Monday, May 14, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Zeke's Coffee in Baltimore

May 14, 2018
Zeke's Coffee Roasters opened in Baltimore in 2005. It's a family-owned, family-run business with three cafes now, (Baltimore, the "original", DC and Pittsburgh). The retail operation also services seven farmers markets every week! They have a growing wholesale segment, which today is even larger than the retail business in terms of volume.

Brett's selfie
Zeke's was the pioneer roaster in their market, ahead of the others in serving up fresh-roasted, great-tasting, specialty coffee in Baltimore, according to Brett Rhodes, Sales and Special Events Manager. They were sourcing quality coffee and paying attention to roast profiles and freshness before it became a "hot" thing to do in 2009. Brett says their roasters, Dennis Doxy and Nick Hedinger, are the center of their operation. Consumers have grown to appreciate the lighter roast that Zeke's offers, so Dennis and Nick must be sure their fans aren't disappointed.

With their first-mover advantage, Zeke's has built a strong brand identity in the market. They offer several blends with special names that have loyal customers like 1812 Espresso, Tell Tale Dark, Charm City and Armistead's Blend. Brett says people may not know it, but they taste the fact that Zeke's turns over their entire roasted inventory every week. They only sell fresh coffee.

"Another one of the keys to growth," says Brett, "is our customer service. We're small enough that customers feel like we're approachable. We have great employees who go the extra mile to help customers." Brett says they are rolling out new programs this year to help their customers have an even better experience with Zeke's: mobile-ordering for consumers and "blue cart" for the restaurant industry.

Brett is excited to bring the Rwanda Ejo Heza women-grown coffee, imported by Artisan Coffee Imports, into their offerings of high quality, single origin coffees. He expects customers in all three cafes to be intrigued by its newness, and then to come back for more of its fruity, citrus with chocolate and spicy notes. The story of the women this coffee benefits is a draw also. Especially in this month where we celebrate mothers, consumers want to pay tribute to the women farmers whose lives depend on a fair deal from the high-quality coffee they sell.
Women of Ejo Heza during a picking day at their community plot.
President of Ejo Heza, Therese, with importer, Ruth Ann

Monday, April 30, 2018

Roaster of the week: Kristina Madh - Cloudland Coffee

Roaster Kristina Madh and I connected on several levels when we met at CoffeeFest Baltimore.
Serving and showing Rwandan beans.

I was amazed with her story of opening her micro-roaster company, Cloudland, in Atlanta, Georgia on pure guts, passion and inspiration! She found a space in a shared kitchen where the other entrepreneurs, bakers and other culinary folks, don't mind the aroma of roasted coffee in the air. Then she found customers at the farmers market, on the web, and elsewhere in town. Her customers are people who seek out great-tasting coffee and appreciate businesses like Cloudland, which source their coffee with care for social consciousness and positive impact for the producers who grow the coffee. "Fair trade and beyond" is one way to put it.
Kristina puts it this way on Clouldland's website: We strive to responsibly source our coffee from importers who engage with coffee farmers through programs including Fair Trade, Sustainable Farming Practices (including organic farming), the Women Coffee Producers program and more. Our coffee comes from smaller lots and is seasonal, so you will see a rotation of our coffee throughout the year.

The fact that the producers of this Rwandan coffee are the women of the Ejo Heza cooperative adds an extra "sweet note" for Kristina to this coffee's fruity, berry-like flavors. As a female roaster, she has experienced how the male-dominated coffee industry can ignore women's skills and contributions, but she has also seen how the industry as a whole is moving fast to embrace and empower female professionals in the supply chain. Kristina and I are both proud that this coffee is an example of this good direction, given the traceability to females at the farm, and at the importing, roasting and brewing stages. Way to go, Cloudland!

As Kristina serves up this aromatic coffee at the Farmer's Market in Atlanta, her customers tell her they love the cup! Many also love the story and the satisfaction that Kristina can assure them that the coffee producers received their premium payment. (Click here for a throwback post on that topic.)
Rwanda packaged - who wouldn't want to buy some heaven?!

