Blog : coffee

Norandino Coffee Mill

Norandino Coffee Mill

Day 2: Piura, Peru

The flight to Piura was uneventful, and we met up with Elmer, the partner of Farm to Roast, and our Peruvian guide for the trip. We met our driver for the trip, Robbie, who warmly greeted us and loaded up our gear into his truck. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we departed the airport and headed across the city of Piura to the Norandino coffee-processing factory.

 

This is one part of the trip that was completely new to me. All of the conversation about coffee exportation concentrates on the harvesting and processing at the farm level. Once the coffee is properly dried and packaged at the farm, there is a whole series of steps that need to take place before the green coffee is ready to be packed into containers and shipped to the docks for export. We got to see the process in action, and we walked through the entire plant with the manager of operations.

Tons of coffee wait for final processing.

The coffee at this point has been carefully harvested, processed at the farm, dried to the proper moisture content, and shipped from the remote coffee growing regions, the Norandino Mill. Each coffee bean has a thick parchment that is natural to the bean itself, which needs to be removed before bagging and export to the roasters. This is accomplished by using a series of machines that work at a very high rate of speed to rub off this parchment and “clean” the dust off the beans with massive blowers.

 

 

Click for Video!
The cleaned coffee is immediately dropped into large oscillating tables, which help to sort the coffee away from any contaminates like stones, sticks, coins and other junk that sometimes makes its way into the coffee supply. These tables also work to sort the coffee into different sizes. This table is on a slight angle, and as it shakes, the larger beans move toward one side of the table and the remaining smaller dense beans begin to collect in another corner. These beans shake off of the table at two different points, with the higher quality and more dense beans being kept for the specialty exports, and the rest being used in commercial grade coffee.


This first sorting is important to ensure that there is consistency in the size, density and shape of the coffee being exported. There is still one more concern in the specialty world; the presence of defects or “bad” coffee beans. Defects can occur naturally as part of the growing genetics from that particular coffee bean, or as an error in harvesting (picking a cherry too early or too late). These defects often have negative tasting consequences, and in order for a coffee to make it to “specialty” grade, there must be exceptionally few of these defects present in the green coffee.

 

Coffee sorting video
This would be an incredibly time consuming task to do by hand, but we were fortunate to be able to see some cutting-edge technology being employed at the Norandino Mill. The mill uses optical sorting technology, where hundreds of beans per minute pass by a bright light in a single file line. A computer quickly determines weather that particular bean has the proper shape and size, and gives that single bean a pass/fail. The failures are sorted out of the machine into a holding bin to be sold as second-rate commercial coffee. The passing beans are approved for bagging and shipping to the port. There were about 200 of these light samplers, and each sampler can test hundreds of beans per minute. The process is lightning fast, and incredibly accurate.

 

The final stage of the processing is to load all the passing coffee into a giant hopper, where workers will bag it up in specially sealed bags to ensure that the coffee makes it safely across the ocean to its destination.

 

The Norandino Mill is certified to process Organic, and Fair Trade coffee, and it has won numerous awards for its exceptional processing and milling procedures.

 

We finished the tour by cupping coffee samples in their coffee lab, and learning about some of the different farms in the area, and how the mill keeps careful records of processing, and segregation of the coffee to ensure that the individual farm’s coffees do not get blended together for Direct Trade models such as Farm to Roast. Norandino makes sure that the farms that Chris buys from are properly labeled and sorted so that each lot retains its distinct characteristics and flavors.

 

Seeing this kind of precision and accuracy on such a large scale was extremely impressive. To know that our coffee was coming through a mill with such advanced technology helps to explain why we are getting such a high quality product from these beautiful Peruvian farms.

 

 

We’re in it Now

We’re in it Now

I knew a little bit of Spanish.

