EdibWasa Winter 2012 : Page 38
The bright green bean by Andrew Dash Gillman Conscientious coffee: T here is the story of cof-fee and then there is the story of coffee culture, ritual, and romance. The two stories have long been inter-twined and over time the line between the commodity and the experience has blurred as coffee's exotic origins faded from our consciousness and it became a staple, something very basic, ubiquitous, even essential. Recently, however, coffee has enjoyed a rebirth of appreciation—but it’s more than that. Coffee is reclaim-ing its origins, and both grow-ers and consumers alike are benefiting. stimulating. Either way, the drink became known for a spell to Europeans as the wine of Islam. From the moment green coffee seeds were smuggled off the Arabian Peninsula, cof-fee was a commodity that for centuries has been inextricable from the global movement of generic goods. Dutch coffee plantations at Ceylon, then Java and other present-day Indonesian locales became some of the earliest suppliers for growing consumer demand. Further crafty and exploitative machinations by enterprising catalysts in coffee’s biography spread its production across the world's “Bean Belt” (which falls between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn), even-tually taking root in Latin America. Agriculturally speaking, there is nothing local about cof-fee here, the beans (seeds actu-ally) are from the tropical fruit of a tree in the genus Coffea (primarily Coffea arabica), which grows well only in a nar-The first European visitors row band of elevation on steep to the Wasatch Front, whether slopes far from the Wasatch. Mr. James Felix Bridger or But when transformed through Provo’s namesake, French the twin rituals of roasting and trapper Étienne Provost, no-brewing, coffee gives birth to doubt sustained their explora-local culture the world over in tions on roasted-to-order green expressions as unique as the coffee. Indeed, most brewers in people who make it. Utah is early American history bought Randy Wirth of Caffe Ibis preparing to cup some new coffees. no exception. When the story and transported green coffee of local coffee is now told, its a and roasted and ground it themselves. Certainly the intrepid Captain tale of artisan or “third wave” coffee and culture and the respect that Benjamin Bonneville—the explorer for whom our salty lake’s this new wave has for the farmers who labor to grow it. Still commod-Pleistocene predecessor is named—carried the staple on his expedi-ity coffee dominates the market and choices made by consumers here tion across the Rocky Mountains. But more to the point, history tells in Utah absolutely have impact, both positive and negative, in the us coffee was available and offered to later visitors to Zion, from John global marketplace. It’s local and global stirred in a single cup—this Wesley Powell and Sir Richard Burton to Mark Twain. The exotic is the real story behind coffee and what it costs—and the relation-crop fetched a premium price in the remote and determinedly self-ship between the two is making for some of the very best coffee to be sufficient agricultural settlements along the Wasatch Front, and con-brewed in Utah, ever. But let’s back up a skosh. sequently, this “hot drink” languished in much of nineteenth century Utah, losing its market share to hot chocolate and peppermint tea. Coffee first took hold and was domesticated on the Arabian Peninsula, a truly local and social tonic that virtually dictated the The rest of the country however remained deeply enamoured pace of business and private lives alike. It quickly became the drink with coffee and for the most part enjoying a cup continued to require of choice for teetotaling Muslims whose Quran generally discour-either a visit to a local roaster & shop (a decidedly urban event) or ages alcohol consumption and outright prohibits intoxication dur-roasting and brewing the rare beans at home. Then a number of inter-ing prayer, which for some branches of Islam occurs five times daily. esting innovations emerged that “improved” coffee—which is to say, The Arabic word and etymological origin of English’s coffee is qahwa, automation, mechanization and, most importantly, packaging and which shares it's origin with the word for a type of wine, though branding. Over the twentieth century, as Americans rode out the it is sometimes interpreted to suggest something invigorating or 38 edible W ASATCH Issue 7 • Winter 2012
Andrew Dash Gillman
The bright green bean
There is the story of coffee and then there is the story of coffee culture, ritual, and romance. The two stories have long been intertwined and over time the line between the commodity and the experience has blurred as coffee's exotic origins faded from our consciousness and it became a staple, something very basic, ubiquitous, even essential. Recently, however, coffee has enjoyed a rebirth of appreciation–but it's more than that. Coffee is reclaiming its origins, and both growers and consumers alike are benefiting.
