Archive for February, 2008

Our Very Own Research Triangle

Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008

We started our morning at Shade Tree Coffee in Durham, near Duke University. Shade TreeSara and I shared a French press of a Colombian coffee, while Courtney, the manager sat with us for a while. Courtney is the sweet and earnest kind of person whose personality will imbed itself in the pleasant memories of a city. Calm and humble, she told us about time she spent volunteering on a coffee farm in El Salvador, picking and washing coffee seeds. Courtney highlighted how labor intensive the work is on a coffee farm, and the importance of acknowledging this incredibly demanding part of the coffee process. She also explained that some coffee farms, in order to provide shade for the coffee plants and to get more use out of the land, will plant cardamom or nutmeg plants between the coffee plants. I can’t help but think of how that affects the flavor of the coffee. In a Pavlovian way, my tongue gets happy simply thinking about hints of those spices in a coffee.

Months ago, when we started planning our trip, we found a place called Larry’s Beans in Raleigh. Larry’sWe were unable to meet with him, but took some fun pictures around his roasting shop, maybe they will give you a taste of what Larry’s is about.


Larry’s distributes bio diesel

Larry’s runs a very educational/informational website, they also drive this bus which itself is an informational experience.

The Bus.

The bus in full.

Not having another destination planned, we did a “coffee” search in my GPS. Scanning the names, a place called “Global Village Organic Coffee” peaked our interest and off we went. Thanks, GPS (and Dad for supplying his directionally challenged daughter with this “go-go-gadget” device)!

Sara and I walked in the room, took a quick glance around, locked eyes and smiled. We liked it already. The Envrio.Signs on the wall, a mix of young and not-so-young customers, nice art and a calm but vibrant buzz in the air made a solid first impression.




Mike Ritchey left the corporate food world 7 years ago to open Organic Village. Having gained an in-depth understanding of food supply chains he brings that knowledge to the coffee world, studying the process of the coffee bean.

Because.Bird Sign

He says “There is so much opportunity in the specialty coffee world to employ some ‘best practices’ and it’s a small enough world you can know the people who are doing good work.”

All the coffees at Organic Village are fairly traded, but they don’t all carry the branding label “Fair Trade”, are all organic and 95% of the coffee is shade grown. Mike added that banana plants are often used to shade coffee plants; they don’t naturally grow this way but they have a nice symbiotic relationship.no tips.

Mike also gave us a great comparison for talking with organic versus conventional coffee. “You can taste the difference in quality between a hot house tomato and one you pick up at your local farm stand; it’s the same with coffee”.


One last thing I want to mention about Organic Village is that Mike has just spent a good bit of money replacing the plumbing of his shop, adding low flush toilets and a dish-washer that only uses one gallon of water. No bottles



In an area of the country that is facing one of the worst droughts in a hundred years, these changes go a long way. When asked if this cuts down on his operating costs he jokingly said “I sleep better”, but it will pay off in the long run.


We left Mike’s and headed toward Third Place, a comfortable, busy, living-room feeling coffee shop. We were there for a few hours doing work before meeting our host John for the night. Our long and happy day ended with a Bowerbirds concert at Duke and some late night Karaoke.

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This is Denali, our loyal companion.

A short dog-ography:

Denali, a 5 year old chocolate Labrador retriever, normally lives with the Coffee Labs crew in New York. She has been a loyal friend to customers and baristas alike. Her travels have been limited, moving from shelf, to floor, to office, and back again; but she sure loves her home.

When she heard we were taking off on an adventure she licked and begged her way into the car. She promised not to pee on the seats. We have been sending pictures back to her parents, Mike and Alicia at Coffee Labs, so they know that she is safe and sound. Keep your eyes out for more snapshots of Denali on the road.




To break up our drive, and to celebrate the sunny warm weather, we stopped at the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America (a.k.a. an American castle). Instead of touring inside, we covertly found our way into the woods.



