There was a time in the history of America when a roadside café was the place to get a cup of coffee. It was a time when the taste of coffee was not judged good or bad. It was a time when coffee was just “a cup of Joe” to wash down that American breakfast of eggs scrambled, toast and home fries and three strips of bacon. Cream and sugar filled half the cup so what was there to complain about?
I plied the highway between Ft. Bragg and San Francisco every week from 1974 to 1985, first in a 1963 Chevy Panel Truck that could carry 15 sacks of coffee, and as the company grew, in a rented U Haul trucks of various sizes. I believe I made 400 round trips during that period of time. Often stopping at the Wheel Café in Cloverdale, just off Hwy 101.
It was your basic Truck Stop with local nighthawks and 18 wheel long haul truckers side by side talking about hunting, guns, government socialism, and all sorts of interesting but bizarre conspiracies. And this was in a pre 9/11 era.
One night I decided it was worth a photo. I had my tripod and Minolta camera with me so before I popped in for my 2AM “American Breakfast”, I set up my camera and took this 2 minute exposure. Nobody moved!
The photo reminds me of an Edward Hopper painting called Night Hawks and of the 70’s posters which used his painting as a concept to highlight Marlan Brando, James Dean and Maralyn Monroe. This photo reminds me of the many nights I spent on the foggy night roads with oversize loads of green coffee and a kind of fear that only overloaded night trips on country roads could bring.
The Wheel Café is no more, gone the way of the new highway that skirts the town to the east. I don’t stop there anymore!
We were on our way to Matagalpa. it had just stopped raining and the street vendors were out in force trying to recapture the lost time spent underneath a canopy somewhere . There is allot to see in this photo although the reason I took the photo was the oddity of mattresses with a U.S. flag as bedcovers. I wonder if Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck would disapprove . Sleeping on an American Flag might be considered un-American, causing new laws to be placed in the Patriot Act .
The vendors are standing on a roadway made of six sided bricks known as Samosa Stones , named so because in the Revolution, these stones were ripped up to make barricades to block streets and thwart the tanks. Both vendors are wearing baseball caps, the preferred hat in a baseball loving Nicaragua.
One of my favorite ways to photograph a group is to catch the group posing for a photo being taken by someone else. Here, Alan Odom poses with a group of coffee farmers after a successful first meeting with their cooperative members. Alan works for a coffee importing company, InterAmerican Commodities that we use to help us bring the coffee from there to here. In the coffee industry these importing companies provide services in areas such as contracts, financing, customs, insurance, and storage once the coffee lands in the USA. Alan was with me on this trip because it an opportunity he could not miss for his company.
The Genocide in 1994 had wiped out the coffee production in Rwanda. To help rebuild it, USAID funded a development project (2002) led by Michigan State University and Texas A & M. Tim Schilling; an Agronomist professor at A&M was hired to lead the rebuilding. In 2004 Thanksgiving Coffee Company was asked to send a representative to Rwanda to help develop a market plan for Rwanda’s reentry into the coffee trade, this time, not as a commodity with no identity, but as a Specialty Coffee with a real story to tell. Joan Katzeff volunteered to be part of the all expenses paid trip (Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers). Thanksgiving Coffee was one of just four companies singled out to help this ravaged but resurgent coffee Rwandan coffee industry.
Joan’s first trip to Africa connected Thanksgiving Coffee with The Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, which was headquartered in Rwanda where the last remaining Mountain Gorillas (380) live on the edge of extinction. Within six months our GORILLA FUND coffee was the first Rwanda Coffee to be sold in the United States and Thanksgiving Coffee received the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s first Sustainability Award in 2004 for our creative efforts to introduce the Rwanda Coffee Story to American coffee lovers.
When Alan Odom and I returned to Rwanda the following year to cement the relationships Joan had forged the year before and to introduce the idea of cupping labs to the USAID development project as a further way to improve quality and increase the value of the crop, we met with many cooperatives and tasted coffees from all over the country’s coffee growing region. Being among the first coffee roasters to visit Rwanda, we were able to find the best coffee and sign a three-year purchase agreement with the cooperative. I negotiated the price with the farmers ($2.04/lb for one container of 37,500 lbs.) and InterAmerican did the importing for us. This photo, taken after the deal was signed, conveys everyone’s mood at the time. You can purchase this coffee and taste one of Africa’s great coffees at on our webstore. It was a fine coffee in 2004 but today our Gorilla Fund Coffee is one of the best tasting coffees in the world.
These five woman are selling salt in an open air market.
I rounded a bend along a quiet stretch of road and there
it was, a meadow with a thousand sellers and half as many buyers.
