1. Ecuador was interesting: You don’t think of Ecuador when you think of specialty coffee? They are just getting into that game there, as an industry. I was one of 9 official judges for the second annual Taza Dorada competition there. Our panel: Three United Statesians, one Salvadoran, one Guatemalan, two Colombians, two Ecuadorians, and one Peruvian. Everything was lovely and the people were fantastic; however, the competition was very rough around the edges, as you might expect from a second-year operation.
It may seem (to those who are not George Howell), that things like the Cup of Excellence just spring fully formed from the foreheads of the coffee gods. But in fact, in order to even have a Cup of Excellence, years and years of groundwork have to be put into (a) making the coffee good enough and (b) learning how to put on a competition. The Ecuadorians are in a crash course to do both these things at once.
The potential for the coffee is definitely there. The first-place coffee was quite nice; I scored it a 87 (which was my highest score and I believe was probably one of the 3 or 4 highest scores anyone gave out). At the same time, though, on the final table were several coffees that really didn’t deserve to be there, quality-wise. Most of the samples we cupped were not 100% clean. We detected drying-related problems in the majority of the samples.
As part of the general disorganization (coffee-wise), the panel of judges was enlisted in actually making the competition happen, which meant driving to neighboring provinces to pick up samples, hand-milling parchment coffee, hand-sorting and grading coffee, roasting on a jerry-rigged roaster, replacing grinder burrs, and coming up with a protocol for the cupping… And, oh yeah, actual cupping too.
There was a little bit of grumbling, I must say, since people weren’t expecting to be involved with this. But I was mainly there to learn about Ecuadorian coffee in the first place, so it really didn’t bother me much. I had some beautiful moments of peace sitting in that lab (in the middle of a huge roasting/export facility in the port city of Manta) sorting out green coffee with a beautiful woman from Colombia. I made her a man out of coffee beans, and she made me a woman. All the pictures of the (coffee bean) woman are staying private cause, you know, she’s my new girlfriend, but here’s the man…
As expected, the ceviche and plantains were outstanding. I went swimming in the Pacific at 2 a.m. while a salsa band played loudly for a beach party nearby (which would have been the perfect night, except for that I stupidly left my journal on the beach… wasted words on the waves of the world tonight, I suppose). Fantastic new friends… and I can’t wait to go back and see where the coffee world is headed there… certainly up.
2. More New York Times For the nth time in the last two years, the New York Times has an article about the surging specialty coffee scene in New York City. This one appeared in the City section last weekend, so you didn’t see it if you read the paper edition outside of the metro area. Lots of beautiful visuals with this one.. .and it’s a long article!
The writer, Ted Botha, interviewed me for this one. I had lots to say about the whole phenomenon (as usual the blabbermouth, me); unfortunately, Ted used only one of the less-positive things I said to feature in the article. When I walked into Gimme! this week to get a macchiato, Mike White called me a “hater.” Ouch.
Here’s the section in its entirety:
Given the explosion of the city’s coffee scene in recent years, it is hard to find anyone in its ranks who does not sound upbeat. One of the few voices of dissent comes from Daniel Humphries, founder of the New York Coffee Society.
“Every time I think we are surpassing the West, they are pushing things out there,” said Mr. Humphries, who can often be found presiding over cuppings at places like Cafe Grumpy and El-Beit in Williamsburg, where people sip the latest coffee varietals the way wine lovers sample new vintages. “There are places here with the trappings of the third wave, but they use inferior coffee.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Humphries is also part of a community that would be hard, if not impossible, to find in any other food quarter.
Of course, I’m very upbeat in general about the coffee scene here! Duh! I don’t consider myself a “voice of dissent.” I’m a full-on kool-aid drinking cheerleader, as you all know. So I would call that phrasing some creative drama-injection by Botha and his editors.
Nevertheless, in the context of a 30 minute discussion of the whole scene, I did say the things I am quoted as saying. My comment about “out West” is based on what I have seen at Four Barrel, Blue Bottle, Intelly-LA and Stumptown in the last two years. They really are still leading the way. That’s not a knock on NYC, just the way I see it.
As for “inferior coffee,” unfortunately this is also true, though it’s certainly not only a New York thing. You’d have to hold a gun to my head to get me to name names in a public forum like this, but in my honest, professional opinion, some very nice shops use unfortunately mid-grade coffee. There, I said it! Is anyone really that shocked?
Anyway, nice as always to see these articles. Rising tide lifts all boats, wot wot?
3. Daniel in Imbibe Magazine: On the subject of the media and Daniel the blabbermouth, check out the latest issue of Imbibe magazine. Kate Simon has a snappy and quite useful article about serving coffee at parties. I’m actually very impressed with Imbibe’s ability to create and cover new angles in their magazine. And as always, the visuals are smashingly gorgeous.
The article covers what to do when serving coffee for 4, for 10, or for 50 people, with pointers from yours truly. You can click through the “TAKE A PEEK INSIDE OUR CURRENT ISSUE” button to read the article (“Holiday Coffee”) at the Imbibe website, or pick one up the future-mulch issue at the market.
4. Plowshares Coffee Roasters: Long-time New York Coffee Society member and general all-around great guy Anthony Kurutz has launched his much-anticipated roasting company!!! Huzzah!!!
It’s called Plowshares Coffee Roasters and it’s a welcome addition to the New York coffee world… an indigenous boutique roasting company with an emphasis on quality and sustainability. And I just love that logo.
Anthony sent me a few pounds of fresh-roasted coffee this week, and it’s been sustaining me every day. I especially love the pacamara from El Salvador. I’m really getting to love this coffee (pacamara in general), and Anthony does the beauty beans justice… crispy acidity, a hint of exotic spice, and almost incense-like cedar notes. Way to go Anthony. Viva Plowshares.
5. The universe stretches on ever into infinity: And I’m happy to be on board.
“The epitome of this practice is the general, the central figure of the Sun Tzu. This general is a sage commander, someone who goes beyond the conceptualizing activity that constitutes good planning, effective strategy or even wisdom. Seeing the whole, the sage commander creates endless forms from within it. This ability arises from human capacities to see, hear and know the world that are common to everyone.”
“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.”
–D. H. Lawrence