This is the actual transcription of my travel journal from my recent trip to Costa Rica.
Sitting at a bar near my gate in the Houston airport. Had a big pretzel and just ordered a Goose Island IPA. I'm on my way to Costa Rica. Tonight I will arrive in San Jose and check in to Holiday Inn Express. This trip is different from most because – like my first trip to Costa Rica – I'm first conducting business, visiting Fincas Cafe con Amor and Sircof, and then going on an adventure. My first trip to CR I took my mountain bike and hit the road, eventually making my way back up to Hacienda La Minita. This time I will take a bus to the town of El Castillo, near Arenal Volcano, and run in an 80K (50 mile) foot race through the rainforest. I'm nervous, but ready for action I guess. I hope all goes well.
I'm at a restaurant called Rosti Pollo. Ordered a chicken sandwich, fries, a chicken empanada, and Imperial. Cerveza. Twice I have gotten food poisoning – once in Colombia, once in Nicaragua. In Costa Rica I'm pretty sure it was salmonella. In Nicaragua I stayed in my hotel room all day and felt like I might perish. Both times were from chicken empanadas. So it feels risky and dumb to order one but I did. I love empanadas.
Staying at Holiday Inn Express. It's nice enough. Rosti Pollo is across the street next to the casino. Tomorrow Jon and Marianela Jost will pick me up at 9a and take me to their farm. I'm interested to see what they have going on. Greg Peterson is friends with Jon and told me Jon was a very successful college strength and conditioning coach for his career.
At passport control, the officer seemed very suspicious of me. He looked everything over and asked lots of questions. I told him I have friends here. Which is true. What the hell does he care? What could I possibly be doing that's so suspicious? Maybe I'm just naive.
At the Costa Rica Beer Factory in Plaza Real in Alajuela. I walked about 1.5 miles from the hotel. Staying at Holiday Inn Express again near the airport. I'm drinking an local pale ale which hasn't been carbonated long enough in the keg. It's underwhelming. Ordered ceviche.
Yesterday Marianella and Jon Jost picked me up at the hotel around 920a. We drove to their farm near Naranjo. It's off a side road, through a nondescript gate. An agronomist named Aaron met us and we talked with him about some problems on the farm. The total area of the farm isn't very big and it's divided into 13 lots. The borders of the farm and individual lots follow contour lines in the land. Ridge lines, creek beds, etc. The whole thing is sort of shaped like an inverted Italy. A few areas had trees that weren't healthy. One section of CR95 variety was dying. Just over a short ridge, a neighbor's farm looked as if it were abandoned. Aaron thinks the unhealthy trees were not quality specimens when planted and maybe were not fertilized properly in the first year. He took soil samples and recommended uprooting the affected trees and replanting new. The Josts want to plant Villa Sarchi variety anyway.
We went to other sections of the farm to collect soil samples anywhere the trees were not so healthy. In total we dug 4 samples. This consisted of digging a small hole straight down about one foot and scraping a small amount of dirt from the bottom – maybe a quart. We did this 3-4 times in each affected section and mixed them in a bucket before putting some dirt in a plastic bag and labeling the lot# and sample#. These will go to a lab for analysis to see what nutrients are lacking and if there are any fungus in the soil. Aaron also cut 3 small sections of trunks from dead coffee trees to take to the lab.
The ceviche came with fried plantain chips. Excellent. Now drinking Toro Sentado IPA. Spicy. Still a little flat.
Marianella talked to their new farm manager-in-training. He was spraying the trees with a foliage nutrient and the hose had been leaking and they lost a lot of expensive chemicals. Jon and I continued collecting soil samples and then went to the casita. They have 10 pickers in the harvest. They live in the casita. It's primitive, but Jon built beds and they rebuilt the facilities. Small outdoor kitchen with running spring water and wood cooking stove. The bathroom had a pot with a drain for the sink and a watering can mounted to the wall where the spring water came out for a shower.
He told me they had been generous to the workers, bringing them food and drink during the days and small parties on weekends. With 10 days left in the harvest, the family left in the night. He thinks it's because they are paying more than normal and they made the amount of money they were planning and left – back to Nicaragua maybe. Other area farmers were also using their labor and all were left without help. The Josts had to scramble to hire more workers and paid double.
Upstairs from the worker housing was a really cool covered deck with a beautiful view. He said they don't spend much time there because they work a lot and they can't keep anything on-site because of theft – they've been broken into twice.
I hope I don't get mugged on the way back to the hotel. Shady walk.
Costa Rican girls are so beautiful.
Walked back to the hotel. Busy streets. Dark sidewalks. A guy was spraying with a hose a car that was parked with 2 wheels on the sidewalk. He stopped spraying so I could walk through. Walking by inhabited and abandoned bus stops, by one unused cement park bench rested a half-dozen shoes. Maybe all left foot shoes. All without a match - a sandal, a contemporary woman's wedge, a boy's tennie, etc. I felt as if these were clues to a serial killer. The bus stop killer. A bit later I crossed the railroad tracks that I thought were not in use and as I was crossing I heard some sharp, loud horn blows. I looked up and saw a passenger train barreling around the curve toward me at 50mph. I hustled down the sidewalk. the train light shined in my eyes. And then the rumble of the sidewalk and the burst of winds as the train railed past 4 feet from my shoulder. Shortly after that a car was on the sidewalk in front of me, letting a woman out. To my right were endless shanties – the kind of concrete block and corrugated metal buildings where you can't tell the beginning of one or the end of another. Windows and curtains, sparsely lit rooms. The car skimmed past me and the woman walked quickly to a door – nervously eyeing me walking toward her, she quickly opened the door, slipped inside, and as I approached she quickly shut and locked the door from inside.
After we left Finca Cafe con Amor, we went into Naranjo for lunch. I had the plato tipico – rice, beans, chicken, salad, ripe plantains, and some slightly vulgar-tasting, cubed vegetable.
At the restaurant was a new coffee bar. It wasn't open yet but they had a nice new espresso machine. The restaurant owners' uncle owns a farm 2 km up the road and they are selling his coffee. Beautiful packaging.
After lunch we went to the wet mill where the Josts take all their coffee. It's called Herbazú and is owned by Manuel Antonio Barrantes. He won Cup of Excellence in 2015 at $41.20 per pound, raking in over $64,000. His milling equipment is really small but very clean. The astounding thing was the size of his patio. It reminded me of the patios in Guatemala. They say the coffee is spread on the concrete patio for a day, then put in his covered patio – which had a dome of plastic and was equally large. At some moisture content, it is moved to raised beds in the sun to finish. In this area, Manuel Antonio's family seems to be building houses. Nice houses.
Marianella and Jon rent a house in Sarchi. It is an amazing house. Gated. Huge yard with horse stables where they store their parchment coffee. The house is immaculate – remodeled and very nice. I was super jealous. We made tacos and ate out on the patio. So nice. I spent the night in their guest bedroom. This morning I got up and made us coffee. Jon made eggs with onion, pepper, etc.
At the Hamburguesería in Plaza Real Alajuela again. Took 25 minutes to walk here. I'm the only person in the restaurant. There must be a school nearby – a lot of kids hanging around. Some of the same teenagers I saw last night. I haven't done anything today except pack up and eat breakfast. I grabbed half a bagel and jelly for breakfast tomorrow.
So yesterday morning we drove to Finca Sircof. I met Marcos Oviedo, whose Sircof Venecia Honey I roasted last November. Marcos seems very nice, laid back, and knowledgeable. We walked around his farm. A lot of early flowering. The farm is very clean, organized, and scenic. He trims the bottom branches from all his trees so there is a 1 foot gap between the lowest branches and the ground. This creates a much cleaner-looking farm. He says it's easier to pick. And when they spray the undersides of the leaves, it's easier also. Marcos says when you look under the trees you should be able to see if anyone is peeing on the other side of the field.
