Monday, December 4, 2017

Coffee Savvy University of California Davis

Dec. 4, 2017
Last week I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the University of California at Davis with other board members of the International Women's Coffee Alliance. Six board members were hosted by Dr. Bill Ristenpart, Director of the UC Davis Coffee Center and an endowed professor of chemical engineering, and Sarah Hodge, assistant director of development for the college of engineering.

We started at the large, modern and impressive Robert Mondavi Institute (RMI) for Wine and Food Science. The RMI was designed primarily to support crops and foods grown in California, thus coffee was always left out -- until now. It started in 2013 with 18 undergrad students who signed up for Prof. Bill's first chemical engineering lab called "Design of Coffee." One textbook, one large donation from Chevron and four years later, there are 1,500 undergraduates who go through one of the three sessions of this course every year.  Along the way, Dr. Ristenpart and his colleague, Dr. Tonya Kuhl, have found much enthusiasm throughout California's coffee industry as well as unmet research needs.

Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science

Cavernous high-bay filled with digitally monitored equipment for wine-making tests.

Students learning wine-making at RMI
Coffee lab signs in the chem engineering lab windows.

Undergrads learning chemistry through coffee.
For example, a filter company has hired the UC Davis "coffee team" to do a scientific study of the taste differences between coffee brewed using conical vs. flat-bottomed filters. Actually controlling all of the variables to isolate changes in taste due to the filter shape is an incredible job, we found out! A post-doc is spending his days training the recruited tasting volunteers, practicing how he will serve the volunteers the same coffee at the same temperature, brewed in equipment the same in almost every way except the filter.
Special lighting for the booths where trained coffee tasters will sit.

Pass-thru holes in the wall to put fresh-brewed coffee before the tasters.
Post-doc explains the rigors of scientifically testing coffee taste differences.
We were also taken to what will one day be a stand-alone building for the UC Davis coffee center, just as there is a wine and food science building. The coffee building is smaller, but is a beautiful location just the same. Already, there are rooms sponsored by Peet's, Curtis and the Nicaraguan Coffee group. There are large roasters still in crates donated by Probat.
Donated Probat roasters in crates.

6 IWCA board members and Dr. Bill Ristenpart. I'm 2nd from the right.

Having just completed my master's degree in coffee value chains at Michigan State University (MSU), I quizzed the chemical engineering professor pretty hard about how well UC Davis could address the socio-economic research issues related to coffee. He indicated they would attempt to fill that part of the research agenda also, but it's pretty clear that is not the strong-point of UC Davis. They are well-suited to provide tasting/sensory, brewing and roasting research. Most likely, Texas A&M will remain the go-to university for coffee bio-agronomy, and most likely, MSU will remain the premier institution for studying agricultural extension and agricultural economics of the coffee value chain. Sustainable livelihoods, equity and food security are all areas of excellence at MSU with dozen of faculty working in developing countries across the globe. Given MSU's Center for Gender in the Global Context and its ranking as the #1 packaging school, it would be an easy link to include gender studies and coffee packaging science in some future "Coffee Research Center" in East Lansing! Hmm, have to keep these ideas brewing.

Meanwhile, hats off to UC Davis for showing the way and leading the charge to better coffee science!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sacramento Super Star Coffee

Dec. 1, 2017
Natural and peaceful holiday decor at The Mill.
One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to visit cafes and roasting plants across the country. Today was the culmination of two days in Sacramento, CA. I have not really visited Sacramento before, but it is a cool town with a "chill" vibe. The tree-lined streets, majestic old homes with porches and gates reminds me of the old south, except Sacramento in late November has lower temperatures. It was a pleasant 55-60 degrees. In a cafe, I overheard two owners of yoga studios discussing business. Even the Uber drivers are relaxed and cheerful, telling stories in foreign accents of how they arrived in Sacramento from the UK or New York City over 10 years ago -- and never left. It's that kind of place.

They have good coffee, too! I stumbled into "The Mill" one morning which typified the sweet, peaceful atmosphere of the city. They were serving up Heart coffee roasted in Portland, OR.
The Mill in downtown Sacramento
Next morning I was able to check out the "Weatherspoon Cafe", which has the look and feel of a hobbit-hole, for those who know and love the J.R.R. Tolkein stories. The fact that they serve coffee here from Sacramento's "Old Soul" coffee roasters seems so perfectly fitting.
Weatherspoon Coffee on 21st St.
A "destination" cafe for me was Chocolate Fish on Folsom. I think I first heard this crazy name for a coffee shop five years ago and I've been wanting to visit ever since. The owners, Edie and Andrew Baker, decided on the name because of their affinity for all things from New Zealand - including the "lucky" chocolate fish candy that is popular there. The store offers a beautiful setting for their Dietrich roaster and large wrap-around espresso bar. Everything speaks of excellence and quality.
Luke and Edward brewing and serving -- when not roasting.
Namesake for the company (from New Zealand)

Beautiful wood accents throughout the cafe.

The Dietrich gets the glitter and glow of a Christmas tree!

A second destination cafe for me was Temple Coffee. I was able to visit two locations. The cafe at 21st and K and the roasting plant and cafe on S Street. The roasting plant is amply out-fitted with a training room and warehouse for some of their coffee. Eton Tsuno, Director of Coffee, tells me they store much of their green coffee in a different location outside of the high-rent downtown area. There is a 60kg roaster in a wooden crate, waiting to make it's debut. Meanwhile, the company runs it's smaller roaster, located in the back of the cafe on S street, six days a week to keep up with demand.

Since I was in town for the International Women's Coffee Alliance board meeting, I was especially impressed to see Temple sells water bottles that support IWCA and for the occasion of our visit, small packets of Panama geisha from Finca Hartman with special IWCA labels.
Temple on K St.

Temple warehouse and training center on S St.

Training center
Temple cafe on S St.
Eton Tsuno, Director of Coffee, Temple Coffee Roasters
Thank you Temple Coffee for your support of the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA).
Panama Geisha - Finca Hartman, fabulous take-home gift for IWCA board members!

Water purchase at Temple supports IWCA!

5 IWCA board members got a tour (L to R: Ruth Ann Church, Mansi Choksi, Mery Santos, Eton Tsuno, Grace Mena, Blanca Castro)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TREAT! Today is the Big Day in Mushubati, Rwanda

October 31, 2017
Leaders of Ejo Heza, convening the 2017 assembly.
Today was the BIG DAY in the mountain village of Mushubati that overlooks Lake Kivu. It was the day of the Ejo Heza General Assembly. Ejo Heza is the name of the cooperative of about 300 women from which Artisan Coffee has been buying coffee for two years now, it means "bright tomorrow." They are a "sub-group" of the larger and well-established KOPAKAMA cooperative with about 700 members. The general assembly is the annual meeting where the leadership gives reports about the past year and distributes the "second payment" to members. They receive the premiums they have earned on coffee sold to buyers (like Artisan) who specify an amount per KG green coffee to go to the farmer. Since the cooperative tracks how many kilograms of cherry each woman brings to the washing station, they are able to make the conversions (dollars to RWF, KG green to KG cherry) and pay the women fairly, each according to how much she brought.

Documentation is part of the coffee contract. The form that each woman has to sign when she receives her cash from the group's treasurer will be sent to Artisan soon and available for roaster-customers. [Ed. note: received the following week!] Meanwhile, today, Carpe Diem! While you host some "trick-or-treat" visitors this evening, know that many families in this mountainous region of Rwanda are so proud and happy to be coffee farmers today. They have received more than a treat, they have received much hope for a bright tomorrow, and they are dancing! See video below:

Artisan Coffee Imports is taking requests for arrival samples. Click here to request yours! Coffee is due in to Continental Terminals Nov. 13 -17. Available at the Annex in Oakland, CA, first week of December.

Frederic HAKIZIMANA - washing station manager, addresses the general assembly.

Ejo Heza members picking coffee in their community plot.
View of Lake Kivu from Mushubati.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Paying Women Coffee Producers Their "Due"

25. September 2017
Therese UWIMANA - President of Ejo Heza

At Artisan Coffee Imports we're proud to celebrate International Coffee Day on September 29, with the announce- ment of a ground-breaking partnership with a women's cooperative in Rwanda - the Ejo Heza cooperative (a group under the umbrella of KOPAKAMA) in Rutsiro, Western Province.

