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First off, who was Joshua Bean? I’ll never forget the night I was reading about the history of San Diego, California and learned that the last name of its first mayor was Bean. Bean?!? I couldn’t believe it. If ever I needed proof that San Diego is destined to be a coffee capitol in the US, its first mayor was named Bean. I decided that after creating my first signature blend, I would name it after San Diego’s first mayor.
Why a coffee blend? There is a science and an art to coffee blending. At this time, I’m carrying seven different single-origin coffees. Each one contains unique and specific aromas and flavor notes. I like every one of them and have roasted each one the best I can through trial and error, and more trial and error. With a coffee blend, there is an opportunity to create a coffee experience that no single-origin coffee captures. The opportunity to capture flavors from different coffees, to create a brand new coffee experience that is unique.
The picture above is a real photo of all of the coffee cupping evaluation forms that I used to evaluate, re-evaluate, and re-re-evaluate different individual coffees, as well as their contribution to the blend. Some of those cupping forms are filled out by fellow coffee aficionados with different opinions on coffee than my own, who contributed their feedback to the process.
Each coffee cupping allowed me to narrow down the recipe, until I was completely satisfied with the result. And here it is, the Joshua Bean Blend of coffee. It combines a natural berry sweetness in flavor with milk chocolate and spices. Natural flavors of berry, chocolate, and spices?! Get you some!
There is another personal and important reason for me in naming this blend. On August 12, 2012, two very dear friends lost their beloved son Joshua at the age of 19. I met Joshua twice. In fact, I met he and his father at the same time, and both of his parents have since become very important people in my life. Josh loved music, and I kept his mental image and photo nearby when making this blend. While you won’t find it on the cupping forms, I wanted there to be music in this blend. Listen to your own favorite music while you enjoy this coffee.
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I’ve spent the last ten days in Central America, touring Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. The primary reason for the trip was the bonding experience with my father, who has done this trip before, and acted as our guide. The other reason was to venture deep into coffee country.
As a coffee lover, it was appealing to me to go to its source, see it as it grows, talk to the people that make it possible for the rest of us, and educate myself on everything that happens before a professional roaster makes it available to me. Prior to this trip, I had made three separate trips to the Hawaiian islands, in part to visit coffee farms there. The difference is that when you’re in Mau’i or Kona on the Big Island, you’re still in the United States talking to Americans making American wages. In Central America, there’s none of that luxury.
In the weeks to come, I have so much information to share with you coffee lovers about what I saw and learned. I’ll give you a synopsis now, and a summary of what updates are to come.
My father met me in Belize City and we took a puddle-jumper plane to spend the night in the Belizean town of Placencia. Belize produces coffee but lacks the altitude to be counted among the world’s finest. Still, we were treated to fresh coffee while we were there.
From there, we made our way to Honduras where we had hoped to visit a coffee farm, but due to the logistics of traveling these countries off the beaten path, had to leave before we could. We arrived there late from alternate arrangements we had made to get there. Our host was unable to make us the farm tour accommodations he had hoped to make. Not to mention the following day was election day, and we thought better of sticking around to see how it turned out.
Finally, we visited Guatemala. For me, it is the coffee lover’s mecca. Guatemalan coffee is my favorite coffee in the world! We visited a coffee farm in San Juan, just off of the incredibly beautiful Lake Atitlan. We toured the city of Antigua, just outside Guatemala’s largest area of coffee production. Antigua is the unofficial coffee capital of Central America, if not the world, with its many cafes on every block. Finally, we enjoyed farm-fresh coffee at every stop from Puerto Barrios to Flores.
Stay tuned! The process by which coffee ends up in our kitchens is a long and arduous one, full of hard-working people who take incredible pride in what they give us, despite their poverty. It was a very eye-opening experience for me, that I look forward to sharing with you in the weeks to come.
I’ll take you on the Guatemalan coffee tour that my father and I were on, and do my best to translate the details from Spanish! I’ll walk you through the cobblestone streets of Antigua, with its rich history and cafes on every block. We’ll sit down with the owner of Kaffee Fernando’s, Antigua’s leading coffee roaster and chocolatier. And we’ll have lots of fun too (the kind that’s fun after the fact), while I share my experiences on how to cross Central American borders on foot, riding the chicken bus to get around, and one night in the ‘murder capital of Honduras’.
Some of you may have heard that yesterday, September 29th, was National Coffee Day. I’ll be honest and confess that it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve even heard of the event. Well, guess what? It’s real and it’s been around for at least 30 years. And here are six more facts about National Coffee Day…
- It’s actually International Coffee Day, but each participating country celebrates it as National Coffee Day. This struck me when I noticed chains in the US giving away free coffee to celebrate, while friends of mine in Canada were also celebrating it as “National“.
- There are actually a total of six countries that celebrate National Coffee Day on September 29th. In addition to the US and Canada, they are England, Ethiopia, Malaysia, and Sweden.
- The first known celebration of an International Coffee Day was in Japan in 1983, celebrated on October 1st.