 

Two years in high school as a primer, and living in a heavily Hispanic area in New Jersey helped to at least be familiar with some basic language structure and speech patterns. A half-hearted attempt at language learning software a few years back also helped, but I was still far from conversational. Upon arrival, I was barely beyond the basic necessities.

 

The language barrier was not too much of a concern for me; I was traveling with Chris from Farm to Roast. Chris can speak Spanish fairly well, and he has made many of these origin trips before. I knew that when we arrived in Peru, we would be joined by Elmer who is a partner of Farm to Roast, and a native to Peru. Elmer is a certified Q-grader, and owner of a café in his home city.

 

We arrived in Lima late at night after a long flight. While going through Customs, and stumbling over some rudimentary Spanish Q&A from the customs agent, we were turned loose into the city. As Chris gave a cab driver the address to our hotel, I suddenly realized that my firm grasp on English was completely and totally worthless for the next week. This was the first time I had ever been in a country where English was the third language, and most Peruvians don’t speak English at all.

 

We drove to the hotel, past billboards, advertisements, and street signs. The radio in the cab was on a station talking about the weather forecast for tomorrow. The whole city was abuzz with life much like being in downtown Pittsburgh or Cleveland, and not a word of English could be seen. My eyes must have been wide taking it all in because Chris looked over at me and said, “Yeah man, we’re in it now.”

 

The primary goal of this trip was to learn as much as I could about the coffee growing and harvesting process. I had read blogs and books, I had seen the pictures and descriptions, but I wanted to see it for myself; to experience it first hand. I wanted to meet the people who were responsible for the care and attention to detail that is required to produce specialty grade coffee, and to get to know the families of the producers so I could bring their stories back to Youngstown. I wanted to form a real connection to the coffee; a truly relational offering.

 

Another goal was to completely immerse myself in the culture of Peru. As the first time in a Latin American country, I wanted to experience as much of the lifestyle and culture that Peru had to offer. I came with no expectations and I was ready for what may come.

 

We arrived at the hotel, and checked in to our room. After dropping off our bags, we wandered down to the lobby to grab a beer in the hotel bar before it closed up for the night. Chris and I each had a beer from a local Peruvian brewery, and talked about the plans for our flight to Piura tomorrow. A few minutes later, I asked for the check so we could head up to sleep. I paid the tab in American dollars, and got back change in Peruvian Sol. I’d have to remember to exchange the rest of my USD tomorrow morning.

 

Chris was right; we were in it now. I couldn’t wait to get to Piura and get my hands into the coffee growing world.

 

 

Peru Retrospective

Peru Retrospective

It has been a week since my return from Peru, and although it was good to get back to the normal routine of roasting and brewing, a small part of me wishes I was still visiting farms and getting to know the true source of the coffee we work with every day. Being able to see the process first hand, and to interact with the people responsible for the incredible coffee we serve was not only an incredible learning opportunity, but an emotional experience as well. I was prepared to learn all about the coffee growing process; it was the emotional connection with the producers that perhaps was the greatest takeaway for me.

 

Visiting origin has always been a major goal for me since the specialty coffee world grabbed ahold of me almost 10 years ago. To completely understand how the coffee grows, and to see the terrain of the land and remote locations where the plants thrive would be an incredible learning opportunity, and may afford some insight to the roasting process for me. Seeing first hand how the coffee is harvested and prepared for export is to better understand the end product as a whole.

 

Another motivating factor behind origin trips for me is to get to know the person beyond a name printed on a coffee bag. We often promote our coffee based upon origin, farm name, and producer name. We feel that it helps us to connect us all to the story of the coffee, and to show why these offerings are truly unique. We use photographs of these farmers to show that there are real people that cultivate these coffees, and they have families and stories to tell. It tends to make the relationship more real, and the appreciation for the coffee more authentic.

 

Authenticity. Something about this arrangement still felt somewhat artificial to me personally. Every “third wave” roaster around the world would do the same thing. Name the farm, name the producer, and show a picture. Beyond the photo was a whole story that we were telling, from the words of someone else. Our importer would tell us the romantic story and we would parrot that to our customer base. I wanted more, I wanted to experience the story for myself.