Eventually we both shed our long sleeves. HOORAY! The sun warmed our skin and our spirits. We also took Denali for a well-deserved walk. Besides keeping us company on our long drives, Denali is the fierce protector of our car while we are away and sniffs out good people in coffee shops all around. She has, in fact, become a part of a few family portraits around the US so far.


Everyone loves the family dog.


A bonding moment
a scary moment
a little sunshine makes us happy
bamboo (miss you Bambu)

– Melanie and Sara Rose

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Friday February 22, 2008

A phone interview with a local NY newspaper forced Melanie and I out of bed after dancing our booties off to bluegrass the night before. We hurried over to Izzy’s, a cozy and modern shop, patronized by Asheville hipsters of all ages for our morning coffee. The Baristas, Elizabeth and Susannah, were completely understanding of our traveling office. We found a quiet corner in the back and chatted with Dina from the newspaper for about an hour, answering questions about our friendship, our roadtrip, and our interest (or slight obsession) in coffee.

Coffee In Action Interviews

I learned that Asheville businesses who wish to recycle must bring their own to the recycling center. Izzy’s also reduces their own waste by composting their coffee grinds to the owners’ back yard. I ordered a soy cappuccino and scientifically geeked out with Elizabeth about air bubbles! The two lovely baristas recommended we make our last stop in Asheville a visit to Jay at The Dripolator.

Hi Jay!
At the Dripolator, a few aspects quickly caught my eye. Globe They purchase coffee from Larry’s Beans, a very aware roasting company in Raleigh (more about Larry’s soon). The globe and Jay’s coffee buying policies represent his awareness and commitment to a global community. He believes that coffee and espresso are “…a reflection of an amazing process…” starting at the farm.

Through our conversation I learned that Jay is equally committed to positively supporting his local community. There is a book exchange book exchange, stickers about and food from local farms Stickers - Dripolator, and locally made pottery in the store. Jay explained that he sees his “…coffeehouse as a community center for social change.” Groups, such as a cop-watch, meet every week in the cafe. To reduce the waste from the shop, The Dripolator sets out water and cups for customers to use, has metal utensils instead of plastic, and sends coffee grinds to local groups to use as compost. img_0922.jpgSpooning.img_0929.jpg

And as we set off for our next adventure, we re-established our office in the car.

The Office.

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Arriving in Asheville on Wednesday night we are greeted warmly by the Bangert family cat.

The welcome wagon.

Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008.

We wake up on the later side, around 9, pack the car and head down town to visit our host Dan at his coffee shop Gourmet Perks. We have some of the best bagel sandwiches in our lives. The staff tell us the store has a reputation for attracting death metal and hard core punk bands from around the country. Dan explains that most of the show-goers are straight-edge. Staff members volunteer during shows, as well as have a lot of say in other aspects of the business, such as specials of the day and band recruitment.

Settled in at Gourmet Perks

Dancing Denali

Why no pants?


Dan sends us to his local roaster, Beanworks.

Green Bean storage

As we drive into downtown Asheville we notice YMSB is playing at the Asheville Civic Center. Bluegrass in North Carolina? Yes, Please! We promptly purchase tickets.

As we meander the streets of Asheville we stumble across…

Double Decker Cafe a red British double decker bus turned cafe!

Double Deckerimg_0878.jpgPretty Squares

As we have already consumed significant amounts of our favorite beverage we decide not to order anything and continue our wayward wanderings…

Chocolate is essential










Mugs at Malaprops









Our tummies start to rumble and we spot what looks like a restaurant sign in the distance. There is a steady stream of happy looking people in and out of the door, so we quicken our pace and prepare to scan the menu.

Much to our surprise the establishment is actually a specialty beer seller, and as fate would have it, they are hosting a free beer sampling.

Beer Tasting

A chit-chat with one of the brewer’s representatives results in free tickets to a tour of the Sweetwater facilities in Atlanta. We realize the concert time is fast approaching and scurry down to a vegetarian restaurant for a plate of pad thai and a side of sweet potato fries.

Thirty minutes later the band appears and we start to dance. Man, do we dance. For over two hours we jump, stomp, laugh, spin, hug, sing, groove, swing, clap, sweat, and move with the crowd at the foot of the stage.