This 2017 harvest year, Artisan Coffee Imports signed a contract with the cooperative, co-signed by Therese UMWIMANA, the president of Ejo Heza, agreeing to pay a 30 cent premium on each kilogram of green coffee Artisan purchases (= 13.6 cents/lb. green coffee). This amount of money will be awarded to all the women of the Ejo Heza group on top of the second payment all the members of the KOPAKAMA cooperative receive. The premiums will be awarded at Ejo Heza's general assembly held every year in October.

Ruth Ann Church, Artisan's president and "chief relationship officer", still remembers the day in early May 2017 when she negotiated this contract (through a translator) with Ms. UWIMANA and Frederic HAKIZIMANA, the director of the KOPAKAMA washing station. "I'm sure it's the first time any Westerner had requested Therese to be present in a business meeting to negotiate contract terms," Church says. "The discussion got deep into the tiny details of dollars per KG and Rwandan franc per lb. parchment. I remember being concerned for Therese, whose daughter was very ill and Therese herself looked sick with worry. She had to leave her baby with a friend to come meet us. But she brightened up when we put the numbers into terms she knew very well."

"This will result in paying you and the Ejo Heza women 40 RWF/KG cherry," Church explained when she finally had enough figures in her spreadsheet to make the calculation.  UWIMANA's eyes grew wide. The price per kilogram of cherry in Rwanda this season was around 270 RWF/KG. A common premium for cherry in Rwanda is 22 RWF/KG cherry (8% of base price), and only about 20% of farmers in Rwanda ever see any premium at all. So not only is Artisan re-enforcing KOPAKAMA's "best practice" of paying a premium, Artisan is paying the women close to double what many farmers receive as a second payment.

"I could see some of the care and concern melt away from Therese's face when I told her that number,"  Church says. "It was wonderful to see it replaced with her beautiful smile!"

For samples of this amazing coffee, contact Artisan Coffee Imports via their contact page, or call seven-three-four, 717-6278.

Ruth Ann Church with Therese and Olive & beautiful Rwandan horizon!
Coffee cherry picked by Therese

Beatrice, Olive and Therese - leaders of Ejo Heza

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Selection of delicious new crop Rwandan!

19. September, 2017
September - pre-shipment samples in Michigan.
We cupped pre-shipment samples today of the incoming crop of Rwanda Ejo Heza coffee from KOPAKAMA cooperative, Rutsiro district, in western Rwanda. [See blog posts here to learn more about this cooperative.] The cups were good! Samples approved! Excited to be able to share samples of these delicious cups of apricot, cedar, rose-hip tea and clove-spiced aftertaste with roasters, soon!

The plots of coffee come from along Lake Kivu. We cupped two types, some from the Mushubati washing station and grown by the Ejo Heza women's cooperative, and others from the Nyagatari washing station -- both of these belong to the KOPAKAMA cooperative which has a total of about 700 members. The Ejo Heza women are about 300 total.

Back in June 2017, when Ruth Ann was in Kigali, she cupped several coffees from KOPAKAMA and other cooperatives, and selected the Ejo Heza Lot B and the Nyagatari for import. The sweet taste of pineapple, mango and orange mixed with clove were delightful! Scored at least an 86. That was a fun day at the wonderful Starbucks lab in Kigali. For those of you who don't know, Starbucks offers the coffee industry in Rwanda (all of East Africa, really) a wonderful resource by fully staffing an excellent lab in Rwanda's capital city, Kigali. They regularly host cuppings and meetings for all types of coffee companies, even direct competitors. Kudos to Starbucks!

That was the easy part! The contracting, financing and shipping arrangements take months of international coordination after the initial coffee selection. Finally, three and half months later, the pre-shipment samples arrived and I was able to cup them today. In another two months (end of November), coffee should be at the port in New Jersey. Some of it will be shipped to the Annex in Oakland, CA.

We are bringing in 80 bags of the KOPAKAMA Ejo Heza Lot B for spot sales. Call to get YOUR NAME on the list for arrival samples today! 734-717-6278.
June 2017 - Starbucks cupping lab - Kigali, Rwanda

June 2017 - Starbucks lab staff are the best!

Ruth Ann and Olivier GASHEMA of Misozi Coffee - Q grading samples.

