Time to see what our coffee is capable of. After cleaning the last parchment off, hundreds of beans unsuitable for planting were removed. For germination we took the path with a ratio of lowest cost to highest probability of success. On the spectrum of possibilities is no seedlings in August, or more than the few thousand we expect. The area in this photo, normally with no chicken wire or covering, has for two decades served no other purpose than for our dogs to run along the ivy-covered fence line on the right, chasing the occasional passing horse or cow or car. All that running has packed the earth pretty well so we built up a base of compost and potting soil, about two feet wide and thirty feet long. Diagonally above it all is agricultural mesh, to shade the seeds and to keep the rain from washing the seeds away.
As we prepare to plant coffee Amie and I yesterday completed washing 14,000 beans, give or take, from the most recent harvest of coffee from this land where we live. As big as that number sounds, it is just a few pounds of green beans, picked from several trees that have held on over the years.
In previous years this would provide a month’s drinkable coffee, but this year we will germinate the beans instead. We selected the fully formed, unbroken beans like those above, separating out the small percentage of broken or misshapen beans like those to the right. After germination, by August we expect to have between 3,000 and 4,000 viable seedlings we will keep in a nursery. One year from now those will be saplings ready to plant in the ground. We are approaching this task traditionally, by hand, sight of eye, and a few simple analog tools.
This morning we will dig holes for the first of the shade trees going onto that land where the coffee will be planted. But first, the news. The best I could find, for motivation, involves a man temporarily in New York City, working in a museum. His work, and the exhibition he is tending to, provides me context for the countryside as it still is for many coffee farmers here, and the technology transforming the countryside for future generations. Already plenty of coffee farmers are using technology as advanced as that of the tomato man in the story below. Without romanticizing the hard labor of traditional coffee farming, the work we are doing makes me more appreciative of the coffee farmers we source from. Thanks to Elizabeth A. Harris for this story:
Although the Guggenheim’s “Countryside” show was shuttered by the pandemic, its crop of cherry tomatoes is still growing, and feeding New Yorkers.
The halls of the Guggenheim Museum are pretty quiet these days, with mostly just its ghosts and some security guards as company for the art.
Oh, and there’s the guy who takes care of the tomatoes.
David Litvin, an indoor crop specialist, tends the plants in a temporarily shuttered exhibition, “Countryside, The Future.” He moved to New York from Tel Aviv in February, along with his wife, Stefanie, and their Dutch shepherd, Ester, with a plan to stay six months harvesting the Guggenheim tomatoes. He was going to see the city, too.
“I went out once to a comedy bar, but that’s it,” he said.
The museum has been closed since March 13, but Mr. Litvin still walks across Central Park every day around noon from his rental on the Upper West Side to tend to his flock. “When you grow tomatoes on Fifth Avenue, you want to have the perfect tomatoes, there’s no room to mess up,” he said. “If I have ugly plants, I’ll hear it from the neighbors.” Continue reading
The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.
During those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.
I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.
We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…
Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language. Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.
But I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.
Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.
Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.
Then she learned about dalgona coffee. Continue reading
When Amie and I visited the Greek island of Ikaria in the autumn of 2013, it was years after we had first read about Blue Zones. We were there for work reasons, looking to identify a new location for Xandari. We learned plenty, though Xandari Ikaria never happened. Hortopita, for one. Not only spinach, but all kinds of greens, both cultivated and wild, can make a dish both healthier and more interesting than the spanakopita I had grown up with. For several weeks now, while investigating ways in which the ferias of Costa Rica might adapt to the new health protocols, and whether we might assist family farms in any way, we took a hiatus from attending the one in our town. I am happy to report that our municipality has made adjustments, and so we attended a new, smaller gathering of family farms this last week. Now that the feria is twice a week, the number of people shopping at either one is effectively halved.
I bought beets and broccoli and various greens from the stall above a few days ago with no other shopper in close proximity. Good start. And plenty of other distancing measures in place, plus an abundance of soap and sinks and disinfectant sprays at every place where you can enter or exit the feria. Also good. But we remain convinced that a new social enterprise might help these farmers, and shoppers, more. And for that, our kitchen has been a laboratory for generating ideas, with various reading materials to assist. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been especially helpful.
While the “it” social enterprise is elusive, the meals have been nutritious and tasty. This experimentation has converged with my coffee tests, and my 3-year near-obsession with how to bring Maya nut to a wider audience, so this is what I will report on today.
I have been combining a couple Blue Zones products with slow brew coffee, thinking of a drink that can add pep to the day and at the same time add other value, nutritional and otherwise. Honey is part of the recipe for its antioxidant properties as much as its sweetness. And the ojoche (aka Maya nut) to the left in the image above is there for its own nutritional reasons, which will require a post of its own.