These five woman were having a hell of a good time just sitting there
telling each other who knows what. But they looked familiar. Each face
reminded me of someone I know now or knew in my life. It reminded me
of when, after having left New York City a decade earlier, I returned
to my native city for a brief visit and, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I
went to a baseball game at the fabled Yankee Stadium. I am a Boston
Red Sox fan but I love Yankee Stadium as an icon of my youth, growing
up less then a mile from center field. But I digress.
That lazy Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium I noticed something
I could not have noticed before. I had been gone from The City for
about ten years, having participated in the Great Hippie Migration of
the early ’70’s. I landed in Northern California where I met Joan
(President of Thanksgiving Coffee Company) and began a “life after New
York City”. So I had a good ten years of meeting people and
establishing new relationships. Back at Yankee Stadium that afternoon
I noticed so many familiar faces, faces that reminded me of my
California friends. It was as if I had discovered a secret. There are
only so many types of faces, individual all, but somehow falling
into types that could remind you of people you know elsewhere. When I
got back to Northern California I wrote a piece for Mendocino
Grapevine, our weekly Alternative newspaper at the time. I called it,
“I Saw Your Face at Yankee Stadium”. Look at these Rwandan woman
closely. Beautiful and oh so familiar looking. I did not purchase
any salt, but I did stop to take a deep look …at five woman I knew
I never wanted to forget.
Aranjuez, Nicaragua 1992
There were five of us under the forest canopy and each of us knew our search was over. Let me explain. Jan Eno (blue shirt on left), and I (behind the camera), were looking for the fabled great Nicaraguan coffee that had been denied U.S. coffee roasters due to the Reagan Embargo (1985-1991). Jan was Thanksgiving Coffee’s Roastmaster at the time. On the far right in the black T shirt was Roberto Vargas, a Nicaraguan who had fought in the Sandinista Revolution, came to the United States and lived in the Mission District of San Francisco, and was the creative force behind the creation of The Mission Cultural Center. I don’t exactly remember how we met, but it was he who brought me and Jan face to face with Byron Corrales and his father Arnolfo. This photo was taken on their farm. We had just completed an agreement. Byron and family would sell Thanksgiving Coffee 37,500 lbs of their family’s certified organic coffee and a similar amount of the Cooperative’s non-organic coffee. Thanksgiving Coffee would pay 50 cents over the then current world price. It was a historic moment. It would be the first Nicaraguan coffee directly imported into the United States since 1979 when the Sandinistas gained control from the Dictator Somoza. This was the picture I wanted to mark the moment.
The picture has many details that I would like to point out; we are kneeling in filtered sunlight, under coffee trees shaded by an over story of banana trees (the broad, bright green leaves behind Byron). The coffee cherries are full size but still green. It is still two months to harvest so this is September. Some of the coffee tree leaves have white spots on them, an indication of a kind of rust or mold that will need attention. Byron’s hat clearly shows the icon of the cooperative movement and in fact, at the time this photo was taken, Byron was Vice President of his cooperative, Solidaridad.
Where are these people now? Jan works as Roastmaster for the Urth Cafes of Southern California of which there are four. They are our largest “account”. Jan still lives on the Mendocino Coast and operates out of our cupping lab here in Ft Bragg. We see him every day and he is an integral part of our quality mission. Byron is a full time coffee farmer on his family farm but has become Nicaragua’s premier biodynamic and organic coffee farmer and now also heads up the Nicaraguan Government’s Organic Farming Extension Service for small and medium size farms. His father Arnolfo is still on the family farm, working as he has done for 8 decades. Roberto Vargas lives in San Antonio, Texas and is The Director of Venezuela President Hugo Chaves’ ” Heating Oil for the Poor” project. He is also one of Nicaragua’s honored poets, and I? , Well, I’m a historian waiting for the next great moment in coffee to be a part of.
(Side note: Byron grows one of the best coffees in the world. Try his exceptional Maracaturra varietal for yourself)
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
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
4-8ounce packs cream cheese(note low fat)
16 ounce sour cream
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 best
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!
Behind the Ship the San Juan, built in 1931 is the Oldest building on the Noyo Harbor. Built before the great earthquake of 1906, it is what remains of the two story building that it once was. When the earthquake hit, it created a landslide knocking the first story right out from under the second story. Creative lumbermen jacked up what was left , mounted it on the dock and in 1974 Thanksgiving Coffee Company moved in to the eastern corner , occupying an area 30 feet by 20 feet. The building is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide. It is constructed 100 % old growth Redwood and Douglas Fir. Half of the building is on land with the other half on the dock over the water. The photo above was taken in 1975. Note the puff of smoke and the Thanksgiving Coffee sign atop the structure. The company operated out of those digs from 1974 until 1987, going from just Joan and Paul to 26 employees after we purchased the entire building in 1977. The San Juan was owned by Albert Reynolds and Bruce Abernathy at the time and was actively used to drag cable across the Pacific when the communications cable was laid from Point Arena, California to Japan in 1975. It is 71 feel long and as of 2009 is the last remaining ship of its type still afloat. It is still moored at our dock but has not been out of the water in 30 years and I am afraid it is no longer seaworthy. Here is the same scene as it appeared to my camera last month . We purchased the building in 1975 and still the company still owns it . We use it for storage and keep it to remind us of our humble beginnings, and of all the amazing old salts, cranky fishermen, and drunken parties that were a frequent part of our friends lives on the water when the Noyo Harbor was just another “Cannery Row” along the Pacific Coast, complete with “fish houses” where local woman filleted fifty pound King Salmon, iced three pound crabs and packed Black Cod fillets for shippment to Eastern markets to be smoked and sold as” smoked sablefish” to the Jewish Delis in Chicago and New YorK City. All that is gone now(2009) but the memory still remains. I guess you can say , those were “the good old days”.
