Archive for June, 2009

A Visit to Brazil

I mostly enjoy the thrill of an uphill battle, especially when it’s for a good cause. But I have to tell you, it’s nice to have it be easy every once in awhile.

I’m just back from Brazil, after a week-long trip to firm-up our relationship with an amazing group of farmers producing (against all odds and my many preconceived notions) fantastically distinctive and organically grown Brazilian coffee. A little background: I studied the coffee trade pretty intensely as an undergrad, and the many different market-regulating schemes that were developed over the years. Brazil always featured prominently in these experiments with the gas, clutch and break pedals of the coffee economy, and I’d read a lot about the Brazilian market. Fast forward 8 years and here I am at the front line representing one of the most demanding and well-respected coffee roasting companies in the country, and I’m packing my bags for a trip to…of all places, Brazil? Really?

It started a long time ago, in early 1993, when Luis Adauto de la Oliviera and his neighbors formed an association of small scale family farmers in the hills and valleys above the town of Poço Fundo (Deep Spring) in the southern part of Minas Gerais, some 300 km north of Sao Paulo. The association, a loose alliance of farmers, was formed with an eye towards better prices for its members, and hope for an environmentally sustainable future.

 

Aduato and the view from his farm. Across the valley is the house where he was born, now home to his brother Jose.

Aduato and the view from his farm. Across the valley is the house where he was born, now home to his brother Jose.

 

8 years later, the farmers formed a cooperative, and began to push for a viable transition to organically grown coffee. They saw immediately that this meant quality, and breaking down a lot of the prejudices that kept specialty buyers away from Brazil. The list of challenges was familiar to me, they are pervasive in the literature and culture of the coffee trade: Brazil is a commodity producer, their coffee trades at a negative differential off the futures market, they produce for volume and don’t care about quality, farmers don’t have any incentive to take care of their land or their trees, and worst of all…the coffee is no good.

Well, a few years ago, I tasted a coffee that was strikingly different. It was lush, velvety, and sweet. It had body, it had flavor, and best of all it had character. Sweet dark chocolate, tangerine, and a sweet floral perfume and flavor that reminded me of our local blackberry blossom honey. This is Brazilian coffee? It’s from small-scale farmers? It’s organic? It’s from a Fair Trade Cooperative? What is going on here?

So we started buying it, and bringing it little by little into our espresso blends. And it was good. Really good.

So, fast forward to this year’s SCAA show in Atlanta, and my chance to meet Luis Adauto in person, finally. Happily, we discovered that he understood my Spanish, and I understood his Portuguese. A few months of planning by email, some logistical juggling, a 20-hour plane ride, and voila, I’m walking down the streets of Poço Fundo to meet Luis Adauto, learn more about his cooperative’s operation, visit farms, and yes, taste some coffee.

 

I spent the next three days doing pretty much just that. There was an occasional break for good food, jokes about the American soccer team (we beat Spain, they were totally impressed and pretty surprised) and more than a few small, hot, and very, very sweet Brazilian-style cafezhinos. By the end of the visit, I’d seen some beautiful farms, and met a handful of the cooperative’s members, and begun the process of outlining a contract for a significant amount of Poço Fundo’s coffee, differentiated by altitude, varietal, and processing technique per our needs (mostly for espresso, you don’t want to miss it…coming to a coffee shop near you—also good brewed strong through a drip-style cone filter, or your French press).

It was a remarkably easy trip, the coffee is already great, the farmers are already committed to organic farming and productively so, and the cooperative is well-managed and resting on strong foundations. Totally amazing, fun, and yes, remarkably easy.

I’m just stoked to have had a chance to meet the farmers in person, and open the door to what I hope is a long and fruitful partnership. Already I know that I can’t wait to share their coffee with you. It’s going to be October before we have the new crop in, so don’t get too excited just yet. I’m also looking forward to deepening our relationship, and pushing for even better quality, rewarding it with better prices, and engaging as partners with the cooperative on a variety of projects ranging from improving quality and organic production to confronting climate change and its looming impacts. I’m thrilled that we are a part of a new beginning for Brazilian coffee, and am looking forward to supporting the growth of a new kind of coffee market, with better quality, more sustainable farming practices, and more benefits to family farmers. So much for all those old books, eh? Stay tuned for more, and if you want to learn a little bit more, visit the cooperative’s website.  

Humble thanks to those who came before me, and made this cooperative what it is. It’s an honor and a joy to walk in your footsteps…I hope I get to meet you one day.  

