Monday, October 31, 2005

   from Nick

Portland Podcast

Date: Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Time: 3:00pm West Coast
Place: Crema Cafe and Bakery, 2728 SE Ankeny St, Portland
What: Podcast

Any and all are welcome to hang out for the 'cast. Guests will include Billy Wilson, Brent Fortune, Trish Skeie, and prolly a few folks more. It's not every day the gear shows up in Pert-land.

Anyone have a good mic and XLR cable they can bring for a #4 mic? Maybe a couple sets of headphones too?
   from Peter G

Objectivity in Coffee Tasting

Gee and I had an interesting conversation on Friday about coffee evaluation. The basic topic was: how does one know what a great coffee is, besides one's own preference? And what is important in coffee tasting, anyway?

This is a perennial topic among coffee tasters, and I have been thinking about it in a different way lately. Of course, the whole deal about cupping professionally is an attempt to take the inherently subjective experience of tasting coffee and putting it into a quasi-objective format. Coffee cuppers spend a tremendous amount of time trying to "calibrate" against other cuppers, making sure that they score coffees highly that are generally recognized as great (and give generally recognized inferior coffees low scores). This behavior is, of course, maximized at cupping events like the Cup of Excellence, where cuppers are actually evaluated on their ability to conform to the group's taste, and also their willingness to reward or punish coffees if they feel such a thing is warranted. This pattern revolves around whichever cupping form is being used, which usually produces a score between 0 and 100.

I have been feeling an urge to simplify lately, and streamline the documentation of the tasting experience. Conversations with Trish, Geoff Watts and George Howell have driven me along this path. The following are the categories I keep in mind when I am tasting coffee, and are be the basis of my own tasting paradigm. They are divided into two basic categories: evaluating green coffee quality (say, for coffee buying or for a contest) and evaluating roasted coffee (for quality control and reviews). This is also the closest I can get to objectivity in coffee evaluation.

Green Coffee Evaluation:

Sweetness: This is the basic sensation of sweetness in coffee, and it is directly related to the ripeness of the cherry when the coffee was picked. The sweeter the coffee, the better; I would say that is universal. This is, of course, related to various mono- and polysaccharides present in coffee, and may also be the result of "fantasia" sweetness from other substances.

Cleanness: Cleanliness is a hugely important part of great coffee, and is related to the skill of the processor at origin. To me, this is similar to “clarity” in the cup, where the sweetness and other flavors of the coffee are unobscured by any dirtiness, funkiness, or off-flavors. This value, of course, favors washed coffees.

This is the most subjective of the three categories. It comprises concepts like body, aftertaste, aroma, balance, etc. To me, any combination of these kinds of categories ultimately falls short, because we have different expectations of different coffees. For example, we expect Indonesian coffees to present a certain character, and expect washed Ethiopians to present a wildly different character. Both can be great, though they will frequently fall short on one category or another. However, a Yirgacheffe that has an amazing amount of Yirgacheffe-ness will score very highly on this value. Freak coffees, like strange varietals with unexpected characteristics, might also have a ton of character. The concept of "Terroir" would also come into play here. Coffees which would score low on this would be coffees that are insipid, anonymous, bland, or common-tasting.

Roasted Coffee Evaluation:

Skilled Roast: I almost called this "Absence of Roast Defect". The goal here is for the roasted coffee to be without any of the flavors normally associated with roast problems: fishiness from dark roast, scorched flavors, sourness, roast bitterness (trigonellene) etc. etc. Since both dark and light roasts can be done skillfully, there would not be a built in bias towards either.

Transparency of Coffee Character:
Do the coffees taste like what they are? Was the roaster paying tribute to the coffee, and bringing out the best parts and salient aspects of the coffee? Was the beauty inherent in the coffee (or component coffees) brought out?

Achievement of Intention: This is an assessment of whether the coffee was able to achieve what it was intended to achieve. If it was an espresso, was it successful at producing the elements of good espresso? If it was a single-origin sold by farm name, was it successful at communicating the specificity of that coffee? Does the flavor profile meet the description proposed by the roaster?

These six categories, for me, build the elements of what come closest to what I am actually evaluating when I am tasting coffee.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

   from Nick

I'm the biggest moron in all the world

We recorded four complete podcasts from Thursday through today (Sunday). In total, we're talking about at least 6 hours of amazing stuff.

All lost.

Don't even get me started on what happened. Let's just say, in the excitement of being able to record a bunch of back-to-back shows, I didn't take the time to listen to what we had recorded after each one.

Here's what I stupidly lost:
- Mark Prince on the PF Podcast
- Predictions on the NWRBC, and the champ (Jen Prince from Zoka) the night before her win
- An interview with actor Peter Weller, a.k.a. "Nick skoolz RoboCop about espresso"
- John Sanders and John Hornall announce the end of Hines Public Market Coffee as we know it (Hornall is moving to Philadelphia)
- Mike Lanz from ESI talks about the new La Marzocco machines
- Various folks answer the question, "What's your advice for someone who wants to open a new shop?"
- Interviews with Heather Perry (2003 USBC Champ), Tracy Allen and Chris Davidson (Zoka), Kyle Larson (2004 NWRBC Champ), Sarah Allen (Barista Magazine), Matt Milletto (Bellissimo), Michelle Campbell (SCAA), Brent Fortune (Crema Cafe & Bakery, Portland), Chrissy Hoag (Dog River Coffee), Julie Beals (Fresh Cup Magazine), Ryan Dennhardt (Baristas' Daily Grind, Kearney, Nebraska), Chris Deferio, Sammy Piccolo (Caffe Artigiano), Andrew Barnett (Ecco Caffe), Courtney Rogers (Chapters Books and Espresso), Mike Ferguson (SCAA)
...and much, much more.

You have no idea about my heartache. Two segments: the RoboCop-guy interview, and the Hines farewell interview, are priceless moments that would have been our "best-of" segments for sure. I'll talk about it on the next podcast (we'll still be able to record one or two before we go back to the east coast), but suffice it to say... I'm truly sorry. I guess the fact that you (the listener/reader) really have no idea what you're missing softens the blow a little... and to those who spent time on-mic for what's now... nothing... I'm incredibly sorry.

I think I'll go die now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

   from Nick

Portafilter Podcast 15: Special Edition

Podcast Number 15 - Special Edition: The PEARL Project Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (AAC format).

Special guests:
Dan Clay, Director of the Institute of International Agriculture, Michigan State University, and creator of the PEARL Project.
Anne Ottaway, PEARL Project marketing and communications specialist
Peter Giuliano, Director of Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, Durham, NC

Write your letters to:

Andrew S. Natsios
U.S. Agency for International Development
Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20523
FAX: 202-216-3455

Your Representative (look them up on
U.S. House of Representatives
(Street address)
Washington, DC (ZIP)

Your Senator (look them up on
U.S. Senate
(Street address)
Washington, DC 20510

Call the USAID office at 202-712-0000
Call your Representatives and Senators as well!

Feel free to copy us on any emails you send out:

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better and includes "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off) both: 1 hour 2 minutes and 19 seconds, 32 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz (22.05 kHz for MP3) sample rate.
MP3 format, 14.3 MB,
AAC format, 15.0 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.

-- AAC XML feed -:- MP3 XML feed --

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at, and we might read your email during the next show.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

   from Nick

PEARL update

Again, stay tuned... we have a podcast interview scheduled with the Head Cheese of the PEARL Project tomorrow (Monday)... in the mean time read this :

A Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages: PEARL
(prepared by Dan Clay, Tim Schilling, and Anne Ottaway, of PEARL)

PEARL Background: PEARL is a USAID funded project initiated to respond to the devastation in Rwanda's agriculture sector after the events of 1994. The objective of PEARL is to strengthen Rwanda's agricultural institutions and work with them to identify and execute rural income generating activities. PEARL was awarded a $3.7M USAID cooperative agreement for three years from October 2000 to September 2003. Later, PEARL was extended for a second three year phase from October 2004 through December 2006 for $3.2M. PEARL is executed by Michigan State and Texas A&M Universities.

Problem: The USAID/Rwanda budget for agriculture has recently been cut in half. Some of those cuts have filtered down to affect the PEARL Project (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). Unless this core funding is restored ($400,000 minimum, but $600,000 would be ideal), PEARL will need to terminate by October-November 2005.

Closing out PEARL core activities prematurely will have a perilous impact on the 16,000 coffee farmers that have for the first time ever begun to produce high quality specialty coffee for export markets. Incomes of these farmers have more than doubled since their partnership with PEARL. These farmers have developed cooperatives with PEARL assistance and many are still in their infancy and are extremely fragile as they develop independent commercial relationships with international buyers in an attempt to break the predatory pricing stranglehold of the traditional coffee exporters entrenched in the region.