Farmers' market display.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Master Roaster Tom Isaia

Tom Isaia, owner and founder of wholesale roasting company, Coffee Express, is like the "village
elder" of coffee in southeast Michigan. Since 1982 he has been roasting specialty coffees and supplying cafes across the region with a wide variety of roasted coffee and excellent customer care. He's the one everyone in this corner of the state talks to when they are first thinking of starting a coffee business. You name 'em: Zingerman's, Mighty Good, Espresso Royale, Espresso Elevado, yours truly (Artisan Coffee Imports) and at least half a dozen more -- we all got some of our first learning and encouragement from Tom Isaia. 

Tom loves community. First, he has built a community with his dedicated staff at the Coffee Express roasting plant in Plymouth, MI. Genevieve, Sue, Walt, Doug and Scott are the friendly people I get to see when I visit. In addition to fostering the coffee community in southeast Michigan with his ad hoc advising, Tom was the key organizer of a Michigan Coffee Conference (the "MICoffeeCon") back around 2011 and 2012. This was a well-organized coffee conference held on University of Michigan's campus, attracting professionals from three states and Ontario.

His proudest moment as a roaster? I'm guessing Tom would tell you it was when he was part of the 1st place winning team at the  2015 Roaster's Guild Retreat in Lake Delavan, WI. I had the opportunity to be there, also, coincidentally, and I was not on the winning team. Tom will tell you how there was some great chemistry between his style of roasting and the other roasters. They were able to blend their skills perfectly to achieve the "best roast" -- and they had a lot of fun doing it. The fact that this retreat is a community-building event, also, is one reason Tom enjoyed it so much.

A further tribute to Tom's dedication to the craft is the fact that he established the first SCA-certified lab in the state. He has the Agtron reader, the moisture readers, stellar brewing equipment, and my favorite - a wall-size map of the world, but only the latitudes between Capricorn and Cancer! In this lab he is able to host a variety of SCA courses and instructor-led workshops on-site at the roastery.

So needless to say, Artisan Coffee Imports is proud to have Coffee Express as a customer. Take a glimpse of the video below where Tom is roasting up 1 pound of the Rwanda Ejo Heza on his latest toy - a Giesen W1A, 1 kg roaster.

Despite Tom's long history and success in the coffee industry, he is far from "done" with innovating and trying new things. His next venture - gelato! As in the truly Italian type! He was in Italy last year training to create an authentic product and the samples I got to taste were delicious!
RGR 2015 - Winning team!

Getting the profile just right - a team effort.

MI Coffee Con 2012

Trevor Corlett at MI Coffee Con

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Producer Concerns Addressed at Upcoming Farm Profitability Panel

Specialty Coffee Association's Expo in Seattle is just around the corner, Apr. 19 - 22. It's touted as the largest annual global meeting of the specialty coffee industry. Come join this amazing convention of producers and buyers from all over the world!

Part of the draw is the high-caliber learning opportunities attendees have. Among the 30 lectures over three days, Artisan Coffee Imports will be proud to represent Michigan State University and the Feed the Future Africa Great Lakes Coffee Support Program on one of the them addressing farm profitability from a global research perspective:

"Farm Profitability: Impact of Best Practices." Friday, Apr. 20, 9:00 - 10:15am (PST), TCC Tahoma 5, Washington State Convention Center in Seattle

Come to this lecture to gain insights on a topic near and dear to producers hearts -- does it pay-off to invest time and money in best practices (e.g. pruning, renovation, mulching, careful weeding, applying fertilizers and pesticides)? Will the farmer make more money? This is often an underlying assumption in farm-related projects large (e.g. World Coffee Research, Starbucks) and small (a small roaster trying to help their direct trade partner).

So "come on down" to hear what the recent research on this topic says. Yes, you got it right. We will be sharing and discussing facts and data -- because in coffee, we value facts and research!

