The moon is a blazing orb shrouded by the branches of bent, arthritic oak in the eastern sky. What an amazing spectacle it is as it rises over the treetops to illuminate the night. One of those moons I used to wish for throughout the night of an adventure race; one that freed us from the need for headlamps. The kind of moonlight that made me turn off the headlights of my car and drive by the reflection of the snow on a wintry night in Illinois when I was a foolish teenager. The wispy clouds shine white in the inky sky with pinhole stars scattered sparingly between.
I’m in the Wichita Mountains, sitting in front of a small, hot fire with the moderate chill of night and chirp of crickets surrounding me. On the three-hour drive here I was drinking our newest coffee, Sircof Venecia Honey. It’s a seriously good cup, tightly wound with pear, chocolate and honeysuckle, but today I noticed a savory nutmeg finish that lingered sweetly like a good Scotch. It’s Autumn and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. The season of dusk with the cold night of Winter on its heels. The past two Wednesdays, after the Wednesday Night Ride, I pedaled my bicycle home in the fading light of day. And at the crest of the bike path in Crosbie Heights, overlooking the mellow Arkansas River, above the railroad tracks with the trestle crossing water and a background of oil refinery towers and tanks, the orange light of dusk stopped me in my tracks. The receding, colorful light reflected around a curve in the river, glinting off the water, the color of the embers in my campfire. It’s really amazing to watch the sun set and the sky turn midnight blue. It feels like a miracle.
This past April I was at Finca Sircof, in the Alajuela region of Costa Rica. As I walked around the farm, visiting with Marco and Maricela Oviedo, it was apparent why this coffee is so good. The farm is small and the milling is primitive, and Marco is a meticulous farmer. His land was clean and organized. The trees were healthy and productive. And he seemed to know each individual coffee tree, having raised them all from seed, nurturing them into fully productive adults. Marco was aware of the fragrances and flowers and fruits throughout his land. He seemed more curator than farmer. But his youthful, weatherbeaten face and calloused hands showed his dedication to the work of farming. The Venecia variety of coffee is a relatively unknown tree, found only in the lands around the Alajuela region. Known for its productivity and uniformity, the variety has a surprisingly tasty profile. Marco grows this coffee, harvests it at the peak of ripeness, and processes it in a way that can be very tricky. He strips away the skins of the coffee cherries and spreads the sticky, mucilage-coated beans on the ground beneath a greenhouse arch. Dried in the sun over the course of twelve days, the coffee develops a sweetness and flavor which enhances the inherent cup of the Venecia coffee. Probably the most technically difficult type of milling, this is a process that’s easy to mess up. But Marco pulls it off spectacularly. And he’s doing it right now. Coffee production, processing, export, and import are time-intensive, so the coffee you are drinking today is the coffee Marco was making a year ago today. It’s a masterful cycle, and I hope you’ll think of his hands in the coffee as you enjoy this cup.
After I visited Marco and Maricela, I took a four hour bus ride to Arenal Volcano to run an 80km race through the rainforest. Running very long distances is one of the things that refreshes my mind and spirit and keeps me sharp and able to do what I do every day. It’s the simplicity of running and the grueling determination required that steels my resolve and enlivens a spirit of new possibilities.
This race was particularly inspirational and as I ran into the approaching night, with a flashlight on it’s last leg, I grasped a sense of ultimate freedom. Like this full moon loosing itself from the thorny grasp of the silhouetted trees to soar into the lightly veiled sky. Autumn holds that freedom. Released from the grip of Oklahoma’s oppressive summertime heat, we bask in the campfire smoke and the fragrances of the season, the chill air, the turning leaves, and the rich flavors, which are perfectly delivered in a cup of Sircof Venecia Honey.
Two things really excite me: An exquisite cup of coffee and a new pair of running shoes.
