Journey to Origin: Day 3 in Colombia

05.15

On the third day we left from Pereira and drove for an hour along the scenic “coffee highway” on our way to Chinchiná. Today would contrast yesterday’s fun on the farm with a more microscopic view of coffee at Cenicafé, the Colombian National Research Center—one of the world’s largest coffee research labs.

Sitting atop a mountain in the west Andes, Cenicafé is a beautiful research campus where a large team of scientists, engineers and agronomists work on programs that range from genetic mapping, coffee processing technology and biodiversity preservation. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of these brilliant minds who shared way more knowledge than I could absorb in one day, but I was introduced to new concepts and perspectives I had yet to consider in my understanding of coffee.

We began the morning meeting with Dr. Huver Posada, who talked about the Denominations of Origin program. The DO program is tasked with mapping chemical markers within coffee from all around Colombia to determine specific environmental traits that contirbute to certain qualities of Colombian coffee.

Using an infrared spectroscopy machine, Dr. Posada can test samples of coffee to capture and catalog data that includes levels of caffeine, acidity, sugars and many other chemical compounds. This information can be used to not only determine expected qualities based on where a coffee is grown, but it can also be used to authenticate a coffee’s origin.

Next we met with Dr. Alvaro Gaitán who gave us a tour of the campus and several labs while discussing Cenicafés genetic improvement program. One of the many projects by Dr. Gaitán and his colleagues include mapping the genome of various coffee species to study and compare gene arrangements. This allows them to clone the agronomically beneficial genes and try to develop solutions to problems that plague farmers, such as leaf rust and the coffee berry borer.

While enjoying your morning coffee, the last thing you probably imagine are shelves filled with cloned plant specimens and labs experimenting with beetle killing fungi. However, Cenicafé is where these scientific explorations of coffee take place to ensure that future generations of Colombian coffee farmers will still have their livelihood, should unmanageable pests and disease threaten their crops.

After lunch I met Gloria Lentijo who works in the Biology Conservation Department at Cenicafé. She shared some of the work being done to study, understand and conserve the incredibly rich biodiversity in Colombia without sacrificing the farmer’s productivity.

This department works with farmers to promote eco corridors that connect forests and vegetation patches on farms as well as how to properly use shade in regions where its needed. They’ve also cataloged hundreds of species of insects and wildlife that can be found throughout the country, which is also used to educate school children.

This information is shared with farmers in several ways, but one of the most interesting methods is through community bird watch groups created to foster appreciation and pride in the conservation of Colombia’s natural habitats.

Next, I got to meet Dr. Rodrigo Sanz, an engineer who worked on the Becolsub, a technology developed by Cenicafé that I was eager to learn about in person. The system was developed to speed up coffee processing, minimize contamination and use less water. While the traditional washed process uses about 40 liters of water per kilo of coffee, the Becolsub uses less than 1 liter of water per kilo.

The system consists of a standard pulper, driven by belts instead of a hand crank, that is connected to a “demucilager.” The demucilager is a small silo filled with knobby gears that spin at high RPMs. The depulped seeds travel up through the silo with a small amount of water and are washed clean of the mucilage—without having to ferment for the standard 12-18 hours. The expelled beans are ready to to be dried moments after the cherries enter the machine. I would have liked to cup the same coffee processed with both methods to see if there are any significant differences in the taste, but that would have required more time than we had available.

This method of washing coffee is becoming more prominent in Colombia and similar systems are being used in other countries as well, but the coffee is generally labeled as “washed processed.” I’d be interested in learning more about the Becolsub’s effect on flavor development—if any—as well as seeing more coffee labeled specifically with this processing technique out of sheer curiosity.

Before leaving Cenicafé, I spent the afternoon exploring the varietal research collection that features row upon row of varieties and hybrids that include plants from the Arabica, Canephora (Robusta) and Liberica species of coffee. It was incredible to see how drastically different coffee plants could be from one another. From the strikingly tall Liberica trees to the bushy Timor and the spindly Bourbons. A truly great experience.

