And the winner is......(from Brazil's Early Harvest Cup of Excellence)

by groundwork coffee
on October 13, 2013
with 0 comments

For the first time in the 14 COE Competitions in Brazil, a female farmer has won first place and the coveted Presidential Award. Marisa Coli Noronha, owner of Sitio Sao Francesco de Asis, had an average score of 92 for the coffee she entered.  I am proud to say that I was one of 3 judges who scored her coffee 95 or over.

Another one of my favorites,  Jose Canato of Fazenda Monte Verde came in a top 20 position.

Here I am with winner Marisa Noronha and Henrique Sloper de Araujo (Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association and owner of Fazenda Camocim) right after she was awarded top honors.

Report from Brazil's Early Harvest Cup of Excellence Competition

by groundwork coffee
on October 12, 2013
with 0 comments

This is the hard part,  although truth be told,  this whole competition was tough even before we got here.  Over 300 coffee samples were submitted for evaluation after being vetted through local regional competitions from a field of 350,000 farms. Of those 300+ samples,  150 qualified to move on to the National Competition.

From the National,  the coffees were so good that the usual cut-off point to qualify, a score of 85, to move from here to the International Competition, had to be moved up to a score of 86.5 because so many coffees had scored 85!


Despite the higher barrier for moving on,  58 coffees qualified to be put in front of the International Jury (including yours truly). I have the unique perspective among the Int'l Jury to have been here last year for the Brazil Early Harvest Cup of Excellence.  Then, as now,  we started with 60 coffees.  The difference being that after the first round,  the Int'l Jury reduced the competitive field to 30 coffees moving up to the semi-finals; this year, we only cut 8 coffees. So we spent from 8am until 430pm trying to eliminate coffees that would move into the final 10 on Friday.

About 10 coffees eliminated themselves because at least one cup in that round had a defect. Of the 40 or so coffees left,  while there were a few stand-outs, all the coffees were out standing!

Stay tuned for the results!

On the Road to Brazil Again....Brazil Cup of Excellence 2013

by groundwork coffee
on October 10, 2013
with 0 comments

I am here in Brazil to judge which coffee deserves to have the title Best of Brazil's Cup of Excellence.  My journey started at 1139pm on Thursday 10/4.  Yet so many times when I travel to origin, I can't find a well-made cup of coffee to save my life!  In Sao Paulo, I found two places, Suplicy and D’O Coffee. Suplicy roasts their own coffee and, in a way, so does D’O Coffee (see below.) Sao Paulo is a HUGE city and getting around without a car was tough even for an L.A. native like me who grew up riding the RTD and/or a bike everywhere.  Both of these places were tough to get to if you were in a different part of town.

Forget coffee in the hotels, well…except for the one I stayed in Friday night in Pocos de Caldo (more later on that place...looovvveeeddd it!) Hotel Coffee is typically bad; no secret, right? There are a few out there that try to do it right and, doing a respectable job of it, should be commended. Because origin countries often save their best coffees to export and keep the left over beans for in-country consumption, it is quite possible that hotel coffee at origin could be WORSE than at a US hotel.  Right, now sit down, take a deep are ya’ feeling?  I know.  It's awful trying to imagine what that coffee would taste like.  Don’t do it.  I am a trained professional and have been trained for scary coffee situations. But it begs the question: Why doesn't more US Foreign Aid focus on improving the quality of coffees served at origin?  “More,” you ask?  Yeah, “more;” some, moving through organizations like US AID, goes to helping farmers learn to farm better, maintain heirloom seed banks, etc. Clearly, the powers that be don’t understand the power of a good cup of coffee.  In the words of the sage old javalosopher, Sammy Davis Jr.:

Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh
Soak it in some coffee and make a groovy mocha pie?
The Coffee Guy can, the Coffee Guy can
The Coffee Guy can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.


Well, those were the lyrics the way I originally wrote them back in the day but the candy lobby has their talons deep into everyone everywhere. What can you do?

Back to the point.....Obviously not enough of those dollars are allocated to makin’ the world taste good, if you get my meaning. Can you imagine how much more successful peace negotiations might be if the participants didn't have to suffer through a cuppa’ defective swill? Who can blame those guys for diving across conference tables and trying to choke out another diplomat.  Yeah, right... probably the fastest way to World Peace: good coffee before negotiations. You listening White House? UN?

Anyway,  the point of this posting is to introduce you to Unique Cafes in Sao Laurenco, Carmo de Minas -Mg Brazil.  Why? Because they do Coffee right. No, that's not a capitalization mistake: coffee with a capital "C."  When a café does coffee right, not capitalizing the "c" doesn't do justice to the effort that these guys expend to brew coffee at this level.  Unique Cafes does not hold back! In Brazil, as in most coffee producing countries, forget about bringing in green coffee from somewhere else; even getting coffee from a different state within that country can be a major effort.  Don’t ask, because no one’s been able to explain it to me yet.  Picture, if you can, the challenge of painting a life-like representation of a rainbow and only being allowed to use one color.  Sound fun? No, didn’t think so.

So what do you do?  Well, if you’re the owners of this café you would also be the owners of a coffee export company called Carmo Coffee.  Jacques Careiro and Luis Paolo Pereira have the knowledge and access to the sorts of coffees that are needed to make a serious and successful run at a café with these restrictions.

What they ended up doing is to offer coffees by flavor profile rather than origin.  All the coffees come from farms in Carmo, but by blending different varietals (i.e. several Bourbon lines in the Citrico Blend) and different processing techniques on those varietals they were able to come up with four blends that highlight what the coffees and farmers in this region can do.  On top of this mix of varietals and processes, the café offers different ways you can enjoy those coffees: Aeropress, Hario V60 pour-over, Bunn’s air infused Trifecta and (of course) as espresso.

So, in this is going to be my café away from my cafés.  While my days this week are going to start at 530 am with spoons hitting the cups at 8am, I am going to be sipping some good finished product right there at the table against the wall on the left at every opportunity I get.

Santa Monica Place Groundwork Coffee Reconnaissance

by groundwork coffee
on August 16, 2013
with 0 comments

Dispatches From The Field: On The Road To Guatemala

by groundwork coffee
on May 16, 2013
with 0 comments

May 10th…no, now it’s May 11th 12:05 a.m.

It’s late.  I’m tired.  I’m hot.  All that and all I am doing is sitting at LAX waiting for my flight to board.  I’m going to Guatemala City to participate in the 2013 Cup of Excellence (COE) as a Judge on the International Jury.   I’m excited, sure!  How many times can I look forward with 100% certainty that every coffee I am going to cup at a table is going to be a good to great coffee?  To tell the truth: not so often!

We recently bought a container of coffee from Finca La Lagunilla in Mexico.  It’s a great coop that produces COE winners and placers consistently.  The coffee we bought: solid 88-89 coffee.  Even Steve Lee, our Director of Coffee, Quality and Education (point miser that he is), scored it high and waxed poetic on its qualities in the cup.  But we had to wade through about thirty coffees from Mexico that whose taste profiles ranged from tasting something like accidentally having your mouth open just as a skunk decides it feels threatened and “expresses” itself; to sucking on old & wet jute; to “it’s brown and tastes like coffee; to “hey…pretty good…”; to a stifled squeal  of joyful surprise at having just sipped a cup of brown ambrosia a passing Greek Deity accidentally left on our cupping table .  We keep on plugging ahead, though, constantly on the lookout for another forgetful deity accidental gift.

Even after we make a purchase, we continue to cup coffees from the same origin to get a better idea of what the new crop is shaping up to be and to better understanding where our coffee fits into that picture.  Just this past Wednesday, we cupped four organic coffees from respectable Fincas and Coops in Mexico and were unpleasantly surprised at the low scores we gave to them.  Looks like we were cupping in the wake of an Olympian the day we tried the La Lagunilla….

So, where was I? Right, I am heading to Guatemala for a week of cupping and road trips.  The twenty judges and seven observers will deliberate over the relative merits of the top thirty or so coffees from a field of one hundred and eighty three entrants.  A team of local National Judges had the task of wading through all the coffees to find the gems I’m dropping out of the sky to cup.  Gentlemen and Ladies…I salute and thank you!

Flying 2500 miles to cup good coffees may seem extreme even for a guy like me who brings his own Aeropress, Hario Hand Grinder (with metal filter!), four pounds of coffee we just roasted today…and just remembered I forgot my gram scale and coffee scoop (Drats!) Even so, I feel it is important for us to attend/participate in events like the Cup of Excellence for all sorts of reasons.  Aside from my own professional development as a cupper, which is important to both me and the company, getting to cup with at least 26 other high level cuppers from around the world helps me understand and to calibrate with peers whom I otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and/or work with.  Seeing how cultural influences effect scoring (boy, those Nordic Folk do love their acidic coffees!) and getting  exposed to different perspectives on flavor attributes certainly causes me to pause and consider how my quality and sourcing team approaches our work, what we’re doing great and ways in which we might improve.

I’ve got quite the schedule lined up for tomorrow and the next day…here it is:
My 130AM flight lands at 715am in Guatemala City.
Thankfully, I will be picked up by representatives of Anacafe and whisked off to my hotel.
At 8am, I will be met by representatives of a small umbrella Coop called FECCEG who sent us some amazing samples…including one from Cooperativa Renacimiento.
Where I will meet with their board of directors and tour the Coopertiva’s fields and operations hopefully the village, too!
From there, we’ll go and visit a farm being developed by the Gerencia of FECCEG and a few of his Co-Workers.  They are trying to plant and develop a model organic and sustainable finca.
We’ll end the day in a city called Quetzaltenango.
On Saturday, we’ll head over to FECCEG where we will tour the dry mill, warehouses as well as the roastery they are building to serve the needs of the local community.
We’re going to cup some coffees, discuss additional products they are developing to help their members diversify their coffee income with income producing products for the off season.
Then back to the hotel in Guatemala City where I will rest and prepare for the beginning of the competition on Monday.

Stay tuned for more Dispatches From The Road.


Ode to Lox

by groundwork coffee
on February 25, 2013
with 1 comments

Groundwork Bagel

Oh Adam, Chef Adam this ode 
Is for thee. 
While in your culinary mode 
You created a treasure from the sea. 
Pickled onions so pink; 
Capers so round and green 
Perched on crowning lofty top as an ever present link 
Between my toasted everything bagel and cheese of cream. 
Like so many arms linked together for a sweet embrace 
Of all those many elements with intent to squeeze them into one 
Delicious whole. Joy! As my hands lift the sandwich to my face, 
I look forward to the union of my Lox Bagel Sandwich to me 
As just so much fun. 

Sweet Salmon cured by hand 
As though done at home; 
Not in a commercial food stand… 
Pickles, pickles you are so pink! 
Made from onion yet curiously, 
You do not stink! 

Look…I am really good with coffee and never said I could bust a rhyme, yet when Chef Adam placed his hand cured lox plate in front of me for the very first time I was moved. I wanted to cry! I was afraid to touch it for fear of marring its perfect orange translucence, the hint of dill…sorry. I’m doing it again. Gotta focus: coffee good, poetry bad. 


This ain’t no Lasco; 
This ain’t no Costco; 
This ain’t no foolin’ around! 

Afraid I was going to break out in a bad Talking Heads redub? 
Yeah, me, too. 

So just leave. Go. Don’t wait. Run to one of our stores and experience the pure joy of Chef Adam’s Lox. 
You won’t be sorry…because if you hang out here I’m going to start Lox Poetry Slamming again.

The Moment of Truth: Roasting

by groundwork coffee
on April 11, 2012
with 0 comments

A raw, un-roasted coffee bean isn’t much to look at.

It’s faded, greenish, small and kind of shriveled, with a relatively smooth half-moon surface on one side, and a small crack winding through the flat exterior on the other. But to coffee roasters, the do-it-all artisans of the coffee trade, the ones who turn raw beans into the dark, stimulating brew that steams in our cups and mugs every morning, these green coffees are reservoirs of information.

Artisan roasters can glance at a tray of green coffee beans and pinpoint the processing method; “washed” in water or “natural”, dried in the sun. These roasters can oftentimes pinpoint the origin of the coffee, be it central or south america, africa or indonesia. Contrary to popular belief, the true purpose of roasting is not so much to define the coffee flavor, but to coax out the best characteristics of a specific coffee. A single coffee offers several inherent flavors and aromas, but the roast level will determine which and how many of those flavors are exposed.

There’s no one correct way to roast a specific coffee. It’s up to the roaster to interpret a coffee’s strengths and weaknesses and draw out the best qualities for the consumer. Once a roaster settles on a successful roast profile, he sticks to that roast profile religiously, as consistency is the key to a good coffee. the roasting process removes much of the moisture from the bean while caramelizing the sugars inside, contributing to a coffee’s color, flavor and body.

During the roasting process, the coffee emits two loud pops, known, in the roasting trade, as first crack and second crack. at first crack, the beans are relatively uneven in color, but as the interior temperature of the beans continues to rise, they experience a more uniform browning. This is the moment of truth for coffee roasters; a roast that’s stopped midway between first and second crack is generally considered a light roast, a coffee that’s roasted just barely beyond the second crack is a medium roast, and a coffee that’s roasted well beyond the second crack is a dark roast.

Watching an artisan work the roasting machine illuminates the importance of the human element in the process. Periodically pulling small samples to check the color and aroma, the colors of the roasting coffee can reveal a lot and are as important to the artisan roaster as the colors of bread to a baker.

Coffee Colors and Roast Levels

by groundwork coffee
on March 01, 2012
with 2 comments

Unfortunately, it is just too simplistic to assign a color category to a coffee and expect that to be an accurate sign post to what the coffee will taste like.  So much of what we taste and smell is determined by the coffee: its genetic line, how it was processed, what happened to the coffee during the roast process, length of roasting time....Just looking at the color can be misleading.  

If I had two pieces of steak that were charbroiled to the same color, you don’t know just by looking at it if it was cooked rare, medium or well done until you cut into it.  The same is true of coffee; the choices the cupper and roaster make about how the coffee should be roasted can result in a dark looking coffee with a light flavor or vice-versa.  Some of our coffees are very versatile and can be (and are) roasted to different colors according to different profiles to bring out certain flavors. 

Analysis of these details might feel pretentious to some...After all, it's just coffee! But here at Groundwork, we are committed to keeping our customers informed so they get what they want.  In the end, I have to bow to the need to put the coffees into a “box” of some kind. But I encourage you to read the cupping notes and take that information into account with the color. 

If you’ve read this far, I think it is fair to say that you care enough about the way your coffee tastes to take in what I am going to share with you next. As coffee is roasted, we can hear cracks during the process and they are key to controlling the roast levels. Here is a breakdown.... 

Light Roast: Some point after First Crack but before Second Crack
Medium: What we often call here at GWHQ as “Peak”, just at the beginning of the Second Crack.
Medium Dark: (Vienna) Coffee was well into Second Crack when we decided it was where we wanted it to be.
Dark: (French) Coffee finished its journey at Rapid Second Crack, where the cracking begins to diminish.

Some have 2 X’s because its color (and where we finished the roast) was in between these two points. The O’s mean we roast it all those ways, but if you order the coffee as other than an X, you may have to wait until the next time we roast that coffee to other than the X profile for the order to ship. Enjoy! 

-Jeff Chean, Groundwork Partner, Cupper and Q Grader


Ethiopia X


Tanzania O
Uganda O X O O



Costa Rica


El Salvador






Papua New Guinea




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Black Magic


Black Gold

Lucky Jack

Venice Blend


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