Brew yourself a pot of coffee, because we have a lot to talk about.
This Saturday is Earth Day – a reminder that each and every one of us depends on the earth for our survival. We are united by the simple fact that this beautiful earth is ours, and it’s up to us to take care of it.
In the article below, you’ll learn about how we here at Thanksgiving Coffee participate in Earth Day… every day.
Choose an item below to skip forward, or take the time to scroll through every piece of the puzzle.
Shade Grown Coffee
You can call it shade grown, organic or bird-friendly. The thing to remember is that it’s necessary.
Coffee is the second-highest traded commodity in the world, and that has a huge impact at origin. With every sip of your morning cappuccino or your afternoon decaf, you are participating in the world coffee trade. The coffee industry is moving in the right direction, as long as every coffee drinker makes the right choice with their cup of coffee. That choice? Shade grown.
(If you’re buying organic coffee, you’re already a step ahead, since certified organic coffee beans are always grown in the shade.)
Now the question is… why is shade grown coffee important?
When a farm is clear-cut of its tropical canopy to grow coffee in the sun, the environment heats up. The natural fertilizers, biodiversity, and home of so many animals is harshly stripped away. Shade grown coffee grows at a slower pace, and allows for the coffee trees’ natural surroundings to be cared for. This difference has an especially large impact on Neotropical migratory birds, as they rely on this canopy during their winter near the Equator. This knowledge is what brought us to introduce our line of Song Bird Coffee. Certified Bird-Friendly by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center and benefiting the American Birding Association, these coffees all feature a different migratory bird that lives on coffee farms during their cold months.
This Earth Day, make a commitment to purchase only shade grown coffee. Ask your local cafes and coffee shops if the coffee they serve is Shade Grown, Organic, or Certified Bird Friendly. Next time you order a latte or brew up your favorite roast, consider the process it went through to end up in your mug.
Caring for Creatures
One important thing to remember about our planet on Earth Day is that we are not the only inhabitants. Our world is made up of all kinds of creatures, and we play a part in how these animals are treated.
How does that involve Thanksgiving Coffee Company? Let us show you.
After our partnership with the American Birding Association took off, we realized that we had a role to play: helping provide for the wild creatures that roam our planet. It began with the birds, but turned into so much more. We partnered with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International in 2004, then the Defenders of Wildlife next. Last year came Friends of the Earth and the Baby Rhino Rescue collaborations.
We partner with organizations that are already doing so much good for this planet, to support their efforts and help them continue their cause. We wanted to find a way that we could use our business as a force for good, and this is one way we participate. Join us this Earth Day: provide for the wildlife that roams our planet.
Click the buttons below to learn more about these cause coffees!
People of Earth
This is a little bit of a diversion from your typical Earth Day post, but it’s an important conversation to have: because frankly, people are a big part of this earth. In taking care of the planet, we must also take care of the people that live on it. At Thanksgiving Coffee, we look at this issue through the lens of our Fairtrade and B Corp certifications.
Fairtrade is a global system that supports small-scale farmers and workers. This certification helps consumers understand more about the products they’re purchasing. Are the people behind your products getting paid a living wage? Where is the money for each piece of chocolate, cup of coffee or bag of flour going? Fairtrade bridges the gap between consumer and producer, ensuring that everyone involved in the trade is compensated correctly and treated fairly.
B Corp Certification
Much like Fairtrade, the idea behind buying from B Corporations is knowing that your money is doing good. B Corps meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. These brands use business as a force for good, and change the world through their companies. B Corps are always giving back and always leading the charge to a more just world.
If you want your purchase to stand for more, look for these logos as you shop. Click either one to learn more about how Thanksgiving Coffee has partnered with B Corporations and Fairtrade:
When it comes to Earth Day, there’s a lot to talk about. This world is a big place, and every little thing we do can have an affect on the world as a whole.
The best thing to do? Be a conscious consumer. Be the person that asks where your food came from. Take a little extra time to read the labeling on your groceries. Use the dollars that you spend every day to affect change in some small corner of the world.
Want to do more? Tell their stories. Research the coffee farm behind your favorite cafe, and have a cup with one your friends. Find out some more information about the nonprofit you’ve been donating to, and ask your local news agencies to consider featuring it. Find out more about the people that hand-picked your tea leaves, and share that story on Facebook.
