Guys, lets have some real talk about coffee and sustainability. Specifically, how coffee gets from the farm to your cup.
Fact: Coffee is the second most highly traded commodity in the world next to oil - let that seep in for just a second, folks.
The thing with commodities is that there are so many people involved in the business of trading them and getting them to the end user - and all of those people want to make as much money as possible - someone, or many people end up getting the short end of the monetary stick. When it comes to coffee, the people most often holding the short straw are the farmers who worked very hard to make your $5 macchiato possible.
Blanchard's Coffee Co. buys several coffees in the traditional manner on the commodities market with brokers. The coffees we source in this manner are excellent, quality-wise, and consistent. Many of these coffees are staple foundations for some of our most popular blends. Do the farmers harvesting these coffees get a fair price for their hard work? Well, they get industry standard pricing which keeps them living and farming, but we all know it could be better.
Several years ago, Blanchard's Coffee Co., recognizing that the system could, in fact, be better, earned its Fair Trade Certification. Fair Trade Certification ensures that a certain percentage of the coffee we source, roast and sell is Fair Trade Certified. It also ensures that there is oversight of this by a certification agency - in our case that is Fair Trade USA. Fair Trade Certified coffees are slightly more expensive and a larger percentage of the total purchase price goes back to the farmer, hopefully improving their life in some way.
We're proud to be a Fair Trade Certified roaster and it goes hand in hand with our corresponding USDA Organic Certification, but here's where the real straight talk comes in - of the $50,000+ we spent on Fair Trade Certified coffee in the past year, about $1,000 above and beyond standard pricing actually made it to the farm level. That is spread over six origin countries, by the way. It is something, yes, but once again, we think it can get a lot better.
Blanchard's Coffee Co. currently sources six different Direct Trade coffee varieties from five different countries. What is Direct Trade coffee? Pretty simple - we cut out the commodities market and all the middlemen and get as close to handing a farmer a wad of cash as possible. We work with three companies (Thrive Farmers, Sriwijawa Coffee and Tierra Alianza) to source our Direct Trade selections.
How does it work? These three companies all operate in a similar basic fashion - they either own or invest in farms with potential to produce top-end coffees. They work at the farm level to increase quality, sustainability and yield then they come back to craft roasters like Blanchard's Coffee Co. and sell directly.
What makes this better? For every single pound of Direct Trade coffee we purchase to roast, at least 75% of our purchase price goes directly into the farmers' hands. In context, that means if we buy and roast just two bags (300lb) of this coffee, which takes us about ten days, we have already surpassed the entire total farmer benefit for an entire year spread over six countries... FOR ONE FARMER.
The numbers, clearly, are staggering. Needless to say, given our mission of sustainability, we are pushing as hard as we can in the direction of Direct Trade coffee. The beautiful thing is that it barely affects the final price you pay at the store. Not only that, but these farmers are taking their earnings and investing them right back into their farms because they see how much easier it is to sell more coffee at better prices when the coffee is, simply, better; so your cup of coffee keeps getting better the more you support sustainability from soil to cup.
We really hope you'll join us in this movement.
With that said, here are our Direct Trade Coffees and a few places you can buy them:
San Rafael Urias Estate, Antigua, Guatemala
La Violeta, Tarrazu, Costa Rica
Organic Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic
Lintong Estate, Sumatra
Gayo Mountain, Gajah Estate, Sumatra
--more blends to come--
Ellwood Thompson Local Market
Dawson's Market (Rockville, MD)
The Blanchard's Coffee Co. Roast Lab
Select Kroger Locations
Whole Foods Market Short Pump
Crossroads Coffee, VCU
As many of you know, we recently held a pretty unique event here at the Blanchard's Coffee Co. Roast Lab. We teamed up with Grid Magazine, 804&1/2, Relay Foods and Thrive Coffee to hold a large coffee cupping for the purpose of using crowd sourcing to choose the next direct trade coffee and farm we would feature at Blanchard's. Additionally, that coffee will be featured in Grid Magazine's Makers series and we'll donate a portion of proceeds from sales to a local charity.
