CoffeeCon Los Angeles 2014 – planning

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee News


     Southern California coffee drinkers!  CoffeeCon makes its first ever stop in Los Angeles, taking place this Saturday, November 8th at Mack Sennett Studios on 1215 Bates Ave.  It is open from 9 AM to 4 PM.

I’m excited to attend yet another CoffeeCon event, having attended the inaugural event in Chicago last year, and the event in San Francisco this year.  CoffeeCon is THE event for coffee drinkers.  Not a coffee industry trade show.  This is an event of workshops, presentations, and coffee tasting that is geared specifically for the coffee lover.  If you live in Southern California and you love coffee, be there!

Read: Trip Report –  2014 CoffeeCon San Francisco
Read: Trip Report – 2013 CoffeeCon Chicago
Read: Official CoffeeCon website

Below is the schedule for the Los Angeles event.  As was the case with the previous two CoffeeCon events that I attended, it’s impossible to be everywhere at once, and the key is to decide in advance what to experience.  Here’s what I’m going with…


My focus in going over this schedule is different in this case than in the previous two.  I will be purchasing a six-pound coffee roaster, and roasting coffee here in San Diego.  More to come on that, but in the meantime, I want my class selections to be helpful to my future coffee roasting.

Even with that focus in mind, it still isn’t easy!  At 10 AM, I’m looking at Introduction to 8 Basic Flavor Descriptors.  To help develop my skill as a coffee roaster/taster, I have become very interested in the flavors and descriptors of coffee.  This workshop will certainly help attendees understand the wide world of coffee flavor.  A shame that it’s at the expense of seeing Kenneth Davids‘ panel on the Future of Coffee.

012Intro     At 11 AM, I’ll attend Butter Coffee.  I wasn’t originally interested in seeing this, but I am curious only because of the current fad of putting butter in coffee to help with digestion – I don’t know if it’s hooey yet.  I’ll learn more.

George Howell‘s presentation For the Love of Coffee Tasting runs for half the day, and is a staple at the CoffeeCon events.  I attended his entire presentation the first time, and only caught part of it the last time.  This time, it’s been moved from the morning to the afternoon, but otherwise the same decision as in the previous two CoffeeCon events – do I spend the second half of the day in George’s presentation (which I know is incredibly informative on all aspects of coffee)?  Or, do I attend three other workshops in its place?  After much thought, I’ve decided to attend three workshops that are new to me, rather than attend George’s presentation, that was amazing, but that I’ve already seen.

At 1 PM, I will attend the Chemex Lab.  I own a Chemex and understand the directions pretty well, but I’ve never had formal training like this.  I still remember visiting my first coffee roasters that would only serve a cup of coffee by pourover.  Planet Bean in Guelph, Canada, and Coava Coffee in Portland, Oregon both come to mind.

At 2 PM, the workshop on Championship Winning Coffee sounds very interesting, and a great fit for my plans to roast coffee.  It is hosted by Klatch Roasting.

Finally at 3 PM, Building a Direct Trade also sounds very interesting.  I have been on coffee origin trips to Guatemala, Honduras, and Hawaii, and I’m very interested in learning more about direct trade coffee, that is coffee sourced through a direct relationship with the farmer.

Wow, that’s a big day, and a lot of notes.  Stay tuned because as always, what I learn there, you’ll learn about here!

Trip Report: 2014 CoffeeCon San Francisco

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee and You


     I was honored to once again attend CoffeeCon as a Media representative, this time in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities anywhere, on July 26th, 2014.

Check out: Official CoffeeCon home page
Read: Trip Report – CoffeeCON 2013

CoffeeCon is THE show tailored not necessarily to the coffee industry, but rather to the coffee drinker.  For those who love coffee, there is a full day of brewing and home-roasting workshops, interaction with local roasters, and presentations for the coffee drinker by industry giants.  I had my work cut out for me, looking at the schedule and having to finalize which workshops and presentations I wanted to see.

Read: CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco (planning)

IMG_0946     I’ll have many updates in the coming days and weeks to talk about all the cool stuff I saw.

My first presentation of the day was by Kenneth Davids, author of three books on coffee, and founder of Coffee Review, the leading coffee evaluation website and report.

