Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Q Grade Recalibration Passed!

The best present for me this Christmas was passing the Q Grader recalibration in a 1/2 day class with Ted Lingle instructing. The other Q Graders were a terrific 4 - 5 people from Gavina Coffee and Paul Allen from Caravan Coffee.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Getting ready for the Q Grader Recalibration

Dec. 12, 2012 (it's 12-12-12!)
I'm checked in to my hotel in Long Beach, CA. The soft warm air here is helping me relax, but I'm still nervous about tomorrows tests. I'll be doing the Q Grader re-calibration with Ted Lingle teaching.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Burundi Agricultural Project (BAP) Comes to a Close

November 29, 2012
Today I was able to visit with Dr. Dan Clay at Michigan State University (MSU), he's the Director of Global Programs in Sustainable Agri-food Systems. It's a bittersweet time for Dr. Clay as tomorrow will mark the end of a 5 year, $20 million USAID grant program called the "Burundi Agriculture Program" or BAP. The lead on the program was Development Alternatives International (DAI) and the technical coffee-related portion was contracted to MSU.

The purpose of the project was to develop the value chain for three critical products: coffee, horticulture (flowers) and dairy. Work in coffee was designed to elevate knowledge across the coffee growing sector about technologies to improve quality and to provide new market linkages. Through these methods, small farmers with coffee could improve household incomes.

Burundi is a country whose agroecology and well-developed coffee infrastructure support the production of highly prized “mild arabicas,” and where political will is being mobilized to realize this remarkable potential.

An exciting outcome of the project is a website that provides not only technical but many visual and cultural insights on Burundi. Check out: For coffee roasters and importers who appreciate transparency, you will be amazed with the site's interactive map and listing of all the washing stations:

Another impressive deliverable Dr. Clay showed me was before-and-after maps of each of 12 "technologies" brought to coffee growing regions across the country. The maps visually showed (with small circles that grew to large circles) to what extent important technologies like pre-selecting cherries or using water-efficient de-pulping equipment, had been adopted. There was also an intensity measure incorporated, indicating MSU's involvement on a level of 1-4. These maps accomplished the often difficult task of quickly conveying how where MSU had been working intensely, there was a correlated increased rate of adoption of new technologies.

Michigan State University has definitely set the bar high for future work in developing specialty coffee markets and making wholistic paraticipation by the entire industry possible!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

New Bolivia Green Decaf

Coffee drying tables in Bolivia
October 15, 2012
Just arrived! We're excited about two decaf Bolivia direct trade coffees we've received and cupped. They're sourced by the respected Invalsa Coffee group based in West Newberry, Mass. Nelson Valverde has strong connections in Bolivia and has built relationships with several cooperatives there. Over time, these relationships enable a level of trust and communication that results in great coffee arriving at his Boston area warehouse.

San Ignacio AA Organic: the decaf is from the San Ignacio cooperative. These beans come from the farms of Humberto, Isidro & Juan Carlos Mamani from Colonia San Ignacio in the Yungas region of Bolivia. For the past four years Invalsa has bought all of San Ignacio's coffee production at guaranteed minimum prices, based on quality, as part of a multi-year contract. We also pay for the cooperative's annual organic certification. We are very happy with our long term relationship with San Ignacio and we have already seen significant improvements in the quality of their coffee and the lives of the farmers. We are proud to be the main source and inspiration for both improvements.

Lucio Vilca, San Ignacio Coop President
This coffee is shade-grown in the higher altitudes of the Carrasco La Reserva County, Caranavi Province. It was depulped and washed using pure Andes mountain spring water, sun-dried on wooden table tops and hand sorted by "Palliris" (Aymara Indian women food graders).

Varietals: Tipica 90%, Caturra 10%
Harvest Year: 2011/12.
Storage: Packed in GrainPro bags at origin, re-packed in GrainPro after decaffeination.
Altitude: 4,000+ feet.
Certifications: Organic.
Screen: 16/17
Decaf process: Mountain Water Process, Veracruz, Mexico

Bolivia/Brazil Blend AAA: while Artisan Coffee Imports typically stays away from blends, this one cupped so well, we had to add it to the line-up. This is 2011/12-crop, 100% Arabica.
Varietals: Brazilian Bourbon from Grupo BSC in Sul Minas, Bolivian Typica from San Ignacio
Storage: Packed in GrainPro bags at origin, re-packed in GrainPro after decaffeination.
Altitude: 2,500+ feet.
Screen: 16
Decaf process: Mountain Water Process, Veracruz, Mexico
Cupping Notes: Remarkable, creamy body with citric acidity. Brown sugar and chocolate tones. Smooth mouthfeel. Balanced flavor. No apologies for decaf.