Friday, February 24, 2017

All Female Value Chain Creates Delicious Cup of "Jane"

Feb. 24, 2017
Earlier this month Espresso Elevado, a micro-roaster in Plymouth, MI, brought a new Rwanda roasted coffee to its shelves. This coffee is labeled to highlight the women's cooperative that grew the coffee -- the Ejo Heza group of the KOPAKAMA cooperative, Rutsiro district of the Western province of Rwanda. About 300 women of the 775 total members formed their "sub-cooperative" in 2011.
Women of Ejo Heza with their coffee trees - Bernice, Therese and Olive (L to R).
Upon closer inspection, this coffee goes a few steps further than "just" being sourced from female coffee producers. The coffee was imported by woman-owned Artisan Coffee Imports and roasted by woman-owned Espresso Elevado, making it a very unique "all-female-value-chain" coffee.

The coffee tastes great in the cup. With Espresso Elevado's roast, we find the flavor complex with sugar plum and pink lemonade fragrance, maple syrup, winey, plum aroma. After the break, flavor has wine and berry, vanilla, roasted almond, butter and clove with aftertaste of butterscotch and hints of orange. Great smooth body with the familiar Rwandan ‘sparkle’ of acidity.

Teresa Pilarz - Founder & Chief Caffeinator of Espresso Elevado Espresso Elevado
 Roasting notes from Teresa:  
The first time roasting any new coffee is always somewhat of a shot in the dark.  I noticed this Rwandan seemed to lose a lot of heat after first crack began.  Our goal was to maintain a gradually decreasing rate of rise and prevent any heat spikes during the latter part of the roast. In working with this bean, we’ve figured out how to keep it quite light-roasted and still reach a solid 20% roast development.  This brings out the sparkling acidity while also allowing the complex flavor profile to shine through with hints of dried fruit, exotic spice, and butterscotch sweetness

If you'd like to purchase a bag, you'll find Espresso Elevado near the "town square" of Plymouth, MI at 606 S. Main St.  Retailing at $16/12 oz. bag you can also get a fresh pour over of Rwanda Ejo Heza.
Ruth Ann Church - Founder - Importer at Artisan Coffee Imports (also Chief De-caffeinator!)
 Sourcing notes from Ruth Ann: 

  • This Rwandan coffee is from Ejo Heza, a women’s cooperative that is a sub-group of the larger KOPAKAMA cooperative. Located in the Rutsiro district of western Rwanda, there is a fantastic view of Lake Kivu from the washing station.
  • I was able to visit them several times while I lived in Rwanda, Nov. 2015 – Aug. 2016.
  • The washing station is recognized by others and me as one of the better-managed ones. They have processes in place to ensure quality and I observed a well-managed washing station staff.
  • The Ejo Heza women receive a lot of agronomist support and other training from KOPAKAMA. For example, one of the reasons I met them is because I was giving a leadership and management training to the cooperative ("Lean at Origin" training). The president and two others from Ejo Heza were invited to be in this training. In other words, there is evidence of lots of inclusion for the women of this coop.
  • The women asked me to see their trees and some of the experiments they are doing with weeding and mulching to lower their costs. (See blogpost) I was very impressed. These women are running experiments with control plots on growing techniques! Their objective is to lower their costs while maintaining the high quality coffee production that earns them a higher price than low grade coffees.
What do the women do with their “bonus” from coffee? The KOPAKAMA cooperative helped them start a microcredit savings and lending group a year ago (Jan. 2016). It is well-proven in development literature that microcredit groups are effective vehicles to enable savings and small loans in low-income rural areas. See this blog post for two stories from women of the Ejo Heza group, sharing what microcredit group has helped them accomplish. 
Therese and Olive - Leaders of the Ejo Heza group of women producers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Roast-to-Order "and Now" a Reality in Detroit

February 21, 2017
Great to see the just-in-time roast-to-order concept arrive in Detroit, Michigan! A first in the country?

It is certainly good news, assuming the kind folks at New Order Coffee on Woodward are also offering high-end decaffeinated beans. That would enable a quality roast of a quality bean, even for decaf!!!

And if the good folks at New Order Coffee aren't sure where to find high-quality decaffeinated green, we hope they'll give us a call. Artisan Coffee Imports, seven-three-four-717-6278.