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We’ve reached the end of era, of sorts, and are moving into a new one as of today.

We started this blog in January 2008, in a world largely free of Twitter and Facebook, and after 4 years and 10 months, 393 posts, 591 comments, 30,195 spam comments (thank you, Akismet!), and most importantly, 113,742 visitors, we are moving our blog to a self-hosted site.

We have several reasons for the move, but chief among them is to provide an advertisement-free space for you (or, in the spirit of full and fair disclosure, to control the ads displayed, although we have no plans for advertising as it stands today). There are other, technical reasons, but we thought we should limit this conversation to something you care about: you.

Presumably, you might care a little about being able to access the content on this blog in the future. We sure care about that. We thought about migrating the content here to the new location, but at the end of the day, we decided to leave it here, and start fresh there. Again, there are lots of reasons for this approach, but there were a few biggies. First, it seemed like a lot of work ;-). Perhaps more importantly, we’ve learned a lot in 5 years. We’ve increased the number of ways we communicate with people. And we felt that a fresh start offers the opportunity to use the blog more effectively in conjunction with all the new social media tools.

We hope to see you at the new blog: http://www.muddydogcoffee.com/blog

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When we started this business in 2007, we started with a commitment to the environment.  In addition to ethical sourcing, we took steps to assure our offerings are among the greenest on the market, including investing in the Revelation, one of the cleanest roasters in the world, and packaging our beans in biodegradable, compostable bags.

But while we’re thrilled to go above and beyond to save the planet, there has been just one little problem: I never really liked our coffee bags.  Sure, they compost rapidly, but that was about the extent of their utility.  The most important job of a coffee bag is to act as a gas barrier, preventing the oxidation of the beans.  Our bag, however, was a terrible barrier package.

So for five years now, we’ve searched for a replacement bag.  But as it turns out, high-barrier, biodegradable packaging is harder to find than you might guess.  The driver of the packaging film industry is food packaging, and food companies are still getting lots of mileage out of making packages smaller and thinner, so they are not yet motivated to invest in better materials.

Our new BioTre packaging

Just when I was about to give up, it came to my attention that a West Coast US packaging company had launched a new product, a high-barrier bag made from a new technology, biodegradable film.  The call the product BioTre. It’s a kraft-based film (60%), with a polymer that contains an additive to make it break down quickly.  It has several advantages over the old bag:

  1. It has much better barrier properties, which keeps coffee fresher, longer;
  2. It has a better form-factor for retail shelves;
  3. It lends itself more readily to 12-oz put-ups;
  4. It holds up better in the damp weather we often experience at farmers’ markets;
  5. While the bag is more expensive, its billboard area is smaller, and it’s given us an excuse to rework the art in a way that makes the labels easier to read, while using less ink and being much less expensive.  Net-net, we’ve made the transition to a higher quality bag at about the same cost of goods, which lets us keep prices down for you.

So far, we’ve had a lot of favorable reaction to the new packaging, and a few unfavorable reactions.  The unfavorable reactions are mostly around the fact that it’s difficult to fit your hand in the bag.  While we sympathize and recognize change is difficult, we’re asking you to please give this package a chance.  It’s better for us, and better for you.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Web site update

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted here, mainly because we’ve been so busy with a number of projects, plus the day-to-day.  One of the projects is a totally new website.

We finally launched Friday night, after several months of development and testing.  The transition went well, all things considered. The new site is going to have lots of advantages for you, not the least of which are better searchability, and a really cool mobile version for your iPhone or Droid.

Where we’re at now is cleanup mode, essentially.  Little things, like adding the newest inventory that came in after we exported the product database.  Finding new images for products because the old ones don’t look just right to us anymore.  Getting our customers’ states back into their profile because that was the one element of that database that don’t map over.  Stuff like that.

In order to do these things well, we’ve decided to put the site into maintenance mode this week.  And maybe part of next week, too, truth be told.  This is a great week to do it, because it’s probably the slowest couple weeks of the year – when it gets stinkin’ hot, people think less about coffee.

We’ll post an update (probably on Facebook first) when we’re back online.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

 

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QR codes to-go

QR code linking to Muddy Dog Roasting Co. web site

Have you heard about QR codes?  If you have a smart phone, you may have.  You might even have a QR code reader on your phone, and if you don’t you can get one as a free app today.

A QR code is a 2D bar code.  They can encode many types of information, but are frequently used today to direct the scanner to a URL (web site address).  QR codes aren’t exactly new.  They’ve been around since the mid-90’s, but have exploded in the past few years as smart phones increase in popularity and everyone has the potential to have a barcode reader in their pocket.  Because of this new consumer capability, QR codes have been enormously popular for marketing purposes.

