Why Third Wave Coffee?

smiling cup of coffee

Because it’ll make you happy.

If you’re like a lot of coffee drinkers, you know how you like your coffee. Black, maybe. Light and sweet, perhaps. Tall skinny no foam latte with a double shot and a caramel drizzle, extra whipped (your barista likely hates you, by the way). But where the coffee came from? “Feh,” you respond. “Who cares if it’s from a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, a jar of instant, or a glass pot that’s been sitting on a hot plate at the diner so long that you could stand your spoon at a perfect 90-degree angle from the bottom of the cup? Coffee is coffee, right? What’s with all this single-origin fair trade stuff, and what difference does it make?”

Quite a lot, actually. Bear with me a moment while I make the case for third wave coffee roasters and little out-of-the-way coffee houses that just drip with charm. It’s worth it, believe me.

Your average cup of coffee is to coffee what a freshly-baked loaf of bread is to the stuff on your supermarket shelves. Both will do the job, whether the job is being a support system for a significant portion of pastrami, the platform for your kids’ PB&J, or just a little something to butter and enjoy with your soup. If your concerns are utilitarian, a mass-produced loaf of Wonder Bread will do just as well as a lovingly prepared loaf of ciabatta just out of the oven, so hot that it burns your fingers and the butter pools haphazardly instead of spreading evenly. But when it comes to taste, there’s no contest. You may not have the time, money, or inclination to bake a loaf of bread, or pop down to the corner bakery every time you want a sandwich. But when the taste matters to you, you find ways to shoehorn those trips into your routine, even if it’s only an occasional treat.

Coffee is much the same way. There are times when Folger’s, or Starbucks, or a quick cup o’ joe from the grease truck on the corner by your office are all you need or have time for. But let’s extend that bread metaphor for a minute. That loaf of Wonder Bread is mass-produced and cuts a few corners, and for good reason. Lots more people buy mass-produced bread than higher-end artisinal loaves. Some like the taste, while others just need the convenience or the long shelf life. The average coffee producer (and the consumers that keep them in business) has many of the same concerns. It’s all about making enough product for the masses who buy that product in huge quantities (and who like the convenience and the shelf life).

Guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Just the same as some bakers, brewers, butchers and chocolatiers pay painstaking attention to their craft, the last few years have seen a renaissance in coffee that’s elevated the roasting, brewing, and even drinking of coffee to an art form. Like beer brewers, Third Wave roasters have changed the game by careful attention to each step in the process.

And the results speak for themselves. Leave aside the fact that Third Wave coffee is becoming a booming business. The reason for its success comes down to one simple thing: taste. This isn’t just “coffee,” where you judge whether or not you like it based on whether it’s too weak or too strong, or has more or less of that coffee taste. Close your eyes a second (we’ll still be here when you get back), and picture a cup redolent with the flavors of dark chocolate, apricot, hibiscus, hazelnuts, or Merlot. Picture the velvety texture of each sip, and the subtle scents that tease your senses. Those subtle flavors you’re tasting? They’re not from a bottle next to the espresso machine, and they’re not the result of an industrial process. That’s an experienced roaster carefully sourcing the beans and roasting them to perfection, after which a barista grinds the beans fresh, and makes sure that all the variables from the brew process to the weight of the beans and the amount of water are carefully considered, all so you’re getting the best cup of coffee possible out of the best beans available.

I hear the skepticism creeping in. Why is this guy waxing rhapsodic over coffee, of all things?

I get it, believe me. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll reach for the first thing that’s handy, whether it’s an off-the-shelf iced coffee “fresh” out of the can, the big ‘ol container of Folgers, or even Dunkin’ Donuts in a styrofoam cup. My time, like yours, is finite. There’s only so many hours in the day, and much as I’d love to, I can’t spend every last one of them mooning over the perfect pour-over.

But that’s the rub. If your day is that short, your time that limited, then you owe it to yourself to carve out a bit of it for the simple things. If that means taking a few extra minutes for coffee brewed in a Chemex and served in a cheery ceramic coffee cup, then do it. Enough in our lives is already rushed, thoughtless, and mass-produced. When life looks like that, even something as simple as a few extra minutes of mindfulness with a good cup of coffee ends up being a small act of rebellion. And we love our rebels. Especially if they have good coffee.