I was so pumped to see this presentation on the method behind how Kenneth evaluates coffee.  I own the three books that Kenneth has written, and I follow his Coffee Review closely in order to run out and buy coffees in my area to which he has given a 90% rating or higher.

In an afternoon session, I was able to meet Alan Adler, inventor of the AeroPress coffee brewing system.  I use the AeroPress at home, and for some coffee lovers, it is the only acceptable way to brew coffee.


     Alan led a wall-to-wall packed session on how to properly use the AeroPress and get the most out of it.  It was very cool to learn by the inventor himself.

Throughout the day, there were similar workshops given on how to properly use the Chemex and iced pourover methods of making coffee, as well as presentations on the science of coffee and importance of grinding.  Keynote speaker George Howell gave the day’s longest and most in-depth presentation, as he did when I attended in Chicago last year.

Read: Blog posts on George Howell


     Finally, one of the coolest things about CoffeeCon is the people you meet, or see again.  Everybody there loves coffee, no matter where they are in the chain.  To the left, I met Wilford Lamastus, a coffee farmer from Boquete, Panama.  We were introduced by Jason Griest, owner of Sacramento’s Old Soul Coffee.  I am visiting Panama in the early part of next year, and Wilford had great advice for planning my trip, and visiting his farm while I’m there.

And now, the big news…CoffeeCon has one more stop in 2014.  Los Angeles on November 8th.  Go to the official CoffeeCon site for information on how to follow them over social media, and stay updated.  I’ll be there at the Los Angeles show, and if you’re in the area and love coffee, you should be too!

CoffeeCon 2014 San Francisco

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee and You

coffeecon2014     I am honored to once again attend Kevin Sinnott’s CoffeeCon show, this year in San Francisco, attending as one of the event’s Official Media Bloggers.

There are all kinds of coffee shows for the industry, where people in the coffee business get together.  CoffeeCon however is the first, and as far as I know, only show for the coffee drinker.  It’s for you and I.  If you love coffee, there is no shortage of great information, vendors, and demonstrations at CoffeeCon.

Check out: Official CoffeeCon home page
Read: Trip Report – CoffeeCON 2013

coffeecon sf 2014 schedule

The biggest challenge of all is how to see everything that I want to see.  To add to the challenge, we’re attending a sporting event in San Jose that late afternoon, so I won’t even have the luxury of the whole day.

012Intro     10 AM: This is the time of day where I wish I could be in four places at once.  George Howell is the keynote speaker, and his cupping/tasting workshop last year was a highlight of the show.  However, since I attended the whole workshop last year and also interviewed George afterwards, I may forego his workshop this year, or sneak in before it ends.

Read: What is Direct Trade coffee? (George Howell interview)
Read: How A Coffee Professional Makes Good Coffee (George Howell interview)

This narrows my options to the AeroPress workshop led by AeroPress inventor Alan Adler, Cacao Tasting (I am a dark chocolate fiend!), and How to Review Coffee with Kenneth Davids, founder of Coffee Review.

IMG_1619     There’s no easy choice here, but I have to go with How to Review Coffee.  I own three books that Davids has written, and I follow his Coffee Review evaluations so that I can try the coffees that he reviews that are local to me.  I also plan to interview him later that day, and would be embarrassed if I didn’t attend his presentation.

11 AM: Here, I’m torn between the Chemex lab, and Helen Russell‘s presentation on Coffee Social Responsibility.  I am a proponent of responsible coffee buying – thinking about where coffee comes from and conditions in those parts of the world.  However, I attended a similar presentation last year and it was at the expense of a formal presentation on proper use of the Chemex as a way to brew coffee.  I have to go with the Chemex lab.

IMG_1600     12 PM: Hands down, I have to go with the Science of Coffee at this time.  I am by no means the science type, but I think a basic presentation on the science of coffee would be very cool and informative.

1 PM: It has to be the Aeropress lab, led by its inventor Alan Adler.  I’m upset to miss Scott Merle‘s presentation on Coffee Sustainability, but as you can see, there is just way too much I want to see at each time slot.  I love my Aeropress and use it often at home to brew coffee.

At 2 PM, we bust a move to catch live UFC in San Jose at the SAP Center!  Fellow fight fans, Ruthless Robbie Lawler vs. Matt the Immortal Brown!!  Yes, I said earlier that coffee takes precedence, but as you can see above, I’ve outlined four solid hours of coffee education before I’m on my way.  It will be another great experience, and one that makes me appreciate coffee all the more.