Share your Earth Day plans on Facebook and Instagram, and tag Thanksgiving Coffee! We want to hear how you celebrate our planet.
Every month, we feature two of our coffees at a 20% discount. We do this to encourage you to try a new blend or roast, and see what kinds of new tastes you might like. Our special offers for January 2017 are our Bolivia, and our Dark Roast Guatemala. Learn more below:
Organic • Fair Trade • Kosher
This fine single-origin Bolivian coffee is crisp, with a syrupy, honey-toned sweetness marked by notes of cacao, spice, and a juicy plum acidity.
$12.40 during the month of January // usually $15.50
Dark Roast Guatemalan Coffee
Organic • Fair Trade • Kosher
Sweet cherry tartness, with notes of semi-sweet chocolate and caramel.
$13.20 during the month of January // usually $16.50
Guatemala + Bolivia
Two exceptional coffees, 20% off this month.
The Guatemala coffee is from a group of farmers that know how to bring the rich volcanic soil to life. Our Bolivian farmers have learned the same magic. Although separated by thousands of miles of tropical forests and mountain ranges, both groups have similar farming practices.
We paired these two origins for a reason: when you blend these two coffees together some exceptional flavors emerge.
This pair of coffees gives you a chance to experiment with blending different roast colors. These two coffees are so compatible that the blend can often be better than the sum of its parts. But before you blend, you have to taste them individually at least twice – so you get to know them a little bit.
When you’re ready to blend, always add the dark roast to the light roast. Start by adding 5% dark Guatemala to the light Bolivia. by varying the percentage of dark to light in small increments you will discover dozens of coffee taste profiles. You have enough coffee to brew a different blend each day for a month. It’s what I do and I am always pleasantly surprised.
– Paul Katzeff, Roastmaster Emeritus
Every month, we feature a specific coffee that has just recently arrived at the Thanksgiving Coffee Roastery. The most recent green coffee arrival is our Organic Peruvian Coffee, and this batch is tasting spectacular. Order the freshest coffee we have, and snag yourself a bag of our 100% Peru!
Light Roast • Organic • FairTrade • 12oz • $15.50
Delicate honey-toned sweetness, juicy citric acidity, subtle chocolate notes, and hints of ripe papaya.
by Paul Katzeff, Co-Founder & CEO
Coffee trees are remarkable for their ability to regenerate after severe pruning.
Severe pruning is hard on the psyche. You have taken care of your tree for 15 years and it has produced an amazing amount of enjoyment as it took you through its seasonal life cycles for 12 of those years. You are no Paul Bunyan with an anxious ax. You want to save trees, not chop them down. So you are about to break your own heart and you know it. You are, however, about to rejuvenate your tree and it will love you for your bravery. Sharp pruning shears are all that you need (and faith).
“The Cut” – May 4, 2016
On May 4th, 2016 the “cut” was made about 18” from the base of the tree; it broke my heart. That’s because I harvested 511 cherries from the tree, de-pulped them, soaked the seeds in a water-bath, dried them for a week on a window sill, and in the end had about 12 ounces of green beans. We invited the mayor of Fort Bragg, chefs, a winery owner, and our staff to a once in a lifetime “cupping.” We put the roasted beans on the cupping table with coffees from Central America and were pleasantly surprised when they received the highest praise for flavors we described as bright with hints of lemon, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.
27 Days Later – June 1, 2016
Note the small fresh leaves close to the trunk. This tree has plenty of root spore and therefore it is overpowered. It has stored its regenerative powers and now those roots have much less plant structure to support. It will put on a vigorous growth spurt over the next 6 months. Notice a new trunk beginning about 8” up the main trunk. We will watch it and hopefully 2 or 3 others will emerge from the lower trunk, proving the structure for the new tree.
48 Days After “The Cut” – June 21, 2016
The tree is beginning to fill in its remaining architecture with bright new leaves and a second trunk has emerged at about 10” from the base. We are on our way. There is nowhere to go but up and out.
Stay tuned for photos of its progress over the next 6 months.
By Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder & Director of Operations
I first visited Nicaragua in the early 1990’s. The terrible years of the Iran Contra Civil War were still dominant in the memory of the people, and its effects had taken a huge toll on coffee farmers already enduring a difficult way of life.
At one of the beneficios (where coffee is processed), I watched an assembly line of women sitting on a motley collection of chairs on either side of a moving conveyor belt. Their job was to separate defective beans from those that made the grade for sale and export. It was noisy, hot and dusty, so the women also wore masks that covered their noses and mouths while working.
I left knowing that as soon as I returned home, I would figure out a way to raise money to purchase new ergonomic chairs for those women, and I did, in a gesture of solidarity. But, I knew it was just a drop in the bucket.
Thanksgiving Coffee staff with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
On another small group trip in 2012, we visited the beneficio of Soppexcca, a cooperative composed predominantly of women.
We spent some time “helping” the women transfer coffee beans from the drying patio into sacks that were in process for export. I’m not sure how helpful we were, but it was an enjoyable cultural exchange. These women performed hard physical work on a daily basis. Many of them walked miles to and from work each day if transportation wasn’t available, preparing meals for their families before and after work at the beneficio, as well as doing the rest of the work required in the home, and child rearing responsibilities, as well.
We were invited to sit in on a Board of Directors meeting composed of some of the women we’d worked with, and others from the cooperative who had founded and were operating a small store at the beneficio that sold food and sundries, and was a source of additional income for them.
Women coffee workers of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
While there has been progress made in the recognition and fair and equal compensation for women who work in coffee, there is still a long way to go.
Women we’ve met on buying trips to Central America and Africa live in remote towns and villages without running, potable water or electricity. Homes are rustic, often with a dozen or more family members living in one or two rooms with dirt floors. Many women don’t have access to health care, marry young, and have children soon after. During the “thin months” when coffee income is low, they and their children often go hungry. They perform much of the physical labor required to grow and harvest coffee, but have almost no influence on decisions about how family income is spent. They are typically uneducated, impoverished and disconnected from resources.
Thanksgiving Coffee & ETICO staff meeting with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
Thanksgiving Coffee began to address these issues in two ways.
First, by purchasing only from cooperatives that show a willingness to eradicate this kind of gender inequity. They do this through their actions in support of remedies to eliminate food insecurity, and promoting, providing and ensuring access to training and education for women. These actions will enable women to participate as equal partners in the industry.
The second way we, as a company, have supported women in coffee is through “The Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.” We began this work in 2014, in Nicaragua by adding $0.10 per pound to all coffees we purchase from the Prodecoop and Soppexcca Coopperatives. They have committed to using these funds to improve the lives of women in coffee. The next post will go into detail about what has been accomplished to date.
– Joan Katzeff
Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee and Fatima Ismail, General Manager, SOPPEXCCA, 2013
Over the past several years, we’ve seen single-cup brewing machines like Keurig’s K-Cups become extremely popular.
They’re everywhere: in office buildings, hotels, gas stations, homes and restaurants. And we know why people love them: they’re convenient, easy to use, and brew a consistent cup of coffee.
But for years we’ve been struggling with the idea of packaging our coffees in K-Cup pods. Why?
Flavor quality is often compromised
Coffee is at its best within a few weeks of roasting. But most coffee pods packaged for single-cup brewers are pre-loaded with sub standard coffee, and in our experience, it’s usually stale. They also are loaded with a smaller amount of coffee than is necessary to brew a full-strength, flavorful cup. We love our coffee, and we refuse to provide weak, stale coffee to our customers.
Substantial waste is created
When you brew coffee using disposable coffee pods, you’re creating waste with every cup you brew. Imagine millions of people brewing multiple cups of coffee per day with their single cup brewers, and throwing away millions of plastic cups. That’s a lot of waste – and as a B-Corp Certified company with strong social & evironmental values, we don’t want to be a part of that.
Coffee pods are a “value added” product – roasters who package their coffee in disposable coffee pods are charging for the convenience they allow. That means your money doesn’t go nearly as far as when you buy whole bean or ground coffee in a bag. Spending a ton of extra money for a poor cup of coffee just doesn’t seem right to us.