Dr. Posada met back up with us in the field to discuss cross-pollination and to talk about the development of Castillo. This variety, formerly known as Colombia, is a product of cross-breeding Caturra with Timor varieties to develop a coffee that’s resistent to leaf rust with a high yield and short height that contributes to easier harvesting.

I often hear people suggest that Castillo doesn’t produce good coffee, but my experience during this trip found that to be an exaggerated stereotype. I had great coffees that were both Castillo and Caturra grown in Colombia. Just as one can find good and bad Caturra or Bourbon, there is also good and bad Castillo to be found.

After seeing trees that have been decimated by leaf rust on some of the farms I visited, it’s easier to understand the farmer’s needs to address the problem however they can. While quality may be of upmost importance to roasters, baristas and consumers—the ability to grow coffee is of greater concern to the farmers.

As we rode along the winding roads to the airport, I watched the passing towns and thought about the immense depth of scientific research and development found behind the humble coffee bean. People frequently toss around a statistic stating that coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil, if so, one should assume there is an industry of research behind it—I just never considered how advanced it might be until now.

The energy and resources that the FNC  and Cenicafé have invested into its coffee industry is impressive to say the least. I know that each origin has it’s own unique issues, but many of the solutions I’ve experienced here are interesting, inspiring and definitely worth studying in a greater capacity. Next stop, Bogotá.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub and watch the videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
Journey to Origin: Summary

posted by on 05.15.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Misc.

Journey to Origin: Day 2 in Colombia

05.12

After spending an evening at the lovely La Navarra Hotel in Armenia, Quindio I woke to another grey, wet morning. We ate a hardy breakfast of arepa, a flat bread covered with cheese, fresh fruit and hot cocoa, before heading to nearby El Agrado, one of Cenicafé’s regional research farms.

Upon arrival, our group was led towards a forest of bamboo that reached high above the trees, forming shelter from the rain. Inside was a circular grove outlined with benches that overlooked a porcelain brew bar set upon a bamboo table. Marta, the farm’s resident barista and head of its quality research lab, talked about the importance of proper preparation and sharing that knowledge and experience with farmers to help them better understand the end product of their coffee. She then brewed a Chemex for us all to share before we headed out to do some work.

Today was dedicated to learning more about the coffee growing process step-by-step. After spending the previous day at several farms, it was time to get my hands dirty and experience each of the steps throughout the process.

I began with a bag of Castillo coffee seeds in their unmilled parchment state. Castillo is a hybrid variety of Caturra designed to be resistent to leaf rust, a fungus that’s become a growing problem for coffee farmers in Colombia. The nursery bed was nothing more than a garden box filled with wet sand, where seeds would grow roots and their first pair of leaves during the next 60 days.

Taking my first handful of seeds I began to cautiously sprinkle them as if I could consciously place each bean as it landed. After being encouraged not to worry about uniform spacing, the blank sheet of sand became speckled at a much quicker pace. When the bed had been saturated with enough coffee seeds, I used a bamboo roller to level the seeds before spreading another centimeter of sand over them.

After planting my own seeds, we moved to a couple of beds that were further along in the process. After about 30 days, the seed itself is pushed up from the sand on a stem, while a system of vertical roots begin to take hold. By 60 days, the first pair of leaves develop and the tiny plants are transplanted from the bed of sand into cylindrical bags filled with soil and organic material.

The cylindrical bags and their new inhabitants are grouped together and set aside to grow for another 6 months, where they’ll grow to be about 12 inches high and develop roughly 6 pair of leaves. At this time, the plants will be strong enough to be transplanted to their permanent places in the field.

Arriving to the plants new home, I cleared away any brush, sticks and weeds and dug a hole deep enough to receive the column of starter soil—making sure the base of the plant rested level with the surrounding earth. I took the fill dirt I had removed from the hole and mixed it with about 1/3 compost, made of decomposed coffee cherry pulp, before refilling and packing the hole, making sure there were no pockets of air left in the soil. Then I moved on to my second plant.

