Plantations and Cooperatives

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.0192590-r1-e0024  So here is one story that came to me and my reply.    

Hello Paul,
      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 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
.Paul Katzeff

Going Down That Old Dusty Road in Guatemala

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.

Dusty Road

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.

Paul Katzeff

Part I: The Beauty of Growing Coffee Trees in Your Home

When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 50’s my mom would stick three toothpicks into an avocado pit, balance the pit on the rim of a water filled glass, submerging the bottom half in the water. In a few weeks up would pop a plant with iridescent green leaves.

Today, 60 years later, I follow in my moms footsteps and plant coffee seeds in a 2 inch wide flower pot, wait 3 months for the seeds (beans) to pop up, and then nurture the seedling through three successive  repottings  into larger containers until the tree is 7 feet tall and producing thousands of beautiful red cherries.

Me with a three year old coffee tree

Me with a three year old coffee tree. Note the small amount of the deep red cherries of the trees first crop  sprinkled throughout the tree.

Last month I  received a letter from Woody Hastings . I gave a him seedling coffee tree back in the summer of 2006 . He took the gift seriously.

He wrote to me last month and sent along these photos by way of a “tree progress report . His letter inspires this blog entry.

“Hi Paul,

I’m Woody, the guy you gave?/sold? a coffee plant to at SolFest 2006. You and I have crossed paths at SolFest ever since and I think a few times at GreenFest too.

Here’s what I look like…

outlookOr maybe you recognize my wonderful wife June who works at Global Exchange.

Anyway, I wanted to show you a couple of photos of the fantastic coffee plant you gave me. It is now fruiting with about 20 cherries and  I plan to roast them per your instructions at the last SolFest and have a cup of my own home grown, home roasted, home-brewed coffee!  And the plant, which is about 3 feet tall…outlook_3

Really just thought you might like to receive such a good progress report, and wanted to thank you for giving me this living thing that has brought me (us)  so much joy and entertainment!

Happy New Year to you.

See you at SolFest!



PS, Almost forgot to mention, Mr. Coffee, as the plant is known, was dressed up with ornaments and served as our “christmas tree” this past December. What a hoot!outlook_4I wrote back…….


I wonder if I can put your letter and photo on our website so other people can learn and see your success with the coffee tree, I am proud of you. You found the magic within you. I Thank you for the photos. You will need about 30 beans (15 cherries)  for a cup of coffee. about 12 -15 grams) What is your cycle ? When does it flower and when are the cherries deep red? Where do you live?


Woody replied,

Hi Paul,

Feel free to use whatever  I sent you for your website, plus the following info too if you wish. If memory serves well,  I think I first noticed the flowering in mid-summer, cherries emerged in the fall, and started turning red  in December. Judging by the pace at which they are all turning deep red, I will have harvested them all before the end of February.

I live in Noe  Valley, in the  geographic center of San Francisco, west of the Mission, east of Twin Peaks. We have a tall east-facing window in our living room and that is where Mr. Coffee spends most of his time. You had told me that they like morning sun, and he gets a lot of it there. On nice warm days we sometimes put “him” out on our deck that gets a lot of sun. Only problem with that was that one day we put him out when it was very hot and a few of the leaves “burned.” The soil I potted it in is a mix of bagged planting soil and other soils from various plantings, plus a small amount of worm castings.  I’ve fed it diluted worm tea from my worm bin about once every two months. I think that helped a lot. Since I have 20 cherries, it will be one strong cup!

I think the one thing we have been mystified by is how the blossoms could have been pollinated. I was happy to see the blossoms and figured they would just drop and produce nothing. So surprised and gratified to actually get cherries, but how does that work? Self-pollinating?

Best Regards,


Tomorrow I will continue this blog with my Tips for growing coffee trees at home successfully . Look for EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GROWING COFFEE TREES AT HOME

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

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


Gather ’round for a coffee story


Paul and Joan Katzeff at our factory in Noyo Harbor, 1972

I began my work here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company in 1972. The company was quite young back then, actually , it was like being there at conception . (inception ?) . There was no specialty coffee , nobody walked around in the streets with “to go” cups. There was Nixon and funny  colored  busses on the highways. People listened to the Moody Blues and said “oh Wow ! Petrol was 22 cents a gallon and a cup of coffee was a dime. I fell in love with the current President of Thanksgiving Coffee Company (Joan Katzeff)during those heady years of” anything is possible”, and together we embarked on a journey that eventually turned into Thanksgiving Coffee Company      We have been in business as a specialty coffee company since a time when there were less then ten coffee companies in the entire country that focussed on taste as a function of terroir and craftsmanship.  There were many excellent small coffee companies that specialized in coffee for specific ethnic groups,  like Bustelo that roasted for the Puerto Rican Community or Madalia D’oro That roasted for the Italian community. There were Turkish coffee stores, Armenian ones, and there also, lurking in the background, were shops like  Gillies and McNulty’s and Flavor Cup in New York  and Capricorn and Peets in California. The  forerunners  of todays 4 Billion Dollar specialty coffee industry and it’s “to go cups” .They were “Big City “companies all, and  Thanksgiving Coffee slipped in to that “uncrowded field” through the portal of the Mendocino Coast  of Northern California  .

Me and Brownie McGee

Me and Brownie McGee, New Guinea 2005. Many farmers in New Guinea speak english because they were colonized for 50 years by Australia. We had a long conversation about agrarian reform and revolution. He had traveled two weeks on foot hunting with a blowgun for food to bring a small sample of his cooperative's coffee to the tasting event that I attended.

The stories I tell in this blog are those of someone who found magic in the first sack of green coffee he opened (pardon the third person reference to myself) and later discovered that the magic came from the people in far off places…the farmers and campacinos that  cultivated and cared for the land upon which their coffee was planted. This discovery opened up the floodgates of adventure and experience proving that passion comes in many unexpected  forms as does kindness  and a great cup of coffee.

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