We are currently deploying QR codes on our products to address a few frequently asked questions we get from customers:

  1. Tell me more about this coffee;
  2. What was it I bought that I liked so much?;
  3. Where can I buy your coffee?

Our deployment is pretty simple: scanning the QR code on our product will take you to the landing page for that particular product.  Once there you can accomplish a few things:

  1. Read about the coffee
  2. Bookmark it for future reference
  3. Buy it from our site immediately

We are currently messing around with different QR code generators, file formats, and sizes to optimize the readability of the codes on the labels.

So what do you think?  Useful?  Stupid?  Geeky?  Please let us know!

One of our QR labels

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

 

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Farmers’ market season 2012 is upon us.  This is our 5th farmers’ market season, and it’s safe to say we have learned a lot (and made some painful decisions) from that first season that seems so long ago.  Here’s our plans for the upcoming season:

Duke University Farmers’ Market:  Fridays, 11 AM – 2 PM.  We will be returning for our 5th season of Fridays beginning Friday, April 27.  Duke is the only market we’ve served since the very beginning of our existence as a company, and we’re pleased to continue to serve the Duke community.  Duke is a special market for us for another reason, too – Duke is one of Jim’s Alma Maters (Fuqua School of Business, 2001).  The nature of the Duke market is a little different than others we serve.  Sponsored by their Live for Life program, the main goal of the Duke program is to get people eating healthier food.  As such, there is less emphasis on origin, and some of the produce is more “regional” than local.  The upside is that you will see more variety, earlier in the season, than you will at other local markets, and typically it’s coming from Florida or Georgia.  You also will NOT see sugary items (pies, cakes, etc.).  The Duke market is nestled in the Medical campus and parking can be a challenge (it really is designed for staff, although the public is welcome).  The theme for the 2012 market is Local Food, Global Flavors, and the market has published a recipe book to go with the theme – download it HERE.  The video below is old (2008) but see if there’s anyone you recognize at about the 40-second mark.

The view from the south.

Western Wake Farmers’ Market:  Saturdays, 8 AM – 12 PM.  The regular season starts this Saturday, April 7th.   We have served the Western Wake Farmers’ Market since its inception, and are proud to continue that tradition into the 4th season.  WWFM is our “home market”, since we are residents of West Cary, and we are proud of this market because it’s well on it’s way to being a World Class market in every respect.  One of the things that sets WWFM apart is that it’s a *customer run* market (the norm is vendor-run, or government-run).  It’s easy to see the customer-centric practices, such as strategic admission of desirable vendors mid-season (most markets would wait until the next admission cycle which is typically annually), and the diverse food-centric nature (i.e., there are hardly any crafts at this market) of the vendor offerings.  We will be starting this season at the same location (Carpenter Village), although plans are in the works for a permanent home as Carpenter Village will be developed in the near future – stay tuned!  Note that you can also follow @WWFM on Twitter.  Their Facebook page is HERE.

The Saturday Market:  We started mid-season last year, the first for the eclectic Saturday Market in the Boylan Heights neighborhood of Raleigh.  Tucked away in a parking lot behind Rebus Works, this little neighborhood gem is one of Jim’s favorites for its diversity and culture.  It’s also about the longest local market, running from 9 AM till 2 PM each Saturday, and the new season starts Saturday, May 5th.  The Saturday Market’s Facebook page is HERE, and you can follow their Twitter stream HERE.

The Holly Springs Farmers’ Market:  Saturdays, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM.  The 6th season for the Holly Springs Market starts Saturday, May 5th, but it’s our first one with them.   We hadn’t considered applying to this market, but in January they called us and asked if we would come.  After reviewing the traffic data provided by the market manager, and talking to some customer who live down there, we decided that it would be worth a shot this season.  The Holly Springs Market Facebook page is HERE, and their Twitter feed is HERE but is obviously in a state of benign neglect.

We all have our own reasons for being farmers’ market patrons.  Whether it be because you want to feed your family better food, support your local economy, find unusual items not carried by supermarkets, or a host of others, please make it a point to patronize your local market(s) regularly this season.  We’ll see you there, with hot coffee,  iced coffee, and freshly roasted beans.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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The Baratza Virtuoso and the Baratza Esatto: perfect together (some assembly required). The Essatto will also work with the maestro (recently discontinued) and the Maestro Plus.

The Problem

One of the most frequently dispensed pieces of coffee brewing advice around our roastery is “weigh your coffee” to achieve the correct dose.  For some reason, however, Americans seem to have a resistance to many sensible things in the kitchen, chief among them weighing things, preferring instead to dispense based on a completely antiquated system of volume measures (I dare you to find a “tablespoon” outside the US or UK).