While it took me about 30 minutes to bury my first two plants, a real farmer can plant hundreds of new trees in a day. I imagine with a bit more practice and a more flexible pair of jeans, I could increase my productivity exponentially.

Once my plants where in the ground, they would have another year of maturation before the first flowers would arrive, followed 8 months later by the first coffee cherries.

I also learned a bit about fertilization, which consists of spreading nitrogen and phosphorus pellets around the base of the plants when the soil becomes off balance. The rest of the growth cycle involves continued management of soil health  and preventing leaf rust and other pests that may destroy the plants.

In Colombia, the coffee cherries mature at different times, and many farms are on steep and uneven terrain, so once cherries begin to ripen they are picked by hand as needed. The farmers concerned with the highest quality will sort the harvested cherries again to make sure only the best ones are being processed. Tanks of water are are also used to separate the bad cherries which will float to the top, while the others sink.

When the ripe cherries have all been gathered, it’s time to process them. Colombia’s primary method of processing is washed, either with fermentation tanks or the Colombian designed Becolsub (or eco pulper). Once the beans have been separated from the cherry (depulped), they are left covered with a clear jelly-like substance called mucilage. In order to remove the mucilage, they are left to sit for 12 to 18 hours while microorganisms in the mucilage dissolve the sugars. This part of the coffee process is one of the most sensitive and can lead to defects that affect the taste if done improperly.

Once the proper fermentation time has elapsed, the coffee beans are washed clean and dried to reach a moisture level between 10–12%. Drying is done with the sun on patios or raised beds, and in some cases with mechanical heated silos. The silo I saw on this visit was powered by burning dried coffee parchment, a waste product from the mill. After the parchment coffee has dried to the proper moisture level, it’s bagged, taken to the nearest selling point and checked for quality.

Following our morning of work in the fields, we washed up and headed to the El Agrado lab, where Marta gave us a tour of the facilities and talked about the quality tests run on coffee sent to them by farmers. These tests help diagnose problems they can help resolve as well as discover farmers producing great coffee who they can learn from. I also looked at physical examples of green coffee defects and learned more about their causes.

After working my way through the coffee process this morning, it was about time to taste the resulting product. Marta had prepared a cupping with 5 coffees from different farms in the Quindio region, both Caturra and Castillo varieties. While each of the coffees were very nice, two of them stood out as definite favorites. Most surprising to me though, was how different these coffees could taste when all of them were from the same region. The complexity and nuance of coffee continues to amaze me.

With the most exciting and information filled part of the day coming to an end, we headed off to the Colombian National Coffee Park for a late lunch and some relaxation. The Parque Nacional del Café is a sprawling theme park that shares the culture and process surrounding Colombian coffee, as well as being home to several roller coasters and go-carts. Although the weather wasn’t the best for water rides, we strolled around the park and took in the view before heading to our hotel in Pereira.

Today was the most informative of my trip, which I don’t necessarily attribute to the amount of information received, but through the process of learning by hand. This helped me absorb what I learned and apply a level of physical effort to the knowledge itself. The romantic idea of being at origin was punctuated by the reality of how much work goes into growing coffee and the intensity of the labor involved. The most important thing I’ve learned so far at origin, is that everything I’ve learned has an asterisk.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub and watch the videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
Journey to Origin: Summary

 

 

 

posted by on 05.12.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Misc.

Journey to Origin: Day 1 in Colombia

05.01

I finally arrived in Colombia yesterday and my week long trip to origin has begun. I hope to make up for the lack of recent posts with some great content this week as I learn about and explore Colombian coffee at its source. I just wrapped up my first day and it was incredible as well as exhausting. I’ve posted a few photos from the day here, but there will more content and videos of the week over on the Colombian Coffee Hub.


After waking up at 4:30 this morning, our team took a flight from Bogota to Armenia where we loaded into a van and stopped at a nearby café for breakfast (huevos rancheros & lulo jugo). With full bellies and acquaintances made we headed to our first destination, Café San Alberto in Buenavista.

