Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Brazil - Part 3

Day 3, November 9

This morning we all woke up early and excited as we were going to cup our first Brazilian Coffees. The bus left the hotel at 8am and we were off the Center of Coffee Excellence, where we first had a small course on coffee acidity and viscosity where we sampled different solutions that were mixed together to give our palates different sensations, which I will say was very interesting, especially when we mixed them up. After this we had another small course on how to properly use the Cup of Excellence Cupping form then we were off for our first calibration session. The first table had 11 coffees and we all scored them, then came back and discussed them, I can say that we were all pretty for off on the scores that were given but after another 2 sessions of 11 coffees we were all pretty close on the scoring as well as some generic terminology. After a long day of calibrating our palates we were treated to a great Brazilian dinner before heading back to our hotel for some much needed rest.

Day 4, November 10

Today I woke up excited as well as a little nervous as today we would actually be judging the coffees that had made it past the in country judges. There were a total of 210 different coffees submitted and from there it was narrowed down to 93 then from those 56 made it past the national jury. So this 1st day of scoring we had 3 sessions of 11 coffees each. It was great as well as sad as some of the samples that we were given had to be thrown out of the competition for having Rio. Rio is a taste similar to iodine and leather that is considered by most of the coffee world to be a major defect. It is caused by an increase in moisture during the processing and most of the coffees with this defect come from the areas surrounding rivers. After we were done with our 3 cupping sessions we had a quick lunch and then were treated to a special cupping session of only Natural Processed Brazils, meaning that the coffee was dried in the coffee cherry and not de pulped. After an interesting session we were taken for a small tour of a nearby farm called Santa Amelia, it was amazing to see the difference in the farms in Brazil to what we had seen on our previous trips to Central America and Peru. All the coffee in Brazil is grown in direct sun light, meaning that they don't use shade trees. This particular farm was 100% Yellow Borbon variety and produced an amazing 12 thousand bags. After a quick tour of their processing facility they took us to the farm house, which was very beautiful. I wish that we could have stayed and toured a little longer but we had to be on our way as we had to be in Pouso Alegre, a town about 90 min away for dinner. But the drive was most definitely worth it, we were treated to another amazing Brazilian dinner by Mr. Tulio Junqueira the Owner of Carmo Estate Coffee.

Day 5, November 11

Today I woke up tired and was thankful that I had brought my French press as well as my coffee maker and some delicious Roasterie Kenya as I really needed some coffee this morning. Again we left the hotel at 8 for the center for coffee excellence and got right to cupping. Again we had 3 sessions and cupped the last 23 coffees. After another quick lunch we were taken for a visit to Fazenda Monte Alegre, the largest farm that I have ever seen. The drying patio looked like the runway for a jumbo jet. The farm was beautiful and everything was very clean. I also got the chance to see an automatic picking machine for the first time and it was very impressive. I wish that I had the chance to see one of these work, but they were not using them on this day. After a tour of one of the processing areas we were taken for a tour of the farm. They produce 120,000 bags of coffee a year, an amazing and unimaginable amount of coffee. After the farm tour where we got the chance to see coffee trees that were over 100 years old as well as some of the different varietals such as that they have planted, we were taken to the farm house and treated to some more great Brazilian hospitality and food.

Day 6, November 12

This morning I woke up again with a great French press of Kenya and was ready to cup again. Today we were cupping the coffees that we had passed through from the previous rounds. Meaning any coffees that received an average score of over 84 were now considered cup of excellence finalist. This day was much harder as all the coffees that we tasted were of very high caliber and very equal in characteristics. But it definitely helped the ones that were really great, stand out. We tasted a total of 32 coffees during 4 different rounds. During this day we also had a lot of press, doing interviews and taking photos for the local media as well as a camera crew from Italy that was putting together a coffee documentary called, Coffee Please, which is going to be aired all over Europe and hopefully in the US. After a long day of hard cupping we were treated to a great traditional Brazilian BBQ dinner by Adecoagro.

Day 7, November 13

Today was the day that all of the work we had done all week came down to. This morning we cupped the top 10 rated samples from the previous day which decided the winner. The cupping was a lot more relaxed and fun than any of the previous ones as the coffees that we had on the table were the top 10 coffees in all of Brazil. It didn't take long to find my favorite as I had been following it ever since I had cupped it on that second day of cupping. It had a real distinct sweetness and lemon like acidity that I really enjoyed. Once we all came together the group was torn between 2 different cups. It was great to see that we were all calibrated as I had those 2 cups as my top 2. In the end it turned out that my number one, became the national Cup of Excellence winner. After the cupping we were treated to another great lunch and then we were given a few hours of free time before we had to come back to the Center for a meeting with the farmers. So I decided that I would try and get on the internet at the hotel which had gone down after the 2nd day there. After about 30 min of trying to send an email, I decided that it was not going to happen for me, so I decided to take a little stroll around the town. After a quick but exhausting walk, mostly up hill, I came back to see that everyone was ready to go. Once we were back at the center, we all separated into small groups so that we got to talk to all of the farmers. It was great to see their excitement in being recognized for their coffees, as well as to answer some pretty interesting questions we were asked. After a very good meet and greet it was time for the ceremony to announce the top 10 winning farms. I will say that this was the best part of the trip for me as the look and excitement on these farmers faces when they were announced in the top 10 was great and when you think of it, this is a life changing experience for them as it increased their yearly income by at the least 3X as well as makes their farm known to the rest of the world as a Cup of Excellence winning farm, which will give them the power to demand a higher price for future coffee crops. The winning farmer was from Fazendo Ouro Verde from the Bahia growing region of Brazil. After the ceremony we all got to have an amazing little party with all of the farmers that had come to attend and it was fun to see them celebrating as it reminded me of my family functions. After being forced to have a few drinks of Casacha with the farmers, our bus took us back to the hotel as we were participating in a National winners cupping in the morning.

Day 8, November 14

Today I woke up really really tired and was again thankful that I had brought all of my coffee making gear. After a whole French press of Sumatra I packed my bag and went down stairs to catch the bus to the Coffee center. This morning we were cupping 50 different coffees, which were now for sale. These coffees were the national winners, meaning that they had one regional competition's throughout Brazil. The cupping was a little more relaxed as it was more for us to taste the coffees and then if we really liked something we were able to bid on them. After a full day of cupping I was picked up by Maria Mendes, who works for Adecoagro, the owners of Fazenda Lagoa, the farm where we buy and have bought our Brazilian coffee for 13 years. It was about an hour ride to the farm house where we had a great conversation regarding the current and future coffee crops in Brazil. The Farm has 250 Hectors planted in coffee and produces an average of 8,000 bags a year. So it is looked at as an average sized Brazilian farm. Once we arrived at the farm house we were given a small tour. I was surprised at the size of the sugarcane mill that they had until I learned that most of there land is sugarcane as they have a large ethanol production. During our conversation as we were waiting for dinner to be served we heard the loudest noise I have ever heard. I thought that the sugar mill had blown up, but I guess it's a sound that everyone else there hears very often. I guess they described it as if something had not functioned properly and they had to shut the production down. This makes a noise similar to what I would think of as a bomb going off, after a great dinner we sat around a little longer and talked some more about coffee and then all went to bed.

Day 9, November 15

I woke up this morning a little sad as I knew that it would be my last day in Brazil, yet I was really excited as we were going to tour the farm. I woke up and walked around the grounds of the farmhouse which was interesting as they had a pool, tennis courts as well a small beautiful church. After a quick little walk I was called in for breakfast, which we ate pretty quickly as we didn't have much time before I had to set off to Sao Paolo to catch my flight. The farm tour was great and I finally got to see the trees flowering. It was amazing and the smell of the coffee blossoms was even better. It was pretty cool to see the actually trees and production facilities that produce the coffee that we sell in Kansas City. After a 4 hour tour that I wish could have lasted longer, we were taken back their offices to cup some of the coffees they were offering, as I had to approve a lot that they were sending us. After a quick cupping, I was given a tour of their offices where they had a bunch of our Roasterie bags as well as a Roasterie French press. It was cool to see your company logo displayed halve way across the word. After a quick lunch we hopped on a bus back to Sao Paolo. It was a 6 hour bus ride, after a little altercation with a police officer that lasted about 30 min as well as a few bathroom stops; we made it to the airport just in time to stand in a gigantic line to check in. No wonder they suggest you get there 3 hours early as you will sure need it with the size of these lines. After a quick dinner I was off to get on the plane and enjoy the 14 hour trip back the Kansas City.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Brazil - Part 2

This morning I woke up ready to finally taste some of this coffee that I had so anxiously been expecting. I felt like a little kid at Christmas, with all of this buildup to how amazing the Brazilian coffees are this year. So after a quick breakfast we were off the the center where the cupping's were taking place. Once there we took a short class on Acids, it was very interesting to see how the different types of acids found in coffees interact and how they can be exaggerated as well as diminished with just the addition of a little sweetness or saltiness. After the class we began calibration, meaning that we all tasted 7 different coffees of different calibers, not knowing what was what and the scored them as we saw fit. Once we were done with the cupping we all came together and discussed our findings. I was a little nervous at 1st thinking that I was going to give something a really high score only to find out that I was the outlier and everyone else thought that it was garbage. But luckily I fell right in line with everyone else and even found and used most of the same quality and defect descriptors, and I can only thank Norm for the great cupping knowledge that he has passed down to me for this. This calibration lasted all day as we did 3 different rounds unsung the same coffee as well as mixing them up in order and seeing if we could identify where its previous spot was on the table. After the cupping we all got together for dinner again and enjoyed some more great coffee conversations. I will say that it is amazing to hear someone talk about their counties coffee market, as they seem to be so different then ours. But again it comes down to sourcing the best beans possible to be successful and keep your market happy.

