While I’m kicking off the week at Coffee Common here in Long Beach, I’m ending one that included a lot of tight printer deadlines and chats with Stephen Morrissey at Intelligentsia in preparation. During one of those conversations, I was reminded of this signature mug that Intelligentsia designed and recently released in their stores.
When it comes to mugs, I like a solid one that will retain heat, but I also appreciate a delicate form that doesn’t look clumsy. I have a few classic diner mugs which are heavy enough to double as a lethal weapon, but they lack the elegance I sometimes prefer. This mug seems to solve both problems with thick walled porcelain and a profile that could easily become a modern icon. I haven’t personally used one yet, but for only $12, I see a pair of these beautiful mugs in my future.
I’m excited to announce (and be a part of) this incredible new project making its public debut this month at TED in Long Beach, California.
Coffee Common is a collaborative gathering of top baristas from around the world, making coffee from top roasters around the world, who source their beans from the best farms they can find. For a week, some of the biggest players in the coffee industry will join together to introduce the open minds of the TED audience to the culinary delights of exceptional coffee. If the coffee industry had an All-Star game, this would be it.
This will also be the first public event shared by Common, a new collaborative brand. Under the banner of Common, like-minded businesses join forces to benefit people, communities, society and the environment. Since the participating roasters believe in the importance of building relationships with farmers and the overall quality of life at origin, there are many shared values that Common believes are important for coffee consumers to understand.
The experience and thoughts of the baristas and TED participants will be captured on the Coffee Common website. Ideally, the alliance will continue beyond TED to keep promoting the truths of great coffee. Show your support to see that it does.
We of Coffee Common gather as a community with shared values. We understand coffee as the most complex and extraordinary beverage in the world. We believe that great coffee requires study, experimentation, craftsmanship, and humility. We believe that great coffee is, at its best, a collaboration of an empowered coffee farmer, an artisan coffee roaster, a dedicated barista, and an enlightened consumer. We believe that collaboration can be an act that promotes global economic prosperity, social parity, cultural exchange, and culinary expression. –Coffee Common
This great ad from the London-based chain, Costa Coffee, uses a variation of the infinite monkey theorem to ask, “if you give a room of monkeys coffee machines, will they create the perfect cup of coffee?” Watch it and find out.
This poster was created with the same intention as the others I’ve designed—to simply express my own frustration with certain habits and trends within the coffee industry. While the first one (the dreaded x) was self explanatory, some of these need a bit more explanation. So let this be the first.
Bold: adj \’bōld\ 1) Fearless before danger. Daring. Adventurous. See ‘bold’ type.
I know that coffee fearlessly takes on each morning like an undefeated champion and gives us the courage to face the day. But there are many other ways to describe this revelation—and the taste of your coffee—than with a hollow descriptor that Starbucks practically own the rights to:
What Makes a Coffee Bold? At Starbucks we will call a coffee bold based on its flavor intensity. Bold can come from a combination of roast, flavor intensity or the complexity due to where is it grown. Some examples are the grapefruit notes in Kenya or the full body of the earthy and spicy Komodo Dragon Blend®. –Starbucks
By this definition, any coffee that exhibits “complexity, ” whether it’s a citrusy Kenyan or a spicy Indonesian constitutes being described as “bold.” Coffee by its very nature is an intense (some might say bold) beverage. The flavors, the aromatics, the body, the complexity, the caffeine—all create a unique beverage experience unlike anything else.
However, the word “bold” has been hijacked by marketing and used to describe everything from darker roasts, to higher brew ratios, to even implying there is more caffeine in bold coffee (which there isn’t). This creates confusion among customers, frustration among baristas, and puts pressure on roasters to participate in the erroneous descriptor circus, just to sell coffee to an indoctrinated market.
The industry is full of metaphor and sometimes rather curious coffee descriptions:
Sweet, just bracing enough, the coffee recalls nothing so much as getting out of the subway at Lincoln Center on an icy winter day with three dollars in your pocket, and saying “Yes. Today is the day I buy those honey-roasted cashews from the guy with the nut cart.” –Blue Bottle Coffee
But creative and indiscernible is better than vague and ambiguous. My suggestion, remove “bold” from your coffee vocabulary. Boycott bold. Begin to notice more specific characteristics of your coffee—do you like sweet, fruity, floral, citrus, spicy, smokey, nutty, earthy, chocolaty? These are some of the basic coffee flavors that can help you pick out what you enjoy about your coffee. You don’t need to discern Satsuma orange and rosewater to order a coffee you’ll like, but everyone will benefit if you avoid using bold.
This is a fun packaging concept by designer Hillary Fisher, who’s aptly blended the latest cycle of zombie trendiness with a brand of coffee called Rise. The colors and illustrations evoke a bit of a candy shop feel and remind me of Plants Vs. Zombies, which is what makes it so interesting in the realm of coffee.