Why is it important to weigh your coffee instead of measuring by the scoop?  Take it on faith that the amount of coffee you use to brew a cup matters.  Given that, here are two reasons to switch to weight-based dosing:

  1. Different roasts will have different densities, with light roasts being more dense.  Imagine it this way: scoop an equal volume of light and dark roast beans.  Because the dark roast are slightly larger, and have less moisture (as a result of being dried longer in the roasting process), there will be slightly less beans in your dark roast scoop, and they will collectively weigh less than the same size scoop of light roast.  When brewed, this will result in different extractions and total dissolved solids in the cup.
  2. You probably use a couple different scoops in your kitchen, each one of them being a slightly different volume, and/or, even with the same scoop you are not likely to be consistent.

Despite these good reasons to weigh your dose, volume-based dosing is still the norm, because for most people it’s inconvenient (or impossible, if they don’t have a good kitchen scale) to weigh their coffee every time they brew.  Enter the Baratza Esatto as a possible solution to weight-based dosing.

What is the Baratza Esatto?

Esatto, in Italian, means exact, or precise.  The Baratza Essatto, simply put, is an automatic weighing device designed to interface with certain Baratza grinders to dispense a pre-determined amount of coffee, ground on-demand at the time of use.

Image of the assembled system, from Baratza's website. I wish their site contained more information about the system, but surprisingly, it is almost completely silent on the system.

Essentially, the system consists of a base (think of something about the size of a shoe), the front of which contains a programmable interface to set the desired output of ground coffee.  The heart of the system is a load cell positioned to rest in the bottom of the grinder once it’s installed.  A special – smaller – coffee receptacle then replaces the one that came with the grinder.  A short, slotted “arm” holds the grinder’s rotary timer switch in the “on” position so the programmable interface can control the on/off of the grinder to deliver the desired mass.

The unit has three buttons that can be programmed to output the desired mass when the Start button is pressed.  I tested it with doses ranging from 7 grams to 60 grams output; I don’t know exactly what the lower or upper limits are.

Here's the unit out of the box. It measures 12 x 5.5 x 2 inches (approximately). Box content includes the weighing unit, the arm to hold the time switch, and the receptacle for ground coffee.

Grinders that work with the Esatto

Several grinders in the Baratza lineup work with the Esatto accessory: the Maestro (discontinued), Maestro Plus, Virtuoso and Preciso.  The Vario will NOT work with the Esatto.

How to assemble the Esatto to a grinder

The procedure is pretty straightforward and simple, as the following photos illustrate.

Start by removing the screw at the back of the unit and removing half the die cast cover.

Next, remove the rubber feet from the grinder. Pry gently, and/or use a pair of pliers.

Insert the grinder into the Esatto. The load cell goes above the frame of the grinder.

Plug the grinder into the socket inside the Esatto and coil up the cord.

Replace the cover.

Rotate the switch to 12:00 and insert the arm to hold the switch in the on position.

Insert the receptacle onto the load cell. The unit is now ready to use.

Using the Esatto

The Esatto is easy to use, as shown on the following photos.

The Esatto has three programmable doses. Simply press the desired memory location, set the dose with up and down arrows, and hold the memory location till it's stored. The press the Start button to grind the desired dose.

The Esatto is right at home on my home coffee bar.

The Results

So at the end of the day, the real question is, how accurate is it?  The short answer is, very accurate.  I ground approximately 100 samples, of doses ranging from 7 grams to 60 grams, and weighed them on an Ohaus Navigator balance (the Navigator is a laboratory-quality instrument with resolution of 0.1g).  Every observation was was -0.1 g from the setpoint.

The $64,000 question then becomes: do I recommend the Esatto?  Well, it depends.  For sure a good kitchen scale is more versatile.  But if you don’t have and won’t obtain a kitchen scale, this is a super way of dosing your coffee by weight.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Web site woes

Just a quick note to let you all know we’re having some web site issues. Our host upgraded their PHP, and while we were told our cart engine was compatible, it turns out that information was erroneous. So we either need to switch hosts or upgrade te cart. Both are an equal pain in the ass, and the host is great, so we’ll probably gut it out with an upgrade to the cart. Might take a day or two (I hope it’s done that fast).

Meanwhile, if you want to place an order, email is working ( sales@muddydogcoffee.com ) as is phone 919.371.2818. We’re less worried about payment at this particular point in time, i.e., we’ll start processing your order and get in touch with you on payment. Our secure credit card gateway is unaffected.

Thanks for your patience.

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One of my resolutions for 2012 is to have an editorial calendar for this blog.  To be completely candid, given the rise of social media in the past couple years, I gave serious consideration to ending the blog entirely.  But after extensive consideration, I realized that blogging does still have a place in our marketing communications and social media strategy.  What my blogging efforts need, I think, is some focus, hence the creation of an editorial calendar, a plan for generating content that our customers will enjoy.

In an effort to determine what customers might enjoy, I took a look at the Top 10 Most-Read posts of 2011.  They are listed below: which was your favorite?  What coffee topics would you like to see covered in 2012?  If I were to allow post popularity to drive the content, I’ll be writing about Keurigs for every post… don’t let that happen!!

Top 10 Most-Read Posts on Muddy Dog Coffee blog

#10: Starbucks Via: the least worst instant coffee?

#9:  How Stuff is Made: Monsooned Malabar Coffee

#8:  Homemade Kahlua (Coffee Liqueur) from Scratch

#7:  Watch “Black Gold” and Other Free Movies with Your Coffee

#6:  Where your coffee dollar goes: breakdown of costs in a pound of beans

#5:  6 Easy Steps to the World’s Best Drip Coffee at Home

#4:  How to Make An Authentic French Cafe Au Lait

#3:  10 tips for making great iced coffee

#2:  The Main Street Fairness Act of 2011: neither Main Street, nor Fair

And the #1 most-read post in 2011:

Why the Keurig K-Cup is the beginning of the end for great coffee

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Every year about this time, I write up a little something about how to drink better coffee in the new year.  Previously I had directed posts entirely to how to do it better yourself, and for sure I’ll cover that again.  But 2011 was an unprecedented year for us, and as I became busier myself, it became obvious that some days I was NOT going to be making my own coffee, so sourcing it well became a higher priorty.  And as I became busier, I let go of a little of the rigidness that’s accompanied my coffee habit in recent years – and I found myself having more fun.  So this year’s list is NOT a rehash of previous years.

Without further ado… here are my Top 10 ways to drink better coffee in 2012:

10.  Find a good independent coffeehouse, or better yet, a number of them.  There are lots of tools out there to help you, especially if you’re an iPhone or iPad user, and the wonderful website http://delocator.net/ is at your disposal. Independent coffee houses are more likely to be in tune with season and quality, and they will help you discover new origins, new prep methods, and more.  Ideally, they will do it right for you.

9.  Make it a point to patronize your independents regularly, even when you could brew your own.  I’m not saying every day, necessarily.  But don’t be a stranger.  Small independent businesses depend on your patronage to stay alive.  If you want them there when you need them, you need to throw them some business even when you don’t need them.

8.  Find your local, independent roaster (or several).  To get the best beans, you can’t be buying them in the supermarket.  Like local, independent coffee houses, they are best equipped to keep you in touch with seasonal coffees, and they are likely to strive for the highest quality.  And like your coffee houses, you need to patronize them regularly.

7.  Resolve to expand your routine this year.  For example, if you always drink Sumatra, try some new origins, things that are like Sumatra, and things that are decidedly DIFFERENT than your old favorite.  Try new prep methods.  Anything to expand your horizons.  Variety is the spice of life.

6.  Go low tech at home.  Good gear doesn’t have to be fancy gear.  For less than $75, a good hand grinder paired with a Hario pour-over cone will give you more joy than the last expensive electric appliance you bought.  Simplicity has lots of advantages beyond price – less things to break, easier to use, and more satisfaction from being intimately involved with crafting your coffee.

5.  Reduce your consumption.  Wow, this is a surprise, I’ll bet – a guy who sells coffee advocating for you to drink less of it.  But the less you drink, the more you’ll appreciate what you do consume.

4.  MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE.  Ratios are critical, as are temperatures and extraction times.  Get yourself a kitchen scale that measures in 1 gram increments, and use it!  Weighing your brewing water isn’t ESSENTIAL, but it helps.  Monitor your brew water temps, and your extraction times.  Rules of thumb abound, but the important thing is to find what works for you.  Once you do, it will be easy for you to maintain or vary at will.

3.  Get yourself a notebook, or some notekeeping app.  Note what you do, what you like, and what you don’t.  Go back a read your notes periodically.

2.  Commit to pay for quality.  Food is too important to your health and quality of life – skimp somewhere else.  And even relatively “expensive” coffee at home translates to less than 50 cents per serving, or about the same as a K-cup.

1.  Have Fun!  I’m not saying you should drink lousy coffee, but life is too short to get hung up on a single cup.  Do it as well as you can, but enjoy the social aspects of the beverage.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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Four down, one to go

☑ Kim Jong Il ☑ Khaddafi ☑ Osama Bin Laden ☑ Saddam Hussein ☐ K-cups

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

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