His trees all looked very healthy. He knows what variety they all are. He even stopped at one tree and said this is the most interesting tree in the farm. There are generally two trunks coming up from the plant. They cut all the rest that grow so the two can get all the energy from the root system. This tree had two trunks also, but one is a Villa Sarchi variety and the other half is something else. He says it is a mutation. The Villa Sarchi half produces very well and the other half does not. The leaves are even a different color. He says if the Villa Sarchi half has a very good cup profile, he will collect the seeds and plant them. the farmers are all looking for the next big thing. The next Gesha. The next Cup of Excellence winner.
There is a tree near his wet mill that I pulled leaves from. The tender leaves smell like potpourri and they taste like clove. It is called a Jamaica tree and they sometimes use the leaves in cooking. I'm so jealous of all the plants growing in the tropics that have interesting tastes and smells.
At 230p I'm catching a shuttle at the airport to go to El Castillo. Tomorrow morning at 6a I will begin a 50 mile race in the rainforest near Arenal Volcano. I'm getting nervous.
DoubleTree Cariari, sitting in the restaurant. Ordered an Imperial cerveza and a hamburger. The hostess here, Vivian, is so pretty and friendly. She has such a beautiful smile. My experiences of the past two days seem so surreal. I'm having a hard time even writing about them because I feel lost in thought and a distant feeling of being suspended in a dream state.
I went to the airport to catch my shuttle. The black Mercedes bus was packed and I sat in the front row between a couple guys who seemed impatient but quiet. There was a guy in the back who ran his mouth constantly for 4 hours. He told us how important he is, all the people he knows, all the places he's been – pretty much a million stories about himself. It was exhausting. To enhance the situation, the bus driver turned on 4 hours of The Bee Gees, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, etc. It was really something.
Always good to see the country through the windows of a car. When we got close to Arenal Volcano, we stopped to take pictures. Really beautiful with clouds gathered over the peak and sunset turning them orange and yellow. Eventually we went through the touristy town of La Fortuna, then turned off the paved road onto dirt. After a bit of skirting Lago Arenal, we reached El Castillo and continued on out of town to a rough dirt track just before a broad river crossing. This was the entrance to our "hotel," Rancho Margot. I wondered how anyone ever found this place. But upon entering I saw that there were a lot of people staying there. It's a big place. With bungalows and bunkhouses. A communal dining room with buffet. I got my key and walked up the dark path to #16. Surrounded by rainforest plants, the front porch had a safari rocker, table and chairs, and a HAMMOCK! The room was nice. Sort of like being on safari, but permanent. What a relaxing place. Quiet but for the endless sounds of birds and bugs. Totally dark, but for very bright stars shining between an invisible roof of clouds. There wasn't much time to eat, sort gear, and sleep. So I went to dinner. Beans, rice, pork, fruit, the usual. I sat with a few guys from the race and we talked about our impending adventure. Basically none of us knew anything about the race. The website was sparse with no real information. No idea about the course.
After dinner I returned to my exotic abode and laid out all my clothes and gear for the race. Finished a beer and went to sleep. I always worry about oversleeping so I probably don't sleep very soundly the night before a race. My alarm finally went off at 345a to Coldplay's “Hymn for the Weekend.”
Sitting in the shade by the pool. I'm thirsty and sleepy.
We arrived at the race site at 5a, one hour before start time. Not a huge crowd. The anticipation leading up to the start is amazing. Like a horse before a horse race, entering the starting gate, nervous energy seems to pour through my body and out my fingertips. It had been raining most of the night and showed no signs of letting up. We all took off our rain jackets and stowed them in our packs and walked out into the shower to line up. The race director counted down in Spanish from 10 to 1 and we were off. It was a combined pack of 80k and 52k racers. 30 in the long race – not sure how many in the shorter, but maybe about the same. It seems we made our way up dirt trail and double-track through Rancho Margot and off into the rainforest preserve. It continued to rain for hours. The trail was mostly sticky, thick, deep mud. We climbed and climbed – slipping and sliding, trying not to fall down. The temperature was nice and the rain was cool, but the humidity was so high I was dripping sweat, completely soaked. I always go out harder than I should. I guess that's my strategy. Build a gap and then fade throughout the race, trying to hold a decent spot. So I was running amongst faster guys. I let 2 pass and suddenly they veered left off the trail. There was a ribbon on the right side of the trail and 2 ribbons on a gate to the left - which normally would indicate that the course goes left through the gate. A group of us went and some were coming back saying it was wrong – no course markings and no footprints. But that didn't make sense. We all convened to decide where to go. Some dawdled. I and another guy kept going – down a long descent. It came to another gate and below us was a farm. And no ribbons. We had taken a chance that the leaders missed the turn and went off course, but in reality we were off course. The rest of our group joined us near the bottom and we all turned around to ascend. Back through the first gate we continued on the original trail into deep mud – and a ribbon. We ascended through something like a slot canyon that probably happened naturally but the sides had been chiseled out with shovels or machetes, as indicated by the flat marks in the wet, packed sides of the narrow gorge. At some point we emerged onto a ridge and a summit, of sorts. the entire area was covered in cloud or fog. The wind blew up the side of the mountain and over the crest, pushing me sideways and pelting the right side of my face with tiny frozen water molecules. Mostly a dirt single- and double-track, the mud persisted, but now just a thinner layer on top.
Back into the thick of the forest I descended in mud so slick it was nearly impossible to stay upright. Mud, mud, more mud. Up and down the mountains. The mud was mixed with rocks, which usually were equally as slippery. It was hard to look anywhere but down, but all around was a diverse, thick forest full of birds and flowers. I was hungry. And because of the rain, I wasn't drinking enough water, though I was sweating profusely. So I got dehydrated.
This rural path eventually dumped out into a small town and the rest of the race was on dirt roads with much less mud. This was half way. The rain had stopped. And the lake was in view all the way back to the finish line. At this point it became easier to look and listen because footing was much better. The vegetation is awesome. Many things are HUGE. Big flowers and leaves and trees. Vines and epiphytes cover many trees. I saw birds of all color and song. Bright red birds with black wings. Oropendula – golden-breasted birds with nests that hang like pendulums. Flocks of squawking parakeets. A type of black and white bird that sits in the road and when I came near would jump up and flop around and land again. And again. Bright blue birds. Birds with beautiful markings. I can't even remember them all. Some had calls that sound like pigs. Some like a motorcycle. One like a sneeze – Uh- Ah- Choo! Endless sounds and sights. I saw a lot of one particular flower that caught my eye. They were small and were falling from trees. They looked just like angels. A purple skirt, orange head, and white wings behind.
Some birds sounded like when you cluck for a horse. Some like a horn honking car alarm. Then the traditional chirping and long, loud calls characteristic of a rainforest.
It's hard to describe.
At times it was like scenes from Jurassic Park – looking across a field or down a valley and seeing enormous swaths of old-growth forest, so dense and tall and mysterious. At times under the canopy it was dim and thick with hanging vines. There are many ranches in the area because among the swaths of forest are clearings of the greenest, grassy, rolling mountainsides. I wondered at one point if the cones in my eyes have become more sensitive to greens, as this is the second time in recent memory (the other in rural OK on the way to Arizona) that I have been astounded by the brightness and saturation of the green grasses.
I thought I heard a howler monkey, and today one of the other racers said he saw some. I also spooked a large animal around dusk. Sounded like it was about the size of a bear and made a barking noise like a deer.
El Novillo Alegre – Argentinian Steakhouse. I ordered chorizo and Lomito Tico – "tenderloin" steak with rice and beans and fried plantains. Delicious.
The sun came out between 25 miles and 36 miles and it got HOT. I began to suffer. The race director drove by to check on me twice. And when I got to the 4th aid station, the race medical director was there with a stethoscope around her neck. She sat me down and talked to me and checked me for fever. She said I didn't look good and she was worried I was going to start cramping and need medical assistance. I was tired and feeling mentally negative. Difficult situation. I hadn't started cramping but I knew it wasn't far off. I sat for a while and talked to the doctor, Adriana. She said that was the point of no return. The next aid station was 7 miles and then 8 to the finish, and there were 3 river crossings. There would be no one to pick me up if I got in trouble. I considered this. I rested for 25 minutes and put tape on a hot spot on my left foot. I had taken off my shoes and socks earlier and there was mud in my socks on the balls of my feet. So I turned my socks inside-out and cleaned them up as good as possible. But too late. After much consideration I felt better and convinced Adriana to let me go on. I told her I would walk the rest, but I knew that wasn't true.
