Archive for the ‘Green’ Category

Paper or plastic?  It’s no longer just a question you hear at the supermarket – now you have the same choice when you buy espresso from us.

Some of you may recall that when we launched this business in late 2007, we bagged coffee in red plastic valve bags.  That didn’t last long, based on feedback from customers.  It was clear that people wanted a more environmentally sensitive option, so we switched to PLA (corn film) lined kraft tin-tie bags.  We were proud to be the first coffee company in the South to offer biodegradable packaging, and we use those bags to this day.

But we don’t love everything about them.  In particular, they are not good for long-term storage of coffee.  We recommend you transfer your beans to a reusable, airtight container and store them in the freezer.  That works well in the vast majority of situations.

So what’s up with the choice for espresso?  The holy grail of espresso pours is 1 oz of 200F water (plus/minus 5F), at 9 bar pressure, through 7 grams coffee, in 25-30 seconds.  But it’s more complicated than that, even.  You want a few deep reddish brown drops to fall into the heated porcelin cup a second or two after the preinfusion, yielding to a lushious stream that resembles the tail of a mouse, and persists with that color without blonding out toward the end of the pour.  And the resulting cup will be mostly emulsified oils, initially, demonstrating the “Guiness effect” until finally coming to rest after 15 seconds or so with a crema head that is half the volume of the cup.  With that beautiful deep amber hue, and without tiger striping.  Whew.  If Roast Magazine had the equivalent of the Penthouse Forum, I would write for them, don’t you think?

You hard core coffee geeks (like me) know that espresso beans are hyper-sensitive to aging.  Old beans just don’t behave the way I describe above, no matter how much you tweak the grind, the temp, the tamp, etc.  But what is too old?  Well, sadly, the answer is that a brewed coffee may be wonderful at 10 days in the kraft bag, or even two weeks.  But that’s unlikely with espresso.  The clock starts ticking at about day 4.  And runs out by about day 10 or 12.

Paper or Plastic?

Paper or Plastic?

The problem is, if you live far from us, you may tick off four or five of your days waiting for the FedEx man.  So for these customers (or those who want to extend their enjoyment as long as possible), we are now offering a choice of the red polymer valve bags.  They are the Cadillac of coffee bags, for sure.  The downside is, your grandchildren will be able to retrieve them intact from the landfill.  So we encourage you to think about whether you really need this level of packaging, and encourage you to rinse and reuse them around the house.  But customers have spoken, and choice is what they want.

We do have a small upcharge for thes bags.  Fact is, they are more expensive.  Quite a bit more, actually.  Sorry about that, but you’ll have to take that subject up with the bag company.

We hope you appreciate having a choice, and choose according to your needs.


Read Full Post »

Photo credit: Garden & Gun Magazine

Photo credit: Garden & Gun Magazine

Ok, this one is off-topic.  Or maybe not.  It all comes back to buy local.

Yesterday I got my new edition of Garden & Gun.  Yeah, yeah, get the jokes out of your system.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but this is a magazine I really like.  Think “Southern Living”, but for men.  And the kind of women I find interesting.

Lots of good articles in this month’s edition.  But the one that caught my attention was the one I mentioned in the title of this post: Lousiana’s Last Shrimpers (click HERE to read it online).  I was captivated by the story, and thought about all the parallels I’ve seen just in my adult life: US steel, NC textiles, and of course, food of all sorts.

The gist of the article, as you might have guessed, is that Louisiana shrimpers are getting killed by Asian competition.  Hardly news, I suppose.

But it makes me angry.

This fall, in our sad and tragic (on so many levels) presidential election, both of the leading poseurs (err, I mean “candidates”) made a great show about how they would “stop rewarding corporations who ship our jobs overseas”.  That statement is ludicrous on so many levels, but most obviously because politicians have no power over this situation whatsoever.  Companies, mine included, respond to customers, not to government.  They tolerate government, they influence government, they take advantage of government, but they respond to customers.  So at the end of the day, the only power resides with… YOU.  You vote with every dollar you spend.  Do you think if every shrimp consumer walked into their seafood purveyor, and asked for gulf shrimp, and turned around and walked out in disgust when presented with a Thai alternative, that Thai shrimp would threaten the very existence of Louisiana shrimpers?  Of course not.

