Talking Geisha coffee on Newstalk 1010 in Toronto · 29.11.12 by colin newell
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We were talking to Jim Richards, affable and chatty host of Newstalk 1010 AM Toronto’s afternoon show.
The topic was coffee, $7 coffee at Starbucks – Geisha coffee – the exotic beans from Central America, what they are worth – who is drinking it and why.
If you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.
Arabica coffee under threat - the 80 year plan · 13.11.12 by colin newell
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Was scheduled to talk on CTV Newsworld Express with Dan Matheson for 5 minutes this morning on the subject of coffee and climate change.
And although that interview was canceled at the last moment, I spent a bit of time thinking about how the interview would go and what I thought of the subject and the issues. So here is how I figured it would have gone down.
“On the line from Victoria is Colin from the Coffeecrew.com website… Good morning Colin and welcome back to the show… Hey, Canadians are talking… about coffee and climate change and how coffee might be extinct in 80 years! What’s up with that?
Hey Dan. Thanks. It is good to be back.
And yes, nothing strikes fear in the heart of coffee drinkers more than the threat of losing access to their most important daily beverage – so what is going on with coffee right now? The theory is that climate change will eradicate our precious Arabica bean – within 80 years – give or take.
Well, you are probably wondering how climatologists came to that conclusion – well here is the skinny:
Coffee farmers have been talking about the weather (like other farmers) since there have been collectives and co-ops and individual groups of farmers working together to beat the odds – the odds being, well yes, the weather, pests, challenges to infrastructure, civil strife, market variables and so on – talking about these things since the earliest forms of social networks have been in place; the telegraph, mail, face to face conversation and modern technology.
Coffee itself faces a myriad of challenges – it is, after all a pretty fragile plant – sensitive to frost, sensitive to direct sunlight, too much rain, too little rain, not the right balance of nutrients etc. And Coffee’s main defense are (get this) lush green leaves and cherries loaded with caffeine – hardly an impediment for hungry bugs or mammals eager to chow down on the energy rich fruit.
Coffee plants are sensitive to minute changes in the environment – they thrive on the gentle slopes of inactive (or active) volcanoes – shaded by plantain and palm plants, shielded by afternoon cloud cover and periods of warming sun – regular rainfall. All these things and more create a ballet of factors that keep a plant productive – And remember: Coffee is only really native to Ethiopia and Yemen in the middle east. In the 1700’s it was smuggled all over the World by traders and travelers to see where it might succeed – despite protection from its Middle Eastern masters.
And that is key factor number 1: Coffee is native to one section of the Middle East and has been transported all over the globe to places where it has succeeded and to places where it has failed miserably – it succeeded because the environment was perfect. Coffee is grown in 45 or so countries other than Ethiopia (where it accounts for 90% of the countries GDP – more on that later) and those places are being challenged in some way by “climate change” whether it is nature or man made.
And it’s important to point out that this discussion is not about blame or about what the cause is – the question is: How will climate change impact the success or failure of Arabica coffee in the future?
Climate modeling for coffee – Modeling – it has never been done before: Climate scientists modelling trends 30, 60 and 80 years into the future – measuring the impact of temperature increases (alone) on coffee crops. It’s brilliant and very helpful.
An example of what has been observed thus far: There are coffee regions in Central America (Costa Rica) where coffee is successfully being grown and harvested hundreds of feet higher than ever before. And in simple terms that is because the freezing level has gone up in elevation or the number the of frost free mornings at that new altitude remain ideal – that is, NO frost mornings.
An assumption would be: Well move the coffee plantation up slope to counter the warming at lower levels and take advantage of the higher levels. That would work to a point. At one specific altitude, the incidence of frost free days drops below 100% – and it only takes 1 frost to destroy a swath of coffee plants.
Another factor: As temperatures rise, pest management changes, new pests are introduced – and as stated before, Arabica coffee is very sensitive to pests.
So, in terms of moving plantings around, some obvious things come to mind – the fact that a farm or co-op cannot simply pull up stakes and move “up slope” – what if there is no “up-slope” based on the existing terrain? And with that in mind (and these results vary significantly with each region…) there is actually a modeled average loss of arable terrain over time with every degree of temperature rise. Depending on the model, in many instances, 60 to 90% of arable land is lost following these trends.
And therein lies the factor of complete loss of suitable land for growing and developing Arabica coffee over time.
The sad reality for Arabica coffee’s home-World, Ethiopia, is – Ethiopia has maximized the utilization of its arable land to over 90% and there is little wiggle room. A collapse of the crop would crush the country – Coffee is Ethiopia. If trends continue as predicted in several climate models, production success would be dramatically impacted.
Important – Of the 45+ countries that produce coffee, each of them would be effected differently.
In Australia, for instance, coffee is grown in less than ideal conditions and the resultant coffee is mild to say the least. Regional warming could, in reality, improve their coffee crop.
