Archive for the ‘News’ Category

One year ago, President Obama came to office in the US with a wave of enthusiasm. Yes We Can was the mantra. Yes We Can to all kinds of things. Yes We Can end war. Yes We Can fix healthcare. Yes We Can promote equality. Yes We Can address climate change. Regardless of how you may feel on any of these topics, it’s the last point I want to address here. And I’ll give you a prelude to my opinion: the mantra should have been We Don’t Really Care. At a minimum, it’s safe to say, We Haven’t Yet.

This week, I have the opportunity to be penning this missive from Europe. On this trip, I realize that I’ve been coming here quite often, for quite some time now (several times per year, for nearly the past 20 years – it’s safe to say I’ve probably been here 50 or 60 times in the last two decades). The advantage of being in Europe is that one is acutely sensitive to world news here. (To be fair, one reason for that is that world news in the only English-language television or newspaper available, aside from porn.). In addition to Europe, I realize I’ve been exceptionally privileged to have traveled extensively throughout the world. I used to keep track of the statistics – dozens of countries, hundreds of cities (thousands of excellent meals and probably an equal number of dreadful cups of coffee), but honestly, I’ve lost interest in scorekeeping. For one reason, I have nothing left to prove. But more to the point, everything is becoming the same, everywhere. It is a small world, after all. As one of my graduate engineering professors liked to point out, everything is connected, it’s a matter of how tightly. That extends to you, your coffee, and your future. As well as mine, and everyone else’s.

The news in Europe this week is the Climate Change summit in Copenhagen (show of hands – how many of you even knew it was going on?). The world must act, is the punch line of all the coverage. (Despite all the coverage, it’s not clear to me whether President Obama will be here; presumably he will send representation, at least.) So what does this have to do with your morning cuppa? That’s a fair question. The answer is, hardly anything. And that’s part of the problem. It’s hard to care about small things. But it’s hard to act on big things. The classic Catch-22.

Climate change, driven by man-made carbon emissions, is a multi-faceted problem. The elephant in the room is building heating, cooling and electrification generally, accounting for approximately 50% of emitted carbon by some estimates. Nobody seems interested in addressing this (not easy, or sexy), so we make noise about chipping away at other stuff. Auto emissions, maybe high single digit percentage on the Bad Actors list. Aircraft emissions, 2%. Coffee – the proverbial pimple on the ass of the elephant.

But pretend for a minute that we really do care about chipping away at the small things. Organic. Fair Trade. That’s the answer, right?

Let’s dismiss the obvious. Fair Trade has to do with prices, not the environment, per se. But to some small extent, the ability to make a living wage on a small plot might prevent some slash and burn to plant more coffee (though from a pure carbon perspective, the coffee trees are good, too), so Fair Trade probably has some de minimus positive influence.

Organic? It’s hard to argue that organic practices aren’t better for the environment than conventional agriculture (at least you avoid fixing nitrogen from fossil fuels), so you get some points there. But both of these things, organic and Fair Trade, are pimples on the pimple of the ass of the elephant. It’s been observed that better than half of the carbon emitted due to coffee consumption is due to things that happen after beans leave origin, namely roasting and consumption. (I should observe here that I am very favorably impressed with the Rainforest Alliance and what there certification implies for sustainability. They are really about much more than rainforests, and my opinion is that they have missed an opportunity to reach American consumers because they are narrowly branded with a topic that most Amercans, frankly, do not really care about. Maybe that can be the topic of a separate post.)

On the consumption side, it’s the disposables that are the big culprit. Want to make a difference? Reusables are the answer, wherever possible. Bring your own cup, in other words. But packaging is an opportunity, too. At Muddy Dog Roasting Company, we package all our coffees in biodegradable, compostable bags. How do I know they are compostable, aside from the claim printed on the bag? I compost them myself. Three months in my Earth Machine and there is no sign of coffee bags, just rich fertilizer. Buy one from us and try it, I dare you. To our knowledge, we are the only company in the southeast using this particular compostable bag, and one of the few in the nation using any type of environmentally friendly packaging.

So what about roasting? Well, in most cases, this is an activity that has not technologically changed in a hundred years or more. Essentially, most coffee roasters (machines) operate by continuously heating room air, and blowing that hot air out the ceiling in almost instantly. This activity requires a prodigious amount of fuel. Say what you want about natural gas being better than other forms of fossil fuel, burning less of it is better than burning more of it. At Muddy Dog Roasting Company, we partnered with US Roaster Corp to help develop a new type of eco-friendly roasting machine, one that oxidizes smoke and recirculates heat. We use 94% less energy than conventional roasters. We can roast coffee in North Carolina and ship it anywhere in the US with less total emitted carbon, from roasting PLUS shipping, than the same coffee roasted on site with a conventional system. We are one of only a few of these systems installed in the world. You would think that people would care about these kinds of improvements. To be fair, most people, when they learn of our environmental leadership activities, are favorably inclined (the rest don’t care, and they say so). But it’s also fair to say that they were going to buy from us anyway, regardless. They buy from us because we’re local, they like us, and in some cases, it’s convenient. And we sell excellent products. By and large, they don’t make environmental responsibility part of their purchase criteria.

And therein lies the opportunity.

All else being equal, selecting the organic, Fair Trade, locally roasted option is usually the best course of action. And nine times out of 10, when you ask the right questions, you’re going to find that your options are roughly equivalent in terms of roasting and packaging technology. Same circus, different clowns, as it were. But occasionally, when you peel the onion, and ask the right questions, there is something new. Something different. Something better. When you find them, select them. And make a difference.

Yes We Can.  Change We Can Believe In.  CHOPE.  Call it however you like it, just DO something.


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Starbucks is the company that coffee people love to hate.  They’re an easy target, after all, our favorite whipping boy.

That’s why it surprises people when I tell them I don’t hate Starbucks; in fact, I owe them a debt of gratitude for doing the market development that enables our business.  They’re not my favorite, either.  But when I’m away from home, with no other alternative, I’ll drink an SBUX beverage.  Sometimes I actually enjoy them, like when I can get the Pike Place Blend at the flagship store in Seattle.  Other times, it’s good enough in a pinch.  Not their espresso, that’s never good enough, but their brewed coffee.  And I will even acknowledge the elephant in the room – while I am a strong supporter of independent coffee shops, they are all too frequently not nearly good enough and deserve to lose to the big green mermaid.

I hope I come across as I see myself – not a Starbucks hater, not a Starbucks lover, but someone who respects what they’ve done and the reality the operate under, and someone who acknowledges that for what they are (a big, multi-national corporation), they do a reasonably good job, frequently better than the independents who should be much, much better.

Single serving packet of Via.  Its a plastic pouch tube about 3 inches long with a perforated tear near the top.

Single serving packet of Via. It's a plastic pouch "tube" about 3 inches long with a perforated tear near the top.

But instant coffee?

I was surprised when Via, their new instant coffee, was announced.  Seems like a strange strategy for a “premium” coffee company.  But the reality is that Starbucks is a mass market company, trying to be at the high end of the mass market.  And after thinking about how much our own customers value convenience, I realized that if they have a decent product, it’s a brilliant strategy.  So I’ve been wanting to try Via, and this turned out to be my lucky week when somebody gave me a serving.

My first reaction was a kind of pleasant surprise about the package itself.  Overall, the form factor is quite attractive: a 2-3 inch long plastic tube, kind of like a sugar stick.  Easy to carry with you (my road coffee strategy may be forever altered).  I’m no fan of plastic, but I have to admit it makes sense in this application.  The other thing about the package is that it specifies two details I never thought I’d see on instant coffee: an origin (Colombia, in the case of my sample), and an expiration date.  An expiration date!  All in all, this package gives the impression they actually care about the quality of the coffee.  I did find a little irony in the expiration dating, however.  While SBUX does not stamp their bean coffee with a roast on date, they do put an expiration date on it, and the conventional wisdom is that the product has one year dating (which, of course, is at least 10 months too much, but that’s another topic).  Well, my tube of Via had an expiration date of 25 July 2010, so it’s not a stretch to think it was made in July 2009 and has the same dating as their bean coffee.