 

I expressed this desire to Chris Griffin, founder of Farm to Roast. Chris was a nano-importer from Pittsburgh who was traveling to micro-roasters in the area to promote his current green coffee offerings. Chris and I had a lot in common, we were both had new businesses, and we were the “little guys” in an ocean of big names. We both had a passion for bringing truly exceptional coffee to the area, and to tell the stories of the families who worked so hard to make that coffee available to us.

 

Chris did one thing a little bit differently than many of the other importers who would court us for our business. He visited the farms for himself, and he established relationships with the farmers. These relationships were designed to form long-term commitments between farmers and roasters. In essence, we would support each other as we both grow. This model appealed to me, and to the model that we were trying to grow with Branch Street. The familial nature of this structure hit a chord with us.

 

Not long after we met Chris, I asked him if he would be willing to take me to origin to meet the actual people behind the coffee we were buying. He immediately agreed and told me to plan for August, which was still 6 months away. I immediately updated my passports and began to get ready for what would become my first origin trip.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will delve deeper into the experiences that came to define this week in Peru; the people, the terrain, the knowledge and the relationships that were formed. This trip was an unforgettable experience that has helped to foster a much greater appreciation for every step along the coffee process, and I can’t wait to share these stories with you.

Peru Origin Trip

Peru Origin Trip

Peru

 

At the end of August 2017, we will be heading to South America, to visit several small coffee farms. This will be our first origin trip, and our first attempt to bring home something that is truly unique. In the next few weeks, we hope to secure outstanding single-farm coffee, trading directly with the producers who own the farms. This is true sourcing.

 

In a previous blog post, we touched on one form of trading called “Fair Trade” and the controversy that surrounds the certification. Since its inception, the Fair Trade label has become weighed down under layers of bureaucracy and the money from the roaster didn’t always make it directly into the hands of the farmer. It is filtered through different hands until only a fraction of the purchase price makes it to the producer.

 

Due to the shortcomings of the Fair Trade system, many roasters decided to circumvent the import process, and source their own coffee by paying the farmers directly. They hired importers to come with them on the trips, they paid the farmers and the importer separately. The coffee skips past several links on the chain and both producer and roaster win in the end.

 

Producers of specialty coffee are extremely talented and hard-working farmers, who understand the growing conditions, and the harvest processes that will produce exceptional, one of a kind coffee. Often these producers are humble families of meager means, and their hard work shows in the quality of their product. These farms are usually small plots of land, and their yield is typically dozens of bags of coffee (not the hundreds of bags that some larger farms produce).

 

Direct Trade has been the buzzword for many years now, but just like Fair Trade, the waters have become muddied. Since no central governing body has oversight over the label Direct Trade, anyone can call any coffee by that name. People claim that they “source” coffee or that a coffee is “Direct Trade” all the time, and unfortunately sometimes they never even left the country.

 

So how do we differentiate ourselves from all of the “grey area” labels that exist, and let the people buying our coffee know that we have gone the extra mile (thousands of miles, actually)? We are creating a special label that will let you know with certainty that the coffee you are holding is from one of the farms that we have visited, and purchased the coffee from directly. We are dedicated to making sure that there is transparency in our products, and we will go the extra step to continue to bring amazing coffee to you, and we will work hard to tell the stories of the farmer while respecting the process along the way.

Tasting or Drinking?

Tasting or Drinking?

This blog post has been written by Ben Ratner, co-owner of LiB’s Marketplace in Salem, Ohio. Ben has extensive experience in food and wine, and has been working in the coffee profession since opening Lib’s with is wife Lindsay. We are proud to partner with LiB’s in bringing you this outstanding class, taught by Ben himself to help us all expand our enjoyment of our food and drink. Without further ado:

When you enjoy coffee are you drinking it or tasting it? The difference is subtle but measurable. Most people looking for a quick pick-me up may fall into the “just drinking” category while those looking to experience something more; a connection with their coffee, land more on the tasting side of things.

