Our sourcing director Ben Myers has been abroad for over two weeks developing projects in northern Europe and then down in southern Ethiopia. Today he is cupping fresh 2016 lots alongside our import partner Trabocca. We do this all in the name of proactivity and quality development in future coffee contracting.
Recipe by Eli Masem, Photography by Jonathan Mora
(serve in a cappuccino cup)
- 1.5-2oz of Espresso
- Vanilla extract
- Cardamom extract
- 2 cups raw sugar
- Whole Milk
- Pistachio (Ground to a sea salt coarseness either in a spice grinder or with a small food processor)
- Make vanilla cardamom simple syrup by bringing to a boil two cups of raw sugar and two cups of water, mixing until all sugar dissolves. Add one tablespoon of vanilla extract and less than a teaspoon of cardamom extract and there you have it. This can be stored up to 2 weeks in the fridge and is also great in cocktails or poured over ice cream.
- Brew 1.5 to 2 ounces of espresso into cappuccino cup.
- Steam whole milk as your would for a cappuccino.
- Mix espresso and 0.5oz vanilla cardamom simple syrup in cup.
- Pour milk into cup.
- Dust with ground pistachio.
The sweet bombay is my espresso drink take on the Indian dessert, Kulfi. It's a bit like ice cream inundated with some exotic flavors (in this case vanilla and cardamom) and rolled in pistachio. I decided to tone down the sweet (Indian desserts tend toward the cloyingly sweet). Using a minimal amount of vanilla cardamom syrup and a final dusting of pistachio to close, the end result is rich and creamy but not overbearingly large or sweet.
Recipe by Eli Masem, Photography by Jonathan Mora
(vegan, makes one 8–10 oz beverage)
• 1.5-2 oz. of Single Origin Espresso (preferably Ethiopian)
• ½ oz Lemongrass Simple Syrup
• 2.5 oz. Coconut Milk
1. Brew 1.5–2 oz. of single origin espresso.
2. Measure out and combine ½ oz. lemongrass simple syrup and 2.5 oz. of coconut milk.
3. In a martini shaker ½ filled with ice, combine espresso and milk/syrup mixture.
4. Shake thoroughly and serve over ice.
To make the Lemongrass simple syrup, just chop up 3–4 stalks of lemongrass into 2–3 inch segments after peeling off the dirty outer layers. Crack the stalks so that they open up a little and bring to boil in a pot filled with 1 liter of sugar and 1 liter of water. When the mix comes to a boil and all of the sugar has been dissolved (stir well), turn off the heat and let cool. Typically you can find lemongrass at any asian market or specialty grocery store. I prefer slightly diluted coconut cream (equal parts coconut cream and water) because of its thick consistency but any coconut milk will be sufficient. The reason I recommend using a SOE from Ethiopia is that its fruity and floral brightness mixes well with the other tropical ingredients that make up the drink.
I was looking for a way of combining some of the elements of my favorite things in the world: coffee and southeast Asian food/drink, and dreamt up the Thai-eye opener. I wanted an espresso drink that was cold, refreshing, creamy with coconut milk, and with a light tartness and sweetness, without losing the quality of the espresso. This drink is nice because it lets the customer play with some flavors that might be out of their comfort zone. It makes me think of steaming hot nights in Bangkok, Thailand, a city that seems to be equally busy day or night, anytime of the year. It's what I would want to drink while zooming around the streets in a Tuk Tuk (3-wheeled moto rickshaw) from one spicy food stall to the next until sunrise.