The tape helped a lot and my foot wasn't hurting. I walked up hills and jogged on flats and downhills. Time and miles passed. I refueled at the final aid station. I crossed the rivers. The sun set. The clouds had reconvened across the sky and there was no light. I turned on the mini maglite I hadn't anticipated needing. Running in the night through rainforest. Different sounds. The bugs began their noisemaking, a rhythmic thrum. Trees rattled together in the breeze. Humidity seemed to rise and the wind died down. I was aware.
I didn't put fresh batteries in my flashlight and when the sun set, I still had 1.5 hours to the finish line. I turned it off now and then to see if I could run in the dark. But it was dark. I came to the final river crossing and all I could see was water. Suddenly a car on the other shore turned on its lights. Probably 50 yards of water between me and him. So I slowly picked my way, trying not to get into the deepest currents. With that crossing complete, I knew I wasn't far from town. I ran past a couple houses and lodges and restaurants. And then darkness again. And suddenly my flashlight went out. Pitch black. Nothing to see. I turned it off and on again and it lit and I ran faster. It went out again. It was on its last leg. And every time I turned it off and on, I would get another 5 seconds of light _ enough to memorize the terrain in front of me. And then the lights of the finish area appeared. After some confusion about how to get to the finish line, I crossed it around 13 hours and 30 minutes after I started. 30 minutes before the cutoff. Adriana was there and she seemed very happy for me. She said they had been talking about me, saying that I am a strong guy and even stronger mentally. That made me feel good.
I had no ride to the hotel and so I waited for Adriana to go so I could ride with her. It got colder. I borrowed money and got rice, beans, and chicken at the tienda.
Back at the hotel after 9p.
Shower, beer, sleep.
I need to catch a shuttle at noon.
Had breakfast at the hotel. It's always good. The hostess, Vivian, is so nice and always enunciates very well so I can understand her. She probably speaks English but she never has to me because I always speak to her in Spanish. I'm still basking in the tropical environment. This morning when I woke up I was thinking about the post-race elation I was feeling. The accomplishment, the soreness, the memories of sight and sounds and smells and feelings. I remember when the sun set, smelling an amazing fragrance and turning my flashlight upward to see what flower released its perfume at dusk. I remember being desperate for calories and drinking a soda called Malta and eating a banana. The flavors I burped up on the trail were interesting. I don't know. It's like, here I sit, having experienced a myriad of life's nuances in a very compressed period of time and I'm awash in feelings. I feel cleansed. Maybe this is what it feels like to not feel stress. Maybe this is what it feels like to be high.
I brought exactly the right amount of coffee. Used the last of it this morning and am still sipping on it.
Post-race elation. 50 mile races are fantastic. They hurt like hell and require a lot of mental fortitude to finish. And then I sit down and smile.
Time to go to the airport.
In seat 8F on United flight 1099 from San Jose, Costa Rica to Houston, Texas. I was chosen for a random security check and they wanded me and searched my bags and boots. I think they said the flight is full but right now there are 4 empty seats between me and the girl in the seat on the other window. They are closing the doors now so I guess I got lucky. I'm actually a pretty lucky guy.
Last weekend Andrew and I traveled to Seattle to attend the annual convention for the Specialty Coffee Association. It’s always an interesting experience. There are people from all over the world and every segment of the industry. We attended lectures about coffee botany, chemistry, processing, and costs of farming. We visited with some of our brokers and equipment suppliers. Bumped into a couple of farm owners whose coffee we’ve roasted. And looked for new, interesting products to test out for our cafe and retail store. At these conferences, you have to wade through a lot of shit to find something worth the trip. But it’s interesting to see how the industry changes and progresses year after year.
I was reminded of another trip I took to the SCAA convention a few years ago when it was held in Long Beach. It was during the early days of the DoubleShot and I was still living in primitive conditions, eating ramen noodles every day, and trying to stay afloat while adhering to my principles. A friend put me on a flight with his frequent flyer miles, and I racked my brain trying to figure out where I would sleep for 3 nights. When I arrived in Long Beach, I walked along the shoreline until I found a secluded spot on the ground beneath an evergreen where I thought I could safely spend the night. I got swept up in the international flavors of the opening ceremony then quietly disappeared into the night. But when I got to my sleeping tree, someone was already snoozing amid the pine-needle laden roots. I tried to sleep on a concrete park bench but the ocean breeze chilled me. So I wandered around. And I found myself standing on the sidewalk next to a man who lived there, on the street, and he told me he grew up in Tulsa, on Harvard Avenue near Southern Hills Country Club. He was divorced and unemployable. His children disowned him, and he clearly wanted to be my friend. We were, after all, from the same town and both (at least at the time) Homeless in Long Beach. (Which could’ve been the prequel to Sleepless in Seattle)
I declined my new friend’s offer to have a beer (mostly because he suggested we walk by the bar across the street and just grab a beer off one of the tables and drink it). And I declined his offer to spend the night in his friend’s back yard (partly because he told me his friend could get us any kind of drugs we wanted). A pretty girl walked by. I looked at her, then at him. And I told him I was going with the girl.
I didn’t, of course.
Instead I wandered some more, looking for a nook or cranny where I might hide from the cold and the company of the night. I found a plastic chair under a stairwell that was comfortable enough to sleep sitting up, with my backpack safely between my feet. Hidden from view, the stairs trapped the heat emanating from my breath. I got a little sleep. And this became my Long Beach night home. (But not without incident.)
I spent the afternoons and evenings sitting on park benches, cloaked in a DoubleShot hoodie, reading William Vollmann’s “Poor People,” and noticing that the non-homeless (the homed?) would not make eye contact with me or acknowledge my existence. I sank into that book and became a character on the coast a few miles south of Vollmann’s favorite heroine and hooker hangout, San Francisco.
Whether we get better or just different may be a matter of opinion. My life today is easier than it used to be, and I’m a little fatter, a little healthier, a tad less fit. Most of the people who live and work in the coffee industry did not get there the way I did. But we’re all there, all in the same place. I look around and see the pervasive attitude that we are only successful if our business grows and we open more locations and grow our wholesale. We all strive to be Starbucks. Not the mom-and-pop, the local roaster.
Starbucks has infiltrated the Specialty Coffee Association. Maybe they control it now. Maybe they own it. The CEO and some other Starbucks executive clown appeared on the overhead screen and (at least in my mind) made a mockery out of the whole show. Their green-aproned servers appeared at this year’s opening ceremonies like robots set into motion by the evil empire, handing out uninteresting iced coffee and gas station-quality lemon bars. No one seemed to notice.
I see the industry wanting to be them. I see their emulation of each other and indifferentiation via coherence with the standards. The most rigidly rule-following, robot-like coffee person wins the consistency competition and their blandness is inoffensive enough to impress even the most mealy-mouthed Folgers coffee blender. But me, I want to make great coffee first. First and foremost. Yeah, I want to get rich. I don’t like being poor. It’s not fun. It’s stressful. But the reason I started this, and the reason I continue today, is to make great coffee.
Here and there and everywhere are brilliant botanists and erudite chemists and creative coffee growers. Upright and talented brokers and importers. Amazing graphic artists and product designers. Electrical and mechanical engineers wrenching together devices so complicated I can’t comprehend. People who know something about coffee and tell the truth. Quietly, usually. Amongst those shouting inane, profane, and more importantly, uninteresting alternative truths.
The changes in the Specialty Coffee industry and the changes in my circumstances that allow me to sleep in a hotel bed are important factors in our ability to harvest what’s important in life and in coffee. I walked into the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, newly built to try and compete with people like me. It’s interesting, isn’t it? That so many of my peers want to be like Starbucks and it appears Starbucks wants to be like us. Somehow they feel threatened at the way we make coffee.