In specially coffee we are always striving for that something extra. It could be learning more background or production info, that season’s particular weather, anything to allow us to feel more connected to the cup and the lives of those that made it possible to get from a farm to your belly.

Perhaps sometimes we lose the most important factor in coffee. Behind the specifics in climate, growing region, processing methods, bean elevation, the name of the farmers first born and so on…the most important thing being; is it delicious and tasty?

After we have qualified a coffee as delicious, does it stop there? Of course not! We need to know why that cup stands out, and as coffee professionals we need to be able to explain to a guest of our café, or orderer on our online shop, and in some ways insure the type of experience they will have after making a purchase. Similarly, it’s a coffee professional’s job to be able to pick out flaws on the production side before adding a specific bean to the offering list so they know if it will properly represent the shop that will be presenting it to the consumer.

Here is where sensory evaluation comes into play. Your palate is like a muscle, and it takes practice to teach our brain and sensory systems to work together to pick out regional notes and flaws a like.

This is where Branchstreet Coffee Roasters, LiB’s Market and you come into the picture! We are partnering up for an awesome intro into sensory perception workshop to take place at Branchstreet on May 21, at 3:00pm. We will discuss how to start making connections between your sensory systems that will get you on the path to being a better perceiver in general which will lead to having a more enriched experience in life not just coffee tasting because these skills will make it possible to feel that much more connected to the things we consume.

As humans on this journey called life, our memories and experiences will last a lifetime. Join us to make some memories and get the ball rolling on becoming a better taster. Those wishing to get started and those looking for a  refresher or if you just want to be sure you’re fully enjoying the things you consume and squeezing every last drop from life! Join us.

Connections- Jimmy & Spade EAT!

Connections- Jimmy & Spade EAT!

This is the first of our guest blog series. Please meet Jimmy & Spade Eat, a dynamic duo of amazing culinary insight and creative write ups for local food venues. Check their blog out, and find some new favorite places for grub!

Have you ever sat and had coffee with a friend while discussing some of life’s most intriguing questions? Have you ever spent time serving in a soup kitchen or enjoyed a family gathering around an array of delicious delicacies? Maybe you’ve had lunch with a new business partner and brainstormed innovative and exciting ideas. We all love the guy in the office that brings in donuts on Mondays when most of us don’t want to be there. There seems to be a certain nuance that food and drink bring to the human experience. Our existence here has many complex facets. One that I believe most of us may overlook or gloss by is the connection we share with other individuals on this planet. C.S. Lewis puts it like this, “Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees is, it would look like one single growing thing—rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.” How profound that it is time and space which constricts our view of humanity as a whole. One of the greatest adventures in life is realizing this misconception and reestablishing our connectivity to our fellow man. 

Reestablishing connectivity—this, I believe, is what food and drink are meant to facilitate. It will take most of us a good meal or a fresh cup of brewed coffee to break down these barriers. We have become so over-obsessed with self that we need a conduit for conversation. I would reason to say that this is a barrier that transcends time, but it is even more relevant in the day and age we live in. We spend more time using technology which is meant to connect us but ultimately separates us. We have every form of entertainment at the click of a button. We can drift off into the distraction of nothingness for hours and completely forget about the outside world. The idea of social media seems like a revolutionary concept that would propel a communal humanity. However, it often serves to only feed our self centeredness and disconnect us from the “real” world. If you were to try and explain Facebook to someone a hundred years ago, one could describe it as a page that ultimately is a shrine to a self image manufactured by one’s own skewed perception. I am not denigrating technology. It can be an impactful tool in many avenues. Rather, I am raising the awareness of motive. Also, I reason that there is no consolation for the kinship evoked by a meeting of two or more soulful beings in person. This is something that a labored meal or beverage can create that technology never could.  

Every good restaurateur may seemingly have different passions. Each one is unique in this. One’s passion may be to create the best cup of coffee. Another’s may be to install a new way of life through food. Another’s may be more simplistic in nature—to bring their family’s old recipes back to life. These passions, while being very personal and real, are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an even greater, much more climatic end. The over arching theme is connecting people. They connect individuals with each other as well as assimilating and introducing them to new ideas, concepts, and even ways of life.  I cannot speak for every restaurant, café, or coffee shop because I know that there are many out there with false motives. These are establishments that because of a lack of passion create an inconsistent or low-grade product and service. However, the culture of passionate business owners that I do know and support bring all of these thoughts to life every day through there diligence, tenacity and perseverance.    

This is the platform that Spade and I build our entire model off of. We are here to create convocations of connectivity in the community. We wish to become a medium where we can bring together all types of people. We want to introduce patrons of all ages and races to genuine, authentic establishments that will care of them and their loved ones. We desire to allow business owners a forum to introduce themselves to people in the community. We also hope to create a hub for cross-cultural connections of different business owners in the area. We connect people through food. I hope that as you sit down to your next meal you will be aware of this dynamic— this great and wonderful connection between food and community, food and family, and food and friends. 

Water and Chemistry

Water and Chemistry

This article was originally written by Matt Campbell for the membership of Coffee Props.  Please visit www.coffeeprops.com to join the conversation and be a part of the community!

So much focus has been put on the coffee itself, and rightfully so. The grind size, consistency of grind, freshness and quality of the bean, roast quality and method of brewing are all important factors when considering the end result of your brew. Traditionally when we would talk about water we would be discussing water to coffee ratio, temperature of brew water, speed and type of infusion method, and filtration. While these factors are all important, recent studies have broadened our understanding of our water.

 

What can be so complicated? Water is H2O, right? Well, yes; and no, not always. Without getting too deep into the physics and chemistry of it all, water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and the liquid we all know and love is capable of dissolving all sorts of other molecules. The makeup of water depends on a multitude of factors and conditions, and it is a complex array of chemistry and physics. Each water sample can react differently with its surrounding environment, and it is no different when we heat it and pour it over a bed of coffee.

 

It has been shown that magnesium (Mg +2) and calcium (Ca +2) are important to extracting flavor from coffee. These two atoms readily dissolve in water to create ions. These ions have a charge, which reacts chemically with flavor in the coffee to extract it into solution. Adding the sum of these two minerals together to calculate their abundance in parts-per-million (PPM) will give us an idea of general hardness, or GH.

 

On the opposing side of these ions are carbonate ions (HCO3 -1), which is more commonly referred to as the alkalinity or buffering agent (KH). This also contributes to coffee flavor, but it must be kept in check to prevent undesirable changes.

 

Although there are other minerals and ions in solution, the three mentioned above are the most important factors that impact flavor. These ions must be kept at the right level of hardness, but they must also be in proper quantities relative to each other. The preferred ration seems to be 2:1 in favor of the general hardness when the GH is around 100 ppm.

 

Believe it or not, that was actually a pretty dumbed down version of the whole story. Although these are just the basic facts, there is a whole textbook of information called, “Water for Coffee.” If you are they type that needs to know more, there is no more relevant and thorough information available. It isn’t exactly an easy read, but it is articulate and complete.

 

All this fantastic information has been made available recently, but now what can we do with it? Sure, we can purchase titration test kits and expensive filtration solutions to make the perfect water for coffee, but for the average household this is not a feasible option. Is all lost?

 

Not quite. The chemistry may be complicated to understand, but some very smart people have broken it down for us. Matthew Perger, WBC all-star and coffee guru has been dropping knowledge for us, so I will yield the floor to his recipe for perfect water:

 

Water Recipe:

 

Based on instructions from Matthew Perger, and the book Water for Coffee

Ingredients: Sodium Bicarbonate (aka baking soda); magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt); distilled water

NOTES:

  • Distilled water, spring water, and purified water are not the same. It must be labeled distilled for this to work.
  • The Epsom salts must be unscented, and read magnesium sulfate. MgSO4

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

 

To make concentrate:

  1. Add 8.6g baking soda, and 25g Epsom salt to 500g distilled water. This is your concentrate.
  2. Shake this concentrate until it is all dissolved.

 

To make perfect coffee water:

  1. Place 500g of distilled water into a clean glass container.
  2. Carefully mix 2.5g of CONCENTRATE into the distilled water.
Cascara: A new take on an old drink

Cascara: A new take on an old drink

This weekend we released a new product; something that we have been working on for several weeks. As far as we know only a few cafes in the nation are offering cascara on their menu, and of those that have it only a fraction of them are serving it as soda. So what exactly is cascara, and how did this drink come to be?

 

Cascara is the Spanish word for “husk,” and it is the perfect description. Many of you know that coffee grows on a tree inside a cherry. When ripe, it is picked by the farmer and delivered to a washing station. The pit of the cherry is then separated from the fruit, and that pit is dried out and prepared to be the coffee that we enjoy daily. That remaining fruit or husk is called cascara.

 

Normally, the remaining cherry, or cascara is either discarded or thrown into a compost pile to be used as a fertilizer for the coffee trees. This has been the custom for decades, especially when global focus has been on maximum production for the corporate coffee world. With attention shifting from mass-produced coffee consumption to quality-centric specialty coffee, more focus has been placed on the coffee plant itself.

 

Cascara has qualities of both coffee and tea, putting it into a league of its own. It can be earthy, with many of the qualities of an Indonesian coffee, or a root-type spice. Usually that mild earthy taste is accompanied by a cherry or raisin-like flavor, and a pleasant sweetness; especially as it cools. There is caffeine content as well that is about the same amount you would expect from a cup of black tea.

 

For as long as coffee has been around, the cascara has been used as a tea, or eaten as a cherry. Coffee lure actually attributes the discovery of coffee to goats that were hyper-caffeinated by eating these cherries from the local coffee plants in Ethiopia. The farmers discovered the energy-inducing fruit, and began harvesting, cultivating and trading it. As the coffee trade took off, the seed became the central focus, but for many of the local producers the cherry would be steeped into a drink of its own.

 

In order to be made into a drink, the cherry must be carefully prepared and dried to a tea-like consistency. This dried cascara can then be stored, or shipped as a commodity, much like the coffee itself. Cascara has long been enjoyed in many European countries, often as a coffee and tea alternative. Of late, many leading specialty coffee companies have begun introducing it to the American market.

 

 

So how did we end up with a cascara soda? After learning about the flavors and qualities of cascara, we ordered some to find out for ourselves. We were immediately blown away by the taste and versatility that we found. Cascara was a huge hit among our baristas.

 

We immediately knew that we had something special on out hands, and we began to work tirelessly to create a drink that would be unique to Youngstown. After a few recipe attempts, we realized that there was more than one way to brew this cherry up, and we are planning on having an entirely unique cascara menu.

 

So what is the Cascara Soda? It is an amazing combination of flavor that is similar to coffee, tea and soda. The only way to truly experience it is to grab one of your own. This soda is only the beginning of the fun we will have; ask about the unique ways that you can enjoy cascara!

 

 

 

 

Fair Trade?

Fair Trade?

This blog post was originally written by Matt Campbell for Coffee Props.  Coffee props is a community of coffee lovers, with a focus on bringing clean water to third world countries. Check them out at http://www.coffeeprops.com for more!

Fair Trade?

 

If you’re a frequent consumer of specialty coffee, chances are you have come across several certifications and registration programs. Some may include Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, Rainforest Certified, and others. What exactly do these mean, and how concerned should you be about the presence or lack of certification?

