Tag Archives: education

Taking Things Too Far

Since everybody and their dog was “caught up” in talk of The Rapture yesterday, I’ve decided to chime in, completely unauthoritatively.  But first, here’s a handy link to Wikipedia’s Rapture entry  [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapture ] and an instructive graphic for you to study (while avoiding real work or the outdoors).

 

Of course, only people who think Hazelnut is an origin that shares a border with, say, French Vanilla actually expected to be snatched up into the sky last night, but the amount of public attention the prediction got made me stop and  think.  About coffee.  And the crazy things people say about it with a straight face. (It also reminded me of the word “chiliastic, which has a nice sound to it and which you may like reading about here… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennialism).

 

I thought about how impressionable people are about things they can’t quite actually see and how they can get “carried away” or  ”swept up” by momentary hype or “expert opinion.”  Who on earth can really claim to be an expert on God?  Or coffee?  The nature of God is, according to my friend Steve, at least in part that He or She is beyond comprehension.  And coffee, it seems to me, is just about as elusive and impossible to pin down. Let’s be honest, when it comes to taste, one man’s slightly citrusy might be another’s mildly nutty.  Likewise, the poobahs who insist that espresso must be served no sooner than X and no later than Y days  may be as full of baloney as you or me speaking on the subject (especially if recent blind taste tests are to be trusted).  The conventional wisdom about flavors and taste (eg. “you taste sweetness on the tip of your tongue”) or brewing methodology (isn’t the newfangled Hario a lot like your old Melitta?) may be more convention than wisdom.  We make things up when there’s room to, when there’s a commercial opportunity to exploit or mantle of expertise to assume.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there is undoubtedly subtlety and expertise to be appreciated in the realm of coffee. Grind, extraction time, temperature, origin character all make noticeable differences. But ultimately tasting coffee is highly subjective. There’s a point past which people’s impressions are bound to vary. Lemony? Sure. A hint of elderberry? Gimme a break.

 

Coffee is popular partly because it has a place in our lives that is comfortable, unassuming, accessible. By taking a passion for it too far, a person can appear a little silly. Like an emperor with no clothes.

 

Why Wikipedia Rocks, yet again

SCAA Day 2: Coffee People

After the Direct Trade panel discussion, I headed over to the next 90 minute session I’d slated to attend–”Innovations in Sustainability” featuring the winners of this years sustainability awards.  I planned to listen in for the first half–long enough to see my old amigo Peter Kettler receive this prestigious award for his pioneering work (with NPR founder Bill Siemering) implementing the Coffee Lifeline Project in Rwanda.  Then I’d head over to catch the last half of “Challenges and Opportunities for East African Coffee Farmers” and maybe even the last tweet or two of “How to Develop a Social Media Strategy for Your Business.”

 

I first met Peter seven or eight years ago (through the SCAA) when he headed up the midwest office of Holland Coffee, and then later worked with him on the annual Conference Committee when our mutual friend Rob Stephen was SCAA president.  Peter is that rare breed of (com)passionate but level-headed, progressive but not pie-in-the-sky.  To hear him describe his work on the Coffee Lifeline Project again I was reminded of how much this guy tackles and how much he succeeds in achieving on behalf of others.  The radios he’s using in Rwanda are amazing, but Peter insists its not possible for him to just sneak me one when nobody’s looking.  From the coffeelifeline.org website:

 

The Coffee Lifeline Mission

Coffee Lifeline is a radio communications project that provides essential information and educational programming to coffee farmers, their families and the communities in which they live.

Utilizing Freeplay Foundation’s wind-up and solar-powered Lifeline radios, which do not require batteries or electricity, Coffee Lifeline is intended to be an empowering and sustainable initiative that provides farmers with a vital tool as opposed to linking them to a charitable revenue stream which may often come with its own set of goals and limited lifespan.

In addition, Coffee Lifeline partners with regional community-based radio stations to produce weekly broadcasts that feature news and information relating to agronomy techniques, processing tips, current market conditions, health, local co-ops as well as a featured children’s story corner.

The long term goal of Coffee Lifeline is to link coffee farmers around the world through the use of sustainable, self-powered radio technology and the weekly broadcast of a globally transmitted “World Café” program that will offer formerly isolated communities the opportunity to share their technical expertise, environmental wisdom and cultural heritage that continues to enrich all of our lives.

But before I could sidle out the door, August Burns, the Executive Director for Grounds for Health, rose to accept her award on behalf of Grounds for Health, the non-profit organization dedicated to detecting and treating cervical cancer among women in coffee countries.  I didn’t realize how pervasive this cancer is among women in the tropics, especially those of child-bearing age–and how easy it is to detect and treat effectively.  It’s the #1 killer in this demographic category in those regions.  11th in the US.

