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.
There is a story written and lived by John Muir (A Wind-Storm in the Forests) in which he decides one day to climb a tall Douglas Spruce tree in the Sierra Nevadas. He climbs all the way to the top. But he climbs during a strong wind storm. He climbs despite the fact that the tree is listing and bending and swaying heavily. In his words, “The slender tops fairly flapped and swished in the passionate torrent, bending and swirling backward and forward, round and round, tracing indescribable combinations of vertical and horizontal curves, while I clung with muscles firm braced, like a bobo-link on a reed.” Muir describes the things he sees as he sways in ellipses about the top of the forest; and of the beautiful sounds he experiences with the wind moaning and rustling through the canyons and trees; and of the fragrances of the woods and of the sea. His exuberance is remarkable in the midst of a situation that might seem irritable or troublesome to most people. He purposely puts himself out on the exposed limbs of life so he can experience the unfiltered, unexpected and unknown.
Several months ago I entered a lottery to participate in a 50 mile foot race called the San Juan Solstice. And I was one of the 250 people selected to run on June 27 in Lake City, Colorado. In the weeks and days leading up to the race, reports began accumulating about late snowfall in the mountains. Info from the race director as well as trail reports from mountain climbers around the state indicated fast-melting but persistent snow above 12,000 feet and very high creeks and rivers. This being my first time in this race, coupled with all the excitement, speculation, and uncertainty about the conditions on the course (“He reports shamelessly resorting to crawling across the snowfields in places.”) made for a bit of nervousness on my part. That feeling didn’t subside when I got to Lake City and saw my fellow competitors, most of them elite ultra-runners.
I work a lot. Which means I don’t train much. But I trained a little, and I had a plan. I’ve been an athlete all my life, an endurance athlete since I was 21, and an ultra-endurance athlete since 2006. All these years of training and learning about how my body responds to different stimuli have helped me understand and shape my fitness at will. And I long to be the type of person who can perform whatever task is needed or desired at any moment without the cumbersome burden of specific training. So I drove to Colorado and arrived at a primitive campsite outside the town of Leadville on a Tuesday. Leadville’s towering mountains greeted me with the same enticement as usual and as I gazed up at their white flanks, my desire to summit began to swell. The desire to climb. Because I’m a good climber.
It’s fun to do something you’re good at. So at 315p* on Tuesday afternoon, I double-knotted my running shoes and hit the trail to see how I felt. The looming mountain above me, the tallest peak in the Rocky Mountains, disappeared as I entered its pine forested skirt. I knew I would suffer with the changes in elevation, having been at 740 feet above sea level 24 hours before and beginning my climb at 10,500 feet. And it was hard, but I climbed with as much forward, upward pace as I could muster. Up until the trees became shorter and sparse and then ceased to grow. I continued upward, leaving the effervescent forest for the airy open space above treeline. And I continued until the wind grew cold. The hard work of ascending kept the fire burning inside but the air became colder and colder, and I put on my jacket and hat and gloves. Each ascent of a knoll which seemed like the last, revealed another above, and eventually the trail gave way to rock stacked and scattered randomly like petrified leaves raked into a pile on a blustery Autumn day. The summit was biting and unprotected and tempestuous. But all at once, I could turn and see in every direction, and at 14,433 feet, the world around soared with the majesty of the greatest painting to ever adorn the walls of Gilcrease Museum. And my lungs, as wheezy as they were on the climb to the top, began to learn what I wanted them to do and my body started transforming itself into an oxygen-extracting machine. (*On an aside here, 315p is NOT an appropriate time to start a mountain climb. I usually start early in the morning so that I am off the summit by noon. On this occasion it worked out because of luck and speed. But don't try it.)