 

Certifications are great, and they provide some clarity to an otherwise muddled chain of custody on the commodity market. Where an item came from, how it was produced, and weather or not it was sourced ethically should be of concern to a consumer. We value transparency, and increasingly, we have become more aware of our footprint and its impact.

 

In our modern world, we live with a strange paradox. We are sourcing our products and goods on a worldwide scale from people we will never see or meet, while becoming more connected via technology and social media. Suddenly we are able to see the results of our consumer culture on the countries producing our goods. Knowing that our choices have an impact on other people creates a sense of moral and ethical responsibility.

 

The certifications were created to give the consumer the assurance that they were buying a product that was created with their values in mind, and that badge on the box or bag assured them that this product was up to their standards of ethics. It is comforting for the consumer to know that they made a good choice.

 

Right? Maybe.

 

As with any system, all of these certification programs have flaws. What starts as an honest attempt at transparency can become a bit muddied, and it is important to understand the context of these flaws so we can purchase wisely instead of blindly.

 

To use an example, let us examine the USDA Organic label. The US Department of Agriculture developed guidelines and regulations to define what Organic means, and how it can be confirmed with inspections and certifications. The consumer knows that products labeled with the USDA logo are certified, and buying that product means that it has met those guidelines. We often only think of this from the consumer point of view, and not that of the producer.

 

When a producer grows or creates a product according to USDA Organic standards, they cannot just slap the logo on that product. They must apply with the USDA to be inspected and show a tremendous amount of paperwork including, records, testing, procedures, and policies in order to even be considered for the Organic label. Oh, and there is a tiny fee involved. These fees START at $750 USD per farm. The fee can range because the USDA does not always inspect these farms themselves. Oftentimes they will need to pay one of the USDA “approved” agents to come and inspect. These private agents set their own fees. Travel time, room and board may add additional expenses.

 

Consider a coffee farm in Ethiopia, a country known for beautiful and unique coffee. Many of the farmers are small operations; sometimes each farmer controls only a few acres of land. To market their product as USDA Organic would likely prove to be impossible because of costs involved; even if they follow the strict guidelines set by the USDA. In fact, many of these farms are in remote areas that have no choice but to grow in organic conditions. It does not make their coffee any less “pure,” but we will never see the label on their beans.

 

Even as a cooperative organization (co-op), each individual farmer would need to be inspected and certified in order for the co-op as a whole to be certified. This is frequently cost prohibitive, as well as logistically difficult. It creates a catch-22 of sorts among these third-world farmers, while it rewards the larger, richer and more powerful farms and keeps the smaller rural farmer out of reach.

 

This actually creates a nice segue into another certification, Fair Trade. As consumers, we care about the quality of our product, we often also want our producers to be cared for as well. No sweat shops for us! With the advent of Fair Trade, we felt good. Those poor people were getting a fair price for their product, and we knew that their standard of living was being raised as well.

 

In order to be labeled Fair Trade, a coffee must sold through a co-op. Co-ops are organizations that have leadership, and overhead. The leadership decides how the profits from the season’s sales are divided up among the farmers, and how much the leadership pays itself. You know, for leading. Another sad side effect is the loss of amazing coffee. If a farmer has an outstanding crop, it likely will be blended and sold off with all of the other coffee from that co-op.   The quality of that one farm will be completely lost, and bring everything down to an equal level. Not so fair.

 

Although there are too many organizations and certifications to list, the one thing they have in common is the desire to market a better product. For all their flaws, they do have some redeeming qualities. As a consumer, be aware of where your coffee and products come from and make your own decision. Try to use the certifications for what they are: a tool. There is plenty of bad Fair Trade Organic coffee out there, and even more excellent coffee that hasn’t been certified by any institution. Talk with your roaster and baristas about the coffee, chances are they will know about the origins and the story behind that particular offering.