CoffeeReview Awards: The July 2010 issue of, the world's leading coffee buying guide, ranked Invalsa as the best decaf coffee in North America; the only one with a score of 90 points. Obviously, these coffee beans are new crop, not the ones reviewed in 2010, but we like these even better.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Green Decafs - Burundi Feature

Burundi farmers near the Buhorwa washing station.
Sept. 27, 2012 - BURUNDI DECAF
Smart roasters know -- great decaf green coffees are fresh decaf green coffees. Be sure to get yours by contacting Artisan Coffee Imports or other importers we know are offering fully transparent decaf coffee: Crop to Cup, Caravela and Invalsa Coffee, for example.

Available now through Artisan Coffee are decaf Colombia (AA) and  decaf Burundi. Both offer great taste and exceptional transparency. And knowledge about a decaf coffee's origins (all the way to the cooperative level) is exceptionally difficult to find.
Unloading Burundi coffee at Continental in NJ
The Burundi decaf coffee is from the Buhorwa washing station, which includes cooperatives like Bukeye. It landed in the U.S.(NJ) in April (imported by Crop to Cup) and was decaffeinated on July 4 (truly! Independence Day in the US, but not in Canada where it was decaffeinated!)

In the cup:
Aroma is chocolatey with raisins.  Flavor hits you full on with the nuttiness and toasted bread taste, with a bit of sweet berry jam thrown in. Acidity is acceptable for a decaf -- won't blow you away. (At least it's there for NOW, because it's fresh. Don't wait 6 months, or even 2 months to buy this folks.) What I like best -- no metallic aftertaste.

Decaf Process:
Decaffeination was done at Qusac near Montreal, Quebec. This eco-friendly decaffeination process offers the DFE (Designed For the Environment) process, which uses solvents in the most sustainable ways possible.

photo credit this blog entry: Crop To Cup

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

San Francisco Roaster/Cafe Tour

Ted Stachura - Equator Coffee
June 14-19, 2012
Had the opportunity to visit and taste some great roasters while in San Francisco, June 14 - 19. Started off at Equator Coffee in beautiful San Marin county. They have just brought on a wonderful decaf Colombian from Los Cauchos cooperative in the state of Huila, Colombia. (Buy the roasted coffee here.) We happen to know the green coffee was sourced by Artisan Coffee Imports.  Equator is offering another single origin decaf with transparency -- decaf Bolivia San Ignacio Organic. TWO decaf coffees with direct trade transparency from one roaster. Talk about being on the cutting edge! (Intelligentsia, Stumptown, you're lagging.)

Eileen Hassi - Ritual Coffee - Valencia St.
In downtown San Francisco proper, it was a pure delight to tour some of the city's finest cafes on a warm, sunnny (not drop of rain in sight!) Saturday. First stop, Ritual, in the Mission District. Enjoyed the ambiance from the first step in the door. First rate baristas helped me with my order and it was fun to see Eileen Hassi and some of her dedicated and long-term staff at work installing the latest and greatest custom-designed and fabricated pour-over bar. (See photo inset and more in our Flicker photostream). Like Equator, their decaf espresso is from Colombia's state of Huila. Possibly a different lot than Equator's, but still the Los Cauchos cooperative.

Next, Sightglass Cafe. This is a very new cafe bristling with excitement, I thought. The double-loft, cavernous space has the roaster positioned prominently and centrally -- even in front of the espresso bar as you walk in! Ordered an iced coffee here, as the temperatures were in the high 80's and possibly 90 inside the store (no air-conditioning).  The barista had a bit of trouble tracking down the origin of the decaf espresso, but eventually discovered it was a blend of two coffees from Colombia. One from Huila and the other from Tolima. Visit or call Artisan Coffee Imports to learn more about the sourcing of these direct trade coffees from Colombia. In order to complete the sauna effect, I sat on the 2nd floor mezzanine where it was almost 100 degrees and I got to stare straight at the taxidermy owl that watches over the place (and is the namesake for the "Owl's Howl" espresso.)

Last stop was Four Barrel Coffee, Mission District again. Again -- no air conditioning, so another iced coffee for me. This time the Bolivian was on tap! Amazing -- among four top roasters in San Francisco, only two origins were to be found among the decafs -- the Colombian - Los Cauchos cooperative (Sightglass, Equator, Ritual) and the Bolivian San Ignacio cooperative (Four Barrel, Equator).

