Isn’t there a famous quote, “The key to wisdom is knowing all the right questions”? Thank you for taking the time to send your inquiries our way. I thought I’d answer your questions in this Coffee Chronicle to share with others.
Question: “Is price reflective of quality?”
~ D. Foster Spokane Valley, WA
Simon Answers: “Ahhhhhh, the age old question applies to coffee, too. Yes, for the most part, the price of coffee is a reflection of it’s quality. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Coffees can be priced high due to short supply, mystique or marketing. Examples might be Pure Hawaiian Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain or Sumatra Kopi Luwak. But a good rule of thumb is, “there is no such thing as great, cheap coffee”. The best coffee in the world is grown at elevation in remote mountainous areas. It is nurtured during the growing stages, picked selectively and processed carefully. Subsequently, the better coffees command a higher price because of the great care, time and attention in their development. We are honored to find these quality coffees for you.”
Question: “I read somewhere that if my espresso tastes bitter or sour I should consider removing the crema. Is that right?”
~ P. Miles Grand Junction, CO
Simon Answers: “After 20 years in the coffee business, I have learned there are few absolutes. So, if espresso minus the crema is your preference, have at it. From where we sit, at Cravens Coffee, if the crema (rich, creamy intense extraction of coffee flavor that sits on top of your espresso shot) is “off-tasting” it is simply a symptom of something bigger such as improper extraction or the recipe for the espresso blend itself.
Espresso blending is difficult. It’s when you take different beans from different countries or origins and at different roast levels combine them for a specific taste profile. A recipe, if you will. It’s very subjective and harder than it sounds. If there are certain coffees we require for our blends, there are just as many roasters who would never choose those same coffees. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste. Other times it’s a matter of price. At Cravens Coffee, espresso blending is about achieving sweetness and body in the cup. We’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org. What qualities do you value in an espresso?
Question: “Do I use less coffee if I use a coarse grind vs a fine grind?”
~ S. Post Kalispell, MT
Simon Answers: “Not exactly. Grind is relative to the time the coffee is in contact with the water. For example, French Press ground coffee is very coarse due to a 5 minute steeping process to fully extract the coffee flavor. Espresso, on the other hand, is finely ground due to the 20-25 second time the coffee is being extracted under pressure. In the middle of these two methods, drip brewed coffee, which is controlled by gravity and turbulence, requires a medium grind.”
Thank you for choosing Cravens Coffee!
p.s. Just for fun, check out our homespun video from last Sunday’s Eastern Washington Komen Race for the Cure. 90 gallons of coffee (!), inspiring stories and beautiful spirits. It was an honor to serve! Keep the spirit alive with a purchase of Survivor Blend thru the month of May!
In response to my last blog entry “In Defense of Fair Trade” many of you insightfully asked, “Is all Cravens Coffee Fair Trade Certified?” Thank you for your question! Answer … it is not. While Cravens Coffee is pleased to report we pay a premium price to the farmer (above 40%) to ensure fair trade practices we have instilled a model of “Trust and Verify”.
“Trust and Verify” is the Cravens Coffee system of identifying coffees from a limited number of origins that do not have links with Fair Trade USA. We like to go a mile deep, not a mile wide, gathering as much information about a coffee source as possible. Growers, millers, exporters, communities are critical. We then verify through country visits and first hand confirmation. As the saying goes, “it is amazing how much you see by looking.” Nothing could be more true when visiting coffee farms, mills and communities. Walking through a farm, picking cherries, getting hands in the soil is invaluable. The look of the mill. Is it clean and organized? Is it big enough not to be overwhelmed at harvest? Experience the community and its services to the families. Is there a library? Where do the children learn? This is ALL verification, and part of what we do with our coffee, whenever and wherever possible.
Is “Trust and Verify” BETTER than Fair Trade? No, but like Fair Trade, it has an end in mind, which the coffee roasting community should subscribe to – quality of coffee, quality of life.
Trust and Verify.
Thank you for choosing Cravens Coffee,
Trust and Verify.
Coffee roasters vs Fair Trade? Some newer coffee roasters claim they do it “better” than Fair Trade. I’d like to weigh in.
As the first Fair Trade certified roaster in the region, we at Cravens Coffee supported programs supporting the farmer early on. Details of the fair trade model are well documented (transfairusa.org) and include: fair minimum pricing for green coffee, representation through local co-operatives and addressing humanitarian issues such as safe working conditions and child labor.
While Cravens Coffee is clearly an entrepreneurially-founded business believing in business freedom, market forces of supply and demand and the concepts of competition through quality and service, coffee has unique inherent complexities. It is a third world agricultural product traded as a first world commodity leading to severe downward pressure on coffee prices at the farm gate. In dignified working conditions, true Specialty Coffee needed a mechanism to ensure earned value was realized. Hence the international Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) and the US branch Transfair USA, whose name recently changed to Fair Trade USA, was created to serve.
Fair Trade is not perfect. We studied the model before certifying, and continue to monitor their efforts. They are open and communicative. But for a small roaster to say THEY do it better than Fair Trade is curious. Fair Trade has an assertive third party certification mechanism to ensure the stipulations for growing, picking and milling are all adhered to. Then they audit the finances and accounting of each co-operative to ensure the farmers are being paid correctly. They attend the Co-operative leadership meetings to ensure the agreed upon principles of democracy are embraced. There may be elements of this that sound like imperialism and/or socialism. But having seen the process and the results, it is quite the opposite. This is sustainable capitalism.
Quite simply, the roasters who say they do it “better” have absolutely no methods or mechanisms to do so. They are not able to monitor, audit or verify anything. If they say they have “people” who do that, who are they? The most over-used phrases in coffee at the moment are “Direct-Trade” and “Farm Direct”. Everyone is buying direct (apparently). Some roasters are truly doing so. I have a couple of colleagues in the business who travel 9 months out of year sourcing coffee for their companies. They are truly Direct-Trade (living on planes, trains and automobiles!). But for the roasters who say all this, yet have not traveled to countries of origin (not being judgmental – real coffee travel is hard), to say they are doing something better than Fair Trade is disingenuous.
Thank you for choosing Cravens Coffee,
Burka Estate is one of Tanzania’s oldest specialty coffee producers, located in the slopes on Mt. Meru in the shadows of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Northern Tanzania. Owner Alex Rechsteiner practices an eco-friendly and responsible approach to the environment and neighboring communities. Burka has its own nursery schools, for 100 pre-schoolers, and constructed two primary schools just outside Arusha.
Burka Peaberry is a washed, shade-grown Arabica coffee featuring a distinctive jasmine floral note and a blackcurrant, wine-like flavor. We are lighter roasting this coffee to accentuate the profile. A peaberry is when the two beans inside a coffee cherry, grow together as one.
This coffee will be available at selected locally-owned grocery stores soon. You can also purchase the Burka Estate on our online store.
“How does the saying go? “Better late than never”?! Maybe it’s because we were busy sourcing extraordinary specialty coffee for you. Maybe it’s because we were occupied carefully roasting your coffee to the perfect point. Maybe it’s because we like talking to you when you call. Whatever the excuse, we are thrilled to announce the launch of Cravens Coffee e-commerce site. Thank you for your patience!
Thank you for choosing Cravens Coffee. Cheers!
This is a time of excitement (and relief!) in the Cravens cupping room. New deliveries of coffee have arrived and we are roasting and cupping to ensure quality. Once verified, we see what other delights are in the cup.
The new Costa Rica Monte Crisol is absolutely fantastic! It is as bright as we can ever recall, featuring a green apple tanginess which sparkles. Aside from being a great drip coffee, we incorporate Costa Rica Monte Crisol into espresso blends, such as Spokane Express, Caffe Portofino and Simla, which are all extracting a tremendous effervescent crema.
I could talk about them all, but the Tanzanian Burka Estate Peaberry is also off the charts….next time.
New crop Central American coffees have hit the cupping table and they are outstanding.
Our Central American coffee selections are Costa Rica Monte Crisol, Guatemala Finca Vista Hermosa, Nicaragua Dipilto, Organic Nicaragua Segovia, Organic Guatemala La Laguna and Organic Mexico Pluma CEPCO. So far the Costa Rica has been incredibly bright and sweet, while the Nicaragua Dipilto is buttery and chocolate-y, the latter at the darker roast profile (see Northwest Dark Roast).
The Finca Vista Hermosa crop is the best ever. A late season rainfall allowed the cherries to finish ripening with a flourish, which increased the tanginess and spiciness of this Direct from the Farm coffee.
More news as it comes in….
One of the many wonders of espresso extraction is its ability to magnify the attributes of coffee.
The fineness of the grind, combined with high, stable water temperature and 9 bars of pressure allows for the complete extraction of the most flavorful, dissolvable compounds the coffee has to offer.
Which is why…
…espresso is either really, really good…or really, really bad (neutral and inoffensive coffee counts as bad, as it has nothing to offer in the extraction process, which means it is not true espresso).
The best espressos, which are usually blends, but can be single origins, range from being crisp, clean, bright, wine-y, citrus-y, snappy and vibrant to heavy, thick, rich, fruity, musty (in a good way!), bittersweet chocolate-y and complex. Plus many other descriptive terms – smoky, spicy, apple-buttery etc.
Whatever the combination of flavor sensations, the espresso should be able to make a statement and exhibit a “punch”. If the extraction is dull, flat, lifeless, woody, vegetal, medicinal, harsh and astringent there is trouble in paradise.
My objective with each of our espresso blends – and we have a broad range from light to dark roasted, and crisp and clean to fruity and chewy – is to magnify the two central tenets of ALL Cravens coffee, which is sweetness and body. From there the additional complex elements of sweetness, and myriad variations of body, are amplified.
As usual I have a “why?”. In this case…why do espresso-based businesses choose to serve low quality, low cost espresso in their businesses, knowing the end product is not a magnification of the magnificent?
In coffee, maybe more so than any other sector of the beverage business, you (at best) get what you pay for. Buying cheap coffee from a discount warehouse or wholesale roaster who sells on nothing but price (because that is all they have to sell on) guarantees an insipid, watery extraction of bean juice.
Espresso at its best is magnificent…and challenging to achieve on a consistent basis.
But it is enormously enjoyable and satisfying when it all comes together in a nectar of the gods.
Which espresso blend is my favorite? Email me.
The softening of the economy has created a fork in the road for restaurants, cafes and drive-thru’s. They are asking themselves – do I take the path of quality at a value and retain my business, positioning myself for the future, or do I “cut and run” sacrificing quality, going with price and hoping I survive. Those are the two paths at the fork in the road.
Interestingly, the consumer is not seeing the same fork in the road. Our deduction, evident through sales, is that Specialty Coffee, at its very best, is a great value, therefore the choice it is not an issue. The informed consumer is seeking, purchasing and enjoying high quality coffee at a reasonable price despite a recessionary environment.
When I see so called “fine dining” and supposedly “high quality casual dining” establishments buying low quality, low price coffee, it makes no sense. They are terribly out of touch with the consumer.
People are still eating out, just maybe not as often. But when they do it has to be spot-on. And if they finish with a lousy cup of coffee, these days there is minimal forgiveness for preaching quality, yet brazenly having bought on price, which sadly many establishments have done.
The businesses who are committed to quality, and take that path when the road forks, are being rewarded with loyalty. And customer loyalty is priceless.