San Alberto was the largest farm we visited today and was very well groomed with a refined infrastructure in place. There was a beautiful terrace and coffee bar with a full-time barista to look after visitors and provide us with the farm’s finest coffee.

Francini prepared lovely examples of both Caturra and Castillo varieties of coffee for us in a press pot and Chemex, which were enjoyed along with the breathtaking view.

Afterwards, we toured the farm and visited the nursery where I got a close look at seedlings in various stages. The first 60 days of the coffee plant are surprisingly slow growth, followed by a fairly rapid increase in size over the next 6 months.

Next we visited two smaller farms, El Reposo and Jalisco. El Reposo, was purchased 12 years ago by Gloria and her husband after coming to the area to visit family. They enjoyed their visit so much, they purchased a couple hectacres and moved from the city to take on the life of coffee growers.

El Reposo was also visited by competitors from the 2011 World Barista Championship, who each planted a tree to be named after them. It was great strolling through the rows to find familiar names beside plants overflowing with cherries about to ripen.

At Jalisco, I visited the rooftop patio and it’s rolling roof, a contrast to Gloria’s raised beds inside a covered shelter, as well as a quirky veranda with table sets made from stump wood—the trimmings of cultivated coffee trees.

When our afternoon at the coffee farms came to an end, I rode on the back of an old Jeep Willy with a few sacks of coffee to be sold in Pijao. At the selling point, I learned how the coffee is weighed, checked for quality, and its final price calculated for the farmer. This particular lot received a bonus for being extra high quality—a way to incentivize continued progress and education among farmers.

The evening ride back to Armenia was dampened by rain and the grey evening light made it hard to stay awake as the sights of small Colombian towns passed by the window. Upon arriving to our lovely hotel, I relaxed with Camilo and the rest of the team as we talked about our day—I can’t believe it’s only the first.

Learn more about my trip on Colombian Coffee Hub and watch the videos here.

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Journey to Origin: Day 1
Journey to Origin: Day 2
Journey to Origin: Day 3
Journey to Origin: Day 4
Journey to Origin: Day 5
Journey to Origin: Summary

posted by on 05.01.2012, under A Journey to Origin, Coffee 101, Coffee Touring

DCILY is Heading to Colombia

04.18

Just over 6 months ago, I wrote about a website called the Colombian Coffee Hub that launched a new space for coffee lovers to share and learn about coffee, specifically about coffee in Colombia. They began by following Tim Wendelboe on a journey to origin as he learned about different processing methods and varieties being grown in Colombia.

When the Hub launched they announced the opportunity for active Hubbers to win a trip to Colombia for a chance to experience origin and share their journey. I’m more than honored to have won the first trip and stoked to share my journey with Hubbers & DCILY readers. I’ll be learning about the process from plant to seaport and meeting some of the growers and researchers continually working to produce better coffee.

There will be videos of my trip posted along the way on CCH, just sign up to follow along—as well as more opportunities to win a trip of your own. See you on the Hub.

Colombian Coffee Hub

posted by on 04.18.2012, under Misc., Videos

Coffee Touring: A Handsome Pilgrimage

03.07

Last week I had the pleasure of walking through the doors of Handsome Coffee Roasters to finally congratulate two of the three Handsome boys in person. Almost ten months to the day since first announcing Handsome Coffee, Tyler, Chris and Michael opened their doors to an eager public who have been teased non-stop for the past year.

The attention they’ve received is unprecedented, heavily driven by Twitter and blogs (guilty), and the endless media coverage has set the bar very high. Every step of their journey has been watched with excitement, curiosity, and envy. They’ve used several creative tactics to keep the conversation about them alive as they built their shop—making it seem like the chance to visit were always just around the corner.

One of these strategies was the “First Forty” club, which offered a social media savvy audience to be among the first to sample test roasts each month before they began selling their coffee to the public. This made sure there was a continuous buzz regarding a product that no one else could even buy. It garnered interest and bought time while everything else was being put into place—not only in LA, but also New York.

