Posted by: keancoffee | September 27, 2012

TED’S ADVENTURES IN AFRICA

Our head roaster Ted Vautrinot represented Kean Coffee in Rwanda this summer as a judge for the Rwanda Cup of Excellence competition. Below is a preview of his travel blog, which will be published in it’s entirety very soon.

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I stepped off the plane onto the rolling aluminum stairway straight out of 1969 and was enveloped by the close, wet heat of Central Africa. It was 7pm and it still felt like we’d walked into a hot, damp, wool blanket. I was grateful for the conversation of my friends and fellow cuppers Thomas and Anika as we waited in the interminable line to get our passports stamped with “Kigali, Rwanda”.  This was my first trip to Africa, and I was excited and apprehensive about the possibilities of finding great coffees and a new adventure in a strange land. I’ve participated in Cup of Excellence (COE) competitions before, and I’d worked with the Head Judge Sherri Johns before, I knew the cupping would be professional and organized. This was a new continent, though- a new people, a new language… In some ways I would be starting from scratch to find my African origin experience.

We climbed into a van the next morning to travel from Kigali to Rwamagana under leaden skies to join the rest of the cuppers and staff that were assembled at the lab there. Rwanda’s geography and the season kept the countryside perpetually shrouded in a light mist for most of our stay. As we drove the two hours to the lab I was struck by two things: First, the country was completely clean- there wasn’t a speck of the litter in the markets or on the roadside that is common throughout Central America. Second, most every man, woman, or child walking along the roadside were carrying a yellow five-gallon plastic jerry can to transport water from a clean source to their home- sometimes as far as 3 miles in one direction. Despite the hardship conditions they live under, Rwandans take an immense pride in their land, their country.

I was pleased to find that Sherri had, true to form, prepared the lab and the staff impeccably. Sherri and Martin Diedrich have a long professional history- Sherri helped Martin create the menu and recipes we’ve used at Kean Coffee since the beginning. Sherri and the 20 Rwanda National cuppers had slogged through the hundreds of submitted samples and passed the top 60 to us, the International Jury. We would spend the next 5 days calibrating and then winnowing the field down to the top 10 coffee Rwanda has to offer for this year. We would have to be consistent and exacting on every round to give each coffee its fair shot. For every round of 10 coffees, four examples of each coffee are precisely weighed and ground and placed on each table. The judges score on fragrance, taste, acidity, body, complexity, finish, and uniformity. The presence of mind to keep track of all the subtle differences of 40 cups of coffee as they are changing and cooling is daunting and takes practice. Alongside our 20 International Judges were 8 observers who were learning and honing their judging skills. We cupped and compared scores against each other and the National Jury, who had stayed on to support our efforts by preparing, roasting, and cataloguing our rounds. Sherri and I also got to introduce the Rwandan cuppers to coffees of the world. I had brought Kean Coffee production roasts of Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra, and Hawaii coffees with me and we set up a cupping for the national jury. None of these Rwanda experts had ever tasted a coffee from outside their own country; it was all a brand new experience. Not surprisingly, the cuppers had an easier time with the African coffee. It was great fun to watch their eyes grow wide and question marks fill their expressions as they tasted the Guatemala and Sumatra coffees- so very different from what they’d ever tasted before- and then tell them these were 90 plus examples of those region’s coffees. 

By the end of the day our taste buds were ndarushye (tired), and we climbed aboard the bus for the short trip to the local hotel. We were being treated very well indeed, for our hotel had electricity more than half the time, and often had hot water in the rooms. In the soft night air we caught up and traded coffee and travel stories over dinner in the bar while the Kenyan soap opera (in English, no less) played out on the TV in the background. We had come from Japan, Korea, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, Australia, Finland, and the US to share our love of truly exceptional coffee here in the heart of Africa.

The next three days we worked in earnest as we scored the coffees to decide which would move to the final rounds. The power had been intermittent at the lab, and the backup generator failed, so the staff had lost some roasts and were running behind. Over the week they consistently worked 14-18 hour days keeping the samples in order for us to evaluate them fairly. The three Rwanda flavor profiles became clear; a rich, jammy, creamy profile; a soft tea-rose aromatic profile; and a spicy cedar, hazelnut profile.  Rwanda coffee has come a long way in the last 20 years as more and more care is given to the cultivation and harvesting of the country’s second biggest export crop (after bananas). We kept our noses to the grindstone and narrowed the field to the ten coffees we would rate as the best this year. Taking our “ibiryo” or meals with the staff we got to learn a little of the language and about their lives over rice, potatoes, beans, baked bananas, yucca, and every other starch imaginable along with a hint of greens and a sliver of protein.  On one afternoon we got to visit some producing farms on the shore of Lake Kivu. The next afternoon we were allowed a special visit to the genocide memorial in Kigali, a moving and sobering reminder of the events that have shaped this culture.

Our final round was the ten finest coffees from the first three days of cupping, and we tucked into them with focus and gusto. Each were coffees I’d be proud to bring back to my family and friends. Comparing notes afterwards I was also pleased to see that my scoring was well-calibrated with the national cuppers. I had learned more in this week about the details of Rwanda coffee than in the previous two years in our lab, from the sheer volume of coffees and the expert help. We celebrated over dinner that night with our National staff, and the Governor of the Eastern Province showed her support by joining us. Afterwards we shared the Rwanda love of dance as the DJ played African Hip-Hop and Dance tunes and the umuhungu and umukobwa (boys and girls) slipped easily in and out of groups. No couples, just groups of dancers joining and splitting- migrating across the floor as the beats seeped through us and gently pushed us around.

Next morning we headed back through Kigali and then north to Byumba for the Awards ceremony. We had seen a few commercials on national TV about COE, and even saw billboards in Kigali, but we weren’t prepared for the throngs of people who had walked miles into the countryside to the site of the awards. The huge grassy field was ringed on all sides with thousands of local farmers and their families, visiting dignitaries, and government officials while a traditional dance troupe performed and sang. Each dignitary was compelled to give a speech, but the only Kinyarwanda I understood from them was the occasional “Ikawa nziza” or excellent coffee. A poet performed her piece about the life of a coffee plant using the analogy of a woman growing up and maturing, and though I barely understood a word of the Kinyarwanda I could connect with the passion and humor in her soul about this plant and what it means to these people. As the awards were presented the crowd’s applause grew with each winner, culminating with the first place award while the Governor and dignitaries jostled each other to make sure they each got into the winner’s photos. I was filled with joy and pride to see so many people taking the quality of their land and their work so much to heart. After the ceremony we exchanged our murakoze’s (thank you) and murabeho’s (goodbye) with our new friends and headed on uragende amahoro (peaceful journey) back to Kigali.

Next found me on a flight from Kigali to Moshi, Tanzania at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Because of Martin’s long relationships with producers and exporters around the world I was hosted by Sustainable Harvest and their satellite office in Tanzania. Boss Farijallah picked me up at the crisply modern airport (every tourist that visits Kilimanjaro passes through Moshi) and got me settled into town. Boss is an agronomist and engineer, and a fine cupper. Over a curry dinner we swapped stories and Boss filled me in on Sustainable Harvest’s work in Tanzania. Kean Coffee has bought coffee through the Portland, Oregon-based company before, so I was keen to see their operations on the ground. Sustainable’s mission is to provide low and high technology to the coffee farmers so they can produce higher quality for better prices. They also help develop secondary crops, like mushrooms, for the families’ consumption and for sale at market. The concept is to make coffee farming viable and profitable for the farmer so they can continue to produce generation after generation and provide a good life for their families.

Next morning Boss picked me up and we headed to Kilicafe’s offices in Moshi. Kilicafe supports and markets different cooperatives throughout Tanzania and works with Sustainable Harvest bringing green coffee to the international market. We met Lazaro Haonga there and talked about the challenges they face- shrinking yields as some trees approach 80 years of production, water conservation, declining interest in coffee by the next generation. Then we got to the nitty gritty and cupped a round of coffees in Kilicafe’s lab. Of the eight coffees we cupped at Kilicafe and the subsequent six later at Sustainable’s lab the three of us were never more than a point apart. This will be valuable as we continue to ask these groups to send us samples of 86 points and above, as we are clearly calibrated and agree and the ratings of different grades of coffee. Kean Coffee can focus on the high-quality samples we’re looking for and they can save their money and resources by offering their lower grade coffee to other buyers. Later that afternoon I got to meet with Sustainable’s Director in Tanzania, Rocio Diaz-Agero, and Boss and hear the details on the programs they’re implementing on the ground, like rainwater harvesting, natural compost and fertilizers, and battery-operated mobile cupping kits.

Next morning seven of us squeezed into the Land rover and headed out to visit some producers. The first cooperative was Sing’isi, about 60 kilometers west of Moshi. Like most Tanzania cooperatives, Sing’isi is a collective of about 500 holder/farmers some might have a few dozen trees, others a hundred. During the harvest they all bring their ripe cherry to the washing station where it’s pulped and then dried on raised beds. Sustainable has been helping them with water conservation and mushroom farming. They continue to work on raising quality with healthy new stock and better harvesting techniques. In a few years they might raise their coffee to the level that Kean buys. I explained our operation and the kind of coffees we deal with, and the level of quality our customers are accustomed to. We shared ladha (tasty) boxed lunches, and afterward shared music on a guitar I’d brought with me, trading songs and licks with a local farmer who also played. At the end of our jam I donated the guitar to the cooperative on behalf of Kean and Sustainable Harvest. The Mill manager, cooperative President, and guitar player/farmer were all grateful and touched, saying “Asante sana’’ (thank you very much). I hoped aloud that when they played and sang they’d think of the people far away drinking their coffee. We pressed on to Arusha, to a smaller cooperative called Mlimani Ngarashi. The Manager, an imposing woman named Mary, made us karibu (welcome) and showed us the operation. The 256 farmers in this group often take their ripe cherry to different stations depending on the price, so they struggle with consistency. They’ve just begun tracking each incoming lot by laptop computer so they can start to identify which farmers are producing truly high-quality coffee. A few photos and handshakes with the farmers that were there (mostly women) and we were twende (on our way).

I had let Boss know I wanted to see the animals of Tanzania, and he had reached out to some friends and arranged a guide to Ngoro Ngoro. I spent that night in Arusha and went down to the lobby the next morning at six to be on our way (twende).  John Neunguru is a slight, soft-spoken young man who’s been guiding msanga (gringos) through eastern Africa since he graduated Tourism College. His wife’s family has coffee holdings in the Bunga district in the south. On the two and a half hour drive to the National Preserve we talked of family and life, and he was happy to help me with my Swahili (two languages in 8 days). It was just the two of us in the old Toyota Land Cruiser winding through the long desert flatland past the thatched Masai huts and finally through Mto Wa Mbu (mosquito town- on the river) before starting the long climb to the crater’s rim. We stopped at the park entrance to check in (no one stays after dark- if you’re late getting back they’ll come hunt you down and bring you in) and pay the fees, then pressed on to the crater’s rim. Once a volcanic mountain, the eruption and lava flow deflated the area and created a disk in the earth 14 miles across surrounded on all sides by 1500 feet of mountain walls. On that disk hundreds of thousands of animals live year-round grazing on the grass and drinking from the streams fed by a year-round lake, a huge flamingo hatchery. Lions prowl and feed in the evenings, keeping the herbivore population thinned.  Each day scores of Land Rovers filled with msangas and Tanzanians descend into the crater to see the magnificence. Standing on the rim we looked down and I could see the waves of tiny dots moving across the plain, far too many to count. We dropped into the crater and passed huge herds of wildebeest and zebra calmly interspersed and munching together. Lions sunned themselves in the tall grass, biding their time until the dusk hunting hour. Elephants strode by on their way to leafier trees on the lake’s far shore, while hippos snoozed submerged until their moonlight feeding time. John pointed out each animal and explained their habits, even the Kites (raptor birds) that have learned to dive-bomb and steal the tourist’s lunch boxes. We passed warthogs, ostriches, jackals, gazelle, and bison on our journey across the crater, often just a few feet away. By late afternoon we were climbing the far side of the crater on our way out, then down again to Mto wa Mbu, and Arusha.

Next morning at 5:30 John collected me and from Kilimanjaro airport I began the 36 hour journey on six different planes home. I had ample time to reflect on the people and the land that give birth to and sustain the green coffee that I get to work with every day, and mostly on the character and heart of the people who cultivate and harvest this tiny green seed that’s become an indispensable part of our daily life so many thousands of miles away. I often see their smiles in my mind’s eye as I’m sipping the coffee that is a part of both our lives.

Posted by: keancoffee | July 27, 2012

Meet the Barista: Ten Questions with GARRETT O’CONNOR

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Garrett O’Connor

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. Garrett O’Connor has been part of the team at Kean Coffee Newport for a little under a year. Garrett loves working with people and honing his craft as a barista. He is multi-talented, multi-faceted, and witty. If he doesn’t pursue a career as a stand-up comic, he will certainly entertain those around him despite it. Garrett can always be counted on for a smile. That’s why we love Garrett!

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

GO: The cute girls that come in. Also when I manage to make a really good latte art and people take pictures of it.

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

GO: Italian cappuccino, Napoli style

KC:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday (when you have the day off)?

GO: Sleep, or go to an Anaheim Ducks game..

KC: What was your favorite toy as a child?

GO: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you?

GO: I like to sing in the shower.

KC: What was your favorite Halloween costume ever?

GO: Going as myself when I went to a uniformed private school. I thought it was a clever exploit.

KC: What was your least favorite costume ever?

GO: There are no bad costumes when you get free candy.

KC:  Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

GO: Martin Diedrich, pretty self-explanatory. He still is my idol.

KC:  If you had to enter a cooking contest and prepare your best entrée or dessert to impress the judges, what would you make?

GO: Lemon glazed seared halibut with garlic risotto and Bananas Foster (I make the best!)

KC: What was your favorite movie of all time, and why?

GO: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s pretty epic.

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KC: Thanks Garrett!

Posted by: keancoffee | July 20, 2012

Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with MEGAN HERRERA

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a series of random interview questions. Megan Herrera has been a valuable part of our Kean Tustin team for over two years. Megan’s love for basketball helps her shine as a barista as she applies her multi-tasking, fast-paced, high energy maneuvers on the court to our fast-paced coffeehouse environment. At Kean Coffee just as on the court, Megan is small but mighty. That’s why we love Megan! 

Megan Herrera of Kean Tustin

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

MH: Making the perfect drink for the customers and making them happy, knowing I’m doing my best.  

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

MH: Caffe Napoli

KC:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday (when you have the day off)?

MH: Play video games, play basketball.

KC: What was your favorite toy as a child?

MH: My Woody doll from Toy Story.

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you?

MH: I want to become a vampire.

KC: What were your favorite and least favorite Halloween costumes ever?

MH: Favorite: Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”. Least favorite: I was a baby.

KC: Name one of your personal skills or traits that you are most proud of.

MH: My humor. I’m the funniest person around. Really.

KC:  Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

MH: Kobe Bryant because I wanted to be as good as him at basketball.

KC: Thanks Megan!

Posted by: keancoffee | July 20, 2012

Recognize this guy? Meet Dwayne Carroll!

At Kean Coffee we love our regulars – our guests who come in so frequently and regularly, sometimes spanning many years, that we learn their names and they learn ours, often becoming good friends with our staff members. We value their input and enjoy learning more about them and hearing their stories. Meet Dwayne Carroll, a beloved regular at Kean Newport and Tustin! 

Dwayne chillaxin’ at Newport with the pooch

My first cup of Martin’s coffee was when the Diedrich Coffee opened at Marguerite Pkwy and Crown Valley in Mission Viejo. I was there on opening day. I remember the first manager – a very nice lady, however I can’t remember her name. This shop was always a meeting place for the neighborhood, and always full of young people from Saddleback college being so nearby, always a happening place.

When I heard that Martin would be opening Kean Coffee, I felt it was a blessing even if it meant driving all the way to Newport Beach. Then when the people of Tustin where able to talk Martin into taking over the original Diedrich location on Newport Ave. and he opened a second Kean Coffee there, it was even closer for me, as I live in Mission Viejo. I was thrilled.

I go to Kean Coffee about five times a week, either location. Both are excellent for coffee, and a great staff that promote the quality product. As for me black coffee is my favorite. The best thing about Kean is the coffee, and having met so great people. Our dog is always treated well, with water bowls and tie down rings so you can go in and place an order. The other great experience was meeting my very best friend at Diedrich Coffee when he was going to Saddleback College as a student. Then when he graduated from there he went to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo for two years. Then on to UCI in Irvine to get his Masters. Now he works for Oracle, a success story. When he is in town we now take a drive to Kean Coffee, like old times.

Dwayne Carroll - Mission Viejo, California

Are you a Kean Coffee regular? If you would like to tell us your story and be featured in a future blog post, please let us know by emailing blog@keancoffee.com! 

Posted by: keancoffee | July 13, 2012

Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with MANUEL RODRIGUEZ

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Manny Rodriguez- out standing in his field

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez has been with Kean Coffee for two years, as a barista in our Newport coffeehouse. In addition to being an awesome barista, Manny is a high achieving college student who aspires to become a teacher. Whatever he is doing, Manny works hard and always strives for excellence, while at the same time keeping a great attitude. That’s why we love Manny!

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

MR: The best thing about being a Kean barista is crafting every single drink from scratch using world class ingredients to make drinks of great quality and taste our customers can experience.

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

MR: Turkish latte is my favorite drink with no doubt. I love the taste of espresso, cane syrup and cardamom in the same drink.

KC:  What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday (when you have the day off)?

MR: It has been a while since I had a Saturday off. However, on a typical Saturday afternoon I go to the gym, read my Bible, and watch sports among other things.

KC:  If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

MR: If I could travel to any place in the world I would go Egypt.  Egypt’s history of pharaohs and archeology have always fascinated me.

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you?

MR: Most people do not know I have a great sense of humor.

KC:  Name one of your personal traits or skills that you are most proud of.

MR: I am a good listener.

KC:  Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

MR: My idol has always been my grandmother. She raised me and taught me values such as respect, kindness and selflessness just to mention a few.

KC:  If you had to enter a cooking contest and prepare your best entrée or dessert to impress the judges, what would you make?

MR: To impress the judges I would make chocolate-covered marshmallows topped with shredded coconut.

KC: Thanks Manny!

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Latte art by Manny of Kean Coffee

Posted by: keancoffee | July 6, 2012

Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with RAMONE VALERIO

This is an ongoing series in which you will get to know a little bit more about the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a series of random interview questions. Ramone Valerio has been a barista at Kean Coffee Tustin for close to two years. Aside from being an awesome barista, Ramone is also a talented musician, and an extremely creative and all around great guy. When he isn’t making amazing coffee drinks for our guests, Ramone can also be found playing music with his fellow musicians in the coffeehouse. A true Renaissance man. That’s why we love Ramone!

Ramone Valerio

KC:  What is your favorite coffee drink?

RV: Caffe Napoli or a “Napiato” (macchiato with a little white chocolate and hazelnut).

KC: What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday, (assuming you have the day off)?

RV: Playing shows/concerts, jamming with the band (I, of Helix).

KC:  If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

RV: England/U.K., and Canada

KC:  What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

RV: I like to draw and also enjoy video editing.

KC:  Who was your favorite band/musician in high school?

RV: Between the Buried and Me

KC:  What were your most favorite and least favorite Halloween costumes ever?

RV: Favorite was when I dressed as Luigi from Mario Brothers. Least favorite, John Travolta from Pulp Fiction.

KC: Which of your personal traits or skills are you most proud of?

RV: Playing bass for almost 10 years, writing music, making CD’s/albums.

KC:   Who was your idol when you were a kid, and why?

RV: Jackie Chan, because I wanted to Kung fu around the world.

KC: Thanks Ramone!

Ramone’s famous macchiato art tree

Posted by: keancoffee | June 22, 2012

Meet the Barista: Eight Questions with BYRON PIERCE

This is the first in an ongoing series of blog entries in which you will get to know the fine young men and women who prepare your coffee at Kean Coffee through a set of random interview questions. We first shine the spotlight on Byron Pierce, a barista and shift manager who works at both our Newport Beach and Tustin coffeehouses. Byron has also recently begun acting as a barista trainer for Kean Coffee wholesale accounts, to rave reviews.  Byron is extremely dedicated and passionate about what he does. Don’t let this tough guy in the photo fool you, Byron is a sweetheart. That’s why we love him.  

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Byron Pierce – barista, trainer and shift manager extraordinaire

KC:  What do you like best about being a barista?

BP: What I like best about being a barista is simply working with fine espresso, steaming perfect milk to perform fine latte art, and just making our customers smile everyday while getting quality coffee on every visit to our coffeehouse.

KC: What is your favorite coffee drink?

BP: A double Italian cappuccino. 

KC: What is your favorite thing to do on a Saturday, (when you have the day off)?

 BP: Well… first I cant stay away from our coffeehouse, I go into Kean Coffee every morning to have my coffee to start my day off well. then what I usually do is spend time with family, or simply go for a motorcycle ride up in the canyon areas, to ride and enjoy the beautiful view.

KC: If you could travel to any place in the world, where would you go?

BP: I would love to travel to two places – one being my ancestors country which would be Poland, and I  would also love to travel to Brazil.

KC: What was your favorite toy as a child?

BP: Remote control airplanes!! they were the best.

KC: What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

BP: That I’m really energized to get up one day and randomly do anything that I normally wouldn’t do as a hobby. Like rock climbing in Utah. 

KC: Who was your favorite band/musician in high school?

BP: Mike Ness from Social Distortion. 

KC: Which of your personal traits or skills are you most proud of?

BP: Making fine coffee beverages, performing Latte Art, riding sport motorcycles, and speaking out to people with confidence.

KC: Thanks Byron!

One of Byron’s latte art creations

Mike Richardson has been with Kean Coffee since our doors first opened in late 2005, first as a barista, then becoming a manager and  barista trainer. Mike is passionate about coffee and about what he does, and has participated in several barista competitions- three times competing in the Western Regional Barista Competition and the Ultimate Barista Competition, and once judging the WRBC. Below is his fascinating account of the trip to Costa Rica he went on this past April along with our roaster Ted Vautrinot, who was invited to judge for Costa Rica Cup of Excellence. Enjoy!

Everyone has been asking me what I did in Costa Rica. Where do I begin?

Well the first full day was amazing. I was introduced to the Cup Of Excellence (COE) program where they take the top 38 coffees from all over Costa Rica and judge them on a scale of 1-100. However, only coffees rating above 84 get into this program. At the end, most of the coffees scored over 87 points and the best coffee was scored just over 93. Amazing. Image

So there was a judges’ calibration on Monday where they break down all the tastes into shot glasses and you get a basic feel for Mallic acid, citric acid, salt, sweet and everything in between. It was really cool to see how this is done.

Our roaster Ted Vautrinot at Kean was one of the 24 judges for the COE and they stayed in the hotel and judged all 38 coffees for 3 days in a row. I on the other hand was able to travel around Costa Rica: sweet.

So Tuesday I got together with Francisco Mena from Coffees Exclusive and checked out their lab where they test, package, and export the best Costa Rican coffees to the rest of the world!!! We cupped (tasted) the top 24 coffees from all over the country’s regions. There were some great coffees from central Valley and some wonderful fruity coffees from Tarrazu. Later Tuesday I joined the judges from the COE program at a new microfarm where they break down all the coffees into microlots to insure complete traceability. Much like wine, when we track exactly which coffee from a specific location on a particular farm tastes a certain way, then we can create much more scientific data for producing better quality. This was really eye opening for me and many other of the coffee buyers, and the coffee farmers.ImageImage

On this evening, all the big coffee farmers also joined us at the “Jardin de Aromas” and we had a nice little get together. Good food, some music, and some amazing coffee. It was hard to communicate with many of the farmers since not many of them spoke English, but I was able to talk to many of them about where I work and what coffees our customers love the most. Here I was also able to ask about how the different processing methods of the coffee change the flavor profile. Many of the farmers have had their farms for decades if not generations, but in the last few years are now starting to experiment with honey process, micro farming and micro milling.

More on that later.

Wednesday was a day I was not expecting. I traveled up to the mountains of Tarrazu with Francisco Mena, Yoshi a gentleman from Japan, and Sasha a guy from Germany. Up here in the mountains is where the real lifestyle of coffee is shown. We went and checked out a farm by the family of Juan Chutes where they are starting to micro mill their own coffee. Before micro mills there were only a few dozen big mills where the coffees would be pooled from all over and processed, then sold together. Now with micro mills the farmers can seperate their best crops and sell them separately from their lesser high quality coffees. Most of the coffees from these farms are very good, but there are some, like peaberries or other specific types of plants (varietals), that can taste considerably better. Since the farmers know their better quality plants and coffees, more care can be taken to ensure these higher quality coffees get put aside and sold for a higher price.

On this beautiful Wednesday afternoon, we also stopped by the La Lia brothers farm. Each one of these coffee plantations are very similar, but each one has a different specialty. This family is working on cross-breeding a varietal plant from Kenya! In this effort we hope to see some amazing new characteristics and balanced flavors that before could only be created with a blend of coffees. Now instead of a blend at the coffeehouse, the flavors can be created in the plant itself. Wow, that blew my mind. I never would have thought this much care and experimentation had been put into every coffee that I had been drinking.

Wednesday night Yoshi and I were dropped off in the middle of a small town at a nice little hotel and told we were going to be taken out to dinner by Oscar from the La Lia farm. Francisco and Sasha headed back 65 miles to San Jose where all the other COE judges were staying. I was out in the middle of nowhere with a guy from Japan who spoke less English than he did Spanish; so we conversed in broken Spanish the whole time. Oscar picked us up in his beat up Mazda SUV and we had a nice night of talking about coffee, family and hobbies. Sadly, the restaurant owner heard we were into coffee and tried to push some terrible coffee on us. Keep in mind, Costa Rica exports most of their best coffee; not to mention people throughout the world haven’t been introduced to specialty coffee. We had a nice little laugh about this, but in all seriousness we know that it is our duty to forward coffee awareness across the planet. That discussion really made me proud of what I am doing in the coffee industry.

Thursday was another amazing day out in Tarrazu. Yoshi and I got picked up by a young man named Pablo, he and his father work for the Don Mayo farm. We spent the first half day at their farm where I got to see some of the mills actually running! The thousands of pounds of coffee being processed is a breathtaking sight. The way the machine separates the great from the good from the bad (defects) just by weight and density was cool to see. Here we also did another cupping in their tiny little office/lab. Most of the morning two mini roasters were running, so Yoshi and I could sample their best six crops! Later Pablo’s wife made us a delicious home cooked fish with a spicy ceviche and some delicious sweet bean concoction.  And that was just lunch. After that Pablo took us up to a few more farms. It was cool to see that the farmers get along so well, where I thought it would be more of a competition. We went up to the top of the mountain where there is a road built so you can see for miles on both sides. Santa Clara farms on the right and Santa Carlos on the left. Just coffee as far as the eye can see. We headed over to Los Angelos farm. This is the family who won first place in the 2011 Cup of Excellence of Costa Rica. As humble as they were, they didn’t hesitate to show the awards they received. Here we also talked more of the risks of honey processed coffee. These processes include a Black Honey where the coffee beans are fermented in the whole coffee cherry; Red Honey where the outer skin of the cherry is peeled in a machine; and Yellow Honey is fermented in the husk of the cherry. Each one of these processes are carefully selected for different coffees that are grown  at a different altitude, in a different soil content, or even from how much sunlight it has seen throughout the year. Choosing the right coffee for the right process can make or break the flavor profile of the coffee. Hence the risk is high, but the output is groundbreaking! Farmers here in Costa Rica have only started this process in the last few years, most coffees of this region are only wet processed. The whole Los Angelos family was here to hang out and celebrate our arrival with a delicious alcoholic coffee beverage. Almost like a white Russian but with a very sweet rum-like alcohol, coffee and milk. Mmmmm, I’m gonna have to recreate that beverage at home! Image

We ended the day by stopping by the Candelilla farm whose coffee we (at Kean) have carried before.  Here the farmer told us how many crazy experimental demands from buyers on how to grow his coffee. Sometimes the farmers choose what they are going to do and sometimes the farmers are told what to do, interesting. It all boils down to the market I guess.

After the long day we joined Pablo’s father and Pablo’s farmer friend for drinks at a nice restaurant.

Friday I was supposed to be back to San Jose at 8am to participate in the top ten COE cupping. Unfortunately with some confusion we didn’t get in town ’till 10, however I got to hear the cupping notes of the top ten. Here I found out that Ted is truly one of the best cuppers in the program. Since Ted has a refined palate he can find specific distinctions between exotic flavors. Most judges would say orange, lemon, or lime, but others with a more refined palate would say tangerine, Meyer lemon, or key lime, and each judge will have his own indigenous flavors to refer to.

Friday night the awards ceremony was held at a place called Cicafe where they specialize in different scientific experimentations of coffee. All the producers were dressed up and many of the judges dressed up too. I wore my blazer, bow tie and put my mustache up; got to please the press! The awards started with the bottom (27th place) and worked its way up. So as we worked our way up to the top ten, the farmers were getting more and more excited. I didn’t recognize the number one winner, but I was happy to see the La Lia brothers won second, the Los Angelos family got fourth and the Don Mayo family won fifth. After spending so much time with these families I got emotional along with them. After the awards we ate and drank and had a wonderful time. I would have liked to take more pictures but everyone else was taking pictures too! Image

Later that night I went and partied with all the judges. Kate and her coworker John from Parisi in Missouri, a German roaster named Eyston, Jeff Babcock from Zoka and his friend Jared from another coffee shop in Seattle as well, Yoska from Switzerland, several judges from Hong kong and some from Japan. A true melting pot hanging out in Costa Rica for some drinks, dancing, and coffee love!

Saturday we shuttled downtown to the Don Mayo family opening up their own coffee house! These are the first farmers to open their own store. These coffee growers complete the cycle by becoming roasters, baristas and coffeehouse owners! ImageAn awesome end to a beautiful trip. Here everyone enjoyed the best crops of last year and some amazing new peaberries from this year. It seemed everyone who helped me make this trip amazing were there to thank and wish a warm goodbye to.

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Martin picking coffee at Rusty’s Ka’u Farm, Big Island, Hawaii

Due to our reputation as exacting, skilled artisan coffee roasters, Kean Coffee was chosen by the Hawaiian Coffee Association to roast this year’s finalists for the statewide competition of Hawaii’s Best Coffees. Hawaii grows the only coffee produced in the USA. Coffee grows on all the five major islands in the state. Each year they hold a statewide competition to judge the best coffees of the year. This year over 150 coffees were submitted for the competition. They were all judged by an internal Hawaiian judging panel to determine the top 45 finalists. The last round of judging that determines the best of the best is held here in California at the headquarters of the Specialty Coffee Association of American in Long Beach (SCAA).

Kean Coffee was honored to be asked to roast the coffee for this very important competition. This is a huge honor, and a huge responsibility. Imagine the scope of the responsibility that was placed in our hands with this: these coffees are the fruit of years of toil by the farmers who produced them. It is their livelihoods and reputation that are at stake here. We humbly respect that and are confident that have done them justice.

The ultimate responsibility of roasting these coffees was taken on by our head roaster, Ted Vautrinot. Ted apprenticed under our Master Roaster, Martin Diedrich, who originally learned the craft in his teens back in the 1970’s under the tutelage of his father, Carl Diedrich, and has become known as a respected top coffee roasting expert worldwide. Martin’s brother Steve builds the world renowned Diedrich Coffee roasting machines with which Kean Coffee roasts. So a long heritage of coffee roasting expertise went into the roasting of these precious coffees.

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Jerry and Ted earlier this year cupping for Rainforest Alliance competition at SCAA headquarters

And as if roasting the coffees wasn’t enough of an honor, two of Kean Coffee’s roasters, Ted Vautrinot and Jerry Folwell, are also serving on the committee of judges for this competition. Many of you have recently read about our head roaster Ted and his trips to Panama and Costa Rica to judge those countries best coffee of the year competitions. Jerry Folwell may be less known to you, but Jerry has worked with Martin as a roaster for nearly 19 years now, since the early years of Diedrich Coffee. He brings many years of passion and experience to the table as both a veteran roaster and coffee cupper.

The Hawaiian Coffee Competition was held May 22 and 23, 2012. The judging protocol is the same rigorous standard as in the “Cup of Excellence” and other international coffee competitions. It is always double blind and with very demanding precision.

The last two years, Lorie Obra’s farm, Rusty’s in Ka’u on the Big Island of Hawaii has won first place in this competition. This is the popular Hawaiian coffee we have been carrying at Kean Coffee for the last several years, and the farm Martin recently visited on his trip to Hawaii. We will see who comes out on top this year.

Kean Coffee is proud of our capable team and honored to participate in these prestigious coffee events.

There is a special magic wafting through a room filled with passionate coffee professionals intent on finding the absolute best coffee from Guatemala’s crop this year. Every sniff, every slurp is carefully evaluated and scored- descriptions of honey, cherry, chocolate, caramel fill the margins as each coffee gets a meticulous assessment before moving on to the next possibility.

Carefully pouring the water

I was fortunate to return to Central America to be a judge for Cup of Excellence Guatemala. Our 22 member international panel hailed from Japan, Germany, England, Australia, Russia, Korea, Canada, Morocco, Norway, and the U.S.   Our purpose was to identify the best examples of Guatemala coffee that year so we could buy it and bring it home to our customers, and also to recognize and reward the efforts of the producers who developed a truly stellar coffee. The top 20 coffees chosen from the over 300 entries are sold at auction. The winners get the best price for their crop, as well as respect and admiration from their peers. The biggest winner, however, is the coffee consumer, because the methods and care the producers employ to produce a competition quality coffee raise the quality of all the different lots coffee on their finca (farm) and translate to a better cup in our coffeehouse at home.

intense concentration in the lab

COE judge Sherri Johns, scoring

Top Ten Winners

The judging is exhaustive. By the time we get to the final top ten round at the end of five days we’ve cupped each of the coffees four separate times and huddled up in the conference room after each round to compare (and defend) our scores. Judging Guatemala coffee is particularly challenging because each of the eight producing regions- Antigua, Huehuetenengo, Coban, New Oriente, Atitlan, Fraijanes, San Marcos, and Acatenengo has a unique and delicious flavor profile. Because of Martin’s history and relationships in Guatemala coffee we’ve had many examples of different regional coffees from Guatemala in the coffee house, as many as five at one time.

Central Plaza, Antigua

We also took time to visit the producers and fincas, and see some of the sights. In the old city of Antigua beautifully restored churches seem to be on every corner. The cobblestone streets of this former capitol of all of Central America weave through a town with absolutely no billboards, neon, or any of the trappings of our everyday life. I felt transported back in time strolling through the charming central plaza.

Iglesia de San Francisco, Antigua

Visiting the Zalaya Family Fincas in Antigua was especially moving for me. The Zalayas have been producing coffee for generations, and we’ve had many of their coffees at Kean since we opened. We toured through finca Santa Clara and viewed the Bourboncillo (dwarf Bourbon) plants as well as the wet and dry mill facilities. I am always struck by the amount of passion, care, and hard work that go into each individual 132lb bag of green coffee.

We also travelled east to visit the Keller’s finca Santa Isabel. Like Martin’s family, the Kellers began producing Guatemala coffee four gene

Central Plaza at Night, Antigua

rations ago after emigrating from Germany. They operate an organic farm, creating their own compost and natural fertilizers and keep their rows of coffee within the natural rainforest that grows around it. They’ve also set aside a large nature preserve adjacent to their finca to retain the habitat for the indigenous flora and fauna of the area .Although we are familiar with the concept of parkland, the Guatemalan government is not. The Keller family paid for and set aside this land because they feel it’s the right thing to do, just as they’re committed to organic practices. We’re currently using two of their coffees in our line-up, as a decaf, and in our espresso.

Bella Vista in the shadow of the volcano Fuego

Before heading home I took a side trip to Martin’s childhood home of Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan. The charming village and breathtaking view of the lake with the two volcanos on the distant shore were worth the twisting, jolting, careening 5 hour bus ride from Guatemala City. My hosts the Jones (Jones Coffee Co, Pasadena) family showed me around the town and gave me a tour of Pana Kids, a multi-lingual school they support in the village. The school teaches Spanish, German, English, and the Mayan language to the children, most of them of Mayan descent. The Mayan language is becoming lost as Spanish and English become the lingua franca in the area, and the school’s aim is to preserve the Mayan culture and heritage while giving the students the tools to be integrated in the modern Guatemalan world. As I showed my photos to Martin and Stephen they recognized a few of the sights from their childhood- the churchyard where they played soccer, the marketplace, and the shambled docks on the lakefront.

Ricardo Zelaya pointing out the fincas in Antigua

fog-shrouded fincas, Antigua

Ricardo at the 150 year old family estate

On my journey home, my bags brimming with samples of green coffee to cup with Martin, I was again struck by the connection we have to the people a half a world away that nurture a seed from the earth that eventually becomes the cup of coffee that creates the community we enjoy at Kean. All the toil, the planning, the relationships we develop serve the village we’ve created in the heart of Orange County, and most importantly- in our hearts.

Happy cupping!

Ted Vautrinot

Head Roaster, Kean Coffee

Martin's hometown of Panajachel

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