Instead of continuing down the road of duplication and mass production, customizing your frappuccino so you can be just like everyone else, they have decided to pretend, in this “Reserve Roastery,” that they source small lots and craft roast (via their corporate computer controlled, robotic roastmaster) in a 120-kilo “small-batch roaster.” They appear to have bought all the nicest equipment and implemented practices currently only found at small shops like mine. But great coffee is not dependent on large sums of money or automation or pretty labels. You can’t feign authenticity. Or coffee quality. It all washes out in the cup.
I wandered around this Willy Wonka coffee factory and saw some details I liked. I saw an efficiency and design that puts all of us to shame. A bit too shiny, for sure. All I’m saying is, even in the middle of a corporate store that epitomizes everything I don’t like about the coffee industry, I found some nuggets. I found nuggets in my experiences on the street in Long Beach. And I found a lot of nuggets at the Specialty Coffee convention in 2017.
I plan to steal it all back to my lair in Tulsa, putting it into the beaker of ideas on my desk and converting it into DoubleShot gold.
The Colombian Coffee Federation (FNC) controls all exports of coffee out of their country. From what I understand, they are a rigid, bureaucratic organization. And Colombian. So that’s why I don’t want to say anything bad about them. I’m sure they are a bunch of muchachos buenos. ¡Viva la FNC!
Anyway, until recently it was illegal to airfreight unroasted coffee out of the country. But suddenly the FNC, in all their pro-commerce sensibilities, decided to open that mode of export. The result of this change is that my friend Cristina might taste a very good micro-lot in Medellin and send me a sample. And if I like it, she can FedEx a pallet of coffee to my front door in a week. Instead of waiting to fill a shipping container with 250 bags of coffee, loading it onto a container ship, transporting it on the ocean to a major port, and then trucking it overland from one of the coasts. Now if I like a 2-bag lot, it could go from the farm in rural Antioquia, Colombia to my roaster in urban Tulsa, Oklahoma in just a few days. This is great.
When Cristina told me this good news, she had two small lots she thought I would like. And I did.
Aaron Wing, a parent and a board member of the Lee Elementary School Foundation, asked if I would be interested in branding a small lot of coffee to sell in one-pound bags to support our neighborhood kids at Lee Elementary School. My one caveat was that I wanted to split the fundraising between Lee and the local schools where the coffee was grown. The children of the farmers who tended our crop would be attending these rural, equatorial schools and they need funds every bit as much as our local students. Aaron agreed enthusiastically and I began to think about the coffee.
One of the micro-lots Cristina sold to me is from a farm called Clavellina, which is in the municipality of San Isidro, in the Antioquia region of Colombia. This coffee is grown by a man named Alfredo Zea, who does not own the land, but is farming on property that was lent to him. These coffees are purchased and brought to Medellin by a woman named Marleny Taborda. She sells the coffee to Cristina’s father, Ernesto Garces, who is the largest coffee producer in Colombia. Ernesto’s guys mill the coffee and grade it, then sell and export it around the world. They cup every lot that comes into the mill and when an exceptional lot like this comes in, Cristina has it separated for roasters like me.
The timing of the new FNC rule could not have been better. I just recently received our first FedEx coffee export and began roasting the coffee for our school project. I asked Cristina if we could donate some money to help the schools in San Isidro. She told me that she asked Marleny about it and she was very excited because the schools were in need of help. She said that a storm had damaged the roof at one school, and she sent several pictures of the school rooms and kids.
This project is called "School Grounds Coffee." We will roast and sell the coffee each Wednesday. A portion of the proceeds from each pound sold will go to the Lee Elementary School Foundation and to the schools in San Isidro, Colombia.
This is a great coffee, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and pecan. And it’s for two great causes. We will sell it each Wednesday until the micro-lot runs out. Thank you for supporting the kids.
Wait. I’m not finished.
You know I like to run. I used to hate running, but now I crave it. I love running. And I especially love running very far on dirt trails in difficult terrain. This past Summer I ran a 100-kilometer race just outside of Zion National Park, and I’ve never felt better. It was a really pretty course. I love the desert. So I signed up for a 50-mile race called the Antelope Canyon Ultramarathon in northern Arizona that will likely be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been fortunate enough to run. The race starts and finishes in the town of Page, next to the Glen Canyon Dam at the gateway to Lake Powell. The race course goes through a few slot canyons, including the world famous Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo land and is one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. Antelope Canyon is sacred to the Navajo, and native guides will be posted on the course because their presence is required through these areas. The course will also skirt Horseshoe Bend overlooking the Colorado River. I anticipate the beauty of the landscape will overwhelm the pain in my legs. The race is on Saturday, February 25. My goal is not to win the race (because that would be impossible). But I have two other goals for this race. As always, I want to finish; and I would like to finish in the top half of all the racers. Secondly, I registered for this race as a charity runner. That means I am raising money that will be used to assist with projects and groups in and around Page, Arizona. The donations will be used for three things:
On a professional level, I always feel compelled to give whenever possible to coffee-related causes. But on a personal level, I have long felt a connection to the desert and its people and the ancient histories carved in the stone. I have spent many days roaming on foot and mountain bike through canyons and buttes, over plateaus and rivers, through sand and scree. In the stillness of desert pathways I can feel the spirit of the ancestors who roamed these places, knowing they looked at the same sights and felt the same rock and warm breezes. I love those feelings and the connection I have with the land. I can feel the life within the rocks.
I want to do something special for this event. If you know me or you’ve seen me around the DoubleShot, you’ve seen me drinking coffee from interesting cups. These ceramic bowls were made by Navajo potters. They enhance my coffee-drinking experience and remind me of the desert. They connect me with the ancient ones who sipped from similar gourd-shaped ceramics. I would like for you to know this same experience. So if you donate $100 or more to my fundraising for this event, I will pick out one of these Navajo bowls (likely procured from one of the Navajo artisans’ road-side stands in Arizona) and give it to you upon my return from the event. Thereby, we’re supporting the Navajo people in one more way! There’s no way for me to track these things, so make sure when you donate, put your name on the donation (don’t do it anonymously if you want the cup), and send me an email so that I have your contact info.
You can go here to donate: runsignup.com/doubleshot
Email me: Brian@DoubleShotCoffee.com
On a related note, there are a couple of interesting things you should check out if you’re curious about the Native American culture and what’s happening in the Tribal world. One is a podcast about the Navajo People: http://www.eisradio.org/item/021/
The other is a short documentary about the stand-off at Standing Rock that was made by a friend and DoubleShot customer, Kyle Bell: https://vimeo.com/190403297
The podcast mentioned above, “Everything Is Stories,” also did an episode about the protest at Standing Rock: http://www.eisradio.org/item/022/
It’s that time of year again, and we are plugging away at the DoubleShot like Santa’s midwestern workshop. I wanted to stop for a couple minutes and tell you about a few of the special things we have right now that you may not know about. And I want to tell you more about two of our holiday coffees - I featured the third in my last blog entitled “Oklamopia.”
Nicaragua is its own place. It feels different than other places I’ve been; even places that are just over Nicaragua’s borders. I’d wanted to go there for a long time because some of the coffees coming out of there are good, and I really got into Nicaraguan cigars when I was in Guatemala. So in my two trips to Nicaragua I experienced a few different places and saw what things look like from different perspectives. There seems to be a lot of political-based tension and wide-spread social and economic issues.
But I love the historical roads and buildings. I love the fact that there are people who live far from any navigable roads. And that there are nationals and ex-pats rehabilitating neglected coffee farms. It's a diverse population.
One of our special holiday coffees this year is from the Jinotega region of Nicaragua. Not far from Estelí, where I toured cigar factories and walked through a museum chronicling the indigenous people and the European invasion, all the way through the atrocities of the civil war. It’s from a place called Finca Los Altos, near the municipality of Laguna Verde. The farm is owned by the Mierisch family, a team of four, who manage different segments of the farming and milling and marketing of the coffee. But what’s so special about this coffee?
