What are the U.S. Coffee Championships and why do we care?

By Kristin Lerner, Kean Coffee

U.S. Coffee Championships

For those of you who have always dreamed of competing in the U.S. Coffee Championships, now is your chance! For the first time ever, the Coffee Championships are offering eight CoffeeChamps Preliminary Competitions from August to September across the United States. These competitions will begin to determine who will go on to the Finals for the U.S. Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewers Cup Championship. Due to the fact these will be hosted by local coffee shops, these will be fun and low-cost chances to compete at a regional level.

The idea is to make it possible for more coffee shops to be the host and serve their local communities. It also opens up the floor for more Baristas to have the experience at an affordable level and allows them a practice round for the main competition. Hence, across the board, the Preliminaries are making it easier for more Baristas and Coffee Professionals to have the competition experience.

For the Preliminaries, all Barista competitors will have the wares, equipment, and coffee provided for them. They may bring their own wares or grinder if desired, but this is not a requirement. They will, however, be required to use the Host-provided coffee. All Brewers Cup competitors will need to bring their own manual brewing devices, filter media, and kettle. They can bring their own grinder if preferred, but this is also not a requirement. The Host-provided coffee will be required for the competition.

Preliminary Dates and Locations

*August 25-27th (Rancho Cucamonga, CA)

Klatch Coffee and Curtis

*August 25-27th (Barista Competitors Only) (Seattle, WA)

Synesso, Camber Coffee, Seattle Coffee Works, Stumptown, Royal Drummer, Anchorhead Coffee

*September 8-10th (Brewers Cup Competitors Only) (Portland, OR)

Portland Coffee Social Club and Buckman Coffee Factory

*September 22-24th (Denver, CO)

Rocky Mountain Craft Coffee Alliance

*September 22-24th (Greenville, SC)

Ally Coffee

*September 22-24th (Washington D.C.)

  Coffee District

*September 28-30 (Louisville, KY)

  Quills Coffee

*September 29-1 (Tulsa, OK)

  Topeca Coffee


U.S. Barista Championship

 The U.S. Barista Championship (USBC) is an exciting opportunity for Baristas to compete on a national level to demonstrate their espresso beverage making skills and knowledge. They will be required, in fifteen minutes, to both prepare and serve espressos, cappuccinos, and a signature beverage personally crafted by each Barista. They will be scored by four sensory judges and two technical judges on their beverage preparation and presentation.

For the new Preliminary Rounds this year, there will be between twelve to thirty-six competitors for each event. The top eight Baristas at each Preliminary Round in August and September will reserve an automatic placement of their choice in the U.S. CoffeeChamps Qualifying Competitions. All the remaining available Barista spots for the Qualifying Competitions will be determined by Open Registration.

The CoffeeChamps Qualifying Rounds will consist of sixty different competitors who have either reserved a spot from the Preliminary Round or through Open Registration. Thirty-six of these competitors will successfully advance to the Final U.S. Coffee Championships, hosted April 21-23, 2018 in Seattle, WA. From the two Qualifying Rounds, the top six competitors from each event will be chosen to advance directly into the Semi-Finals round of the final competition. The subsequent twelve competitors from each Qualifying Competition will be given a place in the First Round of the Final Barista Championship.

The winner of the 2018 U.S. Barista Championship will have the honor and privilege to represent the United States in the 2018 World Barista Championship in the Netherlands, within the capitol city of Amsterdam.

U.S. Brewers Cup Championship

 The U.S. Brewers Cup Championship (USBrC) is an amazing opportunity to demonstrate Coffee Professionals knowledge, technique, and expertise in the art of manual brewing. The competitors will have to perform three separate services: Compulsory, Open Service, and Serve the Audience, which will be judged by well-trained coffee experts. The Compulsory round will be a blind tasting; the competitors will be required to brew the same coffee on their chosen devices. In the Open Service round, the competitors will have seven minutes to brew and showcase their chosen coffee to the panel of judges.

For the new Preliminary Rounds this year, there will be between eight to twenty-four competitors for each event. The top four Brewers at each Preliminary Round in August and September will reserve an automatic placement of their choice in the U.S. CoffeeChamps Qualifying Competitions. All the remaining available Brewers Cup spots for the Qualifiying Competitions will be determined by Open Registration.

There will be two different Qualifying Competitions, each featuring 36 total Brewers Cup Competitors. Of these Brewers Cup participants, the top twelve from each Qualifying Event will successfully advance to the Final U.S. Coffee Championships, hosted April 21-23, 2018 in Seattle, WA.

The winner of the 2018 U.S. Brewers Cup Championship will have the honor and privilege to represent the United States in the 2018 World Brewers Cup Championship, with the location yet to be determined.

Kean Coffee at the U.S. Coffee Championship Preliminaries

We are excited to announce that our very own Gabe Venegas will be representing Kean Coffee as he competes in this year’s U.S. CoffeeChamps Brewers Cup Preliminaries this Saturday, August 26th. The event will take place at Klatch Coffee in Rancho Cucamonga, CA.

Gabe holds an impressive Level 2 Barista Certification and will be sharing his passion for coffee with the judges during his 7-minute brewing presentation. The top four competitors will be chosen to continue on to the Qualifying Round. Watch the competition Live Streaming on Facebook!

For more information go to: http://www.uscoffeechampionships.org/







Cold Brew vs Iced Pour Over


By: Gabe Venegas

Wholesale Account Manager and Coffee Educator, Kean Coffee

With summer rapidly approaching, we thought It would be fun to bring up the never-ending battle between Cold Brew vs Iced Pour Over. For this article, we’re not going to tell you which one is better than the other because, at the end of the day, coffee is all about flavor preference. Our main objective is to point you in the right direction depending on how you would like to enjoy your coffee and highlight what each brew method brings to the table… literally!

Cold Brew

toddyThe increasingly popular cold brew has been popping up everywhere from grocery stores, vending machines, and even gas stations. So, what’s all the hype? Why are people flocking to this beverage? To answer these questions, let us dive into what cold brew and how it works.

Cold brew is made using coarse ground coffee and adding either cold or room temperature water and steeping between 12 to 24 hours or using a slow drip process. Cold Brewing devices include the Toddy brewer, Filtron, the Kyoto Drip Tower, Yama Drip Tower, a French Press, or a mason jar (see our retail shelves at Kean Coffee to purchase some of these devices for home use). Unlike regular coffee, cold brew uses time rather than heat for extraction. The result is a very smooth and rich beverage with a heavier mouthfeel, syrupy flavor notes, and low acidity. Because cold brew steeps in water for an extended period of time, it makes it the easiest of all brewing methods and requires no technical skills. If you have fresh coarse ground coffee, good quality water (either bottled, filtered, or reverse osmosis), and a vessel, you can make an amazing cold brew. Additionally, cold brew can last up to two weeks when refrigerated, it can yield many cups, great for gatherings or parties, and it can be easily adjusted to strengthen to preference.

Due to its unique flavor characteristics, cold brew coffee can be used in a variety of ways and has the adaptability to serve many functions. As a concentrate, it can be used as a base for blended drinks. It also can be used to make coffee cocktails, and it can be zapped in the microwave to make it a hot coffee without the bright acidity for those who want a rich and syrupy cup. Lastly, if adding cream and sugar to your coffee is your thing, then cold brew is the way to go. Due to its process of mellowing out the acidity and highlighting the body and sweetness, cold brew is perfect for mixing with dairy as they complement one another.

Iced Pour Over (AKA Japanese Iced Method or Flash Brew)


Now let’s talk about what an Iced Pour Over is and how it differs from cold brew. What’s the difference between the two and why choose one over the other? Like we mentioned earlier, flavor preference is a deciding factor to choosing one over the other. However, there are other variables involved that can help you choose what’s best for you.

Iced Pour Overs take only a few minutes to brew and have a brighter flavor than you’d expect from a summer coffee drink. It can be made with several types of manual brewers such as a Chemex, Hario V60 Fretta, or AeroPress (see our coffeehouse retail selection to purchase these brewers). Instead of using only hot water, half the water is already in the pot in the form of ice. This method has the advantages that come with hot brewing, but is instantly chilled as the coffee drips onto the ice, thus giving it its explosion of aromatics in the cup. An Iced Pour Over tends to be fruitier, sweet, crisp, delicate, and not heavy. It is best to enjoy immediately after brewing since it does not last due to the ice cubes. Once the ice melts, your brew will be diluted. This is a great method of brewing if you want something fast and only for yourself or two people. In addition, an Iced Pour Over does not go well with milk since it is a brighter cup with more acidity and less body; adding dairy can overpower the coffee or even make it taste sour.

Opposite of the simple cold brew method, an Iced Pour Over is much more complex and requires a bit more technique. If you can bear with us for a bit, we’d like to touch a little on how this happens. To fully understand Iced Pour Overs, you need to understand solubility, volatility, and oxidation. Let’s talk science!


Solubility, in our case, is coffee’s ability to dissolve in water. Coffee grounds release soluble solids or particles that give taste and aromatics of the coffee, thus creating what we know as brewed coffee. Generally, particles are more soluble at higher temperatures and less soluble at lower temperatures. When we brew coffee, we use hot water between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit to dissolve the coffee solids out of the coffee grounds and into the water.  When using cold water, coffee will dissolve slowly and incompletely; many of the soluble substances in coffee won’t make it out of the grounds and into the water.


Volatility is the ability of substances to vaporize.  Volatile activity also increases with temperature: that’s why hot coffee is so aromatic.  Problem is, when you’re smelling coffee, it’s losing its aromatics to the air.  When brewing coffee hot and then cooled quickly, the volatility of coffee escapes into the air caused by the hot water, but is instead of being lost for good, it is recaptured by the ice cubes when it begins to cool.


Oxidation leads to rancidity. When oxygen messes with oils, it makes them turn rancid, causing them to taste bad.  For example, the taste of an unclean coffee urn is caused by oxidized coffee oils.  Coffee kept warm takes on these same flavors, since oxidation happens much more quickly at high temperatures.  This is another reason why cooling coffee quickly after brewing is essential.

In a nut shell, Iced Pour Overs work in the following manner: To fully extract flavor, it is brewed hot. To lock in aromatics and prevent off-flavors, it is cooled instantly.

Now that we have covered both brewing methods, here’s a breakdown of a pros and cons list to help you decide once and for all what method you might prefer:

Cold Brew

Iced Pour Overs

Pros Cons Pros Cons
Anyone can do it Takes a long time to make Takes only a few minutes Requires technique (not to worry, we’ll gladly teach you)
Serves more than 1 person Brews only in large quantities (you can’t brew for a single person, but you can serve yourself one cup) Serves only 1-2 people (if you don’t want to share) Serves only 1-2 people (if you want to serve more people)
Lasts for up to 2 weeks Enjoy immediately Can’t store for later
Goes well with or without milk Does not go well with milk (for people who prefer black coffee)
Requires little brewing equipment (less expensive) Requires more brewing equipment (for the brewing gear junkies) More expensive

Tasting Notes

Tasting Notes

·   Low acidity (not bright) ·  Highlights acidity (tends to be        brighter)
·   Smooth and rich body ·   Crisp and lighter body
·   Heavier mouthfeel ·   Lighter mouthfeel
·   Simple and straightforward ·   Delicate and complex

We hope you have been intrigued by our coffee comparisons and we wish you an awesome caffeinated summer time! Please feel free to share your personal opinions and preferences for Cold Brew vs. Iced Pour Over in the comments 🙂

Joint news release: Kéan Coffee to support the reCUP, a new paper coffee cup, engineered for recyclability

Coffeehouse leader in sustainability to address the paper cup recycling issue for Orange County, and as a model for the coffeehouse trade globally

Costa Mesa, California – November 4, 2016 –In December of 2005, Martin and Karen Varese Diedrich opened the doors of Kéan Coffee in Newport Beach, California – a state-of-the-art, cutting edge coffeehouse that would bring back the community gathering place feeling, coffee connoisseurship, and cultural atmosphere of their early Diedrich coffeehouses, as well as embrace a values ideal that businesses should model community and global responsibility and awareness, both environmental and social.

In 2007, Martin Diedrich received the Zero Hero Award for his outstanding commitment to “Zero In On Zero Waste” from the Earth Resource Foundation. In 2009, Kéan Coffee was named by the OC Metro as one of Orange County’s “Green 15” for its dedication to operating Kéan Coffee with a focus on sustainability. Most recently, Kéan Coffee was presented with the Eco-Award for “Most Sustainable Restaurant / Retail” in 2014 from the Orange County Green Building Council.

And now in 2016, Kean Coffee looks again to take a leadership position in sustainability, this time addressing the issue of the lack of paper cup recycling for the coffeehouse trade. Kéan Coffee will be introducing a new paper cup that is engineered for recyclability, and participating in a closed-loop collection process to ensure its paper cups are getting recycled, thereby setting a new sustainability standard for coffeehouses globally.

Traditionally, paper cups are coated on the inside with polyethylene plastic to hold the liquid contents and form the cup. However, the polyethylene coating makes the traditional paper cup material very difficult and expensive to recycle, and therefore, in the US, 15 billion paper coffee cups annually are typically sorted out and sent to landfills.

Smart Planet Technologies of Newport Beach has created the reCUP, a new type of paper cup that is engineered for recycling. With a special coating that does not interfere in the recycling process, the cups become a valuable material to collect, and therefore profitable to recycle. The reCUP will also be used on the Orange Coast College campus, collected and baled by the Orange Coast College Recycling Center in Costa Mesa, CA, with the bales then sold profitably as premium paper grade materials to a recycled paper mill. This closed-loop process will demonstrate the economic model to recycle paper cups profitably, while reducing the amount of waste sent to a landfill, with the revenues used to fund a scholarship at Orange Coast College.

“At Kéan Coffee, we believe that businesses large and small, bear a responsibility to support issues and model practices that promote greater well-being for the local community and the global community,” said Martin Diedrich, Founder of Kéan Coffee. “We are thrilled to introduce an innovation in paper cups that provides the recycling industry with a better cup to recycle.”

“With Martin’s support, a major step has been taken in improving the recycling rates of paper cups globally” said Todd Gasparik, Director of Marketing at Smart Planet Technologies. “As a leader in the coffeehouse trade, Martin Diedrich and Kéan Coffee can encourage the transition to a recyclable paper cup by other coffeehouses, increase the participation in the paper cup recycling program, and ultimately provide the model for paper cups to be recycled globally”.

About Kéan Coffee’s Community Values Beyond providing the finest coffeehouse experience, a mission of Kéan Coffee is to make a difference, be an example, and help to create greater social, environmental and global awareness. We offer our coffeehouses as community gathering places for social connections, discussions, and initiating positive change.

About Smart Planet Technologies Inc. Smart Planet Technologies is a materials engineering company providing advancements in packaging technology such as reCUP™ and EarthCoating®, to address sustainability goals for the packaging industry. Our solutions are focused on conserving precious natural resources while providing high quality, environmental packaging solutions across a wide variety of applications.

Adventures in Coffee Growing – by Martin Diedrich

Sunday morning coffee harvest today. I picked coffee from just one specific tree, a Garnica Arabica variety.Coffee_picking-6-15-1 We have about 14 different Arabica varieties growing on our small Costa Mesa coffee farm. The Garnica tree was full of ripe, sweet fruit, of which the seed is the bean one makes coffee from.

The Garnica variety is a hybrid that was developed in Jalapa, Veracruz, Mexico in the 1960’s. That region is now the only place it grows commercially.

Our Garnica tree was heavy with coffee cherries
Our Garnica tree was heavy with coffee cherries

We are told it is a hybrid of Arabica varieties, Mundo Novo, and Caturra. Its fruit is particularly sweet, which inspired me to do an isolation on it so that in about four to six weeks when it’s ready I can roast and cup the results to see exactly what the Garnica tastes like. The coffee needed to come off the tree anyway, because the tree is setting up for a massive flowering to produce next year’s crop. One wants to have the tree able to focus it’s energy on the next crop, not the previous. In the meantime, this morning’s three pound picking yield is now fermenting. In about 48 hours I will wash it, then sun dry it for a week. Another two weeks of resting, then it will be ready for roasting and cupping. More later………..

I was able to harvest 3 lbs. of cherries from this tree today
I was able to harvest 3 lbs. of cherries from this tree today
I de-pulped the coffee beans and now they will ferment
I de-pulped the coffee beans and now they will ferment

Coffee Origin Trip February 2015: Shawn’s Adventures in Guatemala

We have been a bit remiss in chronicling our Kean Coffee origin trips over the past several years…just too darn busy roasting coffee!  At some point we will backtrack and share more of our adventures. But here, at least, Shawn Anderson, our wholesale division roaster, has shared some of his experiences on a recent trip he and Martin made. 

My First Origin Trip

Shawn Anderson

When we (Martin Diedrich and I) arrived in Guatemala City the first evening, I had no idea what to expect. After all, this was my first origin trip and, as I would soon find out, Guatemala City is in no way a fair representation of Guatemala and the beauty it holds.

In the cupping lab with Renardo Ovalle at Finca La Bolsa
Shawn and Martin in the cupping lab with Renardo Ovalle at Finca La Bolsa

Our first day began with meeting our wonderful host, Renardo Ovalle (of the Vides family which owns the La Bolsa farm in Huehuetenango). Renardo and his lovely wife own Genera Café in Guatemala City. After a tour and cupping at Genera Café, we took a tour of the impressive facilities at ANACAFE (Asuncion Nacional de Café), the headquarters of Guatemala’s National Coffee Association. Then we were on our way to Huehuetenango to visit the La Bolsa farm.

House and drying Patio in La Bolsa (1024x576)
House and drying patio at Finca La Bolsa

Huehuetenango was the most distant and remote region we were to visit on this trip. It took us an entire day of driving through some of the windiest and roughest roads I’ve experienced to reach the La Bolsa farm. Located in the Cuchumatan mountain range, these coffees are gown in the highest elevation the country has to offer. Though the drive was long and rough, it was well worth it. I couldn’t have asked for a better farm or hosts for my first coffee farm visit.

The La Bolsa farm is breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly secluded from the world. It was getting dark when we finally arrived, but we were still able to take in the stunning view. Nestled in the Cuchumatan Mountains, the farm manages to be both vast and humble at the same time. The Vides family has a lovely little home built on the same patio where they dry the coffee. Standing on the patio, surrounded by mountains filled with coffee trees, I couldn’t help but feel blessed to be there.Guatemala_2015-1-e.jpg.jpeg

Our first day on the Farm began early, with a delicious home cooked breakfast and a walking tour of the farm. We saw the coffee being laid out to dry on the patio after being processed as well as the actual wet mill where the processing occurs. We then hiked through the mountains to see the coffee trees themselves. I had no idea how hard these farmers work until I was actually there. Just getting to the trees can be exhausting and I wasn’t even working! The elevation is extreme and the slopes are daunting at best. Each and every tree at La Bolsa is visited at least 15 times a year; 3-4 times for fertilization, 3-4 times for pest control, 3-4 times for pruning and at least 4 times for the actual harvest. Everything is done by hand. Everything. The same can be said for every other farm we visited on this trip.

The following morning we met up with colleagues from other coffee companies to continue our tour into Atitlan: Ian Kluse from Olam, Darrin Daniel from Allegro Coffee and John D’Roucco from Mr. Espresso, among others.

View overlooking Lake Atitlan
View overlooking Lake Atitlan

Our drive through the hills of Atitlan provided us with stunning views of the three volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan: Atitlan, Toliman, and San Pedro. As we drove through the countryside on our way to Lake Atitlan, we had the pleasure of visiting a few very small farms in the Atitlan region. Each of these farms worked together to form a Co-op. We met many of the farmers and villagers, posing for photos, answering questions and just getting to know people. We then reached Lake Atitlan and Finca La Providencia, owned by the inspiring Juan Francisco Pura.


Juan Francisco began his coffee career at the area’s wet mill, which he still owns and operates, before he purchased Finca La Providencia. Located directly beside Lake Atitlan, this farm is beautiful and unique. Unlike the La Bolsa farm in Huehuetenango, there are no drastic slopes to overcome. The farm is flat and easily accessible.

Finca La Providencia
Finca La Providencia

We walked with Juan Francisco through the farm, looking at the different varietals he’s growing as well as some very interesting, new growing techniques he’s trying. I believe the fact that he entered into farming from the processing side of coffee has given him a unique approach to his work and an innovative spirit. After our tour, we drove to his wet mill and cupped some lovely coffees from both his farm and the local Co-op. He also showed us the new raised drying beds he’s been experimenting with. 45 pounds of coffee are in each raised bed, all of which are micro-lots. Juan Francisco and his friends joined us all for dinner before we turned in for the night.

The next farm we visited was as beautiful as it was massive. Ran by Andres Fahsen who jokingly refers to it as a “Natural Reserve which happens to have a coffee plantation on it”, Santo Tomas Pachuj is basically just that.

Pachuj (which means “Place of Mist”) is a stunning 370 acres, 70 of which holds the coffee farm itself. Each coffee tree on this property is visited once a week, which is incredible considering the fact that the 70 acres of coffee are not all together, but sprawled out amongst the total 370 acres of land). Though all the work is done by hand, workers drive 4 wheel drive trucks and a giant old Mercedes UniMog to access their coffees and wet mill.

Like La Bolsa, there are many steep grades on this property. To support the trees and soil, they plant grasses between the rows of coffee. The deep roots of the grass help stabilize the soil. Once the grasses grow tall, they’re cut down and left as mulch for the coffee trees. It’s a simply but ingenious approach.

Martin talking with co-op farmers
Martin talking with co-op farmers

Santo Tomas Pachuj scored an almost unheard of 97 points with the Rain Forest Alliance and won’t rest until they become the first farm to score 100. Besides the 300 acres of natural reserve, they have 400 bee hives on the property which produce some of the best honey I’ve ever tasted. They also manage to produce 100% of their electricity from solar power. Their commitment to preservation and sustainability was truly inspiring.

The last farm Martin and I visited was Bella Vista in the stunningly beautiful city of Antigua.

View overlooking Lake Atitlan
View overlooking Lake Atitlan

Antigua sits in a valley enveloped by the Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes and coffee farms scattered throughout the foothills. It is one of the most renowned coffee producing regions in the world due to the volcanic soils and climate.

The Bella Vista farm and mill ran by Luis Pedro Zelaya, a fourth generation coffee producer, miller and exporter. Bella Vista is a massive facility with a farm, wet mill and dry mill on the property. It was here, on our final day, that Marin and I really got serious about cupping coffees. Over the course of the day, we cupped 60 different coffees, with nothing but a small lunch break midway through. For me, the cupping was a combination of intimidation (due to the quantity, seriousness and the fact that I was cupping with Martin), excitement and well… just plain hard work. Luckily, we found some exceptional coffees and were lucky enough to secure 274 bags out of our favorite picks.

Cupping at Bella Vista
Cupping at Bella Vista

I embarked on this, my first origin trip, with a bit of trepidation not knowing what to expect of what I would get out of it. I came home with more knowledge than I could have hoped for as well as a newfound passion and excitement for the work I do. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to meet the people who labor year-long to produce the coffees I’m so lucky to roast every day. I’ve spent the last 5 years roasting the coffees produced by these great people and it was an honor to finally meet them and see the life of these coffees before they get to me. These people live and breathe coffee every day. They put their literal blood, sweat and tears into their craft and, without them, I wouldn’t be here.

It’s easy to take coffee for granted. We don’t expect people to understand that 450 pounds of coffee cherries only produce 80 pounds of green coffee to roast and that those 80 pounds will only yield about 67 pounds of roasted coffee. It’s easy to forget how much work goes into providing the “convenience” of coffee. It’s something I’ll never overlook again.

This origin trip was truly a life changing event for me. I have always been proud to be a coffee roaster, but I never felt as much responsibility to be great at my job as I do now. Seeing how difficult it is to produce these amazing coffees, I can’t imagine letting any of their potential go to waste by not roasting them to the best of my ability. I’ve never felt more inspired or motivated to perfect my craft and I can’t wait for my next trip to origin.


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.


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.

Meet the Barista: Ten Questions with GARRETT O’CONNOR

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.


KC: Thanks Garrett!