The event was a complete success. Nearly fifty coffee fans piled into the Blanchard's Coffee Co. Roast Lab and, after introductions, we dimmed the lights and talked, via Skype, with Raul Valdez of the San Rafael Urias Estate in the Antigua region of Guatemala. Raul's coffee was ultimately the favorite of the crowd compared to the excellent Costa Rican and Honduran coffees also on the list.
We had a blast and it was awesome to see so many folks coming together to cup coffee, especially sustainable coffee with direct ties and greater financial benefit to the farmers who grow it. We hope you'll enjoy some photos from the evening!
Malawi Washed AA Estate
What, exactly, is coffee cupping you ask? Well, first of all, it is something that needs to happen a lot more in Richmond (which is why we're getting started!).
Without getting too verbose and digressing into a technical explanation of the process--coffee cupping is the method by which coffee professionals analyze flavor and aroma characteristics of coffee.
There are a vast array of brewing techniques out there, many of which we've talked about here, but the simplest, purest expression of coffee extraction is cupping.
In the simplest terms possible, the coffee is allowed to steep in a cup of hot water. The spent coffee grinds float to the top to form a crust which is broken with a spoon releasing the coffee's aroma to be observed. After the aroma is noted, the spoon is used to capture the extracted coffee which is slurped over the palate and the spectrum of flavor and texture characteristics are observed and noted.
It is an excellent, informative and highly ritualistic process that really focuses participants on the inherent characteristics of the featured coffee. We're working with Grid Magazine and designers Ali Croft and Tim Skirven to choose and promote a new, unique, direct trade coffee and we think the best way to pick something that our fans and customers will love is to, well, let them (you) pick it!
We're roasting a ton of new coffees in test batches to narrow down the field and then we'd like to invite you to a cupping event to rate the best of those selections and whatever you choose will be our next featured farm direct coffee!
The cupping event will take place Wednesday, 27 February 2013 at the Blanchard's Coffee Co. Roast Lab.
Our space is limited and preparation is crucial to a great cupping event so we'll ask that you sign up for a spot so we'll be ready for you. We look forward to seeing you and sharing a great coffee experience!
I recently read an article posted on a prominent online news site admonishing "bad coffee" and the people who buy it. I'll be the first person to encourage drinking good coffee over bad, so I dove into the article hoping to find it an insightful and positive set of tips for a coffee drinker eager to learn. Unfortunately it turned out to be a poorly written, ill informed rant from a bitter barista someone mistakenly hired to write a piece on coffee.
The article got me thinking though; thinking about all of the coffee questions I field in a day from customers, friends, clients, chefs--you name it. I realized that most of the questions fall along a fairly consistent line of topics and almost always can be answered with just a few basic pieces of information.
I decided to rebut the negative article I read with something more along the lines of what I had hoped it would be--a helpful FAQ on what makes a good (or bad) cup of coffee so the next time you're buying a cup or a bag, perhaps you'll be armed with a bit more knowledge to guide your decision.
The article's first and foremost falsehood went something like this: "All dark roasted coffee is bad coffee". False. All badly roasted dark roasted coffee is bad coffee. In fact, all badly roasted coffee of any type is bad coffee. Whether you love or hate dark roasted coffee, it is a legitimate style and if done properly, has a great deal of value and relevancy in the specialty coffee world. Why? Science.
Dark roasted coffee is roasted longer and to higher temperatures which takes the bean further into the Maillard Reaction (complex amino acid reaction that leads to browning and the creation of unctuous flavors), as well as the second crack where the beans essential oils (flavor) expand, breaking the cell walls and eventually coming to the surface. In darker roasts, caffeine and acid are burnt off to a greater extent. Yes, if you go too deeply into the roast, some of the essential oils (flavor) will burn off, which is a bad thing, and the bean starts to carbonize (burn) which isn't all that tasty; but if your roaster knows what they're doing, a dark roast can be an excellent cup of coffee on its own or a great addition to a post-roast blend.