-BCM

 

Uganda visits Rwanda

Cross posted on the Thanksgiving Coffee Company Blog

Every once in a while we get to see history in the making. It’s one of the most exciting parts of our work, and the fact that we get to enjoy seeing it happen makes it all that much more sweet.

Last week, one of those incredible moments came to pass. A delegation of two farmers from our partner cooperative in Uganda visited our partner cooperative in Rwanda. Muhammed Kakaire Hatibu and Elias Hasalube made the two day-long trip overland from the Peace Kawomera Cooperative in Eastern Uganda to visit the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, high in the mountains of northern Rwanda.

The trip was a chance for the leadership of Peace Kawomera to study the operation of Dukunde Kawa’s world-class central washing station, and to share their knowledge of organic farming practices with their compatriots in Rwanda.

Beginning over three years ago, Peace Kawomera embarked on a process to completely change the way they processed coffee: instead of each of the cooperative’s farmers picking, depulping, fermenting, washing, and drying on their own farms, the cooperative would build a central washing station where farmers would bring freshly harvested ripe cherries to be processed in daily lots.

The advantages of this more centralized processing are many: quality, for one, is much easier to achieve as the intricacies of the production process can be fine-tuned, controlled, and replicated. Lots can be processed separately, and evaluated before being aggregated, which makes it possible to trace back problems and keep them from bringing great quality down. Experiments can be conducted, and the many variables of production can be fine-tuned. There are also real environmental benefits as the sugar-contaminated water that’s a by-product of the processing can be centralized and treated more thoroughly. Then there are the economic advantages, which come from the efficiencies achieved through scale in the production process. All told, the central washing station provides a strategy to improve quality, reduce pollution, and increase farmer incomes.

There are of course, many challenges. Number one, there’s the cost of the washing station. Number two, there’s the necessary proper management and operation. The cost issue is major, but thanks to our innovative profit-sharing partnership with the cooperative, we’ve been able to channel over $100,000 (albeit slowly, in small increments) to the cooperative. These funds enabled the purchase of land, building materials, and labor to get the project off the ground. The washing station’s completion will be supported in large part thanks to a US Agency for International Development grant/loan package that’s nearly completed.

Which leaves us with the last remaining challenge: how do you run this thing? Policies need to be established, standards need to be set, staff needs to be hired and trained….farmers need to be convinced that they should sell ripe cherry instead of dried beans. Incentivized strategies need to be developed. Where do you start?

Well, if you’re in Uganda, you might as well go ask your neighbor for a little help. Turns out the farmers in Rwanda are about 6 years into a very successful experience running washing stations built to confront the same challenges and produce the same results. So, off they went…farmer to farmer, teaching, learning, sharing experiences and support.

I’m waiting for some photos of the exchange, and look forward to sharing them with you on this blog soon. Thanks to each of you who’ve contributed to this project through your purchase of our Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Coffee. I look forward to sharing even sweeter coffee with you soon!

BCM

Uganda visits Rwanda

Cross posted on our Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Blog

Every once in a while we get to see history in the making. It’s one of the most exciting parts of our work, and the fact that we get to enjoy seeing it happen makes it all that much more sweet.

Last week, one of those incredible moments came to pass. A delegation of two farmers from our partner cooperative in Uganda visited our partner cooperative in Rwanda. Muhammed Kakaire Hatibu and Elias Hasalube made the two day-long trip overland from the Peace Kawomera Cooperative in Eastern Uganda to visit our partners at the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative, high in the mountains of northern Rwanda.

 

The trip was a chance for the leadership of Peace Kawomera to study the operation of Dukunde Kawa’s world-class central washing station, and to share their knowledge of organic farming practices with their compatriots in Rwanda.

 

Beginning over three years ago, Peace Kawomera embarked on a process to completely change the way they processed coffee: instead of each of the cooperative’s farmers picking, depulping, fermenting, washing, and drying on their own farms, the cooperative would build a central washing station where farmers would bring freshly harvested ripe cherries to be processed in daily lots.

 

The advantages of this more centralized processing are many: quality, for one, is much easier to achieve as the intricacies of the production process can be fine-tuned, controlled, and replicated. Lots can be processed separately, and evaluated before being aggregated, which makes it possible to trace back problems and keep them from bringing great quality down. Experiments can be conducted, and the many variables of production can be fine-tuned. There are also real environmental benefits as the sugar-contaminated water that’s a by-product of the processing can be centralized and treated more thoroughly. Then there are the economic advantages, which come from the efficiencies achieved through scale in the production process. All told, the central washing station provides a strategy to improve quality, reduce pollution, and increase farmer incomes.

 

There are of course, many challenges. Number one, there’s the cost of the washing station. Number two, there’s the necessary proper management and operation. The cost issue is major, but thanks to our innovative profit-sharing partnership with the cooperative, we’ve been able to channel over $100,000 (albeit slowly, in small increments) to the cooperative. These funds enabled the purchase of land, building materials, and labor to get the project off the ground. The washing station’s completion will be supported in large part thanks to a US Agency for International Development grant/loan package that’s nearly completed.

 

Which leaves us with the last remaining challenge: how do you run this thing? Policies need to be established, standards need to be set, staff needs to be hired and trained….farmers need to be convinced that they should sell ripe cherry instead of dried beans. Incentivized strategies need to be developed. Where do you start?

 

Well, if you’re in Uganda, you might as well go ask your neighbor for a little help. Turns out the farmers in Rwanda are about 6 years into a very successful experience running washing stations built to confront the same challenges and produce the same results. So, off they went…farmer to farmer, teaching, learning, sharing experiences and support.

 

I’m waiting for some photos of the exchange, and look forward to sharing them with you on this blog soon. Thanks to each of you who’ve contributed to this project through your purchase of our Mirembe Kawomera “Delicious Peace” Coffee. I look forward to sharing even sweeter coffee with you soon!

 

BCM

 

Rwanda President speaks to us.

We have been buying coffee from The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative in Rwanda since 2004.  I have been to Rwanda twice since then and others from Thanksgiving Coffee company have traveled to Rwanda as well. I have contended for many years that most Americans have little interest in the Rwandan People  and their struggle. That is why we teamed up with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International(DFGFI) , the great organization that is dedicated to saving Rwanda’s remaining 400 Mountain Gorillas. Americans do care about those gorillas ! We created a beautiful package, called it “Gorilla Fund” Coffee , and donate one dollar from each sale to the DFGFI . So far this year we have raised $3500 . It is the attraction of the great Mountain Gorillas that brings people to our Rwandan Coffee package. As topsy turvy as this seems, it is working . Since 2004  Thanksgiving Coffee Company has purchased 337,500 pounds of Dukunde Kawa Cooperatives Coffee , pumping over $600,000 into that cooperatives 2000 members lives . With our average purchase price over $1.90 per pound, we are bring life and meaning to the idea that quality of life and quality of coffee are closely related. (I believe craftsmen will do better work when their stomach is full, and coffee farmers are certainly craftsmen and woman when they produce coffee that is among the best in the world which is the case with our Rwanda coffee from our friends at the Dukunde Kawa coop . We have this coffee in stock . We roast at least a sack (132 lbs) daily. Most of it goes into our Gorilla Fund Coffee, the rest going to fortify our blends with dark cherry and chocolate notes.

Paul Kagami has been Rwanda’s President and National Hero since 1994 when he led his army out of the Congo into Rwanda to stop the Genocide. He is one of Africa’s finest voices . He gave this speech on the arrival of the first Peace Corps Volunteers to be stationed in Rwanda since The 1994 Genocide. It further cements my belief that we are working with a country that has leadership with a positive purpose and a spiritual core that is based on peace through prosperity for all.

 

Posted: June 9, 2009 04:51 PM

A Different Discussion About Aid


The  United States of America  has just sent a small number of its sons and daughters as Peace Corps volunteers to serve as teachers and advisors in  Rwanda. They have arrived to assist, and we appreciate that. We are aware that this comes against the backdrop of increasingly scarce resources, of budget discussions and campaign promises, and of tradeoffs between defense and domestic priorities like health care and infrastructure investments. All that said, I believe we need to have a different discussion concerning the potential for bilateral aid.          
The Peace Corps have returned to our country after 15 years. They were evacuated in 1994 just a short time beforeRwanda  collapsed into a genocide that killed over one million people in three months. Things have improved a lot in recent years. There is peace and stability throughout the nation. We have a progressive constitution that is consensus-driven, provides for power sharing, embraces diversity, and promotes the participation of women, who now represent the majority in our parliament. Our economy grew by more than 11% last year, even as the world entered a recession. We have chosen high-end segments of the coffee and tea markets in which to compete, and attract the most demanding world travelers to our tourism experiences. This has enabled us to increase wages by over 20% each year over the last eight years — sustained by, among other things, investment in education, health and ICT.

We view the return of the Peace Corps as a significant event in  Rwanda’s recovery. These young men and women represent what is good about  America; I have met former volunteers who have run major aid programs here, invested in our businesses, and I even count them among my friends and close advisors.

Peace Corps volunteers are well educated, optimistic, and keen to assist us as we continue to rebuild, but one must also recognize that we have much to offer them as well.

We will, for instance, show them our system of community justice, called Gacaca, where we integrated our need for nationwide reconciliation with our ancient tradition of clemency, and where violators are allowed to reassume their lives by proclaiming their crimes to their neighbors, and asking for forgiveness. We will present to them Rwanda’s unique form of absolution, where the individuals who once exacted such harm on their neighbors and ran across national borders to hide from justice are being invited back to resume their farms and homes to live peacefully with those same families.

We will show your sons and daughters our civic tradition of Umuganda, where one day a month, citizens, including myself, congregate in the fields to weed, clean our streets, and build homes for the needy.

We will teach your children to prepare and enjoy our foods and speak our language. We will invite them to our weddings and funerals, and out into the communities to observe our traditions. We will teach them that in  Africa, family is a broad and all-encompassing concept, and that an entire generation treats the next as its own children.

And we will have discussions in the restaurants, and debates in our staff rooms and classrooms where we will learn from one another: What is the nature of prosperity? Is it subsoil assets, location and sunshine, or is it based on human initiative, the productivity of our firms, the foresight of our entrepreneurs? What is a cohesive society, and how can we strengthen it? How can we improve tolerance and build a common vision between people who perceive differences in one another, increase civic engagement, interpersonal trust, and self-esteem? How does a nation recognize and develop the leaders of future generations? What is the relationship between humans and the earth? And how are we to meet our needs while revering the earth as the womb of humankind? These are the questions of our time.

While some consider development mostly in terms of infusion of capital, budgets and head counts, we in Rwanda place equal importance to relationships between peoples who have a passion to learn from one another, preparing the next generation of teachers, administrators and CEOs to see the exchange of values and ideas as the way to build the competencies of our people, and to create a prosperous nation.  

 

Outstanding Achievement by Mirembe Kawomera Supporters

I hit the ground running over here at TCC. I’m starting to feel a little more settled – particularly as I have encounters with more of the folks who actively support this project.

A few minutes ago our company COO handed me our Year to Date Sales Report. This document is not usually something that clearly outlines data for Mirembe Kawomera coffee specifically. As you know, Mirembe Kawomera is sold in synagogues, churches, and mosques, and by student groups and community clubs. It is only available in a very limited way in retail stores (locally here in Harvest Market and Safeway, in L.A. at Cafe Etcetera, and the occasional other place). Mostly we rely on people to spread the story directly to their communities so that it remains authentic and isn’t lost on a store shelf.

We have been successful in creating a great and diverse grassroots network of support with lots of accounts, but for the most part Mirembe Kawomera coffee is sold by small groups doing their part. Indiviual Mirembe Kawomera accounts don’t often end up on the list of top sales company wide.

I was THRILLED to see that occupying the number 50 spot on our list of top customers in sales to date this year was the Jewish Reconstructionist Community from Evanston, IL. I just put a call in to congratulate them on their efforts. Elaine pointed out that they have been involved with the project for long enough now that it mostly carries itself. Folks that buy coffee just do it at the synagogue now instead of at the grocery store. It doesn’t require tremendous effort from anyone. They have integrated it  into their community so it isn’t actually a project. Mirembe Kawomera is just the coffee they all buy regularly.

The vision for this project is big. In the last four years the Peace Kawomera Co-op has tripled their coffee harvest. The group of participating farmers has grown from 300ish to about 1,000. They are growing faster than we can keep up with and there are more farmers waiting to be included in the Cooperative as soon as we are able to sell all of their current output. The Jewish Reconstructionist Community’s efforts reaffirm that we really can do this all together.

People uniting to buy a mountain of coffee. It is happening. You are all making it possible.

Thank you for all that you do.