The show ends and we are way to energized to think of bed. Upon our friend Frances’ recommendation we head to a local pub, Jack of the Hill to hear another string band.

Sitting at the end of a long table is Stony. Stony is a master at Connect 4. He is starting a project to create a national ranking of Connect 4 players. Melanie accepts his challenge. Stony: 4, Melanie 1.

We head home happy and exhausted.

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2:15pm: Suzie (the Saab) clocks in at 37.4 miles per gallon!

2:37 pm: Upon reading a chalkboard in a bathroom, Sara asks: “Is it a good thing that your face melts off?” People of the Internet-what do you think?

Days on the road: 12
Cups of coffee/espresso: 86
Related bathroom breaks: 71

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A nice place to live.

Wednesday Feb. 2o, 2008

Mug wall!



Nothing says “Welcome to the South” like a bluegrass jam session with your morning cup of coffee. You can have coffee in your favorite mug if you are a regular.





Every Wednesday morning, a small group has been gathering for 14 years in the back room at the Lexington Coffee Shop.

3 Guitars

Freddy, one of the banjo players and local musicians is rumored to be a famous classical guitarist and was a WWII pilot.


Janne, another lucky listener, informed us that after the original bass player left town, Freddy bought a bass to keep in house for jammers to use. Jan then sent us off with a note to her son, who works at the Lexington Coffee Roasting Co., just down the road.

We love small town life.

Melissa and Terry met us at the Lexington Roasting Company where the first thing we did was join them in an experiment of beans and grinders. Melissa, Sara, Terry and DenaliThe same bean, from the same batch, can taste vastly different when ground in different types of grinders.

Their positive outlook on life and the coffee industry meshed well with CoffeeInActions mission and vibe. The company is involved with Coffee Kids, Grounds for Health and Cup for Education, three organizations that help connect the coffee industry with coffee farming communities. Click on the organization name to find out more. Terry and Melissa focus on generating high quality coffee as well as being responsible green bean purchasers. When asked what inspired them to be mindful in the business practices Terri said “Its life, being involved is just what you do.”

We left the roasters invigorated and ready to head South. We stopped in Blackburg, VA for lunch and coffee with Sara’s cousin.

Use a travel mug, save the world.

-Sara Rose and Melanie

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To go back in time:

Coffee Fest was a flurry of coffee, classes, espresso, and meeting good people. We experienced our first barista competition (talk about intense). Our Friday night host, Seth, accompanied us to a coffee party where we joined in the geeky barista fun.

After Coffee Fest we had political discussions with the Laguarda clan and then indulged in some “girl stuff” with Aunt Wendy. We contemplated the “slice of life” movie genre and had a classic diner breakfast. Monday afternoon Grandpa Bru took us on a gorgeous walk before we left the D.C. area.

Monday Feb. 18, 2008
Arriving in Lexington on Monday evening, we were quickly charmed by the town. The red brick of Washington and Lee University made us feel as if we were in a storybook. After walking to get a cup of coffee and to and from the grocery store, our small-town, walk-everywhere-and-say-hello-to-everyone, selves were content.

Tuesday was sleep late day. Andy, our host, showed us the best coop food in town and enticed our pallets at the local wine and beer store. We ended up with a local Virginia wine for dinner and a chocolate porter and a vanilla stout for dessert. More on the food later.

While Sara did spent her afternoon like this:

Sara comoter

Melanie was:

Sorry moms

Living on a budget and knowing we had three skilled cooks (Us and Andy) we decided to have “Dinner on Sale”. We walked to the grocery store (for the second time) and our challenge was to construct dinner only from items on sale. Sara was the mastermind behind the main course, Andy whipped together dessert and Melanie operated the cutting board. Sara made tarragon baked Talapia with garlic and basil, accompanied with savory cauliflower and broccoli. Cherries were discounted which inspired Andy to create espresso cherry chocolate mousse from scratch. The meal was accompanied by a delicious local Virgina red wine from Rockbridge vineyards that had deep cherry notes. The flavor complimented our dessert very nicely.

