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 VocĂȘ (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 CafĂ© & 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.