Thursday, September 27, 2007


Organic, Fair-Trade Coffee-Of-The-Month Club
Featuring “COFFEE WITH A CONSCIENCE” Launches Today

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – September 27, 2007 – Citizen Bean ( an online subscription coffee-roaster-of-the-month club offering the best sustainable and complex roasts from small-batch “specialty” roasters throughout the country, goes live today, in time for holiday gift-giving.

Each month, the Citizen Bean subscriber will receive an award coffee from one of the country’s foremost micro-roasters, delivered just days after it has been roasted. Along with a monthly coffee selection, subscribers will be treated to specially sourced surprise gifts and coffee accoutrements, all exquisitely hand-wrapped and packed with care.

Dubbed “Coffee with a Conscience,” Citizen Bean celebrates the artistry of the independent coffee roaster. As the specialty segment of the coffee industry grows in power and sales figures, it has become apparent that the niche marketing of “specialty” roasts can be a tool to help coffee growers, many of them subsistence farmers, improve their lives and lift themselves out of poverty.

Company Founder Malcolm Stearns states “ Citizen Bean is inspired by the well known movie character John Foster Kane, a generous and idealistic champion of the underprivileged. At Citizen Bean, our goal is to advance the ideals of fair trade and sustainable products and foster sustainable development in as many coffee-growing communities as possible. We want our customers to feel that when they purchase a monthly subscription to Citizen Bean, for themselves or as a gift, not only will they be receiving a superior product, they will be contributing to a cause they can feel positive about supporting.”

Citizen Bean’s commitment to the environment and social responsibility continues beyond our product offerings. Each of our roasters designates a portion of their sales to donate back to a charity of their choice. Additionally, whenever possible, we use post-consumer and recycled materials for our packaging, shipping and collateral.

Contact: Beth Ellen Keyes 646 485 7330

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fair-trade coffee price unchanged after 10 years

Kathryn Young
National Post

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Coffee drinkers who prefer a shot of social justice with their morning java might be surprised to learn that the minimum price paid to fair trade coffee-growers hasn't changed in 10 years.

"It's like not taking a raise in 10 years," said Monika Firl, producer relations manager for Cooperative Coffees -- a group of 22 small coffee roasters in Canada and the U.S. who import only organic fair trade coffees.

"Everything is slower than it should be," said Robert Clarke, executive director of Transfair Canada, which certifies Canadian businesses who sell fair trade products.

Coffee producers are assured a minimum price -- US$1.19 per pound of Arabica coffee beans or US$1.21 depending on what part of the world the coffee is grown -- even when the volatile market price drops below that, as it has for most of the past seven years.

"I wish it was $20 a pound," said Mr. Clarke, who considered unilaterally offering a higher price, but was told that wouldn't show unity with FLO -- Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, which monitors and certifies the coffee-growing co-ops to which farmers belong, as well as sets the minimum price. Transfair Canada is one of 20 FLO members along with three producer groups representing Africa, Asia and Caribbean/Latin America.

The Caribbean/Latin American group proposed a nominal increase in the minimum price last year. Canada and other countries supported the increase, but FLO said it wanted to overhaul the entire process for evaluating how and when minimum prices are set for all fair trade products, not just coffee, Mr. Clarke said. FLO also wanted to consult with the African and Asian groups.

FLO's answer on a price increase is expected in early October during its annual meeting in Bonn, Germany.

"In my eyes, it shouldn't impact the consumer," he said, citing the example of VIA Rail, which moved last year to offer only fair trade certified coffee. The per cup increase in price would have been only 1.2 cents, so the company opted not to charge consumers more.

"The demand will hopefully drive down the pricing," Mr. Clarke said, acknowledging that some retailers will probably try to raise prices.

Fair trade coffee pricing is complicated. On top of the minimum price, coffee growers receive a social premium -- increased in June from five to 10 cents per pound -- that helps communities build schools, health centres and other improvements. And an organic premium -- increased from 15 to 20 cents -- is paid to organic coffee growers since their costs are higher.