Having finally left our comfort zone of the Northeast we welcome the adventures to come.

– Melanie and Sara Rose

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returns and exchanges

Wednesday February 20, 2008

7:34 am- Sara turns the car on and out of the radio comes her long lost CD! Music is once again heard.

2:14 pm – we get handed free lunch in Blacksburg, VA! Thanks to the kindness of a stranger in Bollo’s coffee shop!

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Sensory Satisfaction

Spending a week of my life dedicated to an aesthetic experience has already changed my perceptive self.

Tasting espresso, an intense focus of the senses, has created for me an existence of minute observations. Noting the changes of a shot as it begins and ends its pour, a gentle warmth from the porcelain cup, the multi-faceted tan of the crema, and breathing in its scent before indulging in its warm bitter sweetness;  its flavor either fills your mouth like fireworks in a glass jar, brightly appearing and disappearing quickly leaving you peppy and excited, or it gently rolls over your tongue and occupies the corners of your mouth; comforting, velvety, full, before slipping away leaving longing and richness in its wake.

I find myself writing odes to snow peas – its crisp green appearance conjures images of freshly mowed hillsides in the summer time, and practically calls out – “I’m bright, and yummy, and good for you! Eat Me!”

A chocolate stout left me dumbfounded.

The experience of cutting the pits out of cherries was raw, sticky, fleshy, organic and deeply dynamic.

The prospect of this heightened sensitivity is enthralling. The world is thrilling.

I am in love with this.

– Melanie

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Three days and many, many drinks later Philly seems like yester-year.
This weekend Sara and I attended Coffee Fest, a large coffee trade show in Washington, D.C. But let me back track for a moment and fill you in on the fun prior to the Fest.

Thursday, Feb. 14th

In the day between Philly and Coffee Fest Sara and I visited two shops, Crescent Moon in Mullica Hill, NJ and Artmosphere Café in Mt. Ranier, Maryland.

Sara and I sat with Sharon and Ron of Crescent Moon for about two hours. Clearly they are well informed people, we talked about everything from the production of delicious espresso to the challenges of women in business. We also spent a good amount of time waxing philosophical on the connection between education and coffee. Sara and I are both educators by training, and Sharon and Ron are being very supportive of one of their staffers who had returned to school to complete a BA in Education. Many people we meet on this Coffee Road Trip are, or were, educators. What is the connection between people who love education and people who love coffee.

These are some of my thoughts: People who take the time to be passionate and knowledgeable about coffee are likely to take the time to be passionate and curious about other things. Coffee can be so mundane, for many people it is as noticeable as putting on underwear. But for some reason, some people say “Oh, this brown liquid in my cup? Yeah, I want to learn everything I can about it”. And suddenly there you are running past rosebushes to stop and smell a Yirgacheffe. It’s this same kind of curiosity that drives someone to say “Oh, this learning thing that I have done my whole life? Yeah, I want to understand how that works”. Next thing you know your coffee habit has turned into a curriculum. Also, its incredibly satisfying to be operating in a field where there is infinite knowledge to be gathered. The coffee connoisseur and the teacher have this in common – they will always have more to learn.

After spending hours pondering this connection we found or selves smack in the middle of another classic coffee community: Artists. We arrived at Artmosphere Cafe around 2 in the afternoon and did not leave that night until around 9.   In those hours we had an engaging discussion with the owner, Dyrell and a gathering of customers about  artists and community development, the effect of growing coffee on the environment, politics in coffee growing regions and how that affects the price of the bean, and more.  Artmosphere has established itself as a social and cultural hub of the Mt Rainier area. It is located on the first floor of an apartment building which is reserved for people who earn a significant percentage of their salary through art. There is a long history between artist and cafes, cafe’s have been the strongholds of painters, writers, and musicians for centuries. What is it that brings these all together?

People Of The Internet – what are your thoughts on these connections? Comment at will.

– Melanie

P.S. Thanks to PJ for all your support in the Mt. Rainier area and for organizing the event at Artmosphere.

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