Archive for the ‘recognition’ Category

Yay for us!

Twice in the past two weeks, we have been “honored” with small business “awards”.

One was for having an excellent blog.  Among the “Top 30” coffee blogs, in fact, according to the award givers.  I mean, wow, I do work hard at the blog, but knock me over with a feather, right?

Not so fast.  In order to “claim” my award, I needed to agree to a link exchange, i.e., I post a link to their site on mine, in exchange for… what, exactly?  Maybe a link from their site?  A well written survey of all the coffee blogs out there?  No, not so much.  Turns out their site is basically just “Pimp my MBA Program”, an extraordinarily shallow promotion of MBA programs around the world.  Their site doesn’t even mention coffee.  Or blogs.  And if I didn’t agree to a link exchange within a short period of time, well, they were going to have to give my award to somebody else.  Somebody who also had the #8 coffee blog, apparently.  Man, I haven’t felt that deflated since my kids gave me the “#1 Dad” hat and I realized somebody else had one just like it.

Then yesterday, we learned that we had also been recognized with a prestigious customer service award.  Yeah man.  We do work hard at customer service.  All we had to do to claim our award was to purchase a small plaque.  For $195.  Plus $18 shipping.  Seriously?

First of all, shame on these idiots.  This is really the most productive use of your time – cooking up bogus “awards” to sell to small businesses desperate enough to decorate their walls with worthless business bling?  When your momma asks you what you do for a living, this is what you want to tell her?  “Gee, Momma, I make up phony awards to sell to fools that think they can trick people into believing they do a good job and lots of folks like them.”  Yeah, that’ll make her proud.

And shame on any business that propagates this sham.  Next time you see a small business displaying a seemingly prestigious “award”, maybe you should ask what they did to earn it.  And whether it came without strings attached.

As for us, we’ll just keep on blogging, and serving customers.  Because our award is the feedback we get from you.  Thanks, and keep it coming!


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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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How many of you had that old Rice-a-Roni jingle in your head as you read the subject of this post?  If so, you’re showing your age…

I was in San Francisco a couple weeks ago, and made it a point to see out a decent cuppa in the City by the Bay.  I only had two days, so I sampled two shops, Blue Bottle and Ritual.

My favorite, hands down, was Blue Bottle.  Not that Ritual was bad – they were quite good, in fact.  But those Blue Bottle guys have their act together.  The siphon bar was a bit over the top for my tastes, so I stuck with a pourover cup of their brew of the day.  The barista was underinformed as to the composition of the blend (she was quite obviously wrong about the composition of the blend, as their is no mistaking natural Ethiopia and Sumatra in the cup), but the blend was lovely, nonetheless.  They have a simple, yet elegant breakfast menu, and a small but adequate number of coffee choices.  The quality was outstanding.  Overall, Blue Bottle is highly recommended.

Ritual was a good experience, too, for the most part.  Food selection was kind of disappointing, but since I don’t go for the food it was no loss to me.  I ordered a Helsar Villa lobos on the Clover, which turned out to be… just a good cup of coffee, so safe to say it fell a little short of expectations.  Ritual is a busier production shop with roaster and warehouse all in the cafe space, so while authentic it’s a bit of sensory overload.  I recommend them, too.

If any of you have road coffee recommendations, please comment.


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Saturday marked a very special occassion: it was the grand opening of  The King’s Daughters Inn, in Durham NC.   In case you missed it, here’s a clip of the ribbon cutting.  I’ll bet you’ll recognize the guy holding one end of the ribbon!

The Inn is the result of the vision of Colin and Deanna Crossman, who purchased the property and spent the past year restoring it to its 1920’s splendor.  The building was formerly a home for elderly women, run by The King’s Daughters, a Christian organization.  With the advent of modern nursing homes, the original purpose of the facility became less relevant, and the home was ultimately closed several years ago.  It remained vacant until Colin and Deanna saw its potential to become a luxurious Bed & Breakfast and conference center.

And what a B&B it is!  The Crossmans have merged the best of tradition and modern technology to create an elegant, smart, efficient destination.  The main house is comprised of 17 guest rooms, each with its own special decor.  The annex, built in the 1950’s serves as a full service conference center.

We were pleased and proud that the Crossmans selected us to provide coffee and tea for the Inn.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that we’re all Dukies, but the real reason we hit it off so well is that we share a number of values.  As their work preserving this historic structure shows, Colin and Deanna believe in preserving tradition while enhancing it with the application of modern technology.  We do, too, having invested in ultra-efficient roasting technology that emits no smoke out the stack, and cuts power consumption by 90%+ vs. conventional roasters.

The Crossmans also believe in local sourcing wherever possible, and their selection of a coffee provider was with that in mind.  We knew it would be a big challenge to come up with a house coffee that reflected the values and character of the Inn and its proprietors, while pleasing guests with a wide range of tastes, but we think we’ve pulled it off.  Please read the descriptions for the both The King’s Daughters Organic House Blend and The King’s Daughters Decaffeinated House Blend.  We hope that you’ll give them a try, and do plan to stay at the Inn if you find yourself traveling to Durham.

And if you were at the Open House Saturday, or were one of the guests who stayed for the Inn’s first night, we want to hear from you your impressions of the property (and the coffee!) – leave a comment!


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You may notice that I usually say Happy Holidays.  To me, this is more than a matter of politicial correctness, as we celebrate multiple religious holidays in our home, and we have many friends from around the world who are non-Christian.  To all of them – Happy Holidays!

But today is Christmas!  So Merry Christmas!

I had sent a thank you sentiment to our mailing list, but want to repeat it here in case you were one of those who didn’t receive or didn’t open our message.

We have the world’s best customers.  Thank you to each and every one.  It has been a joy serving you this year, and we value the many friendships we’ve made.  We had a very successful first year despite an economic meltdown of historic proportions, and we owe that success to you. We wish you a joyous and safe holiday season.

On a related note, how did you do with buying local for holidays this year?  I just tallied up my personal spending (which was right around the national average, much to my surprise, as I thought I would spend less).  Drum roll, please………. 79% of my purchases (by dollar amount) were made from people less than 50 miles away, whom I know by first name, and who produced (grew, fabaricated, etc.) the goods themselves.  And the gifts were nicer than anything I could have purchased from a big box store.  Who gives lamb as a gift anymore?  Well, I’m here to tell you that it made some people on my gift list very happy, indeed.

Santa was good to me, too.  I got a couple new coffee books I’ll be reading this week – The Espresso Quest, and God in a Cup.  They sound like good reading.  I’ll let you know.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?):  I had quite an array of choice this morning.  We finished up the year with about 35 lbs assorted finished goods, which I boxed up and will bringing to my family in Pennsylvania tomorrow.  But today, they are all on my dining room table.  So what did I pick?  Classic Italian Espresso.  Call me a purist.  I have been thinking about what I will drink on New Year’s Day, however.  New Year’s is one of my special coffee days of the year, where I do something special and savor it.  I usually use my coffee siphon on New Year’s (did you see the movie The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson’s fancy coffee brewer?  I had that same brewer (The Royal) long before the movie.)   I haven’t made a decision on the coffee yet.

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I’m not talking about Pocket Flan, although that is a good idea (you laugh?  One word: Gogurt.)

No, I’m talking about the coffee flan at the new Tasca Brava in Raleigh.

We had some old friends from up north drop in unexpectedly yesterday.  So I called Bistro 607, one of my favorite restaurants, to see if they could squeeze us in – only to find they were no longer there!  Turns out Juan Samper bought the place to open his new Tasca Brava, a true Spanish tapas restaurant.

Those of you who know me well know that it’s nearly impossible for me to be satisfied with a restaurant.  This is usually due to the fact that whatever geography is represented, I’ve probably been to that place and ate like a local.  Kind of like Tony Bourdain, only without the camera crew, the after-dinner smoke and the foul language.  Well, OK, with the foul language.  We all have our issues.

But I do have a weakness for tapas, and I’ll give any of them a try at least once.  The problem with most tapas restaurants is either, a) they suck, b) the plates are too big, or c) both.  Red Room has been my reigning fave for the past few years, ever since the place on 9th St. in Durham closed.  Red Room has problem b).  Oliver’s Twist, Zelly & Ritz… problem a).  So my expectations were low.

But when we walked in, the first thing I saw were coffee bags for sale.  Karma was talking to me, baby.  As he seated us, I asked Juan, the owner, where he got his coffee.  Since I knew he didn’t get it from me, there was only one answer that would be acceptable.  And he gave that answer.  He roasted it himself.  BANG!  Cosmic connection.

The meal blew me (and all of us) away.  Our tapas were perfect.  Four people, nine or ten tapas, a bottle of wine (what did you pick, Myles?  It was fabulous), and still room for dessert.  Could it get any better?

Two words: Coffee Flan.  That’s right.  Rich, creamy and caffeinated.  Wow.

So I did sample Juan’s espresso.  It’s good.  I don’t feel threatened, though.  Too much like illycafe for my tastes.  I invited Juan to the shop for a little roasting, blending and brewing session.  We’ll see if he takes me up on it.

Just say no to chain restaurants.  Visit Tasca at 607 Glenwood.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?)  I was a bit of a coffee fiend today, which believe it or not, is unlike me.  I started the day with a pump pot of Christmas Blend, which I shared with my high-powered work team from Duke’s business school – they are helping me out with some MBA consulting.  Every one of these people is the the smartest one in the room.  If I was a little more self-aware, I would be intimidated.  Then this afternoon I had a craving, swear to God, for acidity.  So I brewed up some Kenya.  That scratched the itch – you gotta love a coffee that is unrepentingly bright.

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And we’re one of them!  The folks over at organiccoupons.com have a blog called Organicasm (I know it’s hard to say, but keep it G-rated, people), and today they posted their list of 50 Must-Read Blogs for the Conscientious Organic Shopper – we are number 43 (I don’t think these are in any particular order).  I was surprised to see that we were not under “food”, but that they placed us under “Ethics, safety and policy”.  We could do worse than to be listed with other ethical companies!  I discovered a few new blogs here that I will like to read.

Thanks for the recognition, Kelly.


WWJD (What Would Jim Drink today?) – I was in a meeting with free Starbucks.  Believe it or not, I’m not among the Starbucks haters.  I think you have to calibrate your expectations.  To me, Starbucks is kind of like Catholicism (I say this as a recovering Cathoholic)… you don’t go because you know you are going to have the ultimate experience each time.  You go because you know what to expect, and it feels comfortable and familiar.

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