I received this complex letter last week. It had many contradictions but the writer was obviously a coffee lover , so I took the opportunity to arm her with the basic principles of coffee selection that applied to her request. What follows is first her letter, then my response, and then my recommendation .
We have enjoyed finding your website.
We would like a recommendation for a blend:
Not acidy. Don’t like a painful stomach by the second cup.
Full bodied coffee. Tastes like it smells.
No flavors (except coffee flavor) (It’s difficult to tell from your descriptions whether the flavor is added to the mix (like vanilla or hazelnut), or whether the flavor “tones” are just a means of describing the coffee au naturel.
On your website, we only saw 12 oz bags. Do you have 5 lbs. bags? How much do they cost?
Thanks for your help
THERE IS ALLOT TO YOUR REQUEST FOR A RECOMMENDATION SO LET’S TAKE MY RESPONSES ONE AT A TIME:
WHEN YOU ASK FOR A COFFEE WITH NO ACIDITY BUT WITH LOTS OF FLAVOR, YOU ARE ALMOST ASKING FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE…ALMOST. A GOOD “MEDIUM” ROAST OF COFFEES FROM PLACES LIKE INDONESIA AND BRAZIL WHOSE COFFEES ARE NATURALLY LOW IN ACIDITY WILL GET YOU A LOWER ACIDITY, BUT ALSO, LESS BRIGHTNESS AND LIVELINESS IN THE CUP. COFFEES GROWN AT ALTITUDES LOWER THEN 800 METERS ALSO HAVE LESS ACIDITY. ACIDITY IS HIGHEST IN COFFEE IN THE LIGHTER ROASTS. THE DARKER THE ROAST , THE LOWER THE ACIDITY, IS A GENERAL RULE . YOUR PAINFUL STOMACH MAY NOT BE COMING FROM THE ACIDITY IN COFFEE . THE PH LEVELS OF LOW ACID COFFEES AND HIGH ACID COFFEES ARE NOT THAT FAR APART TO MAKE IDENTIFYING YOUR “PROBLEM” AS THE ACIDITY. IT COULD ALSO BE THE CAFFEINE BECAUSE THE HIGHER THE CAFFEINE, THE POORER THE COFFEE QUALITY IN GENERAL . IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM THE POSSIBLE IMPACT OF POORER QUALITY COFFEE GOING INTO YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM, AND OR, POOR ROASTING CRAFTSMANSHIP. COFFEE HAS OVER 1600 CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS BEFORE IT IS ROASTED AND ABOUT 800 AFTER ROASTING. LOTS OF CHEMICAL REACTIONS TAKE PLACE IN THE 14 MINUTES IT TAKES TO ROAST COFFEE , SO THE CRAFTSMANSHIP APPLIED DURING THAT SHORT PERIOD OF ADDING HEAT TO THE GREEN BEANS REQUIRES SOME DEGREE OF CRAFTSMANSHIP TO CONTROL THOSE CHEMICAL REACTIONS SO AS TO GET THE BEST OUT OF THE COFFEE THAT IS BEING ROASTED. ACIDITY IS MORE A MOUTHFEEL OR TASTE SENSATION(bright and lively) THEN LITMUS TEST NUMBERS.
NO COFFEE TASTES LIKE IT SMELLS. YOU CAN LOOK FOREVER. THE AROMATIC VOLATILES ARE NOT TASTE FACTORS. Ninety-five % OF COFFEE AROMA IS LOST BEFORE IT GETS TO THE CUP. LOST IN ROASTING, GRINDING , AND BREWING NO MATTER HOW FRESH IT IS WHEN YOU GET YOUR COFFEE HOME AND INTO YOUR REFRIGERATOR . SO DREAM ON BUT DONT EXPECT OUR COFFEES TO GET YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO WHEN IT COMES TO THE AROMA/TASTE RELATIONSHIP.