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Brazil - Part 1

Paul Massard is The Roasterie's green coffee buyer and currently a juror for the Cup of Excellence in Brazil.

Hello Everyone or Como Via Você (as I have quickly learned to say in Portuguese),

My flight here to Brazil was uneventful, the flight from KC to Houston was quick and easy and I had the pleasure of sitting with an interesting group in the back or our tiny little plane. Once we landed in Houston I knew that I only had a short amount of time to get from one side of the airport to the International terminal on the other side, so once we were sitting on their on the jet way without moving for 15 min I started to get a little nervous, but luckily I was able to run, and I mean run, and get to the gate just in time. The flight from Houston to Sao Paolo was an interesting 10 hours with 2 babies right around me and a row mate that took up all of her space and most of mine, all I can say is that I didn't get much sleep that night and I was pretty happy once I was off the plane and waiting to go thought immigration. Once through I was able to easily find the group of other judges from the Cup of Excellence that were waiting for me. As I was the last one to arrive we hopped on a bus and began our 4 hour journey north west to Machado Brazil. Once on the bus we stopped to get some local road side food and man I wish that they had places to eat like this in the US as I sure had missed this type of food since my previous adventure through Central America. Once we were finished we continued our trip, after about 15 min of the sun beating down and the wind blowing in my face. I was asleep, I woke up not soon after feeling a little embarrassed that I had fallen asleep in this car full of strangers but when I looked around and saw that I was the only one currently awake I was relieved and went back to sleep. The next thing I remember is waking up after our bus hit a nice sized hole, that would put that one we hit in Costa Rica to shame. We were now just 5 min from our hotel so I enjoyed the view. Once at the hotel we all checked in and decided that we would meet up at 7:30 for dinner. At this point there were only 7 of us from the International Jury here so we had a nice dinner that consisted of kinds of pizza, the only thing that they had in common was that every single pizza had both hearts of palm and green olives, which I found to be pretty weird but funny.

The next morning I woke up and decided that I would take a little walk around town, as we were not scheduled to meet up with everyone until 12 for lunch. After walking for around for quite some time I was a little scared of getting lost on my 1st day and decided that I should try and find my way back to the hotel. Machado is a small town of roughly 40 thousand people, but it was built right on the side of the mountain as you are either walking straight down hill or straight up hill and there is no flat ground to be found. After my little adventure I met up with everyone for lunch, at this time a few other jurors had arrived and we were taken to an interesting place, where you are supposed to work in catching your lunch in these little fishing ponds. Unfortunately we were not able to fish as they had already had our table ready. After a great meal and even better coffee conversation we were taken back to the hotel. Once we got back we again had some more free time before dinner. I again went off on a little adventure through the town square and up by this beautiful church before I started to get lost and again tried to find my way back. Once I returned everyone was in the lobby waiting to leave for dinner. Now everyone was here, we all walked a few blocks to where we would be meeting the group of judges that were staying at the other hotel. Once we were there it was amazing to see everyone. There are a total of 25 jurors from all parts of the world, with just the love of coffee in common. There are people here from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand Czech Republic, Norway, Lithuania, Iceland, Sweden, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Canada and the US and its amazing to me how the language barrier quickly falls as soon as we start discussing coffee.

Please Check out To read more about what it is that the Cup of Excellence is all about. As well as to read some more about our International Jury.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination St. Louis - Midwest Regional Barista Competition

This blog entry is courtesy of Amanda Butler.

We woke up this morning to a bit of a torrential downpour, which is the last thing you want to see when you have pounds upon pounds of equipment packed into cardboard boxes that need to be carried out to a van. That was 10:00am. At 10:00pm we had yet to encounter a dry patch.

Things I’ve learned so far: I-70 has the best truck stop ever, the gas tank on the Sprinter van is incredibly difficult to find if you don’t know where to look, and road trips rule-- especially when you know coffee geek heaven is waiting for you at the end of the day.

Paul and John went ahead of us-- they’re training to become certified judges for future competitions-- and we met up with them at the reception held at Velocity Café & Cyclery. It was a pretty neat little place, and Kaldi’s (our host roaster) brought in a La Marzocco GS3 for the baristas to play with and a keg from a local brewer, again for the baristas to play with. By the end of the evening everyone's energy was up and the nerves about tomorrow had dissipated... at least for the night.

We’re just about headed to the hall for our orientation. From there I’ll start my practice time and get more acquainted with the Simonelli Aurelia. Am I nervous? I’m not sure. My heart’s beating a little faster, but otherwise I’d say I’m alarmingly calm. That will change in a few short hours I’m sure.

Tyler hopes everyone at home is rooting for us.

Kyle says “hi” to his mom.

Saturday: It’s a few hours until Tyler’s performance time. His dishes are all polished, his signature ingredients are set up, the grinder’s clean and his nuts are toasting on a hot plate downstairs. There’s nothing to do but wait now. I guess I’ll take this chance to update everyone on yesterday’s fun and games.

Competition was quite stiff on day one-- I really have no idea who’s likely to advance. There were a lot of good performances, and I think at the end of the day it’s going to be what’s in the cup that counts. Our emcee for the weekend is Heather Perry, the highest-ranked female competitor in the world (she took 2nd in Tokyo in 2007) and the day opened with Pete Licata, a former MWRBC champion who moved out of region last year. I didn’t have the chance to check out his performance (I was prepping when he went on) but I hear it was killer. Then it was my turn.
I wish I could give a thorough play-by-play of my portion, but in all honesty I have no recollection of anything I said or did. Evidently when I get performance anxiety I just black out. Great. However, Tyler and Kyle did tell me that my shots were on mark, and a few of the other competitors said that I “didn’t seem nervous at all.” Lovely. We’ll get our score sheets this evening ,so hopefully I’ll be able to piece together events a little better later.
There was a lot if Indian influence in the signature inspiration this year: curry powder and biriyani spices abound. Also, four different competitors (including myself) pulled music from Wes Anderson films. Weird. Some of the more interesting signatures included a salty marjoram tea infused with poached peach and toast-infused milk. We’re also seeing a lot of single-origin espressos again, and from everywhere: Kona, Costa Rica, Ethiopia.
After the actual competition ceased for the evening we had a nice reception here at Soulard Preservation Hall. It was an open bar, and I really do think that the number one thing that baristas love after coffee is beer. Lots. And Lots. Of Beer.

Sunday: Day two seemed like it lasted an eternity. Maybe it was just my nerves for Tyler, but the list of competitors seemed never-ending. In fact, I might go so far as to say that I was more nervous for him than I was for myself on Friday. Most of the morning was spent in the green room polishing everything imaginable. Note to all competitive barista hopefuls: if you hate ironing, polishing or washing dishes this isn't your cup of tea (or coffee, as it would seem).
Once Tyler's performance time rolled around myself, Kyle and Tyler's wife Jaime hovered around nervously. He was great though, especially considering this was his first year competing. I have to say that his set-up was the best looking one I saw in round one, hands down.
Three of the guys from Kaldi's and the entire crew from PT's Coffee advanced to the final round, which is today. Everyone else had the opportunity to review their scores and talk to the judges. Though we won't be going for the gold today, I have to say that we got a lot of positive feedback and are coming away with some really great ideas for next year (or a possible out-of-region trip). Thanks to everyone who supported us and listened to us obsess over crema and tampers for the last couple of months. It's been a great weekend, but I'll be glad when I see the arch slip below the horizon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Roasterie Newsletter - Fall 2009

Dear Roasterie Friends and Family,

Hi everyone! I hope your summer was great and your fall even better. In my last letter (August), I shared that it was by far the best summer of our lives and it's migrated right to the fall, too. We were just getting ready to go visit Carla's family in Lebanon and we really had the time of our lives.

We arrived in Beirut and went straight up to the mountains, which has weather much like the Rockies in Colorado during the summer. We spent nearly every day just playing with Terry and Sophia, reading, drinking coffee, and visiting friends and family. Every other day Terry and I went on a walk around the mountain that was nearly four miles long...and he made it on his own nearly every time! He is so tough...and so adventurous and naturally curious that we're just inseparable. And Sophie is already turning out to be the same way (she's 15 months old).

Terry is a nut for the garden so he and grandpa worked there each day. It was beautiful being

with family and being able to wind down. Our dear friends, Anthony and Annette, visited several times and we went down to Beirut for lunches and dinners with them as well. Back in 2000, they were on a European coffeehouse tour with me and later introduced me to their friend, Carla...who became my wifeJ. Not that long ago we were all single and now, in what seems the blink of an eye, we have 9 children between us...5 of them @ four years old! It is surreal...we used to have intimate dinners they are like a school lunch room, and we love every second of it

Normy joined us near the end of our trip to do some training with Anthony's roasting staffand it was a blast to show him around Lebanon. We sat on the balcony of the 100+ year old house where you can see the sea shore in Beirut. We studied the bridge nearby on the road to Damascus. We talked about it and agreed that it was like a metaphor for how complex the world has become. During the war a couple of summers ago, the Israeli's bombed it to stop the Syrian's from shipping arms in to support Hezbollah, who had attacked Israel from Southern Lebanon. It was built with U.S. dollars by an Italian company; it is now being rebuilt with US dollars by local companies. And all the Lebanese wanted (the majority of them) was to live in peace and have their normal lives. But they are caught in the crossfire in a volatile area of the world.