- The purpose of the day? To celebrate the delicious beverage we all love. The tragedy of it? It is also meant to recognize the plight of coffee farmers in poor countries, a message that tends to get lost when in practice, it seems more about McDonalds and Starbucks giving out free coffee samples.
- The first known reference to National Coffee Day in the US was in 2005, so if you’re getting the news late, don’t worry – it’s less than a ten year old tradition. Start gearing up now for next year!
- Coffee producing countries that celebrate Coffee Day in addition to Ethiopia are Brazil (May 24th) and Costa Rica (September 12th).
As David Cook, owner of Fire Roasted Coffee, says, “Happy International Coffee Day! or as we like to call it…Sunday.”
Originally published on October 25, 2011
Marc’s note: Last night, I finally watched the 2011 documentary Hot Coffee, an in-depth look into the lawsuit against McDonald’s for serving coffee that was too hot. It reminded me of the blog post below, and ironic that the documentary also referenced the Seinfeld bit. Enjoy!
When I buy a cup of coffee, I still notice the little icon on the cup that reminds us that the coffee is hot. It always reminds me of the crazy woman that we all laugh at, who sued McDonald’s because for some reason, she didn’t think their coffee that she spilled on herself was going to be hot. It led to the little “hot” graphic on EVERYBODY’s coffee cups, and even a parody on Seinfeld where Kramer burns himself in a similar way.
I was forced to buy Starbucks coffee at an airport recently, and noticed the hot warning. It made me realize that I’ve heard different versions of how that woman’s story ends, but most often that a judge overturned the original decision to award her any money because her case was frivilous. I looked into it a little further, and I’m ashamed to say that there is much to this case that we don’t talk about because it’s not as interesting a story.
Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the truth about that case. It may not change your mind, but you should know the facts before passing judgement on this “crazy woman”:
- She was the passenger in the vehicle, different than what I remembered. I had an image in my head that she was driving while preparing the coffee for herself. This is a side point, as a spill is a spill, and it was her accident to spill it on herself.
- The coffee served to her was between 180 and 190 degrees. This was the standard temperature for McDonald’s coffee at the time. A vascular surgeon that testified in court determined that she suffered third-degree burns on 6% of her body, including her inner thighs, perineum, buttocks, and genital and groin areas. She was hospitalized for eight days, and underwent skin grafting in that time.
- She was 79 at the time. This wasn’t the image I remembered. Also, a side point as McDonald’s is not going to vary the temperature of their coffee for the age of their customer.
- I remember hearing outrageous amounts that this woman wanted from the big corporation for burning herself. She sought to settle her claim for medical expenses only, and McDonald’s refused.
- During trial, McDonald’s Quality Assurance Manager testified that a burn hazard exists with any food product served to a customer at 140 degrees or hotter, and that the temperature of the coffee by standard could not be reasonably consumed as it would burn the mouth and throat. Of course, nobody is expected to guzzle a cup of coffee as soon as it’s handed to them, but other testimony in the case indicated that coffee served at 155 degrees would have allowed the plaintiff time to remove the clothing that absorbed the coffee and scalded her. 155 degrees is still hotter than the temperature at which some chains were serving their coffee at the time.
- McDonald’s asserted that customers are known to buy coffee with the intention of consuming it at home or at work so it would have time to cool down. This was countered with McDonald’s own published research that their coffee was being consumed by customers while driving and before reaching their destination.
- A jury at first awarded her $200,000, then reduced it to $160,000, stating that she was 20% to blame for the incident. The judge called McDonalds’ conduct reckless, callous and willful. None of us know how it was finally settled, because it was settled out of court.
There you have it. I’ll reserve my opinion, because everybody here in the Pacific Northwest buys drive-through Americanos from espresso stands, and those are so hot, that the ‘baristas’ ask if you would like an ice cube in it so that you can drink it within an hour of it being prepared.
Thank you to the Lectric Law Library for the facts.
No matter what they tell you in Seattle, the coffee capital of North America is Portland, Oregon. Do a search of coffee companies and cafes in the greater Portland area, there are almost 7,000 of them. And so, it struck me that in eight months of living here, I haven’t seen the Fair Trade logo, not even once.
Fair Trade is a certification program where you as a consumer are assured that for spending just a little more, the farmer will receive a fair price for his product. The belief is that by free trade economics, farming communities will never make enough money to invest in the infrastructure of their communities, and get out of the cycle of poverty they are stuck in. Meanwhile, we enjoy the amazing product that they give us.
Most of what I know of Fair Trade coffee, I’ve learned from the coffee roasters I’ve met, and from a book called Brewing Justice, a history of Fair Trade and its struggle. One of the greatest threats to Fair Trade’s identity has been the participation of Starbucks, believed by many to simply be paying lip service to the cause.
Learn more about: Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival
I always get more than I bargained for when I meet people in the coffee business, and my recent visit to Kobos Coffee was no exception.
I asked Production Manager Kevin Dibble why I hadn’t seen the Fair Trade logo since I arrived in Portland. He smiled a very telling smile, considered how to answer, and then said, “Yeah, we used to see that around here a lot in the 90s.” – read: yeah, that used to be trendy around here, but isn’t anymore.