Recipe by Eli Masem, Photography by Jonathan Mora
(served in a house mason jar or 12oz to go cup)
1. Fill cup ½ full with ice and 1oz plain simple syrup, then 3/4 full of soda water, mixing well.
2. Pour 2 shots of Espresso Savio into a shot-glass and then pour slowly into sweet soda mixture.
3. Pour slow as the mixture can foam up and spill over the side of the vessel.
4. Give a quick mix with a bartending whisk or spoon and serve.
Many people have had different takes on this drink. I’ve had it with natural sodas, I’ve had it as coca cola mixed with espresso, and I’ve had it as espresso mixed with soda water and caramel syrup. In my opinion, this recipe is preferable due to the fact that there aren’t any flavors other than the plain raw sugar simple syrup to distract from the espresso. It’s better to use the Espresso Savio as opposed to a Single Origin Espresso (SOE) because SOEs tend to be more volatile and will immediately foam up and pour over the top of the drink. This Sprocacola is bubbly, refreshing, and light without losing the great espresso flavor in the process.
BY BEN MYERS
The final descent into Managua is mad. Overhead compartments seem possessed, plane wings teeter-totter like a drunken waiter, and scared straight silence becomes the silent mantra. For some 8 hours now we've been trying to land, making three attempts in a Central American thunderstorm only before pulling up lame. The feel of a large plane yanking up last minute barrels straight into your gut and pulls up along the spine with chills. Everyone is cursing the pilot and in the corner an older Nicaraguan woman is threading her hands over the beads of a rosary.
I'm traveling to Nicaragua to visit our producer partners at Finca Idealista and to learn more about the larger umbrella network of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers. It's the first time I have traveled since my Father's funeral a month prior. The journey offers me time to reflect. My father was a writer; he left behind boxes of detailed journals, letters, and notebooks on everything from brain science to personal feelings of failure. The question of what we leave behind is present with me. The presence of death entering the rattling plane only heightens it.
We land safely. The road out of Managua and into the Matagalpa mountains feels comforting. The taxi weaves and stretches like the silhouette of a modern dancer alone in rehearsal. I feel safe again and maybe with it a sense of carelessness.
Matagalpa is Nicaragua's second most populated city yet it appears small and town-like. You can feel the influence of both indigenous populations and colonial Spaniards in the way the city has developed over time. Motos roar down the street, pickups blast advertisements with large black speakers tied down with bungee straps and tape, and dark skinned vendors lug kaleidoscopic wheelbarrows of harvested vegetables and fruit. It's the rainy season here now and the area is dense with lively green across the mountains. Matagalpa is a coffee mecca, a city where for centuries traders have gathered to tend offers and determine coffee's true futures.
Ben Weiner, my guide and leader of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers, arrives driving an army green truck and smiling through the passenger seat. After stepping out onto the cobblestone, he welcomes me to Nicaragua. Weiner is slight with a pair of eyes that seem to open wider with each word: "You ready to travel to the end of the world?" He is excited about my visit—he knows what it means to have Americans come down and visit the producers first hand. It translates into a deep understanding of the project and greater commitment.
When we first spoke over the phone some three years ago, it was the first time I had heard of the term "social enterprise." Again and again, Weiner would come back to the fact that what he was doing was a social, not private, enterprise. Though I doubted it at the time, the coming days of traveling these mountains will make me believe. I will have gone to meet some 25 small farmers living in tiny shacks tucked in what small flat areas the steeps afford. I will watch Weiner patiently listen and respond with steps forward. You can get a good beat on someone's heart by traveling with them, through learning to be silent and witnessing.
Along the craggy forest roads that separate one farm from another we discuss in length a philosophy of developmental work. "Rather than giving handouts to coffee producers, we pay them price premiums for high-quality coffee and have them earn the ability to provide what they need for their farms and families. Partner producers have used the increased earnings and access to credit we give in order to put new roofs on their houses, install solar panels, build new houses, invest in coffee processing equipment, invest in inputs for their coffee to increase yields, and importantly, to increase the nutrition and standard of living of their families. As a social enterprise, we want everything we do to be economically sustainable for us and for farmers with whom we work. Handouts are not sustainable and create high levels of dependency and expectations rather than initiative."
We stop at a depressed one room school house shrouded in a heavy coat of low-hanging clouds. He tells a story, "There was an NGO that came to this coffee community with a water filter intended for the school. Because the school didn't have running water installed, the filter handout was essentially useless. We did "cleanup" for this misguided project by working with the community to install running water in the school. We donated the materials and parents of students worked together to install piping that brought water from its source to the school. We then conditioned further support on proper maintenance of the water system." He asks me to go over and test the water; indeed it works and runs fresh and clear.
I tell him about my life back home. My father's passing, the hope of a new lover, time alone in the forest meditating. I can see myself saying this. That even now, so far from home, there’s something I am trying to leave behind. I can give you a clue, and maybe that's it as to what it is. I suppose that clue is a choice I get to make. We get to leave something behind, which is supposed to be the beginning.
Thirteen years ago, when Weiner was studying at Washington University in St. Louis, he traveled to Nicaragua for the first time to do research. At the time, Weiner was writing his senior honors thesis on a debt pardon for Nicaragua. Nicaragua is part of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) initiated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1996. The HIPC was intended to provide debt-relief and low-interest loans to cancel or reduce external debt repayments to sustainable levels. Nicaragua's economy is primarily agricultural and its unsustainable debt burden couldn't be managed with traditional means. Assistance was needed.
For Weiner though, debt forgiveness was not enough. Necessary, yes, but sufficient to improve the economy? NO. In order to help a struggling economy develop, infrastructure improvements must be implemented – different improvements, not handouts. The people need to build the roads and make decisions where to place the money into their food strategies. They need to see new models succeed in their ecosystems. They needed to see new beginnings.
In 2007, after years of traveling back and forth to Nicaragua espousing his ideas and working with NGO's in the region, Weiner bought the farm. Finca Idealista was purchased from a peasant farmer who didn't want to grow coffee at such high altitudes. For Weiner, it was the perfect place to begin his work at building infrastructure first hand. The revitalizing process began by ripping out all of the existing coffee growing on the farm.
The more you pay attention to coffee, the more you realize the importance of varietals. Finca Idealista had long been growing Catimor. Weiner and his team replaced all of the Catimor with two distinct varietals which had been proven to produce better quality coffees: Paca and Caturra. The neighbors thought he was crazy, but Weiner had done his research and knew that over the long term the Paca and Caturra would prove superior when approaching specialty coffee roasters in the United States.
After a short stint as a member of a local Fair Trade certified cooperative, Weiner was soon looking for another way to export the coffee they had grown. From conversations with other members of the cooperative, it was clear that the benefits of membership were marginal. The road forward was taking the risk of doing it all himself. Growing, milling, exporting, importing, and eventually selling to roasters. Which is where I met Ben, over the phone selling me coffee. Though by the time he had reached me, what began with one farm (Finca Idealista) had grown to over 100 different small farmers banded under the umbrella know as Gold Mountain. His neighbors soon realized he wasn't crazy, that in fact he was offering was more than forgiveness.
The last conversation I had with my father, he told me that things were getting better everyday. At the time, he was in bad health struggling with a failing heart and stomach cancer waiting in a hospital for surgery. I thought to myself, No father, this isn't true. You are sick. This might be the last time we speak. It is important for us to face the facts and talk about this. As evening falls on the road out of Nicaragua, I remember this staring into the long stretching horizon. There will always be something more to say and do, as long as this remains the beginning.
In August, 1000 Faces will release the first of four new lots of coffee from Finca Idealista. This is our third year of buying coffee directly from Finca Idealista and the Gold Mountain Coffee Growers. The plan is to continue buying this coffee for years to come.
BY JESSICA WRIGHT
In everyday conversations, Athens is often regarded as an anomaly within Georgia; a deviation from the stereotypical South that both rounds out and redefines its cultural complexity. Regardless of what Athens is to you, it's hard to deny its ability to cultivate talent and entrepreneurial opportunities that keep the town progressing. Thus enters Jess Dunlap into the Athens arena. After only five years of claiming the 30601 zip code, Jess has started to break down Athens’ art scene to ensure she's part of its promising future.