There’s nothing better than grinding and enjoying a fresh cup from freshly-roasted whole beans – but we know that’s not always a reality in today’s fast-paced world. We know that many people have a single cup brewer in their home or office, and are forced to drink substandard coffee as a result.
We decided to go in search of a reusable K-Cup filter that could be used to brew our coffee without compromising flavor quality or the environment.
During our research, we found that many 3rd party reusable filters are made cheaply, with flimsy plastic parts that broke easily. Others left a strange “plastic” taste in the cup after brewing (gross!). Others still were undersized and couldn’t be filled with enough coffee to create a cup that was strong enough. But some worked – quite well!
The Ekobrew Elite (pictured at left) performed the best of all the reusable cups we tested.
We like the solid build of the stainless steel construction, and that this reusable K-Cup does not require any disposable paper filter. Since it’s not made of plastic, there’s no plastic aftertaste, or worry about BPA residue.
And best of all – the Ekobrew Elite is a Zero Waste brewing solution for your Keurig brewer!
We’re now offering the Ekobrew Elite in our online store, along with brewing instructions to help you brew the best cup of coffee possible with a single cup brewer.
Buy a reusable K-Cup filter today!
Reusable K-Cup Brewing Instructions
Buy an Ekobrew Elite for your single cup brewer. Then, follow these instructions to make the best cup of coffee possible with a single cup brewer, and you’ll save money and the environment while you’re at it! Download and print the brewing guide and post next to your single-cup coffeemaker for quick reference in your home or office.
Download & Print K-Cup Brewing Instructions
High in the lush mountains of northern Peru, two thousand family farmers produce coffee under the dense shade of guavas, acacias, orange, and banana trees. These farmers are members of CENFROCAFE, an association of over 80 small cooperatives working together to produce one of the finest coffees in Peru, while stewarding the surrounding mountain ecosystem.
Members of CENFROCAFE
Delicate honey-toned sweetness, juicy citric acidity, subtle chocolate notes, and hints of ripe papaya.
Fair Trade • Organic
Buy 100% Peru coffee
The province of Cajamarca has long been the backbone of Peru’s economy due to its vast mineral wealth. Unfortunately, these days, modern mining techniques despoil the earth and surrounding rivers and forests. The cultivation of high quality organic coffee has become the key to Cajamarca’s economic and environmental sustainability, and the farmers of CENFROCAFE are leaders in this effort.
Photos from CENFROCAFE
The members of CENFROCAFE carefully pick ripe cherries, depulp, ferment, wash and dry their coffee on their small farms ranging in size from one to three acres. The result is a finely crafted coffee with hints of honey, papaya, and milk chocolate complimented by a soft citric acidity.
Roastmaster Jacob Long
Our roastmaster, Jacob Long, shared his thoughts about the 2015 crop:
“The Peruvian Coffee we received this year is nice and sweet. Right now the beans are fresh and vibrant. It’s one of our favorite single origins at the moment.
People who typically don’t appreciate light roasts might like this coffee more than others – the acidity is more smooth and juicy than bright. When I taste this coffee, the smooth milk chocolate notes really come through.”
Delicate honey-toned sweetness, juicy citric acidity, subtle chocolate notes, and hints of ripe papaya.
Fair Trade • Organic
Buy 100% Peru coffee
Carlos and his brother Fausto are both Members of the Solidaridad Cooperative in Aranjuez, Nicaragua. We have worked with them for over 20 years, and are proud to bring you their coffee in this special two-bag offering (only 100 available).
The Natural coffee Carlos has produced is richly fruity with an unforgettable finish. The washed process coffee Fausto has produced is delightful, with layers of honey and apricot that are followed by a soft, pleasant sparkle.
Enjoy these two coffees separately, but be sure to experiment with blends. We found that a ratio of 60% washed and 40% natural produced a cup that is somehow better then the sum of its already delicious parts.
Carlos Lanzas Gonzales
Carlos was born in Arenal, and his father built houses – he was a carpenter and wasn’t really involved in agriculture. “Like all children I played a lot, soccer, baseball. I studied up to 3rd grade then began to work. With my brothers we rented some land in Aranjuez and began to grow vegetables. Our main conditions were good soil, and accessibility to the city. We rented for a while then got land as a part of the agrarian reform- 120 manzanas (208 acres) between 12 of us, for about 10 manzanas (17.4 acres) per person. We formed a cooperative, at that time it was the only way to get loans or inputs.”
“I love to work in the countryside. I talk to the plants, ask them how they are. When the coffee trees have flowers they are happy, when the coffee is ripening they are gleeful, and when the coffee is ready to be harvested it’s in an even better mood.”
On changes in the community: “Now we have good roads, a school, a health post, electricity, we’ve been able to improve our homes, these changes are due to coffee. With vegetables you can’t get much income. Over 70 manzanas (121 acres) of land has been reforested, we’ve been conserving the soil. We’ve put trees on the land that is not planted in coffee, in order to protect the watershed. Most of the water that goes to the rest of Aranjues and to Matagalpa comes from our lands.”
“There’s always a risk that the seeds will be bad, the inputs too expensive, or that the sale price won’t cover the costs. We win and lose, it’s the rhythm of our lives. But we’ve been able to improve our lives with the buyer that we’ve found. The small producer usually doesn’t have access to the market- we’er always in the hands of the intermediaries and they get most of our earnings.”
On the meaning of well-being: “All the best things you desire. When the work we do is compensated, we can educate our children, have good food, live a just life. With a good price we have a better life, we have the right to that, don’t we? My favorite time of year is when I sell my coffee, in April or May.
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s our source of life. The most marvelous thing about her is that she gives progress to our family. She helped us to get what we have. Agriculture in general is not very profitable. 12 years ago we got help from Norway through UNAG, they helped us to get started in coffee. It was a good program because it helped us a lot, gave us the techniques. We didn’t know anything about coffee at the time. When the prices went up to $1.70 because of the frosts in Brazil, we thought of nothing but coffee. I have 25 manzanas (43.5 acres) of land in another place for growing beans and corn, and 2 manzanas (3.5 acres) in transition to organic. I have Caturra and Catimor that I’m planning to change for maracaturra.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “The only way to have strength is through being united. The co-op gives us lots of advantages, helps us get credit, if we did;t have its it would be difficult to sell our coffee. Our successes have been building the cupping laboratory, getting credit, selling our coffee for a good price.”
Carlos’ hope for the future: “Maintain a good relationship with Paul, sell more coffee, give more work to nearby families. Have a coffee take us as far as it can. Continue to protect the environment around us. Unite and ask for more help, for housing, schools, a better life for poor people.”
“We put a lot of effort into sending the best coffee that we produce so that we can get a fair price. The harvest takes a lot of sacrifices and effort. Maybe someday the drinkers of our coffee will come and meet us to learn where coffee comes from.”
— — — — — —
Fausto Lanzas Gonzales
Family: 5 children; Karla Patricia 24 (teacher at El Quetzal, a hacienda down the road), Frank 23 (producer and member of the cooperative), Fabio 22 (producer, not a member of the cooperative), Wilmer 20 (7th grade), Sadia 17 (11th grade).
Fausto was born in Matagalpa and raised in El Arenal. 30 years ago he came to Aranjuez because the area was known for having good soil and they had to move because of all the agricultural burning where they used to live. There were very few small farmers here at the time. In 1990 he started to grow coffee.
“When I got here, there were no schools, people were poorer, life was more difficult. Now my five children have studied, they are professionals. Before, people grew vegetables on naked land, now with the coffee we have reforested and there are lots of birds. We don’t slash and burn and chemicals are used much less intensively. Agricultural chemicals used to be very risky and dangerous. The whole region has improved; the culture, the education.”
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s what I live in, the way I survive, my work. We were growing vegetables, they weren’t worth anything for a while. When the project from Norway came and gave us credit for coffee, we were looking for a different product. I like harvest time, knowing that I’m working for the good of the whole family, so we can get ahead…”
Fausto’s “I have 10.5 manzanas (18.2 acres) of land in total, 5 manzanas (8.7 acres) are planted in coffee, 2.5 (4.3 acres) of them are organic, and 4 manzanas (7 acres) are natural forest. The coffee varieties I have are Caturra, Maracaturra, and a little bit of Catimor.”
Meaning of quality: “If I have quality, I’ll get a good price and I will not have trouble selling my coffee.”
“Thinking that you have to live here and do this, that it’s an obligation. Thinking that if you don’t do it you won’t have any way to make a living. Also, the possibility of losing a harvest because of a natural disaster; the “El Nino” phenomenon, drought, or hurricane, A couple years ago I lost 30% of my coffee in a drought and I lost my wet mill during hurricane Mitch.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “It’s very important, one of the necessities here in the in the countryside. We help each other, when we have problems we work it out between all of us. It helps us get credit, sales, we’ve learned a lot through the co-op. We’ve had good sales, made good friends, and received financing.”
On the future of the community: “The cooperative needs to support the community leaders to get the basic necessities here. We should petition the government. The cooperative should help with the school and health post when we have the resources, but we’re still small and just starting out.”
Fausto’s hopes for the future: “I want to improve my life and that of my children, help my kids build homes. By caring for the land, she will give us more.”
Fausto’s message to coffee buyers: “We try to produce the best quality for you, we’d like to be recognized for this work. We struggle a lot to achieve this quality and we’d like to be paid for it.”
In a world getting short on water, coffee lovers should begin to get their palates ready to recognize “Dry Processed” or “Naturals” when they buy coffee.
Naturals are processed from cherry to green bean without the customary water de-pulping and subsequent water bath. In the dry process, coffee cherries are dried with their skins and pulp intact.
The cherries are placed in the sun on concrete patios or raised drying beds. The skins tighten as they dry and the pulp juices move inward into the two seed in the cherry’s interior. When the mass is totally dry and crisp, and hard as a rock, they are milled like rice, cleaned and sorted and sacked.
This process produces quite a different flavor profile from wet processed “washed coffee.” The coffees take on the hints of the fruit and at their best, notes of blueberry and strawberry prevail. There is a jammy sensitivity to the brew, lots of body and fruit aromas.
Of course, these great flavors disappear in the darker roasts. We roast naturals, both light and medium, depending on the initial intensity of the fruit flavors.
This month we are featuring two “naturals.” One is from Ethiopia and received a 91 rating from Coffee Review. The other is from one of our favorite coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, and received a 94 rating.
Byron began experimenting with naturals about 6 years ago. He was the first to master the art in Nicaragua and his naturals are a tad more balanced and a bit less fruity than the Ethiopians, but the jam is there as are the sweet berry flavors.
One of my favorite blending concepts is to blend naturals with washed coffees. In fact, Paul’s Blend is just that.
– Paul Katzeff
Back in 1978 (that’s thirty eight years ago) I was just beginning to learn about coffee. I spent the first six years getting comfortable with the fire and heat it took to convert it from a tasteless seed into a toasted reddish brown carrier of comforting flavor.
Then I turned my focus to understanding the botany and chemistry of this magical “bean.” One of the first things I wanted to know was what made my coffee so much better then every canned coffee on the shelf.
Back then, a one pound can of Folgers or Martinson’s cost one dollar. My coffee, packed in a clear bag, closed with a twist tie at the top, was $3.50 per pound. I wondered, how could those big coffee companies turn out coffee at such a low price?
Back then there was not a lot of intellectual conversation about coffee in print or on the web. (There was no web, the closest thing to it was The Encyclopedia Britannica.) Coffee was an unsophisticated cup of Joe and not much more. There were no “to go” cups. You didn’t see people walking in the streets, or driving cars with cups of coffee in there hand. Cars didn’t have cup holders yet. Cane sugar found its greatest use in coffee and there was no such thing as corn syrup in packaged foods. It was a simpler time, a time before craft beer, and when people smoked in restaurants.
My investigation led me to Robusta coffee vs. Arabica Coffee.
Back then Every coffee company said their coffee was “Mountain Grown,” an indication that it was High Quality with “Deep, Rich” flavor. But it was pretty much a lie. The canned coffee was basically the lowest grades of coffee they could put into the mouths of unsuspecting and gullible American consumers. The truth was that the major portion of the canned coffee blends was coffee from a variety called Robusta, and Robusta was really cheap coffee with a rough, leathery flavor with wood notes and an ashy dry finish. But it had a heavy body and packed a punch that my coffee did not come close to.
