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    Dances With Beans

    Organic Brazil Fazenda Camocim, Part Deux

    It seems like just yesterday that I wrote about running to East Bay Logistics to get arrival samples of our specially prepared and blended Organic Camocim Brazil. As a single origin, it shines; as an important component of our Organic Espresso and Black Magic blends, it helped to make those coffees sing. 

    Funny thing about planning: those plans don’t always work out the way you expect them to. When we bought the container of Camocim, we thought it would last nine months or so. Yeah . . . didn’t work out that way. Our customers really responded, and we were looking at running out in about half that time. 

    Just bagged coffee in the Camocim solar drying patio

    (Just bagged coffee in the Camocim solar drying patio)

    A quick phone call to Henrique and his team in Brazil, some frantic back-and-forth emails, and we came to an agreement to have him ship us three containers of our special varietal blend over the course of a year.

    Coffee sacks are usually a dun- or tan-colored jute bag. Even when they aren’t jute, as in the case with the Jutex Sacaria Imperial (made out of a recyclable plastic in order to prevent the taste of the jute from transferring to the coffee), tan is the color of choice. Henrique, a former Porsche racecar driver, has a flair for the dramatic. Somehow, he got hold of a cardinal-red bag and packed our coffee in those. Crazy.

    Sacaria Imperial bags, before, in burlap.Sacaria Imperial bags after, in orange.

    (Sacaria Imperial bags, before and after)

    So, the good news is that another container of great Direct Trade, organic, Demeter Certified, Bio-Dynamic certified Brazilian coffee has left a port in Brazil and found a home in your latte . . . or cappuccino . . . or . . . 

    The Road to The U.S. Coffee Championships

    Sitting in traffic on a long drive “crosstown,” as much a part of living in Los Angeles as it is, is never fun. What makes the waiting worthwhile is the destination. As a child, on the way to Disneyland, languishing on the I-5 and having received many “final warnings” about asking, “Are we there yet?” I learned to find familiar landmarks. During the drive to “The Happiest Place On Earth,” for me, the Nabisco building was the first telltale sign that we were getting close. Of course, seeing the glorious top of the Matterhorn ride peaking over a billboard or building told me that good times were just around the corner.

    Driving to Long Beach for the US Coffee Championships, where I participate as a judge and, this time around, am training to be a Head Judge, I experienced a similar feeling. After all, it isn’t every day when I can definitively say that each cup of coffee I’m going to sip will be different degrees of really good to great. Today, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few actually had rainbows emanating from them.

    As I drove up to the Long Beach Arena, I didn’t look for a landmark like the Nabisco building, but I certainly had a Pavlovian response to seeing this sign as I walked on for Judge’s Calibration...

    The U.S. Coffee Championships welcome banner.

    A Peek Behind The Groundwork Curtain

    So, where do we keep all of our coffee? Those of you who have visited our little warehouse nestled in a corner of the North Hollywood Arts District know that we can’t possibly keep all of it there. So, where? Well, if it isn’t going to the purchaser’s warehouse, it may be stored in a shared “public” coffee warehouse. Our coffees go to warehouses in Oakland, CA; or they come in through the Port of Los Angeles, a facility called East Bay Logistics (EBL). EBL maintains a substantial location in the Bay Area, in addition to two smaller spaces in SoCal. Here is an example of one coffee’s journey, once landed, and how we work with an outside warehouse.

    EBL: The temporary home for 150,000 sacks of coffee (approximately 19,800,000 pounds of coffee!)When our container of Organic Brazil landed at the Port of Los Angeles and cleared customs, we moved it to EBL’s 90,000-square-foot specialized coffee-storage facility in Rancho Dominguez (aka Compton). Upon clearance, we were sent an “arrival sample” selected from a random number of the container bags, designed to create a sample representative of all the coffee in the container. We roasted that sample to SCAA sample spec. At the time, CoffeeCon was only a few days away and we wanted to hand out pre-release samples at the event. In order to do that, we needed to find the coffee’s sweet spot and create a roast profile.

    After 20 years spent working with coffee and roasting, I have developed a feel for various coffees and where a particular coffee’s sweet spot might end up. However, while that sense may help to inform where we begin our search, it isn’t definitive. We still have work to do. I call the first step of our profile development process “bracket roasting.” We choose certain pre-defined profiles to which we roast at least three 250-300 gram samples and then cup them to see how the coffee reacts to changes in certain roasting variables. In order to do this, however, we need either a sack of the coffee or a few big samples (most green coffee samples are about 100 grams). It is times like these when it pays to have good relationships with vendors.