Jess attended school at the University of West Georgia where she received her Bachelors of Fine Art with a concentration in sculpture. This allowed her the latitude to indulge in many different forms of media and 3-dimensional concepts. From there, she found herself exploring burgeoning East Atlanta. Creativity took on new forms for Jess; she held down a restaurant kitchen as a line cook, became a professional hula-hooper and performed for various burlesque troupes as well as the fledgling Imperial Ope Circus in Atlanta. That's the cool thing about art; it has no finite definition, and is made even cooler by having its inspirations drawn from unexpected places and movements. While Atlanta can be hard to beat, the mysticism that hovers over Athens was beginning to take hold in the minds of Jess and her future-husband Sean Dunlap. Sean enrolled in the University of Georgia's Historical Preservation Master's Program and Jess found herself knocking on the door of a newly opened roaster looking to hire baristas. Finally, Jess met 1000 Faces and 1000 Faces met Jess.
As the adolescent business experienced a series of growing pains, Jess made her way deeper into the coffee world and into the company. Soon she was turning the male dominated coffee community on its head by mastering the ins and outs of proper roasting technique and cupping till she practically developed a faint brown spot on her nose from smelling and deciphering Ethiopian and other origins’ flavor profiles. At the height of her efforts, Jess received word that one of her roasts resulted in a coveted Good Food Award.
Eventually her drive to focus more on her visual art beckoned. Jess and 1000 Faces amicably parted ways, but not for long. During her time with the company she had been responsible for designing the weekly pull down menu of the featured pours and prices at the first 1000 Faces cafe located on west Washington street. Provided with the freedom to create, the signs became kind of “a thing” in Athens. People would mosey in at the top of the week eager to see what she had decided to draw up. Around the age of 12, Jess's sister gifted her a wood-burning tool that would reappear in her later work leading to new possibilities and exciting art explorations. This unusual skill was, serendipitously, discovered by the 1000 Faces crew. Coupled with their love of all things refreshingly different, Jess was asked for some wood signage to be sent to wholesale accounts as a token of gratitude and to expose the brand.
Designs are created on birch plywood and can take a solid 3–6 hours to complete once the design has been drawn up. The completed pieces have ranged from precise geometric patterns to the curved lines of a magnolia, and even whimsical origami cranes. Each piece presents a new challenge in mastering positive and negative space. Soon, friends started making requests for her to draw up outlines for tattoos. As a collector of tattoo art herself, Jess knows the importance of being cognizant of all the components that encompass a well thought out tattoo. There's a growing market for these commissions, despite Athens being blessed with some of the best tattoo artists around.
As I was meeting up with Jess to unearth how she became associated with 1000 Faces she jokingly made the comment that she was Jess Dunlap: For Hire. She hopes to capture and capitalize the beauty in being open and willing to take on art in any outlet thrown her way, and to not limit herself by conventional means. She feels lucky that Athens doesn't strap everyone down with an expected standard of what art should be.
We all know that Athens is an undeniably funky place. Sometimes one is drug here by the promise of higher education and a hell of a ball game, while other times it's about grabbing the cult-like Kool-Aid this town seems to serve and throwing it back with a determination to immerse yourself fully in its wonder. So by all means, get to know this local artist and get to know her work, as it's soon to be all over town. In the fall, The Grit will be displaying her work for patrons to enjoy as they eat. Soon Jess hopes to jump back into the craft fair circuit and be asked to design wood signs for her favorite local spots, like the Daily-Coop and Normal Bar. If you claim Athens as your community it doesn't matter how you connect with it, just as long as you do. 1000 Faces hopes to reach Athenians through a good cup of coffee and help introduce you to others, like Jess, who can further tie you and brand you into becoming undeniably Athens. You can follow Jess on Instagram under the pseudonym: gneissmouse.
