Sunday, February 23, 2014

Espresso experience in Brazil

I was in Sao Paulo last week and while there, I adventured into various espresso shops to give Brazilian coffee a try. If you are going to try a country's coffee, you have to do it the espresso way. Brewed coffee simply wont work (topic to be discussed later). So while there I made some time to visit fancy espresso bars in the nearby mall walking distance from the hotel I was at, stand alone shops that sell small pastries and espresso based drinks, and even local fast food chains such as BC Express, that sell stuff from magazines, to coffee.
It was interesing to note the price of espresso and espresso based drinks. One thing is certain, espresso is not cheap. The price of a 60 ml (about 2oz) shot of espresso was on average in the city of Sao Paulo, Rs.4 (taxes included). Or approximately $1.8 US dollars. About the same as in the US, but where salaries are almost a third. Quality varied, but overall, the shots presented a full body and had great acidity. People are used to drinking their coffee and espresso with lots of sugar or sweeteners in Brazil. So the sweetness that an espresso should have was not there. But the light sourness that comes along with a heavy and full body coffee bean was evident. One issue I noticed in a couple of places, was that the crema that develops on top of the espresso, vanished after a few seconds of leaving the coffee sit. Which does not necessarily mean anything bad. But I did notice that. So yes, Brazilians are used to good strong coffee.

I have to say that the espressos and espresso drinks were far better than the regular drip coffee served at the hotel for breakfast, which for a 5 star hotel, was dismal in quality. In Brazil you will find a dominant use of espresso machines and espresso based drinks all over the place. Even fast food and convenient stores had full blown manual espresso machines with the grinder for the portafilters right next to it. This compares drastically to the US and North America in general, where cheap brewed coffee is more dominant in these types of locations. In short, I enjoyed my espresso drinks at the different locations I tried them. Maybe they were not as sweet and complex as espresso drinks can be, but they did the job for me. And the atmosphere, well, thats something unique in Brazil. No matter where you end up walking for a fix, there will always be a good barista/server serving your espresso with a smile.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

When it comes to making cold brew coffee, I really don't see the need to reinvent the wheel. I have watched many people prepare it and even though we were never big fans of cold brew, this past summer we started using it at the coffee shop. Cold brew coffee is ideal for cold espresso drinks, where you need strong flavors and boldness to blend well with the additional water, ice, flavoring or milk. Think of cold brew as a coffee "concentrate" to mix with additional liquids. Alex T., our head barista uses it at home with hot water to make himself an americano when he needs a fix. So you can use as a base for a hot coffee cup as well. We now keep a jar of cold brew in the fridge all the time. We prefer to use our Colombia Los Naranjos and Honduras coffee for cold brew. 


You can watch Leesha on Youtube who does a fantastic job of explaining how to prepare cold brew. I have come to use her measurements (coffee vs water mix) with great results. Enjoy!!


Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Roya Toolkit

To me there is no doubt in my mind that Sustainable Harvest is one of the leading companies in terms of transparency in the supply chain of coffee. They are also a company that thrives on innovation.

Without waiting for governments, donors, exporters, or other coffee traders to agree on what to do about the situation with roya, they have worked fast and clever to produce a toolkit, to deal with the issue. Its a DVD/ Video that can be used by agronomists, and technical field staff in Spanish speaking countries, who want to deal with the disease.

Check it out, they have even developed a whole website just to deal with the issue.

Keep it up SH!!

Youth, Coffee Farmers and Agriculture

In most of the coffee producing countries I have visited, the average age of the coffee farmer is an issue of concern and interest. On my trips to Colombia, Peru, Honduras, and others, coffee leaders, buyers, cooperatives, all express a similar reaction. Our farmers are growing older, and the young are moving to the cities.

An interesting angle to the issue surfaced today in my discussions with a friend who works in agriculture development in Honduras. Horticulture farmers tend to be younger, while coffee farmers much older. At least in Honduras.

An interesting discussion will be online on June 11, sponsored by USAID's Agrilink Program.

Join the discussion!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

McDonald's invests $6.5M in sustainable coffee program

I am definitely not a big fan of McDee. I seldom eat there, and no comments about their healthy menu options. But I have to confess that I do like this approach to sourcing their coffee. (Read the article). At least their coffee that comes from Guatemala.
In short, McDonalds will invest close to $7 Million in Guatemala, to run a project that will seek to source coffee in a sustainable manner. It has already engaged with two very reputable organizations, that work on expert solutions to agricultural problems. SCAN and Technoserve.

I also like the fact that they have made an effort to partner with these organizations, and not try to go at it alone. And finally I like their approach to financing the operation. As opposed to getting funds from their Treasury or CRS platform, they have charged each of their North American franchises, $1000 to participate. At such a low cost per store, this has been an immediate "buy in" from store managers.
I like it!
I wonder where they source their chocolate from? Thats a different story.

Walmart and Small Farmers (in Nicaragua)

In 2010, Walmart announced a “global commitment to sustainable agriculture” that set forth the goal that by 2015 the company would sell $1 billion in food sourced from 1 million small and medium farmers worldwide. In 2012, Walmart was the world's third largest public corporation, with 8,500 retail stores in fifteen countries. Their operations in the developing world increasingly are designed to source directly from small and medium farmers.

However, the jury is still out when it comes to the benefits to small farmers in linking to corporations like Walmart. An interesting analysis is done in Nicaragua by a recent publication in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. The study concludes that there is not enough evidence, over a period of 8 years, to confirm that farmers did indeed benefit in terms of welfare. Very generalistic comment. But worth digging into.
Read the article.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Blog

I started this blog a while ago in an attempt to share my adeventures in home coffee roasting. Then just dropped it for lack of time and effort a while ago. I plan to revive it but this time, with more content around a subject of my interest. Sustainable sourcing of food and agriculture. Read on if your are interested. Comment, email or share as you see your spirit guides. I really dont claim to be an expert on any of the issues posted. I see the postings as a way for me to track the articles, documents, meetings, conferences and experiences that I find interesting and worth tracking. They may not necessarily on a timeline that is sequential. So beware.

The title of the blog, as some of you may wonder, actually comes from a TEDx presentation I did around the subject. And my good friend Michelle Perez, whom used to work with us at the MIF, helped me put together.

Happy eating, drinking and reading...

I love this picture. Can you guess what it is? And where it was taken? (country that is)