Danger of losing leveraged funds. Further complicating the situation is that PEARL core funding for FY2006 has been so highly leveraged with contributions by 25 private sector partners (coffee importers and roasters such as Sustainable Harvest, Green Mountain Coffee, Allegro, Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, Counter Culture, Bullrun Roasters, European Roasterie, Paramount, Deidrich, Community Coffe, Groundwork Coffee, Stumptown Roasters, Thanksgiving Coffee, Interamerican Coffee, and Volcafe Specialty), as well as by other funding sources such as Ecologic Finance, the Africa Development Foundation, FreePlay Radio, Rotary Club Minnesota, Last Mile, Saddleback Churches, Heifer Project, the Nagele Foundation, CPI and the Coffee Quality Institute. Core funding cuts have jeopardized this important stream of funding to individual cooperatives and the newly formed Specialty Coffee Association in Rwanda.

Solution: MSU and Texas A&M are working closely with the Rwanda mission and industry partners to piece together emergency transitional funding to continue this capacity-building program until October 2006 when new funding support for continued transformation of Rwanda's coffee sector are expected to become available. Specific actions to be taken include:
  • US Coffee Companies are collaborating in the campaign to raise the needed resources and will contact representatives on Capitol Hill for their support
  • Enlist the support of key USAID offices/initiatives (Africa Bureau, EGAT, IEHA, TRADE).
  • Resubmit a proposal for funding through the Global Development Alliance (GDA). Industry support has become overwhelming in recent months, making the proposal increasingly attractive from a GDA point of view.
  • Solicit funding contributions from foundations and other agencies with commitments to reducing poverty in Africa.
  • Engage government partners in Rwanda (Ministries of Education, Agriculture, Commerce and Trade).
  • Invite President Kagame to Michigan State University during his upcoming trip to the US. Explore with Kagame the possibility of raising the needed resources from within Rwanda and in the U.S.
What makes the PEARL project so important for Rwanda? PEARL is a high-impact, highly leveraged program that has transformed the coffee sector in Rwanda, launching the first specialty coffee that Rwanda has ever produced or sold. PEARL works at every stage of the value chain and incorporates industry experts to improve coffee quality at every stage. PEARL has not only spearheaded the specialty coffee sector but has also developed the commercial chili pepper export sector in Rwanda and created the first fully produced, packaged, and exported food product 'shelf ready' for supermarket chains specializing in Ethnic Food.

The success of PEARL in launching and sustaining the transformation of Rwanda's coffee industry has been remarkable. The media have picked up on this success and USAID has broadly benefited from all the positive press. Most exciting of all is that just three years ago Rwanda produced no specialty coffee. Today, via the PEARL projects 23 community washing stations, the country is exporting US$3.0 million in specialty coffee and the industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. Since 2001/02 over 20,000 smallholder farmers have more than doubled their income. Buyers can't get enough Rwandan coffee. The projections for next year a much higher, as more and more communities participate. The country's goal now is 100 washing stations by 2010. At the current rate of growth and with the right support, this will be achieved well ahead of schedule if PEARL can find a way to continue.

Sustainability of these cooperatives is the big question that we now need to address, particularly in the face of predatory pricing from the regional coffee giants. These cooperatives represent a cultural and social change in Rwanda and are therefore fragile. In order to build their capacity to manage and lead, PEARL has just begun to undertake specific strategies. These include the strengthening of each cooperative through an already funded IT initiative, the development of a coffee federation to effectively support the business and training needs of each cooperative, and the promotion and facilitation of sustainable relationships with high profile private sector partners in the specialty coffee industry to insure the creation of long term contracts.

CNN, BBC, PBS Wide Angle and ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings have all aired film specials on the PEARL Project and its successes. In the printed news, PEARL has been featured in articles in TIME magazine (just last month), the New York Times, USAToday, the Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press, Chronicle of Higher Education and dozens of others.

Friday, October 14, 2005

   from Nick

Rwandan coffee is in jeopardy

First, please educate yourself about the PEARL Project, and all that it has accomplished for Rwandan coffee producers, and for the coffee itself.

Now imagine that PEARL gets its funding cut due to USAID funding cuts. All that PEARL has achieved could be gone, with the project ending years before it was planned to.

We'll be doing a special podcast about this within the next few days. In the mean time, be prepared to mobilize and raise awareness... and to write to your representatives in Congress.

This is an issue that is just coming to light now, so helping awareness spread as soon as possible is key. This is something that CAN BE SAVED. It'll just take some work on all of our parts.