    Edgar at EBL SoCal.Enter Edgar. At EBL SoCal, Edgar is the man. He took me to the facility’s inner sanctum to visit my long-awaited beans. I love walking in warehouses full of green coffee. I like the feeling of being surrounded by massive columns of coffee. The smell, the lighting, the quiet . . . maybe not the dust . . . For me, it’s like walking into a coffee cathedral (but I’ll save those ruminations for another day).  The Trier: a nasty bit of businessAnyway, I followed Edgar into the storage areas. He was carrying a “trier.”  To someone who’s never seen one of these tools, they can appear pretty intimidating. How does someone put together a random sample? My rule of thumb: When duct tape alone won’t do it, you’ve gotta have a tool. In this case, that tool is a trier. Look at that thing and let your imagination run wild . . . or maybe don’t.

    Edgar using a trier to pull samples of green coffee beans.As I watched Edgar select the sacks from which he was going to pull samples, inserting the trier and pulling out a measured quantity into a waiting plastic bag, I couldn’t help but think about this process. All over the coffee world there are people who pull samples all day long. Stabbing bag after bag after bag after . . . I wonder, what goes through their minds? What are the job requirements for this position? Is there a tryout, or is it just one of those things where everyone simply knows who should get the job? SNAP!  

    Stacks of green coffee beans in a warehouse. Back to Edgar, who was handing me several pounds of green coffee that he collected. We then headed back to the front office. Having received the sample, I hustled back up to L.A. (Or I did what we refer to as “hustling” in SoCal. In L.A. traffic, any sort of movement on the freeway is a happy occurrence.) Groundwork Workshop wooden sign.As soon as I walked into “The Workshop,” our Director of Coffee, Steven Lee — who had warmed up our profile roaster in anticipation of my arrival — grabbed the samples. I tried to focus on other work while Steven roasted the samples to our predefined profiles, but that didn’t work too well. I was feeling a sense of anticipation akin to awaiting the birth of a child. Not exactly the same thing, but you know what I mean.

    Steven Lee playing guitar.Then the roasts were done. We inspected the color and fragrance, and then . . . nothing. The official cupping protocol says that the samples need to be roasted within 24 hours of cupping them and that the beans be allowed to rest for at least eight hours. After roasting, the coffee beans continue to emit gasses for quite some time; the process is called degassing. Ever wonder why there is a one-way air valve on the majority of coffee bags? It is so the gasses can get out and the bag doesn’t explode. The rate coffee emits gas is at its highest in the eight hours after it is roasted. Even though it smells great, those gasses carry negative flavor and could skew our evaluation of a coffee. Personally, I like to let the coffees rest overnight before we cup them.

    They say, “Waiting is the hardest part.” I don’t know who they are, but they are correct. But wait is what we had to do. The next morning, Steven measured out the coffees from each profile and we sat down to taste. As a small roaster, we buy large quantities of specialty grade coffee. Each container represents a large investment for us. With as many things that can go wrong between the time the coffee leaves the farm or co-op and lands in Oakland or Los Angeles, it’s always a minor miracle when our expectations and what’s in the cup are perfectly aligned.Cupping coffee — Grounds extracting in a cupping bowl.  
    While in this case we were able to quickly assess the optimal profile for the Organic Brazil, some coffees are trickier due to their shape, size, moisture content . . . the list goes on. Having decided how we should roast this coffee, we continually monitor it and make adjustments due to changes in moisture, weather, and just the natural process the raw beans go through during the time they are guests in our shared warehouses as well as at our roastery.

    I thought that you might enjoy seeing a little bit of what goes on at the Groundwork Roastery and the process of bringing you the best coffees we can find, roasted to our demanding standards. I hope that you pick up a package of our Organic Brazil and that, while you enjoy its soft chocolate notes, you also take a moment to reflect on the invisible lines of connection from your cup all the way back to the farm.

     

     

     

      

     

     

     

    Just Landed — Organic Brazil Fazenda Camocim!

    I had known about Brazil’s Fazenda Camocim region for years before I met Henrique, but primarily for its “famous” Jacu Bird coffee. Like the Civets in Indonesia, the Jacu Birds of Brazil love their coffee cherries, and they know how to zero in on the ripest of them. Unlike their unfortunate caffeinados in Indonesia, the Jacu aren’t caged and force-fed the cherries. I have actually tried both of these “natural process” coffees and can honestly say that where the Civet digestive tract kills anything sweet about a coffee, the Jacu Bird actually adds some “nuance” to it.

    Poco De CaldosI didn’t know about the huge variety of cultivars grown at Fazenda Camocim until I met its owner, Henrique Sloper, on a trip to Brazil in 2010 . . . and then again in 2012 . . . and yet again in 2013. Brazil is a BIG country, but its specialty-coffee community is more like a village. So, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised that I kept bumping into Henrique, especially since I was a judge at the Cup of Excellence on two of those trips — a competition that attracts local members of the specialty-coffee community. (Why do people show up to watch, you ask? I can’t say, because coffee competitions, as opposed to barista competitions, pack all the action and excitement you might find at a chess tournament . . . only with loud slurps.)

    It was on my last trip to Brazil when, over drinks following a dinner hosted by the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA) for Cup of Excellence judges, we finally shook hands on a deal, committed to working with each other, and staggered back to the hotel.

    After sampling his coffees, we decided we wanted to do something a bit different: create a blended green coffee using our favorites from among all the varietals that we had cupped. So we did, cupping various combinations of four of our five favorite varieties until we found the right proportions. Henrique and his team were kind enough to accommodate us by blending the green coffee we chose (a lot of green coffee) to our specs and creating our proprietary blend: Cupping is a messy job. Don’t wear light-colored clothing to work.        The jute bag for our Fazenda Camocim Organic Brazil coffee                                                                  
    Catuacai, Yellow Bourbon, Yellow Caturra, and Camocim Peaberry. Because peaberries are the exception rather than the rule with coffee cherries, the Camocim PB is a blend of peaberries from all of the farm’s varieties. The resulting coffee “cocktail” should make for a complex, fascinating brew or single-origin espresso.

    Our Organic Brazil Fz. Camocim is a Direct Trade coffee and, like all Groundwork coffees, is certified organic according to the standards set out by the USDA. However, Camocim has the distinction of being our first Demeter-certified biodynamic coffee. More on that in my next post, along with our cupping notes for our arrival sample (we’re waiting) . . . 

    Coffee Meets Water

    Water is life.

    That’s not too controversial a statement, is it? Think about it. Because, from time to time, we should think about water, since its deceptive appearance of abundance allows it to be taken for granted far too often. Yeah, I’ll fess up: I’ve been guilty of that. It’s easy to not think about the scarcity of water too much. At least until recently, that is. Want some? Turn a tap at your sink: Bang. Water. There it is.

    What if you lived in a place where, when you turned on a tap, undrinkable water or nothing at all dribbled out? What if you lived in a place where you had to walk a long way from home to a hole in the ground to draw your family’s water out of? For millions of people, those scenarios are not too difficult to imagine. In fact, it’s an accurate description of their life.

    Water is life.

    Accepting that statement means that you can’t just stop there. Without water, life can’t exist. Access to clean water, then, is a basic human right.

    As native Los Angelenos, we know, in the back of our minds, that we live in a desert made verdant only through technology. Due to the strain placed on our region by the lack of significant rainfall and an ever-expanding population, the desert is reasserting itself, attempting to reclaim territory. I recently drove through the Sierras, around Lake Isabella, and was stunned by the diminished water levels in the lake. I saw campgrounds that used to sit at the lake’s edge now situated hundreds of feet away from the current water line. Areas that used to be covered by grass, now dust. Paradise Cove? Eh . . . not so much anymore.

    Diminished water levels in Lake Isabella

    Even with our advanced technology and aquasystems, we’re in trouble. In this, however, we’re not alone.  

    It was with all the above in mind that Groundwork Coffee approached Good Neighbors to become a major partner in their Coffee Meets Water campaign in Sidama, Ethiopia. Coffee Meets Water, along with my partner and good friend Eddy Cola, will travel to Ethiopia to repair 22 wells in the Sidama Region. This effort is the first water project we’re undertaking to help fulfill one of our company’s core values: community, both locally and at origin. We’re going to call this new effort The Groundwater Initiative.

    Why Ethiopia? When it comes to coffee, Ethiopia is Grounds Zero. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Actually, that statement is true for humanity as well as for coffee. Ethiopia is where coffee started. Ethiopia is where the legendary Kaldi saw his goats dancing after eating some mysterious red fruit.  

    We know that the repair of 22 wells in only one region of Ethiopia isn’t going to solve all of the country’s water issues. But it’s a start, and it’s where we can begin to make a difference, no matter how small, now — at the birthplace of coffee.

    We owe a lot to Ethiopia. Will you join us?

    Water is Life.