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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

Four down, one to go

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

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

I was alerted to this whole sordid affair by one little Tweet, which linked to a short blog post with the catchy subject “Amazon redefines the dick move”.

The blog post speaks to two dick moves, really:

1. Amazon is now a supporter the Main Street Fairness act, having reversed its position.  I ranted on this topic previously, and I’ll touch on Amazon’s role reversal in a future post. But this is not the dick move I want to talk about today.
2. Amazon recently encouraged shoppers to go into other businesses, scan prices there, then leave and buy the item on Amazon and save up to $15. You can Google “Amazon price check” and come up with dozens of articles full of righteous indignation.  This is the dick move I want to talk about.

Let me begin by saying that I think Amazon is brilliant. I am an Amazon customer, and quite often at that.  I probably won’t boycott Amazon over this, it’s simply not practical.  And perhaps most importantly, as terrible as their inducement was, the real culprits here are consumers. Period.  If you behaved the way Amazon wanted you to behave with this promotion, then you are a dick, plain and simple.  Amazon was simply the serpent offering you the forbidden fruit.

The sin I define as channel surfing is pretty easy to describe, and it’s basically the case where a consumer shops in one channel (brick-and-mortar store, usually), then consumates the purchase in a different, less expensive channel (an online only retailer, usually).  There are degrees of it, and to be fair, I don’t lump all of them together.  If you accidentally and casually encounter a product, take a glance, then go away and later decide to buy it, searching for the best price along the way, that’s one thing.  I’m talking about a more egregious behavior, one that in your heart of hearts, you know is wrong: Shopper wants to see a product.  Sets out deliberately to see a specific thing.  Want to touch it, feel it, see it work.  Wants to ask lots of questions of somebody who knows a lot about the product.  The leaves and searches for the absolute lowest price that can be obtained, usually with an internet retailer.

That, my friends, is really just theft of services.

The merchant you visited has a physical store that costs money.  They have employees to help you, none of whom are volunteering their time.  They have their working capital invested in the inventory you lay your grubby mitts upon.  The price they charge for the item has all those costs built into it, which is why it’s higher than the retailer who takes your money and has the product drop shipped to you.

So ask yourself, are you this kind of shopper?  We see them occasionally, usually with big ticket brewers and grinders. Waste an hour of my time, have me demo a machine that I’ll no longer be able to sell as new, then go buy it online for $20 less.  As if my space, time and working capital weren’t worth $20.  If you do this, there’s a special place in hell for you.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against bargain shopping.  If you want a low price, by all means, avail yourself of the online shopping options.  But be intellectually honest about it.  Be courageous and buy the thing sight-unseen.  Pick a retailer that offers a return policy you like, if you really want that kind of insurance.  But please don’t unfairly waste the time and resources of a business that has made a real investment in satisfying your need for tangible products and information.  Because it’s just not fair, plain and simple.

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

 

 

First, we swear this is not some kind of scam.  American Express and we have unintentionally created a situation where you can get $25 worth of coffee COMPLETELY FREE this Saturday only.  They’re doing their thing, and we’re doing ours, and it just so happens that if you take advantage of both you score $25 worth of merchandise for FREE.  Here’s how it works:

1. First, you need to register your AMEX card with AMEX at this link.

2. Next, shop our store, online (I personally phoned AMEX merchant services to verify the credit applied to online purchases), or in person, on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH.  This is the day AMEX has designated as Small Business Saturday (aka Shop Small Saturday), and they have generously offered to give $25 statement credits to customers shopping at participating small businesses.

3.  Make a $25 minimum purchase.

4.  If your purchase is going to be shipped, use coupon code “freeshipping” to remove shipping charges from your order.  We are offering free shipping on orders over $25 all weekend.

5.  You will receive a $25 statement credit from American Express.

6.  Please considerdoing some or all of your holiday shopping this season with small businesses. AMEX has a small biz locator you can use to look up businesses by zip code.

Note that you can order from our site with separate Bill To and Ship To addresses, so you can have your purchase shipped directly to a gift recipient.  If it is a gift, let us know in the checkout comments so we put a packing list and not a paid invoice in the box.  No free gift wrap, though 😉

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

Our "home market" (and favorite, candidly), Western Wake Farmers' Market

Yesterday marked the end of our fourth regular farmers’ market season.   Over the years, we’ve sold at many regional markets, and we’ve learned a thing or two about the ins and outs of selling at markets and festivals.  Here are my observations on the good, the bad, and the ugly of having farmers’ markets as part of your livelihood.

The Good

1.  The customers.  I was interviewed recently, and asked what I liked best about our small business.  It only took me a second to realize it’s the customers.  You meet some of the nicest people at farmers’ markets.  Really.

2. It creates a healthy, pleasant habit.  Before we started our business, we were market shoppers.  But it’s fair to say we weren’t market regulars. Working in farmers’ markets forces you to shop there, if for no other reason than you don’t have time to go elsewhere.  After four years of eating exclusively farmers’ market foods, we feel better.  Period.  And it’s one of the few places anymore where you can linger for hours (as a customer, too), have pleasant conversation, and not spend a fortune.

3. It puts you in synch with time and place as it relates to your food, and makes you a more discerning consumer.  We are now exquisitely sensitive to locale, seasonality, producer, and quality.  Having foods out of context (wrong place, wrong time) now seems odd.