Stay tuned.

(photo is of Dan Clay of MSU and Tim Schilling of Texas A & M as they leave the Maraba Cooperative after a celebration honoring the PEARL contributions. Photo by Sue Nichols, University Relations, MSU.)

More reading:
- Main webpage from Michigan State University
- Reprint from Roast Magazine, March/April 2004
- The President of Rwanda visits a washing station
- MSU "The State News"
- From the current issue of Tea and Coffee
- The U.S. Mission to Rwanda
- CQI: "The Healing Effect of Coffee in Rwanda"
- Peter Giuliano: "Peter goes to Rwanda - March 2005"
- From Geoff Watts: "RWANDA MUSASA"

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

   from trish

'smatter with sheets & wheels?

A few years ago, another coffee company and mine exchanged espresso blends (and I think some other coffees) for a little review. Ya know, you show me yours and I'll show you mine?

I think it was either Nick or Andy Barefoot Newbom that started the whole thing, but let's not get into that.

After about a week, we got an email with cupping notes… which really threw us for a loop. All kinds of crazy nuance was found, "daunting with notes of jungle and an evasive Frankenberry cereal finish. We tasted bitter mace and a broccoli cheddar baked spud blah blah blah." Okay, maybe I don't quite remember the email exactly, but it was a lot like that. After a bunch of this to read, we were kinda left wondering. What the hell? How did it score? We had no idea whether they even liked the coffee. And that's my subject today.

DOOOOOdes, get some score sheets and look at a flavor wheel so I know what the heck you're on about!

At a most incredible meeting of the minds in Oaxaca last week, roasters from USA and Canada cupped along side producers, exporters, and coop quality control folks. Some of the young women that run the coop cupping rooms started cupping at 15. Now they're all around 23 and so knowledgeable and confident. It's a discipline for them. Unlike me at their age, they can and will tell you when you're full of shit.
Sevan - the bad ass from Montreal- says in one of the cuppings, "Blah blah blah, and distinct yellow rose aromatics." Yellow rose. That killed me. And the producers and cupping chicks all look at each other like... what the hell with the "yellow rose?" It just about killed me.

And then Haiashi-san ('scuz the misspelling) was leery of all scores because we didn't have intensity of acidity on the score sheets, and no sweetness or uniformity.
Then Ric Rhinehart had a box of Fruit Loops on the table next to the dried peaches. "Smell it! It's the Geisha!!" he exclaimed.

One grower was confused, "Just tell us what you want, because we are finding a lot of defect in the flavors and aromas you are showing us. At this point, just tell us what you want."

So weird, but interesting. Makes me wonder... what's so bad about starting with a score sheet? Give me fragrance, aroma, flavor, acidity, body, aftertaste, overall, and then some nuance. Thanks a bunch you blabbers (and you know who you are).

Andi Trindle-Walker (of Volcafe Specialty) has a thing about recording intensity as well AND using the flavor wheel. She is on a mission to bring back the wheel and I'm all for it. Call me old fashioned - and I like single shots, too

Friday, October 07, 2005

   from chris

Northwest Regional Barista Competition

End of the month...
Seattle WA...
Hines and Stumptown presenting...
$1k first prize...
parties, people, espresso, beer...

Be there.
Be there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

   from Nick

Podcast #14... finally

Podcast Number 14 Pick your link below and right-click and select Save As (on PC) or Control-Click and select "Download Linked File" in MacOS to save it to your hard drive... OR click the "podcast" icon above for the RSS podcast feed (AAC format).

- Non-coffee talk
- North West Regional Barista Competition's coming up
- Had any good coffee lately?
- The Third Coffee Podcast (not ours, not CoffeeGeek's)
- Latte art for psychics. Send yours to:
- "What's Chris Tacy Thinking About Today?" (Scace device, Nordic Cup, more NWRBC hype, wikipedia)
- Crank calls to coffee people

TWO DIFFERENT FILES, but the same show... your choice (the AAC version sounds better and includes "bookmarking" for iTunes and iPods: if you stop midway, you can come back to where you left off) both: 1 hour 55 minutes and 53 seconds, 24 kbps bitrate, 32 kHz (24 kHz for MP3) sample rate.
MP3 format, 26.6 MB,
AAC format, 21.2 MB

Click here to go to the Portafilter Podcast on iTunes Music Store.

-- AAC XML feed -:- MP3 XML feed --

Questions? Comments? Hate mail? Email us at, and we might read your email during the next show.