Don’t just take my word for it. Even if you live a long way from New York, LA or San Francisco (or Minneapolis, Seattle, or Austin), odds are better than even that you’re a stone’s throw from a small cafe that roasts their own beans and honors the art and craft of fine coffee. Still no luck? Head on over to our Shop page and pick up a bag or two of our coffee beans. No grinder? No problem. Get your hands on some of our fresh-ground coffee packs and see what you’ve been missing… the right beans, ground the right way, shipped, brewed and drank fresh. You’ll wonder where this coffee has been all your life.

Postscript: this is a response, of sorts, to Murray Carpenter’s “In Defense of Terrible Coffee.”

It’s Official: You Should Be Drinking More Coffee

I drink all the coffee I want (image: lileks.com)

Drink All the Coffee You Want

The release of a recent study by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, comissioned by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Americans’ dietary guidelines, is turning some heads. Received wisdom on sodium and cholesterol is being revisited with surprising results. The report also had some welcome news for coffee drinkers. Let’s find out what the buzz is about.

WHAT GOES: In a move that will surprise practically nobody, the study recommends cutting back on the consumption of meats, especially processed and cured meats (we’ll pause to let lovers of bacon, sausage, salami, Serrano ham, pastrami, and various other processed, smoked, and cured animal bits wipe away a salty tear). Added sugars are likewise verboten, and should be limited to about 200 calories per day, though naturally-ocurring sugars like the ones found in fruits, vegetables and dairy are fine in normal amounts.

WHAT STAYS: Plants, in their myriad forms. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes are all recommended as part of a balanced diet. And the key word here is balance; the panel does not suggest eliminating meats and sugars, but instead advises moderation amid a shift to a more sustainable diet.

WHAT’S NEW: The emphasis on a plant-based diet isn’t exactly news; dietary guidelines have long suggested increased intake of vegetables and whole grains. What has changed is part of the rationale for doing so: for the first time, the panel has pointed to the environmental impact of a meat-laden diet as a reason to eat more fruits and veggies. Eggs are “allowed” again in moderation as well, given the rapidly-changing and often contradictory research on cholesterol. Even salt — once touted as a one-way ticket to heart failure — is fine in moderation. The biggest surprise, perhaps, is the panel’s downright enthusiastic endorsement of coffee. Far from fearing their daily cup of coffee, it’s suggested, coffee drinkers should feel free to indulge… to the tune of as many as five cups of coffee per day.

This is backed by other recent research that shows up to 400mg of caffeiene can be beneficial — even, the study suggests, helping to stave off Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. However, that finding does come with a major caveat: coffee drinkers should pay close attention to the effect that caffiene is having on their minds and bodies. For starters, if you’re in the habit of drinking a cup of coffee every other day or so, you’d be ill advised to ramp up your consumption suddenly. It’s also worth noting that the timing of your coffee drinking is as important as how much you have, since coffee can cause jitters, insomnia, and dehydration (among other things), and isn’t advised for those with existing heart problems or for whom diuretics are a no-go. All else being equal, however, the original point still stands; coffee is in fact good, and good for you.

We should note that this is the last word on the subject. Speaking about the recommendations and the process of translating them into working dietary guidelines, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said “it is by no means over.” As bureaucrats at Agriculture and HHS weigh in, as industry associations and lobbyists have their say, and as politicians pick over the bones of what’s left (having already cautioned the panel to include only nutritional and dietary information and “not extraneous factors” in its final guidelines), it’s difficult to predict what relationship — if any — those guidelines will have to the initial recommendations. If, on the other hand, you’re in the habit of paying attention to the science and not waiting to be told to do what’s best for your body, you’re certainly free to adapt the guidelines for a healthier and more sustainable diet. And with a few cups of coffee in your belly (like our Empire State Medium Roast ground coffee packs), you can even do it with a spring in your step.

Further Resources:

Read more at PBS.org: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/new-diet-recommendations-drop-sugary-drinks-coffee-eggs/
Browse the full study: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/

Watch: Georgetown University’s Thomas Sherman, PhD, weighs in on the dietary guidelines:

Coffee and Creativity

Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase

Marcel Duchamp, “Nude Descending a Staircase”

Those who are creative — whether they be writers, painters, dancers, photographers, or designers — know that their muses are fickle creatures by nature. The ideas flow like water… until they don’t. Or hours spent staring at a blank page or canvas can be replaced by an almost manic flood of inspiration, where the ideas build up to a near-logjam that’s so enormous we have more projects in the works than we know what to do with. We can work ourselves practically to the point of exhaustion, especially when we’ve reached a state of flow, that optimum mindframe where time practically stands still and all that remains is the object of our attention.

