Jul - Aug 2006: Paying Out the Nose for Quality Coffee!?!; Variety vs. the Old Standby

Jul - Aug 2006: Paying Out the Nose for Quality Coffee!?!; Variety vs. the Old Standby

They say people drink less coffee when the weather warms up. Well, we’re always busy here at the warehouse so I can’t say if that is true. If it is, that’s a shame because this is the time of the year when all the great Central American coffees are coming in, when great Kenyas are listed, when the Cup of Excellence auction coffees start to arrive. On that last topic, I have taken a different tack this year with our Cup of Excellence (CoE) selections.

I put a lot of effort into the CoE program, and evaluating the coffees. It’s a fantastic way to cup a huge, huge cross-section of farms from a particular origin, and that is why I attended all 4 Central American CoE events as a judge this year (Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala). And I keep copious notes and enter all my scores into spreadsheets (posted on our web site too!) when I am at the event. And yet when it comes to bidding in the auctions, I recup the entire sample set again, effectively starting from scratch … then I compare the two results. Why? Because it refines my cupping skills, and helps me identify coffees I really, really like. If I score a coffee as “Extraordinary” while at the event, then do the same here, it is (in my opinion) truly extraordinary. And why do all that work, and not win the coffee in the ensuing auction?

Well, that is the logic behind my new tack I mentioned earlier: “win the lot at any price.” To do this I have teamed up with an international team of like minded people, and (due to the very high prices) we divide the lot into smaller amounts. The core bidding group includes Sweet Maria’s with Maruyama Coffee from Japan, Stumptown from Portland, Intelligentsia from Chicago and Kaffa AS from Oslo. When we find lots we agree on, we join together, as was the case with the Best of Panama Competition. We bought the top coffee, Hacienda La Esmeralda Gesha, at the highest price ever paid in a competition. That sold out very quickly as part of our Best of Panama sampler (Top 3 coffees, 1 Lb. each, $100!). In fact, we will receive the nonauction Esmeralda Gesha in a few weeks, and it will sell for around $16 per pound.

This raises the point: are expensive auction lot coffees worth it? Another example: We also bought the 1st Place coffee in Guatemala with the group, El Injerto from Huehuetenango which we will offer at about $30 per pound. Many of you know the name, and remember our offering of pure Bourbon Injerto several years ago (the winning lot is pure Bourbon). So is the auction Injerto better than the non-auction Injerto? Well, yes and no. Auction lots are specially prepared for competitions, and farms will chose specific plots of coffee, and play with the process to get best results. Then again, I already have producers doing that for the small lots Sweet Maria’s buys … choosing specific plots, separating cultivars, raised bed drying, etc. Auction lots do get evaluated by a broad international panel of judges, and the coffees get cupped many times (they pass at least 5 rounds to reach the Finals of a CoE). And participating in auctions endorses the ethic that cup quality comes first, not packaging, not marketing. Through great cup quality the farmer is singled out, brought out of anonymity, appreciated and rewarded in price. How could I not endorse that … it is identical to our thinking here at Sweet Maria’s. And when you consider the price of a $30/Lb. coffee, it still is cheap at around 30¢ to 50¢ a cup.

I mean the most insane reality about coffee is that for most coffeehouses, the cup and lid cost more than what is in the cup. That seems plain wrong! Still, part of me is uncomfortable with offering a coffee 5x the price of others, that is not 5x the quality. I reason with myself that quality isn’t so easy to factor. And I think of all the overpriced coffees that, no matter cup quality, sell for $15, $25, $40 per Lb. roasted. So I leave it up to you, home roaster person, to decide if these auction coffees work for you, and you will let me know by buying them, or not! The fact is that we offer fantastic coffees at under $6 per Lb. (just finished cupping all our Kenyas lots on one table and they are amazing!). And each and every auction coffee we offer, some at $8 per Lb., some at $15, some at $30) are Figure 1 : Nicaragua Coffee Sorting, 1902 incredible coffees. Either way, you get great coffee. There … that makes sense! - Tom

Variety vs. the Old Standby
Derek and I (Maria) often get emails from people who ask for a very specific coffee – either a specific region or specific estate from a country. It is understandable that once you have really enjoyed a coffee from a particular region, you want to repeat that flavor experience. Our goal is to stock the best of what is in season. The bad news is that we might not have coffee from the exact same estate from one year to the next. This is due both to seasonal differences of rain and sun as well as particular cultivation, harvest and processing issues. Some farms have sufficient acreage and control of their milling so that their production is fairly consistent – so we will have those estates more reliably.

When looking for, say, a good Guatemalan coffee, Tom will not just cup the farm we had last year, but any coffees are deemed worth tasting. One year a particular farm will outshine other coffees available –the next year, that same farm could be only average. So the variety of estates and regions is always changing on our list. That is a good thing since it means that what we stock is the best of what is currently available. A production chart of the best harvest and shipping cycles for various countries around the world is listed here - http://sweetmarias.com/coffee.prod.timetable.shtml. There are plenty of years where the crop is early or late, heavy or thin, but this table gives a rough idea of the yearly cycle. Personally, I cannot understand wanting to drink the same coffee over and over. That’s the “soap on the supermarket shelf” attitude; consistency, even if consistency actually means “consistently boring.” It makes sense when it’s about keeping our clothes clean, but doesn’t when we want to experience a range of flavor profiles, unique and interesting. Part of the fun of home roasting is trying different coffees from different places and always trying what is new and fresh. In other foods perhaps I like less variety (Bittersweet Toblerone is perfect as it is!). But in coffee, more variety is good. -Maria

