Coffee, History & Literature

Adam Gopnik, one of our favorite essayists, wrote an excellent essay on this topic; and Michael Pollan, among others, wrote a book.

There is still plenty to say about the history of coffee, as far as we are concerned, and Ed Simon demonstrates it in this essay from The Millions, an online magazine:

Coffee, the Great Literary Stimulant

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” –T.S Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)

Maronite priest Antonio Fausto Naironi once claimed that the greatest of miracles happened in ninth-century Ethiopia. It was then and there, in the province of Oromia, that a young shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats were prone to running, leaping, and dancing after they had eaten blood-red berries from a mysterious bush. Continue reading

Peanuts, Soil Regeneration & Coffee

I will not blame Ruby Tandoh for the link to the predatory bookseller in her essay; the magazine she writes for is responsible. Instead, I will just put a better link from the book image on the left to where you might purchase it. Bringing our attention to the book is enough of a good deed to overlook that link. Especially as I work on finding new ways to fix nitrogen in the soil we are prepping for coffee planting:

The Possibilities of the Peanut

I’ve made salads of peanut with watermelon and sumac, fries dunked in garlic-scented satay sauce, and more variations on my aunt’s Ghanaian groundnut stew than I can remember.

Illustration by Sophia Pappas

It would be hard to find a more devoted champion of the peanut than the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. Born into slavery in Missouri around 1864, Carver studied at Iowa State University and then taught at the Tuskegee Institute, where he would spend much of the rest of his life learning to repair the environmental damage wrought by intensive cotton farming. Continue reading

On Those 20 Quadrillion+ Ants, Again

Ants in Escazu

The earthworm in the photo above had been in a bag of soil where a coffee seedling started germinating earlier this year. I was moving the seedling from its small “starter” bag to a larger one, and the earthworm jumped out, wriggling under the nearby supplies I was working with. I did not see it again until it was too late. Since earthworms are good for soil, and we are in the early stages of a soil regeneration project, I was sorry to see the worm lose its life. This particular species of ant is currently everywhere on the property where we are re-planting coffee. I have not seen so many of this type of ant at any point in the last 22 years on this property, and their shocking abundance made me think of that new ant study. Normally we do not repeat sharing of news stories here, unless new information has come to light. It has only been a couple days, but I must share more on the study because my planting work is keeping the subject in front of me, and the photos in this article are that good.

Leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica. The researchers sampled 1,300 locations around the world, estimating ant abundance in different environments in areas such as forests and steppes. Bence Mate/Nature Picture Library, via Alamy

Rebecca Dzombak, who authored this article for the New York Times, will be on our radar from now on:

Weaver ants engaged in teamwork. Sunthorn Viriyapan/Alamy

Counting the World’s Ants Requires a Lot of Zeros

There are 20 quadrillion ants worldwide, according to a new census, or 2.5 million for every living human. There are probably even more than that.

Male leaf cutter ants on the move over the Sonoran Desert in search of females and to make more ants. Norma Jean Gargasz/Alamy

Right now, ants are scurrying around every continent except Antarctica, doing the hard work of engineering ecosystems. They spread seeds, churn up soil and speed up decomposition. They forage and hunt and get eaten. You may not know how much you rely on them. Continue reading

Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 3/3

The estate is beautiful but that cannot explain the quality of the coffee the way that the African beds, the drying, and the sorting can.

Combined with the concentration of sugars into the beans that results from the time on those raised beds, the way the drying takes place after the first wash is a key feature of the way these beans are processed.

Honey process, sometimes called “pulped natural,” leaves some of the fruit on the beans.

This sticky mucilage looks like honey, thus the name, and is removed during milling rather than being washed off as is typical of washed coffees. The result is greater complexity of flavor.

This is the only light roast coffee that we offer, due to that complexity. It is subtle, and the light roast allows that subtle flavor to be showcased; whereas a darker roast would hide that complexity. A final point about consistency: this beneficio employs dozens of sorters who do the final sorting of the best quality beans, work that is now done by sophisticated machinery in other beneficios. We have an agreement that next post-harvest we will come during this sorting process to film that work. Until then, we will enjoy this year’s harvest.

Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 2

After the visit to Hacienda La Pradera we visited its equally important sister property down the road, the beneficio where all of La Minita’s coffees are processed after harvest. The buildings and their equipment are not as charismatic as the coffee farms, but the quality of the coffee we procure depends as much on the beneficio as the farms.

It starts with the African beds where the freshly picked coffee cherries are placed immediately after harvest. The sun “naturally” does the work that traditionally was done with water in the Costa Rica “washed”  process to get the skin, the fruit and other elements of the cherries removed to reveal the beans. Not only is this a more efficient use of natural resources–it also imparts more flavor into the beans as the sun dehydrates the juices surrounding the beans, and sugars of those concentrating juices absorb into the beans. After the drying on those beds the real work begins for the people who operate the equipment inside two buildings.

The building in the photo to the right is where all those beans land after being sorted for quality. Water is still important, even though much less is used in the natural method, to clean the beans of residuals from the fruit and skin. In the foreground of the building above you can see the washing tanks that all beans pass through.

Inside the building are drying machines that get the beans to an ideal level of humidity before a final sorting prior to packing.

In a final post on this process tomorrow, I will do my best to explain how the African beds, the drying, and the sorting are so important to the exceptional coffees we receive.

Hacienda La Pradera, Geisha Part 1

I have sampled coffees from La Minita from time to time over the last two decades, and have always been impressed by their quality. Because of that consistency we recently started offering their geisha varietal from Hacienda La Pradera at our shops in Costa Rica and also for delivery in the USA. Last week I finally had the opportunity to see first hand how and why that quality is so consistent. One reason is Pedro, pictured above while we were standing on the lookout over the farm lands he is in charge of.

From that perch we surveyed the various plots, including the nursery (about 8,200 seedlings in the image below) as well as the several arabica varietals he has been growing on the 181 hectares of land.

Geisha is special for reasons I noted last year when introducing beans from another estate. Those beans were excellent, these are exceptional. Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will explain why.

Cold Brew Coffee, 2022

Cold brew coffee experimentation, April 2020

Two years ago, when the pandemic had shut down the airports in Costa Rica and we had no clue how long that would last, we wondered how the artisans and the farmers who supplied our recently opened Authentica shops would fare. We had to ask ourselves what we were going to do with the roughly 7,000 pounds of coffee beans we had contracted to buy from that year’s harvest. The most obvious move was to start roasting in the USA, so we could deliver to customers who had bought from us in Costa Rica and wanted to continue buying.

Cold brew coffee was a brief experiment at the time, but with sufficiently robust results to convince us that when travelers returned we would offer samples. The time has come.

Coffee, Birds & Bees

Seedlings from coffee picked in early 2021

On a couple of acres of mountain land in Escazu, on property that once was part of a larger coffee farm, we have been preparing to plant a thousand or so coffee saplings, which will eventually become trees among trees. Above are the thriving seedlings from 2021 germination, and below the early stage of germination from this year’s pickings.

Germination of coffee picked in early 2022

Coffee culture has been a long time in the making, so the slow pace of the Organikos arc has not intimidated me. And yet, if I could speed it up, I would because of the variety of beneficiaries.

Today an article by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes on the website EcoWatch brings to my attention a team of researchers who I will pay more attention to. Some are here in Costa Rica, at CATIE; the others at University of Vermont. Their work makes me appreciate the value of getting on with this:

Birds and Bees Make Better Coffee, Study Finds

Birds and bees work together as pollinators. DansPhotoArt on flickr / Moment / Getty Images

For many people, one rich, pleasant smell signals the start of a new day more than any other: coffee. Different techniques have been used to get the best cup of the caffeine-rich liquid, from a French press to the pour-over method.

A unique new study has found that the secret to better coffee is really in control of the birds and the bees. Continue reading

Kenya’s Coffee Climbs

Coffee is climbing uphill in Kenya because the climate up there is more suitable. But there are no easy fixes to the climbing temperatures, for coffee or other crops. Hybrids and wild heirloom varietals had our attention already, and are mentioned in this article from the Middle East & Africa section of the Economist’s print edition under the headline “Hot coffee:”

Why global warming threatens east African coffee

Other cash crops including tea will also be affected

Jeremiah Letting learned about coffee from his father. As a child in the late 1980s, he worked on his family’s one-acre (0.4 hectare) coffee farm in the hills of Nandi county, western Kenya. The cycle ran like clockwork: cultivate, plant, ripen, harvest and sell. “Every year was the same,” he says. “It was timely.” Continue reading

Stenophylla, A Coffee With Real Potential & Poster Child For Food Diversity

Our thanks to Dan Saladino, a food journalist and author of Eating to Extinction: The World’s Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them as well as recipient of a James Beard Award for food journalism.

He offers an inside look at a relatively unknown coffee varietal with potential, and at the same time, an argument in favor of diversity, in his article Edible Extinction: Why We Need to Revive Global Food Diversity:

A Khasi farmer growing millet in Meghalaya, India.

A Khasi farmer growing millet in Meghalaya, India. NORTH EAST SLOW FOOD & AGROBIODIVERSITY SOCIETY

The Green Revolution helped feed a surging global population, but at the cost of impoverishing crop diversity. Now, with climate change increasingly threatening food supplies, the need for greater agricultural resilience means restoring endangered crop and food varieties.

Stenophylla beans up close. RBG KEW; KLAUS STEINKAMP / ALAMY

In August 2020, inside the cupping room of a London roastery, a team of botanists and baristas gathered to taste a coffee species that most believed had been lost forever. It was an important moment. Coffee experts had spent years searching in West Africa for the few remaining trees of this species, even issuing “wanted posters” to farmers asking if they had seen it. Continue reading

Organikos In Antarctica

A bag of Organikos coffee, geisha whole bean, with Antarctica in the background

On Sundays I try to stay away from the Authentica shops in order to do other types of work. But on a recent Sunday morning we needed to deliver coffee that had just been roasted to the Belen shop. While bringing the coffee in, a man was poring over the labels in our honey display. My conversation with him started on the minutiae of how these raw honeys are prepared, and extended for more than an hour to the subject of the current coffee harvest. When I told him about the recently introduced geisha varietal, he enjoyed hearing as much as I enjoyed conveying its phenomenal success in Panama first, and now Costa Rica. And so, yesterday, he sent the photo above as promised, holding a bag of our coffee in front of the Antarctic coast, where he is on a scientific expedition.

Organikos served coffee at the southern most tip of the South American continent a dozen years ago, and I am happy to see its reach extending further south and keeping the scientists warm and happy.

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:

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