Eleane Mierisch manages the milling of the coffees at the farm, and is partly responsible for the very high quality of this particular micro-lot. Eleane is featured on horseback on the info card with the one-pound package. This is a washed coffee, which means the skins of the coffee cherries were stripped off and the coffee was left to ferment, to bring out the sweetness and complexity of the coffee, and then the pulp of the coffee was washed off. When done properly, washed coffees can be amazing. And this one is. The variety (a Red Catuaí), along with the meticulous picking and processing of the coffee have made for some very distinct and segmented flavors that really pop in the cup. Drinking this with something sweet and soft like my mom’s apple crisp (recipe card included with the coffee), is a wonderful experience.
The other holiday coffee I wanted to tell you about is our Guatemala Finca San José Ocaña. First of all, this is a natural from Guatemala. Which is unusual in itself. We did have two Guatemala naturals last year at this time, so even though they are rare, maybe I’m a fan. The coffee is grown at a high elevation, and is composed of a blend of two excellent varieties of coffee, Bourbon and Catuaí. The particular cultivation and harvesting and processing of these varieties (along with some fancy roasting techniques) resulted in a coffee that just fills my mouth with a feeling that can only be described by wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace on a cold night. When I drink this coffee, here’s what I envision: If you could take a sheet of milk chocolate that is sliced so thin that you can see through it, and you draped it across your tongue, and it instantly liquified and left a soft film on your palate - that’s the sensation I get every time I take a sip. Anyway, these coffees are great. And in very limited supply. I recommend buying the collection of all three of our holiday coffees.
Eleane Mierisch emailed me the other day because I had a question about the coffee. I met the Mierisch family in Atlanta last Spring, where I first tasted the Red Catuaí we are selling. And at that coffee tasting, I picked up a card that noted this coffee was from a farm plot called “Venado.” Eleane emailed me back and let me know there are 10 different plots at Los Altos. Venado is at an elevation of 4300 feet, and is named after the beautiful deer that are preserved on the farm.
I’d like to take a moment to tell you about the packaging for the coffees this year. The main design element of the coffees is the info card affixed to the back of each bag. Every year I dig deep and think about what moves me at the moment. About my interests and my roots and the experiences I’ve had throughout life that have delved deeply into my psyche. And this year my searching took me back to the very old photographs taken of American Indians in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Those sepia-toned black-and-whites, Indian in full regalia, posed in just the right light, usually in an unnatural background. These evidences of our past are intriguing and beautiful. They are the culmination of the history of the people of this continent and the confluence with alien invaders whose idea of technology and civility and wealth perverted the natural world in which our ancestors had learned to participate. These photos strike such a chord in me that I wanted to try and stylize the photographs of each of the farm owners of these three coffees to mimic those of the old Indian photos. I hope these are things that you enjoy and read, and maybe spur you on to look back at those images that inspired me.
Just real quick, I want to tell you about a few other new products we just put on the shelves. We have new diner mugs. They are the same high quality as the ones we’ve been selling (and the ones we use in the store), but these are white with the DoubleShot logo and icon in silver and gold. We have new Old Fashioned glasses with the DoubleShot buffalo logo printed on them in red. Red like Santa Claus. We have new Maduro Bars - super high-end Peruvian chocolate from Glacier Confection over in the Brady District, infused with pulverized Colombian Maduro coffee roasted by me. This is the best. There's also a new Camelbak Forge travel tumbler. It's bronze-colored with the DoubleShot logos laser etched. I think it's the coolest one yet.
Then we also have two new shirts. These are both shirts I bought for myself. I tested out a number of shirts before I pulled the trigger, just to make sure I was getting shirts that I really wanted to wear. And I did. One is a t-shirt. It’s heather grey with a very subtle grey imprint on the front of the DoubleShot icon and on the back of the rest of the logo. It’s super soft. The shirt I want to wear on the weekend. The shirt I put on as soon as I get home in the evening. The other shirt I got for roasting. It’s a polo. Black. Soft, but it’s really breathable. Allows me to stay cool while I’m roasting. I used to roast in a sleeveless black shirt, but I instituted a dress code and figured I should try to comply. So I now roast in the new polo. I think all of these new products are excellent. All are things I use myself, and I wanted to share them with you.
That’s all for now. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.
ps. I just finished editing an episode of our podcast, AA Café. Mark Brown and I discuss all of these holiday items and ten things that make us feel content. You should listen.
In the early days of the DoubleShot, when we were just beginning to understand the magic that Ethiopia brings to coffee, an interesting story opened up to me that brought that world from across the sea right home to Oklahoma.
Two greying men met at the DoubleShot a couple of days per week. They would sit at ease and drink our drip coffee and leisurely converse. If you wandered near their table at any point you might hear them discussing politics or current events or some philosophical point of which they’d plenty of time to ponder. The discourse was one monologue with plenty of air between words, unhurried and immersive, followed by the other rebutting or augmenting the previous assertions. And this would go on until they figured they should mosey on to who-knows-where. It reminded me of the coffee breaks my grandpa would take in the afternoons, meeting daily at Hy-Vee’s grocery cafe or Hardee’s restaurant, seemingly unplanned yet unsurprised to see his buddies.
One day, one of these older gentlemen came to me with unusual and mysterious items in hand. He told me he had been a professor at OSU and taught in Ethiopia for a few years. He handed me a primitive wooden mortar approximately one-foot tall, which he said was “an Ethiopian coffee grinder.” I envisioned a woman roasting coffee beans in an iron bowl over a small mound of coals and then pulverizing them in this hollowed-out log. Ethiopia is one of the only countries who maintain a custom of drinking the coffee they produce. Most coffee-producing countries export their entire crop and leave the coffee drinking for Nescafe. Ethiopians have a lengthy, unhurried coffee ceremony that my grandpa would appreciate. They take fresh roasted coffee to the extreme, much like I did in the beginning of my roasting exercises - pouring coffee from roaster to grinder to brewer to cup, all within minutes. Coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia. And after the storied discovery of coffee’s restorative powers, the development of its consumption moved from eating the cherries to consuming the raw seeds mixed with animal fat, to drinking wine from the fruit pulp. And who devised the amazing plan of roasting its seeds and extracting their goodness with water? No one really knows. But though the consumption of coffee had evolved, the cultivation and processing of coffee had remained a wild, anecdotally-driven avocation in Ethiopia for centuries.
In August 1952 a group of six Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) staff members arrived in Ethiopia in order to determine a suitable site for The Imperial Ethiopian College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. At that time a survey had been done and it failed to find a single Ethiopian national with the equivalent of a B.S. degree in any phase of agriculture. OSU had commenced the construction of an agriculture school in Ethiopia with funding from USAID. With the assistance of the Emperor Haile Selassie (hereafter referred to simply as “King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia” or alternatively, “His Imperial Majesty”) the school was located in the famous coffee-growing region of Harrar, with a junior college in Kaffa and one near the capital city of Addis Ababa. The goal of this project was to teach Ethiopians about the scientific and industrial progress in agriculture, and to educate enough Ethiopians to take over the administration of these institutions as soon as possible. The main focus of the college was on food farming and coffee cultivation. OSU operated in Ethiopia from 1952-1968, when there were enough nationals to fill the staff. During that time 384 people graduated, most becoming ministers of Agriculture and Education. And 136 students went on to pursue advanced degrees in the United States before returning to teach at the college or work in the Ethiopian government.
The professor who gave me the mortar for crushing coffee also gave me an elaborate charcoal drawing of one of Haile Selassie’s Imperial Guards, or Kebur Zebagya. He told me one of his Ethiopian students drew this and gave it to him. The drawing is signed "Kiros Woldu" and dated ’65. I love this piece of art and it hangs on the brick wall behind my roaster. It’s a reminder of our connection with Ethiopian coffee farmers through OSU and the professor who spent so many days chatting at our tables.
Bekele Dukale lives in the Gedeb region of Ethiopia. He owns a farm that is about 5 hectares in size, which is the equivalent of 12 acres or the size of 10 football fields. That’s a pretty big farm in Ethiopia. Bekele grows coffee and sells it to a mill called the Worka Cooperative. This is a place that buys coffee cherries and dries them, and then processes the coffee to be sold through the Ethiopian Coffee Exchange or through a private exporter. Bekele has enough land and is producing a high enough quality for the mill to separate his coffee into a micro-lot. This is fairly unusual for Ethiopia.
