This blog is a little late, probably one that should have been written near the end of 2012, but of course most things I write are posted just a little bit later than would have been ideal. Similarly, I show up to work at about 9:15 every day. I think if I lived any further away from our warehouse (about 8 minutes right now by car OR bike) things could get ugly… like my hair, for instance, which I obviously wouldn’t have time to brush. Anyway, I just wanted to share a few of the highlights of 2012 for me as it relates to coffee. I had a very full year, some nice highs and low lows, but I’ll just share the good parts here.
Eddie roasts coffee
Technically, Eddie started roasting in December of 2011, but then he went to Ecuador for three weeks and forgot everything (just kidding) so I really see the start of his role as a roaster beginning a year ago. Aside from tasting coffee, traveling to tropical places and mopping the warehouse floor, I actually have quite a bit on my plate with the numerous other things I do here—so I’ve passed on nearly all of the roasting on the big Probat to Eddie. Three years ago I hired him to work as a barista in the coffee bar, with no coffee experience. I knew he and I would get along well, when in the early days of training he would attempt to make latte art and then slam the cup onto the counter while shouting some profanity. Anyway, while he was spending some time as the manager at the coffee bar, we needed a new production roaster when Christopher O. moved back to Chicago. One of the things I like about Dogwood, as well as working for a young company, is that we’re willing and able to give people we trust chances at things they might not have experience with. In the same way that I began taking on more and more new things here years ago (figuring out how to roast, buy green, make a website etc.) other folks like Eddie have as well. I thought he would like working at the warehouse, that he could pick up new skills, and that we would work be able to work closely. I’m so glad he took the job, that he’s roasting our coffee and that I get to see his smiling
face every day. I’m also thoroughly impressed with his work efficiency, and how much he also seems to be distracted by ice cream and donuts.
Colombia Nodier Andrade
This was one of my favorite coffees we offered this year. A really striking brightness and sweet tomato flavors gave this coffee those “kenya-like” qualities (words I keep using to describe things I like… ) We’ve gotten another lot from him since the first, which Josh, Jon and Blair all used in the recent regional barista competition. Josh placed 3rd, which is pretty cool. I’m visiting Colombia in March to meet and work on building a relationship with Nodier, and keep getting these exceptional lots. We are releasing the lot used in competition soon, and more from the upcoming crop in a few months. Tasty!
World Coffee Roasting Challenge
I’m typically not one for coffee events or trade shows. Other than meetings and other obligations, I like focused parts of these events, lectures, classes that are progressive or challenging and playing around on the little roasters in the roasting lab area. Last year, I was asked by Trish Rothgeb to be a participant (guinea pig) in the trial run of the World Coffee Roasting Championship at the World of Coffee event in Vienna, Austria. Roasting is really fun, so of course I said yes. More than anything, this event got me thinking even deeper about some of the cultural differences in roasting styles. I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this in the past, but it sparked some more recent discussion, which I wrote about in this blog. (<--click that). I liked the format of this “challenge” because it really seemed like an evaluation of skill, rather than a performance. Roasting is pretty boring to watch. Honestly, I can’t understand why someone would want to come in and spend more than 15 minutes staring at a person sniffing beans in a trier, and maybe that’s what makes me sort of like this competition. Anyway, we did have some people watching, so that’s cool. It will be interesting to see how things evolve!
Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia
This is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. This is also the furthest away from home I’ve ever been, but closest to the homeland (Thailand). I’m not going to say much here because I’m already writing something else about it, which I’ll post later. Coffee is done pretty differently in Indonesia than in Central America, and it was really interesting for me to see that and learn more about one of our customers’ historically favorite coffees, Toarco. As I said, I’ll write more about this later when we get the Toarco roast profiled and made available (next week.) Here’s a link to a more general blog I wrote about Indonesia a few months ago: Clicky clicky.
One of the things I love about Dan is that he has lots of ideas. Some of them are really ridiculous and amusing (and he never hesitates to run them by me anyway) but many of them are really great. Since Dogwood was the original name of our espresso blend and then became the name of our company, Dan had been eager to rebrand the espresso blend for some time. Neon Espresso was created and lots of astro-bright paper and fluorescent spray paint followed. We’ve had a lot of fun with it since, buying random neon stuff for the warehouse, going to an actual neon sign studio and learning about the process and history of neon signs, blinding people with laser pointers. Just kidding about the laser pointers. I’ve always been really proud of our espresso, even through a rough patch here and there in the past, because it’s a learning experience. I was a little sad to see the Dogwood name go (though it’s obviously very much still here) since I have a bit of sentimental attachment to it. Over three years ago when we were part of a different company, we had a lot of fun trying to come up with an espresso blend name for this specialty project. Dan covered our “desk” in the back of the warehouse with paper and we’d write something down whenever we thought of an idea—lots of funny ones, I wish I could find that paper. I had previously been working at a miserable bakery in a garden store, and on my breaks I’d go out and walk around in the outdoor plant area with my partner, who happened to be working in said garden store at the time. Dogwood shrubs, lots of them, different kinds: ivory halo, red osier, prairie fire, pagoda (a tree type, my favorite). We’d walk up and down the aisles and I couldn’t get the name out of my head. I loved it. I came back to the warehouse feeling really strong about the name “dogwood” and it stuck. Anyway, side tangent, but I just had to throw that in there. I’m so glad Dan’s brain created Neon and that he’s not afraid what people think about rainbows or fluorescent fanny packs or hot pink espresso machines (you’ll have to visit Parka to see that.)
Three years ago we put an espresso blend into a market that was not fully ready to accept something so different, and it has done really well. I love the brightness with balance, and the seasonal changes that remain still under the same umbrella of flavor. I love that it can really shine under many conditions, but that it does take work and care to make it do that, no matter what.
Those are a few of my favorite coffee things of 2012. There's more of course, (getting air conditioning at the warehouse, trampoline dodge ball, caipirinhas at Macheddy's) but I think this is pretty good for now. Here’s to coffee in 2013!