Meanwhile, Cooperative Coffees -- which includes five Canadian coffee roasters in Toronto, Whitehorse, Chicoutimi, Montreal and Almonte, Ont. -- went ahead two years ago to increase the minimum price they pay for their coffee. Subsequent increases mean they now pay US$1.56 (including the two premiums) and propose increasing that to $1.61 at its annual meeting in two weeks.

"It ultimately didn't affect our price [to consumers]," explained Craig Hall, president of Equator Coffee in Almonte. Although the cooperative pays more for coffee, it also eliminates the middleman by dealing directly with coffee producers.

Fair trade coffee sales in Canada have risen an average of 52% a year since 2002. By volume, they've risen more than five-fold from 425,000 kilograms in 2002 to 2.2 million kilograms in 2006, while the estimated retail sales value has risen from $12.8-million to $67.2-million in the same time period.

This article was originally posted on September 17th, 2007 by

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Specialty Coffee Names Due Next Year

13 September 2007
Posted to the web 13 September 2007 by

Major coffee producing countries such as Ethiopia and Brazil have coffee brand names that Rwanda had not developed yet. Now the government coffee agency, the US aid agency and a local university are targeting to have the first specialty brand name 'KIVU' out on the market very soon, RNA reports.

"I'm sure the first one to emerge will be KIVU since Rwandan coffees coming from the Kivu Lake region are very unique, complex and exceptional in flavor profile and balance", said Dr. Tim Schilling, director of the US government funded project - SPREAD that has been working with thousands local coffee growers.

Ethiopia has specialty brand names such as 'Sidama' and 'Yirgachefe' that have been at the centre of controversy between the Ethiopian government on the one hand with coffee giant Starbucks and the US government - on the other.

Dr. Schilling told RNA that OCIR CAFE, the National University of Rwanda and the SPREAD project will be producing a Coffee Appellation scheme for Rwanda this year based on taste data collected on over 140 Rwandan coffees.

"We will correlate the taste profiles of Rwandan coffees with Rwandan geographic data like altitude, soil types, rainfall.", said Schilling. Then we will develop an Appellation Map showing the different unique taste profiles of Rwandan coffees by region in Rwanda, he added.

$55 for a kilo!

He said this will lead to international Specialty Brand names like Sidama, Yirgachefe, Harar and many more. "For us (Rwanda) it will be like, KIVU, GANKENKE, HUYE, BUKONYA, BICUMBI." Schilling explained.

Rwanda's reputation as a producer of top-quality specialty coffee took another leap with the results of its first-ever Golden Cup national competition held August 28-31.

Coffee may be selling internationally at less than $30 a kilo but the competition rated a Coffee from the north region-based SDL Muyongwe washing station at a record $55 for the same quantity.

American companies Intelligentsia Coffee and Stumptown Coffee bought the coffee at that price. Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee has been selling ZIRIKANA coffee from Northern Rwanda on its shelves.

A new cupping laboratory, a facility for assessing coffee taste and quality in Southern Rwanda, served as the venue for the 2007 Rwandan Golden Cup. An international jury of 18 coffee experts scored the coffees using a strict protocol, eliminating coffees with the lowest scores until only 10 coffees remained.

Five of the 10 winning coffees earned a score of at least 90 out of 100 for quality and taste as evaluated by the jury. These five coffees also received the competition's presidential award.

The coffees were evaluated for taste and quality by highly trained national and international juries. The entire process was monitored by consulting firm - Ernst & Young - in order to ensure fairness and transparency.

Community Coffee, Groundwork Coffee, Thousand Hills Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, Howell Select Coffees, Union Coffee Roasters (London), Intelligentsia Coffee, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Starbucks Coffee are among the approximately 30 wholesale roasters now buying Rwandan coffees.

Independence soon

The US aid agency may have invest $16 million to put the Rwandan coffee sector into shape but Dr. Schilling says a time when local growers will be working independently is "approaching very rapidly". USAID/SPREAD will transform itself into a completely Rwandan project in 2009, he said.