Sometimes we simply wish there was a happy medium, though if you’ve tried to create nearly anything, you know exactly how rare that is. The creative life seesaws between feast and famine, confidence and despair, between crushing fatigue and a nagging insomnia that just won’t go. How, then, does one go about finding a happy medium?

Many turn to coffee. In the New Yorker, author Maria Konnikova notes the example of Honoré de Balzac, who was in the habit of consuming the equivalent of upward of fifty cups of coffee per day just to fuel his prodigious creativity (though, it should be noted, he wasn’t a coffee drinker; he was in the habit of ingesting dry coffee beans that’d been reduced to a fine powder). He characterized the stuff as “horrible,” but noted that it focused him and spurred creativity.

As with so much else, the science tells a somewhat different story. Balzac was correct in at least one respect: coffee does improve problem-solving, probably due in no small part to its effect on alertness, energy, and focus, thanks to its caffeine content. The part that he got wrong was the connection between alertness and creativity.

Honoré de Balzac

Honoré de Balzac (Presumably before his coffee)

We may feel more creative when we’re awake (or wired). But as it turns out, that wakeful and sharply attentive state isn’t always when we get our best ideas. You may have noticed this already. You’re working on a problem or a creative dilemma, and all your work is getting you nowhere; take a break, however — a nap, some time to wash the dishes, a nice hot shower — and, almost unbidden, the solution presents itself. In other words, creativity requires a certain degree of absentmindedness that allows our unconscious mind to mull over the problem. Not unlike a computer performing background tasks that might be unrelated to the spreadsheet you’re working on, or the instance of Photoshop you’ve got open, your brain runs background tasks in sleep or at times when your more attentive “processing power” is focused elsewhere.

The solution? There are a few, luckily. One is to ease up on the coffee before bed, since a full night’s sleep — and not just any sleep, but full, restful REM sleep, which caffeiene consumption late in the day can interfere with — can be even more helpful than having just one more latte. Research also suggests that a placebo effect can be gotten from decaffeinated coffee, giving the drinker the feeling of alertness and concentration without the creativity-sapping properties of the caffeiene itself.

That isn’t to say that coffee doesn’t have its place. After all, Balzac consumed his fair share (and probably someone else’s) over his lifetime, and his work is still with us. And once the ideas are there, the added alertness and energy can be a big help in actually switching from the ideation phase of something to actually getting that thing done. As with so much else, the keys here are moderation (don’t overdo it), and a good sense of timing — especially knowing when to let the tiredness set in so that your brain can change gears and start giving you solutions that your conscious mind might not have thought of. That sense of balance will help both your creativity and your sanity.

Psssssst: Need a pick-me-up? Try our Wall Street Dark Roast Pods for Nespresso.

Coffee News, 2/20/2015

Watch for Falling Prices

Falling PricesNot long ago in this space, we noted that 2014 had been a high water mark for coffee prices due to a combination of drought conditions in Brazil and coffee rust, both of which had led to shortages and higher prices. In perhaps the surest sign yet that we should stick to coffee and not financial forecasting, the Wall Street Journal reported that Arabica coffee has fallen to $1.5885 per pound, its lowest closing price since February 18, 2014.

The price drop was initially sparked by favorable weather forecasts in Brazil’s coffee-growing regions, and accelerated as falling prices hit stop-loss levels and triggered preset sell orders. Further impetus was provided by a forecast by the International Coffee Organization, which forecast a rise in coffee consumption to nearly 176 million bags of beans per annum by 2020.

Starbucks Debuts Reserve Line Coffee Subscription Service

On February 17, Starbucks entered the subscription coffee service fray with its Reserve coffees. For $24 a month, the company will ship an 8.8 ounce bag of coffee roasted on the second Sunday of each month. Customers will receive the beans within three to five days of roasting (depending on location). Unusually for a subscription service, the monthly price is firm, so whether a customer tries the service for a single month or a full year, it comes with the same $24/month price tag.