In addition to a couple of dozen past issues of The New Yorker, I read the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Tribes, by Seth Godin. I started The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley, a book about Teddy Roosevelt, and have to admit that I am still working on it. It is a great read, but a hefty one. I'd recommend all three of them; the first two can be read in a weekend or two quite easily.

The trip is right around 27 hours or so and both kids did so well. We had many passengers and flight attendants compliment us on how well behaved they were and how well that they travel. Carla and I laughed because the first couple of times folks had approached us, we were sure that it was to complain about them. But they already have 11 international trips between them and it's something that they view as normal...but we still feel blessed. They both continue with their Arabic and English and are both outgoing and love life.

Major Happenings
We returned to a whirlwind of activity. The expansion of The Roasterie Café was nearly complete and the remodel inside had begun. It is really beautiful and if you haven't been by, we sure hope you'll come check it out soon. The biggest complaint since we've opened is "there are not enough places to sit down". We should gain at least 30-35 seats and the layout is much, much more efficient. Paul Dorrell of Leopold Gallery has done a tremendous job with original art for the Café and also hooked us up with Matt Kirby, an accomplished sculptor from Lawrence, who built a custom, coffee cup bike rack out of stainless steel. It is beautiful...true art and has been filled up since it was installed. We'll nearly triple the amount of space for art inside when we're finished.

We are also in the finishing touches of a new website. It's more complex...and more expensiveL than the previous three sites put together but I guess that's a reflection of the times and our collective expectations. We tried to make it as easy and informative as possible and the early feedback has been really positive and exciting. We hope you'll check it out and let us know if you have any feedback for us. We are still tweaking it and will continue to improve it on a daily basis. Check out our specials and I won't list them here.

We hooked up with the Airline History Museum (near and dear to Normy's and my heart) and were able to take several hundred photos of the DC3 airplane. We also went out to the country and shot photos of a beautiful Airstream and you'll be seeing a lot of both of these icons very soonJ, with our new designs.

Green Machine
Last week we were talking about carbon footprints, recycling and getting the word out that we need help with a couple of issues. For example, we've been told several times that we cannot recycle our paper cups at the Café because they have coffee residue. This seems bogus and lame...but the fact is, we haven't been able to recycle them. We also generate a lot of chaff from our roasters that is great for compost. We have some people taking some for their garden and I take the rest to our little farm, but we could give a lot more away to gardeners. It is very light, mixes easily, and smells great! We've added information to our new website about what we've done, are in the process of doing, and what we're still working on. We sure invite your suggestions and assistance.

I recounted in this conversation about how we recycled everything...everything while growing up. We used brown grocery sacks for book covers; we lined our wastepaper baskets with newspapers. We had glass bottles of milk delivered to our house for years...then we'd take either the wagon or toboggan to the store when the home delivery ended (11 gallons a week). When friends would mention a dishwasher to my mom, she'd say "Why do I need one, I have ten of them!" We did dishes by hand our entire childhoods. Standing in front of the refrigerator for too long with the door open was a surefire way to get cracked upside the head! And I honestly don't remember ever running out of hot water, even with ten kids and a 40 gallon water heater. We took "Navy" showers, as my mom called them. None of it seemed or felt like duress; and it still doesn't today.

Normy and I were raised in much the same way back in Iowa and we're going back to many of those ways; Normy would argue that I never changed...that I'm as frugal as I was then. But it feels good...and it's good for our children's world...and its good business.

A couple of weeks ago I heard Fr. Curran, the President of Park University, speak on campus. He spoke about the Jesuit motto "Men and women for and with others" and we discussed the Jesuit traditions. No matter what faith one is, how could you not be ‘for' that? This really struck me that day, this message if you will, with its honest beauty and simplicity. Fr. Curran is a wonderful speaker and beyond engaging and speaks with such clarity. The older I get the more spiritual I feel and the less "religious". And the more I travel, the more complexity I see, the more I see the need for "Men and women for others".

He spoke about discernment and the absence of judgment and how we can each do our part to change the world. This validated the work that we are doing in the communities that we share, both here and at origin. There are a great many people, through no fault of their own, who need assistance. Our model is based on the idea of helping people through teaching them ‘how to fish', vs. ‘giving them food'. We are very keen on this.

Finally, another point that Father made with reference to university improvements was the"tension between the already and the not-yet". This also resonated with me and made me think of one of my favorite books of all time, Good to Great. We are in this tension that Fr. Spoke of...a very healthy tension. It's all about continuous improvement and focusing on what you do best. We have grown a lot over the years and I felt our culture changing over the last few years; and not necessarily for the better. So we set about getting back to our roots, focusing on what is important, and being the best in the world at it. We achieved ISO 9001 certification, formed teams, flattened the already pretty flat company, and reaffirmed our mission:

To find the best coffee that we can find on the planet.

To roast it the best way known to mankind.

To deliver it to the customers as fast as is humanly possible.

This is where this "bus" is headed; and that tension that Fr. spoke of is helping us get our bus in order with respect to the right folks on it and the right folks in the right seats.

On October 10th, Terry's 4 yr. birthday, Paul Massard, our new Coffee Hunter and I, took off for a drive to Panama. Paul has been with us for about six months and is the godson of one of my best friends. He interned with coffee companies for two summers while getting his masters in finance and fell in love with coffee. Once Salim introduced him to us, we all fell in love with him. We brought him to town and basically did a "Hardball" series of tests and interviews with him. Normy gave him a barrage of sensory evaluation tests and Nathan sent him through a litany of financial, mathematical, operational and other quizzes and tests. We had hours of discussions about culture, core values, performance, etc. and did our best to either attract him or scare him off; and we attracted him.

Paul is working with Normy in our green coffee department and will spend a great deal of his time at origin. For many years I did about 12 trips a year and now do around 6; Paul will do those and many more. In thinking about his training, I really wanted to do an ‘immersion' type of training where he would see the entire coffee ‘chain' in a short amount of time. So, I reprised the trip I did 7 years ago but this time with Paul in a Toyota Tundra, nicknamed The White Knight by Paul (you can read his blogs and see lots of photos on our website

This time, however, we only had 11 days to cover the 4,000+ miles and what would be 14 border crossings covering 8 countries. Several university board meetings bookended the front end and the need to witness Notre Dame spank Boston College in South Bend provided the other bookend. So, Paul did all the planning on this end and we got our ducks in line.

Our dear friend and coffee miller/grower/producer/partner Grace Mena from Costa Rica decided to join us and was instrumental in planning the trip. She met us in Vera Cruz, Mexico and we visited farms, mills, coffee research facilities, etc. along the way. Each day was early and long, but simply a once in a lifetime experience. The look on people's faces when we drove up was priceless; for some it was the second time I car from the US, and now they totally think I'm nuts. But it was so bountiful in terms of what we learned; it far and away exceeded our expectations. We shared key learnings with farmers along the way; I'd visited farms in several countries on a single trip many times before. But never this many farms in 7 different countries in such a compact amount of time. It was just such a great learning experience for Paul...for all of us; and a double blessing to be able to share so much diverse acquired know-how along the way with all of the farmers.

Seven years ago we were in the middle of a severe coffee crisis with prices at all time lows. Many farmers were simply walking off of their farms and abandoning them. The coffee market was at $.47/lb. and it cost nearly double that to break even; so why even bother picking it? Every pound picked could result in another significant loss; it was depressing.

While the situation is much better today, it's still just an incredibly hard life in that it takes such an immense amount of work, just to break even. The farmers selling to specialty roasters like ours are doing much better but still, all together, Specialty Coffee only represents about 16-17% of the market. The remaining 83% of the coffee is low-priced commercial coffee, which at best supports subsistence living, at best. I don't have time in this letter to go into all the detail but I will in an upcoming letter and we'll be posting lots of additional information on our website, complete with ways in which folks can help out, if they choose to.

Arriving in Costa Rica was like coming home! The scenery, scents, countryside all made me anxious to get to my host families house. When I left in 1979, my host mother gave me a key to the house (very, very prized possession in those days) and told me to "just come back; don't call, just come back and let yourself in". I returned dozens of times but never unannounced. This time, I thought I would. So, we dropped Grace off (more like dumpedJ) and Paul and I drove up to the house, got out and knocked. It was about 10:30 P.M. and all the lights came on...then there was pandemonium! It was absolutely joyous! The surprise of all surprises. We visited, ate and had lots of fun and decided that my 11 year old niece would finish the last leg with us, to Panama and back. So, at 5:00 A.M. the next morning we were back up and off to San Jose to get Grace. We visited farms and mills along the way and made it to Boquete, in Panama, that evening. Our dear friend and coffee grower, Norberto Suarez, met us and planned the next day's visits. Norberto has been our coffee partner for several years and his family has been growers for three generations. Like Grace, he is passionate, determined, all about total quality and continuous improvement...and a ton of fun to be with. It was sad to say goodbye.

We visited more farms in the Volcan area of Panama and then again in Costa Rica on the way back to my host family. We arrived around 9:00 P.M. and were up again by 6:00 for the trip back to KC. One of Grace's staff met us at the airport and two hours later the "white knight" was in a container heading back to KC.

The Holy Grail
Two days later we were off to Chicago for the Notre Dame game. Paul, Nathan and I took Terry and had a great weekend. Terry's cheering "GO IRISH" lit up our section, hotel, shuttle bus and plane for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully we won and Terry let the world know about itJ.

End this novel!
There are dozens of other exciting things that we're doing, promotions and new staff that I want to tell you about. But, I'm already over my allotted space so I'll cover this in my next letter. We're doing a much better job now in marketing and Sara and Zach are doing a great job of posting what we're up to on our website. You can follow our twitters and blogs as well. The Airstream is making lots of fun visits...and it could come to your office with coffee for up to 1,000 of your friends if you like? Check out the website and follow along.

Until then, thank you big time for your confidence and support. We never take it for granted and always want to have a ‘game day tension' with respect to serving you and being attentive. We all want to hear from you and especially if you have any suggestions or ideas on how we can improve what we do or better serve our communities. Godspeed.


Danny O'Neill
Bean Baron

P.S. Join us for a cupping and opportunity to build your own personal blend this Sunday at Blue Stem. We have room for only 5 more :(!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 5

Day 12
We woke up this morning and for some reason Danny’s phone said that it was 6:45 and we were supposed to meet grace at Deli Café for a 7am meeting. We rushed out of the room to see Mami a little puzzled. When Danny asked her why she hadn’t woken us up at 6:00 as she was supposed to, she looked at her watch and said, “Well, it’s only 5:45. I still have some time.” We were relieved that we were not late and sat down to enjoy a cup of our Organic Sumatra while Mami made us some eggs.

We showered and changed and headed out to meet Grace and Nick at Deli Café. Maria Elena, Danny’s niece, also accompanied us on this part of the trip. We got to Deli Café with time to spare, and as we arrived Don William had some coffee that he had just roasted for us try and gave us some for the rest of our trip. We picked up Grace and followed Nick to the Micro mill that we were visiting in the Fraigles region of Costa Rica. It was about an hour and a half drive from San Jose, but man, was it beautiful! We went through small towns, up and down some mountains, and we finally arrived at 1600 meters. The mill was great, it was the first micro mill that I had seen and it was so cute. Everything was just like the other mills that we had visited, only a lot smaller. They take the ripe cherries and run them though a demucilager, and then they go right onto the drying patio-- no water, no fermentation process, very simple, clean and efficient. They also had prepared some coffee as well as a very large breakfast for us to eat. Everything was great and freshly- prepared. After spending some more time with them discussing our procedures on Micro lots and how we are excited to bring more unique offerings to our customers, we were on our way to the Panamanian border. It was about a 5 hour drive to the border through a road called Cerra Del Muerte, translation: Mountains of death. It is so winding and steep that there have been a lot of accidents on this stretch of road. We went from sea level to about 3000 meters and back down, so our ears were popping the whole way. Once we reached the border we were greeted by Cesar from Natures Best, who helped us get everything we needed in order, but again it was another hassle getting all the right paperwork and signatures. We again went from window to window to window, presenting every document we needed. After about an hour and half we were good to go, and started our drive to Boquete. It was a relatively short drive, about an hour and change, but again we went from sea level up to 1500 meters. Once we turned on the main road to Boquete it was a steady incline all the way up. We arrived and checked into our hotel, which was beautiful and had a great little river running behind it. We only had a few minutes at the hotel before we left to meet Norberto Suarez for dinner. We had decided on a Peruvian restaurant where Danny had been before, and it was a great choice. The food was great and the atmosphere brought on good conversation. We talked about the coffee market, the harvest in Panama as well as Costa Rica and the new procedures that they were working on to continually improve the quality of the coffee. After a long dinner we retired to our rooms for some much needed rest.

We were picked up the next morning by Norberto in his new Ford F550. This thing was huge. He took us to his office and we picked up some freshly made pastries to accompany the coffee that Danny had made in the room earlier that morning. After his office, he took us up to see one of the farms that was by his house. It was crazy: the trees had green and red cherries and the farm was still flowering. After a short drive around, we went to Norberto’s house for a great espresso made from a straight Panama. It was sweet and buttery and good. After a small discussion we were off to meet Grace, Cesar and Maria Elena at Bouquet’s Finest, benefio, where they process the Don Pepe and other recognized coffees of Panama. After a short tour and potty break, we were off to the Volcan region of Panama; just on the other side of the volcano, about 15 miles as the crow flies, but an hour and change drive as there is no road that cuts through the mountain range. Once we arrived we went to visit the Finca de Canteras and met Jackie Mercer , the owner & operator. We toured her beautiful farm and then her wet and dry mills, and had an interesting discussion on how she decided that she wanted to own a coffee farm. After some coffee and freshly made snacks we were on our way to see the neighboring farm, Finca Florentina. The entrance was breathtaking: there was a gigantic canopy of trees that left only a small little pass for us to go though. Once there we got to meet the people who are in charge of making everything happen. We got a small walking tour of the farm-- which I loved-- and got to see the natural spring river where it starts from the ground. We were also given a tour of the dry and wet mills, and like every other farm everything was clean and neat. After our short visit-- which we all wished it could have been longer-- we were on our way to cross the border and have a lunch that we were already 2 hours late for in San Vito: our car hood wouldn’t close properly and we had to fix it with some “Latin intuition.”

It was a little more than an hour and a half to the border, and this time the border crossing was great: 20 minutes! I don’t know if it was the rain that kept all the people away or what, but it was great. Everyone was nice and everything worked out very, very well. After another short drive we were in San Vito and very, very late. However, we were still there and had time for a quick lunch and great discussion about the San Vito coffee region. We had to cut our visit short, as we had a long drive back to San Jose to get our things in order for the shipping of the car and our flight back to the States early that next morning. The drive back seemed really short and we made great time thanks to Danny’s great driving skills. Once back at Mami’s house we unloaded everything from the truck and made sure that we weren’t leaving anything behind. Once we were all packed up, though, we had to put some random things back into the truck hoping that they wouldn’t get stolen during the shipment back. It was late into the night when we finally got to bed and again had an early wake up to get ourselves to the airport.

Then next morning we were both very sad that our adventure had come to an end. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare as we assumed that we would have to wait in long lines as we had done every day prior. But, much to our surprise the airport seemed empty. Once we boarded our flight the adventure was officially over and we were on our way back to Kansas City. I would like to end by thanking Grace Mena for helping set up this great trip, as well as for her company. She is a genuine person who is fun has a great attitude and commands everyone’s respect when she walks into any situation, be it on a small farm or in a large beneficio. I would also like to thank all of the people who took time out of their busy schedules to accommodate Danny and I and show us around your beautiful farms and mills.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 4

Day 10
The next morning we awoke again to the sound of the singing birds as well as the water rushing below us. We all took turns using the bathroom, as there were 4 guys and only one shower. After a short while we were served a regular Guatemalan breakfast of beans and eggs, which is still slightly weird but nonetheless very, very good.

We then went out on these pretty sweet looking jeeps that had been turned into farm buggies. We went around seeing a smaller version of the Bourbon that they had planted which they called, Bourbon enano. This is because the plant is much smaller than the regular Bourbon and gives the same yields. They also prefer it because the people who work on their farm are a little vertically challenged, and it’s easier for them to reach every branch. We also saw a variety of tree they call Elite 14. It’s very different because the coffee cherry turns orange when it matures instead of the usual red. We went around for about an hour and a half looking at all the trees on the farm as we made our way up to the lookout tower. At 1660 meters above sea level it was sure to be a fantastic view. However, we ran into some problems when one of the buggies couldn't make it up the mountain because it kept on getting stuck in the mud. We all piled into one of them and continued on the journey. Because of our little mishap, though, by the time we made it up to the lookout tower we were too late and the clouds had already started to form, and all we could see in any direction was fog. After a refreshing drink and news that we had missed an earthquake by just a few hours the day before we were on our way back down to view the wet and dry mills.

The mills were very standard to what we had seen in Mexico and were very traditional and very, very clean. After the tour we had a few minutes before lunch was served to get everything in order for our departure. I took that time to lay in a beautiful hammock as everyone was busy getting ready. After lunch we were off to Antigua, Guatemala. It was a relatively short and beautiful drive and we arrived at a farm named Finca Retana. It was amazing, with beautiful macadamia trees lining the street and coffee growing right behind it. We were greeted by the owner, Fernando Cofino, and instantly he and Danny hit it off, as he had a vintage BMW motorcycle sitting in his garage. It also happens that he went to school just 45 minutes outside of Kansas City. He also had the same truck that we were driving as well as the same BMW motorcycle that Danny has… kind of random. So, after a short tour of the farm and seeing some beautiful plants, as well as some that were dying of some sort of root system disease, we were taken back to his home for coffee. There, he showed us some photos of what the farm used to look like and what happens to the coffee trees just a few hours after a freeze-- man, was that depressing! After some more conversation we were off to our hotel and get ready for a meeting that Grace had with some of the women from Women In Coffee.

We went to a great little restaurant on the main street and had some great local stuffed hot peppers, as well as some more local beverages. After dinner Estuardo took us to the Hotel Santo Domingo, which was a hotel transformed from an old monastery. It was definitely an amazing sight to see. It was like walking through time: the old ruins were still standing from who knows when, and the church was absolutely breathtaking. After walking though the Hotel Santo Domingo we then went back to our hotel and everyone went to bed.

The next morning we woke up pretty early and had breakfast at our hotel-- again eggs and beans-- and were off the the the Beneficio Palin, where Cafcom does a lot of its processing. On the way we were surprised to see that the volcano we were driving by was erupting. There was a huge cloud of smoke billowing from the peak. It was pretty cool to see and we stopped to take some photos. After driving an hour or more we made it to the beneficio where we were treated to a cupping and given a tour of the facilities. Again everything was spotless and clean. It was also the first time that i got to see the electronic sorters and see how they work. Everything there was a great learning experience.

After we were done we were taken to meet the bodyguards that would escort us to the border. It was Comendante or Capitan as I called him and the little rotund man named Daniel. We were all very friendly with each other, much more than the last time we had seen them. I don't know if it was because we had a bag of open candy that we had given to the kids at the school earlier, but Daniel was much happier to be in the car this time than he was last time.

During our drive we stopped and had lunch at this little roadside stand. We again had the usual lunch fare: grilled meats, beans, guacamole, lots and lots of spicy sauces. This time they tricked me into piling on this green sauce that was supposedly “not too spicy,” and after they saw my face after the first bite, they both bust into laughter. my mouth was on fire for at least 45 minutes after that bite. Even the hard candy that the waiter brought didn't help. After another hour or so in the car we were at the El Salvador boarder. It was not a hassle at all getting out of Guatemala, but getting the car import permit was definitely not fun. I waited in line for about 50 minutes before someone talked to me, then I waited another 30 minutes while they did the paperwork and went through my passport about 10 times. They said that they didn't need my resident card, but one girl asked if i was a US resident , even after I had already told her three times that I was. We finally got everything in order and then were on our way… or so we thought. When we presented the documents to the guy at the gate and he said that we had to go back and get some other stamp. I’m not sure if he was looking for a bribe, because we had the stamp and he still insisted that we needed it even after we showed it to him. He then called someone on his little radio and made us wait 10 minutes, then came and told us that we could go.

After a short drive we went to the office of Cofizinas and met Terasa and Marcos Batres. We were given a tour of their dry mill and then were treated to another cupping. It was great: 2 cuppings with 2 professional cuppers in one day! After the cupping we were taken to the Farm called Teresa 3, on the way there I rode with Marcus. The whole time I was wondering why the heck the car door weighed so much. Once we got to the farm he told me that the vehicle was bulletproof and that just a few months back someone had put 100 bullets into his car. I guess that would have been good to know before I got into the car with this guy, but nonetheless it was fine.

When we got there we were blown away by how amazing this place was. The whole farm and wet mill is run by geothermal energy, and they have these amazing hot springs as well as Central America’s biggest geyser. The farm had 3 houses and 7 pools that were all at different temperatures to cool the water. One was ridiculously hot and almost boiling, but the ones at the end were more like hot tubs. After putting everything in our room we went down to the main house where we had some drinks and appetizers before we all got our bathing suits on and went into one of the pools. Danny and I went into the wussy pool, which was still pretty hot. After about an hour or so in the pool and a few more drinks, dinner was served, we had an amazing lasagna with an even better salad. After dinner we sat and talked some more about the coffee business of El Salvador and how it had changed as well as the coffee market itself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 3

Day 6

Yesterday morning began bright and early with a wake up call to tour the farm Argovia with Bruno. It was a beautiful place that we were given the full tour of in an old, open sided, Jeep. We were driven up the mountain and saw all the coffee varieties they had; I even got to see my first robusta plant! After we were finished in the fields, we were taken to the farm’s school house where all the children ran out to greet us. They were very friendly and each one came up and hugged without reservations. We told them we had some schools supplies for them and the teacher was more than thrilled. After the visit to the school, we went back up the the house and had a great breakfast. We were in a slight hurry because we were to meet our body guards at the Guatemala boarder at noon and had a 90 minute drive to get there. Once we said our goodbyes we were off...followed by a short detour to a local cafe so Danny could load up on Mexican chocolates.

Once at the boarder everything was going great until we found out we needed to cancel our vehicle import sticker Nuevo Mexico, which was 30 minutes back into Mexico. So, we hired a little guide to get us there faster. He was a young man from Guatemala, who works on the boarder helping people get through faster and telling them what they need or are missing before they begin the customs process. Once we got back after canceling the permit, we were greeted by our 2 body guards, an older man who they called “Comendante” and a short rotund man who does not strike you as a bodyguard. After a little more hassle in getting our papers in order to import the car we were on our way; Following the older man’s car, while the short man rode with us. I started talking to him about his job, but he wasn't really into making conversation. Until I pulled out a chocolate bar that is...then he automatically became my friend. He had been in the security business for 4 years after going through lots of training. He also said that he had never shot anyone but has had to pull his gun out a few times. During our conversation he received a phone call from Comandante, saying that there was a suspicious car following us and that we should pass him to see what the car would do. Once Danny heard this he took off like a bat out of hell, passing him and a bunch of other cars. For a short time it looked like we were being followed, as the other car kept up with us, but after a few minutes it turned off and I could once again breath easily. After this i was on my toes and every time our guy would turn around and look behind us, i would as well. He then told me that he was really nervous because he had left his gun in the other car and that when people see cars with U.S. license plates that’s when the trouble might start.

After continuing on the road to the farm we decided to stop for a late lunch. It was a butcher shop that would also cook the meat for you and man was it good. I was slightly skeptical because there were no freezers, ice or refrigerators and all the meat was hanging on hooks right in the open...but it was amazing. The torillas were made right there and the guacamole that came with it was incredible. After eating way more than we should have, we were again on our way. About 20 minutes after lunch we hit a long string of traffic. It was raining pretty hard and what we thought would be another hour to the farm turned into 2.5 hours. Finally arriving at the farm we met with Estuardo Erales, Juan Carlos Lantzendorffer and Mario Castillo, who all work for Cafcom. We then sat around and had a few drinks before having a great dinner of tortilla lasagna...which was followed by a few more drinks. Even though it was a slightly stressful day, it was an awesome adventure. How often are you going to have your own body guards and constantly worry you’re being followed?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 2

Day 5
So, today we woke up somewhat early and started our drive from Tuxtla, Mexico down to the Chiapas growing region. It was about a 5 hour drive and we experienced 3 military stops on the way to Tapachula, Mexico, which is right next to the boarder from Guatemala. From there we drove up the Coffee Trail for about an hour. This was a beautiful drive in the mountains past amazing waterfalls and streams, and through small villages where kids were just getting out of school and crowding the streets. We arrived at Finca Argovia and got to relax a little as we waited for Bruno Giesmann to come and meet us. During this time we went to our little cabin, and while Danny made some coffee I went on a little exploration to find some nice ripe red coffee cherries to taste.

Once I got back we sat out on the back porch of the cabin and I was overwhelmed by the scenery. It was breathtaking! The sounds of the rushing stream, the thunder as the daily storms rolled down the mountain, and the birds singing mixed with the amazing beauty of the landscape. This farm is 100% organic, but also has a large flower production, which they use as an additional source of income. It’s also a great way to enrich the soil for future coffee trees to be planted.

After we spent some time taking in the beauty and talking, we decided that it was best to go and meet Grace at the restaurant. As we waited for Bruno, we had some beverages and the chef made us some amazing traditional mexican appetizers. Once we were done with those, Bruno showed up and gave us a tour of the processing facility. Man, was it well as cool! They had machinery that was over 100 years old that was still in daily use, and all of the electricity for the processing is generated by water. The smell of the coffee being processed and dried is a clear indication that you’re on a coffee farm, and I seem to have grown to like it. Once we were done asking about a million questions we headed back to the restaurant for another great meal, as well as some great coffee conversation.

It’s 6 am now, and we’re getting ready early so that we may tour the farm completely and still be at the Mexican boarder to meet our bodyguards on time. I am a little nervous after some of the stories that were told at dinner, but Danny and Grace seem to think that everything is fine. The fact that we will have a bodyguard with us eases my nerves slightly, though. The adventure continues...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Roasterie's Travels: Destination Panama - Part 1

Day 1
Well, the first day was slightly nondescript. Left Kansas city at 7 am and arrived in Laredo, TX (2 miles) from the border at 10 pm. 916 miles down, 2500 to go...woohoo! Tomorrow we will cross the Mexican border and drive to Jalapa, Mexico. We will be meeting Grace Mena from Natures Best Coffee and Dr. Eduardo Assad Azuara the President of Cafe de Vera Cruz. We’ll then drive to Vera Cruz with Grace and she will be accompanying us on the rest of our journey.

Day 3
I can say that it has already been a crazy and funny adventure. We left Laredo, TX yesterday at around 7:00am and thought we would make it to Vera Cruz by 5:00pm to meet with Grace Mana and Dr Eduardo Assad Azuara. But, much to our surprise (and not- so-great navigational skills) we ended up getting lost on the way and not meeting up with Grace until 11:00pm. The drive was beautiful...albeit slightly crazy. The Mexicans are in love with speed bumps and they have perfected the art of camouflaging them to blend in with the road. So, we would be driving at 65-70mph and then come up on a speed bump that would send the car flying. We also believe that the people in this town think of speed bumps like someone coming from a small town thinks of stoplights: the more you have, the cooler your town. There would be small little towns that would ordinarily take 2 minutes to go through, but would have 12 speed bumps within 1 kilometer. So, our drive took us through Monterrey to Ciudad Victoria, then over to Tampico and then South to Vera Cruz. After after that debacle, and some confusion as to where we were actually going to meet up with Grace, we finally found her at 11:00pm. Then, since Danny and I hadn't eaten we decided to stop and have some of the local specialties, which I think were pretty good, but very very spicy. We finally made it to our hotel after 2 days of driving, covering more than 1500 miles...only to find that they had given us a room with one small bed. After some slight complaining we were given a room with 2 beds and finally got some sleep.

The next day we had breakfast with Dr Azuara, whom we missed dinner with the day before. He was a pretty smart guy; a surgeon who left his practice and bought a coffee farm, and is now the President of the Consejo Regulador del Cafe de Vera Cruz, which is basically an organization similar to what Champagne France has to protect the name “Champagne.” It also requires that anything coming out of the region must meet some sort of quality qualifications. We had a nice breakfast discussing all things coffee, then were taken to their offices and given a presentation on exactly what they are trying to do as an organization. This includes increasing the public knowledge about the coffees of Vera Cruz as well as making sure that all of the producers are producing a quality products that meets the expectations of a clean cup as well as other variables.

Once the presentation was finished, we were invited to cup some of the coffees that had been certified from the previous year. After that, we were taken to one of the first farms that had their coffee certified by this organization. The farm was beautiful, the trees were holding lots of green cherries and were all in perfect little rows. After a quick tour we were then taken to the drying and holding facility. There we got to see how their size-sorter worked, as well as got to taste some of their coffees. We even got to take some samples with us so we can cup them when we get back. After the visit to the farm was over, we began what was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive to the next town of Tuxtla. Well, as we have come to know so well, the signs that give you the distances seem to lie. We would see one sign saying that we only had 200km left, then after an hour of doing 110 k/hr we would see another that would say that we had 180km left, then again after 5 min we would see one that would say 320km to our destination. So what was supposedly a 3.5 hour drive took us 5.5 hours!

During this time we were stopped by armed military personnel and police officers 2 times where they checked the car for drugs and guns. Then at one gas station we pulled into, the attendant started to pump the gas just like they have done throughout this trip, but once he was done pumping he informed us that they don't take credit cards or dollars and it’s our luck that we are all out of Mexican pesos. After a 10 minute argument on what we could do --either pay in dollars or call the police-- we come to an agreement that we would drive the attendant to an ATM so that we could take pesos out and then pay for our gas. During all of this his two buddies were following us in some little car. He took us to this ATM where there are no street lights and during this whole time I was a little nervous thinking we’re in some tiny little town in Mexico and there are these 2 guys in a little car and I can see that they are drinking and Danny is inside this phone booth ATM. Meanwhile he was taking his time in there figuring everything out, while I was trying to tell him to hurry because I thought we were about to get mugged! But, finally everything worked out well and we made it to the hotel safely.

Tomorrow we are off to Chiapas to visit another farm meet some more great people and learn some more about coffee. Stay tuned...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Danny's Newsletter

Dear Roasterie Friends and Family, August 24, 2009

Wow, another summer has zoomed by! I hope it’s been a great one for all of you. For us, it’s been the best of our lives. We’ve had monstrous amounts of rain and everything is green and lush; incredibly cool weather so we’ve spent most of our time outside and the kids have us looking forward to every minute that we spend with them. August has seen some of the best weather of the year…and we just feel grateful to have all of this lushness around us. Growing up in Iowa always leaves me being nervous with feelings of scarceness when it’s dry…no such worries this year.

Okay, I have exactly 36 minutes to pound this out so it could be a record in terms of brevity :). Hold onto your hats and here we go!

Of course, it all begins and ends with the kids. My combined love of coffee, ice cream, adventure, chocolate, motorcycles and internal combustion engines doesn’t come close to my love of being a dad. I cherish every second and Carla and I still argue over who gets to put them down, give them baths, get them up, etc. I am as content as one could dream of being and I could go the rest of my life without another thing to be grateful for.

Terry started his second year of preschool at St. Peter’s and he’s also riding cycles with me…carefully. He absolutely loves it and last weekend we covered over 200 miles. He loves school, people, reading, and languages…life. Sophia is the same way but with a true ornery streak (like her mother :). You can look at her face and see it…and it’s true joy. Unfortunately, she’s the only early riser in the family so the rest of us are walking around like zombies and she’s like the little Energizer rabbit going a hundred miles an hour. She just turned one, started walking and is picking up 3 languages even faster than Terry. She loves being a daredevil and I can’t drive down the trails in the Mule fast enough for either her or Terry; they both crave speed…it’s in their DNA :).

Roasterie Happenings
This is going to be a whirlwind as we have so many things going on that I don’t have either the time or space to go through them all. Last weekend I told a friend that ‘they’re working me like a rented mule’, like the farmers in Iowa used to say. But truthfully, we’ve not had as much going on since we started the company back in 1993; and there is no let up in sight.

The Café expansion is under budget and on time. The outside portion is finished and we’ve added about 20 seats. You can also reserve private meeting space now (just call 816-333-9700) and the garage doors really make a difference on beautiful days. We’ll completely remodel the inside beginning in September and have it all wrapped up in October. They have had a blockbuster year, setting records in every category and just earned Kansas City Magazine’s BEST COFFEESHOP IN KANSAS CITY :)! The staff was thrilled and they’ve worked so hard as a team to deliver the best possible service to their clients. You can tell how much they care and how much they love what they’re doing.

We will also begin a remodel of the roasting plant’s offices, café, cupping and training rooms. When we moved in, we basically placed our offices where the previous tenants had had theirs and worked around existing walls, etc. While the plant layout was extremely efficient, the customer pickup, café, etc. were cumbersome. It will all change so that customer pickups are a breeze, you’ll walk into a “Café” and basically have an unobstructed view all the way to the roasters. The Café, training department and cupping rooms will all be contiguous and right next to the front door.

I mentioned before that I felt like Rip Van Winkle as it relates to marketing and PR these past few years since the kids arrived. But, he’s awake Team Roasterie has been extremely busy. Our exciting new product called “MyBlend” was featured in Oprah’s magazine last month and that really caused a huge increase in sales. It also led to a segment on the morning show of NBC…which further spiked sales. And this made us think of the idea of offering MyBlend specials to companies for their holiday gifts. Please just let us know if you are interested…it’s simple, affordable, effective…and very fun. Its available now on our website

Speaking of websites, our friends at Two West have really knocked it out of the park! We’ve completely redesigned everything and it is going to be so much easier to use. It was due to launch on June 30th but we added a significant amount of new products and services (wait till you see our new Flight School) and forced ourselves to wait and launch it all at the same time on August 30th. They have really done an extraordinary job and I hope you all check it out. And for the holidays, we love custom…custom blends, labels, gifts, etc. If you don’t see exactly what you want, just let us know and we’ll make it happen for you.

We’ve also redesigned our packaging and you’ll see this begin to roll out around the holidays. Thursday night, just before the weekend air show, we took pictures of the DC3 at the Airline History Museum to use in all of our marketing and packaging. We’ll make a donation to them instead of purchasing a stock photo and further cement a relationship that began when Normy and I joined back in 1996. And by the way, if you have not been to the museum lately, you need to go. It is one of Kansas City’s most unique attractions and it’s completely run by volunteers as passionate about what they do as we are about coffee.

We had a great trip to Peru around the end of June and discovered some awesome new coffees. It was actually my first trip and so exciting to have a brand new adventure. You’ll be seeing and hearing more about Peru in the coming year.

Paul (our Coffee Hunter) and I will leave on our Panama trip in October. We are going to visit coffee farms from Chiapas to Panama…in at least seven countries. It is going to be a great way to introduce Paul to our wonderful growing partners and give him a true appreciation of the relationship we’ve had with these folks over the last 15+ years. I took 28 days the last time I drove there but we’re going to do it in 13 days…have to get back in time to go see Notre Dame spank Boston College :).

Filter Fresh, one of our office coffee partners, approached us with a great idea; basically a “Coffee for Clunkers”. We thought it would be a lot of fun so we’re putting together a program as we speak where you’ll be able to upgrade your coffee brewing equipment as well as get rid of that nasty coffee that you might have laying around :). We’ll make a $10/case donation to Harvesters…and it will be fun all the way around. If you are interested, just hit ‘reply’ and we can get you more information. Remember, there is no law that says you have to drink nasty coffee in an office setting!!! Your staff…your customers are worth another $.02 a cup to drink some of best coffee on the planet! It’s the least expensive, most impactful employee benefit that you’ll ever invest in.

Tomorrow we leave for our annual family vacation to visit Carla’s family in Lebanon. We are so excited and somewhat anxious; Sophia tends to scream…whether she’s happy or not…so we’re going to bring packets of coffee to bribe all of the surrounding passengers :). Before the kids, we used to throw a few bags together and pack in a couple of hours. Now, it’s been two weeks and we’re north of 6 bags and 400 pounds! And each year, my one allotted bag gets smaller and smaller. It’s about a 27 hour trip, door to door, and I’m praying that Sophia saves the screams until we get there :).

One of the reasons this trip will be so special is that Stormin’ Norman will be joining us in a couple of weeks. He’s going to train our partners at The Roaster but we’re going to show him around and let him see the nightclubs that Beirut is so famous for :). Normy is such a history buff…it’s just going to be the trip of a lifetime for all of us.

As I mentioned, it’s been such an incredible summer. I hope that you all have had the same kind of storybook season. While we continue to work our tails off, it’s just been a blast to have so much going on in such dream-like weather. We are grateful for your support and continue to work like crazy to improve upon everything that we do. Continuous improvement is part of our daily mantra and we truly want to hear from you regarding ways to improve or new products or services to offer.

Thank you for being part of our journey. You’ve made it fun, challenging and rewarding…and we wouldn’t want it any other way. There are a number of other big projects and fun things that we’re building, but they are going to have to wait till next time. My time us up :).


Danny O’Neill
Bean Baron

P.S. I asked Dave Hermann, our Chief Coffee Officer, for ‘a couple of words’ about new coffee offerings…and he took a page from the O’Neill playbook…and used more than ‘a couple’ of words. But my my…they are some awesome new coffees and blends (try them iced). Just give us a call (816-931-4000) or go to If we get your order in the morning, your coffee will be roasted, packed and shipped the same day (nearly 100% of the time :)).

Our new reserve coffee is Tanzania Revuma
Coffee Profile:

Region: Ruvuma
District: Mbinga
Altitude: 1200 to 1800 meters
Soil: Volcanic Loam
Variety: Bourbon
Processing: Wet, sun dried.
Certification: Café practices.

From high up on the rural plateau of southwest Tanzania comes The Roasterie’s latest exclusive limited reserve coffee, Ruvuma of Tanzania. This coffee takes its name from remote yet acclaimed Ruvuma growing region. Here small producers have come together to actively increase the quality of their coffee production. Our exclusive micro lot comes from one of these quality minded producers. Pulped and fully-washed in order to maintain a clean and sweet flavor profile, our lot has then been impeccable graded to ensure only highest AA grade would make it to our roasters.

You will marvel at the bright candy sweet acidity of this coffee which fills each sip with light toasted almond, cinnamon and ginger. Rich peach and dried apricot flavors balance a medium full body that finishes long and clean

Other new blends include

1)Total Eclipse
Spectacular and exhilarating, a total eclipse is a rare phenomena witnessed by only a few. It’s this dark and unique beauty that has been captured in our new dark roast blend. Total eclipse is unbelievably smooth and balanced. A harmonious mix of ripe black berry and rich dark chocolate explodes on the palate like sweet truffle, reminiscent of the exact moment the moon and sun unite in the sky. The finish is long and lingering with a syrupy caramel tone that is both clean and sophisticated. This is truly a luscious dark blend, and you may just remember for a life time.

2) Autumn Harvest
This taste of autumn is sweet and full bodied with rich nutmeg & ginger flavors. It's the perfect coffee for those crisp fall evenings.
•Don't wait to try this seasonal creation; it will only be available now through October!

Coffee Review:

Rwanda Bufcoffee Nyarusiza: 90
Praised for its spicy aroma, balanced acidity and body with subtle hints of floral and chocolate

Arbor Day: 92
Praised for its crisp sweet-toned aroma, caramel, pineapple, nut, and a hint of aromatic wood in the softly balanced acidity and body.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I returned from a trip to Milwaukee last weekend and had the same thing happen that always happens, no matter where I’ve been: I fall more in love with Brookside.
A couple of weeks ago it happened upon my return from Peru. I usually love just about everywhere I go and usually end up saying something like “I could live here”. But once I land in KC and begin driving home, I’m always overrun with this feeling of gratitude and appreciation. I absolutely love it here! And the truth is we could live pretty much anywhere in the world that we wanted to.
Since 1991, Kansas City has been home and I’m reminded of how absolutely beautiful it is each spring. One forgets how many trees there are here (and why our power goes out so often :)) and how stunningly gorgeous they help make our city. And no matter how hot it gets in the summer, nearly every night is about as perfect as you could ever want.
This past Saturday when I arrived I took the kids and loaded them into the trailer, which I pull behind my bike. Terry insisted on tying up his wagon to the back of the trailer…and then putting his bike into the wagon! So there we went, down the trolley trail, much to the delight of all our fellow Brooksider's.
Which brings me to the point of the people: aside from being overly friendly, culturally engaged and aware, successful, fun, community oriented…they are about as unpretentious as one can be. Our baristas serve some of the most successful people in Kansas City, many times never knowing this…and this is exactly how they want it…which makes it doubly cool. No pretence, no airs…all good.
Come visit soon! :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Bean Hunter

Hi everyone. I’d like to introduce our new Coffee Hunter, Mr. Paul Massard, by posting his travel summary of our latest trip to Peru. Paul joined us this spring and you’ll be hearing lots more from him in the coming months and years.

Paul will have his own “Bean Hunter” blog on our new website in the near future. But for now, please read his interesting notes regarding Peru.

Thank you!

Our Visit to Lima by Paul Massard

Our trip started with worries that the Peruvian miners were going to be on strike and demonstrating by blockading the highly used streets in and out of Lima, but we got word the day we were to leave that the strike had been settled and the roads were free and clear to travel on, so we were on our way to continue our search for the best coffees in the world.
The trips began with Danny O’Neill, Ben Cohoon from the Arbor Day foundation and I catching a mid morning flight to Atlanta which would then connect to our 8 hour flight into Lima. Upon landing in Lima it seemed that we were just so ready to be there that everyone and everything was moving in slow motion. We joked that the other people on our plane were already at their hotels and had long gone to sleep, while we were still standing around the airport. After what seemed to be eternity waiting to clear customs and waiting for our luggage, we finally arrived at our Hotel close to 1 A.M. We had planned on meeting our host, in the lobby at 8 am to have a quick breakfast then catch our bus. We had planned this thinking that the bus to Chachamayo, the central coffee growing region of Peru, was leaving at 9:30. Once we got up and started preparing ourselves for the 10 hour bus ride we had ahead of us, we got a call from our host saying that somehow we were mistaken about the departure time and that the bus actually left Lima at 8:00 a.m. So, we rushed out the door and gave the cab driver the paper with the address that we had for the bus station. Apparently, much to our dismay Lima “supposedly” has three different bus stations which somehow also share the same address. After about 25 minutes in the cab, the cab driver looks again at the directions and realizes that he is taking us to the wrong one. At this point it is 5 min to 8 and he tells us that the bus station is about another 20 minutes back in the direction that we had just come from. At this point we were praying for a miracle and discussing other methods to get to get to our destination, if the bus had left before we would arrived there. When we finally got to the station we were not surprised to see that the bus had in fact left without us. But luckily the woman at the terminal was able to contact the bus and have it wait across town. When we finally reached the bus and saw that it was there and waiting for us we were all pretty relieved. The bus attendant told us that we had 20 minutes to roam around before the bus was to depart. We decide that after all this commotion, what we really needed was a cup of coffee. The coffee that we had was very different to anything that I have ever experienced; it was a mug of hot water and alongside came a small metal pitcher of coffee concentrate, which Danny figured was prepared in a sock. I will say that although it was different it was great to actually taste some Peruvian coffee. The bus ride to the Chachamayo was very scenic; as we went through three completely different climates. First, we went through very dry, desert like mountains and then climbed up to 15,000 feet where there were icicles on the side of the road and the pressure on your head and on your body from the altitude could definitely be felt. It also seemed that we could just reach out the window and touch the snow on the tops on the mountains, they seemed so close. Then the trip got interesting, we were going through winding roads with amazing views of waterfalls and jagged cliffs. At times it seemed that the back tires of the bus were going to just slide off the edge of the road and we would find ourselves on the wrong side of gravity. Once we made it safely into the town of Chachamayo the bus dropped everyone off and we decided that we would all go out for a nice dinner. After asking our very friendly and helpful hotel manager, Elmer, where his favorite place in town to go was, we were off to sample what Peru had to offer. After a crazy little auto rickshaw ride, that I will say was pretty darn crazy, we finally got to the restaurant. Which was a small outdoor place called the “Parrilla” with little tables covered by umbrellas. Once we were seated we ordered a variety of the local beers and all sampled each others to see if there was one that we preferred the most. As we were all starving at this point, Danny ordered an appetizer of what looked like tasty meat skewers on the menu. I looked at description and asked him if he knew what he had ordered. He looked at the menu and once he realized what it was he looked at me and we decided not to tell anyone until the dish arrived. What he had ordered was a trio of pig hearts, cow intestines and chicken livers. Once we all had a good laugh over it, we decided to go ahead and give it a try it. I will have to say, much to my surprise, that the heart was a little chewy but other than that everything was very tasty. After a great meal we all hopped in the auto rickshaws and prepared ourselves for another crazy ride back to the hotel, at this point I made the first mistake of not negotiating with the rickshaw driver on the fare before hand and we ended up paying almost 3 times what it had cost us to originally get from the hotel. But it was ok, after a small argument we decided that the fun of the argument was worth the extra dollar and paid them what they wanted.
The next day we all awoke early and were very excited because it was the first coffee day of the trip. All that traveling had finally paid off and we were in store for a great day. We started the day off meeting with the board members of the La Florida Coffee Cooperative. There, we were escorted into their “Mini Pentagon” and were treated to a great history lesson as well as a great discussion about their cooperative; which is made up of 1780 members, or separate farms, who of which 915 are specialty coffee producers. We discovered that 90 percent of their farms were Certified Organic as well as a large percentage of them also being Certified Shade Grown. We also talked a lot about how they are helping the communities in which their farming members live. By improving the infrastructure, setting up medical centers, running electricity, helping them source potable water, introducing micro financing and teaching classes to children as well as adults on the practices of sustainable coffee farming. We also talked about how they are seeing how their climate is changing and is affecting their crop. They believe that it is due to all the deforestation that has occurred in the area, we also talked well about how they were helping the farmers in their efforts to reforest their lands. After our wonderful chat and amazing cup of coffee we were off with Alberto our tour guide for the trip. After a wonderful and scenic hour long ride through the jungle we were finally at our first coffee farm and I will say that it was amazing. There, I got to taste my first coffee cherry, which I believe to be very similar to the taste of a juicy grape, but instead of chewing it, it’s much like hard candy where you have to suck on the beans to get the flavor. While at the farm, the owner, a German missionary who had traveled with his wife to Peru 15 years ago gave us a very nice tour of his farm as well as invited us into his home for an interesting cup of coffee as well as some interesting conversation. I’d say that we all thought that he had different views on coffee and was more interested in discussing the types of wood he had built his home and fences with. After we said our goodbyes we were on our way to the Finca San Lorenzo, when we arrived we were greeted by the farm owner a very nice Peruvian woman named Sonilda who was carrying her young daughter of 8 months. We must have caught them off guard because they were on their way to meet the rest of their family who were further up the mountain to cut firewood from a tree that had recently fallen. Once we spent some time on her farm and had the chance to take some pictures we gave them a ride up the mountain and we were off to visit the wet mill. This is where the farmers bring the coffee that they have harvested that day to be sold to the cooperative, so that it can be processed. We were told that work at the wet mill started at 5 in the afternoon and went well into the morning. As we looked around I was surprised as to how clean everything was. We also had a chance to look around and see their huge production in regards to the fermentation tanks, the machinery they use to separate the different qualities of beans, how they classify them then, sort the beans as they are processed as well as how they make the organic compost with these little tiny worms. We were then taken into the small town next to the mill and up to the school house where the cooperative was holding its sustainable farming classes. Once there, we were able to talk to some of the students, some who had traveled up to 25 plus hours by bus to be there. As well as take some pictures and get a tour of their chicken coop and to our surprise their Guinea pig farm. This is when we were all informed that they don’t consider these little guys to be pets but as tasty little dishes. After the tour Alberto took us back to town where we decided to have dinner. I will say that I was a little intrigued about this Guinea pig dish and decided, when in Rome. During this time Danny was telling us a story about when he was younger he had a guinea pig named Albert as a pet, who when passed away, they had stuffed and placed on the mantle. So, much to Danny’s dismay, I will say it was extremely delicious and very similar to the texture and taste of rabbit.
The next day which was the last day we were to spend in Chachamayo, we were picked up by Alberto at our hotel and took a short ride over to the La Florida drying mill. Once through the doors to the mill I was amazed as to all of the families on the patios tending to their coffee, especially on a Sunday. We were told that the families get a little bit more money for their coffee if they take it through the drying process before selling it, instead of just dropping off their freshly picked cherries. We were taken inside the mill where they have these huge dryers called Gardiolas in which they put the milled coffee into, in order bring the moisture content from 40 percent to about 16 percent. Then we were then taken into their huge holding warehouse where they rest the coffee for 25 days before it is shipped out. Once we finished the tour of the inside of the facilities we were taken to the actual patios in which they lay the coffee on the concrete to finish drying process and bring the moisture content down to 12 percent. We all were given the chance to work the patios and also have some fun. We had a race to see who could rake the coffee the fastest as well as made some coffee “angels”, think snow angels. Then, we asked if we could help them out and shovel the coffee that was finished drying into a pile. After about 20 minutes of shoveling our shirts were drenched with sweat but he had about 17 bags of dried green coffee stacked up, that were ready to be bagged and taken into the holding warehouse. After taking pictures with our “mountain” of coffee one of the women who was drying her coffee nearby offered us a small bag of oranges, which I will say tasted great and at that point were very refreshing. We gave her a Roasterie shirt in exchange and were very touched by her generosity. After our time at the mill we had the afternoon to do as we pleased so we had Alberto drop us off at the town square where the local school children were selling food in order to raise money for their school. After walking around the open air markets and sitting for a while at the town square. We started talking to some of the school children, who turned out to be hilarious. We then decided that we should do something touristy. After inquiring at a tour booth what there was to do around the town that afternoon, one of the other tour operators Alfonzo came up to us and gave us his brochure. As we were all discussing our possibilities he came back up to us and tried to talk us into going canyoning, he talked us into following him to see the video about canyoning and once seeing it we decided that white water rafting was more our style. We came to this conclusion only after Alfonzo assured Danny that the water was not that cold. So, we went to change clothes and returned to catch an auto rickshaw to the restaurant where the boat was leaving from. Once we are there Alfonzo told us that the guides would be back in 15 minutes and that we would go as soon as they returned. After about 5 beers and about an hour and a half, he was still sticking to his story that it will only be a few more minutes. During our wait, Alfonzo divulges to us that the water is actually very cold due to the fact that it comes from the melting snow and ice on the top of the mountains, we can all see that Danny is not happy with this news. At that moment we see the people come back from their ride and they are damp at most. So, we figure that it wasn’t really going to be a problem due to the fact that they barely got wet, and decided that would be fine. After getting a small instruction on what to do if we were to fall into the water we were off on our little adventure. I would guess that about 10 minutes into this hour long rafting ride Danny and I who were on the front of the boat were 100 percent soaking wet. But, after a few minutes we forgot about the cold as some of those rapids were huge. Once we were done we were picked up by this orange 4 door car about the size of a Honda Civic. This was a little odd as there were 6 of us as well as a 12 foot rafting boat. As soon as we were all packed in and the boat was tied to the roof, we realized that there was something wrong with the cars exhaust, due to the fact that we were all about to pass out from the carbon monoxide seeping in from the muffler. Not soon after we took off we were stopped by the local police, who much to our dismay deemed us safe for travel and let us go on our way. After the crazy ride back to the hotel, we all showered and went back into town for a nice dinner. During dinner we ran into Alfonzo, the tour operator, and he suggested that we go over to a disco in the next town over for a few drinks. Danny decided that he would rather go back to the hotel, so the rest of the group was off to experience a small town Peruvian disco. We were there a little early as we were 3 of 7 people there, but soon after, the place was jam packed with people dancing, drinking and having a good time. In just a short time after we arrived, the place was so packed it was hard to move, so we decided that we had, had enough and it was time to go. On our way out I decide that it would be a good idea to try some of the local sidewalk fare, as I got my little meat and potato on a stick, the women asked if I would like some hot sauce to go along with it. I asked her if it was really, really hot, she looked at me and said no not at all, I again asked her if it were ok for an American and she laughed and said it was fine. Well let me tell you, this nice lady had either burnt off all her taste buds as a child or was a liar. As soon as I got into the taxi, my mouth was on fire, it had to be one of the spiciest things I have ever had consumed and I tend not to be a wuss about spicy foods.
After a good night’s rest we all met downstairs to catch the taxi that would take us to the bus station. Once we arrived at the station we found the bus going to Lima and without thinking gave the attendant our bags and boarded. Luckily someone was sitting in my seat, thinking that they had oversold the bus I asked the bus driver and when he looked at my ticked he looked at me and said. Well you’re at the wrong bus station then looked at his watch and said, your bus is probably gone as it was scheduled to leave at exactly 11 and it was now 11:05. So we rushed off the bus, got our bags and found the woman in charge of the busses. We asked her if she could call the other station to see if our bus was still there. As we are rushing out to find a taxi, she gets a hold of the company and tells us that the bus is again, waiting for us on the side of the road and that we should take a taxi to it. Once we finally got on the right bus we had a great, but long trip back into Lima. On our flight back into the states, Danny and I were lucky enough to have the exit row seats which made sleeping just a little bit easier. But when we arrived in Atlanta we were told that we would have to wait on the plane as a few of the passengers were demonstrating Swine Flu like symptoms and that the health department was on its way. Luckily they did not make us wait until the health department arrived and let us off the plane and away from the sick people, from there we had a great trip back to Kansas City.
After this trip I will never forget what Norm had told me before we left, he said that after your first trip to origin you will be hooked and want to work in coffee for the rest of your life and I will tell you that he was 100% correct. I also realized that this business is not all about buying the best coffees in the world; it’s about how we can help the farmers who have that amazing coffee by paying just a little bit more for it and seeing how that little bit more affects them as well as their communities.