Four Barrel's unique bar features a REAL turntable and racks of LPs.
Great chatting with the Four Barrel roaster,Ryan, about trouble-shooting my roast profile for sample roasting decafs.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Decaf Ethiopian on the Cupping Table

Cupping class participants.
May 11, 2012 - Day 2 of the Michigan Coffee Conference
On Day 2 of the Michigan Coffee Conference I assisted the instructors of the cupping class, Allen Leibowitz, Zingerman's Coffee, and Sally Rivera, Cafe Imports. They had lined up 7 fine coffees for the the classes that day. We labeled each with the origin: 2 Colombian, 1 Nicaragua, 1 Sumatra, 1 Ethiopia, 1 Kenya and 1 Brazil. But there was still an element of blind cupping -- "there are 2 surprises on the table" they hinted.

Turns out the Ethiopia was a decaf and one of the Colombians was a $24/lb (green) geisha grown in Colombia. Unfortunately, the decaf Ethiopia distinguished itself in the cup has "going flat" very quickly, disappointing after it's bright fragrance and initially satisfying flavor of nuts and berries. The geisha went off the charts in the other direction. It was off the charts in juicy berries and apples, mixed with chocolate and nutty toast with a bold, rich body and finish. All in all the coffees were a great way to teach cuppers about the unique qualities of different origins and at the same time, see how cupping really highlights the best and worst of any coffee.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Michigan Coffee Conference in Ann Arbor

May 10 and 11, 2012

Cupping lab instructors: Allen Leibowitz and Sally Rivera
"Altogether it was an amazing opportunity for education and networking," said Andy Rottier, of Rowster Coffee in Grand Rapids, who was one of the attendees at the 2nd Michigan Coffee Conference in Ann Arbor, MI. The conference was organized by Coffee Express of Plymouth, MI, and a host of other sponsors. Over 60 professionals gathered from around the state for training, certifications, presentations and a whole lot of fun! It all took place at Pierpont Commons on the University of Michigan campus with attendees registering from all around the state. The day and a half event started on a Thursday afternoon with a sequence of lectures on topics such as marketing tips from Whole Foods Marketing Manager, Bridget Isaia, Chicago, the impact Fair Trade has on the economy and livelihood of coffee growers, presented by Chisara Ehiemere, to insights on the finest teas from Howard Davis, Harney and Sons Teas, New York. 

The group then gathered for a catered dinner in the Duderstadt Center with music from a live jazz band, and then everyone moved to the 3rd annual Motown Throwdown, sponsored by DaVinci (Kerry). Each contestant had to create a signature drink including one of DaVinci's syrups.  

The all day program Friday, May 11th, included cupping and espresso classes, along with drip brewing presentations. Cupping instructors were Sally Rivera, Sales Manager at Cafe Imports and Allen Leibowitz, partner at Zingerman's Coffee Company (who also serves on the SCAA's Instructional Development Committee and is on the executive board of the Roasters Guild). Trevor Corlett, Madcap Coffee, ran the espresso and latte art workshops. He also presided over a BGA certification exam.  Trevor sits on the board of the Barista Guild.  Jim Saborio, Comet Coffee, weighed in on what influences hand-poured drip, and Dean Anderson of Curtis explained what goes into auto-drip equipment.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

West Coast Cafes -- Stumptown's Decaf

Cupping @ Stumptown during SCAA
April 19, 2012
It was drizzling rain as I scooted out the door of the trolley-like train that had brought me into downtown Portland from the convention center this Friday morning. "Very appropriate," I thought, as I wound my way on the outskirts of Chinatown to third street. "I'm finally in Portland, OR, going to Stumptown's cafe and it's a perfect Portland rainy morning."

Inside the non-pretentious building the atmosphere was warm, welcoming and spacious. With high ceilings, and a long coffee bar, the cafe had the feeling of a large atrium. Near the back, the staff had set up a great selection of bourbons from 3 different continents for cupping. As I got started, other guests arrived for the cupping. A couple that had just opened a cafe near San Diego, and veteran roaster from Colorado who had been on the road for 8 weeks or so. Portland was just his latest stop.

The Stumptown staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. When I talked with the head trainer about decaf coffees, he generously pulled one of their bags off the shelf and gave it to me. "Cup it at home," he suggested.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Single Origin Decaf Cupping

Sunday, April 22
Cuppers at the "labeled" table
The Single Origin Decaf Cupping hosted by my company, Artisan Coffee Imports, took place Sunday morning in a traditional conference room. (No tents or other adventures in a park!)  We had lower than expected attendance -- could it be that the very warm and clear night (after days of rain) kept most attendees out much later than originally planned? Very, very likely, I think!
Cupping the "blind" table

Nate Palmer - BJ's Coffee
Anyhow as the Germans say, the event was "klein aber fein" -- in other words small but high quality with about 8 guest cuppers. We cupped Bolivian, Ethiopian, Colombian and Sumatran coffees -- both the regular and the decaf. One table had the coffees labeled, the other was blind. I was surprised how difficult it was for me to pick out which was which on the blind table (I think I got < 50%). One of the Q-Grader cuppers who came said he was surprised by how little difference there was between the regular and the decaf versions of each offering.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ethiopian Cupping Caravan in Portland

Willem Boot at the Ethiopian Cupping Caravan
Fri. and Sat., April 20 and 21
I've always been a fan of the innovative projects Boot Coffee pulls together. So this year I just volunteered my time to help with whatever they were doing -- this worked great. It gave me an up-close and behind-the-scenes view of Boot's very innovative Ethiopian Cupping Caravan. A few years ago this was innovative just for its format of bringing together N. American roasters directly with Ethiopian producers with SCAA certified cupping.

THIS year, Boot the Ethiopian trip took place in Feb. 2012 (click here for a great video). The best 30-40 coffees were selected by the cuppers and brought to Portland for many more cuppers to enjoy. To maintain some of the atmosphere and character of the caravan, the cuppings were held outdoors under a tent! So I was helping to set up all the gear that is used in Ethiopia (Coleman stoves, folding tables set with grinders, and stacks and stacks of glasses packed in cardboard.)

Pedi-cabs brought participants

Set-up time with Daniel Humphries

Cupping in the Park - totally Portland!
Participants in the cupping were brought to Holladay Park by Pedi-cab (taxis on bicycles) and Willem Boot or Daniel Humphries would introduce the event and the coffees. 3 cuppings on Friday and 5 cuppings on Saturday were held, each with 16- 20 participants.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

SCAA Volunteer Day

All day Thursday I volunteered at the Event in Portland -- this is a great set-up the SCAA has worked out. If you volunteer enough hours, your expo badge is free. I've always found the volunteer jobs enable me to meet so many interesting people it's more than worth the time.

Machiatos by Public Domain
Volunteering for the roasting lab in the morning I met Anne Loewisch of Mitka (Berlin, Germany) and Brad, a new roaster from PA (sorry to have lost the last name!) prepared the 2 lb. bags of several coffees the roasting classes would be using. Also got re-connected with Bob Arceneaux (Orelans Coffee Exchange). We also took the opportunity to try the fine espressos Public Domain was preparing in the lobby (see photo).

Linda Smithers and Allen Leibowitz
In the afternoon I was a porter for the "Roast of the Year" cupping session - where the cuppers' scores for the coffees were determining the "top 5" coffees. The top 5 were then available for "the people's choice" out on the activities floor during the show. The best part about this volunteer job was sharing a cupping with the leaders of the Roasters' Guild (this event is a RG event): Phil Beattie (Dillanos), Tim Dominick, Allen Leibowitz (Zingerman's) and Linda Smithers (Daterra Estate).
April 18 and 19 -- SCAA Conference in Portland, OR
Arrived Wednesday afternoon in Portland. The Hilton where the Symposium was taking place was downtown not far from the Willamette River. Started meeting people I know (Christian Schaps from Guatemala) as I walked up the sidewalk. It is fun how over the years so many people from all over the globe become friends!  Another great spontaneous meeting was when I saw Michael and his wife from Berlin Germany! Michael and I met coincidentally at the BGA Championship at SCAA Houston (2011).

Portland World Trade Center
During the Welcome reception on Thursday evening, I visited with a QGrader instructor and friend from Korea. Also picked up a few insights on the topics discussed at the Symposium. Apparently the editor of the New York Times food page said that specialty coffee as an industry should stop comparing themselves to wine.  In his opinion the best wines are so much better than the best coffees, that they're not even comparable. Wonder what our industry said to that?!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Single Origin Decaf Cupping - 2nd Annual

April 15, 2012
Artisan Coffee Imports is getting ready for another innovative, never-done-before Single Origin Decaf Cupping at the industry's biggest trade show: the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Event. It'll be in Portland, OR, Apr. 18 - 22, at the Oregon Convention Center.

Last year Artisan offered a cupping where coffees from 4 origins were decaffed using 4 different decaffeination processes. So for example, you could cup a Colombian decaffeinated with ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, CO2 and/or water. (see photo)

This year we're doing it different -- there will be coffees from 4 origins: Colombia, Sumatra, Ethiopia and Bolivia. Each one is a micro lot coffee with  transparency to the cooperative level, i.e. we know who grew this coffee and that it was treated with care throughout the supply chain. Each one will be presented as a decaf and as a regular coffee.

One table will be blind. This table is for those who think they can always pick-out the "weaker" taste of a decaf - and those who have the years of experience to identify different origins by taste and aroma (no labels needed). They can test themselves.

The other table will have the coffees labeled. This table is for the roasters who are serious about buying. When they put this decaf Sumatran or decaf Colombian in front of customers, will it convince? Does it have the flavors and notes that their customers expect of the coffee's origin?

The coffees to be presented are:
  • Ethiopian Sidama ARDI - decaf and caffeinated
  • Bolivia "Rico" (microlot) - decaf and caffeinated
  • Colombia AA Los Idolos (Huila microlot) - decaf and caffeinated
  • Sumatra Mandheling - decaf and caffeinated
For more information, go to

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Coffee Does Not Equal Caffeine

Mar. 27, 2012
Enjoyed the blog with the above title I saw yesterday on Direct Trade Coffee Club's site: click here.
The author, Josh Leffingwell, explores a couple different coffee phenomena related to the fact that coffee is NOT equal to caffeine.  First, quantities. When connoisseurs are enjoying a top quality beverage, they're typically not drinking tons of it.  He notices that the customers at the high-end cafe, Madcap, in Grand Rapids, MI, are not consuming giant 2 liter cups of coffee, and it's not because the caffeine levels in Madcap's espresso is unusually high. The small quantities the customers are drinking indicates their emphasis on having "a taste" of something delicious and rare, as opposed to something so addicting (like the caramel bear lattes served at the place down the street), that bigger is always better.

Then Josh hits on a second reason "coffee does not equal caffeine". He states, "generally coffee lovers are in it for more than just the buzz. It is a FLAVOR and an EXPERIENCE." That's it -- the magic place where quality regular coffee and quality decaf coffee have the same goals and the same purpose for existence -- "flavor and experience". Any coffee - caff or decaff -- that calls itself "specialty" should offer both. 

Finding places to buy this kind of great tasting decaf coffee is gradually getting easier.  Madcap is one cafe that does a great job with decaf. For those who can't hop right over to Grand Rapids, try ordering here. Or if you're a commercial roaster, look for great green decaf beans at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Secret Shopper "Zinger" Question

Barista Magazine this month (Feb. +Mar. 2012) has a great note from the editor, Sarah Allen. She and her sister go undercover to a new café that has opened in their town, Portland, OR. They are essentially trying to test the baristas for “snobbish-ness”.  Sarah’s sister comes up with the zinger: “Excuse me? Do you have decaf available in whole bean?”

How many of you have asked a similar question in a similar café and gotten a somewhat exasperated, confused or shocked look?  Also common – (the customary sign of great training), “um… let me ask someone.”

Fortunately, at the Portland café in this editorial (the cafe is not mentioned by name in the article), there is a very satisfying response: “On that top shelf there is the decaf roast we carry. I’m not much of a decaf drinker, but I really enjoy that one. It’s got a lot of complexity and depth. Can I brew you a cup on the house?

If this is what the new cafes in coffee-town Portland are brewing up – this is very good news!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul

My dear husband gave me a thoughtful gift this Christmas -- Chicken Soup for the Coffee Lover's Soul. I haven't read all the sappy short stories in it yet, but I think I've already found my favorite. "The Truth About Coffee" shares the story of two couples, the author and her husband are visiting the author's brother and his wife for a weekend visit in Naperville, Illinois. They go for a chilly evening walk and chide each other about they need to get home before everyone's too tired for a game of Scrabble. It's like foreshadowing -- they get back and everyone is ready to call it a night. Except sister-in-law Trisha, suggests putting on a pot of coffee. Which they do. And then sure enough, they all perk up, play some games and talk about old times -- all the while remarking about how good it is to have coffee to wake one up.

The punch line (as you might have guessed) is Trisha laughing as she informs the other three of her discovery -- she unintentionally brewed DECAF coffee for them. This, of course, leads to the discovery decaf drinkers everywhere have made -- "it really wasn't the caffeine that kept us going throughout the years when we needed a lift. It was the camaraderie -- the closeness of family and friends... with tasty sips of coffee to hold onto for enjoyment or comfort."

Looking for some great-tasting decaf coffee for your next get-together?