2013 Coffee Year in Review

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee News, Coffee Travel, Coffees of the World

2013 was a big year at  Let’s take a look at what went down.


  • Published in Roast Magazine

IMG_0658     In 2012, I traveled to Hawaii’s Big Island with Dave Cook, friend and owner of Fire Roasted Coffee in London, Ontario, Canada.  While there, we saw first-hand the damage being done by the borer beetle (‘la broca’ in Spanish) on coffee farms.  La broca is a common pest hurting coffee crops around the world and was positively identified in Hawaii’s Kona region in 2012.  This has been hurting supply of Hawaiian Kona coffee, and Dave was even turned away at farms when trying to buy from them.  Roast Magazine picked up our story and we were published in this year’s May/June issue.  Click here to check out the article in Roast Magazine.

  • Official Media Blogger at CoffeeCON

IMG_1619     This year, I was invited to be an official media blogger at CoffeeCON in Chicago.  To my knowledge, it’s the only coffee show for the coffee lover rather than the coffee professional.  It’s OUR coffee show, featuring workshops on coffee tasting, coffee making, and coffee roasting.  It was a well attended and informative event.  At the show, I had the pleasure of meeting coffee giant George Howell, one of the founders of the international Cup of Excellence coffee competition, and founder of Terroir Coffee.  Terroir was eventually sold to Starbucks as their way of expanding into the Boston market.  My interview with George lead to literally months of content here on the site.  Check out the Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013, or click here for all of the articles that came of my talk with George Howell.

  • Central American Coffee Origin Trip

IMG_2790     I’ve recently returned from an amazing adventure with my father, visiting coffee farms and roasters in Guatemala.  We traveled Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize together by foot and chicken bus to learn more about the origins of coffee and chocolate.  Along the way, we enjoyed the freshest of each, and a great bonding experience.  I came back from that trip just a couple weeks before holiday travel started, so stay tuned for much more on this trip.  For now, check out my abbreviated summary of the trip, Our Trek Through Central American Coffee Country.

portland1     THE BAD

This year, it was with mixed emotions that I moved from Portland, Oregon, the coffee capital of North America as far as I’m concerned.  I’m not sure which city has more roasters per capita between Seattle and Portland, but Portland is a little warmer and it rains a little less, so I vote for Portland.  My home in Portland alone was a stone’s throw from three excellent roasters.  I can’t complain about my new home in San Diego, California.  Having said that, it’s never easy to move a little further from new friends and great roasters.

IMG_2951     THE UGLY

It pains me even to bring this up, but while my father and I were in Flores, Guatemala (see Central American Origin Trip above), we needed a coffee in a bad way and couldn’t find a cafe on the island.  We crossed the causeway to a Burger King that we could see from the island and we -gulp- had the coffees that you see pictured here.  Guatemala is one of the world’s producers of excellent coffee, and while there, we had coffee at Burger King.  It’s sad but true.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to coffee lovers everywhere!  I’m looking forward to new adventures in 2014, and sharing many, many cups of good coffee with you.  Make good coffee!

Finding the Coffee That’s Right For You

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee

georgehowell     At CoffeeCON 2013, I had the good fortune to meet and interview coffee giant George Howell.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

I presented George with the following scenario and asked him for his thoughts on how to help coffee lovers find the coffee that’s right for them:

“Suppose I am a coffee drinker.  I walk into a roaster’s shop.  Up until this point, I’ve only been drinking supermarket coffee.  I walk up to the wall of coffee, but don’t know where to begin.”

George responded outright that the coffee lover needs help, there’s no doubt about it.  When George talks to such a customer, he’ll ask what they’ve tried, what they liked, how they drink their coffee, where did they buy it, what kind of wine do they like, what kind of coffee maker do they use?  According to George, you have to think about the road that they’ve been on and where to take there from there.

And with what George said next, I had to let him know just what we were working on here at  George said, if you could create a form that they could fill out, you could use the information to make a good guess.  Start them with a single origin, because George hardly has any blends.  George wants a website where the consumer identifies what they want, and the website guides them to a coffee.

That’s when I let George know that we were working on just such a tool.  And that tool is complete.  If you haven’t already, check out the Coffee Quiz.  You answer four simple questions, and the quiz directs you to an origin of coffee that you should try based on your answers.  Take the quiz and tell us what you think!