This global panel brings together a moderator and presenters from five corners of the world:

Paulo van der Ven, Managing Director, RD2, based in Saint Mathieu de Tréviers, France

Mark Lundy, Senior Researcher, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical, CIAT, based in Cali, Colombia

Paul Stewart, Global Coffee Director at TechnoServe, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,

Ruth Ann Church, President, Artisan Coffee Imports, Ruth Ann worked in Rwanda from 2015 - 2016, and now resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Our moderator is Kraig Kraft, Agroecologist at Catholic Relief Services, based in Managua, Nicaragua
Farmer Field School in Rwanda

Learning best practices

Producers in Burundi participating in course to improve quality.

Applying fertilizer in Rwanda

Friday, March 23, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Dessert Oasis and Nathan Hamood

Mar. 23, 2018

Roaster and Co-Owner Nathan Hamood
"Dessert Oasis" has got to be one of the best names for a cafe I've ever heard. Who wouldn't love to go to a "dessert oasis"?! So we are thrilled to send our roaster shout-out this week to Nathan Hamood and his crew at Dessert Oasis in downtown Rochester, Michigan this week! The company is family-owned. Nathan's parents ran the business before he "came of age" and started moving the coffee menu towards its current firm footing in the specialty arena. Nathan is the roaster and director of coffee for their two locations, one in Rochester and one in Detroit (1220 Griswold, near Capital Park) and a soon-to-be third location in Royal Oak! He carefully curates the coffees, looking for single-origin coffees with brightness and complexity that is striking and pleasant. From the tables filled with happy customers mid-day, it was my impression that he has many people appreciating his tasting and roasting skills!

In short, they live up to their mission:
We strive to deliver an unrivaled coffee, dessert, and entertainment experience through close attention to detail, an unbelievable knack for quality, and intense love for our communities.

The namesake dessert case - mouth-watering!
One example of the Dessert Oasis offering is the Rwanda Ejo Heza from Artisan Coffee Imports. While there, I also got to taste the Kenya AA Karimikui, Gichugu, Kirinyaga county. Nathan says he has no problem filling half his menu with East African coffees if they are good coffees. He doesn't try to balance the number of S. American, Asian and African origins as some roasters do. This kind of purist dedication to single-origin taste promotes great conversations between the baristas and customers who want to know more.

Nathan roasts on a US Roaster, 3 kilo machine, carefully monitoring computer read-outs of his profile. He said he gives the Rwanda Ejo Heza a light roast, being sure to monitor it carefully after the first crack with very low heat.

The Dessert Oasis company has a wonderful team, including baristas Tyler and Olya, whom I got to meet the day I was there. They all seemed skilled at latte art, which shouldn't be surprising since the company also regularly hosts latte art throw-downs. A recent throw-down was "very successful" in Nathan's words, drawing 60 contestants and 200 attendees.

The business maintains an emphasis on live and local music with frequent concerts on its mini-music stage, an offering of CDs from local artists and music-themed decor.

Hats off again to Dessert Oasis for creating a great place for coffee, dessert and music. Thank you for offering your customers Rwanda Ejo Heza!

Nathan (L) and barista Tyler (R)

Live music is a theme at Dessert Oasis - helps create community!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Peet's Celebrates Women in Coffee

Mar. 7, 2018
Our roaster of the week this week is Peet's Coffee!

Some call him the "godfather" of specialty coffee - Alfred Peet certainly holds a very special place in the history of coffee. He founded Peet's Coffee in 1966 in Berkely, CA.

Today, Peet's is ahead of the rest with a massive Celebrate Women in Coffee promotion of the United Nation's International Women's Day 2018 on March 8, 2018.  Peet's is offering a Sisterhood Flight Collection of three types of roasted beans from three countries: Rwanda, Colombia and Nicaragua. Their website lists the locations across seven states and Washington D.C. where the special collection of coffee can be purchased, and they give a step-by-step recommendation of how to throw a tasting party with your sisters!