Agriculturally speaking, there is nothing local about coffee here, the beans (seeds actually) are from the tropical fruit of a tree in the genus Coffea (primarily Coffea arabica), which grows well only in a narrow band of elevation on steep slopes far from the Wasatch. But when transformed through the twin rituals of roasting and brewing, coffee gives birth to local culture the world over in expressions as unique as the people who make it. Utah is no exception. When the story of local coffee is now told, its a tale of artisan or "third wave" coffee and culture and the respect that this new wave has for the farmers who labor to grow it. Still commodity coffee dominates the market and choices made by consumers here in Utah absolutely have impact, both positive and negative, in the global marketplace. It's local and global stirred in a single cup–this is the real story behind coffee and what it costs–and the relationship between the two is making for some of the very best coffee to be brewed in Utah, ever. But let's back up a skosh.
Coffee first took hold and was domesticated on the Arabian Peninsula, a truly local and social tonic that virtually dictated the pace of business and private lives alike. It quickly became the drink of choice for teetotaling Muslims whose Quran generally discourages alcohol consumption and outright prohibits intoxication during prayer, which for some branches of Islam occurs five times daily. The Arabic word and etymological origin of English's coffee is qahwa, which shares it's origin with the word for a type of wine, though it is sometimes interpreted to suggest something invigorating or stimulating. Either way, the drink became known for a spell to Europeans as the wine of Islam.
From the moment green coffee seeds were smuggled off the Arabian Peninsula, coffee was a commodity that for centuries has been inextricable from the global movement of generic goods. Dutch coffee plantations at Ceylon, then Java and other present-day Indonesian locales became some of the earliest suppliers for growing consumer demand. Further crafty and exploitative machinations by enterprising catalysts in coffee's biography spread its production across the world's "Bean Belt" (which falls between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn), eventually taking root in Latin America.
The first European visitors to the Wasatch Front, whether Mr. James Felix Bridger or Provo's namesake, French trapper Étienne Provost, nodoubt sustained their explorations on roasted-to-order green coffee. Indeed, most brewers in early American history bought and transported green coffee and roasted and ground it themselves. Certainly the intrepid Captain Benjamin Bonneville–the explorer for whom our salty lake's Pleistocene predecessor is named–carried the staple on his expedition across the Rocky Mountains. But more to the point, history tells us coffee was available and offered to later visitors to Zion, from John Wesley Powell and Sir Richard Burton to Mark Twain. The exotic crop fetched a premium price in the remote and determinedly selfsufficient agricultural settlements along the Wasatch Front, and consequently, this "hot drink" languished in much of nineteenth century Utah, losing its market share to hot chocolate and peppermint tea.
The rest of the country however remained deeply enamoured with coffee and for the most part enjoying a cup continued to require either a visit to a local roaster & shop (a decidedly urban event) or roasting and brewing the rare beans at home. Then a number of interesting innovations emerged that "improved" coffee–which is to say, automation, mechanization and, most importantly, packaging and branding. Over the twentieth century, as Americans rode out the major shift from being a predominately agrarian society to an increasingly urban one. we collectively lost the knack and the knowledge for home roasting and took to the canned ease of industrialization. Names like Hills Brothers and MJB dominated and went head-to-head with Folgers and Maxwell House, luring consumers with catchy campaigns and the convenience of previously roasted, ground and cleverly packaged bulk coffee. This was coffee's first wave.
Roasters of the Second Wave, including the venerable Alfred Peet of Peet's Coffee and later Starbucks, oversaw the spread of specialty coffee in America in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Notably, the Second Wave had adherents here in Utah: local coffee entrepreneurs who defined themselves in ways that were ahead of their time, even within the larger context of the second wave. Indeed, Caffe Ibis's Randy Wirth and Salt Lake Roasting Company's John Bolton are the early pioneers of contemporary third wave coffee culture.
In 1976, Randy Wirth and wife Sally Sears launched the Straw Ibis Market and Café in the unlikely high country town of Logan, Utah. By 1985, Caffe Ibis was born, quickly earning a reputation for "triple certified" organic, fair-trade, and bird migratory friendly coffee that even recently caught the attention of Portland-based Imbibe Magazine–an award-winning periodical focused on "liquid culture" that infrequently cites Utah haunts, for some obvious reasons. Even Starbucks, now the largest purchaser of Fair Trade-certified coffee in the world, was years behind Ibis.
Earlier in the same decade that Caffe Ibis emerged, John Bolton repaired Salt Lake's broken coffee scene when he launched his own wholesale coffee roasting business, in 1981. Mr. Bolton's first retail location soon followed, and he has been at the forefront of local roasting and ethical purchasing ever since, practicing direct trade, "before, direct trade was a [buzz word]", according Nobrow Coffee & Tea's Joe Evans.
Nowadays, coffee is grown in over 50 countries and is the primary export for several of them. Illegal drugs not included, coffee is the second most traded global commodity (oil, being number one) and the vast majority of it remains largely an industry oriented to the global commodities market.
At the other end of the spectrum, third wave coffee adopts the language, quality, and artisanship of high-end specialty foods–and, most importantly, ignores the dictates of The New York Coffee Exchange by engaging in direct trade with farmers. Direct purchasers pay a premium price well over the established (and historically unsustainable) commodity price in order to ensure both a premium product and more socially and ecologically sustainable practices. Generally speaking, direct trade (and the third wave by proxy) mean; direct purchasing of first-rate coffee harvests from specifically named farms rather than whole regions, an attention to detail in roasting, and reducing, if not eliminating, automation from production through impeccable form behind the bar. The result is a high quality, artisan product with a conscience.
With the afternoon sun pouring through the wide, south-facing windows of Nobrow Coffee and Tea Company's current location at 3rd East & Broadway in Salt Lake City, proprietor Joe Evans settles in to a comfortable couch in the back. Nobrow is a visual mix of casual and formal accommodations set against the exposed brick and exposed innards of the warehouse ceiling. The cafe doubles as an art gallery with monthly offerings from local artists who also frequent the spot. Evans acknowledges his tattoo sleeves and skinny jeans align him with a stereotype that also enshrouds his café, but rather than a hipster hangout he hopes to provide a comfortable environment with an atmosphere of openness. He pauses to point out that at this moment half of his patrons are university faculty or graduate students–and a university philosophy club is meeting presently. All gather over a great cup of coffee.
As a boutique specialty coffee shop, Nobrow is dedicated to sourcing great coffee no matter who roasts it. This idiosyncratic move breaks with the tradition of offering brews from a single roaster. "I love my coffee. I love this process and product in a way that's probably not entirely natural." laughs Evans. Most of Nobrow's coffee is regional, originating from some of the Western United States' finest roasters, from John Bolton's Salt Lake Roasting Company to Handsome, Ritual, Barefoot, Coava and Heart (all from the West Coast), as well as Intelligensia, which was founded in Chicago.
Recently, however, direct trade relationships have been threatened by the sharply rising commodity price of coffee–130% just in the last two years–driving up the cost of the specialty market as well. The rise in coffee prices was initially of some concern to Eileen Hassi, owner of San Francisco-based Ritual coffee (one of Nobrow's suppliers). Ms. Hassi frankly asserts, "The reality is that the days of a $1.50 12 oz cup of coffee are over." Consumers across the spectrum will have to pay more as environmental impacts make commodity coffee more expensive and perhaps even less available. Third wave buyers and roasters who want to maintain their relationships and ensure the quality they require, will simply have to continue their commitment to paying premiums well over the commodity price. Ultimately, Hassi finds no reason to object. She reasons that the increase in the commodity price is "finally making coffee production a viable life, especially for those farmers focusing on quality, not just scale."
The end result of the commodity price increase, combined with prices paid by direct trade coffee buyers (and, in turn, consumers who support their efforts) is that for "the first time in the history of the U.S. commodities market," says Mr. Evans, "we're actually match[ing] the price of production of coffee off the farm." That's a huge deal.
While the increase in cost may be difficult to swallow and mean drinking less coffee here in Utah in order to afford better practices elsewhere, it's a choice Evans believes in providing. "It's about saying, when I pay that three dollars [for a cup] this is not going to support an industry that's continually devaluing the production." That's not to say that it's not a hard sell. Nobrow fights every independent business owner's uphill battle for solvency. But for Evans and those consumers willing to help him support the sometimes eccentric buyers and roasters that make sustainably grown artisan coffees available, the reward is in achieving all the exhilarating intangibles of conscious consumerism, and the Holy Grail of the specialty food market: taste.
Taste, or what Bob Owen calls "the real deal."
Bob Owen owns and operates his Fresh Moab Coffee roasting company near the intersection of Center Street and Moab's Main Street thoroughfare. Prone to elongated accentuation of conjunctions to help prove his point, Owen speaks with infectious enthusiasm about the community he nurtures with what can be described as an "old-world" business ethic–a barter system based on trust–in addition to regular, ol' commerce, of course.
His small, colorful office houses a reconditioned jewel of early twentieth century roasting and a veritable museum of useful coffee preparation paraphernalia. With no website, a rotary dial telephone and ancient answering machine, Owen deemphasizes technological distractions to focus his energy on the roasting itself. Owen relies upon actual relationships–face time and reputation–to build his local business, and is known for personally delivering his freshly roasted beans on his immediately recognizable Honda Elite scooter.
Fresh Moab Coffee is something of an escape for Mr. Owen, who is also the engineer at Moab's community radio station, KZMU. "I am not a technophobe at all," he says. "But all that's shit. The food is the real deal. You can do without all this other stuff but you can't do without good food." It's an ideal he picked up on a visit to Bali where he saw people laboring to sustain themselves without any of the modern conveniences, electricity, radio, or even a truck.
"But they had one thing we don't have at all: the ability to work together."
It's high idealism for a humble seed, but Owen's insistence upon community ensures not only that his customers get a good product, but also that the growers of Fresh Moab Coffee are fairly compensated for their efforts: "When I buy coffee, the things that are important for me are cooperatively marketed and shade grown. Sustainability. Cooperation. Those are the things that need cultivation."
Following in the footsteps of Caffe Ibis & The Roasting Company, small roasters like Fresh Moab Coffee and Jack Mormon are bridging the gap between consumer and bean, with local roasts that give the carefully grown coffee they buy its due respect, elevating it into a status beyond mere commodity.
Cruser Rowland has been cultivating direct relationships with his farmers for about three decades though he didn't necessarily realize it would go that way when he first rolled into San Blas, Mexico, in his '66 Volkswagen Bus. That was 1970 and Rowland and his friends had just driven from Houston Texas to Matanchén Bay to surf for a solid couple of months. "It's funny how you come back to places," he pauses, smiling, his mind clearly taking leave for the moment to revisit the far-off locale.
Rowland, owner of Jack Mormon Coffee Company, began roasting for the Texas Coffee Traders in the mid-nineties under the tutelage of his old buddy R.C. Beall, formerly of Montana Coffee Traders. Not one to compete with "the cup crowd," Rowland opened his Salt Lake business with the intention of providing "just a fresh pound of coffee." But eventually opened a storefront in the avenues where, he notes, "we also have to have a really nice cup" available to encourage customers to explore his line of fresh-roasted whole beans for sale by the pound.
Several years after his first visit, Rowland would go on to found a coffee business in Tepic, the capital of the Mexican state of Nayarit where San Blas is located. The relationships that Rowland forged during his time in Nayarit remain strong today. Encouraged through direct trade with Rowland the 150-year-old farms he works with there have continually improved the quality of their harvests such that bigger companies have approached the growers about purchasing their product. But the farmers of Cuarenteño, Jack Mormon's flagship coffee, remain loyal to Rowland, ensuring his supply, and always allowing him first pick.
For Rowland, "coffee is romantic. It's a romantic lifestyle." And he perceives an affinity among roasters and vendors who are drawn to that romance. "You appreciate the work involved in producing coffee. It's huge. But," he adds, "they also live in some wonderful places," or categorically "romantic" places, there in the tropics. Places that we in Northern Hemisphere often idealize, even long for.
By contrast, Randy Wirth from Caffe Ibis who has also spent some significant time on actual coffee cooperatives experiencing the real living conditions of growers and harvesters, says that experience has given him "a much greater appreciation for the 'miracle' it is that we are able to get this coffee into our country at all." He cites several examples of the conditions he experienced on journeys between the farms– which are typically high in the mountains, where sought-after arabica beans thrive–and the ports. Roads wash out. There's drought, corruption, political upheaval. Wirth speaks of farms in Uganda where farmers carry heavy bags out from the plantations through the wilds having no actual road to travel. "It's just a miracle the system works at all given how remote most of these place are," he reiterates. Sometimes, working with small growers in far off places means explaining to customers there won't be an "Ethiopia Sidamo" harvest for a while, but at the end of the day coffee is a crop and that is the nature of agriculture.
Rowland cites his experience as a coffee grader in Mexico (which showed him how to help improve a farmer profits just by taking the time to sort and grade the beans) and his status as a truly small batch roaster who's not pushing out great volumes of coffee, as the motivations for deliberately seeking coffees from smaller producers. In short, coffee grading taught him how thoughtful growing and direct relationships translate directly into the cup in terms of taste. And while many coffee experts insist coffee benefits from a period of "degassing" for a few days, Rowland guessed correctly that his customers would be floored by the taste of truly freshroasted coffee–it's an unforgettable experience, and one distinctly perceptible to even less precisely tuned palates.
Whether it's certified sustainable, high-altitude coffee, shade-grown under a tropical canopy that is migratory-bird friendly and organic (all true of Caffe Ibis), or a handshake deal between the buyer and the farmer to pay fair prices in exchange for a guarantee that the coffee is the very best they could possibly grow, the ultimate contribution to a coffee's intrinsic flavor - the terroir - finds its expression in the hands of the roaster. This is a familiar concept to wine lovers who know that how and where a grape is grown defines it's flavor, but it's up to the winemaker to work with the qualities of the grape to make a great wine. And it's precisely the same thing, coffee is as much terroir as it is a roast profile and virtually every specialty roaster today will tell you they pay attention to how the bean wants to be roasted.
Matthew Hein of Four Barrel Coffee describes roast-master, Ryan Goodrow, as a kind of "mystical alchemist" roasting to revealing "the intrinsic qualities of a coffee." Four Barrel exemplifies the lighter roasting style that is the hallmark of contemporary third wave coffees which strive to coax the natural flavors from the beans, lightly caramelize the sugars and leave it at that. Unlike the dark, bold french and vienna roasts that most of us are familiar with, light roast coffees exhibit an impressive array of distinct flavor profiles in the cup ranging from chocolate and fruit to floral and citrus notes reminiscent of wine. It's a style of coffee that relies almost entirely upon the quality of the bean and the restraint of the roaster.
Four Barrel is what they're brewing at The Rose Establishment on Fourth West just off Pierpont Place in Salt Lake. Like other third wave roasters Four Barrel travels the globe to establish direct relationships with growers, but The Rose owner Erica O'Brien tends to downplay that conversation and let Four Barrel's coffee speak for itself. As reserved as O'Brien may be about reciting the rigorous efforts of her supplier she insists that her baristas match them when preparing the coffee. The Rose eschews large-batches of brewed coffee in favor of madeto- order cups, in addition to espresso beverages. That's a surprise to unwitting patrons who wander in and order a cup of coffee and are often obliged to wait a couple minutes while it's brewed on the spot. In doing so The Rose ensures its customers the best cup they are capable of making using some very simple and time-honored brewing techniques.
O'Brien may attempt to downplay coffee as only one part of the total package (the shop also offers some great food), but make no mistake coffee takes center stage at The Rose. "Yes it has this stimulating effect," muses O'Brien. "But I love to think of it as a common ingredient for people to come together and be a community…there's a camaraderie of coffee drinkers…and yet beyond that it's about being there with your friends or with your loved ones and there's this…" O'Brien pauses, contemplating the proper word: "exchange." Still, O'Brien says, "I'm doing it because I want someone to come into the space and feel good; and that it's an experience. I want it to be an entire experience." A philosophy that Erica says Four Barrel's owner Jeremy Tooker found refreshing. "Coffee, is everything to them. But," she adds, "that's why I'm sourcing from them."
On the one hand, the many years of hard and passionate work on the part of direct trade purchasers and artisan roasters has paid off, making coffee truly worthy of it's specialty food status. On the other hand, despite all the craft, romance, history and regional specificity, coffee remains a staple. It has steeped into our lives, a necessity–commodity, even–of our daily routines. But with third wave coffee aficionados hawking their conscientious brews, routine is quickly being elevated (or perhaps restored) to something purer, and more sacred. Routine becomes ritual through the deliberate pursuit of better, more responsible coffee.
Okay, not just better. Says Nobrow's Joe Evans, "This year marks the best year of coffee ever." Open to sourcing from even the smallest suppliers (favoring quality over quantity), Evans has recently been tasting roasts from an unlikely source, walked into his shop in hand stamped bags by Levi Rogers, a Portland transplant, who is currently "dialing in" his roast on a modified home barbecue built by his friend and business partner, NY native, Tim Waltzer. This might be dismissed as "just an alternative idea", but La Barba (as the pair is calling their newly formed company) is the first roaster to bring the romance and lighter style of third wave coffee to Utah.
If Rogers and Waltzer achieve their vision, they will begin delivering their sustainably sourced coffees by bicycle to select locations in Salt Lake early in 2012, adding a final degree of sustainability to their process. A gratuitously organic, sustainably shade grown cherry on top of a sundae built from a global supply chain, you say? Perhaps, but it promises to infuse Utah's blossoming coffee culture with an old world, do it yourself kind of wisdom. It's not a just a direction coffee can go. But maybe the direction it should.
Andrew Dash Gillman has worked in both independent and corporate retail coffee. In 2005 he visited a farmer-owned cooperative in Matagalpa, Nicaragua to study coffee economics and participate in a harvest. He returned with knowledge and acute bronchitis. Mr. Gillman always believes it's a pleasant day for a cup.
CAFFÈ LATTE CON UOVO
by Carole Fontana
My Dad, Louie Fontana, immigrated to San Francisco in 1927 when he was 12. He and his family came from Northern Italy with nothing, but they did not leave their love of food behind. Daddy grew up having caffe lattè with bread and that was breakfast every working day of his life. On the weekends, when he didn't have to get up at 3 am to go to work, he would treat himself with caffe latte con uovo.
Eggs were a luxury, if you had some, you made pasta. But mostly you didn't and ate rice or polenta instead. Putting an egg in your coffee was special, Christmas morning special. I remember the smell of the coffee wafting up the hall to my bedroom. It was a real treat when Daddy took the time to fix a bowl for me too. This recipe is written for one, but you could make more to share with someone special, if they've been very, very good.
1 Tablespoon Sugar
2 Tablespoons coarsely ground coffee
4 ounces whole milk
Heat the coffee and milk together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Ideally this should take about 4 minutes and the coffee should be just about to simmer. In a small bowl beat the egg yolk and the sugar together until the mixture turns pale yellow. Slowly strain a splash of coffee into the bowl with the yolk, sugar mixture while beating vigorously with a fork. Continue beating while slowly straining in the rest of the coffee to create a frothy, warming, jumpstart to a cold morning.
Read the full article at http://www.onlinedigeditions.com/article/Conscientious+coffee/917863/92612/article.html.