Local companies like RWASHOSCCO, RFCA, HORIZON, MISOZI, and others have sprung up to assist the grower groups promote, market, and export the Specialty Coffees.

"Scores of relationships between Rwandan coffee producers and US or European coffee companies have been established and it is these business relations that will continue with no need of 'expatriate' assistance to make them happen or to keep them going", said Schilling.

The American expert says Rwandans will grow the specialty coffee sector from about $5 million in total foreign exchange earnings today to well over $25 million by 2011.

"The ability of Rwandans to know and understand their own coffees, their taste profiles, and the true market value of their coffees is Paramount to Rwanda's success so far and will remain Paramount as Rwanda continues its climb to the top of the International Specialty Coffee Industry as a prized, world class coffee that apologizes to no body", he said.

There are 17 wholesale and 9 retail roasters from the US, Canada, Britain and The Netherlands that are importing Rwandan coffees. There are also 9 companies that import green coffee beans straight from farmers.

Dr. Schilling says the list is not exhaustive but largely represents most of the companies that have direct relationships with local companies. (End)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

To Burundi and Beyond for Coffee’s Holy Grail

The New York Times
September 12, 2007

DUANE SORENSON had planned to fly to Yemen, rattle up dirt roads in dusty four-by-fours and dart through the Arabian sky in prop planes as he toured the country searching for open-minded coffee growers. Mr. Sorenson, who is the owner of Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore., intended to offer the farmers more money than anyone ever had before in return for a promise to improve their crops.

But a mix-up with his passport left him stuck in Washington. Disappointed but undeterred, he boarded a plane for Guatemala City instead. When he arrived, he ate tortillas, beans and tilapia with the owner of Finca El Injerto in the western Huehuetenango department, one of the most celebrated coffee farms in Central America.

It was a roundabout way to go for a meal. But Mr. Sorenson and a few like-minded coffee hunters around the country will go almost anywhere, do almost anything and pay almost any price in pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee. For people at Stumptown and friendly competitors like Intelligentsia Coffee Roasters and Tea Traders of Chicago and Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, N.C., long trips to remote farms for meetings without immediate payoffs are necessary steps in a much bigger goal: reinventing the coffee business.

“These people have an almost unbelievable ability to source exquisite, unique coffees,” Mark Prince, senior editor at the coffee appreciation Web site, wrote in an e-mail.

Connie Blumhardt, publisher of the coffee magazine Roast, concurs: “They are certainly the leaders right now. Some smaller roasters just worship them, like they’re these coffee megagods.”

“Direct trade” is the most popular name of the style of business practiced by these coffee companies, known as roasters. It means, most simply, that the roasters buy their beans directly from the farms and cooperatives that grow them, not from brokers.

The term was popularized by Geoff Watts, director of coffee and green coffee buyer for Intelligentsia. (Mr. Sorenson’s air miles last week paled beside those of Mr. Watts, who flew to Burundi with another coffee roaster to consult with groups who want to revive that country’s once-great coffee tradition.)

Direct trade — which also means intensive communication between the buyer and the grower — stands in stark contrast to the old (but still prevalent) model, in which international conglomerates buy coffee by the steamer ship, through brokers, for the lowest price the commodity market will bear.

It also represents, at least for many in the specialty coffee world, an improvement on labels like Fair Trade, bird-friendly or organic. Such labels relate to how the coffee is grown and may persuade consumers to pay a little extra for their beans, but offer no assurance about flavor or quality. Direct-trade coffee companies, on the other hand, see ecologically sound agriculture and prices above even the Fair Trade premium both as sound business practices and as a route to better-tasting coffee.

By spending months every year visiting farms, these roasters seek to offer coffee that is produced as well as it can be, bought responsibly and roasted carefully. They aim, simply, to sell the best coffee possible.

“It’s an exploration of coffee’s flavor, really” is how George Howell explains his mission. Mr. Howell, who runs George Howell Coffee Company, a roaster based in Acton, Mass., has had a hand in practically every lurch forward in the quality coffee scene since he started out in the business in 1974. “We’re finding flavors we’ve never ever tasted before, different fruit and floral flavors from really pristine, clean coffees. These are flavors that have been lost or diluted in the old methods of blending coffee down to an average product.”

In many ways, the direct-trade roasters are building on the foundation laid by companies like Peet’s and, later, Starbucks, which went outside the commodity system to find superior coffee. But, Ms. Blumhardt said, those companies are too big to comb over every bean in every sack the way some direct-trade companies do. Starbucks bought more than 300 million pounds of coffee last year; Intelligentsia, the biggest of this group, bought 2 million pounds.

Sometimes roasters find coffee farms through serendipity. Peter Giuliano, co-owner and director of coffee for Counter Culture Coffee, spoke with palpable excitement about stumbling upon a Central American farm planted with geishas, a plant known to yield especially high quality beans. (This year, Esmeralda Especial, a Panamanian coffee produced exclusively from geisha beans, earned the highest price ever paid in a coffee auction.)

More often, roasters connect with growers through tasting competitions. The most prestigious of these are the annual Cup of Excellence competitions, now organized in eight coffee-growing countries by a United States-based nonprofit group, an event Mr. Prince of Coffeegeek calls “Coffee’s Olympics.” These blind-tasting competitions take as long as 10 days, after which the organizers auction the coffees online to bidders around the world, who compete fiercely for the beans.

Mr. Sorenson recently spent more than $100,000 for a batch of coffee beans that took top honors at this year’s Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence competition. The coffee, from Las Golondrinas, Marcio Benjamín Peralta Paguaga’s farm in Nicaragua, sold for $47.06 a pound, just shy of $40 more than the winner earned last year. But for Mr. Sorenson, who said the unusual “mango, peach, cantaloupe and jasmine flower” flavors made it the finest Nicaraguan coffee he had ever tasted, it was worth it.

Counter Culture started buying from Finca Mauritania, Aída Batlle’s farm on the slopes of the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador, after the farm’s coffee won attention at the 2003 Cup of Excellence in El Salvador. After working with Ms. Batlle for a few years, visiting the farm regularly and sampling beans produced under a range of conditions, Mr. Giuliano has asked her to pick the coffee berries when “half the fruit is at a burgundy red ripeness and the rest when it’s bright red,” a mix that Mr. Giuliano says yields just the right sweetness in a finished cup. (Counter Culture supplies the house blends for two of New York City’s most highly regarded cafes, Café Grumpy and Ninth Street Espresso.)

One of the most effective methods of encouraging change turns out to be as simple as sharing a few cups of coffee with the people who grow it. Obvious as it seems, this was far from common practice until about 10 years ago.

Mr. Watts said that cupping (coffee lingo for the formal, multistep tasting process used to evaluate quality) can help growers understand what a buyer is looking for. “There has to be a real financial incentive for every incremental improvement in quality, but it can’t be mysterious,” he said. “It has to be objective. The grower has to have every reason to believe that his investment in his farm is an investment in himself, not just him doing what some crazy American wants him to. And when they have the same evaluative skills that we do, they can taste their coffees and know what they could be worth.”

Direct trade relationships typically mean that the roaster guarantees to pay well more than the going Fair Trade price for coffees that meet an agreed-upon standard based on a cupping scale. If the coffees score above that standard, growers earn even more.

Cuppings also help roasters select the best of the already very good coffees they will offer their customers. On his most recent visit to Finca El Puente, a coffee farm in the mountainous southwestern corner of Honduras, Mr. Giuliano tasted his way through 68 tiny batches of coffee. The beans were separated by the section of the farm on which they were grown, the way a winery might segregate grapes by vineyard, and by when they were picked.

The cupping gave the Caballero family, which owns Finca El Puente, a look into the qualities Mr. Giuliano values in a finished cup so they can trace those qualities back to a particular patch of land, or a type of coffee shrub, or a degree of ripeness at picking time. For his part, Mr. Giuliano got the chance to pick the best lots for this year’s El Puente blend. Any batch that was particularly exceptional he would pay more for, roast separately and sell at a premium as a “micro-lot.”

Mr. Howell recently cupped through a selection of beans with Alejandro Cadena from Virmax, a quality-minded Colombian exporter. Mr. Cadena had brought beans sorted by size to explore the effect of bean size on a finished cup. Mr. Howell has found that smaller beans from Brazil have brighter acidity than larger beans. But bean size had no discernible effect on Mr. Cadena’s Colombian coffees, a finding Mr. Howell attributed to the mixed varieties of coffee plants used by the tiny farms Virmax represents.

Cupping is also a way of pinpointing where in the production or importing chain even the most extraordinary coffees can be damaged. At a recent cupping at his headquarters in Acton, Mr. Howell demonstrated some of the dangers. Coffee that had spent too long in a jute bag, for instance, was contrasted with some that was stored in plastic.

Sometimes simple conversation ends up making an impact on the finished coffee and on the people who grow it. On a trip to Rwanda in 2006, Mr. Sorenson asked one of the farmers in the Koakaka Koperative y’Abanhinzi Ya Kawa Ya Karaba — a cooperative that supplies him with the Rwandan beans he sells as “Karaba” — what Stumptown could do to help him improve his coffees.

“He — his name is Innocent — said a bike would help him with transportation of ripe cherry to the mills,” Mr. Sorenson said, using the term for the fruit that contains the coffee bean. “Which would improve the coffee’s quality, since coffee needs to be milled within hours of picking.” Coffee berries that sit in the sun can ferment, yielding off flavors that can taint a batch of beans.

After returning from the trip, Mr. Sorenson started a nonprofit group called Bikes to Rwanda. This April, 400 bikes specially engineered for carrying heavy loads of coffee over hilly Rwandan terrain were delivered to the cooperative just in time for the harvest.

Though altruism played a part in that effort, Mr. Sorenson said he sees paying high prices for beans and treating his growers as partners as the only way to get the quality he wants. “It’s not charity,” he said. “Our producers invest back into their workers, coffee shrubs, equipment and land. We know this is happening because of all the time we spend with them throughout the year, on their farms and in their homes.”

But it’s not a point he feels the need to argue stridently, because the proof — for anyone to taste — is in the cup.

For all sorts of great images and videos that support this article visit

Monday, September 03, 2007

Gourmet coffee guru Alfred Peet dead at 87

Sat Sep 1, 2007 3:36PM EDT

By Dana Ford

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Coffee legend Alfred Peet, creator of Peet's Coffee & Tea Inc., a forerunner to Starbucks Corp., has died at his home in Ashland, Oregon, his company said. He was 87.

Peet, known as the grandfather of the specialty coffee movement in the United States, taught the tricks of the trade to the founders of Starbucks and sold them their first year's supply. He passed away on Wednesday.

"He had this great love of coffee," said Jim Reynolds, roast master emeritus of Peet's Coffee & Tea, who worked with Peet in his early years.

"He was so helpful to many people in the business. When Starbucks was getting going, the founders of the company really needed help. He let them work in his store and taught them about coffee," said Reynolds on Saturday.

Peet was born in Holland, the son of a coffee and tea merchant. He learned the trade in Amsterdam, London, Indonesia and New Zealand before moving to the United States in 1955. Peet opened his first shop in 1966 in a rundown neighborhood in Berkeley, California that was later dubbed the "Gourmet Ghetto."

The store flourished and Peet soon opened additional shops in the San Francisco Bay area. Peet sold his business in 1979 but stayed on as a coffee buyer until 1983, and as a consultant after that.

"Up to the time he started, the quality of coffee in the U.S. was really poor," said Reynolds. "But he developed a market for those types of coffee."

The gourmet coffee trend in the United States started on the West Coast and moved east. Peet was known for using high-quality beans and a roasting method that produces a distinctively deep flavor. His company, which went public in 2001, continues to use his techniques today.

Although a company spokesperson declined comment on the cause of death, Reynolds said Peet died of cancer.

He is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren and a sister.

Peet's Coffee & Tea is a specialty coffee roaster and marketer. It operates 151 stores, about 90 percent of which are in northern California.