The same applies to much of Hawaii’s coffee – but that, too, is changing. In fact, Hawaiian coffee farmers have been noting environmental change for 15 to 20 years – subtle things… like changes to trade wind direction which changes rainfall patterns. Hawaii has its own climate and within that climate are dozens of micro-climates, each with their own quirks and challenges.
So, the news is not at all good – but it is not entirely bad either.
If an identified trend of planet warming was to continue over the course of 100 years, there would likely be more troublesome things to worry about apart from our daily dose of coffee. And if there is a positive aspect to this story, it gets us thinking a bit more personally (and a tad selfishly) about how it impacts us.
But actual coffee extinction? That is somewhat nonsensical. I have a collection of coffee plants in my home where the year round average temperature sits at 22 degrees – Celcius or around 72 degrees (F), day in, day out. Week after week. And my plant flowers twice a year and yields slightly less than the average coffee plant on a farm. I collect the fruit, dried the cherries as is, or I remove the fruit and dry the seeds – and put them in storage… where they will likely remain viable for 100 years or so, if kept dry. So, here is to the future!
Coffee could be grown in a greenhouse – it would make it pretty darn expensive… and it’s ironic I guess that in 2012, the relationship between farmer, co-op, exporter, importer, roaster and customer has seen some positive movement towards a more balanced state – that is, fairness… from bean to cup – where farmers and co-ops get a better rate on their products – and yes, we pay a bit more and get a way better cup. It is ironic that the World is getting a minute more just and at the same time, might be slightly more under threat from horticultural disaster.
But that is reality and the real market place.
Because (and this is a fascinating point) if you took all the coffee grown annually and put it in one place, one giant container of coffee beans (and it might be 1 mile high and 10 miles square) – and picture all this coffee… This amount is traded 5 times (or more) – changes hands… 5 times over on the New York and London coffee exchanges!
It is the 2nd most traded and manipulated commodity in the free market next to oil – and unlike oil, which kind of comes up out of the ground (often freely) and is then refined and distributed to market. Coffee is way more complicated and there are way more things that can go wrong (and often do) on the way from bean to cup.
And that is the 1st 5 minutes of a much longer story.
if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.
Participate in Discovery Coffee's T-Shirt contest · 26.10.12 by colin newell
Hey everyone – In coffee news, I have entered the Discovery T-Shirt contest – you can view the entries at the Discovery Street Cafe-Roastery location (just below Douglas Street) – Mine is one of 7 entries. Having fun with it – hope you do too.
Voting closes on November 5. Come on down…
And not only that, Discovery Coffee at 664 Discovery Street is a great place to hang out and enjoy some mighty fine bean.
A Coffee Cart is a Coffee Cart is a Coffee Cart...NOT! · 22.10.12 by joachim oster
Nürburgring, Germany: Appropriate servings of caffeine at the Vintage Car Racing Festival, August ’12.
Life update - Hello from the other side... of a book · 11.09.12 by colin newell
No I have not fallen off of the Planet. Still here.
Currently working on a small book for Christmas – and I have a pretty tight deadline…
October 15th. Coming fast.
Doing a small project on profiling the top cafes of Southern Vancouver Island – up to and including Nanaimo… out to Sooke… maybe Tofino.
Here are some of the good coffee people that have made the cut – still room for more.
This, in my opinion, is the coffee winners circle for the lower Island. Take a bow folks…
Not in any order of greatness actually!
1.) Caffé Fantastico – Quadra and Kings, Dockside Green
They ratcheted up the coffee scene in Victoria to new levels and they are holding their own…
2.) Habit Coffee and Culture – Pandora Ave, Blanshard at The Atrium
One man thought this up – name of Shane – he had a singular vision and brought it to life. We thank you every day.
3.) Discovery Coffee – Discovery Street, Oak Bay Avenue and Menzies Street
Great coffee. Great whole bean. Great people. Coffee excitement and education by the barrel full.
4.) Bubby Roses Bakery & Café – Cook Street
Bakers go back way further that cafes – add great coffee to a great cafe. You are in heaven… right here in Victoria.
5.) Cornerstone Café – Fernwood and Gladstone Ave.
Funky neighborhood – funky cafe. More to say…
6.) Spiced Water – 727 Courtney Street
Their are new and bold – featured coffee roasters – mixed methods and doughnuts!
7.) 2% Jazz at the Hudson
Sure, they are at the Times-Colonist but this joint rocks the Douglas and Fisgard hood big time – and on site roasting.
8.) Bean around the World – Fisgard Street
Why not have a great cafe in the heart of China Town? and they do good cafe food too.
9.) Mirage – Blanshard Street, Yates Street and Government Street
They roast, they serve and they have lots of coffee home prep schwag!
10.) Café Artigiano – at the Bedford on Government
A Vancouver super-power in a modest sized cafe in Victoria.
11.) Fernwood Coffee at The Parsonage
The boys and girls of Fernwood coffee took a previously hum-drum cafe and brought it big time.
12.) Yoka Coffee Roasters on Mason Street
They were legend in Vancouver… and now they are old school legend here in Victoria!
13.) Broken Paddle Café – Happy Valley Road, Metchosin
Quirky fun in the middle of no where!
14.) Sooke – Stick in the Mud Café – Eustace Rd.
Owned by a rock star – serving rock star worthy coffee… for everyone!
15.)Cobble Hill – Drumroaster Coffee Cowichan Bay Road
Best of the best – more reliable than gravity.
16.) Gulf Islands Coffee Roasters – High Street, Ladysmith
Started as a modified hair dryer roasting coffee – and now BIGGER!
17.) Mon Petit Choux – Commercial St. Nanaimo
Drumroaster coffee and amazing baked stuff!
In town eats Victoria - Pig BBQ versus Smoking Bones · 11.06.12 by colin newell
In a city seemingly built for meat eaters, there are a couple of stand outs – with a caveat or two. And they are Pig BBQ at the Atrium and Smoking Bones at the Hudson.
Chatting on the social network (twitter) today, I mused that in an active comparison between two of the more visible and successful smoked meat vendors, one of them kind of stood out.
But seeing how limited Twitter is for a truly meaningful conversation – or as a medium for getting ones complete opinion out, I offer this additional analysis.
On one hand, Pig BBQ is more of a no frills joint with semi-communal seating, order at the counter, take a seat and wait for your grub to be called out. What they do: pulled pork, pulled brisket, pulled chicken, specials like a yummy schnitzel sandwich or the frequent fried chicken on a waffle. Sides include palatable if slightly sweet baked beans and satisfying blocks of deep fried mac n’ cheese and the predictable corn bread and slaw. The digs are not fancy. In fact, they initially felt “cold” to me the first few visits. Repeated visits… well, I felt more at home.
Andrea and I can have a very satisfying quick lunch by sharing one sandwich, 1 mason jar of home brewed ice tea and two sides – typically the beans and the mac n’ cheese. This mid-day repast sets us back under 15$.
I was a regular visitor to the “Bones” when it was out in the West Shore – initial impressions were: “This is the best stuff I have put in my mouth…” over time some of the small things started to slip – but it was not the meat. I loved ribs. And I do have one or two favorite recipes I do at home – The long marinade grilled ribs that I do at home I am particularly proud of – but this isn’t about me. “Bones cook shack” does the meat quite well – where it falls off the bone for me are in the sides and some of the foundation items… like the bread. Ah. The bread. Here is the thing folks – if you are offering things like hush puppies, fried oysters, and good ole deep baked beans and Po’ Boys… well get the ingredients right.
To me (and this is just my opinion) the fried oyster basket tasted suspiciously like previously frozen bad boys from CostCo. And the cocktail sauce on the side seemed like it came out of a bottle. If it did not come out of a bottle, fine – at least formulate it like it is unique and attention getting… not like it was done on the cheap with too few good ingredients. I had a Oyster fry up at the “Crow and Gate” pub south or Nanaimo near Cedar, B.C. yesterday. 6 plump oysters fried to perfection served with two kinds of salad, a home made tartar sauce, a fresh but mass produced large dinner roll and a pad of butter. The Oysters from the Crow and Gate are light years ahead of the somewhat overcooked mini-oyster nuggets that “Bones” tries to pass off as an appetizer.
To their credit, “Bones Cook Shack” does a lot of things… well, OK – but they do not leave me gasping for joy. My thought is that perhaps they are trying to do too much with the space that they have – and it is a big space.
In all visits I have found the service to be spot on, the wait staff are well informed, knowledgeable and friendly. So, it is not about what’s happening on the floor – it is a bit of a disconnect in the kitchen – perhaps with the quality of some of the supplies.
In summary, I think that Smoken Bones Cook Shack could be consistent and amazing. Their signature meats are generally pretty good – well prepared, sauced and presentation. The most common complaint that I have heard that I do not necessarily agree with is with the plating… or the lack of it. I have heard it said that everything is served in plastic containers on wax paper – have not noticed this particularly – nor would it bother me if they did.
In comparing the two; PIG BBQ and Smoken Bones Cook Shack… it has to be acknowledged that they are two distinctly different “beasts” – and in the end analysis, PIG wins by not trying to be too many things with too many big ideas. The meat is tasty and is presented commensurate with the environment in which the products are prepared and delivered.
How could Smoken Bones Cook Shack step up? A: Take a good look at the menu. Trim it a bit – maybe a couple of items – or rotate some things and do them with a bit more authenticity and a dollop more pizzazz.
B: Step up on the bread. Bake it yourself if possible. Nothing destroys an Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich or pulled pork than dull tasting factory bread.
C: A message for all restaurants – outsource your sauces and breads at your peril. Think we do not notice? We do.
Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, IT Guy and food/drink writer – his writing has graced the internet since 1995