Yours in peace,

Jenais

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Cheese Cake

img_4536      I grew up in the Bronx . In the 50’s and 60’s my folks considered it a big outing to hop into our ’48 Buick and take a ride “Downtown” on a Sunday Afternoon . Downtown for us was Manhattan and more specifically, Lindy’s Restaurant on Broadway and 52nd Street . Lindy’s was a favorite hang out for guys with names like Nathan Detroit, Sky Masterson, Liver Lips Louie, Nicely Nicely Johnson and of course, Damon Runyon. In later years it became the haunts of Norman Mailer, Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamel. They were the Broadway husslers in the 40’s and 50’s and the newspaper columnists in the 60’s and 70’s. They were Cheese Cake lovers and Lindy’s Cheese Cake was the best in New York City.

     They made many different kinds of cheese cake, varying the taste with a few different fruit toppings piled four inches above the roof of the cheese cake. It is hard to pile fresh fruit that high and then cut perfect slices without the fruit splashing about , but they had it down. It took me until last year to figure out how they did it. (I will tell you how later). I preferred the Strawberry Cheese Cake but my dad loved the Blueberry . Nobody in my family ever tried to make one at home so the cheese cake became a memory that never let up. I grew up, went off to college, and came back to NYC and moved to Manhattan. Greenwich Village to be more precise, Patchen Place to be exact. The year was 1961. (Pre Bob Dylan but right in the middle of Lenny Bruces run at the Village Vanguard on Bleeker Street. On the second day of my Manhattan Adventure I took an uptown 8th Avenue Train to 42nd Street and walked the 8 blocks to Lindy’s . It was night time and the place was filled with “high rollers and late night floozys. Players in the Broadway Hustle .  I was 23 years old and the youngest in the place by 30 years. But there were many chees ecake portions in various stages of disappearing visible on the tables. I was happy to see them because I had not been to Lindy’s since I was 16 and didn’t know if they still made them .  I was not disappointed.  

     In 1967 The  New York Magazine had a cheese cake recipe contest to determine the best recipe for the New York Classic . I saved the winning recipe and have used it for about 50 years. I think I have made about 150 in that time.  You can top it with fruit or not.  The ingredients cost about $6.00 (fruit extra).  I like to eat cheese cake with coffee that is roasted to a deep brown color. A  Vienna Roast from Guatemala cleanses the palate after each bite    making each new bite just like the first burst of flavor.  http://store.thanksgivingcoffee.com/coffee?browse=singleorigin  

The Recipe


Purchase a hand mixer and a 9 inch spring form pan(round)
Purchase a foil baking pan (the kind we cook the turkey in for
Thanksgiving) It can be found in a supermarket for about $2.50. It
should be about 3 inches deep.

Set oven to 375 degrees and start it up before you start to mix
ingredients.

Ingredients;
4-8ounce packs cream cheese(note low fat)
16 ounce sour cream
5 eggs
2 tablespoons Corn Starch
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice(about 1/2 lemon)
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Mix the cheese, sour cream, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and corn starch
together in a large bowl. You will find the going tough if you dont have
an electric beater. Add one egg at a time until all are in the bowl.
(Remove the shells before you use the eggs)
The mixture should be smooth and filled with a creamy lightness with no
lumps so make sure that the cream cheese is at room temperature before
you put it in the bowl. Leave out overnight or at least 3 hours to get
it soft enough to beat by hand. With an electric beater you don’t have
the problem. That whole process should take about 15 minutes. Remember, smooth texture is good, but if you beat it past smooth, you will not enjoy the texture later when you eat it. Just beat it until there are no cheese lumps.  

The crust is a simple graham cracker crumb and butter crust that can be found in The Joy of Cooking, my favorite all purpose cook book that teaches you the science behind your desired effect.

Line the spring form pan with the graham cracker and butter crust and pop it in the hot oven for 5 minutes . It will crisp up nicely to provide a counterpoint texture to the final result.  

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the cheese mixture into it. Place the filled and heavy pan with batter into the Roasting pan and place in the oven on the middle rack. Pour cold water into the roasting pan until the water is half way up the side of the spring form pan. Bake for one hour.

W hen the hour is up, turn off the heat but let the cake cool for a couple of hours in the water before you take it out of the oven. This slow cooling allows the cake to set without falling . Leave in the spring form pan after you remove from the oven and cool in the refer for a couple of hours before serving. A wet knife cuts cheese cake bestimg_0285

You will get 10 hefty slices from this cheese cake. I will leave the fruit part up to your creativity .  

Now you can have the taste of Lindy’s Cheese Cake just like the Nighthawks of the 50’s remember it to be. I can tell you this because I was there!

Paul Katzeff


     

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