While the stitched closure wouldn’t really keep the beans fresh, I’m sure that with more exploration, a functional solution could be discovered. I really enjoy the blend names, “Flesh Faced French Roast”—also how I’d describe the taste of a French roast—and “Brain Dead Breakfast Blend,” which is just fun to say (ten times fast).
Hillary also developed a line of post-coffee gum to compliment the other offerings and designed a miniature grave site to create a brilliant presentation of the goods.
This short film, made by The Coffee Brewing Institute in 1961, is a nostalgic look at how to make “perfection in a coffee cup.” The Chemex and vacuum pot both make an appearance, along with a professional cupping—complete with a suit and tie.
It’s 12 minutes long, so grab a fresh cup, sit back and enjoy!
The first place I visited when I arrived in Stockholm, was the Johan & Nyström (J&N) concept store. J&N is the largest roaster in Sweden, which shows in the slick refinement of its flagship store. I showed up expecting to see a siphon demo, but the store was packed so (I assume) it was postponed to address the flow of customers. I began talking with Kalle about the Trifecta and his thoughts about it before ordering a cup of Hacienda La Esmerelda—as always it was sweet, juicy, and superb.
Kalle also prepared an AeroPress of the Kenya Kangunu, which I’d later try as espresso as well. The Kenyan was solid, but it’s incredible how much its flavors were dulled beside the Hacienda. As an espresso though, the Kenyan really shined. It was a bit tart, but still smooth and extremely juicy, like an electrically charged shot of black currant juice.
I decided to grab a couple bags to take home—an Ethiopian Harrar and a bag of natural processed El Salvador that is quite remarkable. As I was about to leave, they let me know they were preparing a cupping and suggested I stick around if I had time. Who could say no to that? The cupping wasn’t anything official, just of a hands-on demo for the public, but they’re always fun to take part in.
The cupping was called “The Coffee Belt” and took us around the world with 9 different origins—Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Jamaica, El Salvador, Brasil, Sumatra, Papa New Guinea, and Malabar. While it may seem a bit overwhelming, it was a great way to really experience the unique taste of each origin.
J&N may be a large company, but the quality of the coffee is still good and the baristas were some of the friendliest I’ve met. The concept store is as much a classroom as it is a coffee shop and they really make you feel welcome. However, when I got home I noticed that my bag of Harrar had two dates on it, “roasted on” and “expires on,” which was 10 months later! I took this as a sad reality of the company’s corporate growth.
Between all the coffee tasting, one must eat—but most people know that good food and good coffee are hard to find under the same roof. However, a couple Antipodeans have done a hell of a job combining the two at Kura Café, near Vasaparken. They specialize in “super salads” and fresh, healthy soups & sandwiches. I ordered a Gibralta, made with da Matteo on a La Marzocco, while I waited for my food. They don’t offer drip coffee here, but they can pull espresso well enough to compliment their fantastic lunches.
The last place I stopped before leaving Stockholm, was suggested by the guys at Kura and it didn’t disappoint. Snickarbacken 7 is a small coffee bar set-up in the front of an art gallery, hidden in an alley. There was a range of offerings from Tim Wendelboe, daMatteo, Love Coffee, and even some Intelligentsia. I didn’t get to stay as long as I’d have liked, but I shared a couple shots and some conversation with one of the partners.
During my stay, I also stopped by Coffice, a coworking space that serves da Matteo, but only looked around out of curiosity. I also planned to visit Cupcake STHLM, which serves Love Coffee, but I couldn’t fit it in this time around. Stockholm has a large scene, but most of the better shops serve da Matteo or J&N, so I focused on visiting the source instead of each shop that uses quality roasters.
Stockholm is the capital and largest city in Sweden, it also has the largest coffee scene. Of all the cities I’ve been to in Scandinavia, only Oslo rivals Stockholm for the number of quality coffee shops. However, most of them serve coffee from just a few of the same roasters. One of the newest roasters in town, Drop Coffee, currently only roasts enough to meet the demand of their shop at Mariatorget in Södermalm.
The space doesn’t look huge when you first enter, but it stretches back past the roaster to provide extra seating in a cozy alcove. I was fortunate to meet both owners—Oskar and Erik—during my visit, who were more than happy to talk about their love of coffee, their roaster, as well as the inspiration they draw from US companies like Stumptown. They’ve been roasting on their own for less than a year, but they’ve already begun building relationships with farmers and believe in paying fair prices for quality coffee.
I sampled a cup of the Brasil Villa Borghesi Daterra as well as a Kenya Ruthagati, which were both keenly brewed on the pour-over bar. While the newest barista, hailing from Tim Wendelboe’s in Oslo, served up a shot of their Winter Espresso that was soft, smooth, and packed with peaches & cream. As I was leaving, Oskar sent me on my way with a bag of Honduras Montana Verde that I’ve been enjoying all this week.
Drop is temporarily roasting on a 1kilo electric Giesen while their gas lines are properly installed, but it hasn’t prevented them from offering a quality product. I can’t wait to see how much things improve once they’ve got a more consistent energy supply.
Check out a video of Drop Coffee in action on SVT Rapport.