I also hear it with many of the wanna-be local foodies I encounter (no offense to the many, many genuine local food advocates we know), who think that eating local was invented in 2008 (nuevo-locavores?) .  By them.  They talk a good game about wanting local food, but when it becomes even a little more inconvenient or expensive to eat that way, bam, ideals are out the window.  Back to Whole Foods they go.

Take a stand, people.  We ran out of eggs this week.  What am I supposed to do, buy some from the grocery store?  I don’t think so – the answer is to go without until Saturday when I can buy them at the Market.  I stand in a freakin’ parking lot every two weeks to get raw dairy from a farmer in South Carolina because my government chooses to stifle my freedom by making it ILLEGAL to buy it in North Carolina.  Ridiculous.  My kids are sick of eating kale and sweet potatoes (ok, maybe not sick of sweet potatoes) because that’s what’s in season and grown by our farmer friends.  You know what I tell them?  Tough shit, suck it up or be hungry.  Tomato, squash and watermelon season is coming, and you will appreciate it more when it gets here.  You’re not getting asparagus from Peru in March just because Harris Teeter stocks it.

It’s fair to question whether I’m being hypocritical when it comes to coffee.  I say not, and here’s my thinking.  First of all, coffee doesn’t grow here, with the exception of Hawaii, and they can sell all they grow for all the money and not meet the total US demand.  So my buying coffee from the rest of the world (in addition to Hawaii) is not hurting my countrymen.  I feel the same way about bananas and pineapples.

It’s also fair to question whether it’s sensible to avoid local food because it’s more expensive.  I think if the disparity were so big that it was the difference between being hungry and not, then I have to say buy the alternative.  But I think the flip side of that question is important, too – what are you going to do with the money you save by buying that Thai shrimp that grew up in its own sewage?  Buy a bigger TV?  An iPhone?  More collectables?  Then I think you need to examine your priorities.  Yeah, I know that my neighbors work at Best Buy, own McDonald’s franchises, and service BMWs.  But whether we care to admit it or not, having a local agricultural community is more important to our health and safety, and long-term well-being, physically and mentally.  Job One, as they say.   And our way of life, candidly.  It’s as much about safety, security, culture and community support as it is about food.

And it’s not just shopping, it’s restaurant choices, too.  I was talking to one of our restaurant customers last night who told me that the last two weeks were the worst they have ever experienced in the history of their restaurant.  Yet when I drove by Carraba’s the place was asses and elbows.  That’s sad on so, so many levels.  Everyone I talk to tells me they want downtown to be relevant, and likes to have small businesses with personality in their community, yet when it comes time to vote with the wallet, they choose MSG-laden foods of unknown origin over small, fresh, locally sourced and competitive priced alternatives.  Why?  Main roads, habit, uniformity, etc etc… all shitty excuses.

Yes, being committed to a local food system is sometimes difficult and inconvenient.  I admit it.  I wouldn’t even argue too much if you told me it was more expensive, although I could show you that for our family it isn’t.  But dammit, anything worth doing usually is difficult.  So stop paying lip service, and put your money where your mouth is.

Buy local.  As local as possible.  If that means from your neighbor, great.  If it means from a neighboring state, ok.  If it means buying from a fellow countryman, better than not doing so.  But be committed.  With every dollar.



Read Full Post »

Talking to our customers over the past couple months, it’s obvious there is a bit of confusion regarding the local farmers’ market scene.  Let’s see if we can clarify.

Cary will have TWO farmers’ markets this year: Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market, and the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  We will be vending at BOTH of the Cary markets.  Here’s the 411 on each:

Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market

The Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market is the returning market.  This market is the one that USED TO BE at the Amtrak station on between Harrison and Academy Streets.  I say USED TO BE because that market is relocating this year.  The reason it’s relocating is that the train station will be expanded, and we were not allowed to stay for the season.  The NEW LOCATION is 744 E. Chatham Street, in the Chatham Square shopping center, across from the Circus Restaurant.

The hours of the downtown market are Saturdays, 8 AM – 12:30 PM, and Tuesdays, 3-6 PM.  Opening day is this Saturday, April 4th.

The official website of the Downtown Cary Farmers’ Market is http://www.caryfarmersmarket.com

Twitter @CaryMarket


The Western Wake Farmers’ Market

There will be a new farmer’s market in West Cary this year, the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.  That market is a Saturday-only market, opening Saturday, May 2.  Hours are 8-12 noon.  The location of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market is Carpenter Village, on Morrisville-Carpenter Road.  The market will be located about half a mile west of Davis Drive on the south side of Morrisville-Carpenter.

Official website of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market: http://www.westernwakefarmersmarket.org

Twitter @wwfm


We will not be keeping shop hours on Saturdays during market season.  C’mon down to the market of your choice and see us there!

Hope that clears up some confusion.

Read Full Post »


Last night I made some granola bars.  This morning, I wanted to get to the roastery early, so I grabbed some of the granola off the baking sheet, put it in a Pyrex bowl, and off to the shop I went.

I like to share, so I put my granola out to share with customers who stopped in for coffee.  You would think I was feeding them caviar, the way some them raved.  And a few people asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Preface:  There’s not really any right or wrong way to do this.  It’s grains, nuts and seeds, with some fat and sweetener.  Roughly 8:0.6:1, grains:fat:sweet, or thereabouts.  The only “trick” to it is that your “dough” should be sticky enough to make into a doughball without crumbling.  Also, big chunks tend not to bind as well, so chop big things into smaller pieces.  Improvise your own recipe based on this one.

Preheat oven to 350F

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flax meal (so if you don’t have this, I would pulverize nuts into a powder instead and substitute)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped cashews (I like the salted ones, then I don’t use any more salt.  If you use unsalted nuts you may want to add a teaspoon or so of salt)
1 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 stick butter, melted
I also added about a 1/4 cup of apple syrup we got as a gift from somebody who went to Canada.  Completely optional.  But dried apples (chopped) would probably be nice in these bars.

Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet into the dry.  Mix thoroughly.  Grease a large baking pan (I use an 11 x 13 b/c it’s the largest I have – a little bigger would be better).  Spread the dougn evenly and pack it down as hard as possible (use something big and flat to press on it).  Should be 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Bake for 20-30 minutes till brown (it will be really soft while hot – just make sure the edges are browned, and don’t mess with it while it’s hot).  Remove from oven, lower temp to 200F, and allow to cool for 20 minutes or longer.  Cut into desired serving sizes.  Break up portions and place on a flat baking sheet (parchment paper aids cleanup).  Pop back into the 200F oven.  For a moderate crunchiness (“al dente”) bake another three hours.  For really crunchy, bake longer (5 hours).  I time things such that I put the oven on timer and put them in when I go to bed.  So they bake for a few hours, then stay in a cooling oven for a few more.  Consume within a week or two, or freeze (I don’t bake them dry enough to store at room temp indefinitely)

Incidentally, you can make dog treats much the same way – equal parts grain and flour, a few eggs and a cup of melted peanut butter.  Follow the same procedure for baking, but dry the hell out of them so they store at room temperature – 8 to 10 hours in a 200F oven.   Then you can gross out your kids by eating dog treats.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): I’ve had a craving for Mexico Oaxaca Pluma don Eduardo for several days now.  So I whipped up a pump pot this morning before the customers started arriving.  Hopefully by next week I’ll be trying it on my new Fetco ECO brewer (yay!) – better coffee, and better for the planet (although I felt the teeth nip my butt with the bite it took out of my wallet – it ain’t easy being green!).

Read Full Post »

If there is one thing I’m good at, it’s inventory management.  My graduate degree is in a field related to Operations Research, which is essentially the study of industrial efficiency.  My specialization was in mathematical models, which are used to predict demand, calculate safety stocks to avoid backorders, etc.  For many years, things I learned at Lehigh, and later while earning an MBA at Duke, have served me well, and that continued to be the case with our small business.  Until recently, when I’ve engaged in more green coffee buying, and have had occasion to speak with numerous importers and traders.

The dynamics of specialty coffee are interesting.  And difficult, in some ways.  The first thing to realize is that the coffee we buy is not commodity coffee.  Commodities are items that are always available and, recent price volatility nothwithstanding, are predictable or can be hedged.  Think oil, or corn.  The Big Four of coffee – Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Nestle, and Kraft – employee armies of people just like me, in fact I was a consultant to one of those companies early in my career.  Specialty coffee, however, is by definition the top of the quality heap.  Certainly the top 5%, maybe the top 3%.  So by definition, in short supply relative to the rest of the crop.  And with specialty coffee becoming a larger trend, there is more competition for that scarce resource.

Another nuance is the business model of the small importer.  While giants have the financial capacity to move large amounts of commodities without having to put up their own cash (or they have the cash), small importers like the ones we buy through stock their shelves the same way I stock mine – with inventory they actually own.  Bought and paid for, then resold.  (And we run a debt-free business, so I’m not about to stock more than I can sell.)  In any climate, this would limit the amount of selection available from a given importer.  But in these unusually turbulent and tight economic times, it’s even worse.  As importers have their credit squeezed, they can buy less coffee.  Which impacts my selection, and thus yours.

Lately, commodity prices have fallen.  Fill your tank recently?  Then you’ve noticed.  Yes, coffee prices have fallen, too, but don’t expect to see much of it flow through.  With commodity prices down, countries are demanding more price differential for the premium product.  And they either won’t sell at a lower price (good for them!), or they’re getting it.  We’re paying it.

Decaffeinated green coffees add another level of complexity, especially if you want organic and/or Fair Trade Certified.  Top quality growers, especially FTO producers, sell all they can grow for all the money.  They don’t need to submit coffees to decaffeination.  Of course, some top quality producers do produce decafs, but they are a minority – another short supply situation.  So when a good FTO decaf becomes available, they sell out quickly.  This means we need to buythem when they are available, from wherever they are available, instead of waiting to include them with a scheduled shipment from a specific importer.  Obviously this is inefficient, especially with respect to freight charges.  But we do it, and this is a big part of the reason why great decafs are more expensive.

Couple all this with unstable demand at the consumer level (let’s face it, you can live without premium coffee – we felt you hold your breath at the end of September as the markets began their free fall), and increased competition among specialty roasters, and it all adds up to more difficulty securing great green coffee at reasonable prices.  And it’s going to get more difficult as this current financial crisis becomes more severe.

You now have a little insight into my world.  But not to worry – we work with the best suppliers in the business, and we are well positioned to buy large enough quanitites of fine green coffees.  We’re placing an order this week that should arrive just before Thanksgiving, and I am very excited to offer our first Rainforest Alliance coffee (my cupping notes contained the words “balsamic vinegar” to describe its sweet, sharp acidity), as well as an excellent Mountain water Process Mexican decaffeinated.  Stay tuned!


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?): Wow, this was a cupping weekend, so I’ve been tasting about a half dozen different coffees.  Right now, I’m drinking a Sumatra MWP decaf, which is wonderful, but not wonderful enough to overcome my current inventory position on Sumatra decaf and my immediate need for a Brazil.  One of those economic realities – I need to balance my taste with my forecast and budget.  Earlier today I cupped a Rainforest Alliance El Salvador that made my eyes cross, it was so good.  I’m buying that one!  But until it arrives and I find the sweet spot, then put it on the website, you can keep drinking our organic, Fair Trade Certified El Salvador El Jabali.

Read Full Post »

Photo Source: http://www.freshandeasy.com/blog/2007_05_01_archive.html
I can’t wait to have one of these stores near me

I’ve been so busy roasting, cupping and adding new coffees that I haven’t had time to pontificate on deep and meaningful things in the space lately.  So here’s a little something to chew on…

I’ve been thinking about carbon footprints lately.  We’ve spent a lot of money to help design, debug and install the ultra-efficient Revelation roaster (note that the photos on Dan’s website are of our roaster).  I would like to promote the environmental advantages of our roasting system, and locally that’s really a no-brainer.  Our machine utilizes catalytic oxidation to eliminate smoke, then we recirculate the hot air back to the roaster.  The net effect is a MUCH more efficient system, as I will describe.  So if you lived here and required no shipping for your coffee, and you had a choice between buying coffee from us, and from somebody with a conventional roasting system, you would have less carbon impact if you bought it from us.  This much is certainly true, as I will describe.  The question I would like to answer is, what if you lived far enough away that it required shipping?  Does efficient roast + ship equal less carbon impact than local roast on conventional system?  What is the shipping distance where efficient roast loses out to shipping?

I was inspired by a paper from Tyler Coleman and Pablo Paster, entitled “Red, White and Green: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade”, published by the American Association of Wine Economists.  I exchanged email with Pablo, and was able to adapt his work to my coffee question above.

The first question to answer is the difference in carbon output between my roasting system and a conventional system of the same size.  For sake of comparison, I went to the specifications for a conventional system that I was considering before I went with the Revelation; I made sure to use the specs for a system that also utilized catalytic oxidation to eliminate the smoke contribution, hence the differences I’m comparing are carbon due to energy consumption.  I’ll skip the calculations here and jump to the results: our Revelation produces 0.00004 ton CO2e per pound roasted.  A comparable, new conventional system produces 0.00181 ton CO2e per pound roasted.  Ours is favorable by 0.00177 ton CO2e per pound, or a whopping 97.7%.  That’s how much emitted CO2 you eliminate by buying your coffee from us instead of another local alternative, assuming you require no shipping.

So the question is then whether shipping generates more than 0.00177 ton CO2 per pound.  That’s 1607 grams CO2e per pound of coffee.  At some point it’s bound to happen, so how far can I ship it to you and still have favorable carbon differential?  Turns out the answer is pretty darn far.  Anywhere in the country, in fact.  Pablo’s research enabled me to answer the question; here’s the summary.

Let’s assume air freight for a minute.  At the end of a long string of math, it turns out that air freight generates 0.459 grams CO2e per mile shipped.  So I can air freight coffee up to 3500 miles and still produce less CO2 than roasting the same coffee locally in a conventional system.  Truck shipping is 2.26 times MORE favorable, i.e., lass carbon production, than air shipping (0.203 grams CO2e per mile).

So let’s say you live in Charlottesville, Virginia, 231 miles from my shop in Morrisville NC.  Buying a pound of coffee from me generates 36.3 grams CO2e.  Shipping it generates another 46.9 grams CO2e, for a total of 83.2 grams CO2e.  If you bought the same coffee locally and required no shipping, a conventional system would generate 1643.5 grams CO2e.  You achieve a 94.9% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying the coffee from me and shipping it.

What if you lived in Providence, Rhode Island, 683 miles away, and required air freight?  Your local alternative is still 1643.5 grams CO2e.  My roasting is still 36.3 grams.  Shipping adds another 313.5 grams CO2e, for a grand total of 349.8 grams CO2e.  You achieve a 78.7% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying from me and having it shipped by air.  California?  You still achieve a 14% reduction via air freight, and even more if shipped by truck.  Pretty cool, huh?

So if you buy local to keep your food dollars in your local economy and maintain relationships, you should keep doing that.  If you buy locally because you think food miles are adding to your carbon footprint, you would be right if you bought some coffee roasted on a conventional system.  But if you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint while still getting great coffee, you should buy it from us.


Read Full Post »

Have gardening questions?

This Saturday, May 24, three Master Gardeners will be attending the Cary Farmers’ Market to answer everything you wanted to know about your garden, including indigenous planting, sustainability, and more.

The Master Gardeners program is offered through the Cooperative Extension Center. See link for more info about the program.

You can get your produce shopping for the week done, too. Right now expect to find onions, greens (lettuce, spinach, kale), cabbage, carrots, beets, peas, and more. You can also buy beautiful baked goods, and of course fresh roasted coffee. All items sold at the Cary market are sold by the producers, and they must be within 60 miles of Cary, so you are supporting local vendors.

The Cary Downtown Farmers’ Market is held on Saturdays from 8:00 to 12:30 at the train depot on Harrison Street just north of Chatham.

Hope to see you there!


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »