Monday, December 20, 2010
I asked Brett why. He answered that there was a strategic decision made at the time that they would upgrade the quality of their decaf offering. To them, that meant serving only water-process decaf and toll-decaffeinating green coffee they sourced from trusted vendors (i.e. instead of buying "off the shelf" decaf from a decaffeinator). To cover the costs of this quality upgrade, they had to charge more. A standard "upcharge" per cup and per pound seemed simplest. "Seems to be working, or we wouldn't be doing it, " Brett said.
He commented further on how they are dedicated at Caribou to offering a certain level of quality, even if it means they lose a percentage of the market. Then he made the comment that was so perfect I had to ask if I could quote him in my blog, "we don't like to punish our decaf customers."
Thanks Brett and the crew at Caribou!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Whatever the reason why, it is good for decaf drinkers. First, the quality of our "freshly brewed coffee" really is on par with the regular coffee the cafe is serving. No more getting the stuff that's been sitting in an airpot, or worse yet, on a burner, for hours. Second, there is suddenly potential for soon seeing more variety and quality in decaf offerings on the menu. Since cafe owners no longer have to squirm as they pour gallons of un-consumed, expensive decaf down the drain, they can start using that money to invest in buying, storing and marketing higher quality and more variety.
It made sense in the 24-cup brewer world to limit a cafe's decaf offering to one, generic, crowd-pleasing decaf coffee. In many cafes, it was the only way to economically offer decaf at all. But now with pour over, the beans aren't brewed, they aren't even ground until someone is about to drink them. So why not buy 2 or 3 different types? Why not go for quality in the cup that equals the quality of the regular coffee? Store the little gems in pre-measured, sealed cups and they'll be fresh for a few days.
Need ideas of where to get high-end great tasting decaf? Green sources include Artisan Coffee Imports, Shrub, Cafe Imports, Royal and others.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Of course, I shared a list of my marketing ideas: don't compromise on quality, don't assume you know how much your customer will pay for it, educate your customers about the added-value process that decaffeination is, etc. At the end, I had a list of promotional, tactical suggestions meant to start some brainstorming, for example: target the older population, hold a decaf cupping, use "coffee lovers" coupons to encourage passionate coffee drinkers to not stop late in the day, just because they've had enough caffeine.
The ideas from the audience were even better! The one cafe owner had started a "Baby Club" in his cafe -- the nursing and expecting moms all enjoy and rave about his decaf. One roaster does regular coffee "tastings" at his customer's premises - a grocery store. They often do a blind tasting with one of the coffees being decaf and they are surprised how often the decaf wins. They've won more than a few new decaf customers this way.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Seattle, WA - it's true! There are espresso cafes and "walk-ups" nearly every 20 yards when you're downtown Seattle near the convention center. I enjoyed my first visit to CoffeeFest Seattle, Oct. 29-31. It was a fun distillation of the coffee industry, with a distinctly heavy dose of the "thinking of opening a cafe" crowd amongst the attendees. Among the exhibitors, it was, not surprisingly, a terrific group of very high-end coffee roasters, importers and retailers, primarily from the Northwest -- the region with the highest coffee consumers after Norway!
What was unique this year was probably the fact that it was Halloween. Here's a photo of me pulling shots for the latte art throwdown at Victrola Coffee Roasting Co.'s fun Halloween party on Saturday evening. You can also see the "winning cups" and one of the competing baristas (I was NOT a contestant, just a volunteer!)
On the decaf scene, the CoffeeFest Seattle crowd showed themselves to be exciting and distinctive!! Mercanta (an importer) had a direct-trade Honduran decaf on the cupping table. Cafe Umbria had decaf espresso to serve from their gorgeous espresso machine and luxus style booth. For the first time, this coffee-loving attendee was able to get a great decaf espresso at the show!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Ann Arbor, MI -- good to be back. My nose, mouth and entire body found the week of intensive cupping and the sensory tests nearly overwhelming. The Q Grader course was worth it however -- thanks to great instructors and a uniquely diverse and fun bunch of people who made up the class. Main learnings -- 1. one must rely on the cup, not certifications, grades or descriptions given by others. 2. learning to accurately score what one cups correctly is going to be a challenge. Takes lots of calibration opportunities. I'm pretty good at awarding a coffee when it's good. What's tougher for me is "dinging" a coffee when it's not living up to specialty grade.
