How to make great iced coffee at home

Every year when the weather turns warm, I’m surprised to hear so many customers say they are intimidated when it comes to making iced coffee at home. They enjoy it out, when it’s prepared by others, e.g., coffee shops, but they don’t think they can get the same results themselves.

And they’re surprised when I tell them how easy it can be.

The “Kyoto dripper” at Blue Bottle coffee in San Francisco. It’s more like a chemistry set than a coffee brewer, but it does make a fabulous cup.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of places that go to extraordinary lengths to make fabulous cold coffee. My personal favorite is Blue Bottle in San Francisco. They use a Japanese-style brewer than drips cold water VERY slowly through the ground coffee, resulting in an admittedly exquisite result. It’s a showpiece in their shop (at 66 Mint Street if you’re ever there), and it’s fun to watch for a couple minutes. But it’s definitely not the kind of thing you would ever contemplate at home unless you’re Walter White or Jesse Pinkman.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so complicated. What I’m about to tell you seems to be the most closely guarded secret in the coffee world.

You can just brew regular coffee, however you usually do, and stick it in the fridge. And it will be really good (assuming you brew really good hot coffee). No lie. In fact, I prefer coffee brewed hot, then chilled, to the “cold brew” that seems to be all the rage these days. The reason is that acids extract preferentially at higher temperatures. Acids are what give coffee its unique varietal flavors (caffeol is the small molecule that makes it taste like “coffee”), and in my opinion, make coffee pleasurable.

There are a couple things you can do a little differently to assure you get the best-tatsing cold coffee possible.

  1. Make it a little stronger than you drink it black. Just an extra tablespoon of ground coffee will make a difference. This helps keep the strength up when you pour it over ice.
  2. Refrigerate it immediately after brewing IN AN OPEN CONTAINER. Yes, leave the lid off. This helps to prevent excess oxidation that can cause it to taste like “thermos coffee”.

Don’t let this iced coffee season go by without trying these things yourself, at home. You’ll save money, and drink better coffee.

PS – my favorite coffees for iced coffee beverages are just about anything from Ethiopia. YMMV.

Western Wake Farmers’ Market and the Town of Morrisville

And now for something tangentially related to our usual content here…

Many of you know that one of our favorite venues for selling coffee is our home farmers’ market: Western Wake Farmers’ Market, currently located in Carpenter Village on Morrisville-Carpenter Road. Some of you know that ultimately the land on which we hold the market will be developed (WE ARE NOT IMMINENTLY THREATENED!), and that two years ago we proactively began a search for a “Forever Home”. We’ve kissed a lot of frogs in those two years, but in September we started discussions in earnest to relocate market to a permanent site in Morrisville.

Next week the Morrisville Town Council will consider an important step in the process of creating the ultimate, awesome site we all imagine. They will decide whether or not to permit staff to apply for a grant from the Rex Foundation. The grant is multi-faceted, but a key element of the plan is to relocate the WWFM tent market as a first step in the process of getting to the permanent structure. At the end of the day, if awarded, receiving the grant represents a commitment.  A commitment to start down the path toward building the vision.

The WWFM board thinks that a permanent farmers market structure in Morrisville is a benefit for all of the current customers of the market, and for the Town of Morrisville. If you are a Morrisville resident and agree that a permanent farmers’ market site and structure is a good investment for the Town to make, we would appreciate you letting the Council know that you support that investment.

You can reach the entire Council with one email to the following address:

We appreciate you taking the time to express your support. It’s important that you do so before the next council meeting on Tuesday, April 8th.

Introducing Espresso No. 9

Espresso No. 9 is a well-behaved pull, with a deep mahogany color, and a thick, persistent crema. On an unrelated note, I also love admiring the custom tamper my brother made for me from a century-old carriage bolt he dug up in his yard.

This blend has been a long time coming.

Our very first espresso blend was our Classic Italian Espresso. That blend suited my tastes and experience with espresso at the time – this goes back to about 2001 – and it’s still one of my favorite coffees.

As time moved on, and we were building the business, traditional (i.e., containing robusta) espressos diminished in popularity among specialty customers, and I started to experiment with many different styles of what many call “Third Wave” coffees. You may be interested to read my take on these roast styles – I wrote a short essay that’s over on our blog, link to it HERE. I did and still do like many of these blends, but I always find myself retreating to my comfort zone, which is a more “traditional” cup.

In recent years, there seems to be (based on our experience, anyway) a resurgence in interest in more traditional espressos. Numerous customers have contacted me and requested that I blend something that is a little darker and more pungent than our Classic Italian. And thanks to this resurgence of interest seemingly industry-wide (read my blog on that topic HERE), this year I have an unprecedented number of fine robustas in inventory (and yes, there is such a thing as fine robusta), and I’ve been experimenting with their use.

The result of that experimentation is this coffee. I was shooting for an “East Meets West” European style, as one might find in Poland,or the Czech Republic, or Eastern Russia. I’m not sure whether the name of this coffee – No. 9 – is brilliant, or stupid. What I can tell you is that we struggled for a long time to come up with a name, and this is the best we did. The working name while I was developing it was “Whisky Priest” [sic], which we suspected most people wouldn’t understand, and if you don’t get it, it’s not worth explaining. In any case, as I went back through our inventory over the years, I realized that this in the 9th coffee we’ve launched since inception that is intended exclusively for use as an espresso. We hope you enjoy it.

Espresso. Style.

‘Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.’ – Orson Wells

Yesterday, we received an order from a relatively new customer. His order contained a comment, and a question. He told us that he hadn’t particularly enjoyed one of our espresso blends in his last order. He went on to say what kinds of espressos he liked, and he asked which of our offerings might be best suited to his tastes.

At one time, I would have been bothered that he didn’t like the coffee he purchased. Not upset with him, but with myself, that I failed to please him. Today, my reaction is quite different – in a strange way I’m pleased, in fact. Not pleased that he didn’t like it, my preference is for customers to get things they like. But I’m pleased that my work evokes a range of responses. This somewhat counter-intuitive position stems from confidence that I do good work, a confidence that’s evolved from lots of experience and lots of very happy customers. That confidence is what allows me to know that pleasure or displeasure with my espresso blends comes down to personal preferences, and not fundamental flaws in the art itself.

His note caused me to think about how his preferences related to mine. And I came to realize that it really comes down to a question of style.

In many craft food segments today – coffee, beer, wine, cheese, etc. – there are a few main stylistic trends within the segments. One is the “classicist”, who seeks to faithfully reproduce a style of product, whether it’s English ales, or Italian espressos. On the other end of the spectrum is the “experimentalist” who seeks completely new products within a category – coffee beer is a good example, having only come into existence in 1994. In between is what I think of as “fusion”, people who extend a style or combine styles to suit their own sensibilities- think “Tex-Mex” food, for example.

In my experience, the classicists are the only ones who spend a lot of time thinking about their style. The rest of us kind of evolve to fit where we fit on the spectrum. And non-classicists frequently cover a wide range of the scale.

My predominant style leans toward experimentalist. For example, our Project Elephant is an experimentalist blend of India and Yemen. Most roasters won’t offer either of these coffees, let alone a blend of them. Very edgy. Purposefully. I don’t mind bi-polar “love it or hate it” reactions. I think that if I couldn’t produce those results, I wouldn’t be doing this job in the way that I want to.

Espresso 12.21 is fusion. It’s anchored with Mexico, which is unusual but not unheard of, and similar Centrals make their way into espressos all the time. It also contains other origins that often run in espresso circles, such as Brazil and Ethiopia Harrar. It also contains a little natural Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, which is an unusual espresso blender that makes the net result a little sharper with more fermented flavor. If it were a beer, it would be a Dubbel in a world of Stouts – vaguely familiar, yet different.

Classic Italian Espresso. Literally. I shot this photo in an alleyway in Rome in 2005.

Our Classic Italian Espresso is exactly what the name implies. It was the first espresso blend I ever did, while I was learning my style. It is intended to faithfully reproduce much of the coffee in central to northern Italy in the 80′s and 90′s (the style there has since changed a lot, IMO). People looking for “classic” flavor profiles will like this one.

As my repertoire expands, it’s most likely to trend toward more fusion and experimental coffees. I favor discovery, and pushing the boundaries. Hopefully you’ll join me.

What’s your coffee style?

The Emerging “Robusta Renaissance”

It seems to me that most prejudices are learned behavior. They were taught to us by our parents. Or our mentors. Or “conventional wisdom”. So I suppose the reason I don’t hate robusta is that nobody taught me that I was supposed to hate it.

Lucky me.

Robusta cherries

Coffea canephora, or robusta, is the low-growing, less-expensive coffee than the high-growing Coffea arabica that anchors the specialty coffee world. It has an entirely different flavor profile than arabica. At its worst, robusta is harsh, with words like “rubber” and “pine tar” used to describe its flavor. At its best, it’s powerful, complex and distinctive. And completely unlike arabica coffee (though to be completely fair, the worst arabicas are not as good as a good robusta).

Like most Americans, I grew up drinking bad coffee. When Folgers from a can is brewed in a percolator, I don’t think it much matters whether it’s arabica, robusta, or powdered mushrooms. It just tastes like crap. The first good coffee I ever had was in Europe (Scandinavia, technically) in my early 20′s. It’s safe to say that coffee changed my life, literally and figuratively. It was quintessential European espresso. My worldwide travels accelerated rapidly at that point in my life, and before I knew it I had been to 40+ countries before I was 30 years old. Just about all of the EU. Most of Asia. And I personally favored the coffee in Western Europe.

When I started roasting coffee around age 30, those influences drove my personal style of blending, roasting and brewing. I copied, which is how most of us learn initially, whether it’s cooking, beer making, or any other artistic pursuit. One of the things I copied was the Italian style of blending and roasting, which included using robusta coffee in small proportions, and a relatively light roasting style (compared to American roasting at the time, or more specifically the dark styles that Peet’s and Starbucks made popular at the time).

How was I to know I was supposed to hate the coffee I had come to love?

I shot this photo in an alley in Rome around 2005. This is classic Italian espresso, which includes robusta.

When we started our roasting business, quite naturally I favored things I liked myself. Our Classic Italian Espresso is the coffee I’ve been roasting for myself since about 1999, and true to its roots, it’s about 15% robusta, albeit a really, really nice single-estate robusta. It’s the only espresso on our menu that’s been there since Day One, and will stay there until they pry my cold, dead hands from the portafilter. Or until somebody buys the keys to the door from me, whichever comes first.

And in the beginning, which was 2006, we found it difficult to sell espresso. We had only a few on the menu – literally, three – and two of them contained robusta (the other robusta-containing blend was an all-India espresso inspired by coffees sold by Dr. John). “Third Wave”, all-arabica espressos were all the rage. About that time, I read a trade rag article on the use of robustas, which quoted George Howell (one of the Godfathers of specialty coffee) as saying, ”The dramatic un-sweetness of robusta precludes me from using it. I find that even the most neutral robusta takes away what I’m after, which is sweetness.” Robusta, apparently, was for people trying to make cheap blends. And people with bad taste. And me, apparently, since I have never tried to make cheap blends, nor have I ever had bad taste.

As fate would have it, the Great Recession steered our business away from wholesale, and into retail. Most home coffee is not espresso. So we offered mostly standard coffees, and did a small espresso business for ourselves and the few people who liked the same things I like. I did what I wanted to do, and ignored the haters. Because I wasn’t doing enough espresso business to matter, really.

But lately, a funny thing has started to happen. In the past two years, our espresso business has taken a sharp (no pun intended) upturn. In fact, we now have a respectable espresso business. At least it’s big enough that we no longer worry the way we used to about the inventory turns when we get a small order and fill the roaster with it. (Our goal is to sell espresso within seven days of roasting.). And while we now offer more espresso-oriented blends, including many all-arabica blends, it’s the blends that contain robusta that are selling best.

I’ve made it a point to start talking to these customers directly. In a lot of cases, I immediately noticed thick accents. European accents. My conclusion was that somehow European coffee drinkers were starting to find us, not that there was some fundamental shift in the market.

But this year, I noticed that brokers were offering me more, and more interesting robusta choices. Including brokers who had never before stocked robustas. And some broker conversations confirmed that they, too, are seeing more interest in robustas. I’m pleased to say that this year I will experiment with no less that 5 different robustas, which include three processing methods and four origins. This is unprecedented, and would scarcely have been possible just five years ago. Happy times.

All of which shouldn’t surprise me. Some of it is cyclic, of course. The all-arabica trend has run its course, and everything old is new again. But more likely is that people are awakening from this kind of perma-nap the American public has been experiencing for like the last 50 years. The uniform, white-bread mentality is finally being shaken.

Rapini – the robusta of the mustard family

Think about the Howell quote. What makes “sweet” the “right” attribute of coffee? Sure, some people prefer sweet coffee. George Howell is apparently one of them. And sadly, guys like him have an undue amount of influence among a bunch of impressionable coffee people apparently incapable of forming their own opinions. Relate this to other foods. Think about the difference between broccoli, and rapini (aka broccoli raab). Both are members of the mustard family. Broccoli is sweet. Rapini is bitter, some would say harsh. So is broccoli “right”, and rapini “wrong”? Of course not. It’s a matter of taste. They’re both right. It depends on the person and the circumstances. I’m proud to say that my parents were both rapini lovers long before rapini was the hipster member of the  Brassicaceae family.

All these years later, I’m happy to be that independent-minded coffee roaster that customers are discovering wasn’t wrong for all time. Look forward to some new espresso blends that celebrate the robusta renaissance. 

A brief history of coffee beer (or, Coffee + Beer = Coming Soon)

You knew it had to happen. It was only a matter of time before a beer-loving coffee guy teamed up with a coffee-loving beer guy to make a coffee beer. Thanks to Ben Woodward and the team at Haw River Farmhouse Ales, that time has come.

After we met with Ben and heard his plan for a coffee beer (more about that in a minute), I started wondering about the history of coffee beer. I thought it would be a long and storied history, well-documented and replete with examples of coffee beers throughout the ages. Like many things I think, that turned out to be completely and utterly wrong. Let me step you through it as I understand it, with the caveat that I’m a coffee guy, not a beer guy, and that my research is as good as one book I own about beer, and Google search results about two pages deep.

Published in 1889, with this reprint in 1965, this book is an interesting look at the brewing industry in Western Europe from about the 16th century through the end of the 19th century.

I started my research with the only book I own about beer: The Curiosities of Ale and Beer by John Bickerdyke. This book, while a bit of a tedious read, is  400+ pages of fascinating coverage of beer and ale, from agriculture, to production, to economics – in 19th century England, primarily, with a nod to Ireland. (What’s the difference between beer and ale, you may ask? Hundreds of years ago, “beer” designated a malt beverage that contains hops while “ale” contained malt and water but no hops, i.e., beer is a “hopped” ale, according to an explanation from 1542 AD, a distinction that persisted into the late 1600′s. So how is it that we now call the beverage made from malt, water and hops “ale”? As hops came into general use, the word ale was retained whether intended to describe a malt beverage hopped or not. Beer, then, is a generic word to describe all malt liquors, while the word ale includes all but black or brown beers, i.e., porters or stouts. The words are subject to local variations.)

Unfortunately, Bickerdyke was almost completely silent on the topic of coffee, referring to it only has an alternative to beer, and not a good one at that (“…coffee and cocoa, both hot drinks and most unsuitable to slake the thirst of a laboring man”). He did, however, shed a little light on the origin of porter, which today is frequently a style of coffee beer. The short version of the story is the porter originated around 1730, by Ralph Harwood, a brewer who grew weary of mixing the three styles of beer available at that time (beer, ale, and twopenny, the strongest of the three costing tupennce or double the normal), a common request among enlightened tavern-goers of the time. So Ralph brewed up what we know as porter, and named it “Entire”, the origin of that name being fairly obvious. How the beverage came to be known as “porter” is unclear, but it is thought that the name refers to people of the profession, who apparently liked to drink it. By 1750, the beverage had appeared with that name at Oxford, “a liquor entirely British”. But no association with coffee.

Stout is another style of beer associated with coffee beers. Presumably, stout came after porter in the historical record, it being a strong, or “stout” beer, “this excellent brown beer only differs from porter in being brewed of greater strength and with a greater proportion of hops”. Ultimately, stout triumphed over porter, not because of the brilliance of Arthur Guiness signing a 9,000 year lease on his brewery in 1759, and developing the company’s flagship stout in 1799. No, stout triumphed over porter due to politics. In WWI, energy restrictions prevented British brewers from roasting the grains required to make porter. But Ireland, on the edge of rebellion and leaning toward alliance with Germany, had no such restrictions. So while Britain moved away from dark beers during and after the war, Ireland solidified its love affair with stout. But by 1889, at least, there was still no mention of coffee being used in conjunction with brewing stout.

So when did coffee porters and coffee stouts become part of the modern brewer’s repertoire? A few internet references from the past 5 years or so (like this one and this one and this one) seem to put the beginning of the coffee beer era around 1994 (seriously?!), with the pioneer being New Glarus Brewing Company and their Java Stout (since renamed, apparently). Many others have come to market since then, virtually all being a porter or stout.

The FDA has caused a stir among some brewers regarding the permissibility of such beers, citing prohibitions on putting caffeine into alcoholic beverages, and has a section of its website dedicated to the issue. I’m not a regulatory guy, but I’ve spent an awful lot of my career around them, and I believe the agency is pretty clearly targeting beverages specifically design to amp up its consumers, with practices (adding caffeine, not ingredients containing caffeine, such as coffee) and marketing targeting people – especially youth – to use those products just for their stimulant properties. The FDA’s caffeinated-beverage Flickr page with photos of products subject to enforcement action seems to bear this out, as does their FAQ on caffeinated alcoholic beverages - “These Warning Letters are not directed at alcoholic beverages that only contain caffeine as a natural constituent of one or more of their ingredients…”. This would seem to suggest that coffee beers, e.g., beers brewed with coffee as a coloring or flavoring agent, do not run afoul of the intent of the enforcement actions.

A Belgian dubbel. You can see it’s a little lighter than a traditional stout or porter, although the coffee will add color. You can almost taste its fruitiness from the photo.

In any event, let’s talk about happier news. Haw River Farmhouse Ales is planning to brew a Belgian-style Dubbel with our coffee. Belgian dubbels are essentially the Belgian version of a stout, sweeter than their Irish cousins, with a characteristic fruitiness.  Haw River has given our beer the catchy name of St. Benedict’s Breakfast Dubbel. This good Catholic boy recalls that St Benedict is the patron saint of students, because he was a rich, Italian student himself when he realized that the values of his peers were destroying their spiritual lives. He ran away and lived in seclusion until nearby monks asked him to help run their monastery. He created 73 rules for which he is famous, and are today the basis on monasteries the world over, but all of which essentially boil down to “put Christ before all else”. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and the monks seeking his direction ultimately tried (unsuccessfully) to poison him for being such a hard ass with his rules.

We are really excited to be working with such a creative team on such a unique coffee beer.  Ben’s planned the brewing process, and we’ve planned the perfect coffees to add just the right flavor profiles to a sweeter, fruitier style of beer. In a sea of sameness (look at this list of coffee beers from Food Republic and tell me they all don’t sound boringly similar), the Haw River Farmhouse Ales St. Benedict’s Breakfast Dubbel is going to be different enough to carve out a new niche in what is becoming a crowded field. Stay tuned!




One could fill volumes with the things they don’t teach you in business school. I’m very proud of my Duke MBA, and it really has helped us build a resilient business. But one of the things they didn’t teach me – couldn’t teach me, to be fair – is what it’s like to LIVE a statement of cash flows. Sure, they teach you how to BUILD the cash flow statement, but living it is a completely different animal.

Most US businesses use a method of accounting called accrual accounting. What this means is that economic events are recognized when the commitment is made, not when the cash changes hands.

I’ll give you a real life example. We have a customer who ordered a new brewing system. I ordered the brewing system from the manufacturer, and paid for it with a business credit card. That was last week, and as it happens, I ordered it in the last few days of the card’s payment cycle. So coincidentally, the payment is now due, in fact it was due before the brewer even showed up at my shop. And today I paid the bill.

When the customer placed the order, I recognized the revenue as income on my February income statement, as we say in accounting parlance. Because I recognized the revenue, I also recognize the sales tax which must be paid for this month. And I will have to remit that tax to the state by the 20th of March.

The problem is, I haven’t been paid for the brewer. And because the Triangle has been clobbered with snow this week, I won’t get that brewer set up and installed in the customer’s shop until next week. And the clock doesn’t start ticking on them until the unit is installed. Customary terms in the industry will give them 30 days to pay me. Customers don’t always respect customary terms, and sometimes it can be more than 30 days until we get paid. So I will be out-of-pocket a significant amount of money, for a significant amount of time. Multiply this problem across numerous transactions per month, and you begin to get a sense of the problem.

This is a problem accountants call  ”the cash gap”. It’s illustrated graphically below, for companies – like ours – who have relatively slow turning inventory. In fact, my cash gap on some inventory is nearly a year.

 Cash gap is the reason lots of companies go out of business – they have insufficient working capital to finance inventory, along with all their other fixed costs, most notably rent, lease payments on capital equipment, to some extent labor, and more.

Why am I telling you this? Because this winter weather is going to kill some businesses. Not ours, at least not this time, but some. Because we can’t weather the storm of consumers staying home, or worse, making substitute purchases that are more convenient than the purchases they would normally make with small businesses such as ours.

I’m not suggesting you risk life and limb to patronize your favorite small business. But if it’s possible, think about waiting on that expenditure for substitute goods, and spend it at your favorite small business as soon as the weather breaks. And let them know you did, it will be appreciated.

Facebook: it’s not me, it’s you.

Have you wondered lately why you don’t hear so much from your favorite businesses on Facebook anymore?  Did it seem like they used to show you the love on FB, but not so much anymore?

We’re among those businesses that are growing weary of Facebook.

We weren’t the earliest adopters of Facebook, but it was long enough ago that we can fondly recall “the good old days”.  We would post something – anything – and it would reach most of our page followers.  About a year ago, that started to change.  We would put up a post, and it seemed like it reached only a handful of followers.  It turns out that perception is reality.

I just did an analysis of our December 2013 posts.  On average, each one reached 213 of our 947 followers, or about 23%.  For posts I really would have like to reach our followers, only about 50 of 947 followers – just 5% – saw each one.

Of course Facebook does this on purpose, because they want businesses to pay to boost their reach.  This is there prerogative, and we decided to give it a try with a few posts.  We understand and appreciate their need to earn a profit, and we’re willing to pay for valuable service.  The result was that we did reach thousands of people.  But they were thousands that weren’t interested in us.  In many cases, they weren’t even in this country.  They left odd comments, and none of them (to our knowledge) converted from “like” to customer.

So in the final analysis, it seems like there is nothing we can do to improve the effectiveness of Facebook for our small business.  We’ll still continue to post, but maybe not as much as we would if we knew it were working.  If you’re wondering why your favorite businesses seem to be less engaged on Facebook, it might be because it’s just not working for them any longer.

Five Coffee Trends for 2014

The only required reading of my college years that had a lasting impact on my thinking.

The end of a calendar year inevitably evokes thoughts about what will come in the next year.  I’m no Alvin Toffler, but I think I do have some insights into this business.  I share them here not with the intention of trying to impress you with how smart I am (after all, we can revisit this post in a year and see how much I’ll inevitably miss the mark), but rather with the intention of reading your comments.  What do you think the future holds for the specialty coffee world in 2014?

Here are my prediction of 2014 coffee trends, in no particular order.

1.  Continued growth and evolution of the single-cup automatic brew market.  Depending on whose analysis you read, Keurig and their ilk are up to about 15% of the US in-home brewing market, and have a commanding share of the office coffee market, too.  We’ll see continued penetration of the base Keurig brewer, and some generic competition in that space owing to Keurig’s base patent expiration.  More importantly, we’ll see some technological innovation – most by Keurig – directed at improving the quality of the methodology, and extending their exclusivity.   In particular, the use of RFID or other NFC technology to adapt the brew settings to particular beverages will be a central theme.  Cup technology itself will evolve, too.  Better barrier packaging utilizing an EVOH layer will roll out, and will likely result in a change to K-cup form factor, as well, for two reasons: 1. the existing cup form factor has abrupt transitions that make it impossible to mold the cups with the barrier layer intact, and 2. proprietary geometry will prevent generic erosion of the brand.  Prices for the improved technology will remain consistent at 2012 levels (think 60 cents or so) thanks to generic competition, while generics may lower the price point to under 50 cents (but it will stay north of 35 cents).

2.  Green coffee prices will rise, but consumers won’t see it.  The half about green coffee prices rising is kind of a no-brainer.  They really can’t go any lower, demand is strong, and I’ve heard tell of producers in Sumatra defaulting on contracts already.  Prices have to go up.  The part about consumers not seeing it is a little less intuitive.  Frankly, it comes down to this: coffee sellers took as much price as they could get when cost of inputs rose in 2010, but never gave it back to consumers when cost of inputs retreated in 2011 and 2012.  Not that we’re making a killing – we’re not.  We’re getting by a little more reliably than we have in previous years, but we’re still making less than we need to, in many cases.  But we’re all afraid to raise prices.  I predict we’ll see 30-50% increases in green coffee prices, but I think we (sellers) will suck it up.  The downsides of this are obvious, but the upside will be reduced number of new entrants to the market.

3.  The relevance of “Third Wave” coffee companies in the USA will continue to be a pimple on the ass of the elephant that is the global coffee market.  Some people would consider mine a Third Wave company, and maybe it is (to a lesser extent than the rock stars in the field).  Others will argue that specialty coffee continues on a path of decommoditization, which may also be true.  Nonetheless, while we influence the tastes of some consumers, the mass market is moved by “innovation” like McDonalds upgrading from totally shitty to merely drinkable coffee, or Starbucks doing the same in the soluble coffee market with Via.  The standard of mediocrity will rise, but cutting edge consumers will continue to be frustrated with mass market offerings.  We are in little danger of being the nation that hatches the next Daibo. I do, however, consider Asia – and especially China – to have the potential of shaping the specialty market.  I haven’t spent much time there personally in recent years, but I get reports from friends in those regions, and I think the real innovation will come from outside the USA.  In 2014?  Probably a more subtle trend than what might be obvious in one year, but in hindsight 2014 will be part of a trend.  But don’t take my word for it… let me Google  it for you.

4.  Brewing technology masquerading as bigger breakthroughs than they really are will continue to present  in the USA, but genuine innovation will continue to be elusive.  ”Innovation” will be in the form of improvements to “everything old is new again”, devices like the Ratio brewer and the Acaia scale.  I consider each of these a minor improvement on the current art – nice, but not really novel, or even that particularly useful.  There is the potential for novel technology, hell, I have an idea on that front myself.  But considering that the market for those improvements is still the pimple on the ass of the elephant, it will be difficult to financially justify advancing any truly novel approach.

5.  More bottled coffee offerings will trickle into the market.  The drive for convenience will spill over into the “to go” category.  The beverages will continue to be regional, refrigerated offerings from nano-companies, or adulterated versions (e.g., sugar, cream), from large companies.  The beverage that coffee purists want will continue to be a dream: a shelf-stable bottle of plain black coffee.  The reason is that the technology required to make it, i.e., avoid acidification, is expensive, as is the cost of distribution.  Small companies inclined to make that beverage cannot do it affordably, and if they do it, the cost of packaging and distribution will drive them to a concentrate put-up.  Large companies won’t do it because the product lacks the broad appeal to make it economically viable.  Check.  And mate.

What coffee trends do you expect to see in 2014?

How much coffee do I need for the Thanksgiving holiday?

This is the question of the week, mainly from people hosting out-of-town relatives and friends.  The answer, of course, is, “it depends”.  But let’s see if we can do a little better.

Let’s make some assumptions:

  • Current coffee drinkers = 2
  • Additional coffee drinkers = 4 (total is now 6)
  • You will be drinking coffee at home for four (4) days: Thursday (Thanksgiving), Friday, Saturday and Sunday
  • You use traditional American cups, i.e., serving size is 12 oz
  • You drip brew with a 12-cup brewer (1.25 liters, or 48 ounces)
  • You use 75 grams per full pot
  • Morning coffee is 2 cups per drinker
  • Thanksgiving coffee is 1 cup per drinker after the festive meal
  • There is one pot per day extra brewed on Friday and Saturday.

Morning coffee is 144 oz per day (3 pots).  75 grams per pot, x3, x4 days = 900 grams.  That’s two pounds.

Thanksgiving afternoon is another 6 cups, or 2 pots (American pot graduations are actually about 6 oz per cup).  That’s 150 grams.

Other afternoons are two pots (Friday and Saturday), or another 150 grams.  So total afternoons are 300 grams.  Just short of a pound.

So the answer is: 1200 grams, or about 3 lbs.

Look at it through another lens: 3 lbs / 6 coffee drinkers = half a pound per person.  That’s for about 4 days.  That’s 57 grams per person, per day.

So now you have a formula:

Amount needed (lbs) = (# of drinkers x # of days x 57 grams) / 454.

Try it out:

6 coffee drinkers for 4 days: Amount needed = (6x4x57)/454 = 3 lbs

4 coffee drinkers for 3 days: Amount needed = (4x3x57)/454 = 1.5 lbs

Your mileage may vary, but this is a good starting point.  When in doubt round up to the nearest pound, or even add a pound.

Of course, we hope you’ll buy your coffee from us.  Right now we’re offering free shipping on orders over $50 (free shipping automatically becomes the default shipping option when you check out).