It’s worth noting that customers buying Reserve coffee through the company’s website typically pay between $12.95 to $14.95, with a typical shipping charge of about six dollars in the continental US. If you do the math, that’s significantly less than the subscription service. Even the most expensive offering, which comes in at $17.95 before shipping, squeaks under the subscription service’s price. It remains to be seen whether enough customers will pay an extra premium for beans that, at the end of the day, are still Starbucks, even if they’re fresher than their store-bought counterparts.

Those Darned Hipsters And Their Fancy Coffees

Instant Coffee

Make Mine… Coffee, I Guess.

Over at Time’s Zocalo Public Square blog, Murray Carpenter makes the case for mass-market coffee with In Defense of Terrible Coffee (n.b., that’s his title, not ours). Notes Carpenter:

These days, gourmet coffee is everywhere. And we’ve got a million new ways to prepare it. In addition to cold-pressed coffee, we’ve got the Japanese siphon process, a plethora of pod brewers, and coffee that comes from fancy machines like the Roasting Plant’s Javabot. And there are concoctions like the flat white—an espresso-and-steamed-milk blend—that suddenly become trendy when the Starbucks marketers put them in heavy rotation.

He points out — correctly — that the average consumer probably doesn’t care if what’s in their cup is Fair Trade Certified Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. They care if it tastes like coffee, and that it has a sufficient quantity of caffeine to keep them from falling asleep at the wheel. While we’re on board with some of the things that Carpenter espouses in the piece — we agree with him that sitting down over coffee with friends (or complete strangers) is one of life’s best, if simplest, pleasures — we can’t help but think that the rest of the essay reads a bit like a coffee drinker’s version of the “Macro Beer” commercial Budweiser ran during Super Bowl XLIX. While we’re not above a diner cup of coffee ourselves, we like to enjoy our coffee instead of pretending it’s strictly utilitarian. Perhaps we’ve been doing it wrong all this time?

An Homage to Coffee in the City That Never Sleeps

But let’s end the week on a positive note.

James Casey of Swallow Magazine has posted a lovely short film on Nowness that has coffee drinkers and baristas alike explaining how and why New Yorkers love their coffee. Click the link to watch “Coffee: Six Degrees of Caffeination” (link will open in a new window or tab, since the video doesn’t have embedding enabled), maybe over a cup of our Flatiron Medium Roast whole bean coffee.

Coffee and Children Don’t Mix

vintage coffee ad

Mom’s Making Coffee (and You Can’t Have Any, You Little Scamp)

In recent weeks, we’ve explored the health benefits of coffee, and have had occasion to note that while the research is sometimes inconclusive, there’s a growing body of evidence that points to coffee being beneficial for a sound mind and body. As with anything else, of course, there are exceptions. One particularly glaring exception is one on which practically all the scientific literature agrees (with a noteable exception that we’ll explore in the coming week): if you want to know if coffee is good for your children, the answer is a resounding no.

Energy drinks and coffee are popular with kids. Some of this can be attributed to advertising, especially for the likes of Red Bull, Monster, and (for a while, rather notoriously) Four Loko. When it comes to coffee, some of the same things that appeal to adults also appeal to their children. Adults aren’t the only ones who know that coffee tastes good, boosts energy, and improves alertness. For some kids, there’s also the cachet of drinking an “adult” beverage legally. But coffee comes with downsides for younger drinkers that they, and their parents, may not realize.

Let’s start with the calorie count. Your average tween or teen, after all, isn’t given to sipping espresso or black coffee. A young coffee drinker typically takes their sugar with coffee and cream, dumping plenty of it into their coffee to make it more palateable. Kids are also more likely to be drawn to coffee drinks that are loaded down with syrup shots, chocolate, caramel, and other ingredients that typically amount to a lot more sugar and calories.

For example, a typical Starbucks Grande Mocha Latte (with 2% milk and whipped cream) comes in at 360 calories, 140 of which are from its 15 grams of fat. The sugar content isn’t helping matters any; with 35 grams, it has nearly the entire amount of added sugars that are recommended as a daily maximum for adults. And we’re not just singling out Starbucks, since variations on the same recipe (with very similar — or even much higher — calorie counts can be found at other chains and indie coffee shops from coast to coast).

That sugar has another side effect, especially taken in tandem with coffee’s acidity. Children’s tooth enamel usually hasn’t fully hardened, meaning that the teeth are more vulnerable to acidity. Too much coffee (and sugar) consumption can lead to tooth decay and cavities.

As if that weren’t troubling enough, both sugar and caffeine are stimulants that lead to a loss of appetite and faster metabolism, meaning that proper nutrition — already vital — becomes even more important if your kids are drinking coffee. That same stimulant effect also means that kids are more prone to hyperactivity during the day, and likely to sleep less at night. That means less alertness in school the next day, and a high likelihood that they’ll resort to more sugar and caffeine to stay alert, creating a vicious cycle of energy spikes followed by periods of tiredness and irritability.

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our kids to moderate their intake, and to be mindful of what fuels their minds and bodies from day to day. As with anything else in moderation, a small cup of coffee every now and again need not be harmful to children. It’s important, however, that an occasional indulgence doesn’t become a potentially harmful habit.

All grown up and need a pick-me-up? Try our Donut Truck Medium Roast Keurig K-Cups.

Coffee and Cleansing the Palate

vintage instant coffee ad

(Image courtesy of the incomparable lileks.com)

Gourmands, foodies, wine tasters and others often speak of “cleansing the palate,” essentially resetting the tastebuds and/or the olfactory palate in order to unearth the true flavor of what they’re eating. There are many methods used, with coffee being especially popular for cleansing the olfactory palate. That’s all well and good if you’re comparing perfumes or colognes, but if you’re tasting multiple cups of coffee in one go, then more coffee may not be the best solution for cleansing the palate.

Surprisingly, some research suggests that there’s no scientific or statistical upside to cleansing the palate. While I’m not a scientist, this is one instance where I tend to come down on the side of anecdotal evidence (not least because there was a difference of 29% between those who cleansed their palates with lemon versus those who just paused to breathe fresh air, which hardly seems statistically insignificant). If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of someone wearing too much perfume, or eaten or drank something with a long finish — whether it’s espresso or liverwurst with onions — you know that some smells and tastes linger.

That’s esepcially true when you’re dealing with coffees that rely on brewing methods that leave behind a lot of oils or residue (espresso, Turkish coffee, and French Press all come to mind, though even a “clean” method like a Chemex, given the right beans, can still yield a cup with a long finish). When that happens and you’re working your way through multiple cups of coffee, it helps to be able to cleanse your palate of the residue left behind.

How to Cleanse the Palate

Your best bet is plain water or plain seltzer. It’s the universal solvent, after all, and will help to set the stage for whatever you taste next. Stray grounds, silt, and oils can be washed away with a quick swig and swish of lukewarm water. Seltzer can be used to much the same effect, and many people report that the bubbles leave the mouth feeling clean and refreshed.

If you’d like something with a bit of flavor, crackers work best — and the plainer, the better. Galletas (thick, dry crackers often served before dinner at Cuban restaurants; try these from Goya) or Saltines are good options, since some other crackers will leave an aftertase that’s imparted to the coffee (Ritz crackers have a tendency to leave a buttery sheen that influences how your coffee will taste) and pretzels use food-grade lye or other additives to give them the slight bitterness that makes a truly good pretzel.

In either case, make sure that what you’re eating is unsalted, since salt will noticeably alter the flavor profile of your next cup by muting some of the bitterness (if, on the other hand, you’ve got a cup of coffee that’s entirely too bitter for your taste, a pinch of salt can be helpful). The dryness of the crackers is also helpful in clearing oils from the mouth, which helps if you’ve just had a cup that has a long finish or where its prep is oily.

Of course, there are other things that can be useful to cleanse the palate, whether you’re sampling coffee, flights of beer, or a gourmet feast. One of the best of these is giving yourself a break between courses, resting your nose and your tastebuds and literally giving yourself some breathing room. Do you have a favorite palate cleanse? Let us know! And if you need coffee, try our HiLine Ground Coffee Packs. They make a great cup of coffee for cleansing the olfactory palate (it’s good to drink, too).

Coffee News, 2-13-2015

No More Choosing Between Beer and Coffee

modern times mugs

Thanks to Modern Times, you can have coffee, beer, or both.