4.  It’s less expensive.  I realize this statement is not viewed universally as an immutable truth.  But I’ve analyzed it extensively for our family, and even started a separate blog (http://foodwhisperer.wordpress.com) dedicated to helping people get the same results we get.

5.  You experience a sense of community.  Honestly, this is our version of church.  Getting together once a week with people who believe the same things you believe, forming friendships, and working toward a greater good are common to both organized religion and farmers’ market communities.

The Bad

Being a farmers’ market aficionado is not without drawbacks, but it’s fair to say I would put most of those negatives in the same category as “overused strengths”.

1.  It becomes difficult to eat away from home.  Seriously.  The extraordinarily poor quality of the average American diet becomes a bigger issue to overlook once you’ve experienced the profound difference of eating seasonally and locally.  I know this sounds like a bizarre concern, but after a few years of eating well it becomes a real issue.  And if you have young children, it’s a challenge to keep them from blurting out the obvious in public or with friends.  My daughters have on a few occasions done things like call supermarket mozzarella on a friend’s caprese salad “plastic cheese” , and asked my mother in January “where did you get asparagus this time of year?”.  From the mouths of babes…

2.  It’s a tough way to make a living.  Selling at farmers’ markets is seriously hard work, and the pay is pretty paltry.  The expenses are not insignificant, either.  Market fees alone are about $1000 a season (per market).  Then there’s equipment, especially trucks, since you need one for each market that is happening simultaneously (and they all want seem to want to be on Saturday mornings).  Even the “minor” expenses aren’t minor – $50 tables last a few seasons, a $250 tent might be good for 2 or maybe 3 seasons, we need lots of $100 coffee urns that get banged up pretty good in a season, totes to carry things in are $30-50 each… the list goes on.  Then there’s labor, insurance, and more.

3.  Not all customers are nice.  Even though I said (and meant) above that the customers are the best part of farmers’ markets, there are a few bad eggs.  All I’ll says is it’s amazing what some people expect for for a few bucks.

The Ugly

State Market, raleigh, NC. This is the WalMart of farmers' markets.

1.  The way some markets are run is stupid and/or corrupt.  I’m speaking primarily about markets where government has a hand in them somehow.  I understand it’s the prerogative of private operators to create any rules or fees they desire, or even act on whims when they want to, especially as it relates to the admission of vendors (or not) to a market.  But once a government invests in a market, my opinion is that they have an obligation to provide a good return on investment to their constituents, and to allow reasonable access to vendors who are part of the tax base that pays for the market.  In my opinion, most government-involved markets do neither.  The NC state market is, in my opinion, one of the most poorly managed public resources in the state, to the point I would call the management at best incompetent, and more likely corrupt, based on my own experiences with them, and the experiences of friends I trust.  And complaints to the Commissioner of Agriculture evoke exactly the response you would expect: cricket chirping.

2.  Save the world mentalities.  I suppose this is the other side of the “farmers’ markets are like churches” coin.  Bright, passionate, opinionated people tend to have a missionary zeal to share their opinions with everyone, and if possible, force everyone to have behave in the ways they think are right.  The problem is, when the do so, inevitably the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in.  The recently enacted S-510 food safety legislation is a good example.  In response to food safety problems (which were the result of things that were already illegal), people (including farmers’ market people) pushed legislators into enacting tougher food safety laws.  The result for most producers is simply higher costs without improved safety.  Now they’re at it again with GMO labeling.  The sad (pathetic?) part of it is that nothing currently prevents them from seeking out the producers who do things the way they favor, from creating the food communities they want, educating people, and eating the foods they think are safe.  Instead, it’s all about imposing their world view on mainstream shoppers.  And they talk about it like there is only upside, while failing to acknowledge the likely, nay, inevitable downside consequences of their proposed mandates.

3.  Farmers growing real food are struggling more than ever.  When I say real food, I mean vegetables you can actually eat, which the USDA ironically calls “specialty crops”.  We’ve watched our CSA partners over 4 years lose about 30% of their customer base.  We personally know farmers on the verge of bankruptcy, and others who need food stamps to make ends meet.  Farming has always been tough, but I think the past few years have taken tough to a new level.

So how does all this relate to you?

Well, potentially in a few ways:

1.  If you’re thinking about becoming a market vendor, inquire informally with other vendors and the market management about your chances of being admitted.  For a good, established market, your odds are a little better than hitting the lottery, but for sure it’s not a slam dunk.

2.  If you’re looking for a positive life change, become a regular market shopper.  It’s pretty much all upside as a consumer.

Hope to see you at a farmers’ market soon!

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

We have historically had a small number of customers who want their coffee light.  Painfully light.  Just dark enough to make it possible to grind.  This group of customers was always small enough that we dealt with them as custom orders whenever they made the request.

In the past months, however, we’ve found that population of customers growing.  So to more efficiently meet the desires of this growing contingent of light roast lovers, we’ve decided to try having a light roast day every two weeks.

Here’s how it will work.  The product can now be purchased on our web site (click HERE).  We will queue up orders for two weeks, then roast only those that ordered.  Each batch will be something selected especially by the Roastmaster for its excellent taste as a light roast coffee.

The next roast date for Painfully Light Coffee will be Thursday, November 10th.  That batch will be a beautiful washed Ethiopia Yirgacheffe.

If you prefer your coffee roasted light, why don’t you plan to get in on our experiment?

http://www.muddydogcoffee.com

In response to this growing demand, we’ve decided to start offer