There is another part of this promotion that we at Artisan Coffee love even more than all that goodness - Peet's has named the International Womens Coffee Alliance (IWCA) and their Research Alliance as the beneficiary to receive 10% of all proceeds! Well done, Peet's. The Research Alliance is a volunteer group that brings together researchers who accelerate credible research results on gender issues in coffee that are otherwise side-tracked or ignored. So please, dear blog readers, go out and buy some! If it's not possible in your area, keep reading... there's another great option to support female coffee producers!
Women of the Rwanda Ejo Heza coop holding coffee cherry.
To their credit, Peet's is supporting women in coffee in ways that are less well advertised, too. We hope it is "cool" on this special International Women's Day to share that the buying team at Peet's chose Rwanda Ejo Heza women-grown coffee to go into their great-tasting "Uzuri Blend." Uzuri means "beauty" in Swahili. The Uzuri has a long-standing tradition in the company, as it represents many projects supporting coffee producers that Peet's has supported in East Africa for years. Starting this year, the blend includes the hard-won and delicious results of the Ejo-Heza sub-cooperative, which Artisan Coffee Imports was able to offer Peet's.

A Visit to Peet's HQ

Artisan's president, Ruth Ann Church, was able to visit the Emeryville headquarters of Peet's and witness first-hand how the "Berkley-esque", mid-60s roots of the company still permeate the offices, mixing well with modern renovations and updates. They're waving the flag of diversity in many ways, incorporating a love of Americana by naming the open-conferences areas with names of famous regions and labeling the rows of office cubes with well-known streets in San Francisco, like Vine, Fourth and Solano. I was impressed with their large, newly-opened demonstration cafe, fully equipped and ready to help customers immerse into the Peet's Coffee experience!

Map of the Bay Area in the lobby. (Not Europe!) Sean Coutts, Green Coffee Buyer, shows Peet's location.

Ruth Ann in the customer experience area.
Passageway painted to feel like a coffee farm.

Diversity always.

Sign posts in "cube city" keep the culture fun and help you find your co-worker!
Next visit, Ruth Ann hopes to tour the roasting facility. It is a completely separate building!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Ritual Coffee in San Francisco, CA

Feb. 28, 2018
We're celebrating our customers at Artisan Coffee Imports and this week we'd like to give a high-fiveRitual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, CA. Ritual is another female-owned roaster-retailer (see our blog about Espresso Elevado last week) with 6 or 7 retail locations now, and a thriving wholesale business. Ritual was founded in 2005 by Eileen Hassi, and began with their Valencia street location in the famous Mission district.
Aaron Van Der Groen, Ritual Green Buyer

Today the roastery is at 1050 Howard St. Ruth Ann had the opportunity to visit back in November 2017 and delight in the sights and sounds. The high-ceiling roasting-packaging area is flooded with light from an open bay door, and circled by a mezzanine walkway around the perimeter. A custom-made cupping table complements a library-card drawer set re-purposed to neatly store samples of coffee.

One notices a number of employee-friendly aspects about the location also. First, everyone seems pleasant and friendly. Convenient bike racks just inside the door welcome the bicycle commuters. There is an employee coffee pot next to some delicious looking crumbs remaining from a treat that was available to workers earlier. Around 2pm, I catch a glimpse of the "community coffee break" where everyone gets to relax for a few minutes in the lounge area with sofas and over-stuffed chairs.

Aaron Van Der Groen, Ritual's green coffee buyer, gave me the million dollar tour of the roasting area, green storage area and packaging line. We cupped on the cool cupping table, and peeked in at the room with a least a dozen chrome-plated high-end brewing devices. Next we headed to the up-and-coming Bayview area and enjoyed expertly brewed coffee while sitting on heated seats in the outdoor courtyard of the Flora Grubb nursery. We were surrounded by giant ceramic planters and an amazing variety of succulents (cactus).

Altogether, the team at Ritual is at the top of the game of "crafting the very best cup of coffee available anywhere" (Ritual's motto). I will vouch for that, and their delicious assortment of coffees available, including KOPKAMA's Nyagatari from the Lake Kivu area of Rwanda!

Enter the roastery.
Custom cupping table.
Packaging line.

Employee coffee break.

Bayview location is inside Flora Grubb.

Ruth Ann, Artisan's President, admires the sample roaster.