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.