Gedeb is southeast of the Yirgacheffe region, which is well-regarded as producing the best coffees in the world. The reasons for this are likely the high elevation, the microclimates, and the age-old heirloom varieties of coffee that are growing in the area. Though Gedeb is designated as a separate region, it is home to some of the same types of coffees, and is supposedly the highest place in the country where coffee is cultivated.
Coffees are graded for export. Each coffee-producing country has different grading practices and designations, some based on bean size, others on its elevation, etc. In Ethiopia, coffees are graded 1-9 based on visual inspection for defects and on cup quality. Up until just a couple of years ago, a grade 1 Natural was unheard-of. And it’s still a very stringent designation because the natural variance in dry-processed coffee beans is something that must be minimized by careful harvesting, hand sorting, and meticulous milling.
This year I bought coffee that was grown by Bekele Dukale. I’ve never been to Ethiopia, nor have I met Bekele. I bought the coffee from my friend Peter at Royal Coffee, which is a specialty broker in Oakland. This coffee is a grade 1 natural, 100% grown by Bekele Dukale in Gedeb, and dry processed at the Worka Cooperative. This is one of the holiday coffees we are offering this year to help you celebrate with family and friends, at home by yourself in front of the fireplace with a good book, or with someone special. The coffee roasts beautifully. It is consistent and even in color. In the cup, it has a very soft mouthfeel with lots of dark chocolate and cinnamon. Notes of pear and strawberry peak through, not in an invasive way, but just to tickle your more extravagant sensibilities. I love it and I know you will too. Our pastry chef, Curtis, developed a beautiful and simple food pairing for this coffee, based on a rustic French dish called clafoutis (apparently pronounced claw-foo-tee’). Buy a pound at the DoubleShot or online and we’ll send you the recipe card with instructions and a mouth-watering picture.
I can’t consume any dairy, so clafoutis is out of the question, but my friend Mark Brown suggested another pairing for Bekele’s coffee, and it’s one I am really enjoying. From Mark’s food publication, argentfork:
chocolate pear crumble
I tossed one of these together for some
friends last month who barely saved me
any. I did one similar for the woman who
taught us French when we were in France.
She said, “Mark … c’est incroyable.” And it
was. Butter the bottom of a baking dish big
enough to accommodate your pears. Half or
slice or chunk the fruit—it must be ripe—and
lay over it the best chocolate you can afford.
About 4 ounces. Top that with a mixture
of flour, butter and sugar, and maybe even
a little cornmeal for bite. Any old crumble
pastry will do. Bake until golden.
On June 18, 1954, the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie came to Oklahoma to visit OSU (then known as Oklahoma A&M College). He was visiting in order to show his appreciation for the initiative that the president of Oklahoma A&M College had taken to reach out to his country to develop an international program for educational aid. The colleges that OSU set up in Ethiopia were the first in a new program called the Point Four Program, announced by Harry S. Truman in his inaugural address in 1949. The Emperor’s visit was apparently quite a society event, and 300 of the “elites” of Oklahoma were invited to a formal dinner. Afterward, His Imperial Majesty stood in a reception line for an hour and forty minutes shaking hands and greeting 1,600 people.
Two things stick in my mind about the Ethiopian Emperor’s visit. First, Haile Selassie had requested, while in Oklahoma, to meet an Indian. So upon his arrival he was greeted by a well-known native american named Acee Blue Eagle, who was in traditional dress, and he presented the Emperor with an Indian war bonnet. And second, after the formal dinner, Oklahoma Governor Johnston Murray gave a welcoming speech, during which he bungled the pronunciation of Ethiopia, calling it “Oklamopia.”
I searched the list of college graduates during OSU’s time in Ethiopia, but I didn’t find the name Bekele Dukale. No surprise, because the graduates seemed to be from the wealthier families of Ethiopia, emerging into teaching and governing jobs, or if into private farming, it was generally a large enterprise. But the advancements made in farming technologies and education of farming methods, experiments with varieties and processes, and the general imprint made on the culture of coffee farming in Ethiopia by the schools from the OSU/USAID program were wide-reaching. It is because of this dissemination of information and practical knowledge that a man like Bekele Dukale could learn to produce the highest quality of coffee from the finest coffee-producing region in the world. It’s a testament to the foresight in the 1950s by a handful of leaders in Oklahoma and Ethiopia that today one of the best coffees in the world was grown in Ethiopia, and is being roasted, brewed and enjoyed in Oklahoma. For that, we show our gratitude. So why not call it “Oklamopia”?
Our Ethiopian coffee from Bekele Dukale is available for a limited time at the DoubleShot and online. We are selling it in special one-pound bags with an info card attached and our clafoutis recipe card.
DoubleShot Coffee Company: Thank you for producing high-quality coffee. We are really enjoying having your coffee at my shop.
How big is your farm and how many people work on it?
Marcos Oviedo: 10 hectares. I have two workers that help me, but my Dad and I do a lot of the work.
DoubleShot: This Venecia Honey coffee is excellent. Have you tasted the coffee?
Marcos: Yes, I like to drink my own coffee.
DoubleShot: Can you describe the “honey process” that was used with our coffee?
Marcos: the coffee is not submerged in water, it is just wet as it goes thru the "chancadora" de-pulp machine, which takes the skin off, leaving a good deal of mucilage(sweet layer) on the bean. Then it is patio dried slowly in the sun, for 7 to 10 days, depending on the climate. The coffee drying process is very slow, and we must rake the beans every 30 minutes for 6 hours a day, and cover them at night, so they dry evenly.
DoubleShot: I know coffee farming is hard work and can be unpredictable. Do you enjoy it?
Marcos: Yes, my whole life has been about coffee, my father and my grandfather worked in coffee and now my wife and I run the farm and help our siblings with their farms too.
DoubleShot: Do you grow other crops on your farm?
Marcos: No, but there are lots of avocados that I sell to the local grocery store.
DoubleShot: Do you grow your own food?
DoubleShot: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
Marcos: Play soccer and exercise.
DoubleShot: Have you been to the United States?
DoubleShot: How do you brew coffee at home?
Marcos: I like French press or chorreador.
DoubleShot: Thank you again. I hope to come and visit your farm soon.
Marcos: Thank you for liking our coffee!
Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains have long been a part of my life. My first trip there was when I was but 9 years old. My family had a sort of reunion in the picnic area at the base of Mount Scott. I remember my older cousins boulder hopping on the rocky flanks and my unsatisfied desire to join them.
My next trip there happened 14 years later. I was a fledgling rock climber and had heard great things about Elk Mountain. My naiveté about the scale and complexity of those boulder-piled mountains and the intense summer heat found me convulsing with cramps at the end of the journey.
Despite somewhat auspicious beginnings, I befriended the rock and have since summited many of the Wichita’s peaks, slept many nights in their shadows, and explored many miles on- and off-trail, looking for summits and treasures and to feel the past where I tread in the footsteps of Indians who hunted and lived and explored these same haunts. This past Summer I bushwhacked more than I hiked. I chose my own way, and I was rewarded with grand views and fantastic sightings. I walked within herds of buffalo. I spied 20 elk from one mountaintop. I found a 4-foot long antler lying among a martian-like landscape of white, twisted trees in a controlled-burn area. I stumbled upon the skeleton of an elk, its spine arched over a boulder, where coyote or lion or bobcat had feasted heartily. I even had a very rare sighting of a porcupine in the crevasses and caverns between massive rocks near the Spanish Canyon, where an outlaw Spaniard lived in a cave within Indian territory in the 1800s.
My house is in one of Tulsa’s oldest neighborhoods. It sits up on a hill near a monument for Washington Irving, who wrote about his passage through this land in “A Tour On The Prairies.” Irving traveled with a troop of Rangers exploring the territory and looking for Osage hunting parties. While encamped near my house, Irving wrote, “Just as the night set in there was a great shouting at one end of the camp, and immediately afterwards a body of young rangers came parading round the various fires bearing one of their comrades in triumph on their shoulders. He had shot an elk for the first time in his life, and it was the first animal of the kind that had been killed on this expedition.”
Just down the hill, at the base of this neighborhood, is Tulsa’s oldest park. It was sold to the city by Chauncey Owen, who inherited the land from his Creek Indian wife, Jane Wolfe. Chauncey hoped, rightly, that the creation of a park would increase the attractiveness and value of the remainder of his property in this neighborhood (á la George Kaiser). Quanah Avenue divides the park from the neighborhood, and is a main thoroughfare used by the numerous shapes and sizes of ducks and geese that call our Owen Park home. Swan Lake we are not.
Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche war chief, roamed the plains and peaks around the Wichita Mountains until his surrender and assimilation into a new culture at Fort Sill. Quanah was born in Elk Valley, where I have climbed so many boulders and slabs, to Peta Nocona, a Comanche chieftain, and Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been kidnapped as a child by a Comanche war party that massacred her family in Texas.
In 1890, Quanah built a mansion at Fort Sill and lived as the leader of the Comanche people on the reservation. His residence, called Star House, was moved off Fort Sill to Chache, Oklahoma in 1957. I went to see it last weekend, but was disappointed not to have found the house, only The Trading Post, which is owned by the man who now owns the dilapidated Star House.
If you’ve spent much time at the DoubleShot over the past couple of years, you probably met one of our regular customers, Greg Peterson. Greg is one of those charismatic guys who has a genuine smile and a way of making you feel like he thinks you are better than you really are. If he told you his career is as a college football coach, you wouldn’t have been surprised; tall and imposing with an athletic build, he looks the part. His most recent stint was as the offensive coordinator at the University of Tulsa during their successful seasons. In his time at the DoubleShot he cycled a lot and conversed warmheartedly, and he exuded a desire to coach again. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for him, he was hired as a wide receiver coach at Eastern Illinois University and moved to Charleston, Illinois (not far from where Cynthia Ann Parker was born).
Before he moved, Greg connected me with a friend of his, Jon Jost. I emailed Jon a couple of times and found that he was from Nebraska, and is married to a Costa Rican woman (á la Peta Nocona). They had recently moved to Costa Rica and were farming coffee. I met Jon at the convention of the Specialty Coffee Association of America in April and we talked about trail running and coffee, both of which flourish in the Cordillera de Talamanca, the foothills of which Jon’s farm is perched.
Jon and his wife, Marianella have successfully mined the channels and found brokers and roasters who are eager buyers for all of their coffee. They are also opening up these pathways for their neighbors. At SCAA, Jon gave me two coffee samples, one from his farm, which was already sold out, and the other from a farm called Finca Sircof. I sample roasted these coffees and put them on the cupping table with coffees from Africa and Brazil. This Sircof Venecia Honey really separated itself from the others with aromas of berry and a sweet, smooth taste.
Finca Sircof is owned by Marcos Oviedo. His farm is near the farm of Jon Jost. Marcos has spent the last few years improving the quality of his coffee, building a micro-mill on his property, and experimenting with different processing methods. The Venecia variety is a new type of coffee for us, and I really like it. A mutation of the Caturra variety, it retains the solid structure of the Caturra, but benefits from slower ripening to add density and complexity.
Marcos processed this coffee using the Red Honey method: after picking only ripe coffee cherries, the skins were stripped off and the beans dried with the fruit pulp still intact. This method results in a very tasty coffee with sweetness and smooth, slightly fruity vanilla aromas.
This is the coffee we are drinking to celebrate Thanksgiving. To celebrate relationships. Washington Irving drank coffee near my house, in the vicinity of the future Quanah Avenue. Quanah Parker drank coffee in my weekend home in the Wichita Mountains. And thanks to Greg Peterson, Jon Jost, and Marcos Oviedo, we will drink delicious coffee with our families in our homes and at the DoubleShot this holiday season.
Read more about this amazing coffee and buy a pound on the DoubleShot website. We are selling the coffee in one-pound commemorative black bags with a card affixed bearing a photograph of Marcos and information about the coffee. Happy Thanksgiving.
My watch beeped. I didn’t hear it because I was wearing earbuds. But the vibration alerted me and I looked at my left wrist.
“Sixty to go,” I thought.
I was running on the roads in Osage Hills. I wasn’t actually running 62 miles that day, but I was training for a 100 kilometer race in southern Utah. So I imagined how I would feel 2 miles into a 62 mile run. I felt fine.
I was going to Zion. The National Park. Where people wait in line to catch a shuttle bus that takes them to paved trails so they can join hoards of other people enjoying the wonders of “nature.” I’d never been to Zion. It was just a place on a map. A place I had heard was beautiful.
I live in a diverse neighborhood in an old part of Tulsa. Adjacent to my house (which appears to be abandoned) live a drunken ex-mailman; a doctor; a cop; a drug dealer (so the cop tells me); and a bunch of cool kids hiding behind a fence and a gate so the mailman, the doctor , the cop, the drug dealer, and the coffee guy can’t disturb their sanctuary on the hill. I like my neighborhood and the mishmash of oddball people who live there. On my way home I see a lot of our homeless sleeping up under bridges and hanging out near shelters. One man with amazingly limber hamstrings has been living on the sidewalk under an overpass near my house for a couple of years now. I don’t know him. I don’t know anything about him, but I wonder a lot.
The other day I was walking home from an outdoor concert and I noticed this man was sitting straight up, as usual, legs outstretched in front of him, and he was reading something. Curious, as I got closer I could see it was a road atlas. A big one, like the atlas I keep in the seat pocket behind me in my car. The one we all used to refer to when we traveled. Rand McNally. With its inset big city maps and distance charts from landmark city to landmark city on our country’s interstate system. This man, who hadn’t gone further than the corner store in over two years, was looking at an atlas.
The life of an entrepreneur can be stressful and full of decisions and adversity and never-ending lists of tasks impossible to conquer. Days fly by in a whirl of addressing issues and partial successes and unexpected setbacks. Solving problems and planning for the season to come. CYA and learning and adjusting and hopefully doing better tomorrow.
In the evenings when I get home, I fire up the range on an All-Clad pot with a generous pour of Spanish olive oil, chop some Vidalia onion with my Japanese chef knife, and the stress begins to sizzle away. I turn on the classical station to hear masterpieces by Russian composers, written 150 years ago. I strip down to my undershirt, pour a Belgian ale, and make dinner.
I read at night. About the history of the world, generally. About geography and cultures, and adventures of explorers from recorded past, civilizations, and fossil records and ruins. Right now I’m reading a book from an author I enjoy named Elspeth Huxley. It’s a memoir of her life growing up in Kenya on a coffee farm after the first World War.
It’s escapism, isn’t it? Life is hard monotonous and we want adventure and change. Things don’t go as planned and we don’t know if we can go on for one more day. And then we go for a run or thumb through the U.S. road atlas or read a book about the travails of a time and place so foreign to our own. And our minds travel. The human brain is an amazing thing.
This is one of the things I’ve always loved about coffee. Coffee beans are the seeds of coffee cherries. Fruit grown on trees in tropical highlands throughout the world. The coffee beans you buy at the DoubleShot in our kraft one-pound bags are hand picked by people in faraway places who speak different languages and live an entirely different life than we live. Their culture and cooking and housing are as foreign to us as history or deserts, or the unknown interstates to a man with no means of transportation. The terroir and cultivation and processing of the coffee influence its taste in the cup. The inherent characteristics of a coffee are the result of a million semi-random factors taking place in very interesting places with very interesting people guiding the cultivation. When you see the names of these coffees (“Do you want the Colombia or the Kenya?”), it’s not just a name. These places are real, and they are coming to us. The coffee is a physical manifestation of a land and a culture far away from here. You can touch and taste and smell the fruit of Ethiopia or Costa Rica. It’s as if we were serving the cuisine of a dozen cultures, each prepared by inhabitants of those foreign lands. We live out world travel in each cup and each pound and each little coffee bean that was touched first by the land and then the hands of a native and by me and you.
I love the idea of coffee. Because it’s not like a movie about a safari or a French restaurant or a memoir or a road atlas, though those are all wonderful experiences. This is the real thing. You can drink a cup of coffee and the world comes to you. A momentary escape in the midst of the chaos of life, it can take your mind to foreign lands.
Those of you who know me well probably know Sterling. You know him or you know about him or you’ve met him or heard about him. And so it’s with a heavy heart that I must tell you that he died yesterday.
His full name was General Sterling Price. He was named after John Wayne’s cat in the movie “True Grit.” I adopted him when he was 2 months old. That was 17 years and 2 weeks ago today. I decided I wanted a cat and I walked into Companion Animal Hospital on Harvard and he was there in a cage. He was so tiny that he sat on my shoulder and walked back and forth across my neck from shoulder to shoulder. I remember that I told the person who worked there that I would look around and let them know if I decided to take him. So I drove to a big box animal store and looked at all the various cats and I couldn’t stop thinking about that little black-and-white at Companion. And I started to panic thinking that someone else might adopt him before I got back there and I ran out and jumped in my car and drove back as fast as I could and ran inside. And then I acted nonchalant and said I didn’t feel like looking any more so I would just take this little guy. And from that moment forward we were best friends. I watched him grow from a tiny kitten with too much energy into a peaceful adult who loved just sitting with me and holding my hand.
I could go on and on, like any pet owner I guess, but suffice it to say that Sterling was a very unique creature. I would often look at him in amazement that he was animated. How could an animal like him be real? He seemed like a human, contentedly trapped in the body of a cat. His face always told me what he was thinking - his expressions were obvious. His eyes were full of life every time he opened them. He loved life and looked forward to our rituals each day. And he was with me through the years that I was learning to be a man. I was only 26 years old when Sterling and I met. He has been a huge force in the changes I have made in myself the past 17 years, and in the creation and evolution of the DoubleShot. You may think that I’m exaggerating, but I am not. He was the behind-the-scenes entity that kept me going every day, gave me a listening ear no matter what I had to say, and showed me a peaceful and forgiving way to approach any situation in life. The love and companionship he gave me was perhaps one of the most important things in my life that has allowed me to keep going day after day. It was as if we were one. And now that he is gone, I feel like I lost a section of my heart. An entire portion of my life and personality was buried yesterday in an oak casket under shovelful after shovelful of Oklahoma dirt.
That isn’t to say that life won’t continue. Of course it will. But it will be different. I will have to learn to adapt in different ways to the daily routine and find an outlet for my stress and emotions. And the DoubleShot? It will be fine. It won’t be the same. My desire to make coffee was born with Sterling at my side. He loved the smell of it and licked the residue from the bottom of an empty americano cup.
I know this doesn’t mean a lot to many of you, but if you enjoy DoubleShot Coffee, you should know that the source of my inspiration for creating it and for persevering and improving it was General Sterling Price. His death is a major setback to me and to the DoubleShot. I will likely reevaluate my priorities in the coming months, and make some important decisions about the direction of this business. That’s how important he was.
Please enjoy the coffee and all that Sterling and I have created here at the DoubleShot, with the help of so many people through the years. Enjoy it today and tomorrow and the next day. Because life is uncertain. Thank you for helping our dreams become a reality. I hope the future holds unexpected pleasures and more delicious treats.
The pin-pricks of coffee’s tiny guardian mosquitos remind me that in the dense, diminutive forest of it’s mountainsides I am a guest, and its harvesters are armored with long sleeves and t-shirts around their heads appearing like so many muslim women, faces protruding from a habit of Hanes. Like soldiers waiting to be called upon to defend the coffee. I skirt amongst outstretched branches, a turnstile of spindly sticks and corrugated leaves, the smallest of which have a thick, rubbery texture that seem to transmit to me the health and wellbeing of the plant when I caress its surfaces as one in love.
They ask me why I touch the leaves that way.
I like to feel them.
They ask if I have children.
The coffee trees are my children.
They say I have a lot of children.
I love coffee. It’s fruit is a life-force I pluck with earnestness and purpose. I select the ripe cherries intently and pop them in my mouth for a chew on the fibrous skin and I tuck the twin seeds in my cheek to taste its slimy fructose-covered shell, like a chipmunk storing up for winter. Or I pop them in my blue jeans pocket, filling with seeds of the Maragogipe or cherry of the Yellow Caturra. Amongst millions of trees, each bearing over a thousand cherries, they ask why I put several in my pockets.
These are magical beans.
They think I am crazy.
I look into the eyes of the coffee picker and I ask her name and she says Claudia. She tells me she is thirty years old. I ask her how long she has been picking coffee and she tells me, “All of my life.” I tell her she is beautiful.
I examine the strong yet delicate hands of the farmer whose skin is creased with a lifeline that parallels the family tree of his coffee. The sticky stains of coffee juice show upon his clothes and the knowing way he manages the harvest.
And the processing of our coffee crisscrosses cultures and interweaves several centuries of rudimentary practices. I ask, when was the contemporary machine invented that removes the skins of the cherry and which is so pervasive across the coffee washing stations throughout the world. They tell me around 1650, when the Dutch took coffee from the arid mountains of Yemen and planted it in the island rainforests of Indonesia. An enduring method and machine, invented of necessity by interlopers.
The history of the process is the history of the cup. From the port of Mocha in Yemen to Java, Indonesia, the world’s oldest blend was born. The traditional dry process of Yemen and Ethiopia yields distinctly different flavors than the wet process that enabled coffee cultivation to be spread throughout the world. The colors and fragrances of these unroasted, processed coffees trickle through my fingers and into my nose as I sift through my burlap meditation garden.
Coffee is the history of bondage and freedom. Of the slavery once predominant in plantations of French and English and Dutch colonies and of the uprising of the suppressed. In roasting coffee, as the color changes from green to straw to tan and the aromas evolve, the coffee is absorbing the heat from its environment in the roasting drum. But at a certain time and temperature in the cycle, our coffee begins to rise up exothermically, audibly snapping and releasing energy in a vibrant celebration of life and liberty.
I snoop around a coffee mill and I feel the tears in the plastic mesh flooring of a raised bed built for a special project of naturals just for me. A European roaster inquires curiously but conservatively, and I ask if he is interested in the natural.
NO, he snaps.
They tell me someday my palate will mature and I won’t like those coffees any more.
I think, maybe my respect for mankind will mature someday and I won’t like freedom or diversity any more. And I’ll take my elite cupping spoon to Costa Rica to subdue the coffees under one standard profile. Should we not question the status quo and ride away in container ships back to San Francisco, our bland, unwavering coffees barely allowed to reach that exothermic crack before being put down, hushed.
In Costa Rica, coffee transformed from ornamental garden plant into the chief export in the mid-1800s.
Seeing a weakness in the recently-independent states of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, a privateer named William Walker gathered a small army and set sail from San Francisco to make slave states of those emerging countries. His success in Nicaragua was quelled by an uprising of meager but impassioned farmers from the rolling countryside of northern Costa Rica. The impromptu civil defense drove the pirates back into Nicaragua, trapped in a hostel in the town of Rivas. One young farm boy-turned-drummer boy from the town of Alajuela charged the hostel and set fire to its foundations, laying waste to the fortress and sending Walker and his cohorts fleeing to Honduras where they were summarily executed by firing squad.
Inspired by the young Alajuelan, Juan Santamaria, whose nickname was El Erizo, we pay homage to his bravery and forthrightness. Our first special coffee for this holiday season, El Erizo, is a departure from the pent-up standards espoused by San Franciscans, where they roast only washed coffees and only until they begin to hear the coffee cry out, whereas the voices of the past make them nervous and the emerging uniqueness of flavors, of freedom, are dismissed, enslaved. And we burn down those walls and release the sweetness and amazing flavors within the coffee, within the farm boy who planted and picked the coffee. With Thanksgiving we offer this rare treat - a Honey Process from Alajuela that tastes, in all my experience, like a beautiful natural.
They ask me why I love the coffee.
It personifies freedom.