By JESSICA WRIGHT
It's the age of hype; an era filled with VSCOcam filter discussions and lengths of time devoted to procuring the perfect natural light for the perfectly placed candid shot. Activities that were once considered daily humdrums, like sipping that first cup of coffee, have now been amplified into showcasing one's artisanal tastes. It can create a looming intimidation factor that my shy-self can feel apprehensive about dissuading.
The coffee world has, especially, become an artisanal force to reckon with. Following the Starbucks boom, a new movement began to take root as soft-spoken mad scientists roasted small batch, ethically sourced coffee. Quality was no longer just a gimmicky word thrown around by large, chain suppliers, but a line drawn in the sand over which these small coffee roasting companies would go to war to uphold. With all that effort, I could understand why they wanted their products and brands represented so seriously, but how in the hell does one break into that world?
There was something different about 1000 Faces.
If you spent enough time in Athens you would notice their coffee being sold or used in local shops, or for sale at the farmers market on weekends, but there was still an elusive edge about them. Eventually my curiosity led me to their roaster on Barber St. As I walked in the door, I was slightly surprised. A big table in the entryway served as the spot for most of the daily business transactions, bags were being slung and sealed right in front of me, and a roasting machine years away from the industrial Henry Ford style operation I thought necessary for success was spinning green beans round and round. When coffee beans landed in the 1000 Faces roaster, the same hands that created and ensured its quality taste also bagged it and took my money. The warm, accommodating faces answered my cliché questions with sincere enthusiasm. There wasn't an ounce of pretentiousness to be found. It was a quintessential Athens business; heavily connected to the community, thorough in its ethical bean sourcing and compost practices, and effortlessly cool because they didn't care if they were cool. They made good coffee for the sake of it, because they loved it and wanted to share it. They kept their doors open for added honesty, and even offered internships, so anyone who wanted to could learn all about the inner workings of a wholesale and retail coffee roaster.
While I'm casually building up my love for 1000 Faces, I do need to yield one sentiment of caution: you can never go back.
You will be spoiled, on the coffee front that is. I was able to drown myself in flavor profiles that opened up all my senses to the warm smells, bright tastes, and lingering finish that transported the mere act of drinking a cup of coffee into a full blown experience. You get caught up in defining your method of brewing so much so that coffee extraction takes on an actual character trait that you add to your Instagram biography. You feel an odd sense of guilt going out and paying for a cup because yours can finally rival, if not beat theirs. Coffee to-go will always have a place in your life, but now there's an inner monologue reeling through your head so sassy you judge yourself a little. Ultimately you don't care, because you know the limitless possibilities a single cup can divulge.
It may be apparent at this point that I haven't spoken exactly on the internship itself, as the title of the blog post implies. That's because what I'm leaving this internship having learned isn't about task knowledge. The cupping and production lessons were intriguing, but they are illuminated by the soul of this place, where Athens, Georgia's weird and subtle heartbeat pulsates.
To know 1000 Faces is to know Athens.
It's to know the families that walk the shaded sidewalks of Boulevard and step in for a quick cup and chat. It's the local chefs and artists who enjoy hearing of your passion for coffee beans as they share their passions in return. You get to know the young transplants, and their dogs, and relate to their struggles and successes. You start to see these same people all throughout town at events or bars, and they're always just as willing to engage in happy small talk and bullshitting. In a place where 120,000+ students, professors, visitors, newbies, and townies ebb and flow in and out of the 30601 constantly, this internship finally made the small town of Athens feel small. Everyone is doing exciting things and it's humbling and motivating to immerse yourself in every inch of it. The 1000 Faces internship cultivates that immersion without even intending to. Hopefully you'll leave as I did, with a deep love of coffee, and an even deeper love of Athens.
Legend has it that coffee was discovered by an observant goat-herder tending his flock in the remote highlands of Ethiopia. Pausing to rest beside a monastery, he noticed his goats munching on a small shrub filled with bright red cherries. Soon they were dancing circles around him, bleating and jumping with unusual fervor. Intrigued by their antics, the goat-herder tried the cherries for himself and was immediately filled with the same energy. He took the cherries to the monastery abbot who was so impressed he created the first coffee brew and shared it with his fellow monks. Soon the knowledge of this magical beverage spread across world.
We pay homage to this mythical origin of coffee with our new mugs, featuring artwork by Athenian artist David Hale. Made in Poland with ancestral enameling methods largely unchanged for over 100 years, they are the perfect vessel for your favorite brew.
Hand-crafted with heavyweight steel dipped in porcelain enamel, these mugs are classic, durable, and dishwasher-safe. Each will vary slightly due to the handmade process through which they are created.
Travel! Camping! Kayaking! Hiking! Spelunking! Espionage! These mugs are made for adventure.
By Ben Myers
As part of an on-going blog series exploring different terms both used and misused in the coffee lexicon, this week we are going to take a look at Fair Trade.
In 1838, a restless yet otherwise well-regarded Dutch teenager by the name of Eduard Douwes Dekker traveled to Java. For just short of 20 years, Dekker grew into manhood living and working in Indonesia. Dekker earned the respect of his colleagues and was promoted to a member of the East Indian Civil Service. In 1856, three months after establishing placement in Lebak, Dekker's life changed. He had crossed a tipping point and decided he could no longer silently stand by the exploitation of the native Javanese coffee farmers by his countrymen. For challenging what was then the status quo, Dekker was relieved from his post. He returned to Europe where for three long years he wandered as a poverty stricken writer under the pseudonym Multatuli.
The story of Eduard Douwes Dekker's transformation into Multatuli is part of coffee's great pantheon of origin myths. Some 150 years later, Multatuli's most famous piece of writing Max Havelaar stands as a vivid recreation of how a otherwise flawed idealist stood up to protect the Javanese from cruelty against his own countrymen. What was written as a fictional biographical remembrance is today seen as the founding document of the Fair Trade movement. For the first time, the world took a different viewpoint on how certain colonial practices when imposed upon indigenous peoples to deliver goods without awareness their own needs could reduce those living upon highly fertile soil to starvation.
From its onset, Fair Trade has been about helping end exploitation.
It is an interest, whether we be cognizant or not, which impacts everyone's wellbeing. In 1988, when Fair Trade certification was formally introduced to the world, it aimed to raise the prices of coffee to ensure growers received sufficient wages. In other words, aimed to make coffee farming a viable profession. Over the years, the mission has grown to support producers gain better market access, access more credit from financial institutions, and develop resources to help further community development projects. To this day, Fair Trade remains steadfast in its efforts to promote consumer education and industry wide awareness building. Fair Trade is not only the price being paid to coffee farmers; it's about organizing a comprehensive and coherent global strategy for sustainable development.
In recent years, Fair Trade has begun experiencing an identity crisis in the coffee commons. Journalists, academics, and industry professionals have debated at length Fair Trade's true value and the industry has become increasingly critical of the ‘Fair Trade’ strategy’s impact on the poor. As a result, over the last five years, a growing number of roasters in the United States and other affluent nations have selected to market with alternative marketing manifestos over the certified Fair Trade label. As the quality first division of specialty coffee continues its rapid ascension, there is growing trend of artisan roasters and cafes selecting not to invest their coffee dollars in support of the Fair Trade certification the way they once did. Simply put, these days Fair Trade is not seen as a cup quality enhancer for coffee. Rather, it is viewed more as a charitable effort with questionable impact on the working poor. More and more, roasters today are advocating a philosophy that the best way to support true sustainable development for coffee producers is to raise value not through an artificial mechanism, but based on pure cup quality.