What is Acidity in Coffee?

in Brewing Coffee

3dbeans     Not to be confused with acid (as in pH content) or acid reflux (as in heartburn), acidity is a coffee term used to describe one of the elements of flavor in coffee.

Check out: Coffee Words and Terminology (to learn more about the language of tasting coffee)

I struggled with this word for so long, because I knew it was important in understanding the flavor of coffee, but couldn’t get my head around what it meant, and especially that it wasn’t referring to acid.  Because I used to get bad heartburn, I naturally assumed it was connected to the “acidity of my coffee”.

When I interviewed coffee giant George Howell at CoffeeCON 2013, I asked him how to describe acidity to the coffee layman.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

burntcoffee     The word acid in “acidity” is misleading.  People hear it and think battery acid, corrosion, or acid reflux.  Oddly enough, we talk about acidity in wine without problems.  Acidity in coffee (or wine)  means liveliness or pizzazz.  Ask yourself what would a strawberry be without liveliness – it would be flat.  You want that strawberry to have some brightness and sweetness to it.  The sweetness takes edge off of the acidity, but you want both.

I used to define acidity as “what makes coffee coffee”, but this was a flawed way to look at it because acidity needs to be balanced.  There can be too much.  The strawberry at the grocery store could be perfect looking but missing flavor.

And then George gave me the best explanation of acidity that I’ve ever heard.  Take a banana and take a raspberry.  Which would you think is more acidic?  Both have flavor and are unique, but one clearly has more livelineness and pizzazz.  Analogies sometimes work where explanations!

How A Coffee Professional Makes Good Coffee

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

georgehowell     This year, I was fortunate at CoffeeCON 2013 to meet and interview coffee pioneer George Howell.  George was the founder of the Coffee Connection in Boston, which was acquired by Starbucks as a means of entering the Boston market.  He remains a leading coffee expert, and is also the founder of the George Howell Terroir Coffee Company.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

I asked George something I like to ask every coffee professional I meet: how do you make your own good coffee at home?

My motivation to ask this question…the amount of human effort and dedication that goes into coffee from source to somebody’s home can all be for naught in the last five minutes that it’s handled.  A coffee professional understands this, so if I can make coffee the way that they do, I know I’m making it right.  George gave me three pieces of advice, and I’ll elaborate on where you can learn more here on

1) Get the brew time right. Learn more about different brewing methods at our Brewing Coffee page.

2) Get the grind right. Just as important.  The type of brewing method you use dictates the ideal grind type you should be using.  Learn more about Grinding Coffee.

3) Get the ratio right.  The ratio of how much coffee and water to use depending on how much coffee you’re making.  This is a very popular question that often comes up, and that I’ve written about a few times.  Check out these blog posts to learn more:
– The “Scientific” Ratio of Coffee to Water
– Coffee to water ratio – answering the question of how much coffee to use
– I’m Confused, How Much Coffee Should I Use?


What is a Coffee Blend?

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee

IMG_1088     When you factor marketing into the process of selling coffee, you end up seeing some weird names.  Artificial flavors give the impression that somehow nuts, berries, or Irish Cream figure into how coffee is made.  Names like French Roast or Greek Coffee might give the impression that coffee is grown anywhere in Europe.

Coffee blends might also cause some confusion, because they usually have unique names.  The basic definition of a coffee blend is that it’s a roaster’s mixture to recipe, of different varieties, roast levels, or flavor profiles of coffee.  It’s a roaster’s opportunity to create something new by blending coffees together.

The first blend I remember really enjoying was the Major Dickason’s Blend by Peet’s Coffee and Tea.  The story behind it will help you understand blends better, and the pride that a roaster can take in it.  Key Dickason was a retired army officer that was also a loyal customer of Peet’s at their original location in Berkeley, California, and a coffee aficianado.  The founder Alfred Peet experimented with Dickason at different combinations of coffee until they “bred” the one that they both loved.  Peet “promoted” Dickason to Major of this new coffee, and a new blend was born, also Peet’s Coffee‘s best-selling.

dickasonFor Peet’s, the blend represents an emotional tie to the long but enjoyable process of exploring the wide world of coffee and creating something new.  Where individual sources of coffee offer their own flavor profiles, the number of new combinations are endless.

My recommendation is to stay away from grocery store coffees that use the word “blend” along with another fancy word like “signature”.  However, from your local roaster or your online coffee roaster, you can trust the word “blend” because it generally means they created it themselves.  I enjoy taking a professional roaster up on the blend that they’ve poured themselves into.

In my interview with coffee giant George Howell at CoffeeCon 2013, I learned that not every roaster is interested in blending.  George only blends for restaurant customers that demand it.  As George describes it, to be a great painter with primary colors, you have to know the primary colors as well as possible.  George then learned they’re not primary colors, they’re very complex.  In pursuing the perfect blend, George realized he didn’t need blends.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

This is of personal taste to the roaster.  If your roaster offers a “house blend”, “signature blend”, or a blend with a unique name, take them up on it.  They created that coffee and its flavor themselves.


What is Direct Trade coffee?

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Fair Trade and the Environment


This year, I was fortunate at CoffeeCON 2013 to meet and interview coffee pioneer George Howell.  George was the founder of the Coffee Connection in Boston, which was acquired by Starbucks as a means of entering the Boston market.  He remains a leading coffee expert, and is also the founder of the George Howell Terroir Coffee Company.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013
Check out: What is the Cup of Excellence?

One of my questions to George was, what is direct trade coffee?  With little awareness among the coffee loving public of just how poor the living conditions are in coffee growing countries, I asked George to simplify this solution to the problem.

The event that helped set Direct Trade in motion was the 1999 Cup of Excellence in Brazil.  This coffee competition emphasizes single farms, asking farmers to put forward their best lot.  The jury became formed of professional specialty roasters from around the world, and they spent a week cupping those coffees.  Among early members of the jury were other coffee giants like Jeff Watts of Chicago’s Intelligentsia and Duane Sorenson of Portland’s Stumptown.

After the Cup of Excellence, Direct Trade began to take shape.  It introduced more roasters directly to the farmers, and encouraged roasters to visit farms and create direct relationships.

Roasters had gone on origin trips before, but the interaction of roasters as judges, and farmers, as well as the competition’s emphasis on single farms introduced direct trade relationships.  Existing programs like Fair Trade ensured that farmers received a fair price, but the Cup of Excellence emphasized relationship coffee from the standpoint of quality.

The fuzzy part about Direct Trade is that it’s not a true seal or standard, like Fair Trade.  Direct trade is different for everybody, and the key things are:

  • Knowing the farm where you’re buying the coffee, and its practices aimed at the utmost quality, and
  • Making sure you know what they are getting paid – you want to know they are independent of the commodity market.

Find out what your local roaster does to stay close to origin.  I accompanied Dave Cook, owner of Fire Roasted Coffee on an origin trip to meet farmers in Hawaii.  It was an amazing opportunity to observe Dave observing the quality of the process at the farm, before deciding what coffee to bring into his shop to serve you.

What is the Cup of Excellence? – for everyday coffee drinkers

in Buying Coffee, Coffee News, Coffees of the World, Fair Trade and the Environment

georgehowell     At this year’s CoffeeCON in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to get some time with Boston-based specialty coffee pioneer George Howell to talk coffee.  To say that George provided me with an overwhelming amount of coffee knowledge would be an understatement, and I’m looking forward in the weeks and months to come, to referencing this knowledge.

George talked to me about the Cup of Excellence program, and I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you what it is, and why it should be interesting for any coffee lover.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

In 1999, George and other specialty coffee buyers and roasters were frustrated with the lack of appreciation for high-quality Brazilian coffees among North American specialty coffee buyers.  Brazils had a reputation for being mass-produced, and with little regard for being unique and prized.  George and company wanted to change that perception, and started the Cup of Excellence as a competition for coffee farmers in that country.  Farmers would submit their single best coffee, perfectly ripe when picked, exhibiting a well-developed body and amazing flavor.  A panel of international coffee experts would select the winning coffee, which is crowned champion.

Here’s the cool part.  In order to encourage with farmers the relationship between quality coffee and the price that they can get for their product, the winning coffees from Cup of Excellence are auctioned online to the highest bidder, with the farmer receiving 85% of the auction price.

The competition has since grown to include more countries than just Brazil.  Keep your eyes open for reference to Cup of Excellence.  If you see it, try it!

Older Posts »