The Handsome coffee bar and roastery sits on the corner of Mateo and Willow Street, surrounded by warehouses in the Arts District of Los Angeles. It’s only about a mile from Union Station, but I doubt I could have found it without a GPS. When I arrived, there was a line out the door and several people enjoying the sunshine out front.

I showed up with a van of Coffee Common baristas, and we were greeted at the door by Tyler and Chris with welcoming hugs, coffee and a tour of their new home.

I ordered an espresso and a cup of their new Rwanda (Abakundakawa)—which to my surprise was only available as a batch brew, which Tyler proudly defended as a great, consistent way to serve it. To be honest, if no one had told me, I wouldn’t have have been able to tell. It was a damn good cup of coffee. The espresso was bright, but balanced with a creamy finish, pulled on a La Marzocco Linea.

As my filter coffee cooled, I wandered around the space and talked with Chris and Anne about his new roasting “theater” which had a fair number of people passing through and watching him work through the windows.

As I walked around, the details of the shop are really quite remarkable. From the floor to (high) ceiling subway tiles, to the copper drop awning that mirrors the copper wrapped bar, and the hallway of etched wooden tiles with a texture so smooth you just want to run your hand across them all the way to the restrooms (where you hopefully wash them).

There are several types of seating to accomodate various types of customers—around the bar, at the window, outside, communally in the back, or perched against the glass wall watching the roaster in action. But where ever you are in the space, the baristas and the bar remain front and center of the experience.

Even though the location seems a bit out of the way (everything in LA seems that way to me) the shop remained busy throughout my visit—if business stays that way, there should be no problem keeping on the lights. As the coffee scene in Los Angeles continues to grow, Handsome has placed itself high on the list of must visit shops from the day they opened their doors, no matter where it’s located.

As the company grows along with the owners, I look forward to seeing and tasting their progress. I’d also love to eventually see Handsome/farmer relationships and more unique coffees coming from them, rather than green importers. There’s a lot of light shining on them and I would love to see some of it illuminate issues regarding coffee buying and quality—but so far none of that seems to be a part of their story.

While some may tire of hearing about Handsome, I can only think of the new people in LA their media circus will help introduce to better coffee, which ultimately helps everyone trying to do the same.

I’m glad I was able to stop by Handsome with good friends in tow. Thanks to Tyler and Chris for showing us around and I wish Mike could have been there as well. Hopefully he heals up quick and gets back behind that lovely bar soon enough.

Handsome Coffee Roasters
582 Mateo Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

 

posted by on 03.07.2012, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters

Oliver Strand does Japan

12.18

Oliver Strand published a great new article on Ristretto, his column for the New York Times, about his recent travels to Japan. Strand shares a bit about the history of Japanese coffee shops, called kissaten, and reveals where you can experience the next generation of coffee on your next trip to Tokyo—map included.

When I tell people that I went to Tokyo to check out the coffee, I get two reactions. One is bewilderment — as if I went to Denver for the surfing. The other is fascination: those who pay attention to coffee know that Japan is the world’s third-largest importer (after the United States and Germany), with obsessive buyers who regularly land the winning bids at Cup of Excellence auctions, and that it produces the coffee gear everybody wants. –Oliver Strand

Full article and interactive map at New York Times.

[ Photo: Oliver Strand]

posted by on 12.18.2011, under Coffee Touring

The Art & Joy of Coffee Touring

08.11

I love to travel and thankfully get to do so quite often. However, my method for exploring new cities has changed over the years. Before leaving on trips, I use to bury myself in travel guides at the bookstore to map out what to do and see. But my strategy has shifted to combine my love of coffee with my love of travel to create much more fulfilling experiences. Coffee shops have become my bookstore and baristas my travel guides.

Coffee touring has many benefits, aside from tasting the best coffee a city has to offer. Here are some of the reasons why its become my preferred way to travel.

Unexpected Places
Many independent and progressive coffee shops can’t afford, or choose not to pay, rent near the city centers and tourist attractions. They tend to open shops in neighborhoods, art districts, and future up-and-coming parts of town. By visiting these shops, you find yourself in new parts of the city that a guide book may never lead you to. It also creates a trip unlike those who only visit the typical landmarks—most of which look the same as they do in pictures anyway, only with the mobs of people surrounding them. By allowing yourself to wander, you’ll gain a more unique and personal perspective of a place.

Baristas Know More Than Coffee
Any good barista will love talking about coffee, but there’s a pretty good chance they have other interests as well. If they aren’t too busy, engage them in a genuine conversation. They’re residents of the city you’re visiting after all, which make them wonderful people to talk with for recommendations on the best burrito joint, parks to relax in, art galleries to visit and even other coffee shops that aren’t on your list. I’ve learned about upcoming concerts, closing art exhibits and even parties to attend from talking with baristas. Just consider putting some of that money saved on travel guides in your barista’s tip jar!

Stay Energized
A seasoned coffee drinker can easily consume three beverages a day. And if you get them all at three different shops, you can cover a lot of ground in between. When I travel I try to walk everywhere I can. Even in cities with great transportation, you will see much more while walking than if you’re underground or even on a bus. Walking also allows you to take detours down alleys and try on that cute dress you passed in the thrift store window. You’ll have plenty of time to sit and recover at the next coffee shop.

Most coffee shops have some kind of food. Whether its pastries or paninis, you should be able to find something to hold you over until following that burrito recommendation.

While it’s generally frowned upon to make a coffee shop your personal office, there’s always the chance that you can plug in long enough to recharge your phone or camera. If they have wifi, don’t forget to check a map of the area and tweet Instagram photos of you planking on the La Marzocco Strada. Just be considerate, obviously.

Locals In The wild
One of the best ways to gain authentic insight to a place and its people is to view residents in their natural habitat. It’s in those instances when I often realize we’re all human with many of the same habits and vices, no matter what country or culture you’re from. Since locals tend to avoid the overcrowded tourist hubs, you won’t see many of them at cafés in Time Square and Covent Garden. So its the coffee shops in unexpected places, where you’ll find and meet the people who live there.

Planning a Coffee Tour
So how should one begin planning a coffee tour? Being here is a great place to start. There is a category on the right sidebar that lists all of the coffee tours I’ve published so far, and will give you suggestions for coffee shops worth adding to your list. You can follow DCILY on twitter and ask me for recommendations and I’ll do my best to help you find great coffee wherever you’re traveling.

Once you have a few coffee shops on your list, you can begin plotting which ones to visit that allow you to see the most. Be strategic. Sometimes you’ll find a couple great shops within a block or two of each other. If you plan to visit all of those on the same day, you may not make it out of that neighborhood. Once you get to your locations, talk with baristas, talk with locals and let those conversations help shape your trip.


These tours are by no means complete and are to be seen as inspirational suggestions for your own travels. If you know of any shops in the places I’ve been that I haven’t checked out, please leave a comment and let me know about them. Enjoy!

Past DCILY Tours
New York, New York
Portland, Oregon

Reykjavik, Iceland
Oslo, Norway
Copenhagen, Denmark
Göteborg, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 1
Stockholm, Sweden: Part 2
Helsinki, Finland

posted by on 08.11.2011, under Coffee Touring, Misc., Recommended Roasters

Doctor Drip Needs a Second Opinion

07.06

There’s a new coffee doctor in town, Dr.Drip, whose medicinal looking product aims to combat the virus of instant brew across the land. Each pack comes with five “pop-up” pour over stands and five packs of pre-ground coffee—available in four mediocre sounding blends: Organic Blend, Premium Signature Blend, Dark Sumatran Blend, and Decaffeinated Premium.

The product was created by Gordon Grade Coffee, a father/son company who wanted to develop a simple and portable single-cup brewing device that didn’t need any fancy equipment. Its a good looking product. Sadly, they’ve chosen to market their product in the most trite sounding terms available, using every catchphrase of the moment:

All of our Gordon Grade Coffee is made from 100% superior quality Arabica beans, carefully selected from the world’s best growing regions. Artisan roasters escort the beans through the roasting process, crafting rich, flavorful all natural, fair-trade or organically grown blends before the beans go on to receive a precision grind.

I haven’t personally tried these, and won’t have time to before leaving the country, but they piqued my interest for two reasons. First, I think the design, although very pharmaceutical, is kind of nice. I’m a sucker for simple geometric illustrations. However, the perpetuation of marketing coffee as a drug is rather annoying. Second, they reminded me of the Kalita Katan disposable drippers that Wrecking Ball Coffee sells (and for much less). A pack of five Dr.Drip pouches costs $9, while a pack of 30 Kalita drippers costs only $8—but you must supply your own questionable pre-ground coffee.

I think the drippers are a great idea for travelers, and they look sturdier than the Kalitas, though I’m not sure how they compare brewing wise. My suggestion to Gordon Grade Coffee would be to start selling just the drippers (at a more competitive price) and let the customer provide their own coffee. If the product performs, I bet they’d have a bigger market in Specialty Coffee than they realize.

Dr. Drip Coffee

posted by on 07.06.2011, under Design, Products

Dialing in to Common Grounds TV

06.13

Last fall, two friends embarked on a cross-country road trip to experience and capture Canada’s independent coffee culture. What resulted was a 20 episode series called Common Ground TV that highlights the many different places, personalities, and perspectives within the Canadian coffee scene.

I know very little about Canadian coffee aside from the names of a few roasters and a couple baristas I met during Coffee Common, so I’ve learned a lot during the first six episodes. The 10-minute episodes have featured everything from interviews with coffee notables like Zane Kelsall and Sevan Istanboulian—to a trip to the Canadian Barista Championship. There’s also a bit of cultural insight and good clean fun along the way.

The two hosts, Nik and Edan, spoke with DCILY about their project, what they learned during their journey, and what the future holds.


What spurred you to make this trip? Have you always been so enthusiastic about coffee?

NIK: Ever since about 16, I’ve had an addiction to coffee. I’ve always had a decent surface knowledge of what makes a good cup. After being a barista on and off for about 15 years, I found the culture to be very interesting as far as the characters you meet across an espresso machine. People never set out to be baristas, they’re always led there and often times down some colorful paths. Those are the stories that we have been capturing. Ex-engineers, athletes—you name it—they’re often very eccentric and intense folks.

EDAN: When I was in high school, a cafe opened in Grand Forks called ‘River City’; they made really good coffee, and I started to appreciate the differences between gas station swill and proper espresso. When Nik opened his cafe, I got a chance to learn the finer nuances of pulling a good shot of espresso and how to steam milk properly. From there, Nik and I wanted to create a guide to the best coffee in BC, but I ended up doing my masters in architecture, and Nik got busy with film school, and we took a few years away from the project. Last year, we finally decided to stop talking about it and do it, and that idea ultimately turned into this film project.


What was the most enlightening thing you learned about coffee on the trip? Has it changed your perception of coffee since learning it?

EDAN: We started the trip as reasonably well informed coffee drinkers, but we soon learned that there is just so much more going on behind the scenes when it comes to getting the most out of green coffee beans. Sevan Istanboulian of Cafe Mystique showed us a lot: from the temperature and humidity the beans are kept at during transport to the roaster, to the exact conditions of roasting, to blending—before a barista ever has a chance to grind, tamp and extract a shot, there is a tremendous amount that goes into ensuring the roasted beans are absolutely the best they can be.

NIK: Personally, I learned, or at least reinforced my belief that the scenario affects the cup. As much science, heart and energy obviously dictates the flavour, taste, profile, etc—the scenario really is what rounds out the experience. We visited cafes that weren’t as highly regarded as others but the staff and locations would be so nice that they would supplement the overall enjoyment. Counter to that we visited a couple of the countries highest regarded and found people to be arrogant and unwelcoming thereby ruining the experience.

I’ve always dreamt of doing something like this in the US, do you plan on taking your crew abroad anytime soon?

NIK: We are currently prepping both Series Two on the West Coast of the USA and we’re shooting Series Three in Europe shortly there after.

EDAN: The US West coast is extremely appealing right now, and we are starting work on establishing connections to cafe’s and roasters from Seattle to San Francisco, and we are hoping for a summer launch. Europe, we hope, will happen in the fall.


What’s the connection between Global Authority and CGTV?

EDAN: The notion of ‘Global Authority’ was a tongue-in-cheek response Nik and I had while driving around BC a few years ago in the midst of a highly opinionated caffeine-fueled rant. It morphed into a proper company in 2010 in order to give ‘Common Grounds TV’ a proper business foundation, and Nik and I remain the primary members.

NIK: We have found great success across numerous intertwined industries including photography, film-making, reporting, small business and architecture. Global Authority is the umbrella under which we operate and explore avenues that interest us. We recruit also, if we feel we aren’t as good as we can be in an area, we refer and outsource work to driven creative types. We have a network of incredible sound techs, sound designers, graphic designers and marketers. Our biggest thing is that we work with nice, driven creative people. Life’s too short to work with awful people and by varying our interests we’re never stuck in a position of dealing with unsavory folks for extended periods. When you drink this much caffeine, outside aggravation has to be kept to a minimum.

You have a couple big sponsors, including Krups, how did that relationship form and what role did they play in the project?

NIK: They’re certainly the biggest name we’re associated with and their sponsorship made the logistics that much more possible. We certainly don’t reap a wage from Series One but being able to cover gas and hotels to minimize our personal outlay is a godsend and we couldn’t have done it without them. They certainly took a chance on us but we feel we are able to reach their target demographic with our humour, content and fanatical approach.

EDAN: Basically we needed someone to fill the gap between the funding Nik and I had ourselves, the the amount needed to pay for the trip (food, gas, gear, etc) without bankrupting us completely, which is where Krups came into play. They had confidence in the concept early on, and with their help, we found a way to take the time off our ‘real jobs’ to make the show.


Thanks for taking the time to talk with DCILY. Good luck with the upcoming seasons.

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Get more info at Global Authority

posted by on 06.13.2011, under Interviews, Misc., Videos

Don’tcha Wanna Visit Kohana

03.25

While I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for the North American Hand Built Bike Show, I made a coffee detour to visit Piper Jones at the Kohana Coffee roasting facility. Until this visit, I’d never had Kohana coffee, but was familiar with both PiperJo and Kohana on Twitter. So when Piper invited me to stop by, I was excited to meet her and learn more about the company.

Kohana is just four years old and Piper has been there for 3 of them—roasting for the last two. When I showed up, I thought I’d have a quick look around and taste some coffee, but Piper had other plans. While she let a press pot of their signature Hawaiian Prime brew, she got me started on roasting a new batch of Organic Ethiopian Sidamo. I combed through the green beans looking for any defective ones while the roaster pre-heated and Piper explained the process to a couple friends I brought with me.

Kohana got its start specializing in Hawaiian coffee and have built great relationships with farmers there, but they also offer coffee from other origins now. Piper is exceptionally passionate about what she does, she “gets it” in terms of how coffee should be treated, but like many roasters she has to balance the realities of business and principles—meaning dark roasts, blends, and other things the purist in me shudders at. There is a lot of potential in Austin and I know Piper isn’t slowing down. They recently launched a cold brew coffee that made appearances during SXSW and I’m sure it’ll be in high demand during the hot Texas summer.

Kohana doesn’t have a coffee shop of their own, but they have wholesale accounts around Austin and are also stocked at the Whole Foods there. It was great to break up a weekend full of bike love with some coffee love and finally meet Piper in person. The visit was fun, the coffee was delicious and I’m looking forward to seeing how Kohana grows.

Check out Kohana Coffee

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posted by on 03.25.2011, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters