Monday, July 02, 2007

The Mandelbrot in the bean.

As you may have noticed from my last couple of posts, I've been having a lot of fun lately with a new USB microscope. With the ability to look at coffee (and other stuff I guess) magnified 200 times you really get the sense that you are interacting with coffee in a wholly new way. Being able to zoom in (and in and into) the center cut of a green coffee bean and view the silverskin as though it were huge sheets of gigantic crystals is really amazing for someone who looks at green coffee all day long.
There is a staggering amount of information contained in a 200X view; figuring out what that information means is a whole other story. I think that gaining new perspectives into something you interact with everyday can remind you of how little we know/understand about coffee (or anything for that matter). It's exciting to re-realize how far we have to go in our understanding of coffee and that we've barely scratched the surface.

I'll be posting new pics from the microscope on my Fickr (check the Microscope Set)

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Evaporation rings

Saturday, June 30, 2007

175X View of the center cut of a Sumatra Gayo Mtn.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

Great post from Phil at Onion-Bean

Quoting from a recent post on the great blog Onion-Bean:

"-Most of Peter Giuliano’s stories about sourcing coffee in remote locations of the world go something like this:

-I was cupping many coffees in ______________, and it turned out that all the coffees I liked came from the same place, the village of _____________.

-I asked them to take me there, and we began our long and arduous journey crossing the __________ in a makeshift ___________, and were in real danger of being _________ by the __________.

-All the villagers knew we were coming, so when we got there all the people were in the street to greet us with their hands in the air, cheering and signing while someone wearing a _____________ began the ______________, which is the local custom.

-That night they served roasted ______________ which I ate anyway, and it was delicious. Then they poured me some _____________, which is a fermented ale made from ______________.

-They threw the big party because it was the first time since the ___________ that they now have the ability to sell their crop for good price, and now they can afford to feed their children."

Peter, you rule.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


I found this interesting pictoral guide to the entire coffee process from seed to cup on Finca Hartmann in Panama.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A true cup of excellence.

We've had a couple of great cuppings here at Wandering Goat over the last few days. While roasting some samples of a few coffees we're looking at bringing in, we decided to throw last year's Colombia second harvest Cup of Excellence winner into the mix (had the sample left over). This was a truly amazing coffee grown by Edith Enciso Yasso. This coffee is a testament to how near-perfect quality can be achieved without enormous resources. Check out the farm stats here.
The dried black cherry (we thought Cherry Coke) was overwhelming. Heavy, syrupy body. There was a depth to the coffee that is hard to pinpoint, sort of a Merlot or Sherry...maybe Port. Sweet, clean, complex, truly beautiful.
All this was made more intense by knowing that this may have been the last remaining green from this particular harvest.
Damn, what a coffee.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Monday, December 25, 2006


Friday, December 22, 2006

Another step away.

Well, it seems like it never ends. The USDA is slowly doing what it can to dilute the integrity of the Organic movement. This is just another example of the corrosive effect of politics and bureaucracy when it comes to sources of change to the status quo. There were numerous grumblings when the NOP standards began in 2000. Events like this are exactly the kind of thing predicted by longtime supporters of the Organic Food industry. While the NOP standards did create some 'truth in labeling' when it comes to Organics, they also open the door to intrusion and control by business interests who's priority is high yields and profit. These ideas run counter to the spirit of what Organic and sustainable agriculture are all about. The increase in Biodynamic farming and other agricultural approaches such as Rainforest Alliance are in some ways a reaction to the intrusion of government agencies in the Organic industry. But are they enough? What does the future hold for Organic certification? If we don't dig our heels in now, 'organic' may go the way of 'natural'.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Unlocking the sun.

As part of my regular research into the art and science of coffee roasting, I stumbled onto a transcript of a presentation by Dr. Stanley Segall, professor of bioscience and biotechnology at Drexel University, called Physics and Chemistry of Roasting. The entire presentation was very interesting but there was one portion that really caught my attention.

"In order for a process to continue without having to put heat in, you always have to have more energy in the reactants, the bonds and the molecules that make up that seed, than you have in the products. A typical chemical reaction in which the energy of the products at that level is actually higher than the energy of the reactants is a non-spontaneous reaction. That is the kind of reaction you get when you have to put energy into a process and the process captures and retains part of that energy. In effect, the early part of the roasting process operates that way, but once you hit the point where it goes from endothermic to exothermic, then all of a sudden you have free energy. You are using the energy that the plant laid down when the plant was generating it."

I know that this is basic biophysics but I guess it never really dawned on me in such a way. When the beans enter their exothermic stage around 390F (begin producing their own heat) you are unlocking the energy stored inside the bean that was put there by the sun during the growing process! Damn! That's awesome!

The coffee plant stores a lot of energy while it's growing and the application of heat reaches a point where this energy is released.

"The amount of energy tied up in a single carbon bond can range from 80 kilocalories to 146 kilocalories per molecular bond. If you want to use up eighty kilocalories in terms of exercise, you're going to ride your bicycle for an hour. Millions of these bonds exist in the chemicals of coffee. You can begin to get some idea of how much energy is actually locked up in these bonds. So, we have a tremendously energy ladened product to begin with."

This is another example of how connected coffee is to the environment. The plant's ability to access and store energy (from the sun and nutrients) has a direct affect on our ability as roasters to access that energy and the chemical reactions (producing various flavors) produced by that energy's interaction with our energy (our roaster's heat).

Damn, I love coffee.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm really happy to be be writing this post to report that after an arduous search we have finally located the dairy that will provide milk for our soon-to-open coffee bar. Noris Farms in Scio, Oregon is an organic dairy run by an Austrian-born couple Angela and Franz who pratices 'old world' animal husbandry.
Some of the unique pratices of this farm are their refusal to use artificial insemenation (all cows are bred with bulls). Calves are not immediatly removed from their mother and are raised on real milk not the usual milk substitute. And my favorite pratice is that after the cows milking cycle (about 5 years) the cow is not sold for beef; they are retired to pasture where they live the remainder of their life (about 15 years!) until they die of old age. "You wouldn't sell your grandmother." (actual quote)
This place is awesome. Heather and I went out to the farm to check it out and it was really amazing to see how much they really care about their cows. Supporting farmers who are really trying to do things differently feels great.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Hold

As you may have noticed, Hair of the Goat has been a little behind lately. Some big projects at work such as opening a new organic coffee bar and transitioning into a new roaster have prevented me from posting for a while. This is a temporary situation and hopefully H.O.G. will be back soon.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Time to move on?

Well, I guess it was just a matter of time. Wal-Mart will soon be selling
What does the Transfair Label mean?

What does it stand for?

What kind of companies use the Transfair Label?

Over the last few months things have not been looking good for Transfair USA. Well...they haven't been looking good if you run a coffee business affiliated with Transfair that is serious about sustainability and social and economic equity. Complaints have been vocalized and ignored. Some folks have given up all together. Many of us have been holding on as tight as we can to an idea that once seemed like the answer and now is beginning to look like another problem. Is it time to move on?
I'm beginning to really think that Transfair doesn't have a place for those who run their businesses the same way they buy their coffee. If coffee at Wal-Mart carries a Tfair label how can you say that the concept of fair trade is not dilluted? Maybe the best thing coffee roasters can do for farmers is create their own transparent buying system that goes beyond Tfair. What else can we do? Sometimes if you want something done right, you've gotta do it yourself.


Fair Trade Certified is dead. Long live fair trade!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Think while you drink.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Feel East Timor

The recent turmoil in East Timor has really got me thinking about how delicate the coffee chain is. Holding a handfull of green coffee you can almost feel the path the beans have taken. How many hands have touched those same beans?

What is life like for the family that picked the cherries?
The man that pruned the trees?
The woman that sorted at the mill?

Looking at a stack of coffee-filled burlap sacks, you can imagine them piled up in a warehouse far away in a producing country... like East Timor.

What is happening outside that warehouse?

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Desmond Dekker 1941-2006

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Soil in Context

I'm currently reading the classic text on Organic farming called (interestingly enough) Organic Farming edited by Ray Wolf from Rodale Press. The thing that has been striking me the most is the dichotomy of views on soil health between commercial and organic faming techniques.
Commercial agriculture looks at farming strictly in terms of nut
rient inputs and crop yields by weight. The idea of facilitating a plant's ability to grow in-health so that it will provide a crop in return has been all but forgotten in the 'modern' ag industry. Plants are supplied with the nutrients they require, not from the soil itself but from carefully (sometimes) proportioned application of raw chemical foods added directly to the plants. This method focuses solely on the plant itself and takes little or no account of the health of the soil.
In an average organically farmed acre of land there is 11 tons of living material (worms, fungus, nematodes, bacteria,etc.). An acre of chemically farmed land can have as little as 2 tons. Obviously, commercial agriculture throws off the natural balance of the ecosystem IN the soil.
What does this mean for the operation of the farm? Typically it creates the need for more chemical application in order to compensate for the lack of nutrients being created (no new humus being added). And so the vicious cycle begins. After years, the soil cannot support the crops and more and more chems. must be added to get the yields required to pay, not only for general production costs,
but for the expensive fertilizers and pesticides that the farm is now dependent on. Not too sustainable huh?
When you look at crops as units that need 'such and such' amount of nitrogen and 'xyz' amount of whatever chemical, the RELATIONSHIP between the grower and the grown is severed into a onesided project with no communication between the farmer and the flux of the process of growing itself. The result is that the context of farming has disappeared or become a barren shell. The soil shares the same fate. The earth into which a plant is placed becomes nothing better than a plastic pot.
This same mentality, tragically finds its way into the rest of the coffee industry as well. It is often seen in the coffee roasting world. Many coffee roasters see their beans as units to be 'applied' to their roaster (machine). The advent of 'profile roasting' has been a wonderful boost to the craft of roasting. But while providing highly valuable 'navigation' tools, it has also provided an opportunity for some roaster's to believe that they can completely quantify the roasting process. "X bean grown at Y altitude from Z cultivar with 12.34% moisture and whatever density, ALWAYS means drop at this time and cut heat here and here.......... "
Is the relationship gone? If a roaster denies that there is something ineffable, esoteric, even mystical in the craft of roasting coffee have they lost their way?

If soil health is the context in which a plant grows what is the equilvalent context in which a bean is roasted?

Profiling, record keeping, research, logging, charting, graphing, input, output. All of these things can help create the ultimate quality coffee (on the farm or in the roaster) but they must be used to facilitate the relationship-the interaction-the process. The science should serve the craft; the craft should not serve the science.

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Friday, May 19, 2006

Coffee and Worms...mmmmmmmm.

At the recent SCAA Convention, I was really excited to hear about some progressive organic farming techniques being used by coffee farmers around the world. In a class on Coffee Farming lead by Geoff Watts, David LaRoche, and Peter Baker there was some interesting discussion about the use of different types of composting. Coffee farmers are beginning to build experience using alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. Some of the systems being implemented are the use of various proportion of composted material derived from the coffee plant itself called Bokashi.
Growers are realizing that much of the nutrient needs of a plant can be derived from using various proportions of different by-products of the coffee milling process. Pulp, parchment, leaves, anything that comes from the tree can be added back to the soil to maintain the optimum balance of nutrients. The more energy and research done into looking for non-chemical alternatives to plant maintenence the better the results in the cup.
Besides the obvious benefits to the soil, plants, animals, and people of not using pesticides, growers are realizing that the land will provided most if not all of what is necessary to grow the very highest quality coffee...for free. The discovery of ways to improve cup quality without great expense is truly the cutting edge of 'fair trade'. For a farmer to increase the quality of their green through proper farming, milling, and storage techniques without substantial monetary investment is really a huge step forward toward sustainability. This is what organic agriculture is all about.
One of the most interesting and promising of these methods is the use of worms. Using worms to enhance the health of the soil is not a new idea but it has seen limited use in coffee production. It seems that the benefits of using worms to generate nutrient-rich soil and aerate packed earth is beginning to catch on. Worms are used in the earth itself and also in various types of compost to enhance nutrients and to even create 'worm juice', a highly concentrated compost liquid that is like gold for a coffee plant. This is just another example of some of the exciting advances that are now being embraced and appreciated in producing countries.
Check out this great blog from the Finca Project in Costa Rica where they are actively using worms as a part of their growing operation.