But to get this drink just right, sweetly combining pep + immunity, the ingredient that comes from our feria is the magic touch.
Turmeric became an important part of our diet while living in India. And so it came to be again last month when, just prior to the closure of Costa Rica’s borders, a friend from India visited us. He is a medical doctor, not prone to folk remedies, but under the circumstances we all found ourselves suddenly in, looking for ways to boost our bodies’ immunities–he recommended something simple to us: have some turmeric every day. He specifically recommended combining it with milk, honey and freshly ground black peppercorn. Which we started doing, immediately. And day after day, one thing led to another. So now we have a slow brew coffee with these ingredients, plus some ojoche for good measure.
For four decades I heated water to draw out coffee’s flavors. I varied the use of hot water through drip machines, espresso machines, pod machines, v60 cones, French presses and an AeroPress. I also varied the coffee, sampled from around the world. Nine days into an experiment, I have simplified. No more heat. No more machines. Only coffees from Costa Rica. This week I have moved to a third variety of coffee, and it is living up to its 87 cupping score. Tested against the Tarrazu and the House, both high quality blends of specialty coffee from two of the best growing regions in Costa Rica, the Reserve tastes like what its name implies.
While everyone must come to their own conclusion, for me the slow brew draws out that taste as well as any hot brew method. We have more blends, an espresso roast, and three single estates yet to be tested with the slow brew method, and I enjoy variation so I look forward to testing. But once the Reserve stood out as the best of the first three, it got me thinking about how to use the remaining portions of the first two slow brew blends. And I took a path that will horrify purists, but I am happy to report on the result.
The recipe for this will follow soon, because I have been varying it slightly each of the last few days, but as you can see there is a head on it, and there is a golden hue.
An essayist’s review on one of our favorite topics is a nice surprise for a start to a new week:
The history of caffeine and capitalism can get surprisingly heated.
What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.
The growth of coffee as a culture, not just as a drink, can be measured in a unit that might be called the Larry, for the peerless comedy writer Larry David. In “Seinfeld,” which he co-created in 1989, coffee came as a normal beverage in a coffee shop—bad, indistinct stuff that might as well have been tea. (Paul Reiser had a nice bit about the codependency of coffee and tea, with tea as coffee’s pathetic friend.) Then, on “Friends,” the characters gathered in a coffee-specific location, Central Perk, but the very invocation of a percolator, the worst way to brew, suggested that they were there more for the company than for the coffee. Six or so Larrys later, by 2020, the plotline of an entire season of David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned on a competition between Mocha Joe’s and Latte Larry’s—the “spite store” that Larry opens just to avenge an insult over scones, with many details about a specific kind of Mexican coffee bean he means to steal. The audience was expected to accept as an obvious premise the idea that coffee was a culture of devotion and discrimination, not just a passable caffeinated drink.
This change is real, and is reflected in the numbers. As Jonathan Morris documents in his recent book, “Coffee: A Global History” (Reaktion), epicurean coffeehouses in the United States numbered in the hundreds in 1989, and in the tens of thousands by 2013. Continue reading
I have been drinking hot coffee every morning for four decades, plus the occasional espresso, and on rare occasions on a hot summer day I have had iced coffee. Maybe ten times in my life have I been interested in drinking a coffee that was not hot. My morning coffee ritual is easily the most consistent feature of my adult life. So, I was not expecting what happened this week. I am now on the fourth day of testing my response to slow brew, which is four days longer than I have gone without drinking hot coffee first thing in the morning since 1980.
For the first stage of this experiment I brewed our Tarrazu regional blend, packaged in the photo just above. In the photo above that it is in the small bottle on the right. You can see that a residue has formed at the top of the vessel after a few days of sitting, which resembles the spuma on the head of a good espresso. Today I am drinking a slow brew of Hacienda House, our tribute to the coffee estate on which Marriott’s Hacienda Belen is situated in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. This can be seen in the round beaker and the glass in the photo above.
It is darker, and in other ways different. I brewed the Tarrazu for 12 hours and the House for 18 hours. As I drink it now, one flavor pops in a way that it never has for me when I drink it hot: cinnamon!
I have been wondering in recent months whether there is something we can do to further reduce the carbon footprint of the coffee we sell? Is there a way to do that and simultaneously improve the taste of our 12 varieties of coffee? The idea of brewing without heat is not new, but I resisted it. I did not like the name cold brew, nor the concept, for the same reason I resist anything smacking of trendy or fashionable: fads fade. I was wrong, in this case. And as soon as I acknowledged to myself that I might be wrong, I demonstrated it with results that I am happy to share here.
Instead of cold brew, a better name is slow brew, bypassing the carbon footprint of refrigeration. It is as simple as this: grind a pound of coffee at medium and place it in a stainless steel pot. Add two cups of room temperature water (I run tap water through a Britta filter) and gently stir the grounds.
Add eight more cups of water and cover, letting the coffee brew for at least 12 hours. Strain through a medium sieve–1/16 mesh is perfect for coffee ground at medium–into another stainless steel pot, letting it drip until the grounds look dry as in the picture to the right. Next use a fine sieve to strain the brew again. You will have about eight cups of coffee that is much stronger than I normally enjoy, but it is worth tasting for the intensity and complexity. After experimenting I found that combining one portion of slow brew with an equal portion of water created the perfect flavor profile.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world…here is where we are.
Amie and I are following local rules in place over the Semana Santa holiday week, which ends today. Starting tomorrow there will be more freedom of movement. Most of our friends in Costa Rica feel confident in their country’s leadership during this time, and we have respected the rules and appreciated the clarity of their communication.
We are at home, and I took the photo at the top yesterday with a book we keep next to the binoculars. We have been seeing two different species of bird coming to that window, and I did my best to capture the more colorful pair. I was hoping to get the male and female at the same time on the rail, with their entry in the book clearly in view in the lower right of the frame. I took what I could get. The entry for this pair is on a page with the header Plate 47: Larger Red or Yellow Tanagers which then specifies:
Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata), p433. Streaked back and wing-bars. (a) [male] orange-red. (b) [female]: yellowish-olive.
Positive id. During the setup for that shot, looking out our family room window Amie noticed that one of our coffee trees still has blossoms on it. The white flowers to the right, slightly droopy, signal the beginning of the fruit production cycle that will culminate in December with the ripe red cherries we have been harvesting for 20 years now. Just a few days ago the beans from the most recent harvest were ready, and I placed them in a sack after they had been sundried and the husks removed. We call them beans but they are really seeds, and unlike the previous 20 years when this coffee has been roasted and consumed, this year I will germinate them to fulfill the commitment made one year ago. There is plenty to be concerned about today versus 363 days ago, but there is also, still, inspiration .
Some days everything comes up roses. Today was one. This morning my scanning routine, looking for what to share here, was made easy by the image above and the headline below it: Is Coffee Good for You? Yes! But it depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity. My favorite takeaway, among many, points to the benefits of filtered coffee. Read each section and take what matters most to your coffee life.
Michael Pollan, first mentioned here in 2011, has been so frequently featured over the years it is fair to say he is one of our heroes (those links cover only part of the first year of this platform; dozens more since 2012). In a recent interview Pollan discusses his own findings related to coffee, and specifically its caffeine. The interview was promoting his new book, available in audible form. What I heard in the interview was just enough to ensure I click to the right when I have the 2+ hours to listen…
From the time it came to my attention in 2017, Maya nut was an obsession for a year until I learned everything that was available to learn. Between the internet and a group of anthropologists focused on Maya culture who I came to know through their work in Belize, the knowledge went from zero to overload quickly. I ordered large quantities of organic roasted, ground Maya nut and tested so many recipes that I can confirm it is a versatile ingredient to savory dishes and deserts, in addition to being a superfood.
Usually I avoid recommendation lists that have commercial intent, but exceptions are made when it might help someone visiting one of our shops. We sell specialty coffee. And we sell coffee paraphernalia. So here is an exception. Thanks to Joanne Chen for this short list of what you can do to improve your daily coffee drinking experience:
“Oh! The coffee’s good today” is something my husband or I murmur on occasion as we slowly come alive with our first sip of the morning. On most days, though, the coffee we make at home is just good enough. We make it the same way every time, but whether we achieve coffee nirvana on any particular day is anyone’s guess. How to brew a great cup mystified me for years — until I decided to get to the bottom of it.
It turns out that even with quality beans, it’s hard to be a good home barista without the right tools. Some of these things are admittedly pricey but entirely worth it, according to coffee experts. Continue reading
At the intersection of our coffee business and our work with local artisans, there is Ceiba. Today, just a snapshot and a few words celebrating this brush, a prototype that Ceiba shared with us to test out. They did not specifically identify it as a brush for use with a coffee grinder, but for me that is what it is. And it works like a charm.
Thanks to Amy Chozick for a great story about coffee, redemption and creative solutions to close out 2019:
Can teaching prison inmates to make lattes give them a chance at a better future?
Officer Green wanted her vanilla latte piping hot. “With vanilla on top, not a lot, just a drizzle, and very hot, don’t make it warm,” she shouted to Eddie Rodriguez, who was taking orders. He nodded and wrote Green on the side of a cup. “Don’t worry, I got ya. Extra hot for Officer Green.” Then he slid the cup down the bar where Mr. Rodriguez and the other inmates in the barista training program at the Rikers Island prison complex were adding ice, steaming milk and grinding beans to load into a $3,000 Nuova Simonelli espresso machine. Continue reading
It is equally rewarding to introduce new friends here as it is to talk about old friends. I already mentioned Ceiba recently, but I chose one of their more esoteric (if extremely useful) products to highlight in that post. This group of artisans had our attention sufficiently with the beauty of their products when we first met them last year. When we brought some of the products home to test them out in our own kitchen, the utility factor added to our decision to carry their products. But a third factor, which is our extra attention to coffee and coffee culture as essential parts of Costa Rica’s identity, made their products among my personal favorites. So here I am providing a second look at their work.
This simple bird motif carving is a clip to hold your coffee bag shut after opening. I use it every day.
I also use the coffee scoop every morning, and while I love all their products it is these two coffee-centric ones I appreciate the most. Even for someone living in Costa Rica these are lovely little reminders of this country’s commitment to conservation, considering where Ceiba sources their wood, one of Costa Rica’s most important renewable resources. That makes me think these products are particularly well-suited to offer value as a takeaway for visitors to this country.
My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:
The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…
When I last worked as a waiter we served espresso from a small machine that could draw a single demitasse serving. The machine, from France, used proprietary mesh pods, a precursor to capsules. I had no opinion in the early 1980s about any environmental issues with pods, but I did have an opinion, thanks to my French colleagues, that the espresso the machine produced was perfect. These days I do not drink espresso often. I believe a brewed arabica is a better beverage both gastronomically and ecologically. I have also developed an opinion about the ecological problem with single-serve technology, and I remain skeptical even as I read a headline like this:
Lavazza launch comes amid rising concern over where 20bn single-serve plastic pods end up
The first compostable one-cup coffee pods from a major manufacturer will go on sale this week in a battle to stop the 20bn pods used every year around the world from ending up in landfill. Continue reading
In the photo above, the view is from our home up to the home of a friend who grows coffee in the upper reaches of Escazu. He is an agronomist whose foremost specialty is bananas, which he has helped farmers grow more effectively throughout Latin America. I mentioned his coffee at the start of this year when we were meeting farmers, chocolatiers, and local artisans, knowing we would launch Authentica, and its sibling venture Organikos sometime this year.
We ended up not choosing that particular coffee as one of our 12 offerings, but every tasting, every artisan meeting, every event we have attended to find things that offer “taste of place” and that look and feel like the essence of Costa Rica–all have been helpful in establishing our product line.
Escazu, where we live, where the idea for Authentica started and also where Organikos is situated is an ideal location for what we do. The festival of masks, organized by the community, is an example of why: local pride, sense of place, sharing with others.
When we introduced Organikos coffees early last month at the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, we were conscious that single estate coffees, highly prized among aficionados around the world, have not been visible in the country where they are grown. The names of regions are more recognizable thanks to big coffee retailers like Starbucks who have promoted them. So we included the region of origin on the single estate labels. We offer three estates now, and will add more after the next harvest.
We also offer three single origin coffees. These three were chosen because the regions are widely considered by coffee experts to have the most consistent quality, year after year. The beans chosen for these single origin blends are from a mix of farms that, taken together, are best representative of the characteristics the region is known for.
Cupping notes on all these later. For now, a puzzle. The name of the coffee company, Organikos, harkens to an older and broader set of meanings related to the word organic. Not strictly the certification for all-natural food production, but a wider selection of good outcomes. We chose only one certified-organic coffee among our twelve coffee offerings. It happens to be from one of the less well known regions, Brunca, in the south bordering Panama. To our surprise, this has been our top-selling coffee so far. We promoted it only as organic, but it is also a single estate (Hacienda La Amistad).
It is not surprising that organic coffee sells well, but it is puzzling to me that it outsells by such a large margin a certified fair trade coffee from Costa Rica’s most recognizable region of origin. Not to mention that this fair trade coffee is produced by one of the country’s most respected cooperatives.
First and foremost, we have been developing Organikos to offer “taste of place” coffees so that you can sense the amazing diversity of Costa Rica on the palate.
The commitment of Organikos to invest 100% of its profits in conservation is no less important, but this is clearly going to be a bi-product of offering the best taste of place options. This is the puzzle I will be working on going in to the holiday season, which coincides with coffee harvest in Costa Rica, which also coincides with the time when more travelers will be visiting the country. So sales data will be one element in the puzzle-solving.