My feedback on the course -- there should have been more "drills" on specialty vs. non-specialty coffees, and then the test. Line up 3 cups of Colombians that score 78-79 and 3 more that score 80-81, score them and discuss. Then do the same with Indonesians, East Africans, Centrals, etc.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Long Beach, CA. SCAA headquarters (also CQI headquarters). Just finished the 4th day of the Q Grader exam. There's 10 of us in the class, an instructor (Kelly Amoroso) and an assistant instructor from Korea, Paul Kim. We're all exhausted at this point in the week. It's as tough as they say -- I'll have to re-take several parts. But well worth it -- I'll be a more educated and confident cupper regardless of whether I get the certificate this time around.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The nice thing about these three coffees is the range of processes and certifications. Two use the water processes, and one uses the direct solvent method (sometimes called the precision method). I think this shows that no one process has a monopoly on "great tasting decaf" -- it all depends on the quality of the bean from origin. Also, one of the top 3 is organic and at least is trying to be fair-trade (see notes in the article about that), showing that one does not have to give up taste in order to achieve the other requirements of these certifications.
I've bought and brewed all three of them now. Good stuff in the cup with each one.
Monday, September 6, 2010
A large employer in my community, like large employers across the USA, recently had this advice in their employee "Wellness" newsletter: 'Curb Caffeine to Reduce Stress:
Stimulants such as tobacco and caffeine can rev up your nervous system, which increases stress. Also, the addictive nature of some stimulants could leave you anxious until your next fix.'
Wake-up and smell the coffee -- market your decaf or you will be losing market share.
Friday, August 20, 2010
As we witnessed the kind of stones, little sticks, "blacks", "withereds", "pre-matures" and other defective beans, my thoughts turned to what must be going into a lot of decaf coffee in North America. Each defect found in a 300g sample downgrades the quality of the coffee, and therefore the price. That's why more often than not, it's the cheap, low quality coffee (with blacks, whites, sticks, brokens, etc.) that is getting thrown into the brutal decaffeination processing plant, and then the giant roasters at commodity coffee production plants throw it into a wicked 7 minute blast roast. It's no wonder most decaf in the US tastes miserable!
Sunday, August 1, 2010
But when others who are not marketers for the water-process brands use the term "chemical process" to describe methylene chloride and ethyl acetate processes, it irks me. A more objective, less negatively charged term, such as synthetic solvent, should become the norm and the standard amongst specialty coffee professionals.
Not only that, I propose that the industry move away from defining the decaffeination processes by the solvent used, to something that helps the consumer understand how brutal the process is on the coffee bean. When brevity and amount of material that remains in tact are the focus of the descriptor, the potential for negative baggage quickly shifts to the other foot. The most "precision" process is the super-critical CO2, followed by a tie between methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. The water processes could be described as "brutal to bean and very long" (sometimes days, I understand). So "soaked" might be the appropriate term, versus "precision."
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Metropolis' Redline does hold up nicely to both espresso extraction and drip brewing. I agree with the flavor notes the Coffee Review guys shared -- sweetness comes in the form of caramel and dark chocolate, and there's an aromatic woodiness and fruitiness mixed in. What separates it from other decafs is the mouthfeel -- it's round not flat.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Their overall impression was not surprising: "the North American specialty coffee industry continues to underperform when it comes to producing decaffeinated coffees intended for non-espresso brewing methods." And their conclusion of "what to do about it" is right on target: "the one area where I think roasters and their green dealers could improve is in selecting green coffees for decaffeination. ...The kind of curiosity and innovation that the top tier of the specialty industry has lavished on sourcing exceptional single-origin coffees and developing sophisticated espresso blends has largely passed decaffeinated coffee by. ... What we need are roasters and green buyers [and cafe owners] who bring the same passion to pairing fine green coffees with optimum decaffeination methods as they have to sourcing prize-winning green coffees in the first place."
The new era is coming folks...
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Answer: Available? Yes. Easy to find? No. And if you do find it, there might not be a lot of it. Artisan Coffee Imports is trying to help roasters overcome these two issues related to availability. Its business model is to become the "go-to" source for roasters who want a reliable and high quality decaf. They don't want to waste precious time searching through more than the average number of samples for something that meets their quality criteria, but is only 15-20% of their volume, tops.
The best ways to find out if an importer puts any time and effort into the quality of the decaf is to ask questions about the cupping scores and the traceability to origin. The importers listed on this webpage are places that will have reasonable answers to those questions. Or you can contact any of the roasters listed here and find out where they get their great tasting decaf. Finally, Coffee Review will focus on "decaf Blends" in their up-coming July 2010 issue. Check this blog for comments when that comes out!
Next roaster's question, "how does one keep exceptional decaf beans from losing their exceptional character over time?
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The article would have been more impressive had the author mentioned that decaf coffee drinkers and non-caffeinated tea drinkers would be included in the "alert but abstaining from caffeine" group. And I would submit, at least this decaf drinker is better able to interpret the research on caffeine.
Find more information on great tasting decaf coffee at www.artisancoffeeimports.com.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Tom Isaia and the crew from Coffee Express as well as Allen Leibowitz from Zingerman's and Greg Miricle from Great Lakes Coffee were all instrumental in getting the event together. As if those 3 names aren't big enough, the event also brought in Trevor Corlett from Madcap Coffee Roasters in Grand Rapids, Jack Groot frim JP Coffee and the Midwest Barista School, and a large contingent of Canadians, such as Richard Ottenhof, of Multatuli Coffee in Kingston, Ontario.
I was the only green coffee importer represented, as far as I know amongst this crowd of ~ 100 top notch coffee professionals. As Artisan Coffee Imports I cupped some amazing coffees during Allen's Comparative Cupping course (see video). As a generic SCAA member, it was fun for me to be a porter for Trevor's Milk & Latte Art class (see video).
The informal Motown Barista throwdown of latte art at the Plymouth Bean coffee company was my first throwdown. Three judges (Allen, Jack Groot and Sherry from JP Coffee) quickly gave a thumbs up or thumbs down as two baristas at a time competed to create delicate rosettas in the foam and crema of the lattes they pulled. The excitement and suspense created a wonderful and fun atmosphere -- collegial even.
Monday, May 10, 2010
More than half of the roasters rated the decaf version of the Colombian A higher than the regular version! Amazing - yes! Is there an explanation? Perhaps. Virmax is using the ethyl acetate process at the Descafecol plant in Colombia. The theory is that if you start with excellent coffee (of which Colombian A is a good example) the fruitiness of the ethyl acetate solvent actually enhances the fruity taste of coffee.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
My answer in brief, "niche marketing and niche pricing". One may ask a car manufacturer, "is it really feasible to sell an outrageously fast sports car with no room for luggage and only 1 passenger?" If your entire system is geared up to manufacture and sell low cost, high volume automobiles, it probably isn't feasible to add the high end, branded coup. But if your current business is selling high end SUVs (like Hummers), it might be a profitable expansion of your business to also sell high end sports cars. [Analogy; if you're already promoting high-end regular coffees that are selling for a premium, it won't take much to include high end decaf.]
To bring the analogy a little closer to home, I believe some crazy guys at Peet's wondered one day if they could build a franchise on coffee that costs $3 a cup instead of a $1 a cup. America was very used to $1/cup coffee. But here we are 15 years later with Starbucks on nearly every corner. They used marketing savvy and the let the consumer decide. The same will be true for decaf. Find a great decaf, promote it as premium and make sure you put a price on it that earns you, the roaster, a profit. Our data show that decaf consumers are extremely price elastic and loyal.
Stay tuned for the next question in this series...
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I also thrive on the proximity to coffee producers and exporters. So many, so close! Up front and personal. Walking to their booths on the trade show, or sitting down to breakfast at the IWCA breakfast is truly a "world in your cup" feeling.
The true inspiration comes from awards like the Sustainability Award that went to Peter Kettler for the "Coffee Lifeline" project. This project brings solar-powered radios to remote coffee farmers in Rwanda and Burundi and is now set to replicate to other African and even Central American countries. Talk about a green (no batteries to buy or dispose of) and appropriate (technology that works in the mountains of Rwanda) technology -- that helps farmers educate farmers with peer-sharing (Millenium Development Goals 3, 7 and 8!)
Another inspiration and great tasting treat was the Ethiopian Cupping Caravan. I and other SCAA participants got to cup 10 Ethiopian coffees. The producers were right there to talk to us. There were delightful Sidamas with big blueberry taste, Harar - Oromias with cherry, chocolate notes, and one from Bele Kara (Yirgacheffe) that was complex and beautiful. Heard names and regions I'd never heard before. This is a terrific project, and hopefully one that will be replicated.
I had my usual mission on the trade show floor of seeing if any roaster was bold enough to bring to this important show -- their best tasting, knock your socks off DECAF coffee (this raises a lot of eyebrows when I ask). Didn't find a one! I did find someone on a similar mission, however! Alex Nathanson of "No Buzz Coffee" and I met just in front of the 49th Parallel booth. It's an idea whose time has come, folks! And -- the roasters and cuppers I met at the Intelligentsia booth seemed genuinely intrigued by the challenge to be the FIRST roaster to bring a great tasting decaf espresso to the SCAA show. We'll check 'em out next time, and see if they'll be able to meet the challenge.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
So the coffee -- they're boasting about serving Intelligentsia coffee and I see a bag of Black Cat near the LaMarzoco espresso machine. Sounds promising! I order a decaf machiatto. The formerly bright shining face of the barista/new-owner falls to a slightly pained look. "I don't have decaf espresso." Then, without offering anything to compensate he explains how he can't afford a second grinder right now, partly because he's only using the best grinders -- a Mazzen sits on the counter proudly filled with caffeinated espresso (the Black Cat, of course).
I try to understand why a "high end coffee shop" would not cater to the epitomy of dedication in coffee -- the decaf espresso drinker -- by asking questions, but Toby, the barista/owner doesn't get it. I explain that Artisan Coffee Imports could provide Intelligentsia with high end decaf if they don't have it. He doesn't comprehend and doesn't even get what good customer service is. He tells me several times he's very busy and doesn't have time to talk. Apparently he'd rather have me go away and tell 10 friends how arrogant they are, rather than offer me one of his estate single-origin decaf drip brews. How sad when young professionals must learn the hard way!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Peter Giuliano, director of coffee and an owner of Counter Culture Coffee, (Durham, N.C.) shares the state of the art beautifully, “We have a special obligation to the decaf drinker. Those guys are the true believers. They’re not drinking coffee because they need to wake up. They’re only drinking coffee because they like the taste.”
The NYT author did a good job selecting some of the best craft roasters for their opinions. Blue Bottle Coffee, Intelligentsia, Four Barrel, Peet's, Port Rico, Stumptown and others are all quoted. For their taste test though, the Times picked a weird assortment. They should have worked with Artisan Coffee Imports or Ken Davids at Coffee Review to get a really great selection of decafs.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
"I think we make a grave mistake alienating decaf drinkers with tonnes of pre-ground, nasty coffee brewed without much care. These are people who are buying coffee because they like the taste. We are supposed to love these people – they aren’t the ones suffering through awful espressos or instant coffee just to get their caffeine fix. And yet they are the people least catered to in the industry. A shame."
Couldn't have said it better myself, James. Thank you! And thank you to roaster Joel (formerly of Stumptown- West Coast, which is where James had his epiphany) for seeing the light and brewing that tasty, sweet, full bodied shot for James.
Read the whole blog, it's a good one: http://www.jimseven.com/2009/02/02/decaf/
Monday, February 1, 2010
Now is the time to start bringing this kind of economic development to Haiti. A project that would support and strengthen specialty coffee farming in Haiti's rural areas should be a part of the long-term planning that the big donor agencies, including USAID, are trying to put together. Coffee may not be the only valuable export crop that could be supported in Haiti's rural, mountainous backlands, but it has been successful in the past. Development workers I know who work in former coffee growing regions say any assistance in this area would be welcome. http://www.haitianartisans.com/
I'd like to encourage David Farmer, Dan Clay, and folks from the Clinton Foundation to sit down with the grassroots organizations at work in rural Haiti and start pilot projects to re-establish coffee in Haiti.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
So I we looked carefully at his menu boards -- (the great chalkboard kind, which I love). I asked, "so it seems no where on the boards does it mention decaf -- not even a mention that you've got the house blend brewed?" He agreed -- not there. As we discussed other parts of his business that have more demand than decaf coffee, it was the cafe owner, not me, that kept coming back to the insight -- "but at least "organic" is listed on the menu". "At least tea is listed as an option on the sign." Not surprisingly, we both agreed it will be worth it to see if modest promotion, such as putting decaf on the menu boards, makes any difference in demand.
The cafe owner, (who by the way, is a wonderful guy), then explained how teas are more convenient than coffee. He can have 100-150 teas in stock. The beverage is brewed one cup at a time, (instead of batch brewed), so there isn't the waste one gets with brewed coffee. Also, no grinding required. The dear little dried tea leaves can be placed directly in hot water for steeping. This got me thinking, are there ways to adopt any of this "convenience" to the coffee world? Imagine having dozens of coffees in one cafe - including decaf, of course.
Monday, January 4, 2010
The interesting thing to me is that the articles mention that many of the good qualities do not seem to be related to the caffeine and many of the NOT good qualities of coffee are related to the caffeine. But so far, I have not seen an article evaluate whether decaffeinated coffee is practically a health boost drink. The crumbs are leading that direction, though...