One celebrates the fruition of so many processes where known and unknown, controlled and uncontrollable variables all fell into a staggered line and somehow, against all odds, something beautiful emerged. The running shoes represent miles and adventures yet to come. That spirit of an active future evokes memories made on the run which shape the idea that these new shoes will bring me happiness. Unlacing a new pair of running shoes is sort of like opening a can of whoop-ass.
But it hasn't always been like that for me. Sure, I've spent the last 30 years of my life on the hop. I've run through places you can only dream of. Through places I dream of. I’ve run day and night. Night and day. I don’t run frequently, but when I do, I make it count.
Last night I went outside in my bare feet, without a shirt, and I walked in the street with my eyes to the heavens. Yes, I was praying that I could have a 6-pack, all the while resisting the almighty's urging to eat healthier and drink less beer; but I was also searching the sky, half-heartedly, for shooting stars. It's the Perseid meteor shower. Light pollution from the city of Tulsa makes it highly unlikely I'll see anything unless I go far, far away from town. And get lucky. (I saw no meteors, but while I was strolling around the streets in our neighborhood uniform, I noticed the bright red and blue scrolling lights from police cruisers, so I walked down to ask them what was up. They don't like that. I don't care what they like.)
Years ago, when I was first learning about coffee and myself, I spent a lot of time backpacking and rock climbing with my friend Brad. We made a lot of memories in the woods, some miserable and some funny. He taught me how to backpack and then I began to learn about ultra-light speed packing, and eventually began racing in 36-hour adventure races. Brad and I also learned to rock climb together with the help of a godly man named John. I had a desire at the time (and still today) to be fit and active and experienced enough that I could do anything at any time. That's a big component of freedom for me. Brad and I packed up our gear one weekend and drove to a place called Sam's Throne in Arkansas. It's a place people go to climb rocks. After pitching our camp, overcoming some hesitation and exhilaration on an overhung rappel, and almost killing ourselves because of our lack of experience, we sat on that overhung cliff in the darkness to talk and enjoy the night sky. A shooting star appeared. And another. And a million shooting stars. Everywhere we looked were streaks of light across the sky. We were in awe. And I went away thinking that's just how it is when you get away from the lights of the city and see what's really going on up there in the heavens. It was a marvelous night. I wish I would've known how rare it was and how lucky we were. (We also carried a badly injured freeclimber out of the woods that weekend, to be emergency air-lifted in a helicopter. And I think it was on the truck ride with a local good-old-boy back to our camp that Brad made the decision to dedicate the rest of his life to emergency medicine. Perhaps he wished upon some stars.)
Today my watch buzzed and I looked down and it said, "MILE 1" and I thought, "99 to go." And that was the first time in a couple years I've let the idea of another 100 mile race enter my head.
I "hated" "running" when I was young. I put those words in quotes because I don't know how a person could ACTUALLY hate running. Running is like life on steroids. Practically everything fun involves running. I love running. And people say it comes naturally to me. I'm "lucky" because I'm in decent condition and can run far.
When I was in junior high school, I joined the track team because I knew I wanted to play football in high school and I wanted to get in shape. All the kids laughed at me and said I run funny. They imitated me. They said I was fat and slow. (When I was in my early 20s I returned to my hometown and won my age group in a half marathon. Where you at now?)
I played high school football. I wanted to be on the swim team, but one of the football coaches was the swim coach and he made fun of me for being chubby and slow and having tan lines. (He was also the manager of the pool at a country club in town and I was a lifeguard at the OTHER country club across town. One day I got a few of the local kids and we spent the day fishing, working on our farmers’ tans, and putting all our crappie, bluegill, and carp in 5-gallon buckets. That night, all of my co-workers met me and we drove across town, jumped the fence, and freed our catch into the swimming pool. My friend Thad had to net them all out the next morning, and I read about it in the newspaper a couple days later. This is my first official confession that I had any involvement in that event.) (That has nothing to do with running, but I thought it was funny.) Make fun of my coffee and see what happens, Mr. Willy!
I played college football at a small NCAA school. One day I realized that the men who got in trouble for one thing or another were punished by running sprints after practice. I decided that there was some danger they would get in better shape than me, so I started staying after practice to run sprints with everyone who got in trouble. I think they thought it was a show of solidarity, but I simply refused to be out-trained.
I relished the days that were so brutal outside that no one would be training. Or holidays when I knew people would take the day off. Every opportunity to get one more day in than my competitors was a day that made it more likely I would succeed on limited talent and small stature. One night I woke up at 1 o'clock in the morning and decided that no one else would be training in the middle of the night. So I went to the high school track. And I ran sprints. I pushed myself hard into the wee hours of the morning. And then something remarkable occurred. I saw a flaming ball of fire streak across the sky. It was huge. I didn't know if it was an airplane on fire or a meteorite or what it was. But I promptly jumped into my car and drove toward where I thought the impact site would be, sure I would find a rural inferno. But I found nothing. And the next day there was nothing in the newspaper.
Meteors are interesting because they are particles from outer space that enter the earth's atmosphere. We don't know when or where they will appear, and it is just dumb luck when you see one. Ptolemy surmised that the gods would part the heavens to peer down at the earth, and occasionally a star would slip through. Thus, making a wish while the gods were paying attention was a practice that should ensure a greater likelihood your wish will come true. (I've wished many things, but haven't found this to be a recipe for success. As I used to tell my dad, “Wish in one hand and sh** in the other and see which one fills up first.”) (Try hard work.)
Running, like most things, is something you get better at because you work hard at it. I've been running as fast and as far as I can for almost my entire life. Does that make me lucky? Sure. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, right? Am I a great runner? No, I’m a mediocre runner with a lot of determination.
So what's behind success? Truly successful people make it look easy. People say they are gifted or lucky or cheating. (Lance Armstrong was all three.) But it's most likely that they just work hard and you never see that part, only the performance. But what about the shooting star? You can't work hard to see a shooting star. You can wait a long time at an opportune moment in a place without much light pollution. But generally it's luck. A meteor we see streaking across the sky in a fantastic light show can be as small as a grain of sand. And that makes me think about the life of the meteor. That little speck hurtling through space. It becomes a metaphor for our lives. For the life of a coffee. For the life of the DoubleShot. We may be as small as a grain of sand. But we streak across the sky in a marvelous display that lets everyone know the gods are looking upon us.
Luck or hard work? Shooting stars or running shoes?
Great coffee can’t happen without a lot of hard work on every level from the farm all the way through to the barista. But it also can’t happen unless the gods part the heavens and let an exquisite cup slip through to grace the earth.
(When you find a cup of coffee you really love, enjoy the hell out of it before it's gone. Coffees are temporary and fleeting. Drink and savor and enjoy before it fizzles out. Thank the Fates and all who strapped on their proverbial “running shoes” to make it happen. And then look for another.)
Go for a run
I put a kettle of water on the stove and measured out 33 grams of our featured coffee of the week into a V60 filter. I poured the coffee beans into my new Comandante hand grinder. And I started turning the handle in circles as the water temperature coasted toward 200 degrees. The feeling of this experience flooded my mind with thoughts and emotions. This coffee I selected from my cupping table and spent time learning to roast, now being sheared into perfect particles by meticulously manufactured burrs turned by my own hand, is taking its final journey. Its ultimate purpose fulfilled in the most careful and exacting manner. Tipping the scales as the aromas wafted through my olfactory and its most precious liquid extracted, dripping into a very special mug with a moose and “Colorado” imprinted on its curvature.
Driving to work, mug in hand, sipping, smelling, enjoying. Discovering florals and melon aromatics I hadn’t noticed in this coffee. Dazzled by the impossibility that coffee can be like this, I sipped and drove. And I saw a woman walking her dog, carrying a DoubleShot cup with our distinctive black sleeve and copper-toned logo. A white bag pinched between her fingers containing, perhaps, a toad-in-the-hole or a lemon-poppyseed muffin. She walked on the sidewalk in front of some empty, discarded parking lots. Her dog looked happy. She looked happy. And I felt happy.