Nicaragua has long been on my radar because of the tasty coffees we’ve had from that country, and because my novice and infrequent cigar-smoking has led me to prefer Nicaraguan tobacco. A couple of months ago, I was invited to visit for the first time with the assistance and direction of a woman named Leslie Penrose, who runs a foundation called Just Hope. Just Hope seems to be the type of foundation that visits with individuals and communities and asks what they need, and then tries to figure out ways to help them get those things, mostly through micro-loans and sharing of information and resources. Not particularly knowing Leslie or having any idea where I would be going or what I would be seeing, I stepped onto a plane, sat in the window seat, and watched as a page turned and the world presented me with a new space to explore and learn. The drive out of the capital city of Managua could’ve easily been on the plains of Northern Tanzania, the earth dry and parched with savannah grasses bent with thirst. Large, thorny trees stretched out over the horizon and unseen residents built cinder- and mud-block houses with corrugated tin roofs. We rolled through the lowlands and ascended into still-thirsty, but highly vegetated mountainsides. This road brought us into the region called Matagalpa and to a town called Santa Emilia. My impression was more of a mood than an actual observation, but the country felt dingy and depressed, uncared-for, and troubled. A side-road in Santa Emilia led us to a farm of the same name, where we waited for an armed guard to open the gate to let us in.
Our living quarters for the next few days were primitive, but interesting. A series of bamboo-and-wood huts with grass roofs stood in rows, and within each were two sets of bunk beds and two full-size beds, complete with mosquito nets. The mosquitoes in Nicaragua carry malaria and dengue fever and a disease called chikungunya, which lasts a few months and causes terrible pain in the joints. Our small huts were spartan. There was no running water and we took something called a “Russian Shower” in which one pours cold water over their body using a bowl floating in a 55 gallon drum. And they fed us, rice and beans, three times a day. This is how the locals live. All the time.
In this region of Nicaragua, we visited coffee farms of different magnitudes. We toured the farm we were staying on, Finca Santa Emilia. It is a large, corporate, well-organized production farm “owned by a Turkish-American.” We visited a medium-sized farm called La Esmeralda, which is owned by an American couple who discovered Nicaragua on a mission trip and decided to buy a farm and “retire” in the tropical countryside. Though the work of managing a farm and the difficulty keeping good labor has worn on them, their farm was diverse and teeming with the multitudes of plants found on a 21st Century Central American mountain. The farm seemed a bit disheveled and wild, while the owners, Debra and Roy were as neat and hospitable and friendly as could be.
We drove just outside of that small town and parked on the side of the road. Here we disembarked and walked up a wide dirt-and-rock trail for a mile or so to a community called La Flor. A public forum ensued and we met a few farmers, sitting around a large circle in their community center, who told of their farming practices and the challenges they face as small landholders. The culture of over-spending in bumper crop years leads to over-borrowing in lean and underproductive years, and the cycle of a cash-poor farmer needing and promising never ends. The “coyote” lends money for fertilizer and buys the coffee 9 months later during harvest. The sloppy wet-milling performed at each little farm results in a volatile, fermenting coffee being sold to the dry mill. And the urgency with which the coffee must change hands in this fragile condition constrains the farmers to the market prices of the day. Or less, because they have no idea WHAT the market prices are. (Everyone seems to think they're getting ripped off, and maybe they are, but it's complicated.) And these people really are living a very simple life. We meandered around the community after our meeting and visited a few of the farms in La Flor. We climbed the hillsides and walked amongst the coffee. We knelt next to the small nursery where they grow seedlings for new coffee plants. We saw new water lines and pit toilets that were funded by loans through Just Hope. And we saw pride in the beaming countenance of a man named Geronimo as he showed us the beautiful, shiny new house he built with more assistance from Just Hope. Our main guide over the land was a young man named Freddy. He had earned a scholarship to go to the university and study agronomy, and so he was a wealth of information and experience, and his farm was the most healthy and pristine of them all.
All along our walk, as I hung back to take in all the little details, Geronimo would pluck an 18 inch seed pod or a red shell with horns like a bull and crack them open for a snack. He would always offer up a pea or something that looked like a slimy caterpillar, and much to my surprise they were all edible and some were even pretty tasty.
As I processed all the information about the people of La Flor and thought about the ways in which their lives could be made easier by working together, collaborating, and improving their coffee processing, pooling their purchases and maybe even their sales, my mind spun through the possibilities, not just to acquire coffee for the DoubleShot, but to walk away knowing these people had more opportunities than when I met them.
