There is special magic found in the wondrous process of honey. The dedication and unique skill of these extraordinary pollinators is a true wonder. This golden “ambrosia” of vitality and health is the result of a tireless collaboration of specialists capable of exceptional chemistry. So what is that mysterious process, and how do these honeybees produce this amazing life-sustaining liquid gold?
First, we must enter into the very heart of the flowers. As we learned in the Ancient History of Pollination, this is where the nectaries are created. The flowers offer up their sugary liquid to the bees with added mutual benefit for both. Mutualism is believed to be one of the most common ecological interactions in communities throughout the world. The forager bee drinks and fills their special honey stomach full of nectar and makes a beeline home.
Upon arrival to the hive, the nectar is transferred from one bee’s stomach to another in a process of regurgitation. With each transfer, a special bee enzyme (invertase) is added from each bee via the honey stomach. This is done repeatedly until the optimal viscosity is reached. Then the golden liquid is poured into a hexagon cell to be fanned on my rapidly beating wings. With 80% of the water content evaporated out, the hexagon is sealed with wax and set to cure into honey. This is now a supersaturated solution that contains over 180 components.
This “super” solution provides food and energy for foraging flights. To produce one pound of honey, it takes over 2 million flower visits, or roughly 55,000 miles flown. Nectar is gathered from a diverse array of sources helps maintain healthy immune systems.
The magic of honey is in the diversity of its unique processing and results in a multitude of benefits. From the extremely vast healing properties of honey, to the essential role the honey-making plays in the entire ecosystem of our food systems, honey is a sweet liquid reminder of the beauty of life itself.
There has been a lot of talk about pollinators in recent years, and how the declining populations of honeybees will affect food production. But have you ever wondered how it all started? When I began to write this, I had a rather broad understanding of pollination. However, the more I learned, the more questions I had. How did pollination come into being? Why is it so important to us now? Let’s take a deep dive into ancient history to learn a little more about the origins of pollination.
Pollination is believed to have begun around 130-150 million years ago. Basically, pollination is plant sex: the way plants spread and combine their genetic material to create new generations of plants. It is also essential to the production of fruit and seed crops that form the basis of our current food system. In the earliest forms of pollination, plants would scatter their pollen (male seed) to the wind and hope that a portion would land in the right spot on a female flower (staimen) and voila, there would be “chemistry”! However, this is an extremely unreliable way to reproduce. Although many plants still use this method, most have evolved into a primary relationship to collaborate with insects.
As early insects were flying around in search for food, they discovered how nutritious pollen was. Then several specialists decided to make it the main source and feed solely upon this nourishing golden dust of microspores. As the plants grew and thrived as a result of these relationships, they began to “sweeten the deal” by creating nectar for the services rendered. Flowers began to evolve bright colors to stand out and attract insects, distinguishing themselves from the green leaves and foliage that offered no sweet reward for the hard-working pollinators.
Millions of years have passed since the first flowers developed their pollination practice into the stunning displays we see today. This mutualistic relationship has changed the entire appearance of the earth, into the bright and colorful flowers and the vast variety of fruits and vegetables we all enjoy.
Learning the evolution of pollination from its ancient origins to the intricate and collaborative relationship that now occurs has been an inspiration to me. I hope the next time you receive a bouquet of flowers or taste the sweet juices of your favorite fruit, you think of the 130 million year journey it took to reach you.
Question from Chris of Orland Park, IL: “Should the choice we make in picking a coffee drink daily be greatly influenced by whether or not it is organic?”
OK, the simplest question ever, right? But the answer is not simple. Let me explain: from the point of view of an old hippie activist (me), the answer is a resounding, “YES”. However, not everyone has a hippie activist background, so depending on who you are, the answer is variable.
Organic coffees generally cost more, so a person watching their budget would be greatly influenced by price. But often times the price versus ideology presents an inner conflict for someone who wants to “do the right thing”, but is balancing a budget each month. So we all bring the full impact of our past and present to bare on the way we think about coffee choice.
I prefer to promote certified organic coffees because I believe that oil-based chemical fertilizers don’t belong in our agriculture. Here are the facts on each agricultural chemical:
Fertilizers, based on petrol oil are absorbed by the coffee tree roots rapidly. One would think this is a good thing, but the consequences of chemical fertilizers is a short-lived coffee tree (fifteen years). With organic cultivation, a coffee tree can last for 80 years.
Pesticides are needed for some bugs but they kill the worms and all the beneficial bacteria and insects in the soil. When the rains come, the chemicals wash into the streams and rivers as well as seeping into the groundwater. The poison is spread around to kill more than we can see.
Herbicides are the chemicals used to kill weeds that steal the nutrients from the soil that the coffee trees need. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mayhem in the ecosystem. Agent Orange was the herbicide used in the Vietnam war. It is banned, as is Roundup in the USA, but Monsanto (now Bayer) and Dupont chemical sell it outside of the USA where environmental laws are lax.
Think about these three chemicals as a chemical stew. I promote Organic because it tells me that I am not adding to my toxic load and also not supporting agricultural practices that use poisons to grow food. Those are my values.
We each have to create our own buying criteria. The planet is a toxic mess. Ou buying decisions may determine how long it will remain hospitable.
Paul Katzeff CEO and ‘Old hippie Environmental Activist’
There are countless variables that contribute to the complex flavors of your favorite coffee before it even reaches your cup. Many people know that the country of origin, coffee tree varietal, and roast color have an immediate impact, but fewer people know about the on-the-farm processing methods that also play a huge role in the flavor profile of the finished product.
The ripe cherries are picked and immediately put on the drying patio in the sun to dry. The skin and pulp remain attached. The skin shrinks, locking the fruit sugars in. The cherry raisins up and drys hard around the seeds. The mass, when hard and dry, is milled (like white rice) to remove the hardened pulp and skin.
The taste produced is sort of like blueberries or strawberries as the fruity flavors penetrate the porous seeds within. A mix of sweet and sour fruit. The acidity is softer and mellower.
When the cherries are ripe they are picked, the skins and pulp removed mechanically, and the seeds are wet and slippery, gooey with a honey-like outer taste. They are allowed to sit, slightly fermenting in the heat of a day/night rest in contact with each other. They are then soaked for 12-36 hours in a water bath, washed, and removed to drying patios where they will dry down to about 11-12% moisture over a 2-4 day period.
The wet process produces a citric-like acidity or brightness with a slightly lemony flavor. In the extremes like coffees from Guatemala and Ethiopia and Kenya, the brightness is palatable. However, wet process coffees produce a softer plum-like acidity as well. Wet process coffees are more forward on the palate than their brothers and sisters of the Dry Process.
We produce two blends that combine these processes into one flavor profile: Mocha Java Blend and Paul’s Blend. However, these Ethiopian coffees presented to you today are the most clarifying examples of two on-the-farm processes. These distinctive flavor profiles are not caused by varietal differences, country of origin or agricultural practices.
In this offering, we give you the opportunity to actually taste the words on this page. Try them straight at first and then see how they taste as a 50/50 blend or any combination. I prefer my coffee a bit on the fruity/ jammy side so I use a 70/30 blend with the Dry Process in the majority. But the reverse will do quite well for those who prefer a bright and lively acidity on the citric side but want a bit more body and fruit. Enjoy!
We would like to acknowledge Hasbean Coffee in the UK for their excellent videos about coffee processing.
How to Store your coffee to keep it fresh and as tasty as the day it was received
Staling is caused, in order of most harmful to least harmful
Exposure to air (Oxidization)
Exposure to heat
Exposure to moisture
Exposure to light
Roasted Coffee beans are composed of approximately 800 organic chemical compounds. Many of these organic compounds create the flavor you love.
There are sugars, alcohols, acids, Ketones, Aldehydes, minerals and all sorts of volatile flavonoids and antioxidants. When these organic compounds are exposed to air, many of them will combine with the Oxygen, forming new organic compounds that don’t taste good. The coffee becomes flat, losing its brightness and personality. This doesn’t happen immediately– it begins when you open a vacuum packed bag and the process continues on for about a month. The great flavor of high-quality coffee lasts longer at first but their fall over the cliff is more dramatic then lesser coffees. This is because the taste of lesser coffees when fresh often resembles stale coffee.
1. Don’t open the vacuum bag until you are ready to use its contents.
2. Close the bag and within the first three days, transfer the coffee into an airtight container. No need to purchase an expensive kitchen accessory. Just use a quart mason jar and seal it with a lid.
All chemical reactions are speeded up by heat, so we want to keep the coffee at a low temperature. That will go a long way in saving the flavor.
Oxidation can be slowed down or speeded up. Temperature is the factor and since Staling is caused, essentially, by oxygen combining with other compounds, we want to keep the beans cool but not frozen.
1. Store your sealed container in a cool dark pantry or in the refrigerator. If you have ordered a five-pound bag, you will need five quart-sized jars and lids.
2. Cool is better than room temperature. Since warm air rises, store your sealed containers on your lowest shelves.
Your coffee beans are pretty devoid of moisture. When we put green raw beans into the roaster they are about 11% moisture. When they exit the roaster after being at high heat (400-465 degrees) they are really dry. But like a dry sponge, they will attract moisture from the air. This is Osmosis. Moisture softens the beans and further enables organic compounds to combine and change, reducing flavor and speeding up the oxidization process.
1. Do not store the beans in the original vacuum packed bag for more than a few days unless you have a heat sealer. Moisture creeps into the bag easily, and even more when it is in the freezer or refrigerator.
2. A sealed container is the answer to moisture.
It takes an awful lot of light to make coffee stale; if you address the air, heat, and moisture issues, then the light will become a small factor. On it’s own, in my experience, light alone will take a long long time to damage coffee beans. However, if coffee beans are exposed to prolonged sunlight, then heat becomes the primary culprit.
If you address the problems of Air, Heat, and Moisture correctly, then Light will have little effect on your coffee.
The best coffee is grown the traditional way— slowly, under a canopy of shade from taller native hardwood trees. Shade-grown coffees are carefully tended, harvested, and processed by people who know and love coffee, and who depend on it for their livelihoods.
Traditional shade-grown coffee really is a win for everyone: amazing coffee flavors, a fair wage for the coffee farmers’ hard work, and a lush natural habitat for migratory birds. So much good comes from a just cup of coffee.
The history of shade
By 1996, the United States forests had run out of hardwoods such as oak, ash, maple, cherry, and all the wild fruit and nut trees. These are important woods used in furniture making, home building, veneers for plywood, doors, window frames and a host of other minor but important uses.
The timber industry needed another source of hardwood, so they targeted the temperate rainforests where coffee was grown. The coffee tree is a shade loving plant that withers in the sun and needs shade to be a healthy producer of coffee fruit. Mahogany, and a dozen other hardwood varieties, were there for the loggers if only they could convince coffee farmers to cut down their trees.
The destruction of these native hardwood forests is a long story of deception. Governments, in collaboration with multinational corporations, set out to convince farmers to grow their coffee in the sun, claiming that yields would increase and incomes would rise.
Without the leaf litter from the big hardwood trees to fertilize the soil every year, oil based fertilizers would be needed. This is how the petrochemical companies became involved. Now with more sunlight reaching the ground, weed killers would become essential. This is how herbicide producer Monsanto became involved. Without the forest habitat for migratory songbirds, natural pest controls were lost. This is how the need for chemical pesticides became essential.
The big chemical companies found new markets and the timber companies gained new inventories of almost unlimited, inexpensive hardwoods. The coffee farmers paid for all this with higher costs, lower quality coffee, toxins entering the water supply, and a 90% loss of biodiversity on their farms.
At least half of all coffee grown in the northern neotropics has already been converted to full sun plantations
Preserving these precious jungle forests not only protects biodiversity, it’s also our greatest asset in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Based on years of scientific research, the SMBC has developed strict criteria for evaluating shade coffee farms. An independent, third-party inspector determines whether a farm meets these criteria or not. Only those farms that also meet organic certification standards are eligible to be certified Bird Friendly®.
Thanksgiving Coffee is proud to offer these coffees which are certified Bird Friendly®:
For the month of April, enjoy $2 off every package of SongBird Coffee.
Celebrate Earth Day everyday by helping to protect the complex jungle forests, all with your morning cup of coffee.
Athletes have long appreciated the many helpful properties of coffee. As a pre-race ritual, a hot cup of coffee gets the blood flowing and puts a spring in your step. After a hard workout, the capillary dilation effects of caffeine help aid in recovery, increasing blood flow to tired muscles. Here at Thanksgiving Coffee, we believe in the magic of coffee and we know that it can be so much more than just a morning beverage— it can be a true medium for change.
Zachary Friedly was born missing his right leg above the knee, but that has never stopped him from being a natural born athlete. Participating in wrestling, football and baseball, Zachary is now pursuing his dream of competing in the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo as part of the track and field team. His goal is to spread awareness for his new non-profit organization, The Mendocino Movement Project, whose mission is to provide prosthetics to landmine survivors and those suffering from limb loss in developing countries.
Thanksgiving Coffee was proud to provide coffee for the athletes at this year’s Fort Bragg Whale Run and sponsor Zach for his very first 5k race. A fundraising event for the local Soroptimist group, the Whale Run celebrated it’s 35th year on the town’s brand new coastal trail.
With support from Thanksgiving Coffee’s Brand Manager and accomplished marathoner, Marchelo Bresciani, Zach ran his farthest distance to date. As a world class sprinter, Zach never imagined how much he would enjoy the 5k distance and seeing just how far he could go. Now, he is pursuing more events and 5k races around the country to share his story and promote movement throughout the community.
A recipient of this year’s Challenge Athlete Foundation Grant, Zach is gearing up to receive a new leg later this month. He can’t wait to hit the ground running and start posting new personal records.
Thanksgiving coffee is proud to support Zach and his efforts to bring the Mendocino Movement Project to life. Follow him on his adventures this summer and keep an eye out for a special package of Mendocino Movement Project Coffee in the months ahead.
Shade Coffee looks like this: grown under the canopy of indigenous trees. The white barked taller trees are commonly known in Central America as “Inga”. They are great for coffee because they not only provide shade for the trees, but also habitat for biodiversity and leaf litter for soil nutrients. Leaves decaying on the forest floor is natural fertilizer. An additional benefit comes from the tree being “leguminous”, meaning its roots deliver nitrogen to the soil, further reducing the need for oil based fertilizers.
This environment is perfect for the cultivation of organic coffee. This site is located in Northern Nicaragua and is typical of the Mesoamarican Rainforest that stretches from Panama thru Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, all the way up to the Yucatan Peninsula. These forests are the home of Black Panthers and the National bird of Guatemala, the famous Quetzal. The trees are full of birds and Howler Monkeys and hundreds of species of orchards. At the higher elevations, coffee trees reflect the quality of this forest in the flavor of their fruit, and finally, in your cup.
When you taste coffee from regions like this, you are experiencing a message from the forest spirits. The expression, “There is magic in this package, only you can let it out” is derived from a walk through this place that I took with my good friend Byron Coralles long ago.
Blind Assessment:Deep, chocolaty, cleanly fruit-toned. Dark chocolate, cedar, black cherry, magnolia, molasses in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with gentle, rounded acidity. Consolidates to resonant chocolate and cherry in the finish.
Notes: The components of this blend are certified organically grown and Fair Trade certified, meaning they were purchased from small-holding farmers at a “fair” or economically sustainable price. This version of the ancient Mocha-Java blend combines a traditionally processed, wet-hulled Sumatra in place of the original Java and replaces the Yemen Mocha with a similar “natural” or dried-in-the-fruit coffee from Ethiopia. One of the country’s pioneering socially and environmentally progressive roasters, Thanksgiving aimed to combine coffee quality with social and environmental responsibility many years before the latter preoccupations became fashionable.
The Bottom Line: A balanced, richly sweet-tart Ethiopia-Sumatra blend that’s also fair trade and organic-certified.
In late 2014, Roastmaster Jacob Long was touring the Thanksgiving Coffee warehouse with a new employee, brand manager Marchelo Bresciani. Educating him on various green coffees stacked high on pallets, Jacob told Marchelo where the coffees had come from, the farmers and what time of year the coffees are freshest. Finally, he pointed out one particular sack of coffee.
Farmers in Nicaragua, he explained, were sending farm specific micro lots, as opposed to blended sacks of co-op beans. The quality of the coffee from this farm was so striking, that it shouldn’t blended. It would be a shame to lose it’s unique flavor. This coffee, though there was only one sack, was good enough to stand on its own. This coffee had something to say, and it was a micro-lot worth sharing with our customers.
That was how the Roastmaster’s Select Coffee came to be.
Roastmaster’s Select Coffees are a carefully developed monthly selection, roasted in small batches using only the freshest beans at peak flavor. Each month, members are encouraged to record their thoughts and impressions about each selection and country of origin with the informative cupping cards included in every box.
Over time, the Roastmaster’s Club evolved to exclusively showcase single origin micro-lot coffees. Some come from unique and surprising locations, like Nepal, Laos or Malawi. Others represent the highest quality beans from well established sources, such as Byron’s Natural from Nicaragua or the ever popular Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.
Shhh! It’s a Secret
The added fun of club membership is the surprise of not knowing what’s inside until you open the box. Is this month’s coffee from Mexico or Tanzania? Java or Guatemala? It could be unique beans from remote locations, or the highest quality of a favorite varietal. Every month, the Roastmaster’s Select Club Members are guaranteed to receive a box of awesome coffee.
Join the Club
Curious to know which coffee has been chosen for the 50th Edition of the Roastmaster’s Select? Sign up this month to find out! As a club member, you will have exclusive access to the finest selection of coffees, many of which have gone on to become award winning products. In fact, 2 out of the 3 Roaster of the Year winning coffees, the Kenya Peaberry and the Ethiopia Gedeb, were first released as Roastmaster’s Club Selections.
If you’re looking for just the right gift for the coffee lover in your life, or to add some spice to your coffee routine, a membership in the Roastmaster’s Select Club is guaranteed to please.
So what are you waiting for? These coffees are only available to Club members. Join the Roastmaster’s Select Club today. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have Thanksgiving Coffee take you on a coffee tasting journey around the world, cup by cup, all from the comfort of home.