This is going to be a great day.
I had big goals when I opened the DoubleShot. I saw a void in Tulsa where I could pour everything I love about coffee. When we opened, the coffee options here were depressingly monotoned. I thought I could make an impact, and I made note in my business plan the importance of freshness. Of being unique and innovative. Of continuing to learn about coffee and improve the coffee every day. And I could see in my mind's eye that I wanted the DoubleShot to become a landmark in Tulsa. A place people would seek out daily. My vision looked a lot more like the county courthouse than the strip mall at 18th and Boston.
Life is nothing, if not changing. Many of the changes in my life have come after the death of someone close to me.
Papa Franklin. When I was growing up, my dad worked a lot. I spent a lot of time "piddling around" with his dad, my grandpa, Gale. He was a short, friendly man with a wisp of white hair and a round face. An outdoorsman, he loved to hunt and fish. And he was known around town as the boat motor repair man. His garage was scattered with Evinrudes and Elgins, outboard motors and trolling motors, each one partially disassembled on his work bench. He worked at his own pace, meticulously, it seemed. Whenever something was wrong with my car I would take it to his house and we would always begin by removing the carburetor. We would take a coffee break mid-morning. A lunch break. A break to have a Mountain Dew in the early afternoon. And another coffee break at the traditional coffee drinking hour of 3 o'clock. He would usually come slowly pulling into our driveway in his square, brown, Ford pickup around dinner time. He was quite a guy.
In 2002 I was competing in a 36-hour adventure race in Arkansas. My teammates lagged and the weather turned very cold and very rainy. After the race, we fell fast asleep in our tent until we heard someone hollering at us. The rain had continued and the river was rising right outside the tent. We hurriedly pulled stakes and wearily hit the highway. Once my cell phone signal returned I had a voicemail from my mom saying I should come home right away because my Grandpa was dying. And so I drove back to Tulsa, packed some clothes and drove to Galesburg, Illinois, my hometown. He was on his death bed, but he recognized me and seemed happy to see me. I waited there for a week as he took his last breaths and my life changed.
For 6 years I had my own personal training business here in Tulsa, but when I returned from my Papa's funeral, I told my clients that was my last week. I was leaving.
Fred Bendaña was a client of mine. He worked out with me every weekday at 630a. He had cancer before I met him and he told me he was the only person who ever gained weight on chemotherapy. Fred and I became close friends. I think I earned his respect, and he even offered me a job in his company (which I respectfully turned down). Fred's cancer returned. I was coming back to get my belongings to take to Illinois until I sorted out the next phase of my life, and was looking forward to seeing Fred. But instead I attended his funeral.
I had talked to Fred about opening a coffeehouse and roastery. His advice was not to sell one cup at a time, but to sell an entire shipping container of coffee at a time.
Steve Franklin. What a guy. I'm not going to start telling you what he meant to me or how he influenced the DoubleShot. It would be too much. I just want to say that he instilled in me the attributes that have allowed me to be successful. He taught me the skills and gave me the confidence to build and repair and invent. And when my dad died, I was cut loose from his expertise and had to put everything he taught me into practice. On my own. He did a good job preparing me to be my own man.
General Sterling Price. The cat that saw everything. This is the guy who was behind the scenes picking up the pieces every evening. He suffered with me, he rose and fell with me, he danced and cried with me. He was no ordinary cat. I'm pretty sure behind those eyes and that smile was the understanding of a superior being. And when he died one year ago, I died a little too. I began to think about my own mortality, what I want in life, and what that means for the DoubleShot. This is no simple task. It involved sleepless nights and many very long runs. It happened in the quiet, in the woods, in my dad's green chair, on the saddle of my bike. Alone.
I was listening to This American Life on NPR a couple months ago while roasting, and they were talking about Fermi's Paradox. David Kestenbaum talked to some physicists about his concern that we actually might be the only intelligent life in the universe. That we might be alone. And that we might be finite. And if we are all there is, and we are exterminated for whatever reason... poof. That's it. It feels like if there is no one to appreciate the miracle that is existence, it's all for nothing. Looking out the window right now all I can see are millions of miracles. Trees and plants and man-made lights and wires, butterflies and birds, and the closer you look the more miracles you see.
I don't know why this bothered me so much, but it did. It's sort of the same problem of trying to make extraordinary coffee, only on an infinitely grander scale. If there is no one to appreciate it, then it is all for nothing.
Shortly after I listened to that episode of This American Life, I loaded up my gear and drove to Arizona for a 50 mile run on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This race was on my 44th birthday. Alone in the car and in a hotel and in my tent and in the woods, it was all more time to think. Thinking about Fermi's Paradox and why I should assume the worst case scenario is true (from my accounting background). As soon as I caught a glimpse of the Grand Canyon at the first overlook in the race, I began to weep. I had to stop because the trail was steep and loose and winding and the tears clouded my vision.
The result of all this contemplation is weird. But I know that it's time to make a decision. My goals still stand. Those far-reaching and unattainable hallmarks that guide my decisions in business. My ultimate personal goal is freedom. I want to be able to make any choice without limitations - monetary, physical, time, etc. This is obviously also impossible, but that's my ultimate desire. Freedom. But I do not want to divorce myself from this business. I love the DoubleShot. Have I thought about selling it? Yes! But then what? I like what I do and I want to keep doing it and to get better and better. And here's the thing: if this is all there is, and if human existence has an endpoint, I want to make life better while it exists. I think the DoubleShot does that. I think it makes life better for people. So maybe I need to start thinking about how to ensure its operation for future generations. Maybe until life is extinguished from the earth.
In 2012 the idea popped into my head that the DoubleShot isn't stuck in this strip mall. But where would it go? Only one place seemed right to me. So with the knowledge that the bank would barely lend me enough money to buy a modest house in a run-down neighborhood, I talked to a realtor about the property and talked to private investors about the money. This deal eventually fell apart suddenly just before a trip to Costa Rica. But I am persistent. And I don't spend money frivolously. So eventually the deal began to come together again. The bank agreed to loan me money. And overcoming a few major hurdles, I found myself at the starting line.
I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get this far. More people than I could list. But posthumously, I want to recognize:
The man who told me how to drink coffee.
The man who told me how to sell coffee.
The man who told me how to work and build.
And the cat who told me that everything was going to be ok.
I don't do anything the way those people told me, but they wouldn't have expected me to. They simply inspired me to explore and learn and find my own path.
So that woman I saw walking her dog, carrying the DoubleShot cup. She was walking in front of what will be the new home of the DoubleShot. The real home of the DoubleShot. It's time we move out of mediocrity and into a building that is suitable for one of Tulsa's landmarks. We are erecting a barn I bought that was originally built in 1850 in Berne, Indiana. We are building on a roastery with brick cast before Oklahoma statehood. It will be built with all the care and attention to detail that made the DoubleShot great. I intend to be hands-on throughout the build, adding all the quirky details. And I know my dad will be there in spirit, foreman of the job.
Like the pourover of coffee I made in my kitchen, I intend to extract all the goodness from the DoubleShot into this new building. The exactness and personality with which we make coffee will finally be on display in every corner of the construction. Like a cross between a pioneer cabin and a cathedral - for coffee - it will at once feel new and old. Fresh. Like the coffee belongs in this place. Seamlessly the DoubleShot will fill the room from wall to wall with its amazing aromas.
There's no stopping change. My college football coach used to say, "Every day you either get better or you get worse." Nothing ever stays the same. And you can expect that the coffee at the DoubleShot in our new home will be even better. Join us as we take our final journey into a building that will forever be the iconic home of the DoubleShot. It's going to be a great day.
We want you to be involved as we move forward through this process. Follow us on social media. Visit us online at DoubleShotCoffee.com for updates. And subscribe to our email newsletter.
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.