The San Juan Solstice 50 began in the early morning darkness with 249 runners trotting up a dirt road carrying water and snacks and clothing for unexpected changes in weather. We turned off onto singletrack that crossed a waist-deep, frigid stream several times, each crossing making my feet numb. That track persisted up and over a mountain pass and down into a valley where the sweltering temperatures had me dripping sweat. The second long climb of the day led up onto the Continental Divide, where we ran on trail and off-trail, through fragile, slippery snow, and tufted, patchy grasses, an ankle-sprain-in-waiting.
As expected, I was climbing well, especially for a flat-lander, chit-chatting and laughing at the suffering I sensed in the runners around me (and inside myself). I laughed about cold, numb feet; and about falling through a snowfield and post-holing for a few steps until I could regain my footing on solid snow. I told myself, "The higher I go, the stronger I get." And when a competitor asked me, "Are you enjoying the views?", I looked up from my feet and observed the barren sliver of land we were running on and how it fell away to both my left and right and on both sides of me were...
No. Not really. But I did notice after I arrived in Lake City that the place has a fondness for a fellow named Alferd Packer. In the winter which began in 1873, Packer and five other men ventured out into the Rocky Mountain wilderness in search of gold. ("There's gold in them thar hills.") They struck out from Montrose headed for Gunnison during an especially difficult season and got terribly lost. Nowadays, all you'd have to do is drive east on Highway 50, watch the road signs if that makes you feel better, and check the GPS on your phone occasionally to see how many miles are left. But in 1874 there was no highway and barely even a town at either end of that journey. So they got tremendously lost. (You should look at a map if you don't know how lost they got.) So lost that they ended up near the townsite of Lake City. (It wasn't officially a town until later that year.) Once the lost party ran out of food, they apparently began to eat each other. And Packer was the only one to survive the trip. Sustained by human flesh, he showed up alone in Gunnison a couple months later. While in Lake City, I ate most of my meals at the Packer Saloon and Cannibal Grill. Running through the same mountains where Packer ate his friends, I munched on a Cannibal Burger, which tasted like beef and was fairly delicious and sustaining slathered with ketchup.
Yes, I eat hamburgers during long runs. Ground beef is an amazing source of energy. I also drink coffee. The DoubleShot Coffee Concentrate went down so smooth at the 21.5 mile aid station and gave me the spark to get on up to the Divide. (If you've never stood on the Continental Divide, you should find a way to get yourself there. It's breathtaking.)
One thing led to another and I actually felt really good throughout the race. The final climb up a steep mountain called Slumgullion (which apparently is primitive Hamburger Helper) was brutal, and climbing through the only aspen forest of the day, the mosquitoes feasted on my human flesh. Swatting and laboring uphill, I finally came to the peak and ran down to the last aid station. The next 3 miles were very steep to my weary legs, and the loose shale singletrack trail tested my balance and braking. And finally I could no longer trust my legs to run down the ceaselessly steep terrain. So I walked it in, finishing in 14 hours and 10 minutes, exhausted. (The 122nd person across the line.)
I've always hoped that the things I have a knack for and enjoy doing could be useful at some point for the greater good of society. At what point will I be needed to throw on a pack and run up into the mountains to help some inaccessible population? For now, I feel like the traveling I've done and the information I've learned over the years about coffee farming could possibly be put to good use for more than the acquisition of delicious coffee for the DoubleShot (though that is good use). And that makes me hopeful. It's the result of climbing a tree during a windstorm in order to see what transpires. Now I just have to make something happen.
The DoubleShot has been pretty busy over the past few months. We’ve been steadily making changes to accommodate more customers, to serve you more efficiently and help you with more questions about coffee drinks, coffee beans, and coffee equipment. Our pastry chef has been in the kitchen churning out the most delicious muffins and scones in town. It’s exciting to see so many new faces, and friends who have been coming every day for years, on this path of discovery and experimentation to find out how to make a better cup of coffee.
Last month I spent a few days in Nicaragua. It was my first trip there and I went in not knowing where I would be or who I would meet. My goal was to make the most of every day and learn as much about the local culture and the people as possible. To begin to understand how farms of different sizes operate. How they plant and fertilize and pick and process and sell their coffee. What varieties do they grow? How do the mills operate and what is the structure to get the coffee from the farm to the mill? So many questions, because everywhere I go, things are different. People often ask me if I go to the farm and buy the coffee. No, that’s not what it’s about for me.
The DoubleShot is a subculture that embraces quality and curiosity. In coffee, and in business in general, we are an outlier. There is a tendency for people to see companies that appear successful and want to emulate what they do. And in fact, there is an entire business philosophy about imitating the behaviors and decision-making of role models in order to achieve a similar modicum of success. But that’s not what we do. That’s not what the DoubleShot is founded on and not how we make decisions. Yes, we do research and try to keep up with the latest trends and ideas and science in coffee, but we do so with a skeptical eye. We learn and we question what we learn and we test ideas to see how they play out with our coffee. We brainstorm a lot and look for problems so that we can come up with solutions that could change the entire course of brewing or drinking coffee. To me, it’s not about copying or trying to reach some golden standard set out by some bland corporate association. We WANT to be an outlier. Copy copy copy and no one will ever find something different or better. Standardization is a slow death.
Progress happens very slowly around here. If you could hear us in the back and in our private meetings, discussing the ways in which we are going to make coffee on Mars or our invention for new ways of turning whole bean coffee into coffee particles in order to brew, you’d think we were re-inventing the wheel - a martian wheel, at that. And we might! Why wheels? Why hinges? Hinges are the starbucks of the movement world! But I digress. It’s big ideas that turn into small changes. Many of the inventions we’ve created you will never see because they don’t make great coffee. Failure is very exciting around here because we do it with a lot of flare and illumination of new possibilities. [You should’ve seen my black cat (the firecracker, not the espresso blend) coffee bean smasher.]
How do you drink your coffee? We just finished an experiment in which we asked you to drink a single-origin espresso while listening to a sound and staring at an image. Each of seven days we pulled shots of the same coffee (Brazil Daterra Peaberry Pearl) and switched up the sound and image. The idea for this comes from the myriad of studies on the effects of our senses on the complete experience. Indeed, we have been fiddling with this idea, though a bit more subtly, over the past few years as we’ve sold box sets of coffee and particularly-shaped cups, and asked you to listen to a certain song as you drank the coffee at home, or paired the coffee with a story or a food of texture and taste that would transform your drinking experience. The results of our latest foray were interesting and poetic and sparked your general appreciation for letting go of the present and the particular and allowing your minds to wander through the prairies of aroma and primal thought. The responses were fantastic. And we will learn and further mold our presentation of coffee to make your experiences more wonderful.
Why should I care how they grow coffee in Nicaragua? My desire to know more about the details of coffee from the ground up is all about cause and effect. What makes coffee taste good? What makes coffee taste bad? What makes it taste fruity? What makes it taste chocolatey? And who are these people that toil in the tropical mountains, supplying the grains that feed our commodity markets? Most of the coffee we drink at the DoubleShot comes to us through one of a few small brokers with whom I’ve developed a nice working relationship. I love working with these people, as they’ve really acquired a sense for the types of coffee we enjoy, and they take a lot of the preliminary guess-work and risk out of purchasing. Much can go wrong from farm-level to your kitchen table, and brokers take that risk out of my hands, helping us more consistently bring you great coffees. But sometimes I do make deals with farmers and arrange to buy coffee of a particular type from a particular farmer, as you know. And when that happens, I don’t put it on my mule and wander up through the Darien Gap with the booty. It’s the job of millers and exporters and shippers and importers and freight carriers to get coffee from there to here - much of that being beyond my understanding. So I leave the technical work to the technicians and stick to what I know - roasting and brewing. You’re welcome.
This weekend is Tulsa Tough. You may have never heard of it, but it’s sort of a big deal. Pro and amateur cyclists come from all around the country to ride and race in three days of high-speed criterium circuits. Three courses in and near downtown are set up on short loops in which the peloton trickles around corners and motors straight-aways like a freight train. It’s inspiring to see elite athletes do what they do best. One of those athletes is a guy named Doug Zell. Doug is the founder and CEO of Intelligentsia Coffee, which is the leading company in the specialty coffee industry. Intelligentsia has been very successful over the years, spearheading new ideas in coffee, and opening cafes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Intelli is the company that many emulate, but as I’ve always said, if you’re doing what Intelligentsia is doing, it’s too late - they already did it. They are a leader. An outlier like us, except the rest of the industry follows them. While Doug is coming to Tulsa to race his bike with the Intelligentsia cycling team, he will be spending some time hanging out drinking coffee at the DoubleShot, and has agreed to be our guest speaker on Saturday morning. From 10-11a Doug will talk about his company and about coffee. This is an outstanding opportunity to hear from someone who has been doing this for 20 years. So I hope we will pack the house and give him the DoubleShot welcome he deserves.
As spring turns to summer, look for more innovations here at the DoubleShot. I predict that the remainder of 2015 will find us with more enjoyable and unexpected coffees and ways of drinking coffee. We will see new Colombian coffees and likely a very exciting crop from Nicaragua. More experiments and strange occurrences are almost guaranteed. And a new type of coffee brewer will likely be born in the DoubleShot Coffee Laboratory. We shall not be bored.
Put this on your calendar:
Doug Zell, Intelligentsia Coffee
Saturday, June 13 from 10-11a
at DoubleShot Coffee Company
For the first time in my life I consecutively summited a pair of mountains over 14,000 feet, retracing my path back over the first peak feeling triumphant and emotional as the distant bugles from a swarm of elk receded from sight and sound. As pikas squeaked like ubiquitous dog toys and the shrill whistle of the marmot completed the mountain symphony begun by the wind and my crunching, percussive footsteps. As I descended to treeline around 12,000 feet, above which no trees were growing and the bald, Rocky Mountain exposed itself and me to the driving gale and baking sun, increasingly taller pines began to join the winding dirt trail.
My day on the trail began in the early morning darkness which obscures all but contrast and beyond that, imagination. And so in the midday light of this previously-trodden path, all things became new and vibrant, and my awareness stretched beyond these things freshly revealed into the the still-unseen, searching vigilantly for animals and flowers and interesting rocks and the elusive bear. Movement guided my focus, and above, two mule deer browsing on tall grasses and thick, green brush quickly disappeared into the mountain foliage. A million other rocks and insects and tiny purple flowers passed and I approached what was left of a 19th Century log cabin, deep into this range and a fair hike up from the nearest abandoned mining town. History and curiosity pulled me in to inspect the remaining few, monstrous logs of this primitive dwelling. And the stumps surrounding it were hardened into a mummified fossil history of the ancient trees that some similarly-hardened, brave pioneers hand-cut from the mountainside. What a stunningly impressive act that must've been as these girthy arbors fell through the forest and exploded onto the thudding, quaking earth and all snapped and cracked around.
The DoubleShot did not begin all at once on March 5, 2004. It began with a pioneering dream and the spirit of youth, to go out and create an experience for the masses which I had discovered in my kitchen 7 years prior. Five years of learning and experimenting and a hopeful but naive belief in the dream that hard work and an excellent product will certainly drive people to believe in me and ultimately bring success, led me to that decision to go forth and create. Cultivating the basis of my understanding of coffee began with a simple fluid-bed roaster, a book about coffee and a lot of extremely small batches of various types of beans from around the world. Though not ideal, I roasted and brewed every morning at 4am and took notes on each one. But the main thing I learned from this experience was that, prior to the first cup I roasted and brewed at home, I had never tasted coffee that wasn't stale. And thus was born the idea that the DoubleShot is founded upon: Freshness. The building blocks were felled one by one with a lot of hard work and trial and each one gave me a better foundation for what I believe about coffee, steering me further up the road of better and better tasting cups. Today those pillars of quality are the things that make the DoubleShot excellent and we stand on these principles as they are what sets us apart and makes us unique.