DARK ROAST ?????? THIS IS THE ANTI CHRIST OF COFFEE FLAVOR AND AROMA. IN DARK ROASTS 2/3 OF THE FLAVOR IS A REFLECTION OF THE DARKER COFFEE COLOR . THE NUANCES OF THE COFFEE’S FLAVOR ARE “BURNED OUT” OF THE COFFEE VIA COMPLEX CHEMICAL REACTIONS THAT TAKE PLACE AT THE HIGH TEMPERATURES COFFEE IS ROASTED AT.
THE DISCRIPTORS (TONES AND NOTES ),ARE HINTS . DOES A BOTTLE OF ZINFANDEL HAVE BLACK CURRANT ADDED TO THE WINE ? NO , IT IS JUST A WAY THE WINE MASTER HELPS YOU OUT IN YOUR SEARCH FOR THE NUANCES PROFESSIONAL TASTERS CAN IDENTIFY EASILY BECAUSE THEY “TASTE ” EVERY DAY .
WE SELL CONSUMER SIZE PACKAGES BUT IF YOU CALL OUR MAIL ORDER DIVISION AND ASK FOR SUSAN SHE WILL TELL YOU HOW TO ORDER FIVE POUNDERS ( MINIMUM IS 20 POUNDS PER ORDER. ) .
Now for my recommendation :
I recommend you try a medium roast Nicaraguan Maracaturra grown by our friend Byron Coralles, and our Guatamalan Vienna Roast. The two coffees are fabulous individually, but you can blend them (The Medium roast Nicaraguan for flavor and the Guatemalan Vienna roast for strength and complexity to create additional complexity ). No stomach aches here , guaranteed !
I love to hear from people who have coffee on their mind. I get wonderful communiques and sometimes , real good leads on a great coffee that always has a story attached. The coffee traveler is open to the spirits. This has its merits . The road has many stories . Every road does. Which ones you carry home with you are not random accidents of fate, they are manifestations of your priorities, your focus and you might say, that a bit of your unconscious is in play as well. So here is one story that came to me and my reply.
I recently visited Guatemala on a birding tour. One of our destinations was the beautiful Los Andes Private Nature Reserve. There, I spoke with the president, James E. Hazard, and learned of his family coffee and tea estate. I thought of Thanksgiving when he discussed the earth friendly and worker friendly practices implemented at the plantation. When I asked if he had extra capacity for additional customers, he assured me that he did. One of his customers is Starbucks(boo). If you would like to see more about the organization, the website is www.andescloudforest.org. And most importantly, the coffee is very good. If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me at work.
Thanks for the thought James. We have been working with the same Guatemalan cooperative of 1600 Mayan producers since 1998. I think it is best to not dilute my purchases as then they would have to go looking for another buyer and have poor access to the world market. , I tend to shy away from buying from plantation owners in general, not because they are bad people as much as that they are the stewards of a bad system. Remember the slave owners in the South 150 years ago were “plantation” owners too. They were not as benevolent as some current coffee plantation owners, but you can bet that most who work on plantations as laborers dont send their children to university.
Plantations that house their laborers create an indentured slave situation where the home is attached to the job. This is frightening to families because it is a way that owners and managers control behavior. Fear is the general rule on plantations even when it looks like the workers are happy in a benevolent environment. .
Certainly, with todays problematic climate , farmers are promoting how environmental friendly they are , and how their shade trees are great for the planet and they are right in that regard, but the human factor is often masked by this environmental promotion.. For example, Farmers who join together to form producer cooperatives are empowered by their numbers and the social benefits that they can persue as a community that could not be achieved otherwise . There is hope in the cooperative Fair Trade movement . Plantation workers by contrast , may earn $2.00-$3.00 dollars per day at best and they never get out of their poverty.
That is not to say that this particular plantation you just visited is a bad place with evil overlords. If it was , you would have seen it and not considered communicating with me. Their website attests to my earlier comment that “good people can be sustaining a bad system ” The plantation you visited has come a long way from how it must have been just 20 years ago when few cared or even knew about the plight of the people who grow the coffees we love. The Hazard Family is to be congratulated for progressive approach they are preparing for.
So thanks for the thoughts. I hope this e mail finds you in good spirits after your overseas trip, and that you are happy to be home again
I took this photo on my first trip to Guatemala in 1990. I was in search of certified organic coffee. Wandering around the countryside one afternoon near the city of Antigua a man with his sack of stuff came walking toward me on the dusty path we both shared for the moment.
I pulled out my camera to catch the man as he approached but I discovered that I had run out of film. I hurried to reload the camera as the man passed by. We greeted each other with smiles and then he was past me. I think he was Don Juan but I didn’t ask him if he would be my Shaman because I was afraid he would say , “yes son, come with me. We will talk to the Jaguars tonight and you will disappear into the stars”, or something like that. I felt I was not ready so a smile sufficed as he passed.
I loaded my camera and shot the photo. It has become one of my favorites.