Each tube carries an expiration date.  Pardon the poor image quality from my cell phone camera.

Each tube carries an expiration date. Pardon the poor image quality from my cell phone camera.

I think we’ve established that the package itself is reasonably well done.  The proof, of course, is in the beverage.  Here’s where I made a couple tactical errors.  The first involved the powder pour.  The Via powder has a strange consistency (relative to other instant coffees) – it doesn’t have good flow properties.  Instead, it’s almost “moist” though I find that hard to imagine.  It tend to flow in clumps, and is subject to static.  The net result of all that is that it wound up sticking to the side of my cup in a rather unsightly way.

Here's the rather unsightly stain left on the side of my cup as result of poor flow properties of the powder. The little boy in me cannot stop chuckling at the scatalogical parallels.

The second error was a failure to follow instructions.  I fully admit I did this on purpose, when I should have listened to the package.  The painfully simple diagram showing how to prepare clearly says to add 8 ounces hot water to one tube of Via.  My rather limited experience with instant coffee, however, is that the instructions result in weak coffee, so I always use slightly less water than instructed – in this case, about six ounces instead of the recommended eight.  The result was, well, strong coffee.  Overly strong.  I suspect that 8 ounces was the right number, but at that point I was already 200 feet from the hot water source and not looking back.  I like strong coffee, but my advice is RTFM and follow the instructions.

All of which leads us to the ultimate question – how did it taste?

My honest answer: not bad.  Recognize that not bad is a different thing than good.  But better than most of the swill prepared from beans in this country.

The flavor profile itself is rather flat.  Somehow this makes sense, as I would expect acidity, along with other nuances, to be a casualty of the drying process.  I would have been hard pressed to identify this coffee as a Colombian, but I’d like to think I would have correctly identified it as being from the Americas, as it did retain enough of its identity to distinguish it from, say, Africa or Indonesia.   I also have to admit that I probably would not have identified it as instant coffee. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought it to be a mediocre but not terrible brewed coffee.  And who knows, if I adulterated my coffee with cream and sugar it may have completely fooled me into thinking it was good.

Certainly this product is good enough for the mass market in the United States. Which is a sad commentary on the mass market in the US, but true nonetheless.  All in all, I suspect Starbucks may have a winner with this product.


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Holy Basil, Batman!

OK, I couldn’t resist that title.

I’ve been working on a little experiment I thought I’d fill you in on, since it seems to be going pretty well.  A couple months ago Larry Ballas of Larry Ballas farms (another vendor at Western Wake) introduced me to Tulsi tea.  I had never heard of it.  It’s actually not even tea, which is technically a beverage prepared from the leaf of camellia sinesis, it’s a tisane, which is a beverage prepared by steeping plant matter (other than camellia sinesis) in hot water.  Larry suggested that maybe he could grow it and I could add it to our tea menu.

Tulsi Flowers

Tulsi Flowers

Tulsi, or Ocimum tenuiflorum, is a variety of basil.  I don’t think it’s hugely popular here, given that nobody I know, except Larry, had ever heard of it.  But based on the little bit of research I’ve done, it’s very popular on other parts of the world, especially India, where it’s known as “holy basil”.  People there have been using it for thousands of years for both its flavor and medicinal properties.

Well, what I can tell you is, it’s pretty tasty.  Debbie used her new dehydrator to dry up a test batch that Larry grew last month.  I’ve been experimenting with brewing the leaves, the flowers, and combinations of leaves and flowers, both in tulsi-only tisanes, and combined with other ingredients.  Tonight I made the first batch I would consider truly successful.  I’m looking for volunteer taste testers, so if you’re willing to provide feedback I’ll give you a small sample.

