The Bean and Human Enterprise: Not Just Another Cup of Coffee

Please join me in welcoming Maury Gloster;   guest writer,   friend, and coffee aficionado.   Maury, his wife Ibby, and daughter Michelle, a freshman home from college on spring break, visited Thanksgiving Coffee after many back-and-forth emails, phone conversations, and calendar checks.   It was great showing them the inside workings of Thanksgiving, and hearing their passion for the projects, movement, and future of global sustainability .   Thank you Maury, Ibby, and Michelle, and to you – the reader of this post.



Let’s be clear. My wife and I are coffee aficionados and our daughter is beginning to follow a similar path. It is not difficult to engage us in discussion about coffee, or drinking coffee, nor are we hesitant to try new varieties. We are long past the point when, during years of arduous education and training, coffee’s value proposition was its stimulatory effect. Now, it’s just simply pleasurable.

So, a few years ago, we Sacramentans found ourselves standing in front of a rack of Thanksgiving Coffee offerings in the Mendocino Bakery, deliberating about what would be best to choose for brewing during our stay in Mendocino. A fellow, recognizing our indecision, suddenly appeared from behind the food counter to engage us in conversation about a wide variety of topics, with all at least remotely related to coffee. That was one Paul Katzeff, owner of Thanksgiving Coffee. Over the ensuing 45 minutes, spent mostly listening to Paul, we were regaled with stories, admonitions and caveats about growing coffee plants, preserving forests and protecting song birds of Central America, plane rides with Sandanistas and the superior taste and finish of light and medium brew roasts compared with the far less sophisticatation of our characteristic preference, the deep, dark roast. We were enlightened and entertained. And then we bought a deep, dark roast.

We’ve been devotees of Thanksgiving Coffee and its coffees ever since. The brew is one thing—the mission is the other. Paul has leveraged his career and passion for social work into a business that supports the disadvantaged, the ravaged, the forgotten and the irreplaceable elements of our environment. And he uses the success of his growing business to heighten our awareness of social, economic and environmental issues while bringing tangible assets to peoples from Latin America to Africa. You just have to examine his business pro forma, or simply peruse the Thanksgiving Coffee website, to gain insight into this unique blending of coffee and mission.

So, it was against this background that a few days ago our family of three visited Thanksgiving Coffee. Arriving in the mist of a March Monday morning, we were greeted by Holly Moskowitz, a key ambassador of the Thanksgiving Coffee outreach, in particular to those growing coffee beans on a Ugandan cooperative incorporating followers of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and benefiting in a variety of ways from the helping hand extended by Thanksgiving Coffee. Holly has educated members of the coop on HIV/AIDs and diabetes, befriended its peoples and represented what is the best of America as it supports those easily ignored or forgotten. Spend a moment scanning Holly’s impressive photographic collection of her days in Uganda on the Thanksgiving Coffee website and you’ll get the idea.

And Paul has designed his business model to return a portion of the profits he earns from buying the coop’s beans and selling its coffee in a unique circuitry that merits recognition to match the appreciation, easily reviewed on the website, expressed by coop members. It’s a passion and a raison d’etre for Paul and it shows. Just spend a few minutes with him.

This is not to say that the Ugandan project is a stand-alone. Notably, the Thanksgiving Coffee reach is across continents and causes, aiding peoples and the world in which they—and, ultimately, we—live. For example, if you raze tropical forests to grow coffee beans, you desecrate the nature of the land and, at the same time, destroy the habitat of song birds. An alternative is learning to grow coffee plants in the shade, thus balancing nature with enterprise. But you have to care to make it happen, enlist the skills, talent and sacrifice of people of similar mind, and create the economic engine that sees the mission through. Paul has assembled those elements and has maintained a variety of missions through years of endeavor.

Our visit to Thanksgiving was further punctuated by a “cupping” set for us by Holly and her colleague Ben Corey-Moran, who provided us education, insight and discoveries about coffee that otherwise would have been unreachable. We had the opportunity to smell and taste coffee roasts of beans from a wide range of geographies, all the while learning to appreciate the differences, great and small, among them. The opportunity, offered in the context of shared coffee passion, was singular and deeply appreciated.

“No coffee, no mission”, Paul told us. To be sure, he operates a business whose success allows him to fulfill his drive to support and to protect. Fortunately, Thanksgiving Coffee offers a variety of roasts that are easy to embrace, so contributing to a greater good through purchase of its coffees comes with little challenge. The choice is always there: enjoy or enjoy and give back. Paul and his Thanksgiving Coffee family have provided us with the opportunity to both satisfy our conscience and our love for great coffee.

But just don’t let him catch you with a dark roast.

Ibby, Michelle, and Maury cupping coffee at Thanksgiving

Ibby, Michelle, and Maury cupping coffee at Thanksgiving

Byron’s Maracaturra (a special indeed)

This month we’re offering a special on a very special coffee: the Maracaturra varietal, grown by Byron Corrales Martinez on his small family farm in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. The back of the package tells the story (in Byron’s words) but because you haven’t already hooked yourself up with one of the sweetest, most nuanced coffees in the world (you should) I’m going to share Byron’s message via this fine blog. Here goes…

I was 7 years old when my grandfather taught me to plant my first coffee tree. I liked to look at sun coming through the trees, to share the lessons my grandfather taught me about the growth of plants, and watch the rain fall and surrounded by the scent of the earth. I listened to the song of the birds and rode my horse to school every morning. 42 years have passed in my life since then and I want to transmit our family’s art, our work of many years, discovering the flavors we’ve learned to bring forth from our mountains, expressed in this cup by way of respect for our envionment and the songs we sing every day in our coffee farm.

 I talk every day with my plants, and they ask me who will consume each bean of our production and in this moment when you are tasting our coffee, I want to talk with you and tell you in silence that you are contributing to the conservation of our plantet, that this cup has come from the Arenal Forest Reserve, that its flavor that you’re tasting on your palate is the expression of life and the life energy of all the living beings who live in our community. Now we are together in embraced by this moment celebrating with joy the responsibility of protecting the future of our generations.

 The cup of responsibility is a song of love.    

Byron practices biodynamic agriculture, in the tradition of Rudolph Steiner, and the ancient farming societies before him. His coffee is planted, pruned, fertilized, and picked in accordance with lunar cycles and the ebb and flow of the seasons. If you think this all sounds like a lot of hot air, check out this link to a third-party review of Byron’s coffee…scoring a 94 out of 100.

We’re offering a special for the next month: Buy 3, get 1 free. Just add 4 bags to your cart and use promotion code “luna” when you checkout on our store.

Here’s to Byron, and to coffee with a taste of the moon.


Cupping Ethiopian Coffees


"Natural" drying method in Ethiopia (photo credit: Menno "the Dutchman")

About two weeks ago Ben  came back from Uganda and Rwanda after visits with the coffee  cooperatives we are working with . You can read his blog entry to learn what he does when he makes the long voyage to Africa twice each year, and why such visits are so central to the way Thanksgiving Coffee does business. In fact, the way we “source ” our coffees is the defining difference between Thanksgiving Coffee Company and all other specialty coffee companies in the USA.  On his way home  Ben stopped in Amsterdam to visit with our Ethiopian Coffee intermediary and exporter at his office which happens to be less then 500 feet from where the first coffee exchange was set up over 500 years ago.  There is a great book about the way coffee and coffee tree seeds were smuggled out of Yemen in the late 1490’s by a  Portuguese  Jewish man( who escaped the Spanish Inquisition seeking  religious  freedom in Holland) and his financial partner, a Dutch woman of great stature.  The name of the book is The Devils Cup . It reads like a cross between a Hunter Thompson Gonzo monolog and a John Steinbeck travelog . A thoroughly enjoyable read. But I digress…     While in Amsterdam Ben received a dozen samples of various Ethiopian coffee samples to bring home for us roast up and taste.   This we did yesterday and the results were just wonderful . All the samples were from the Sidama Region . It is traditional in the coffee trade here in the USA to call the region “Sidamo” but I have been told by  knowledgeable  people that Sidamo means monkey and is considered a racist slur in Ethiopia. Regardless, the coffees were produced using the “washed” or “wet” method as opposed to the “dry” or “natural method”. I am partial to coffees produced via the wet method and Ben is partial to coffees produced using the dry method. The difference in taste each produces from the same coffee is profound and worth noting for your reference.     Dry or Natural coffees  are processed by allowing the cherry pulp to dry while still surrounding the coffee seeds within the cherry. This allows the fruity/fermenty flavors in the pulp to penetrate the seeds as they dry, imparting a sweet-sour flavor that reminds one of Blueberries and strawberries . When the whole cherry is totally dry, it is taken to a mill and “dehulled” to expose the coffee beans(seeds). The best “naturals” have so much personality you almost believe they have been altered with fruit syrups . Ethiopia and Yemen do the best jobs with naturals in my opinion. The blends we created for The California Academy of Science and for the Danville Chow Restaurant are based on Ethiopian naturals that ben discovered last year while  trekking  through the coffee regions of Ethiopia in search for a great Natural . I believe the one he found at the Hache Cooperative is one of Ethiopia’s best.

Coffee blossems have a fine aroma

Coffee blossems have a fine aroma

We purchased 37,500 lbs of it last year and we anticipate the coffee will be just as fruity in 2009.       I, however, prefer the wet processed ethiopian coffees. The pulp is removed from the seeds within hours of picking. The seeds are soaked water for 24-36 hours depending on water temperature, and then the seeds(beans) are set out to dry on cement patios to get down to a stable 11-12 % moisture .   Coffees processed this way  have a distinct citric brightness or acidity , showing hints of lemon and stone fruits like apricot and peach. They are bright and lively in the cup , which I prefer over the heavy and mellow mouthfeel of the naturals. But dont get me wrong, my preference is for washed coffees but a good natural is a wonder to behold.  We are now at 601 words. Enough!  You all are in for some great Ethiopian washed coffees this year in addition to  the great naturals we found last year. We will keep you posted as to their arrival date and availability


What’s different about this coffee?

As you can see from the picture below, something strange arrived in our warehouse earlier this week. Its funny shape is only a hint at the uniqueness inside: this is Yemeni coffee, one of the oldest, rarest and most distinctive coffees in the world.

Every year we search high and low for the best bag or two of the year’s harvest from Yemen and then combine it with our favorite Ethiopian to create our signature “Red Sea Blend”. These are two of the most exotic coffees in the world, some might say they’re even a little bit weird. They taste like someone spilled the berry jam, or maybe the root beer into your cup. It could have even been a black licorice stick. The coffee is thick with flavor. It’s savory, sometimes even salty. Where some coffees are light and sparkly, these are heavy…I guess what I’m getting at is that these are seriously good coffees, not to be confused with another or found guilty of false impersonation. You might want to try some for yourself.

photoSo, if you’re in for a wild ride into the land of great coffee, grab a bag, and hold on tight. There’s only a little bit of this coffee available, so it’s going to be around until March 15 or so unless it sells out first.

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