Coffee and beer pair quite well, whether you’re chasing stout with espresso, or drinking a coffee-brewed porter. Some Third Wave coffee roasters have even taken to barrel-aging small batches of beans. But it’s taken a craft brewer who happens to be a coffee afficionado to pull it all together in grand style. Modern Times Beer founder Jacob McKean earned his stripes as a brewer and turned to coffee as a way to de-stress from the rigors of the brewing business; it didn’t take long before he found a way to combine the two.

A recent story in the LA Times points to a key difference between McKean and a typical brewer: a typical coffee-infused beer would be aged in used spirit barrels (often bourbon). McKean’s approach calls equally upon his beer brewing and coffee roasting chops; he starts, as a coffee roaster would, by barrel-aging green coffee beans, roasting them, and only then adding them to the beer.

Modern Times offers several coffee beers, including its original Black House coffee stout, City of the Dead stout (which is more coffee-forward) and others. What elevates this above mere gimmickry is McKean’s knowledge of both coffee roasting and beer brewing, giving his beers a level of consistency that’s frankly missing in some other brewers’ coffee beers.

If You’ve Ever Been Suspicious of Yelp…

We’re including this story because, like a lot of you, we tend to research businesses — especially restaurants, cafes and coffee houses — on Yelp before we patronize them. Yelp’s review policy has long seemed arbitrary to business owners, with an Amazon-esque element that skews results practically beyond their usefulness. The company has been accused repeatedly of burying positive reviews — and highlighting negative ones — when business owners have refused to purchase advertising on the site. While we take Yelp at its word when the company says this is not their policy, a federal appeals court ruling toward the end of 2014 could inadvertently undercut that claim. The court’s ruling? Yelp would, in fact, be within its rights to manipulate reviews as a form of “hard bargaining.”

One dissatisfied customer (not a party to the aforementioned lawsuit) has decided to get even instead of getting mad. Entrepreneur reports that Richmond, California eatery Botto Italian Bistro has decided to game the system. In reverse. They actually encourage their customers to post negative reviews. And did they ever; for a while, Botto proudly sported a one-star review (they’ve got three stars now — perhaps they’re slipping?). The reviews themselves are a kind of literary jujitsu, turning the very act of reviewing against itself, often with hilarious results.

There’s actually a lesson in all of this, especially if you’re a cafe or coffee shop owner who feels as though you’re playing against a stacked deck. Don’t despair; with quality and a bit of creativity, you can still stand out in the crowd without having to pay handsomely for the privilege.

A Truly Green Espresso Machine

Sanremo Verde

The Sanremo Verde Espresso Machine

We recently accidentally stumbled upon the Sanremo Verde espresso machine, and we’re quite impressed. In a world where nobody’s quite sure what to do with all the used K Cups generated annually, and when the closest most people come to recycling coffee grinds is using them to compost their gardens, Sanremo has managed something truly unique. Their Verde espresso machine is green in fact, and not just in name. The machine’s side panels are made up of a composite that consists of recycled coffee beans and other recycled materials, while its knobs are crafted from upcycled wood taken from espresso bars. By itself, that’s more than many companies do to reduce their products’ carbon footprint, but the machine’s innards are what elevates this from gimmick to high concept. The Verde uses a PID-regulated temperature control system that drastically cuts power consumption. Its robust feature set (dedicated boilers with independent temperature control per group head, backflush cleaning, shot timer, copper boiler and pipework, and a triple-level safety system, among other perks) means that the energy efficiency is gained without sacrificing brew times or quality.

Coffee Review Reviews HiLine’s Fifth Ave K-Cup Capsule

Coffeereview.com logoCoffee roasting is a bit like parenting. We like all our roasts equally, whether it’s our Stock Exchange Dark Roast for Keurig, our Liberty Lungo pods for Nespresso, our Tribeca Medium Roast custom-ground single-serve coffee packs, or our whole Flatiron beans.

