Washington D.C. on other-than-coffee business these 3 days -- too bad! As I learned from NCA member Tom Isaia, of Coffee Express, a bi-annual event called "Coffee on the Hill" was happening 8 - 10am on 10/13 at the Rayburn House, one of the buildings next to the capitol that houses dozens of congressional offices. Then 10/14 -1 5 was the NCA's fall educational program - including presentation of the results of the lastest consumption survey: "National Coffee Drinking Trends" (NCDT) report.

Once I heard about it, I made plans to catch an earlier flight than originally planned on Tue., 9/13. Everything looked like I was destined to be at Coffee on the Hill until the flight was cancelled AFTER the plane had taxied to the runway. Disappointing! Coffee on the Hill is put on by the NCA to raise awareness among lawmakers about the importance of the coffee industry. USAID is brought into the fold -- they bring in top quality coffees from around the world. (USAID sponsors many-coffee related projects in coffee-growing countries.)

I was able to peek into the ballroom on 10/14 as the NCDT was being presented -- but had to then rush on to other meetings.

Note to self: September 2012, plan to go to NCA's fall educational conference. In Sept. 2013 -- plan to be in DC for Coffee on the Hill - and fly in a day early!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

RG Retreat - Day 3

Sat., Aug. 20, 2011
Roanoke, West Virginia
7:00am: cupping the roasts from the day before to decide what to submit for the competition. One will be for a french press, the other for a pour over brew method. The third submission is supposed to match one of the samples in the calibration cupping on day 1. (But that 3rd challenge doesn't count towards the team score.)

My team had some pretty nice roasts in our bunch. We decided to blend 2, when we couldn't decide which one was better. We used the Santa Barbara for the french press, the Marcala for the pour over and did our best on matching the Copan to the sample we cupped the day before.

10pm: Skipping to the end of the day -- our team won 4th place (out of 12)!

I enjoyed the 2 in-depth educational sessions that day: "economics at origin" and "setting up sensory tests".

We finally got our group of Michigan attendees together for a photo -- there were 7 of us in total --Ben Angelo could not be in the group photo because he was getting a nap to prepare for his SECOND NIGHT of giving us great DJ-ing during the dinner and party! The man has vinyl even!

Michigan roasters L
to R: Seth Chapman, Water St; Ruth Ann Church, Artisan Coffee Imports; Kurt Stauffer, Rowster; Tom Isaia, Coffee Express; Stephen Curtis, Rowster; Allen Liebowitz, Zingerman's.

RG Retreat - Day 2

Aug. 19, 2011
Our team picked up our 10lbs of green coffee and got to start dreaming of how to roast them in order to win the competition. We pretty much had to dream all day, because we were in the last roasting session (3:45 - 5:45).

The time went quickly, though, as we had an interesting presentation from an Honduras estate owner about experiments he's conducting (the Manzano Project). In the afternoon, I took part in a roundtable discussion on direct trade. Finally, at the end of the day, we had our turn at 2 roasters in the roasting tent. We had a Dietrich and a US Roaster to work with. Other teams were working away at their roasters the whole time. It's a pretty fun atmosphere and I learned a lot from our more experienced roasters -- including how to use a roasting form to track the roast profile.

The Manzano Project: Emilio Lopez Diaz, owner of Quatro M in Honduras, designed and implemented an experiment over a period of 5 years. He wanted to see the difference in taste that would result if the same green coffee, from the same lot, grown with all the same variables, was processed 4 different ways: natural, semi-natural, mechanical wash and full wash. It was great that the final product of all his labor was available for all of us to cup! I thought they were all quite good. I don't have my scores, however, because Emilio asked us to turn in all our sheets.

Direct Trade: There was no agreement on a definition of the term "direct trade". Some assume, that if they are using an importer, they are by definition not doing direct trade. I disagree.I don't believe there needs to be a definiton at all, and certainly not that one. There were others in this group of 20 - 30 people that,like me, see direct trade as a continuum, on which some roasters are farther than others. Others want direct trade to be something they can say "yes we are" or "no we're not" to, like the Fair Trade (FLO) certification. The conversation included another point about direct trade that is difficult -- does it have to be something that has some social or community benefit for the growing community? If a roasters is "simply" buying/selling coffee, does that qualify as direct trade?

Roasting session: The part we were all waiting for! We decided to roast all 3 coffees: the Mancala, the Copan and the Santa Barbara on both machines, giving maximum chance to derive the optimum roast from each. We took turns, but a few of the more experienced members were definitely directing and doing the most. The tent set-up itself is pretty amazing. 8 little roasters working away. One giant exhaust pipe going down the middle and out the back. And all this is surrounded by a gorgeous river + mountain setting on a perfect summer day. Once our roasts were done, Mathew Hill whisked away our 5 brown bags to "rest" in secluded safety until the cupping, early the next morning.

Aug. 18, 2011
Arrived at the Stonewall Retreat in Roanoke, WV at 5pm -- just in time for the start of the "newcomers" session. Specialty coffee long-timers like Phil Beattie, Chris Schooley,Chris Wade and Darin Daniels sat down with our small groups to give us insights and suggestions about how to maximize our experience.

The opening session included a fine keynote address by the president of Probat. At dinner we were encouraged to sit with our team. I was honored to be on team #1 with legends such as Paul Katzeff, Thanksgiving Coffee; Willem Boot of Boot Coffee, David Kastle, Swiss Water Process; Tom Owen, Sweet Maria's; Bjorn Dhaese, Dillanos Coffee; Carol McLaufhlin, Gorilla Coffee; Alex Burbo, Intelligentsia; Stephanie Ratanas, Dogwood Coffee; Neal Wilson, Wilson's Coffee; and Mathew Hill, Salt Spring Coffee Roasters. Apparently, they carefully pick the teams to have a balance of experience and in-experience, new-comers and old-timers, also roasters and importers (like me, with Artisan Coffee Imports).

We had a hard time deciding a team name. Eventually we got to "The Luwak Liberation Front." (see photo right, with David Kastle and Tom Owen.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Yahoo News "Accidentally" Shares How Good Decaf Can Be

Aug. 2, 2011
I'm not a big fan of Yahoo! news posts, but today there's one worth mentioning. In an article where the unknown, un-named author supposedly has objectively tested many different Colombian and Ethiopian coffees, he/she finds a stand-out that is a decaf!
"New England Coffee Decaffeinated Colombian was judged better than most caffeinated coffees, including Starbucks Colombia Medium."
Click here to read the whole article.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Coffee & Cocoa International Shines Spotlight on Decaf

July 2011:
This month's issue of Coffee & Cocoa International has two features of interest to those pursuing high-end decaf coffee. Pgs. 26-27 review the presentation given at a workshop at the SCAA convention in Houston, May 1, 2011. The presentation, "Dissecting Decaffeinated Coffee" was given by Jose Ramirez of Farmer Brothers Coffee and Ruth Ann Church, of Artisan Coffee Imports.

Further in is a "Trader Profile" on Artisan Coffee Imports with quotes from Ruth Ann Church and photos from her trips to origin, like the one posted here. (Pgs. 44-45)

You can download a .pdf of both articles by clicking here, to go to Artisan Coffee Import's press page.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

California Roaster "Gets It"

July 5, 2011
Just came across the blogpost on Rose Park Roaster's blog titled, "Second-Class Citizens of the Coffee World". Everyone here at "Decaf Coffee in N. America" says, "THANKS" to Andrew of Rose Park Roasters in Long Beach, CA.

Click here to read it and enjoy!

~ Ruth Ann

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ugly Mug - long history as high-end coffee hotbed

June 14:
Today I returned to the Ugly Mug to talk with Chris Mullins and roaster Ramiro Lomeli more about their business... where it's been, where it's going. It's REALLY amazing how many top coffee professionals in the region have worked there at one time or are working there now... Chris Mullins, Ramiro Lomeli, Jim Saborio, Josh Longdorf ... And then if you include the top coffee people across the country that have close links to the Ugly Mug, it's even more amazing... Tonx, Trevor Corlett, Metropolis.

The illustrious history is having it's growth effect. Ugly Mug is anxiously anticipating the arrival of a 25lb. San Franciscan roaster to add to it's tried and true smaller 2 kilo Dietrich.

Talking with Ramiro today, it's easy to see why this cafe has a strong following. Ramiro's dedication and education in the craft of coffee were clear with comments like, "every day it's something new to learn, something new to try. I always want to make the next cup better."

Of course, I was pleased to hear that this curiosity even extends to their decaf. Ugly Mug is one of only about 4 cafes in the country roasting Las Serranias, Colombian A from the state of Huila. I tried both a pulled shot and a brew from their Chemix. Abundant citrus, sweetness with a smooth body and lingering aftertaste. When I say abundant, I mean "bursting". This decaf is really impressive. Ramiro said it impressed their customers, too, when they first put it out. They were asking what it was when they first offered it as a trial. They didn't guess it was decaf.

Ugly Mug Hosts Impressive Palate Development Jam

June 11, 2011
I walk in to the Ugly Mug around 8:30pm, only to find I am too late! The coffee "taste development" event of the year in southeast Michigan has already finished! It had started at 4pm, so I really shouldn't be surprised. I had just hoped my family obligations that took up most of my evening weren't going to make me miss it all.

It was worth getting there, even so late. I was able to get the impressive handout and chat with cafe manager Chris Mullins. Sounds like the first-of-its-kind event at the Ugly Mug brought in a good sized crowd (20-30) and accomplished its goals. There were various apples to refine one's understanding of malic acid tastes, in-depth discussions of acidity and sweetness, and a station designed to help one understand how taste variables are affected during roasting. "Great job!" to the Ugly Mug team who put this together!

Ugly Mug team members I met: Chris Mullins, Meg soon-to-be-Graham, Matthew "the Birdman" and Ramiro Lomeli, roaster extraordinaire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rowster Roasting Class Pushes the Envelope

Blitzkrieg Roasting Class - Rowster Coffee, Grand Rapids, MI
May 23, 2011
This was my first trip to the famed Rowster Coffee and it was a treat! First of all, kudos to Kurt Stauffer for offering such a class. He's truly democratic in his willingness to help anyone from anywhere get better at the craft of roasting. Along with it, he instilled in each of the 5 participants (including me) the amount of dedication it takes to roast and roast well in a retail setting. He also convinced us of his passion for roasting each coffee to it's optimum level. The small size of the class enabled each of us to explore our own roasting issues -- I was able to go heavy on questions related to roasting decaffeinated coffee and samples. Kurt has swung back and forth on the "must be light roasted" to "could be dark roasted" pendulum. A phrase I learned in the class: "the paradoxes of coffee."

Kurt's staff, Stephen Curtis and Andy, were great. The Lever espresso machine pulled some wonderful shots and was impressive to see. So was the level of cleanliness Kurt keeps around his literally "middle of the shop" roaster. All eyes at the bar can see everything.

The class:
  • Started with a review of what is roasting.
  • A market segmentation of roaster "classes" (as a marketer, I found this quite interesting)
  • Chemical processes of roasting
  • Tour of the roaster (machine) anatomy
  • Looked at and discussed roast profiles
  • Teamed up in pairs and each got to roast a 14 lb. batch of Monserrat (Colombia) Cup of Excellence. Obviously, this was the best part!
I now understand why Rowster's tagline is "New American Coffee". With unique and high-level classes like this out there, a new age of coffee in American is dawning. Keep it going, Kurt!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

MotownThrowdown II - fun!

Motown Throwdown II, May 19, 2011 Location: AJ's Cafe in Ferndale, MI
I enjoyed the second Motown Throwdown in Ferndale, MI on May 19th. AJ was a gracious host at his cafe. Tom Isaia (Coffee Express) did a great job organizing us. First event - Signature Espresso Drink Contest, with Lani Peterson of Kerry Beverages judging. Teresa Pilarz of Espresso Elevado (Plymouth, MI) won $300! Runners up were Lorne Keeny of Coffee & Friends, Okemos and Brian Cullen, Tres Bean Coffee House, Walkerville, Windsor (Ontario).

The second event: Best Coffee Contest - had 13 entries -- all Colombian. Sally Rivera (imported from Cafe Imports) and Ruth Ann Church (Artisan Coffee Imports in Ann Arbor, MI) cupped and scored all 13 of the coffees, which took almost 2 hours. The top 5 Colombians were then brewed and poured into 5 numbered airpots. Then all participants could taste and judge. The informally scored ranking was:
1) Coffee Express Co., Plymouth; Giraldo Exotico (imported by Royal)
2) Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids; from Didier Reinoso's farm - used at the Barista Championship in Houston
3) Cafe Imports (green coffee importers), St. Paul, Minnesota.

4) Coffee Express Co., Plymouth; organic
5) Artisan Coffee Imports, Ann Arbor; you guessed it right! This was a DECAF coffee from Artisan Coffee Imports and it was in the top 5 out of 13! The coffee is from the state of Tolima, southern Colombia, and the ASOCEAS cooperative -- a group of 58 farmers near the town of Rio Blanco.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Deconstructing Decaf at the SCAA

May 1: Jose Ramirez, Director of Coffee at Farmer Brothers, graciously included me as a co-presenter of his SCAA lecture titled, "Deconstructing Decaf." 40 participants filled the room on a Sunday morning! Jose walked us through the technical details on the various decaffeination processes -- including a new one using triglycerides!

Photo (right) -->: Decaf Kenya AA Meru - green sample next to 3 other regular green coffee samples at an SCAA booth.

For my part, I shared the marketing complexities of decaf, focusing on the relationship between costs, pricing and quality. By clarifying the fact that there are two extra costly steps to getting a decaf coffee, people are better able to see why quality compromises are being made all the time. We looked at locations of decaf plants on a world map, comparisons of how much each decaf process costs, compared mark-up practices for pricing decaf and shared consumer data and marketing tips for decaf.

It was great to have 2 participants in the room from decaffeination plants -- Descamex and Maximus were represented. The best question/quote, I thought, was from Alfredo Rego of Idaho who asked, "why is it at a coffee show like this, you go up to a beautiful espresso bar like Counter Culture has set up and they have 5 amazing coffees -- but no decaf? Isn't everyone a little over-wired and caffeine weary by 3pm on day 3?" Couldn't agree with you more, Alfredo!

Hopefully the roasters in the room are now better able to choose to put QUALITY and TASTE FIRST. This typically means asking one's supplier/importer as many questions about the origin, age and storage of the green coffee as one asks about any regular coffee -- and worry less about which decaffeination process. Whether a coffee is decaffed using water or methylene chloride will make less difference to the taste than whether the green coffee was full of defects or a good, fresh, clean coffee.

Thanks to all who attended! Check out Artisan Coffee Imports for more information and guidance on finding great tasting decaf coffees.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SCAA Houston - Day 4 - Single Origin Decaf Cupping

May 1: This was the big day - Artisan Coffee Imports first cupping at an SCAA event took place starting 9:15am. About 15 cuppers came! I was worried a Sunday morning event would be too tough for anyone to get to. The amount of prep work was more than I anticipated, so many thanks go to Jose Ramirez of Farmer Brothers and Robert Athay of Theta Ridge for their help and support.

The cupping featured 9 decaf coffees, two of which were on sale by Artisan Coffee Imports:
  • decaf Kenya AA, Meru-Riankune (precision or MC decaffeination process)
  • decaf Colombian AA, El Meridiano, Tolima-Herrera region, ASOCEAS coop, (ethyl acetate - EA - process)
The other coffees on the table were:
  • decaf Kenya CO2 process
  • decaf Kenya SWP
  • decaf Colombia traditional (MC) process
  • decaf Colombia SWP
  • decaf organic Peru CO2 process
  • decaf organic Peru SWP
  • decaf organic Sumatra SWP
Cuppers at the session included Stumptown, Ritual, Equator, Invalsa, Swing Coffee, Wawa, Coffee Express, Crop to Cup, Caravela, Just Go in Taiwan and GEPA - Fair Trade Company in Germany.

Guest cupper, Ben Kaminsky of Ritual Roasters, cupped our triangulations -- he correctly picked out the decaf 3 out of 4 times! The trays were Kenyans, Colombians, Perus and Sumatras. The Sumatra was the one he missed. He said the Kenyan was the next one where it was almost too close to tell.

Near the end of the cupping, Justin Archer of Ecom/Sangana/SMS gave some comments on the challenges farmers are facing in Kenya. Frederick Kariithi, Chairman of the Rung'eto Coop in the Kirinyanga region of Kenya, also added some insights. They mentioned the struggle in Kenya to raise production which has fallen steeply in the last decade. Kenya used to produce 120,000 metric tonnes, and last year was down to only 35,000 -- next year 2011/2012, might get back to 50,000 m. tonnes. Poor weather, climate change and aging farmers are a few of the culprits mentioned.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

SCAA Houston - Day 3 - Benefit Breakfast, Lunch & Show Floor

Apr. 30, Started off today with the breakfast benefiting the non-profit International Women's Coffee Association (IWCA). I've attended these breakfasts ever since my first SCAA 5 years ago in Long Beach. Each year I find them so inspirational. They have speakers with fascinating stories and the women around the table are usually like a mini United Nations. It was so great to see Elvy again - an exporter and friend from my trip to El Salvador in 2009.

At an Utz hosted cupping that morning, we cupped Brazils, 2 from Honduras and 1 from Guatemala. I liked the Honduras Cocafelol the best.

For the first time at SCAA, I went to the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) lunch. Since CQI does the Q Grader courses, I feel like I've become part of this circle. Like IWCA, it was impressive to hear about the ways they are working around the globe to assist coffee farmers. I accidentally sat down at a "sponsored" table -- the sponsor being Deli Cafe from Costa Rica. Many thanks to Grace Mena, President of Deli Cafe, who graciously welcomed me, ignoring my faux paux!

After lunch I finally got to the trade show floor. It was a bit of a whirlwind - a mix of pre-planned meetings and visits to booths I'd been planning to visit for weeks. Thanks to Theta Ridge who agreed to have Artisan's decaf Kenyan-Meru sample on display along with their other fine coffees.

After the show floor closed, I was on to my first Roaster's Guild annual meeting. I just joined this year, which apparently is a milestone year. Long time chair, Beth Dominick, was stepping down after an incredible run. There was lots of anticipation for the upcoming retreat in W. Virginia. First time on the "right" side of the Mississippi!

Finished off the evening at Armadillo Palace and the Roaster's Guild party. It was great to see Connie Blumhardt of Roast Magazine and a big crew of SCAA staff.

Friday, April 29, 2011

SCAA Houston - Day 2 - Cupping Classes

Apr. 29 - spent most of today in cupping classes. First, a 3 hour class on the SCAA form and calibration. Trish Rothgeb, Wrecking Ball Coffee, was the instructor. Then for the afternoon, a 3 hour class on cupping defects, taught by Andi Trindle from Atlantic Specialty and Chad Trewick, Caribou Coffee. Both classes were excellent, providing hands on experiences and plenty of experts in the class to discuss and debate the various issues.

In the morning I was happy to find that Artisan Coffee Imports decaf Colombian had arrived for the roaster skill building workshops! (see photo) Whew! Shipping miscommunications had caused unfortunate delays -- Max Gonzalez of Amaya Roasting in Houston saved the day with a dramatic curb-side pick up of the coffee from the trucking company SAIA. Thanks Max!

In the evening I met some cafe owners/baristas and we went to the Barista Guild competition where they were announcing who would move ahead to the next round -- Jeff Hoffman of Square Mile in London was one of the judges/announcers.

From there we went to a reception hosted by Utz and I was glad to see two of the cooperative chairmen from Kenya who I had met in February! Raymond Gitau of Ndumberi Coop in Kiambu and Fredrick Kariithi of Rung'eto Coop in Kirinyanga.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SCAA Houston - day 1 at the world's largest coffee expo

Apr. 28, 2011 Today was my first day at the SCAA Houston. It's the world's largest coffee expo, so what better place to have it than, TEXAS -- where everything is BIG. Professionals from 20 countries and around 8,000 attendees and 360 exhibitors are expected. It's at the G. R. Brown Convention Center (see photo) - a massive place right in downtown. The featured origin this year is Brazil, so top coffee officials from the largest producer of coffee in the world gave remarks at the welcome reception. I was sit
ting next to the Vice President of the Colombian Coffee Federation, Edgar Cordero. He seemed mildly amused with the Brazilian speaker's comments.

I spent the day volunteering -- first with set-up at the SCAA store and then welcoming and orienting volunteers at the volunteer check-in booth. Both places were fun, since I was meeting people from far and near as they arrived. Then I enjoyed the welcome presentations and the welcome reception -- a Texan sized party with Brazilian dancing and decorations. It's really amazing how this event brings together the top coffee people from around the world.
We did not see the royal wedding in London, but a lovely Houston couple was getting their photographs in the park across the street from the hall!

Friday, April 15, 2011

New decaf Colombian AA to be featured at SCAA

A tasty new decaf from Colombia has landed in Oakland, CA! Get yours by contacting Artisan Coffee Imports (734-717-6278). Processed using the ethyl acetate "natural" decaffeination method (at the Descafecol plant in Colombia) this coffee has lemony sweetness, brings a fresh, crisp aftertaste, very nice acidity, clean and has a viscous body. A surprisingly tasty cup.

What's great is the transparency through to the cooperative level. The coffee is called "El Meridiano", a brand name of the ASOCEAS association of 58 small coffee growers in Herrera, a department of Tolima, Colombia. To really drill down to the location, look up the town of Rioblanco -- that's the small mountain town closest to most of the farms. I've uploaded a photo of Einar Ortiz, one of the farmers in this cooperative.

Varieties of coffee in this lot: Caturra (70%), Colombia (20%) and Typica (10%)
Fully washed in micro-mills at each farm
Sun-dried at each farm in green-house and roof type drying patios
Grown with 40% shade cover
Preparation: Excelso European Prep (EP) (Screen 15+)
Specialty Grade

Going to the SCAA Event in Houston? Cup this coffee and other decafs at the "Single Origin Decaf Cupping" being hosted by Artisan Coffee Imports on Sunday, May 1, 9:15- 10:15am in the Activities Hall (of the G.R. Brown Convention Center), The Cupping Exchange, Room A.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Video: Women in Kenya, Coffee Production

In this video, I'm interviewing a young teacher I met in Meru, Kenya about the issue of involving women in coffee businesses. It's an issue for Kenya, because coffee production on smallholder farms has been going down. There have been women staging what has been called a "revolt" because their husbands maintain full control over the cash that comes in, while the women do most of the work in the coffee fields. So in some areas, the women have refused to work on the coffee and instead grow bananas or other products. So the household then becomes a dual-cash-crop household. But coffee productivity goes down (the men are not industrious enough) and the women earn much less with bananas than they could with coffee.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Single origin, high-end decaf a reality

Mar. 9, 2011
It's been great to be back in the U.S. and see some new things -- Metropolis (Chicago, IL) has launched a revamped and much revved effort to offer a wide array of single origin coffees. Including decaf! Their character as a roaster includes highlighting some of the softer side of coffee -- click here to see how they've cared enough to share what Artisan Coffee Imports is doing to give back to the communities at origin.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kenya-Meru-Riankune Cooperative

Feb. 24, 2011
Kenya, Meru region
Visit to Riankune Cooperative
(and factory), 1400m (5250 ft), East side of Mt. Kenya, Kienganguru District (near Chogoria)
Rainfall: 1,500mm
Temp range: 16-20°C
Members: 360, each with 50 - 1000 coffee trees, harvesting ~130-150kg ea.
2010 production: 128,778 kg
Main harvest period: March-June
Types: 4 types of arabica: K7, SL28, SL34 and some Ruiru 11
Shade: 50% of acreage protected by shade

Andrew Kandia, marketing services agent with SMS, and I arrived about 9:30. First we met the vice-chairman of the society, Ephraiim Nkonge and Edafas Kenegen, the assistant manager. Soon Festus Kariuki, the factory manager, also arrived.

Together we looked at their nursery stock, obeserving how they are grafting SL28 to an SL34 base to create Ruiru11 saplings. Ruiru11 has proven to be more productive than SL28, but somewhat more susceptible to drought.

Farm visit:
As we walked up the hill to visit one of the farms, we met the Chairman of the society, Burini Ntaari. This tall, gentleman with glasses and a red sun hat welcomed us with a broad smile. I wish I knew more than my few words of Swahili because Mr. Ntaari did not speak English. He is 90 years old and still ably walked up and down the hills and through the trees with us the whole way. We arrived at the farm of Mr. Ntaari's brother, M'rucha Ntaari. We also met M'rucha's wife, son and his cows and goats. All seemed very happy and comfortable. Their farm grows many other crops and vegetables besides coffee, so it appears they have a diversified income.

Meeting the governing committee:
After touring the farm and the washing station, we met in the chairman's office with the 5 member cooperative board. Each person on the board represents a geographic region and therefore a certain number of farmers. We discussed the coffee Artisan Coffee Imports (my company) had purchased from the cooperative. The Vice-Chairman knew the price paid at the auction and exactly how many bags (it was a 44 bag microlot). The auction price (of $3.46/lb.) was a helpful discussion point to share how the value chain works after the auction. I gave the chairman 3 bags of roasted coffee from my customers, Metropolis and Mighty Good Coffee, and shared how at that point, the coffee is selling for $17-$19/lb. This insight got many interested looks and exclamations among the committee members.

Chairman Ntaari thanked me for the visit, (and the token gift of a Michigan cap), and said he would show the coffee bags to the other farmers to inspire their efforts to produce high quality coffee.