So what was going on here? I was roasting Arabicas, and they were blending in Robustas with their Arabica’s to lower their cost. Robusta was all about volume and price. Arabica was all about flavor. The difference between Specialty Coffee and the 300 year history of coffee leading up to 1978 was the focus on Arabica varieties and the disdain for the Robusta variety.
The botany of these two varieties was very different. Although a raw coffee bean is known to have over 1600 chemical compounds, we tend to define coffee by its caffeine content. (Did you know coffee is 20% coffee oil by weight?) I learned that Robusta varieties have 2.5 -3 times the caffeine as Arabica varieties. I learned that caffeine is a waste product of photosynthesis and is stored in the plant only because the plant, unlike the animal kingdom, can not get rid of its waste. So there it is. And being water soluble, it is not destroyed by the high heat of roasting, and comes out into the cup when coffee is brewed.
So why do these two varieties produce such different levels of Caffeine?
To get to the answer you need to know that the two varieties do best in different environments. The Robusta variety likes the lowlands where the sun is hot, the air is heavy and moist, and the ground is rich in alluvial soils. The Arabica variety loves the cool dryer climates of the high country between 3,000-6,000 ft above sea level. Here the soils are young, with a very thin layer of topsoil, the ground is cool and the forest shade trees are essential for the light sensitive leaves of the Arabica tree.
Photosynthesis is the process by which the plant takes in sunlight (energy) and along with the soils nutrients and water, converts these assets into food. In this case, into coffee berries which contain two seeds and a whole lot of sweet juicy pulp that surrounds them. The seeds are the way the plants reproduces itself, and in the two different environments that these varieties call home, the seeds wind up with different amounts of Carbohydrates (food) and Caffeine (waste). Why?
Germination risk is the reason. The tree evolved to maximize its chances for survival.
When a coffee tree drops its berries at the end of a growing season, it wants the seeds to have a high success rate, meaning it wants its seeds to germinate. In the case of the Arabica variety, high up the mountainside, the conditions for germination and young seedling survival are slim. The soil is dry and cool , and the rainy season is six months after the seeds are ripe and fall from the tree to the ground. The tree knows that it might be a while for the conditions to become perfect. So it prepares the seed by being very efficient with its photosynthesis.
It produces more food and less waste for each seed. High carbs for the long wait and for energy for sprouting under difficult conditions. The Robusta tree does not waste its energy on producing a lot of carbs for the seed’s germination energy because it knows that the soil is warm and moist, and that the nutrients are there in the soil to feed the plant in its sprouting stage. Why waste energy on producing long chain, complex carbohydrates? So the energy goes into the production of Caffeine.
I like to think of the Robusta as a Buick that will operate without being highly tuned and the Arabica tree as a Ferrari that will not run unless it is highly tuned.
Hardy Robusta – Fragile Arabica. Arabicas taste better because they have the need to put food in the seed. That food is a complex starch that under high heat, breaks down into simple sugars which caramelize and produce the flavor of coffee. Robusta has starch to convert to sugar in the roasting process and thus, it is less sweet. Now, caffeine being one of nature’s most bitter substances, adds a distinguishing bitterness to coffee- and 3 times more in Robusta. Arabica coffees have less caffeine, and more carbohydrates so it is sweeter and less bitter. The major negative in Robusta, Caffeine, becomes a positive when you forget the flavor and use it for the speedy pick-up that its caffeine gives the drinker.
In 1978 Thanksgiving Coffee Company introduced Pony Express, “The Jackhammer of Coffee,” the start your day with a “Blastoff” drink.
It is natures natural five-hour power shot. It will make your heart race, it will keep you on your toes, and if you want to stay awake, you will stay awake!
Today, Robusta coffees are quite a bit more flavorful, mostly because the way coffee has evolved over the past 35 years. Flavor counts for value, and value means higher price. When I first created Pony Express, the flavor was metallic with a petroleum aftertaste. It was rough and not to satisfying. Today, our Robusta comes from places like Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. It is clean and has a flavor that will take you back to a time when coffee was “Just a cup of Joe”, but this time, you might just develop a taste for it and never look back.
– Paul Katzeff
DARK ROAST • HIGH CAFFEINE