 

So what’s the point? I suppose it is to encourage you to be an intelligent consumer. Know about the product, and buy it based on the merits of the product itself. Sure, having the certifications is great, but is the product the best available for you? Perhaps there is a tremendously flavorful coffee right next to the bag with all the fancy stickers; and perhaps you will reward a small farmer for his hard work and dedication, regardless of their certifications.

Coffee Rating

Coffee Rating

This blog post was originally written by Matt Campbell for Coffee Props.  Coffee props is a community of coffee lovers, with a focus on bringing clean water to third world countries. Check them out at http://www.coffeeprops.com for more!

How does your coffee rate?

 

Coffee is everywhere. It is ingrained in our culture, and our daily lives. From fast-food drive-through to your kitchen, chances are that you aren’t far from it. As part of Coffee Props, our main focus is on that small percentage of coffee that is considered “Specialty Coffee.”

 

Specialty coffee is defined as the best of the best in the coffee world. That doesn’t mean much without a way of quantifying, or grading coffee. Thankfully, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has stepped in to help create a standard so that the coffee industry can define Specialty Coffee exactly.

 

Let’s get nerdy.

 

The SCAA developed a system called “Q-Grading.” This is a series of metrics that will help the industry to grade different coffee against each other, to discover what makes the cut to be considered Specialty Coffee. Q-grading combines both objective and real measurements with subjective sensory traits. There is a very rigorous training program for those who wish to become Q-graders, and it is an ongoing training once that certificate has been earned. Graders must ‘recalibrate’ to each other frequently, to make sure that they are all in agreement on the results of a coffee even while they are in different countries.

 

This program is actually so well managed, that Q-graders are able to get results +/- 1 point of each other. This is over a system of 1-100, so the margin of error from one q-grader to another is 1%. That is a tremendous feat.

 

So what does Q-grading do for the coffee industry?

 

Coffee isn’t grown in most regions that are consuming the beverage, so it is important that a system is in place to buy, import and roast coffee from around the world. If a buyer in Brazil is grading a coffee, they can relay that information to an end user in the US, and they can decide if they should purchase that coffee, or look for another. When the coffee is received stateside, we can feel confident that we have made an educated purchase.

 

Great, Q-grading is for buyers, and roasters. What can it do for YOU?

 

Q-grading does not end with industry professionals. There are resources for roasters to submit their roasted samples to a company, who will blindly taste the coffee and give it a grade. These are called sensory evaluations, and they are a great way to convey to consumers what they can expect prior to buying a product. The largest and most respected resource is Coffee Review. Coffee Review regularly does grading for roasters around the world, and they publish the results for their consumer base. This assures buyers that they are getting a high quality product, and it can even help you find some great coffee that you may not otherwise have known about.

 

By the Numbers

 

Can we get a frame of reference for these numbers? Any coffee that is rated by 80 or above defines Specialty Coffee. This rating is assigned at the point of purchase, by Q-graders. This doesn’t mean that your roaster will take a 90 point green coffee and roast a 90 point final product. In fact, it is quite possible that they won’t even come close. Many factors in the roasting process can affect the final product, and this could cause a much lower grade. It is also possible that a lower-graded green coffee can be treated perfectly by the roaster and surprise us all with a great grade.

 

It is a huge accomplishment to have a coffee achieve a 90+ rating, and you can see some examples of that by checking out some of the ratings on coffeereview.com.

 

(shameless plug)

At Branch Street Coffee Roasters, we recently decided to send our first sample of coffee to be professionally graded. We did this to gauge our roasting, and to ensure that our product was standing up to the quality that we are consistently trying to achieve. We were more than satisfied with the results, and it has given us a metric to strive for with all of our coffee. We can promote that coffee to our clientele, and they now have an expectation by seeing that number. It also encourages us to keep striving for the high ratings, and continue sending samples to ensure that we are always earning that mark.