Kobos Coffee is the one of the longest-standing coffee roasters in Portland. Surely if there is a scribe of trends that have come and gone in the world of coffee, they’ve lived it. I asked Kevin what Kobos did instead to promote sustainability. They focus without the need for certification, on ensuring three things from where their coffee is grown: the economics of that area, the environmental impact of how it is grown, and social change.
When coffee cost pennies per pound, founder and owner David ventured that his business could revolve around paying $2 per pound, and promoting sustainability to his customers. David opened his first shop in 1973. Fair Trade USA was founded in 1998.
Sustainability is promoted in many different ways now. The Fair Trade movement does much good, and stands for doing the right thing (paying a little more for better quality that improves the lives of the people that make it possible). If Portland is the coffee capital of North America, and Fair Trade was considered a fad here, I wonder what other alternatives to promoting sustainability will take up the battle against free trade economics.
The first person to help me see chocolate in a new light was Dave Cook, owner of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and my original coffee roaster of choice when I lived in Canada.
Dave had expanded from roasting coffee into also roasting cocoa into chocolate through a new venture, Habitual Chocolate Roasters. It was a very cool experience for me to learn more about the similarities between coffee and chocolate, the same ideal climate and conditions for growing the coffee cherry as the cocoa bean, and so naturally, the same people bringing this to the world. With those similarities, also the opportunity for a roaster to differentiate between the commodity chocolate product that we all know and take for granted, and something more akin to gourmet chocolate.
It was Dave who brought to my attention that the Pacific Northwest’s largest chocolate show was in my city of Portland, OR this weekend: ChocolateFest.
The event is hosted by the World Forestry Center, and this will be its seventh year. The mission of the WFC is simple: educate and inform people about the world’s forests and trees, and environmental sustainability. On their campus in Portland’s Washington Park for the first ChocolateFest, they attracted over 1,000 people. Last year, over 8,000 people. This year, they bring it to their largest venue yet, the Oregon Convention Center.
I’m happy to be there and continue my education in the world of chocolate. I’ll be looking for similarities with coffee to help me understand the chocolate process better. And I’ll also eat a stupid amount of chocolate. If I see the woman from the above picture walking around with that bar, I will probably take it from her.
Read: Cafe Mocha Recipes
Stay tuned! If you live in the area, check out the show. Here is some further information:
Location: Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A
777 NE MLK, Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR 97232
Dates: January 20 – 22, 2012
Check out my profile of the Ueshida Coffee Company (UCC) in Kona Hawaii. It was more than just an excellent tour of a coffee farm in one of the coffee world’s most esteemed places. It was a lesson in where coffee comes from.
While it was a great lesson from the UCC, there is more to the origin of coffee than this. For example, it’s not everybody that realizes that all coffee originates from Ethiopia and Yemen.
The tale goes that farmers couldn’t figure out what was getting their goats so excited. They called them “dancing goats” and realized it was because they were eating what we know today as the coffee cherry. The farmers consulted with Sufi mystics to get advice. These mystics found a beverage made with the leaves and cherries of this tree kept them alert for hours of prayer, but not didn’t intoxicate them. Coffee was born, and our first example of people using it to carry out their long duties while staying alert.
For centuries, Arabia controlled the trade of coffee. They would only sell it roasted or else treated in water so that it wasn’t fertile and couldn’t be planted elsewhere. Coffee was largely made available to the world through the Mokha Port in Yemen (identified below). Rumor has it that a pilgrim from mecca and a Dutch importer separately smuggled raw coffee beans to India and Amsterdam respectively, and Arabia could not stop experimental growing in regions around the world. The coffee cat was out of the bag.
In the 17th century, it found its way to Europe and led to the popularity of coffee houses. The drink was advertised as a way to sharpen the senses, rather than dull them like alcohol does. This appealed to the studious, and coffee houses became meeting places for academics and the educated of all types.
Strangely, the biggest detractor to the growth of coffee were women who were employed in ale houses and noticed the drop in business. In 1674, the Women’s Petition Against Coffee was drafted, warning men that coffee would make them “as barren as the desert out of which this unlucky berry has been imported”. The best part is that by this point, there were prostitutes in the coffee houses so if the men couldn’t perform at home because they’d just come back from a coffee house, they’d tell the wives it was the coffee affecting them. Supposedly, this is how the rumor began that coffee leads to impotence!
Coffee did not successfully grow just anywhere that farmers tried to plant it, but today, is grown in 70 different countries whose climate meets growing requirements. Today, it is the world’s second most traded commodity after oil! My opinion (maybe somebody’s said it before): ironic that oil and coffee are the world’s two most traded commodities, one fuels our technology, the other fuels our people.
For fans of the movie Bucket List, the most expensive coffee in the world comes from the excretion of the Asian palm civet, a small feline animal that loves to eat coffee cherries. The civet’s system does not completely digest the cherry but apparently, adds a musky flavor that is a perfect complement to coffee. It just means cleaning up after the civets and unfortunately, I assume the guy who has that job does not see very much of the price that this coffee fetches. I don’t even want to know who discovered this coffee and why.