Archive for June, 2011

Hawaiian Kauai Coffee

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Hawaiian Kauai Coffee

I am sad to report that coffee from the Kauai Coffee Company will no longer be available this year and possibly 2012. The company has been purchased and the new owners are using the coffee themselves and not offering any green coffee for sale. I learned this when I called Kauai Coffee for an order.

Peter Longo

Venture Capital

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Yesterday I read in the New York Times that a small coffee company whose name has become very popular among a certain segment of the population was purchased by a venture capital firm. In my opinion that’s a real shame. This company heralded themselves as the anti-starbucks. I guess they are not.

Peter Longo

Direct Purchase Coffee

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Direct Purchase coffees

 Like the term Single Origin, Direct Purchase has recently become a heralded thing. Some companies have even named themselves from the farm to the cup. A little explanation is in order concerning direct purchasing. It is a misunderstanding to think that because the Coffee Cocoa and Sugar Exchange is used to set the price of coffee that it cannot come directly from farm to roaster. And it is a further misunderstanding to think that setting the price by way of this Exchange, results in the farmer getting a low price for their coffee. The setting of a commodities’ price by way of an Exchange has many benefits. Leaving out speculation, some of these benefits are certainty of pricing into the future for grower and end user, as well as price protection for both parties, and an organized way for both parties to arbitrate their differences if the coffee tended as a sample does not match the delivered coffee.

Having said all that, lets talk about actually buying direct. A certain level of trust must exist between farmer and roaster for direct purchasing to work. This is because the ability to arbitrate differences if something goes awry is not there. The transaction is based on trust that the tendered sample is going to match the delivered coffee. There are many slips between the cup and the lip! When very large coffee companies buy direct, they use a broker to act as a go between in order to ensure that the transaction will go smoothly and if problems arise they can be dealt with easily. When a small roaster like Porto Rico buys direct, I must make sure that I am getting the exact coffee that I have contracted to buy. This is done in a number of different ways. Like getting to know the farm or co-op and getting involved in the processing of the coffee. This results in the final product being what you can be very happy with. A good example of this is Finca Los Angeles. It is a family owned finca and Stephanie Anderson, the current farmer, is working very hard to re-establish the lands back to a condition where the coffee and fruits she produces will be very good. She is open to our involvement and we have worked hand in hand to make her efforts successful. When she started the reclamation of the land it was arduous work and after two years the crop that was going to put them over the top failed because of bad weather and it looked very grim. But she somehow scratched the money together and was able to weather the crop loss and finally produce an abundant harvest. We were able to purchase her coffee because of its high quality, as well as the excellent added result of restoring employment to the many folks it takes to operate the her farm. In my view this is the way direct purchasing works best. 

Like single origin coffees, coffees purchased directly are priced at a high premium to the Exchanges’ set price of coffee. At the Exchange level the price is set for what is known as Usual Good Quality. If the coffee being purchased is superior quality there is a differential added to this base price. With direct purchasing there is even an additional premium to that. This is where paying a fair price for coffee comes in. All of us are familiar with the term Fair Trade. Well, the price paid for directly purchased coffee is that fair price. It is directly negotiated between the roaster and farmer or co-op.  Unfortunately the term “ Fair Trade” is a trademarked term of the Transfair USA Company. They insert themselves between growers and roasters, adding a 20 cent premium to the coffee which they then turn over half  to the grower and the other half to promotional stuff. They act as a self-appointed certifying agency of what is Fair Trade and what is not. 

Some of the coffees I purchase directly are Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, El Salvador, Jamaican Blue Mountain, a Micro Lot Colombian.

Peter Longo

Single Origin Coffees

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

June 2,2011


During my recent travels through coffeedom, I have seen the term single origin coffee used very often. It is used mostly to describe a coffee from a particular farm. Many coffees are actually blends of different coffees from different farms bound by membership in the local co-op that all the farmers in this region belong to. This does not mean that these coffees are not as good as single origin coffees. The term single origin only refers to the facts stated above, that the coffee comes from a single farm. The quality is still determined by the agricultural aspects of the coffee (elevation, soil quality etc), its grading, cupping and separating (isolating the highest quality beans from the lesser quality ones).

For a long time farms have been branding their coffee as single origin as a means of increasing the value of the coffee and as a way to increase the price they can get roasters to pay for their crop. La Mineta, a Costa Rican coffee, is a good example of this. So are many of the coffees offered from Kona in Hawaii. Again this does not mean these coffees are automatically superior, but it does mean that more care and attention have been given in the growing and grading than might have been by a farmer whose intent was to simply sell their harvest to an accumulator. My personal opinon is that cup quality is most important regardless of the coffee’s origin. The style, or how the coffee looks, is of lesser importance as it doesn’t affect the cup quality unless of course the coffee contains sticks, stones or other debris. This is an indication that the coffee was poorly treated to begin with.

But getting back to single origin coffee. Besides seeing this term used to tout the high quaility of a coffee, I have read tracts saying that single origin coffees make excellent espresso. This could not be further from the truth. And here is why; A single origin coffee is only going to exhibit  charateristics of that particular growth. It may be delicious, sweet, with lots of acid and snap, but it is still singular. I often drink Colombian coffee because it is consistently of very high quality. This is because the Colombians have developed a high skill at growing and processing their coffees. They are probably one of the best in the world at it, second only to the Brazilians, but even so their coffees are singular so when you brew them, whether as an espresso or a drip coffee, the result is going to be the same. And after a time it gets boring. Coffees in my opinion are meant to be blended, because when you blend them together is when the magic happens. The different characteristics come together and form a synogistic relationship that is better than the individual elements. Different thicknesses of crema, varying colors of crema, sweetness, grainyness, softness, high and low notes all become available through blending.

Did you know that some of the highest paid individuals in the coffee industry are those whose responsibility it is to keep the large commercial houses like Chock Full O Nuts and Folgers blends the same year after year while using different coffees? Coffee is a commodity, after all different from crop to crop. In fact the begining, middle, and end of a crop all have different taste charateristics. I personally have preferences when I purchase coffee for my Porto Rico. I will not disclose them here, but trying to keep things consistent with a commodity that changes often is part of the challange of offering excellent coffee.

So after all is said and done, enjoy single origins to determine the characteristics of a singular coffee. It’s part of developing a taste for what you like. And don’t be afraid to buy different coffees and blend them together yourself, that’s part of the fun of making your coffee your own. At Porto Rico any one of the staff will be happy to suggest something. They will ask you how you drink your coffee and then suggest different single origins or blends to satisfy your particular taste.  Light roast, dark roast, strong,  spicy, winey or smooth and full of flavor - don’t be afraid to experiment! Coffee is highly personal, so make it yours and have fun.

Peter Longo