Don't get caught up in the notion that great coffee has to be expensive or rare. Yes, there are some great exotic coffees out there and they certainly have their value, but the average coffee drinker can find a nearly limitless world of awesome coffee experiences for normal market price.
Old school notions of where "good coffee" comes from are just that, old school. Everybody has an older family member who insists that Colombian coffee is the best in the world. Neat, but not really true. Years ago, Colombian coffee was the "best" because it was marketed as such. Colombia's coffee production varies in yield and quality just like every other coffee producing coffee in the world--why? Because coffee is an agricultural product. Saying one country produces the best coffee, always, is like saying one country always produces the best cabbages. There are countries in Latin America, Indonesia and Africa, all producing coffee, much of it is great in the hands of a good roaster. Go exploring. Take note of why you like the coffees you do. Take those notes to your roaster and ask for suggestions on where to explore next--they're professionals and they'll appreciate the opportunity to share their passion. If they don't, get a new roaster (like us!).
Brew right. Once you've gotten an awesome bag of coffee, fresh from the roaster, ask your roaster to show you the best way to brew that coffee without drastically changing your equipment. Yes, there are a ton of brewing methods, one cooler than the next and the next and the... you get the point; but fact is, you can brew a great cup of coffee with any piece of equipment, even if it is as simple as a clean sock and a pot of hot water. Challenge your roaster or barista to teach you how to best extract your coffee with the tools you have. Once you've mastered it you can explore new brewing methods if you want. Skip pretense. Have fun.
Take good care of your coffee. Now that you've got great coffee and you know how to brew it, take good care of it. Coffee absorbs smells and is sensitive to moisture, harsh temperatures and sunlight. Keep your coffee out of the fridge, freezer, spice cabinet, sock drawer etc. You don't have to be fancy, just use a tupperware or a ziplock bag and keep it in a cabinet. If you want to be fancy, we like to suggest a Mason Jar or a nice hinge-seal canister. Also, only buy what you need for a week. If you're a one cup of coffee per day kind of person, you can probably get by on a single 12oz bag per week. Our motto is buy fresh and buy often. The best way to ruin what could have been a great cup of coffee is to wait until it has oxidized (more science). Remember, coffee's flavor is coming from its essential oils; if they have oxidized and/or evaporated then what do you have? A little piece of lightly toasted wood (not appetizing).
Do you have specific coffee questions--things you've heard or wondered?
We have answers. I'm pretty sure we've heard all the wacky questions about coffee and formulated responses, but I would love the challenge of you sending us something new.
Ask away; all questions will be answered!
Papua New Guinea
How many of the things that you eat and drink can you trace back to its very beginning? Are you a part of the "eat local" movement? Are you proud of fact that you met the guy who grows your kale, the gal who gathers your eggs, the folks who brew your beer? How about that cup of coffee (or three) that you drink every single morning?
We think it is a big deal to know where your coffee comes from and what it takes to get it to your cup in the morning; that is why we are beginning a series of coffee education events like the one we had last night in partnership with SlowFoodRVa and Alchemy Coffee.
Take a look at some of the pictures from the event!
We started the evening off with a tasting of the first recorded coffee blend, Mocha Java - a blend of Indonesian and East African beans - as Eric Spivek of Alchemy Coffee walked us through the historical origins of coffee and how it came to be a beverage enjoyed worldwide.
Stephen Robertson of Blanchard's Coffee Co. walked us through farming, harvest, processing and procurement practices and how that all relates to the Slow Food Movement and the world economy.
We then took the class down to the Roast Lab where Stephen demonstrated coffee roasting and Eric talked about brewing techniques. With Press Pots, Chemex, Clever Drippers and Melitta Drippers, we tasted Ethiopian Harrar, Papua New Guinea, Guatemalan Huehuetenango and Sumatra Mandheling.
There were tons of questions, answers, laughs and everyone went home with a bag of freshly roasted Dark Roast Ethiopian Harrar; and hopefully a better understanding of how they get that cup of coffee that starts their day.
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