Sweet Maria’s Coffee
1115 21st Street, Oakland CA 94607
web: www.sweetmarias.com
email: info@sweetmarias.com

Sweet Maria’s Green Coffee Offering List
July 13, 2006 – check the web page for the latest list
Central American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Costa Rica Dota - Conquistador $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Costa Rica Tarrazu -Hacienda La Minita $6.80 $12.92 $31.62 $56.44 $108.80
Costa Rica Tres Rios -La Magnolia $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
El Salvador Organic -Santa Adelaida $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $39.01 $72.38
Guatemala Antigua Peaberry -Maria Especial $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $49.80 $92.40
Guatemala Fraijanes - Finca Agua Tibia $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Guatemala San Marcos -Finca Maria Elisa $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $39.01 $72.38
Mexico FTO Chiapas -Special Lot $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Mexico Organic Oaxaca -Finca El Olivo $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Nicaragua Matagalpa -Pacamara Peaberry $6.10 $11.59 $26.54 $50.63 $93.94
Nicaragua Limoncillo Estate Var. Java $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Nicaragua Matagalpa -Placeras Estate Miel $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Nicaragua Prodecoop Dipilto $4.60 $8.74 $20.01 $38.18 $70.84
Panama Auction Lot - Bambito Estate $13.95 1 Lb max
South American 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Bolivia Organic Peaberry de Montana $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Brazil Fazenda Brauna Peaberry $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Brazil Carmo de Minas - Aprocam $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Brazil Cerrado 5th Place -Faz. Pantano $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $47.31 $87.78
Brazil Organic Camocim - Yellow Icatu $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Colombia CoE -Hacienda La Virginia $14.90 $28.31 $64.82 $123.67 max
Colombia Huila -Palestina Micro-region $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
African- Arabian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Ethiopia Harar Horse Lot 19 $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Ethiopia FTO Dry Process Sidamo $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Ethiopia Organic Wet Process Sidamo $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Ethiopia FTO Yirgacheffe DRY PROCESS $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Ethiopia FTO Yirgacheffe Oromia $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Kenya Auction Lot -Gethumbwini Peaberry $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
Kenya Auction Lot 405 -Mchana Peaberry $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Kenya AA Auction Lot 503 -Rui Ruiru $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $49.80 $92.40
Rwanda Fair Trade Rusenyi $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Tanzania AA Songea $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Uganda Organic Bugisu $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Yemen Mokha Sana'ani $6.40 $12.16 $29.76 $53.12 $102.40
Zambia AA+ Lupili Estate $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Zimbabwe AAA - Dandoni Estate $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Indonesian- Indian 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
India Dewan Estate Kohinoor AA $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
India Matadakad Estate Peaberry $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
India Monsooned Malabar "Elephant" $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Indonesia Flores -Bajawa Highlands $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Java Government Estate - Pancoer $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Papua New Guinea - Arokara AA $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Papua New Guinea -Kimel Plantation $4.90 $9.31 $21.32 $40.67 $75.46
Sulawesi Wet-Process TOARCO $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
Sulawesi Toraja Grade One $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Sumatra Iskandar Triple-Pick $6.00 $11.40 $26.10 $49.80 $92.40
Sumatra Classic Mandheling $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Sumatra Organic Gayo Mountain $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
Timor FTO Peaberry $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
Islands- Blends -Etc. 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Australia Mountain Top Estate XF $11.20 $21.50 $52.08 $92.96
Hawaii Kona XF - Kealakekua Coffee Co. $16.60 $31.87 $77.19 $137.78
Hawaii Kona - Moki's Farm $16.90 $32.45 $78.59 $140.27
Hawaii Kona - Purple Mountain $16.00 $30.72 $74.40 $132.80
SM's Moka Kadir Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM's Espresso Monkey Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM's Classic Italian Espresso Blend $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
SM's Decaf Espresso Blend $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
SM's Liquid Amber Espresso Blend $5.30 $10.07 $23.06 $43.99 $81.62
SM's French Roast Blend $5.00 $9.50 $21.75 $41.50 $77.00
SM's Puro Scuro Blend $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
SM's Roasted French Chicory $4.80 $9.12 $20.88 $39.84 $73.92
-Decafs 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Brazil Mogiana WP Decaf $5.10 $9.69 $22.19 $42.33 $78.54
Colombia WP Decaf $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Costa Rica SHB WP Decaf LOW $5.50 $10.45 $23.93 $45.65 $84.70
El Salvador Las Ranas WP Decaf $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Ethiopian Harar WP Decaf $5.60 $10.64 $24.36 $46.48 $86.24
Guatemala Santa Elena WP Decaf $5.20 $9.88 $22.62 $43.16 $80.08
Indonesian Organic SWP Komodo Blend $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Java WP Decaf $5.40 $10.26 $23.49 $44.82 $83.16
Kenya WP Decaf $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Sulawesi Toraja WP Decaf $5.90 $11.21 $25.67 $48.97 $90.86
Sumatra Mandheling WP Decaf $5.70 $10.83 $24.80 $47.31 $87.78
Premium Robustas 1 lb 2 lb 5 lb 10 Lb 20 lb
Indian Robusta AA - Sethuraman Estate $4.40 $8.36 $19.14 $36.52 $67.76
Indian Robusta - Sethuraman Peaberry $4.70 $8.93 $20.45 $39.01 $72.38
Thumbs Down: Vietnam Robusta Gr 1 $1.00 1 lb max

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