This last week we have been busy opening two Authentica shops (at long last). Both shops sell Organikos coffee. So today, another day on the run, I will suggest a very brief reminder on how and why the way you consume coffee matters. Lots more to say on that, and we will, but this is about as succinct a summary as you will find.
Yesterday I got back from my three week internship in Costa Rica. During my time there, I learned a lot about eco tourism, Costa Rica, and sustainable business practices. I got to take hikes through the back hills and see many of the bird species I had hoped to encounter. Three weeks in one location is a lot longer than most vacation visits to a country, and I got to really know the local area. While I was there we made frequent use of the bus to get around, which provided a more personal look at the San Jose area than driving would have. One thing I grew to appreciate was how green it was compared to the US. As soon as you leave the downtown area, the urban landscape is covered with trees and tall gras between buildings. Up in the hills there are farms mixed with residential housing and completely overgrown with forest.
A few hours ago I got of my flight arrived in San Jose Costa Rica. This is not my first time outside of the United States, but it is my first time in Central America. In the few short hours I’ve been here I have already spotted a few birds I was hoping to see, experienced some of the incredibly inclined and twisted roads, realized just how much of my two semesters of Spanish I’ve already forgotten, and started doing research on Costa Rica’s coffee industry. Continue reading
Our friends who generally oppose regulations and other efforts to protect people and the environment, saying that these protections inhibit growth and innovation and often fail to achieve the protections they are supposed to create, may sometimes have a point. But from our perspective, they too often point in the wrong direction. Constant monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of these protections is a point we might agree on, assuming we are not ideologically driven on either side of this topic. With every big step forward towards greater sustainability, it is important to pause and consider the impact. Among other things, we must ask whether we are doing enough:
It’s a disturbing question that haunts many shoppers with good intentions: What am I actually accomplishing by buying coffee or chocolate with the Fair Trade label? Does the extra money that I pay actually benefit the people who harvested those beans?
Researchers have been curious, too. They’ve found that, in fact, small farmers in Latin America and Africa do benefit from the minimum price that Fair Trade guarantees and the extra money it delivers to farmer cooperatives. Researchers have documented higher wages, greater participation in community decisions, and even greater gender equity. Continue reading
The image above shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last two centuries that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.
That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. And the value of coffee that is as world class as what Seth planted at Xandari and also resistant to the challenges brought on by climate change is even greater. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in August, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.
A major disruption already happened, and if one of the antonyms of disrupt is organize, then that is what we are doing. Authentica is part of a nascent movement in Costa Rica to provide market opportunities to artisans, farmers, food producers and others who design, craft, grow and cook things that are essentially Costa Rican. The disruption they faced is not the story we want to tell. The reversal of that disruption is the story. One example is Organikos. Continue reading
Last week, we visited producers of various arts and crafts on the eastern side of Costa Rica. Our first stop was in the Central Valley, just before crossing over to the Caribbean slope, in a coffee shop. There, a man showed us his ceramic work, which we had seen one example of previously. All of it was beautiful, but the one below was the one we chose to purchase as a sample. And here it is, in the morning sun.
It brought to mind the old documentary above, which anyone in the USA public school system might have seen in their 7th grade art class. In less than half an hour, that film clinically explains and demonstrates visually what goes into making something the traditional way. This man, here and now in Costa Rica, is hand-crafting these coffee makers. The material is organic, as is the design, which pays tribute to Costa Rican tradition, as well as to pre-Colombian indigenous tradition. The coffee seems to taste the better for it.
The first reference was in 2017, with a brief reverie on tastes associated with places. Organikos next appeared in early 2019, most recently here. And today just a quick further note to clarify that while chocolate and other taste of place items are in testing to be offered by Organikos, specialty coffee from various regions in Costa Rica is the first product. The simple reason is that coffee is in so many ways the most important product of this country, and set the stage for the country’s many remarkable achievements, including those yet to come. Organikos will focus on specialty coffee because it has a following as strong now as any time in history.
In this short video posted this morning Rachel Lipstein helps define the current intense wave of interest:
Coffee, ambrosia of the capitalist and the creative alike, is many things: a fixture of social ritual, the product of a vast agricultural production steeped in colonialist history, and the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. Entire economies rest upon its cultivation and its caffeine content…
That is an intense opening statement, and sets the stage for the video’s goal of helping a lay person understand the obsession a bit better:
…Its modern permutations go far beyond cream and sugar: fair-trade designations, additions of alternative milks such as soy or pea-protein, a preparation with butter and oil (for optimized biohacking), or simply with a piece of shortbread dunked in. It has inspired legal and moral crusades and “love is brewing” theme weddings. The latest installment in The New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession video series features a group of specialty-coffee experts and explores the fringes of the fascination…
Coffee is the taste of many places other than Costa Rica, but this is home, so here we go. We have already roasted, packaged and labeled coffee in trial markets, and have made some important adjustments as we prepare to launch formally in a few months. In earlier posts you could see the font we thought was best with which to write the name Organikos. We have decided otherwise for the time being, in part because with the newer design, as the logotype for Organikos evolves, we hope to have a smaller footprint with a message that fits on one side (versus front and back of package labeling).
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:
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
When we returned from India in 2017 we mentioned the word organikos in the context of coffee. 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 we have photographs of our team 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, from a roastery in Austin, TX USA is going to look like. You saw it here first (label feedback welcome):
Yesterday’s coffee sample from the Brunca region got us thinking about 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 Crist 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 he 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.
In 1996, tourism was limited in Costa Rica but there was enough of an industry to analyze its component parts. This highlighted pre-existing strengths on which to build a national tourism strategy. One of those components was handicrafts. We have not gone back to look at the findings, but memory tells us that handicrafts were a small but thriving sub-sector of tourism, and some of it was spectacular. The bowl to the left was the first we had seen made of the local wood called cocobolo.
In the 2+ decades since that analysis, times 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 something must be done in Costa Rica to valorize the artisans who have been able to hang on, and to likewise showcase the remarkable renaissance of artesania in this amazing country. The campesino in the photo to the right is from an artisan who carves coffee wood, with coffee farmers his primary subject. We received that carving as a gift in 1998 and we 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 we see, now that we are visiting Costa Rica after many years living in other parts of the world. A platform is needed 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.
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. We 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.
The 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. Drinking mostly coffees from the Tarrazu region for all of 2018, today’s coffee is from the Brunca region.
It 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 we just woke up ready to enjoy the new year, but this tastes like one of the best new coffees we have sampled in the past 12 months. We have lost track of the count, but certainly we 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 will have more of it before too long.
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…
(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?
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
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.
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.
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)…
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.
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.
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.)…
As 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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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):
A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity
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
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.
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
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.
Today 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.
Costa 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.
I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:
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