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I’m so happy to finally announce that the Make Good Coffee Co. roastery is now open, and the online store will go live on November 9th, shipping throughout North America.
After blogging about coffee, traveling to coffee growing countries, and meeting and interviewing coffee roasters for almost ten years, I’m so excited to finally open my own roastery based out of San Diego, California.
There are two things I want to accomplish with this roastery, and both of them are behind the word Good in Make Good Coffee.
“Good” should mean a quality cup of coffee that you look forward to making for yourself. I go to bed thinking about how good the coffee is going to be when I wake up. My goal is to know coffee roasting as well as it can be known. I want to make the best coffee I can make, and never stop pursuing that goal.
“Good” should also mean that we can do good when we buy coffee. In the coffee supply chain, there is nobody that works harder or makes the least for themselves than coffee farmers. Many are dedicated to providing the best coffee, and if we help them remain sustainable by providing them with a fair price, then we help families and communities. And in return, we continue getting the best coffee from them. In my coffee travels, I’ve seen schools and health care facilities built in coffee communities that have been allowed to prosper.
I’ve spent the year roasting coffee, from the Boot Coffee course in San Francisco last December, to home roasting all my own (and friends’) coffee, and reading as much as I can. I can recite the owner’s manual for my roaster. I’ve spent the last several weeks perfecting my first three coffees. They will be:
- Medium Roast Panama coffee
- Dark Roast Malawi AA coffee
- Marc’s Premium: Sumatra Peaberry coffee
Come visit the Make Good Coffee Co. Store on November 9th, shipping throughout North America! Take the Coffee Quiz that asks you a few questions about what you’re looking for, and recommends a coffee based on your choices. And start making good coffee!
All too often, we look to coffee as that hot drink that wakes us up in the morning, and gets us through the afternoon. Few stop to think about where it comes from.
I still remember the first time I walked into a Starbucks and saw their diagram about how the coffee bean begins as half of the seed of a coffee cherry, before it’s harvested and roasted. I couldn’t get my head around it. At the time, all ll I knew is that you could either buy it in dark brown beans, or pre-ground.
The first step to truly understanding coffee is understanding where it comes from.
Take five minutes to read about the people behind the coffee.
Check out the new Coffee Sustainability page. It is a work in progress, and meant as a quick overview of two things. First, the problem today with poverty in coffee-growing countries. And second, the solutions that are in place and what little things you can do to make a difference.
As a coffee drinker, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of it after you learn about the people who make it possible for us. Check out the new Coffee Sustainability page.
I”m a sucker for infographics, and this is a great one that was recently sent in, courtesy of our friends at Housetrip.
Check it out!
My father and I recently returned from a trip through Central America, visiting the farmers, roasters, and other people behind some of the best coffee (and chocolate) that we often take for granted.
While we were there, we toured the coffee lands of Cooperativa La Voz, where guide Lucas Bizarro explained to us where coffee comes from, starting with a plant in the ground and ending with coffee in our cup. I wondered what would be the best way to present just how much we learned on this tour. I’ve written about origin trips and farm tours from trips to Hawaii. And while the poverty in a country like Guatemala makes it starkly different from Hawaii, the coffee grows similarly. Not to mention that my Spanish, while workable, misses a lot of the finer points of the tour. Long story short, I hope you enjoy these five interesting facts that came from the tour.
I still remember the first time I walked into a Starbucks and saw their display showing the coffee cherry. I’d never heard of it, and didn’t believe it really existed.
The two pictures you see to the left both show coffee as it grows, in cherry form. The cherry ripens from a yellow to green to red, and finally a dark red, at which point the cherry is best to be picked. If it is not picked at this stage, it will overripen to a brown or black color.
Coffee workers are responsible for picking the cherry at the optimal dark red color to ensure the highest quality of coffee.
Fact #2: Inside each coffee cherry are two coffee beans
They’re not quite coffee beans yet. However, the coffee bean as we know it today is one of two halves of the “seed” of coffee cherry. As you can see in the picture to the left, if you break open the berry, you can see that it holds two coffee beans as we know them.
In the process of producing coffee beans, the red berry pulp that you see to the left is discarded, and recycled. The “beans” are then cleaned, and dried in the sun. More on that to come later.
Fact #3: Coffee workers are hard-working…and poor
I’ll take it a step further. Coffee workers at the source are arguably the hardest-working and the poorest people in the coffee chain. Regardless of what we pay for coffee, the worker receives a pittance.
We found these three children to the left sitting in the dirt while their mother and grandmother worked in the fields. If they were tall enough to pick the ripe cherry from the trees, I’m sure they’d be working.
Their grandmother was standing beside me and I asked if she minded if I took a picture of her. She politely declined. When I turned around to see where their mother was, I found her “hiding” behind a thin tree that barely disguised her. As you can see from the picture, while their parents were shy or possibly superstitious, the children were much less inhibited.
Rule #4: It is not always safe work
Hazards exist in any job. In a work environment like this one however, there are few if any precautions taken with regards to those hazards. To the left is a memorial for Victor Martin Canajay Cholotio, who fell to his death from the top of the tree cover.
Production of a quality coffee relies on many variables. First, volcanic soil of which there is plenty in Guatemala, contains many nutrients that help produce a better coffee. Second, altitude and sunshine provide optimal growing conditions. A third factor is an optimal amount of shade provided to the coffee cherry while it ripens. Lucas said the goal is 60% cover from sunlight. Too much more and not enough sun will get in. Too little shade, and there will be too much sun on the cherry.
Victor’s job was to climb the trees and prune the natural cover to achieve the optimal 60%. He fell to his death, and this memorial remains on the grounds for him.
Fact #5: Considerable care goes into each step to ensure a good coffee
It is not only hard work, it is precise work. Think about it…
- Growth of the coffee tree requires almost perfect growing conditions, which is why it is limited in where it can be grown successfully.
- For the best coffee flavor, the cherry needs to be picked when it is the specific dark red color. If picked too soon or too late, the coffee won’t be as good and the farm’s reputation is based on the quality of its coffee.
- The 60% natural cover for perfect sunlight of the tree and cherry.
Finally, the processing of the coffee beans after they’ve been picked. My father and I watched two girls on their hands and knees over rows and rows of sundried coffee beans, looking at each one meticulously to pull out those with visual defects. One bad coffee bean can ruin a lot, and the farm cannot afford to ship a bad lot.
Don’t take coffee for granted! It isn’t until you see the process at its source and watch the workers themselves that you truly develop an appreciation for everything that has taken place before it gets into the hands of your roaster.
Ahead of this trip, I contacted David Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in London, Canada. David had made an origin trip to Guatemala before, and I wanted to know who he thought I should see while there. One of his first recommendations was a roaster named Fernando in Antigua. As an unexpected surprise, my father and I happened to be in Antigua at the same time as a different friend named David, and his wife. They have friends who live near Antigua, and when they heard what my father and I were up to, they also recommended that we visit the roaster named Fernando in Antigua.
Two separate recommendations to meet the same coffee man. That’s all we needed to hear. We set up a time to meet Fernando himself to find out more. As I did some research ahead of meeting Fernando, I quickly checked his TripAdvisor rating – 170 reviews with an average 4.5 stars! Very intrigued. My father and I arrived shortly after it opened and had breakfast. When we were done, Fernando took a break from making chocolate to join us.
Fernando opened up shop originally in Guatemala City almost 15 years ago. He started as a coffee roaster, and eventually became interested in making chocolate as well. He could see that tourists to Guatemala had high hopes for coffee before they arrived, and were often disappointed by what they were served. He would do what he could to change this perception, particularly after relocating to the more touristy Antigua. He has the ability to work directly with coffee farmers for quality assurance, but there’s much more to this business than simply being in the right place.
I told Fernando how we found him, and brought up his TripAdvisor rating. I asked him quite simply why he was so well-known for what he did. The answer…”I don’t know why.”
I wouldn’t let him off with such a modest answer, so he considered a little deeper and brought up a few things that he feels has contributed to the success of his business among both locals and tourists to Antigua.
The Whole Experience
First of all, he offers much more of an experience than simply roasted coffee. He offers chocolate, a full menu for any meal of the day, a very comforting ambiance. It is spacious, so it never feels noisy or crowded.
Fernando: “People come here for all that. It’s the kind of cafe where you can come and meet people from all over the world. You can disagree with everything everyone is saying, and still agree that you’re having a nice time.”
He takes pride in what he does well, but also takes accountability for what he knows he could do better. Fernando makes amazing dark chocolate, and yet still admits how far he still has to go in order to learn more and continue improving. There is a modesty that drives the constant improvement of his product. Fernando’s commitment to quality even extends to your kitchen – he will not sell you ground coffee. Why? Because it will go stale faster, so that by the time you make it at home, it will not taste as good as what you had in his cafe. If you want to buy his coffee, you’ll need to buy a grinder. It’s his small part of ensuring where his name appears, good coffee is being made.
And finally, Fernando himself is very accessible. He told us, “I live here. I just happen to sleep at home.”
Over the years, I’ve met many roasters in the United States and Canada. This was the first time that I met a roaster outside of North America. It’s amazing that rather than be struck by the differences, I was struck by the similarities. Like any successful North American roaster that I’ve met, Fernando’s same accessibility to his customers, passion for improvement, and quality standard has been the key to his success in Guatemala.
Coffee lovers, join me as I walk through the cobblestone streets of the coffee capital of Central America, if not the world (sorry, Portland Oregon).
My father and I just returned from a trip through Central America, in part to visit coffee roasters and farmers in Guatemala. After spending a couple days on Guatemala’s breathtaking Lake Atitlan, we proceeded by bus to Antigua. My father has made this trip before. It would be my first trip to Guatemala, and to the amazing city of Antigua.
Antigua is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, well-known for the ruins of colonial churches that remain standing throughout the city today. Around and between these ruins, a city and popular tourist destination has grown, including restaurants, cafes, shopping, and a central park square. There are less than 40,000 people that live in Antigua, down from its peak when it was once the country’s capital – Antigua Guatemala translates to “Ancient Guatemala”. Earthquakes destroyed much of the town in the 18th century.
My father and I arrived in this vibrant city of bilingual shop owners and employees, local shoppers, and tourists. I was struck by the number of independent cafes on every block. I think there may be more cafes per capita in this city than in any other, and great news, not a Starbucks in sight to diminish the experience! Not so great news, they allowed a few American fast food places in that are limited in how big or colorful their sign is allowed to be – smaller in size and less flashier than local shop owners. That includes a Burger King and McDonalds with its McCafe sign.
Antigua is also well-known for its chocolate makers and while there, my father and I toured Choco Museo, both a chocolate shop as well as a museum teaching the history of chocolate and how its made, with emphasis on its Mayan roots.
Among the many cafes that we visited was Fernando’s Kaffee, that I will write about separately. Fernando was recommended to me by two people, my friend and roaster extraordinaire Dave Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and a friend’s cousin who lives in Antigua. Fernando was gracious enough to give us some time for an interview, and it was a pleasure to meet an Antigua coffee man in person.
Due to its popularity among tourists, Antigua is usually accessible from any cruise that stops in Guatemala from both the Atlantic and Pacific.
If you love coffee and ever get the opportunity, make a point of visiting Antigua, Guatemala. Naturally, a country’s tourism department can only promote themselves in so many places, and Guatemala has not focused on the North American tourism industry. Don’t let that deter you. Tourists abound in Guatemala, and it is a truly beautiful country and people. If you’re a coffee lover, you need to see Antigua for yourself. I’m also told that Easter is an especially impressive celebration, where local parishes organize processions through the streets.
2013 was a big year at MakeGoodCoffee.com. Let’s take a look at what went down.
- Published in Roast Magazine
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
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
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.
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.
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!
- the practice of obtaining something, esp. money, through force or threats.
This was my first trip to the area, but my father has been there a few times before. He was our guide. The first time that he visited Central America, it was with a retired friend, and the two of them toured by mini van. My father had told me that one problem is when you cross borders on foot, as opposed to flying into the country and dealing with customs officers at the airport. Without the cameras, many other people, and management around, customs officers at the border crossings take advantage of the opportunity to ask tourists like us for a few extra bucks for themselves.
These extra bucks are not legit. This is extortion, not an official charge that they are collecting. From his first trip, my father tells stories of having to deal with many different officers at a single crossing, each one asking for 5 or 10 dollars. At one crossing, he paid a total of $50 before noticing an English speaking woman talking to a priest. He asked the woman if these payments were normal, and she was shocked at what he had paid. She asked the priest to talk to the young officers about it. When the priest came back, he said to my father, “The officer has to save face. He insists he did not take any money from you, and will not give it to me. But, you will not be paying money to any more officers at this crossing.”
This is all I could think about as our taxi driver from Punto Barrios, Guatemala dropped us off at the Honduran border. There is an entry fee of 3 US dollars to enter Honduras, and we could see this clearly on a sign on the wall and a formal printout that the customs officer gave us. I gave him $20 to cover both my father and I. When he gave me $4 back instead of $14, I turned to my father to ask how we should handle it. After all, I don’t need to get tossed into secondary inspection and have them take more than $10 of things out of my bag. Maybe that’s harsh, but the guy did just stiff me 10 dollars. Seeing that there was a sizable staff at this crossing, and many other people around (granted, we were the only non-locals), my father suggested I say something.
I pointed out the mistake to the customs officer in Spanish. Almost immediately, he acknowledged it and then created a bit of a scene behind the glass trying to find the right change in US dollars to give me. He couldn’t find it, and was becoming flustered. I suggested to him that he give me my change in Honduran Limpiras, since I’d need some. In his frustration, he put his hand in the till, grabbed a random handful of Limpiras, and handed them to me. There were so many hundreds of Limpiras, I didn’t know if he was giving me more or less money back. My Dad said, “Good enough.” As an aside, he gave me more change than he was supposed to.
The next hustler we’d encounter on our trip was at the Guatemalan border, as we made our way back from Honduras. This time, it was a small crossing. There were only two officers, an older experienced man, and a boy likely in training. This poses a different kind of problem. If you are asked to pay a bribe, the common advice is to ask for “el jefe” (the manager). But if the guy asking for the bribe is el jefe, what do you do then? As we waited in line, my father asked me to check if anybody ahead of us was being asked for money. I let him know that nobody was paying any money to the officer. We seriously did not have any money on us, and planned to hit an ATM in Guatemala City once we arrived there. This ended up coming in handy.
When my father stepped up to the glass for processing, el jefe asked him for 5 dollars. My father pulled out his credit card, and indicated it was the only way he could pay. El jefe told him he couldn’t take a credit card. A Honduran boy behind me in line that spoke perfect English also told me that they wouldn’t be able to take a credit card. And, of course! This isn’t a legitimate charge, so they aren’t going to be able to process a credit card. When my father reiterated that he had no cash, el jefe asked the other officer something, who looked out the door window at me. I believe el jefe asked either if anybody was traveling with my father, or if there was anybody else in line that could see all this going down.
Whatever the boy answered, el jefe asked if my father was traveling alone. I stepped up, said in Spanish that we were traveling together, and he asked for my passport. He stamped both of them and gave them back. I grabbed my father’s arm and told him we needed to walk away. We realized we may have cracked the code. If you don’t have the cash, they have no way to get money from you.
We had one more crossing on this trip before getting to Belize, and that was to exit Guatemala. On our bus ride there, a couple American backpackers sitting behind us asked the bus driver if we would need to pay anything to leave Guatemala, since neither of them had any money. The driver paused, then said no. The pause was all I needed to hear – it meant they weren’t supposed to ask for money, but the bus driver wouldn’t know if they would or not when we got there. One backpacker told the driver that she had heard that they ask for money at these crossings. Again, the driver paused, then said no.
I had a few US dollars left, that I took out of my money clip and put into a different pocket. I had a plan.
When we walked into the border crossing, the two officers were a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s. We could hear that they were asking for 25 Guatemalan Quetzals from each tourist. My father got the male officer, and I got the female officer. Maybe I just want to think the best of people, but it felt to me like this woman didn’t even want to ask for the bribe. I imagined that if her colleague was doing it, she felt pressured to do it as well. If you’ve worked in a unionized environment, you know what happens if you grab a broom and try to clean up after yourself. Your coworkers tell you to stop, and eventually, you just start doing whatever your coworkers are doing.
With my passport in hand, she very meekly asked for 25 Quetzals in Spanish without looking up at me. Here was my plan.
If she did ask again, my plan was to ask her “por que?”, why are you charging me this? What is the name of this charge? It doesn’t have a formal name, because it’s extortion.
If she came up with some reason to charge me this or if the male officer intervened (he seemed more assertive), then I would pull out my money clip so that they could see that it didn’t have any money in it, and ask her if she accepts Visa or Mastercard. I already knew she couldn’t accept either.
The standoff began. I didn’t answer her, and she was holding my passport without stamping it.
After a few awkward seconds, she finally looked up and quickly made eye contact with me before looking back down at my passport. I maintained eye contact, without making any comments or asking any questions. The standoff continued.
After another couple awkward seconds of no progress, she stamped my passport and handed it to me. I said gracias, and walked away briskly. I won! Marc 3, crooks in customs 0. We stood eye and eye, and she blinked.
The moral of the story: I am darned lucky we didn’t get tossed into secondary inspection and robbed at any of those three crossings!
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’.
Tomorrow morning, I leave for Central America.
I will be flying out of everybody’s favorite airport LAX, to Belize City. My father is already there, waiting for me to arrive. No sooner do I land, will we be hopping on a small plane to Placencia, and from there, taking a water taxi to Puerto Cortes. It should be a great tour of the less touristy part of the country of Belize.
Other than for some great bonding time with my father, this is a coffee origin trip. From Belize, we will be traveling to Honduras and Guatemala, and stopping at coffee farms in each of those two countries.
I have now on three separate occasions visited coffee farms in Hawaii. All three were great eye-opening experiences, particularly the most recent where I traveled with the owner and head roaster of Canada’s Fire Roasted Coffee. What an incredibly unique experience for a coffee-lover to watch our favorite beverage come full circle with a professional roaster talking to a coffee farmer!
The aspect of this trip that will make it unique is that I won’t be in the United States. I’ll be in poorer countries where I expect the plight of coffee farmers and their cycle of poverty will hit close to home. I’ve spent the last three months diligently learning Spanish, and I hope to conduct an interview with a coffee farmer in Spanish (recorder in hand, for everything he says that I will surely miss).
Wifi will be hard to come by. I will take every advantage to keep you posted on my trip. You can follow updates by liking our Facebook page, or following us on Twitter. Check back here too! – I’m already excited to share the experience with you. Going to the source of coffee, where it all comes from!