On the eve of my 40th birthday, I chose to go to one of the most amazing and magical places in the country. From the town of Three Rivers, a winding, 2-lane road climbs up through the hot, high-desert landscape of scrub oak and twisted, stunted trees surrounded by scorched brown rock and dun-colored grasses. Upward until suddenly the trees are taller and lodgepole-straight, the ground covered in pine needles and moss-covered boulders. Upward still until, around a bend in the road, the most exquisite moment of the trip, which repeated itself over and over and over again, found me standing wide-eyed, looking up in disbelief at the utterly inconceivable size of the Sequoia reaching up into the canopy, its rounded-point top difficult to see because of its enormous girth. The size of these trees is startling and I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single one of them made me feel like it was impossible that a tree could be that big - as if my brain weren't big enough to wrap around the idea of such an immense version of a familiar object. The Giant Sequoia is a redwood, sister to the tallest trees on earth, cousin to the little Cypress I planted in my yard a couple years ago. And thus, as conifers, Giant Sequoia produce cones which fall to the ground all around the forest floor, but apparently only open up to drop their seeds after forest fires or with the assistance of squirrels and beetles. Despite the size of the giants, their cones are quite small, which is also remarkable to think about. This little, tough-scaled seed pod contains the potential to produce the largest living thing on the planet, slowly. The oldest known Sequoia is 3,500 years old, based on ring count. I actually stood in front of a section of a fallen tree, which had been sliced to reveal its rings, contrasting lighter summer growth with the darker rings of winter's dormancy that scored its life through the seasons from the tiniest Charlie Brown Christmas tree all the way to a diameter of up to 56 feet!
The DoubleShot is growing, season by season, slowly weathering the storms and putting out fires daily. At times we've been misunderstood, misconstrued, misbelieved, mistrusted, even misguided. But we've also been heralded and mimicked and liked in real life and people have come from near and far to taste and see. We owe our success to the consistent, growing list of DoubleShot Regulars and those who trumpet their love for what we do to anyone who will listen. The slow, plodding growth of business has allowed us to steadily change and adapt in order to serve more loyal fans better coffee as we continually learn about this magical bean and improve the processes that put fresh, delicious coffee in your hands more efficiently. When you're a sapling, it feels like any harsh wind or wisp of flame could be fatal, and I'm happy to say that after 11 years, our bark is thick and the threat of fire only indicates the likelihood that the seeds of our success will be scattered. If you've been with us over the long-haul, you know the dark times that are our growth rings and you know the light times in which we celebrate coffee.
Pedaling my mountain bike uphill for two hours is at the same time a challenge I will conquer and the most beautiful way to gain potential energy. And at the pinnacle, I will unleash the power in my wheels and the finesse in my legs, rolling across mountainsides through fields of shoulder-high wildflowers, over pine tree roots scrolling across the trail, skipping through rock gardens, and bunny-hopping streams of clear mountain water. The twisting, meandering singletrack of my dreams flows care-free with unexpected thrills and obstacles and the ever-changing color spectrum and smells emitted by who-knows-what as I glide through a forest of rugged, old Pine and emerge into a pristine white-trunked stand of Aspens. It's a different feeling, riding through Aspens with their shimmering, quaking leaves flitting in the breeze and my peripheral dominated by the absence of color. Aspen trees are interesting because when you find yourself in a stand of them, you're actually within one living organism. Each tree is a stem from a singular, huge root system, a clone of its neighbor. And one particular grove of Aspens in Utah is speculated to be the heaviest and potentially the oldest living organism on the planet. While amazing and beautiful, Aspens lack the ability to stir the wonder that erupts when I see a Sequoia. You've seen one, you've seen them all. It might be interesting to walk through a grove and look for the distinguishing characteristics from one tree to the next, but it also might be absurd.
People often ask me about opening a second location. Or franchising. Growing the business by replication. That's how you do it, right? You replicate yourself and then you replicate the process. But not me. I don't say never, but I'm not in business to create a grove of Aspens; I'm here to create a Sequoia. The decisions I've made through these 11 years have not foremost centered on how to make more money. My decisions are first based on quality and freshness. Could I maintain the quality and show even more people how good coffee can be by opening another store? Perhaps. But as of right now, that's not in the works. Why don't we sell our coffee beans at the grocery store like every other small, specialty roaster? Because I have very high and strict quality and freshness standards that could not be upheld in that environment. I refuse to compromise my standards and sell you coffee that I wouldn't drink. That's just not the way we do business. Sure, beautifully-designed shops and sleek marketing are amazing, and I'm jealous of rich, pristine interiors, but the DoubleShot, even after all these years, is about honesty and reality, and what you see is our creative expression of who we are. We may be often imitated but we will never be replicated.
Bumping along in the back of a diesel four wheel drive truck, lining the road and the hillsides as far as the eye can see, are coffee trees. As the truck rolls to a stop and I step out into the Colombian sunshine, I want to feel the leaves of the tree that brings us so much joy every day. The thick, waxy leaf, between my fingers caressing its lines like the fingerprint of an alien, this healthy plants feel happy, if a plant can feel happy. Coffee trees are native to Ethiopia, immigrants throughout the tropics around the world everywhere there is a high place and fertile soil. The tree requires a lot of care, from the nursery to the field where it is fertilized and pruned, and the fungi and beetles which plague coffee must be held at bay. About five years into its life, a coffee tree will enter full production and bear the weight of around five pounds of coffee cherries as they ripen and are hand picked by meticulous harvesters, eventually yielding around 1 pound of roasted coffee. So you could think of a pound of coffee beans that you buy at the DoubleShot as the annual production of one coffee tree. This little tree with a mighty destiny touches your life in the simplest way. And in a sense, you become it as the seeds of its fruit are made into your morning beverage and its cells nourish and transform yours. Just as you become the DoubleShot every time you come to our little store or drink our coffee or speak our name.
Help us celebrate the 11th birthday of the DoubleShot on Thursday, March 5. We will be serving some special selections during our normal hours of coffee, and I encourage you to come back in the evening from 7-10p for more festivities. Hang out with other DoubleShot Regulars who you may or may not know; enjoy some delicious food and beverages; hear Noni Dressler, my cousin who’s coming all the way from St. Louis to sing and play the piano; and celebrate with us what the DoubleShot has become. Thank you for your continued support of our mission. Drink more coffee; it becomes you.
DoubleShot 11th Birthday
Thursday, March 5, 2015
Hours of Coffee 7a-530p
Yellow has never been my favorite color. I look around and see it non-intrusively accenting the room, a powerful, though scant slice of the color spectrum. Most of life is muted earth-tones and yellow is celestial. A yellow flower in a field of green and brown is a paragon of uniqueness, leadership, or outstanding beauty. Our yellow star provides warmth and happiness, though in extremes, misery. And the yellow in our urban society warns us to be cautious. Yellow, in moderation, is fantastic.
As an incautious kid, I roamed the woods and fields, first of the corn and soy prairies of Illinois, and then of the cross timbers in southern Oklahoma. Days and nights were spent building tree forts, fishing for mud cats, exploring every hill and dale, and of course playing "war" with my cousins. Like the kids of "Lord of the Flies," our free time was spent dividing and conquering one another. On my Uncle's 80-acre pastureland were two ponds, sparse woods, a hay barn, and a pair of combines - an immense battlefield with adequate relief and cover.
On a sunny Summer Sunday, after lunch all the boys of my extended (and extensive) family grabbed a broomstick or some other janitorial representation of a weapon and we split into 2 groups. We fled in separate directions into the wilds, avoiding cows and their excrement. Our troop ranged the ponds and pastures looking for the enemy, with occasional contact and shouts of "BANG BANG BANG! I GOT YOU!" Invariably if one cousin got the jump on another cousin, the surprise attack would win out and no matter how much negotiation, the surprised party would succumb to their slow reactions and relent to lie on the ground, close their eyes, and count to 100 while the ambush team scampered off looking for another tactical position.
My team crossed a dike containing one end of a cow pond, and descended the grassy slope where we climbed over a huge tree which had died and fallen like Gulliver on Lilliput. I, being the younger of my cousins, hung back and waited for each one to crest the horizontal trunk and leap to the ground. When my turn came, I stepped down onto a lower part of the trunk and suddenly, having fallen through rotten wood, found myself engulfed in a nest of angry, swarming, stinging yellow jackets. My older cousin pulled me out and carried me back to the house, as, from shock or venom, I couldn't stand.*
Way back in the hills, up a long dirt road is another farm called La Pastora. This farm, far from the rolling plains of Oklahoma, has steep fields upon the mountainsides of Costa Rica's Tarrazu, planted not in hay and cattle, but short, spindly coffee trees. The owner of La Pastora, Minor Esquival Picado, is the epitome of a happy, paradisiacal homeowner. You'd almost think his every-present grin was the product of having seen our lifestyle and then reverting back to his leisurely customs. But I suspect Minor has never been far from home.
Unusually, Minor built a small but pristine mill out of concrete and a mishmash of ceramic tile remnants, many broken into pieces. He uses this mill to process small lots of coffee that he thinks will be special and worth more than the regular coffee he sells to the regional mill in San Marcos. After Minor built his micro- wet mill, he began experimenting with Naturals and Honey coffees. Laying the coffee to dry in the sun on raised, African-style beds, which Minor built on the flat, dry ground between the mill and storage barn, he produced three different styles of Honey coffee. They are called Black Honey, Yellow Honey, and White Honey, derived from the color of each bean as it dries in the sun. Had Goldilocks the privilege of sampling the Three Bears' coffee stash, I don't think she would've done a better job than I of picking out the one that is just right.
I have two pictures hanging in my house that mean something extra-special to me. One, a bluish-hued lithograph of "Lone Wolf" by Alfred Kowalski, which hung in the back room of my Grandpa's house above an old sewing machine. In it, the foreground is of a wolf, his tracks visible in the snow, looking down a precipitous hillside onto a house - a very small village, maybe - what could be, except for the snow, Minor's farm. The other picture is a yellowed print of a painting of James Earle Frasier's "End of the Trail." This picture I got from my dad, who acquired it when he was a kid. Only recently did I realize that both of these pictures have the same origin. They were printed at a place in Chicago called Borin Mfg Co, both in 1925. They're both in the original frames. Borin printed dozens of paintings, and it appears that they maybe avoided paying royalties to the original artists by printing them all backward. So I have two backward prints, one of a famous painting that seems to correspond to my M.O., and the other of a famous statue which now resides, forward-facing, at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The story of Frasier's statue is a fascinating one, and it just so happens that Mark Brown wrote about it in the current issue of This Land magazine. I stumbled into this history from a coin my dad gave me: the Buffalo Nickel. It's a keepsake. An antique. And originally designed and modeled by the same artist, James Earle Frasier, as a tribute to the American West.
I learned something at La Pastora that I probably could've learned at my Uncle's when I was carried back to my mom at HQ, a wounded soldier. The skin of the coffee cherry, much like the wood of a hollow tree, is a protective coating. When left intact, nature can take its course, the coffee cherries can dry into a sweet, fruity Natural; and the yellow jackets can work as a biological pest control by hunting other pests, reproduce into a seasonal colony of a few thousand, and no one would be the wiser. But once that fragile shell is punctured, what's inside is volatile. Honey Process coffees involve removing the protective skin of the cherry and exposing the sticky pulp to environmental forces of oxygen, bacteria, and yeast. What Minor figured out is that falling into a nest of yellow jackets can leave a bad taste in your mouth. He removed some of the pulp from the coffee beans. Not all of it, but just the right amount. And what he came up with is a smooth, delicious, sweet-tasting coffee that has all the fullness of flavor I look for in a special Thanksgiving offering.
La Pastora Yellow Honey, though grown in Costa Rica, came to fulfill its purpose here in Oklahoma, in my roaster, and ultimately in your cup. Frasier's Indian found its end of the trail here too, but you'll have to read about that while drinking the Yellow.
Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all.
* The yellow jacket incident could explain how I acquired super powers.