As the value of Fair Trade lingers in debate and question, a new era of coffee has slipped off the runway and taken flight. This new era of self-described direct Traders is moving from infancy to a more self-reflective adolescence. In taking time to self-reflect, it becomes increasingly evident that with coffee (as with all things) that the truth of matter is that relativity and subjectivity will always negate that which we desire to position as objective capital 'T" truth. Everything depends on the situation and gross blanket catch phrases are little fingers pointing to a holographic moon. Still, it is important for all participants in the coffee trade, whether consumer of producer to take stock in understanding the promises and perils of Fair Trade coffee in order to responsibly steward a new era in coffee sourcing.
Over the years I have been prone to a remark that Fair Trade has value similar to that of section eight housing.
It is extremely important for dire straits but not the pinnacle that we collectively should be aspiring towards. For 1000 Faces Coffee, while we do not purchase coffee in order to utilize the Fair Trade certification we often purchase coffee from cooperatives that are certified as being Fair Trade cooperatives. Our mission statement has always been centered on a philosophy of direct trade and we have made it our company’s work to take part in developing this sector of the coffee industry. The coffee industry is massive and can be divided into many different sectors, and thus it is a good truism to remember that not all coffees are created equally though each can be shown respect by discovering new ways to add value. Most Fair Trade certified coffees do not capture the cup quality we are looking for. We find that by working directly with individual producers and producer programs we can work together to create better cups of coffee and in return the coffee producers we have selected to work with get a better return on their investment into the quality of their coffee production. When cherry selection is prioritized at the farm level, workers need to be paid more since it is simply harder work to be more selective. It is our preference to work with individual coffee farms so as to highlight an individual producer's work.
The legacy of Fair Trade is important to us; we hold the value of creating a just and equitable cup near and dear to our hearts.
We acknowledge that inequities persist in the coffee producing regions and in the right circumstances Fair Trade does a good job at trying to address these. The true value of Fair Trade for us is the legacy; the fact that it was a turning point in self-reflection as to how practice was being made real. We ensure that our coffee dollars are not going to fund such imbalance by cultivating direct relationships with our growing partners at the farm level. If there is one thing we have learned in eight years of meeting with coffee producers at the farm, it is that we could never develop from afar a mechanized system of care that would replace the intensive care with which they manage their immediate ecosystem. And so it is our choice to put our coffee dollars as directly in the hands of the producers we work with as possible. We do not currently recognize Fair Trade as being the penultimate mechanism for improving the lives of the working poor in coffee, nor are we here to boast that we have reached a penultimate point in our own developmental sourcing schematic. Though we are working on it, rest assured. We also believe that 'direct trade' in the wrong hands could be much more manipulative than Fair Trade in the wrong hands. Massive corporations have already begun to buy the rights to the early pioneers’ scribes, adjusting the ledgers to fit their blood-thirsty eyes. While we may not be supporting the Fair Trade certification process through our purchasing decisions, we are supporters of capacity building work with cooperative groups around the world by being active in the industry. The words of Multatuli do not fall deaf upon our ears; we trust that he would approve of our approach to sourcing coffee for our roasting operation.
Indonesians have a saying about their islands: Go to Bali for vacation, go to Sumatra for adventure, and go to Java to build your empire.
In a crowded traffic jam just outside of Jakarta, I recall feeling engulfed by an endless sea of broken down shanty shops in a twisted cacophony. Everywhere is the phlegm of motorcycle exhaust and factory made forgotten hope. Discomfort nestles its way under my skin like ants dancing inside a candy store. There is something still beautiful about the unregulated other; the rare, the sick, the kinky, the exotic, and it's something that takes no careful managers to orchestrate from above. It is released from below. The whip that Multatuli drew back might just be beginning to crack.
Historically, when discussing coffee in America, we would first talk about the roast level. From there, we may theorize about what makes one roast level distinctive from the other or simply say "I'll take the dark roast." For a multitude of reasons, this is no longer the gauge by which good coffee is studied. In this blog post and a series of blog posts to come, we will explore some of the more commonly used and misused terms in the coffee lexicon.
The map of coffee in America traditionally referred to various states along a spectrum of roast levels. From light, to full city, to French Roast, the entire taxonomy of coffee was classified primarily based on an outside looking in approach. We talked about coffee based on how it looked. Over the last ten years, the paradigm has dramatically shifted in the industry and coffee now empowers an inside looking out discussion. We talk about coffee in terms of geography, varietal, process, and even family. The difference in the two methods is phenomenological vs. genealogical. Interestingly, the coffee industry has moved from a manufacturing discussion towards an ecological discussion. This change emerged because of increased access to information within the roasting industry about where the coffee originates.
What has consistently worked to make change in any field, is access to information.
The "dark roast" is a relic of the dark-ages of coffee. It should be retired from our coffee lexicon. Essentially "dark-roasting" was a tool for covering up a lack of information and the defects that came along with it. Roasters ten years ago simply didn't have reliable access to information on where coffee was coming from. The important genealogical traits of green coffee were not made as readily available as they are for roasters today. Ten years ago, roasters were covering up what they did not know.
Coffee roasting technology has also improved. Roasters today use machines designed with greater efficiency and specificity. Heat can be applied and removed with far greater control on newer roasters. Processing technology at the lands of origin have improved as well by yielding coffees with fewer defects, cleaner and sweet flavor profiles, and more consistency from season to season.
By having all of the roasted coffee taste the same (bitter, bold, heavy), companies like Starbucks during the late 90's and early years of the new millennium were able to capitalize on the easy to replicate dark roast. The dark roast's massive dissemination via Starbucks (and others) deeply influenced how we consider coffee. An entire generation of coffee drinkers expresses a belief that a dark roast equals superior quality.
In truth, a dark roast equals superior quality only when the function of the roast is to mask poor quality coffee. Thankfully, where we stand today, there is more great coffee available for roasters to work with and a great deal of information for them to appreciate and nurture.
When coffee is 'over-roasted' (see image) this is registered as a roast-defect, because it obscures the intrinsic quality of the raw bean produced by grower and processor. By 'over-roasted' we mean to say that the coffee has been roasted both too long and at temperatures that are too high. The longer you roast a coffee and the higher the roaster allows the temperature of the bean to achieve, the darker it becomes. If a roaster were to allow a coffee to continue roasting too long, the beans would be engulfed in flames. Tasting the darkest roast possible before it got to this fiery inferno is in brash terms akin to drinking out of an ashtray. The only way to palate this cup would be to add ample amounts of cream and sugar.
Interestingly, the majority of American coffee consumers operate under the belief that the darkest roast is the best tasting coffee. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Our taste buds are naturally inclined to prefer a well rounded, sweet and clean presentation of coffee rather than a bitter and ashy presentation of coffee. The question then becomes, how did we get to this point? Simply put, for many years, roasters did not have the access to information and technology they needed to do a good job of what might be poorly categorized as "light or medium" roasting. Along with the rest of the modern world, the post-industrial technological revolution of the past twenty years has empowered coffee roasters to begin to access some of coffee’s true inherent and characteristic flavor. “Terroir” if you will. A mere ten years ago it was a source of pride for specialty roasters to acknowledge that a coffee was from a particular country, now industry leaders realize that we must identify and show respect to farmer specific lots in order to truly grow the specialty coffee industry.
The dark roast is a product of the dark ages of coffee. It is used to cloak coffee that is grown and processed in such a defective manner that the only way to override the lack of quality is to over-roast the beans. The only time to roast coffee dark is when the green coffee quality is so bad that it's the only way to go. Even then, you might want to rethink what you are doing. Just remember: its not you, its coffee...things have changed between the two of you. The future is looking bright.
Our roasting department at 1000 Faces is made up of Alex Reubert, Sammi Eubanks, and Neal Warner. The three work in tandem to monitor green quality, communicate information, and develop roast profiles which maximize the coffee's intrinsic values.