The only potential problem I see is that I tend to like it in fairly high concentration, i.e., lots of tulsi per serving, and it’s a pain to dry, so I can see it being kind of expensive.  But we’ll see how we net out after we get some volunteer taste testers.

Give me a shout if you want to participate.


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A few hours ago, a fire disrupted operations at Authorize.net, our credit card gateway provider.  Essentially, they are one of two interfaces between your credit card and our bank account.

The net effect for you is that you cannot conduct credit card transactions on our site right now.  They currently have no ETA on restoration of service.

Obviously this impacts other eCommerce merchants, too.  Authorize.net seems (to me) to be among the most popular gateway providers on the internet, so I would anticipate problems with much online shopping today.

You can follow Authorize.Net’s updates on twitter:


Here’s some online news about the fire:


For the other six people who care, Mother Jones’ servers were victims to the fire at the Fisher Plaza in Seattle.  So don’t plan on reading Mother Jones online while you wait to be able to internet shop again.


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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.


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WWFM Opening.  Photo courtesy of Sandras Kitchen Studio, www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

WWFM Opening. Photo courtesy of Sandra's Kitchen Studio, http://www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Asses and elbows.

I just don’t know how else to put it.  That was the scene Saturday morning at the opening of the new Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

And it was wonderful.

Mia, Jennifer, Pali, Natalie, Amy (both Amys), Teri, Cindy, Heidi and Juliann have done a great thing for West Cary.  These women decided a year ago that they weren’t satisfied with the status quo of Cary markets, and set about organizing the market they wanted.  And they have done a spectacular job.  Hats off to all of you!

As a vendor, it was invigorating to be part of someting that was absolutely alive.  I was so busy that I only got to see the market from the inside of my tent, and that’s the way it should be.

Your truly, from the inside of the tent.  Photo courtesy of Sandras Kitchen Studio, www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Yours truly, from the inside of the tent. Photo courtesy of Sandra's Kitchen Studio, http://www.sandraskitchenstudio.com

Like many (most?) vendors, we were pretty much sold out of everything by 11 AM.  None of us anticipated a crowd that we were later told was about 1100 people.  I think we’ll all be better prepared next week.  There will probably be some “settling out” period, for us at least, where we learn the balance of what we’ll sell in a given week.  I will try to overshoot the mark a little next week.

I’m told that there is an amazing compliment of vendors there.  Certainly the tents strectched as far as my eyes could see.  I did manage to get my meat shopping done with Grandview Farms, as they happened to be set up right next to me – grass fed beef and free-range chicken, yum.  Maybe next week I’ll bring some more help and get out to explore.

See you at the market!

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This is the second season our coffee company we will be running a coffee fundraiser for the team.  It’s a great way for the team to raise money, and a substantial portion of your purchase price goes directly to the team.  You can purchase products other than or in addition to the dedicated fundraiser product, and a portion of those sales will goes directly to the team, as well.

Because we facilitate internet orders, this is a great fundraiser to send to out-of-town relatives.  They can shop our site, have the product shipped to them, and benefit the team.

Here’s how you can help the Stingrays:
1.  Go to our website, http://www.muddydogcoffee.com, before May 15th.
2.  The dedicated Stingrays product will be the featured product all month.  It’s on the right side of the homepage, click it to go directly to that product.
3.  Select the type of coffee you like, and choose ground or whole bean.
4.  If you prefer something different than or in addition to the Stingrays product, continue shopping.
5.  At checkout, select the desired payment method, and the desired shipping method.  Most of you will select “local delivery”.  If you want some for yourself, and some to be shipped, it’s best to do those in two transactions, as the shipping costs will be calculated on the weight of the product in your cart.
6.  If you did not select the specific Stingrays coffee (e.g., you bought only teas), please leave a note in the checkout comments (e.g., “Stingrays”) to indicate that this order supports the team.
7.  Checkout, and you’re done!

We will stop accepting Stingrays orders on Wednesday May 13th so they can be processed for delivery on Sunday, May 17th at your “Meet the Coach” event.  Out of town orders will be shipped Monday, May 18th.

Thanks for supporting the team!


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