But just like parents, we can’t help but be proud when someone sits up and takes notice of our “offspring.” We put a lot of time and love into roasting great coffee. And when the likes of restauranteur Anthony Hoy Fong (who said that HiLine “rivals some of the best coffee I’ve had in Michelin starred restaurants and in cafes of Rome and Paris”) and Michelin chef Matt Lambert enthuses that “I can have an espresso at home that tastes great with out having to line up and wait at a coffee shop,” we admit that we feel a little swell of pride. After all, seeing someone else find the same joy in our coffee that we do is kind of a big deal.*

So you can imagine how we felt when we read a just-posted (February, 2015) review on Coffee Review of our Fifth Avenue Medium Roast K-Cups. Reviewer Kenneth Davids (sometimes referred to as the Robert Parker of coffee) gave it 88 points — the highest score for a K-Cup, tied only by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ Sumatran Reserve Extra Bold K-Cup and Sancoffee’s Taitung Guanshan Lot 12 Single-Serve Capsule.

In a blind taste test, Davids called the Fifth Avenue Medium Roast “gently brisk,” noting its “[q]uietly balanced acidity,” its “lively mouthfeel,” and its “crisply delicate, clean finish.” We couldn’t agree more (and if this is our report card, we’ll gladly put it on the office refrigerator).

You can read the rest of Kenneth Davids’ review on coffeereview.com. Naturally, we’d suggest you do it over a fresh cup of Fifth Avenue Medium Roast and compare notes with Mr. Davids. But we’d be just as pleased to offer one of our other coffees. After all, we take pride in all of them.

*See what others have said here: https://www.hilinecoffee.com/pages/reviews

Coffee News, 2/6/2015

Delta Partners with Starbucks

Delta Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks Coffee on Delta Flights Should Make the Red Eye a Bit More Bearable

After a pilot program serving Starbucks coffee to passengers on selected routes during 2013 and 2014 proved successful, Delta Airlines started serving Starbucks on all flights starting on February 1. What makes this particularly interesting is that while most airlines have been offering fewer and fewer amenities while charging ever-higher prices, Delta seems to have decided that the opposite approach might have certain perks. They’ve experimented with higher-quality in-flight meals and craft beer offerings, and they see the Starbucks partnership as an opportunity to offer a touch of comfort to their passengers. Starbucks, for its part, sees this as a move toward expanding their reach and brand awareness. As air travel becomes an increasingly austere experience, the Delta/Starbucks partnership could pay significant PR and brand awareness dividends for both companies.

Black Coffee, or Black Eye?

We’ve recently remarked on the bumpy roll-out for Keurig’s 2.0 system. The company is now getting a stark reminder of exactly how displeased customers are with the new product in particular, and with Keurig in particular. During the last quarter — the first full quarter during which the machines were on sale — sales tumbled 12 percent, accompanied by a five percent loss in stock value. Keurig Green Mountain CEO Brian Kelley chalked the losses up to supply chain issues and doubt on consumers’ part as to whether they’d be able to brew their favorite coffees; that explanation may be too charitable by half, since vendors and customers seem less doubtful than angry. Several of the former have filed antitrust suits against Keurig, while the latter have shown the same distaste for their coffee being Digital Rights Managed as they have toward music, movies, and software with DRM attached. It seems a bit tone-deaf for the company to expect that people would respond favorably to their coffee being tampered with. As The Verge memorably put it, “You shouldn’t have to hack your coffee.”

Keurig has a new cold-beverage machine (developed in tandem with Coca-Cola) coming in the fall. While the comapny (and its investors) clearly hope this signals a turnaround, CNN Money notes the falling popularity of Soda Stream, and we can’t help but wonder if Keurig will be following an ill-received product with one whose time may have passed.

Blue Bottle Opens in Tokyo

For many people, Blue Bottle personifies the third wave of coffee. One of the many contrasts to be drawn between Blue Bottle and Starbucks is the glacial pace at which owner James Freeman has expanded his business. It’s no surprise, then, that Blue Bottle’s latest opening — in Tokyo — is causing a splash. This is partly for the company’s expansion into a foreign market, and it’s also because the Japanese aren’t particularly known as coffee drinkers. The first Blue Bottle location in Japan opened on February 1 in the Kiyosumi neighborhood; another will follow in the Aoyama neighborhood on March 7. The move is as bold as Blue Bottle’s coffee, but it’s as likely to be helped along by Freeman’s legendarily obsessive focus on quality and careful product sourcing as it is by Japan’s closer availability to quality Indonesian beans. With the company’s reputation for understated hospitality and attention to craft, we get the feeling they should fit right in.

A Few Thoughts on “Tip Creep” and Coffee

The New York Times caused a minor kerfuffle a few days ago by noting that “tip creep” has crept its way into the coffee shop. The term refers broadly to the fact that more and more businesses don’t just expect, or suggest, that you tip for service; they’re practically enforcing it. Like us, you may have gone to a restaurant and found that your bill already had the “suggested” gratuity factored into the final amount. There’s a certain amount of sense to this; some folks, left to their own devices, won’t tip at all, or will rely on others in the group to make up for their parsimony. What was once the preserve of higher-end restaurants serving larger parties of people has now begun to trickle down to other businesses, from cafes to taxis, that rely on smart devices for payment processing.

Coffee Tip Jar

Tip Your Barista!

Reactions have been mixed, with The Washington Post noting that some chalk it up to necessity (your average barista isn’t exactly making bank), while others find it to be an intrusion. We’ll let The Awl’s Matt Buchanan have the last word here. Buchanan says, and we agree, that “until our civilization betters itself, the formula by which one should tip in a modern coffee shop is simple: a minimum of one dollar per drink. (This includes iced coffee and tea. And if you order twenty flat whites for your entire office during the pre-work or post-lunch rush—or something that involves a blender—you should probably leave a lot more!) If you cannot abide by this, drink Diet Coke.”

There’s a New Most Expensive Coffee In the World

2198-cEvery once in a while a fad comes along that makes you wonder just what people are thinking. Exhibit A for this phenomenon, for me, has always been kopi luwak, also known as civet coffee. If you’re unfamiliar with kopi luwak, it works like this: the seeds of coffee berries — the part your beans come from — are fed to a palm civet, which is a small ground-dwelling rodent found in Asia and Africa. The beans are partially digested, and after the civet passes the beans, they’re washed (we hope), roasted, ground, and sent to market.

Civet coffee has been praised for its sublime taste. During the digestive process, the protease enzyme results in shorter peptide chains and more amino acids. Because of the taste (and the unusual selection process), the beans command top dollar; at upward of 700 dollars per kilo, they were the most expensive coffee beans in the world.

Until now, that is. Kopi luwak has been displaced by Black Ivory Coffee, which we could colloquially call elephant coffee. Yes, people are feeding coffee to elephants, and packaging the… results. The price? Close to $1200 per kilo, with a cup of the coffee, which has highly limited availability, costing $50 per cup.

While you’re muttering a silent prayer of thanks for your four-dollar latte, let’s examine why elephant coffee is so expensive.

Black Ivory Coffee’s higher price is due in part to the fact that elephants, unlike civets, are herbivores. Therefore, while the civet only partially digests the beans, the digestion process for elephants is much more complete. The result is a much lower yield per kilogram of beans ingested by even a single elephant. By some estimates, it takes upward of 33 kilograms (more than 70 pounds) to get one kilogram (roughly two pounds) of useable coffee, since most of the beans have been digested by the elephant. The price, in other words, is due in large part to the large amount of waste (no, the other kind) in the process.

Civet cats are often caged for the production of  kopi luwak.

Civet cats are often caged for the production of kopi luwak.

In both cases, the coffee has a taste that’s smoother and less bitter. But there’s also an ethical downside to both Kopi luwak and Black Ivory Coffee. On the one hand, there’s a human cost; those beans that cost hundreds of dollars per kilogram are only netting their growers and collectors an average of $20 per kilogram. Also, the high prices have led to the industrialization of the process, with civets being kept in pens by the thousands (the elephants, in contrast, are on a preserve in Thailand). Since neither of these practices are regulated, it can be difficult if not nearly impossible for the average consumer to figure out the provenance of these beans.

Are either of these coffees — Kopi luwak or Black Ivory Coffee — worth their astronomical price tag? On one hand, we have the taste, which is a subjective indicator at best. The process of getting coffee from plant to table includes so may variables in selection, roasting and brewing that the addition of a mammal to the equation may not have much of an impact. Besides, studies have shown that higher price tags influence perception of taste (possibly, we’d suggest, as a hedge against buyer’s remorse). On the other hand, the provenance of these coffees might leave a bitter aftertaste, no matter what else the enzymes may have done to the beans in the process.

If you’d like a more ethical cup of coffee, may we suggest our Madison Ave Medium Roast whole bean coffee (civet not included)?

Find out more about the process behind civet coffee here: