Hunting Wild Coffee

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Drying coffee beans in Ethiopia. More than half of all species are at risk of vanishing in the wild because of climate change and deforestation. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

As much as I thought I learned in the last year about coffee, I got a hint just now, reading the article below, how steep my learning curve remains. 124 species of coffee? So much to hunt, so little time! Thanks to Somini Sengupta for this story:

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Picking coffee berries on a farm in Ethiopia. Maheder Haileselassie/Reuters

Aaron Davis, a British botanist, has spent 30 years trekking across forests and farms to chronicle the fate of one plant: coffee.

He has recorded how a warming planet is making it harder to grow coffee in traditional coffee-producing regions, including Ethiopia, the birthplace of the world’s most popular bean, arabica. He has mapped where farmers can grow coffee next: basically upcountry, where it’s cooler. He has gone searching for rare varieties in the wild. Continue reading

Organikos & Coffee Circa 2019

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Organikos2.jpgWhen we returned from India in 2017 I mentioned the word organikos in the context of coffee. I am remembering now that just prior to moving to India, in early 2010 we were completing our second year assisting the Patagonia Expedition Race–we not only assisted with their contracting a title sponsor, but Organikos was itself a Race sponsor. Somewhere I have photographs of myself serving coffee to racers, Race staff, and with our logo displayed at the finish line where we also served coffee (even as champagne corks were popping in the pre-dawn darkness). I will post those photos another time, but the reason those images come to mind is that we had developed a graphic statement of how we wanted Organikos to look on a coffee label, and it is very different from what we want today. 2019 is starting out with its own equivalent of corks popping, as last evening we finalized the first draft of what our first coffee shipment in Costa Rica is going to look like. You saw it here first (label feedback welcome):

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Authentica, A Few Of Our Favorite Things

FransCoffee.jpegYesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got me thinking it is time to talk about Authentica. It is a new business that grows out of our interest in foods and beverages that represent the taste of a place we have gotten to know through our work. Today I am sampling a friend’s coffee grown a few hundred meters away from where I sit typing this.

It is an arabica varietal, known as Castillo, that has resisted the rust plaguing Central American highland coffee farms. And this glass of freshly brewed Castillo makes me realize that Authentica is also an outgrowth of the much broader array of work that led to our original interest in taste of place.

In 1995 I gave a lecture based on some ideas that came out of my doctoral dissertation, ideas which I now simply refer to as entrepreneurial conservation. Costa Rica had recently committed to the then-new sustainable development model. I made sure that the ideas from my dissertation could be clearly understood within Costa Rica’s framework. Based on the lecture I received an offer to lead an initiative, based in Costa Rica and serving the countries of Central America, that would facilitate the adoption of sustainable tourism development strategies in the region.

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When we moved to Costa Rica in 1996, tourism was limited but there was enough of an industry that I could analyze of all its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. I have not gone back to look at the findings, but my memory tells me that handicrafts was a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first I had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.

Pia pitcherI also will not review here the details of the 2+ decades since that analysis, which have been difficult for the artisans of Costa Rica even as the tourism sector as a whole has grown dramatically. It is enough to say that Authentica has been formed in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania here. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. I received that carving as a gift in 1998 and I recently met the artisan who made it. He has managed to hang on.

On that same shelf is a small ceramic pitcher made by an artist of the next generation, who is a perfect representative of the renaissance I see, now that we are back in Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. Authentica is the business we have formed to share these things that we see and love about Costa Rica, things which we believe represent this place well, and put them in a place where they can be purchased, in order to valorize the artistry and craftsmanship.

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Above is a hand-painted silk scarf made by a local artist whose life on a coffee farm inspired this particular image, and the one below. I will be more specific about these and other artists in future posts. For now it is just enough to say that we believe in local artists, artisans, farmers, roasters, chocolatiers enough that we have formed Authentica as a marketplace for their products, to be sold mostly to visitors who want to take home with them a sense of the place they have visited.

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Looking Forward Requires Rethinking

Olympia1The new morning, the first of the new year, started just like any other. Coffee. But a theme related to looking forward was set in motion yesterday, and so it was time to taste this new coffee. I was drinking mostly coffees from the Tarrazu region for all of 2018, but today’s coffee is from the Brunca region.

Olympia2It is organic, washed (as opposed to natural process, or anaerobic or other new fangled methods) and medium-roasted. I use a nondescript filter brew machine, and I grind the beans slightly on the coarse side. Maybe I just woke up ready to enjoy the new year, but this tastes like one of the best new coffees I have sampled in the past 12 months. I lost track of the count, but certainly I have tasted several dozen varietals. This one stands out, perfect for my palate. The fact that it is organic, selected and roasted by friends for their own cafe, makes me think that we should consider it a candidate for offering it in the Organikos portfolio, in the Authentica shops. I realize now that I have not even hinted at this new medium for sharing what we love, so will use this week’s posts to explain the rethinking we have done in the process of looking forward.

Coffee-Making Method Matters

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Moka pots … cheap but not cheerful. Photograph: Alikaj2582/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Gritty … a cafetière. Photograph: Getty Images/EyeEm

Tony Naylor’s story in the Guardian about the merits of various coffee makers catches my attention. Not because the coffee made by French press method, aka cafetière, is pronounced inferior to pods (we have long acknowledged that pods can produce excellent coffee but as noted below are ecologically irresponsible), and not just because of the recommendation to keep:

…a stash of single-origin beans in the freezer…

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Filter … the best home option? Photograph: Getty Images/Westend61

(I thought by now it was commonly accepted fact that the freezer is an enemy of coffee).

Moka pots are thrashed in this review, and I am in agreement with the assessment. And instant? Talk about straw dog. Mainly I was surprised that the pour over is the overwhelming favorite for an ecologically more sound, gustatorily superior method of producing the best cup of coffee at home. I am using a cheap-o brew machine with a mesh filter (i.e. reusable so no waste) in which I put my freshly ground beans and this method is not even reviewed. Hmm. What am I missing?

Moka pot, machine, filter or instant – which produces the best coffee?

The company behind the iconic Italian stovetop gadget is in financial difficulties – is that because there are now better ways of making coffee? We put the most popular methods to the test

Italians may find their morning espresso tastes awfully bitter this week, as the Bialetti group – the maker of the iconic stove-top moka coffee pot – struggles to stay afloat. The popularity of pod coffee machines, along with a sluggish Italian economy, has put the mockers on the moka, with Bialetti, a reported €68m (£60m) in debt, negotiating a bailout deal with the American hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management.

Invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, the affordable aluminium Moka Express was meant to mimic espresso-quality coffee at home. Water boils in a bottom chamber and is forced up through the grounds to produce an intense hit of caffeine. The pot was once so popular that, according to a 2016 New York Times article, 90% of Italian households had one. Were they on to something? Or is there a tastier, more practical and sustainable way to make coffee at home? Continue reading

The Taste of a Place

We may have used this post title before, but it’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the Azores, the Menu Includes Coffee, Tea and Tradition

There’s wine and cheese too, in these remote islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Here’s where to get a taste of the past — and present.

Living on a remote island at the mercy of nature demands resiliency, and the Azores do qualify as remote: nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, their protectorate. The Azores are known for volcanic craters, natural hot springs, 600-foot waterfalls, mountains, cerulean lagoons and dense forests.

But it has not always been idyllic on the islands. Throughout their history, Azoreans have had to overcome disease, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes that have decimated their food supply and threatened their economy and survival.

But they are masters of reinvention and ingenuity: They have learned how to cultivate tea and coffee, plants that are not native to the islands but flourish in the temperate climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. They have also preserved and perfected centuries-old traditions in cheesemaking and wine production to ensure sustainability and safeguard their culture. They proudly share their agrarian heritage with travelers seeking an authentic Azorean experience.

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I had to walk briskly to keep up with 66-year-old Manuel Nunes. He climbs the hillsides of his coffee farm with the sure-footedness of a ram, easily negotiating the rocky terrain. His muscular fingers are adept at plucking the beans swiftly from their stems. He will dry them in the sun and roast them on his stovetop in a cast iron pan, to sell as beans and to serve as coffee at Café Nunes in Fajã dos Vimes, a village of 70 people on São Jorge Island.

Mr. Nunes’ tiny farm is the largest plantation in Europe, with 700 plants yielding approximately 1,600 pounds of coffee annually — tiny when compared to major coffee-growing countries. The low altitude coupled with high humidity makes this microclimate ideal for growing arabica coffee. There are no insects on the island that destroy the beans so no chemicals are required. The result is a strong cup of Joe without acidity. Mr. Nunes does nearly all the work himself, including the long harvest from May to September.

“It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion. It’s where I belong. I feel well here,” he said (his daughter, Dina Nunes, did the translating)…

Continue reading

A Taste Of The Place

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llustration by Rebecca Mock

Adam Davidson recounts the best sandwich he ever ate—a local specialty of the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria—and Dan Pashman sets out to re-create it.

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Uptown Funk

In the last couple of months, Amie and I have focused on how to more effectively evoke the taste of a place. We have specifically been thinking about the future of a family dairy farm in Costa Rica. Click the image above to hear, in just under one hour, a story told by a few people we admire about how important taste can be to our experience of a place.

In addition to dairy, which is a shorter term initiative, we have been working with coffee for some years. All those years have been beta, which has worked well as a complement to our hospitality projects. Now we are preparing to go from beta to live. And that description of a sandwich in Aleppo, and the obsessional hunt to ensure that its very particular culinary heritage is not lost, is a motivational tipping point to get that coffee to your kitchen sooner.

We have tasted coffee from one of the regions of Costa Rica that gets less attention than others. And we have tasted the “natural” form of this coffee, which has very little in common with the monsooning accidental innovation in India but gives us a new way to enjoy coffee. And we have tried chilling it. Wow. We’re calling it Uptown Funk. Hopefully you can try it soon.

Strawless Starbucks & A Wonder Of Costa Rica

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Photo: Courtesy of Starbucks

Thanks to Nikita Richardson for posting this news:

Starbucks Says It Will Phase Out Plastic Straws

Just a few weeks after its home city of Seattle banned plastic straws, Starbucks is following suit. On Monday, the coffee company announced plans to go “strawless,” for the most part, by 2020. Doing some serious math, the chain says the move will keep an estimated 1 billion straws out of landfills.

As an alternative, Starbucks will serve its iced coffee, tea, and other sippable drinks in cups with strawless lids, already available in 8,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, which feature raised plastic openings for sipping drinks. (The chain also said it will introduce alternative-material straws for some beverages.)…

Straw.jpgAs it happens, the same day we saw this news we were also scheduled to visit the Starbucks showcase in Costa Rica, called Hacienda Alsacia. We experienced the tour they offer and then sat with our guide for a sampling of coffees. On the table next to me was a straw, so we used the opportunity as a reality check. Our guide did not miss a beat, very well aware of the newly announced plan to eliminate straws by 2020, and ready with a one-liner about the importance of eliminating plastic straws.

Our guide was a perfect example of Costa Rica’s history of inspiring and educating ambassadors for the country’s core values. Score another point for a company from elsewhere that recognizes and values that talent. The purpose of our visit was in keeping with our current mission of thinking about the dairy farm of the future, and there is another Starbucks story to tell in that vein. But for now, we will savor this other wonder.

Ultra Premium Coffees

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We favor coffee from Costa Rica. Full stop. But we recognize excellence elsewhere. Even selling for $350/pound, this coffee is not at the top of the list, but we must anyway share congratulations with our neighbors to the south, just for making this list:

This coffee has won numerous first place awards in worldwide coffee contests over the past many years. It is cultivated on the sides of Mount Baru in Panama in the shade of guava trees. This rare coffee delicacy offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for connoisseurs with its fantastic taste and rich flavor. It bagged a whopping $350.25 per pound at a recent auction.

We knew that coffee passing through the civit cat was a thing, but now we learn that coffee passing through an elephant is an even bigger thing (scroll to the end of the list):

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First step in the elaboration process

This coffee is made from Arabica beans by the Black Ivory Coffee Company in Thailand. Similar to civet coffee, it is prepared by elephants that consume the Arabica coffee beans and process them during digestion. Their stomach acid breaks down the bean proteins and provides a characteristic robust flavor to the drink. This coffee is rare and expensive because only a small amount of beans are available at any time. You need to shell out about $50 for a cup of black ivory coffee which makes it currently the most expensive coffee in the world.

 

Nonetheless, Arabica

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PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAKASH MATADA

I have spent most of the last year expanding my coffee knowledge. One thing I was already confident about, and remain so, is that arabica is better than robusta on two scales that matter most to me: taste, and environmental impact. From 2010-2017 during our residency in the Western Ghats, we developed and opened a series of properties where both taste and environmental impact were brand signatures formed in Costa Rica.

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 Instituto del Café de Costa Rica

With regard to coffee, I knew there was more than one good reason why Costa Rica only permits arabica coffee to be grown in the country. And we sourced the highest grade arabica coffee produced in the Western Ghats as much as we could.

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A Malabar pied hornbill, one of 204 species of bird found on coffee plantations in a new study, which found that the tree cover from shade-grown coffee farms provides a welcome habitat for all kinds of animal species. Credit Shashank Dalvi

I took to India a conviction that robusta coffee was to be avoided, but a few months ago started learning otherwise. Today I have read an article that reminds me to keep rethinking.

Thanks to Jason Daley in Sierra magazine for this look at the same scientific findings as those I first read in February in the New York Times,  (as I drink an organic arabica that I am sampling from a roaster in Atlanta, and even with this news about robusta I expect to remain committed to arabica for my own consumption, as well as our commercial purposes):

Which Coffee Is Better for Biodiversity?

A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity

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Alexandrine parakeet | Photo courtesy of Manish Kumarhoto

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it’s in—is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting—will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another? Continue reading

Coffee, Journeys & Yemen

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CreditPatricia Wall/The New York Times

This review, thanks to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, has my attention on The Coffee-Flavored American Dream of a young man with about as improbable a mission as I can imagine.  Returning to the coffee fields of Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region in a few days, I also plan to cross the Central Valley to see the latest mission accomplished of another coffee dreamer, the choice of Dave Eggers for his latest book topic is much appreciated.

A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

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CreditLorenzo Gritti

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it. Continue reading

Coffee, Starbucks & Costa Rica

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Yesterday we were compelled to link to an illustration that captured the importance of vigilance. Putting that link in context was the reminder that our primary purpose on this platform is to seek out evidence of progress related to environmental and social innovation.

kgGVpXmJ-6720-4480Today a case in point. Credit is due to Starbucks. Just a couple days ago our vigilance antennae were roused by their opening in Yosemite, one more step in a national park system compromised by commercialism. There is no doubt that Starbucks is commercial, but they can also be model corporate citizens when seen from another angle.

tMOCnNCo-5246-2623Costa Rica provides evidence in favor of Starbucks. Their recently opened facility–a combined working coffee farm, milling operation, visitor center, cafe, gift shop–called Hacienda Alsacia looks like a win-win for a country that deserves attention and investment, and a company that can provide them both of those.

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I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:

Starbucks Opens World Renowned Costa Rican Coffee Farm to Visitors

A 46,000-square foot visitor center immerses guests in the entire life cycle of sustainably grown, high-quality arabica coffee from seedling to picking, milling, roasting and the craft of brewing in a café

Starbucks approach to ethical sourcing and innovative coffee tree hybrid research also showcased at the visitor center, part of the company’s $100 million investment in an open-sourced farmer support program to help make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agriculture product Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & India Forever

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Ah, our favorite trifecta of the 2010-2017 era: coffee and birds and India! (Not to mention that the 2 species of birds featured in the article have graced this site in our Bird of the Day feature!) Just because we are back in Costa Rica does not mean the topics covered in this article are any less important to us. Thanks to Karen Weintraub for this:

Coffee Beans Are Good for Birds, Fancy Brew or Not

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Left, a heart-spotted woodpecker. Right, a coppersmith barbet bangalore. Credit Left, Ramki S.; Right, Shashank Dalvi

Birds are not as picky about their coffee as people are.

Although coffee snobs prefer arabica beans to robusta, a new study in India found that growing coffee does not interfere with biodiversity — no matter which bean the farmer chooses.

In the Western Ghats region of India, a mountainous area parallel to the subcontinent’s western coast, both arabica and robusta beans are grown as bushes under larger trees — unlike in South America, where the coffee plants themselves grow as large as trees, said Krithi Karanth, who helped lead the study, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports. Continue reading

Taste The Place, Yemen & Coffee In Michigan

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A traditional pot of Yemeni coffee, mixed with cardamom and ginger, is served with a Yemeni sweet honey bread at a new Yemeni coffee shop in Dearborn, Mich. Owner Ibrahim Alhasbani sees himself as part entrepreneur, part cultural ambassador for his home country. Zahir Janmohamed

The salt, at National Public Radio (USA) has a story today about coffee, entrepreneurship and cultural illumination that is about tasting the place, a once and future key theme of our pages:

The 35-year-old owner of a new Yemeni coffee shop in Dearborn, Mich., never imagined he would enter the coffee business. Ibrahim Alhasbani was born in Yemen and grew up on a coffee farm outside the country’s capital city of Sana.

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A view inside Qahwah House, a Yemeni coffee house in Dearborn, Mich. The city has a high concentration of Arabs and Arab Americans (qahwah means coffee in Arabic). Zahir Janmohamed

“I had enough coffee in my life,” Alhasbani says. “But when I moved to America and the problems started back home, I told myself I have a chance to show that Yemeni coffee is really good and that Yemen is more than just violence and war.”

A couple of months ago, he opened Qahwah House in Dearborn, a city with a high concentration of Arabs and Arab Americans (qahwah means coffee in Arabic). Continue reading

Coffee, Ethiopia & Change

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Growing coffee provides income for about 15 percent of Ethiopia’s population and is the country’s top export. Climate change is likely to shrink the land suitable for coffee, thereby also hurting the livelihoods of many people.
Courtesy of Emily Garthwaite

Change is almost never easy. Then there is climate change. Daunting, but we cannot stop considering the implications and the options. The planet may recover in geological time, the underlying logic of those who promote denial of the urgency, but plenty of people are at risk in real time, so no option but to keep focus.

Thanks to the salt, at National Public Radio (USA) for a reminder of coffee‘s relationship with conservation, a reminder of Ethiopia in general, which is always welcome, and especially Ethiopia’s relationship with one of our favorite beverages:

Ethiopia’s Coffee Farmers Are ‘On The Front Lines Of Climate Change’

by Courtney Columbus

Ethiopia gave the world Coffea arabica, the species that produces most of the coffee we drink these days. Today, the country is the largest African producer of Arabica coffee. The crop is the backbone of the country’s economy – some 15 million Ethiopians depend on it for a living. Continue reading

Organic, Bird-Friendly Cold Brew Coffee At Chan Chich Lodge

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At All Day, a coffee shop in Miami that’s on the must-visit list of coffee fanatics, cold brew is the foundation of the menu. Credit John Van Beekum for The New York Times

Apparently it is iced coffee season up north. It is intern season here at Chan Chich Lodge. Maybe an intersection? Emily, from an agriculture and environmental engineering background, and Alana who is an aspiring sustainable hospitality developer are off to the races, as they say. They were out in the forest yesterday with GPS tools, a GIS mapping app and the assistance of Migde and Hector on the trails, developing a more scientific way of estimating the incidence of Ramon trees in our 30,000 acres.

More on that from them. But more on coffee from me. We have been cultivating an estate coffee unique to Belize, organic and as bird-friendly as you will find. Let’s add cold brew to your list of summer experimentation? Migde and Hector, aka bartender and waiter and therefore defacto coffee baristas, will be setting up the instrumentation in the kitchen.

How Cold Brew Changed the Coffee Business

Continue reading

Gallon Jug’s Bird Friendly Coffee

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This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind in the last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:

A short round-up of coffee news.

Coffee’s California Coming

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Jay Ruskey is one of the first farmers to be growing coffee commercially in California. His coffee plants share the farm with avocado and cherimoya trees and passion fruit vines. Credit Morgan Maassen for The New York Times

It always seemed that California could grow just about anything, so why did it take so long for this to happen? Thanks to Stephanie Strom for this story in the New York Times:

GOLETA, Calif. — There is a new crop growing in Southern California’s famous avocado groves — coffee.

About two dozen farms between San Diego and here, just outside Santa Barbara, are nurturing coffee bushes under the canopies of old avocado trees, in what may be the first serious effort in the United States to commercialize coffee grown outside Hawaii, home of Kona coffees. Continue reading

Reanimating Coffee

fuel-gauge-coffee-mugConsidering the coffee farming and roasting operation, not to mention all the coffee served at Chan Chich Lodge; also considering the constant search for new options relevant to ecologically sensitive operations, this catches our attention. Thanks to Anthropocene and Prachi Patel:

A simpler route to biodiesel from used coffee grounds

The world produces almost 10 million tons of waste coffee grounds every year. Researchers have now discovered an efficient way to turn that waste into a green fuel. Their simple one-step process, outlined in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, would save time and the cost of producing biodiesels from coffee. Continue reading

Democratizing Coffee Consumption

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Tony Konecny, the head of coffee operations at Locol, outside the branch in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. CreditEmily Berl for The New York Times

We have no reason to debate the logic of a more reasonably priced cup of quality coffee:

Has Coffee Gotten Too Fancy?

By

LOS ANGELES — The $1 cup of coffee is divisive, as drinks go.

For some, it’s a staple of the American morning: a comforting routine, a good deal. Anything that costs more than $1 is needlessly expensive, a waste of money — the coffee from a deli, diner or doughnut cart is all you need to start the day. For others, the $1 cup is suspiciously cheap. Maybe it tastes bad, or its production does harm to the land and is unfair to laborers. If you have to pay more, then that is probably a reflection of a drink’s true cost. Continue reading