Making Things, Giving Things & Keeping Things

A northern fulmar in flight near Boreray, an uninhabited island in the archipelago of St. Kilda. Photograph by Philip Mugridge / Alamy

Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.

Things you might see in the Authentica shops

Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.

Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.

We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.

The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.

Gifts That Give

How can you gift in a way that does not generate waste, that reduces waste, or that regenerates ecosystems? Sara has a fun and practical list in her Yale Climate Connections column, which I have linked to below. It got me thinking of what I would add to her list. Yesterday I reached back to a couple of posts from two years ago when we were preparing to open the Authentica shops, mentioning products we carry from artisan groups that recycle heavy plastics, in one case, and wood in the other. We have other products made from recycled materials, but our best selling product is Organikos coffee, all of the proceeds of which are invested in ecosystem regeneration. Laura’s question about gifting toward climate action is one we all should be asking:

ASK SARA

Eco-friendly gifts for every budget in 2021

Holiday cheer that’s good for the planet, too.

Hi Sara!

I’m trying to find a gift for my mother for Christmas, and I like the idea of gifting toward climate action. Might you have recommendations?

Thank you for your time

— Laura

Hi Laura,

Sure thing. Here’s a list of climate-friendly gift ideas for every budget.

A board game, puzzle, houseplant, or other item from your local “Buy Nothing” group (Price: Free)

Why it’s climate-friendly: Manufacturing stuff requires consumption of energy and natural resources, so it’s better for the climate to reuse products rather than buying new. Continue reading

Thanksgiving, Organikos & Authentica At Year 3

Introduced at the Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving Day, 2021

The base of the lamp at my desk is a ceramic bird that serves as a year-round reminder of Thanksgiving. And the ceramic coffee artifacts on my desk serve the same purpose, reminding me each time I sit to work that there are constantly plenty of reasons to give thanks.

We opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Sophomore year for both Organikos and Authentica was mettle-testing. We passed. If flying colors were not evident enough in how we passed, here they are in the label for our newest coffee. First introduced last month to a group of students at Cornell University, whose tasting notes we have appreciated receiving, as of today it is available in our shops in Costa Rica.

So, thanks for all that.

Solar Canopy + Bellwether Roaster = Interesting Option

As we consider new canopy options, a switch to electric roasting of Organikos coffee also seems clearly worthy of consideration. I just found out about this company, and its sustainability report from last year puts it high on my list of roasters to consider:

Letter from Bellwether

We would be remiss to start our Sustainability Report without acknowledging what a crazy year 2020 was. A global pandemic forced many of our customers, like other businesses across the world, to close their doors. Continue reading

Yemenis, Coffee & Entrepreneurship

Wisam Alghuzi, left, and Jab Zanta at Diwan, their cafe on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Yemeni coffee entrepreneurs have graced our pages a couple times before.  We do not tire of these stories, wherever they may originate:

Second-generation Yemeni entrepreneurs in Brooklyn want to reclaim their role as the purveyors of the original specialty coffee.

Hakim Sulaimani roasting coffee at Yafa Cafe in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

Hakim Sulaimani remembers exactly where he was when he first heard that his homeland, the poorest country in the Middle East, had invented one of the most popular drinks in the world.

He was sitting in the living room (which was also his bedroom) in his family’s apartment in Brooklyn, watching a children’s show on public television. When someone on the show said that coffee came from Yemen, Hakim was stunned. He had never heard anyone outside his community say anything about Yemen before, let alone something that made him proud. “I was super-hyped,” he recently recalled. “Super-giddy.” Continue reading

Geisha’s Got Game

Today we are introducing a Geisha varietal produced by the Candelilla estate, a family farm in Costa Rica’s Tarrazu region, into the Organikos lineup of specialty coffees. Just in time, a friend from Panama who gifted us a bag of Hacienda la Esmeralda beans in late 2019, sent me a link yesterday to this film:

No photo description available.What goes into your daily cup of coffee? And what is that worth? The Republic of Panama, one of the tiniest countries and coffee exporters in the world, now produces the most sought-after beans on earth. They can sell for over $1,000 a pound, while commodity coffee prices hover around $1. HIGHER GROUNDS tells the story of how Panama is reimagining coffee…and of the inspiring passion and collaborative spirit behind it all.

 

The Taste of a Place

It’s a feeling we come back to again and again, especially when talking about foods we love. Coffee, cheese, wine, tea…the  significance of each one resonates with both a sense of culture and place to where quite a few of the contributors to this site have called home.

In the case of the image above, we peer into the poro trees we have mentioned numerous times. This particular poro, whose thick diagonally oriented trunk is situated at the uppermost point on the land where our coffee grows, is home to several orchids, both wild and cultivated. And in the foreground of the image a young cecropia tree is making its way upward, with a reddish top.

Next to the cecropia, out of the frame, is a mature coffee tree. Next to that is a young lime tree, and surrounding are various flowers and mano de tigre, aka monstera deliciosa. Just downhill from the trees and flowers in this image are bananas, plantain and sugar cane. The best coffees enjoy diverse company as they grow.

Verdant, Drenched & Down At Ground Level

During the last six weeks or so of rainy season in Costa Rica, the word verdant is the perfect word for describing coffee plantations, especially those with long-lived canopies. The photo above, which I took while visiting a coffee farm in the Turrialba region, shows a mature canopy and coffee that is thriving under it, as are the lichens and moss on the gigantic rock in the foreground. Greenest this time of year, the coffee will have red cherries ready for picking within the next two months as the rains subside.

At home, potted flowers that have been providing color on a rock wall near our terrace are getting that drenched look.

Drenched does not have the same beautiful implication of verdant, but it will have to do. I cannot find a prettier alternative to describe the look of flowers that have absorbed as much water as possible and now just let the morning mist roll off.

I was surprised to find this nest while tending to some overgrown grass yesterday. It was right by a post of the fence that protects the land we are replanting. The surprise was a nest at ground level. According to Seth these are most likely eggs from this bird. Good luck, eggs. Good luck, birds.

Know Where Your Coffee Comes From

Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

Most of the coffee stories I tell here are short reports on our efforts to regenerate a onetime coffee farm. Plenty of others we link to are about challenges facing coffee farmers and efforts to improve their lot . I cannot find a story like the one below that we have featured previously, where coffee farming is effectively undermining conservation. Reading this new longform work by Wyatt Williams will not make anyone happy, but that must be the point. The illustrations by Hokyoung Kim are a perfect accompaniment:

The Case of the Vanishing Jungle

It seemed like an easy crime to stop: protected Indonesian rainforest, cut for coffee farms. But a globalized economy can undermine even the best-laid plans.

In the fall of 2015, Matt Leggett, a newly hired senior adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, found himself sitting in a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, wondering if someone had missed the point. The meeting, as he remembers it, was meant to unveil some good news about tigers. In brief: Back in 2002, a survey of one of the last habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, showed a tiger population that, in biologist-speak, amounted to only 1.6 tigers per 100 square kilometers. Continue reading

Coffee & Plastic, Second Shift Footwear

The company said the shoe, called Nomad, will be made from coffee waste and recycled bottles, while recycled polyester will be used to create the membrane to make the footwear waterproof. Photograph: c/o Rens

There is nothing particularly remarkable about the idea of using coffee bags a second time. But it was fun realizing how easy it is, and just doing it. Less easy and maybe lots more fun is the idea in the article below. Hats off to the creative founders who chose this path instead of chasing Silicon Valley unicorns (perhaps their success will demonstrate that unicorns thrive on a healthy planet, as expressed in this t-shirt I saw recently):

Firm seeks funding for ‘performance sneakers’ made from coffee waste

Finnish firm Rens says shoes made from used grounds and recycled plastic will be climate neutral

It is the typical morning routine for hundreds of thousands of Britons: have a cup of coffee and then slip on your trainers before heading for a jog. Upon returning, a quick drink of water to rehydrate before stepping into the shower.

Now, one firm has enabled one thing to beget another, by creating trainers made of recycled plastic bottles and used coffee beans.

Finnish footwear firm Rens launched an online fundraising campaign for its latest sustainable trainer on Tuesday, which it claims will be climate neutral in its production, packaging and transport. Continue reading

All In A Day’s Microadventures

A New Hampshire lawn in June. John Tully for The New York Times

Emily Pennington has shared recommendations from some experienced folks about alternatives to the well-known spectacular adventures, such as hiking the Grand Canyon. She recommends trying microadventures in this article subtitled How to find a sense of awe and discover a miraculous world right outside your door. Early on she writes about what we are often looking for in the places we travel to :

…Researchers often describe awe as an emotion that combines an experience of vastness with both pleasure and a fear of the unknown. While many of us might consider these moments rare, ephemeral and tricky to reproduce, a few scientists are finding that this reverence is a skill that can be cultivated and has remarkable mental health benefits.

“Awe basically shuts down self-interest and self-representation and the nagging voice of the self,” said Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s different from feeling pride or amusement or just feeling good. It’s like, ‘I’m after something sacred.’”

I have spent most days since early March 2020 looking for awe at or close to home, so I could relate immediately to what she was writing about in this article. A typical day starts with this view:

Start of a day’s microadventures

If you cannot imagine being awed by that, stop reading here. I will seek more awe as the day continues. Continue reading

Do You Believe Coffee Has Health Benefits?

Short answer: yes. Explanations and caveats follow.

Coffee cherries that I harvested in January on the onetime coffee farm that we are rehabilitating. I am biased enough to enjoy the process of picking coffee, washing it and preparing it for planting.

I believe coffee has health benefits. Do I have them memorized? No. Do I fully understand the ones I can recall? No. But even with changing scientific findings over the years (e.g. findings from decades ago about coffee’s negative health effects were confounded by the fact that smoking and drinking coffee were highly correlated in study participants) I am inclined to listen to and trust findings from credentialed scientists.

A friend sent me the above video a couple of days ago, asking if I believe the contents. I just watched it. In six minutes a medical expert delivers more scientific findings than I could possibly digest. Upon first listening I am inclined to believe that coffee is better for me, in ways I had not been aware of, than I had previously considered.

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During the early days of the pandemic, staying in isolation, I experimented with hot-brewed and cold-brewed coffee trying to come up with a new way to enjoy it that would also boost my immune system

That said, I am also willing to believe that for every finding of the health benefits, there could be findings of health penalties that I simply have not come across. Or maybe I have willfully avoided coming across them.

I am inclined to bias on this topic for at least two reasons. First, because I enjoy drinking coffee as much or more than the average person. Stated less politely, I might be a coffee junkie. And related to that, maybe because of that, my primary entrepreneurial activity now is selling coffee. I try to keep my enthusiasm in check, and rarely reference the health benefits of coffee unless I feel I truly understand the scientific findings.

Gracia Lam

Just after watching the video my friend sent, I came across this, so will make a rare exception and recommend both these summaries of information about coffee’s health benefits. Jane Brody, the Personal Health columnist for the New York Times since 1976, recently reviewed decades of scientific findings, including plenty of overlap with the medical expert in the video above, and with this quick read you can judge for yourself:

Americans sure love their coffee. Even last spring when the pandemic shut down New York, nearly every neighborhood shop that sold takeout coffee managed to stay open, and I was amazed at how many people ventured forth to start their stay-at-home days with a favorite store-made brew. Continue reading

Stenophylla May Be One Of Coffee’s Answers

Climate change is only one of the challenges facing coffee. Thanks to the Economist for keeping us up to date on prospective solutions:

How to save coffee from global warming

Look at research done two centuries ago

Coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry that supports the economies of several tropical countries. Roughly 100m farmers depend on it for their livelihoods. Continue reading

Organikos, 2021 New Growth

In the center of this picture is a poro tree, the tallest on the land where Organikos is replanting coffee. For nearly a century the coffee growing on this hillside was shaded by this type of tree. In the year 2000 we started planting fruit trees around  the poro trees, to provide additional shade to the coffee that was still growing here. In 2020, we planted saplings from this tree. Continue reading

A Surprise At The Intersection Of Coffee-Growing And Bird-Watching

Mourning Warbler. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Villa Triunfo, final day of 2021 harvest

We recently visited Villa Triunfo, on the last day of the harvest. I have not yet had time to post the photos and video from that visit, but to the left is an image from that day. As interesting as the coffee varietals growing on this estate are the trees that shade the coffee, fix nitrogen in the soil, and provide compostable material to further enrich the soil. We chose to offer this coffee primarily for the taste, but the shade trees were part of our decision, given our commitment to support bird-habitat regeneration.

To my surprise, this recent finding by a team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech tells me that we need to do much more to promote the benefits of shade-grown coffee, not only for its impact on taste:

Shade-grown coffee could save birds, if people drank it

Shade-grown coffee beans. Guillermo Santos/Provided

Shade-grown coffee has big benefits for bird conservation, but the message may not be getting through to the people most likely to respond – birdwatchers.

A team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Virginia Tech surveyed birdwatchers to learn if they drank shade-grown coffee and, if not, why not. Continue reading

Dry Season Here; Massive Tree-Planting There

We got as many trees in the ground as we could during 2020, and since it has been dry season for a couple months now we are mostly in maintenance mode. The most pleasure to be had during these months is seeing how the wildlife on our small plot of land changes. For example, the creature above, which I saw yesterday. I believe it is a Drab Tree Frog, but if you have a different opinion please let me know. Tomorrow we begin coffee germination, take two–and I will post on that. Meanwhile, thanks to the Guardian’s coverage of the environment, we have this news:

Volunteers helping on project for Woodland Trust, which sent out a million trees last year. Photograph: Philip Formby/PA

Digging in: a million trees planted as villages and schools join climate battle

Community forest projects have seen a surge in volunteers keen to reduce CO2 emissions by creating new woodlands

According to the Horticultural Trades Association, garden centre sales of hardy plants, shrubs and trees have soared. Photograph: Alamy

The UK may be in the grip of a winter lockdown but in one village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales the local climate-change group has been busy.

Plans are afoot to plant hundreds of trees on land surrounding Newton-le-Willows, in lower Wensleydale, in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. According to scientists, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Continue reading

Post-Harvest Coffee Processing

Processing coffee after harvest refers to getting the beans out of the cherry, with fruity pulp removed. How that happens, and what follows, is partly a function of tradition, which is itself a function of geography.

In Costa Rica, due to the abundance of water, the tradition historically was to wash the beans. Since I am in Costa Rica I will give a simple illustration of this process using a small quantity of beans. These are from a handful of trees as mentioned in yesterday’s post.

In the photo above, where the coffee is in a round sink basin, you can see some beans in the middle that have been removed from the cherries. You can also see a couple green beans, which get sorted out. The goal of the “washed” method of processing coffee post-harvest is to get all the beans out of all the cherries, with as much residual pulp removed as possible. Water makes this process easier. The skins and other residual material does not historically have much, if any, value. In recent years farms are taking greater care to compost this material and use the result to fertilize the soil where the coffee grows.

The wet weight of the washed coffee is irrelevant, but for comparison purposes I will note it here and then weigh the coffee again once dried. Although many coffee processing mills dry coffee on large patios with direct exposure to the sun, there is some belief that drying without direct exposure to the sun conveys some advantages to the final taste of the coffee. So, that is what we will do with this coffee. When it is fully dried, I will post again to explain the differences in the coffees process this way, and those processed the other most common way.

From Farm To Yard And Back Again

 

It is time to harvest these cherries from the several coffee trees that held their ground for more than two decades since this land was converted from farm to yard. In our conversion of yard to farm, these ripe cherries will provide the seeds for replanting the land after processing them in the simplest manner. Tomorrow I will show that process.

Beans, Birds & Business

Last month a magazine article was published about the origins of Organikos. We have told bits and pieces of the story in these pages, but Carol Latter was the first person to tell the story from a perspective outside of our family. The online version of the story has two photos, whereas the tangibly published version has ten; in both cases we were happy that a magazine from the state I grew up in, and where Seth has been living since 2018, was interested in sharing this founding story.

Today, reading Marella Gayla’s story about founders trending younger (and why), plenty to ponder. My takeaway is that for whatever reason ambitious young people see an important link between entrepreneurship and positive social outcomes, we can count that as a good thing:

Is Every Ambitious Teen-ager a “Founder and C.E.O.”?

Forget Model U.N. and the SATs. Kids today want to tell college admissions officers all about the companies they’ve started to save the world.

One striking innovation of modern meritocracy is the teen-age executive. High-school students used to spiff up their college applications with extracurriculars like Model U.N. and student council. Today’s overachievers want to grace their résumés with the words “founder and C.E.O.” When schools in Fremont, California, shut down in March, Jagannath Prabhakaran, a sixteen-year-old, seized the opportunity to join the ranks. Continue reading

Regeneration, Cecropia & Sugarcane

Yesterday, while working on the land we are preparing to plant coffee a few months from now, I noticed that the cecropia trees suddenly have abundant fruit.  I knew that sloths love these trees, but while looking for more information to understand this fruit I learned that bats and birds and other animals also appreciate them for food and nesting material; plus, the leaves and roots of the trees have many uses among indigenous communities in the American tropics.

Most of my work recently, now that the poro saplings are planted, is removing unwanted grasses to make way for wanted grasses that help retain soil. One of the grasses planted this year, sugarcane, also surprised me. This plant above, now about one year old, suddenly shot up an extra five feet without my noticing, until yesterday. And the furry, flowery top of the stalks, now visible nearly 20 feet above ground, presumably mean something I will need to read up on. This first stand of sugarcane, which is at the highest point of the land on this property, provided us offspring that we planted along the lowest portion of land, neighboring bananas and plantains that will shade one section of coffee saplings.