I never did make it to the East African lecture or to the FB/Twitter event, though I couldn’t help noticing the number of empty seats at the sustainability awards and, peaking through the window, the lack of them at SCAA media poobah Tara Shenson’s spoken primer on Social Media.  Alas…

So I snuck around the corner and once again visited the excellent Counter Culture “Pop Up” Cafe, and baristas Lem Butler and Katy Carguilo.  They served up delicious shots of CC’s Apollo and Aficionado espressos.  I then first ran into Peter Giuliano (current SCAA President and Counter Culture’s Zeus of all things coffee), and then Tim Hill, who–as head roaster–must be Apollo. I’ve known Peter in passing for years but had never met Tim.  I explained that we were excited to be joining the Roaster’s Guild (in which he’s been very active) and invited him to visit us in DUMBO the next time he’s in the city.  He welcomed us to the rowdy ranks of the Guild and briefly explained the buying and blending objectives behind the two nice espressos I’d been served. Like all the CC folks I met, he was a very nice guy.

I headed for show floor, where I was scheduled to meet up with Willem Boot and Daniel Humphries for a 2 oclock cupping of HiU Honduran Coffees.  But before that I ran into another old friend, Cindy Cohn, the Show Director. She deserves a special shout out for organizing such an ambitious, successful event.  Then I bumped into Henrik Bang, General Director for Nicaragua of Atlantic-ECOM, who I’d had the pleasure of meeting and touring Nicaraguan coffee country with almost a decade ago.  Few people understand the way coffee logistics and pricing work as well as Henrik.  He’s got a very good brain and it was great to see him after so many years.

On my way into the expo hall I stopped by the Roaster’s Choice pavilion again for a quick cup of Chris Manfredi’s Ka’u Hawaiian and met Dan Mueller of Dallis Coffee (a pourover and espresso pro!), and wound up having a lengthy conversation about convection roasting with Wells Trenfield of Jasper’s Coffee of Melbourne, Australia. Wells and Jasper’s CEO Colin Finn wanted to know how we were liking our Loring Kestrel Smart Roaster.  They’re considering buying one to replace the 30 KG Lilla they now use (45 roasts a day in two shifts!).  Both great guys and serious as you get about their coffee.  Wells had a real wild mountain man look and Colin kept recommending I visit this or that booth to sample various “mindblowing” coffees.  I want to visit their operation in Australia with a surfboard someday.

I managed to snake my way through the show floor about two turns before seeing Laura Sommers of Espresso Supply in Seattle.  Laura and I are charter members of the Matthew Algie Cocktail Party Club, hosted every year at SCAA by David Williamson, who died suddenly at 44 a few years back.  David was the coolest, nicest, most Scottish guy in the industry–seriously–and the MAlgie espresso lab in Glasgow was absolutely primo–years ahead of what any company in the US was doing when I visited David and his partner in crime and coffee, Ewan Reid, in 2005 with David Dallis on our way back from Ethiopia. Punk rock and espresso.  Wily smiles.  Good times.  David RIP.
Laura looked fantastic and her business is clearly booming and benefiting from the rise in popularity of all things espresso.  I need to remember to contact her when I’m back in NY.

No sooner had I left Espresso Supply’s booth than I ran into Ewan Reid himself.  Ewan is one of the few true coffee scientists in the industry. His commitment to both super high end quality and sustainability through Fair Trade has inspired me for years.  He leaves with his team for El Salvador after the show to visit Santa Adelide (sp?)–an excellent producer of Organic certified coffees on their way toward becoming Fair Trade certified. Ewan, you better visit us in Brooklyn soon.

Late now, I scrambled over to booth 513 for my 2pm cupping with Willem and Daniel.  Their associate Jodi was there too and we spent the better part of an hour tasting some delicious honey processed (and others) coffees from Honduras. I particularly like the natural bourbons and pacamaras.

My second-to-last order of official business for the day was a meeting at the Fair Trade pavilion booth with Paolo Castellano and her associate Diego (last name????) to discuss supply chain management with an eye toward improving our information about available coffees.  We talked for a long time and I was able to buttonhole Andrew Blyth from Royal Coffee whose booth was just across the aisle to collaborate on some logisitics.  Paolo and Diego (and Paul Rice) assured me that there was more best quality certified coffee than ever on its way to the US.  This was backed up in conversations I had with other importers too, notably with Jason Long and Tim Chapdelaine of Cafe Imports.  Over the last two days I arranged to have dozens of samples sent to us from existing stocks for cupping and more coming our way once they’re off the water.

After a brief meeting with Tom Mitchell and Patti Johansen (who just completed a huge roaster construction project in South Korea), I hustled over to Ballroom C for my first meeting of the Roaster’s Guild as a member.  Wendy de Jong was presiding and I met a lot of nice folks who probably spend way too much time tinkering inside perforated drums.  I spotted Darlene Scherer from Gorilla Coffee in NYC among the members of the RG Exec Committee and she kindly offered to sponsor our membership.  Now Rob, Michael and I can all whoop it up with other coffee roasting nuts.

I’ve got to catch a plane back to NY.  Sorry for the extreme length of these posts.  I left half of it out-talking with Ted Lingle, seeing Steve Schulman, a nice chat with Doug Zell, but well, what can you do?

Thanks also to SCAA Executive Director Ric Rhinehart, who I didn’t manage to run into, but who I know had a ton to do with this past weekend’s activities.