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March 11, 2008

A delicious perk of the road trip is that we get to reconnect with old friends all over the country. Travis is one of those people. Travis and his family live just south of Denver so we decided to spend a night with our almost long-lost friend. Travis and his wife Liz are the proud parents of two entirely edible boys, Issac and Caleb. We woke up on the 11th to Issac climbing running into our room: “Wakie-Wakie! Eggs and Bakie!”. Now, under any normal circumstances Melanie would have growled darkly and round-house kicked anything making that much noise that early. But, because it was a sweet high-voiced certain round-faced little boy, Melanie’s heart jumped out of her chest, poured rainbows and pink bunnies in the air and melted into a puddle in Issac’s palm. “Hi, girls!” And it was off to the Kitchen for breakfast.

While Sara helped Issac get breakfast ready…

Melanie snuck upstairs to get Caleb ready for breakfast…

Ok, I confess, I ate every single one of those fat little baby toes.  I blew rasperries in his belly, and was completley mushy-gushy-baby-noises-silly-faces-absolutely-enamored-with-this-9month-old.”

After breakfast Issac decided to show us his newest trick….


He can Wink!

Winking!
Issac went to School and we convinced Travis to take the day off work and take his youngest son to the Denver Art Museum.

And now….for the moment you have all been waiting for….We reveal…the BEST CAPPUCCINO of CoffeeInAction: Road Trip 2008…..(drum roll please)…..

The award goes to….the cafe on the second floor of the Denver Art Museum. Yes, we were surprised too – museums are not known for their high quality coffee but Novo Coffee operates the cafe and Hanna, the barista, simply blew us away with her double cap and awesome stripped socks. (No pictures allowed in the museum – sadface.)

We finished our SUPURB cap and said good by to Sir Roundface McGigglepants and his father. It was time to head to Allegro.

Allegro was the biggest coffee roaster we were going to see on this trip, and this fact alone peaked our interest. We wanted to see how a larger wholesale company operated (and see the big machines, heh, heh, heh). Most people who know of Allegro know it because they are the primary roaster for Whole Foods Markets.

Holly met us in the large comfortable first floor cafe, where she introduced us to Laura Bullock who gave us a tour of the facility.


Allegro is a company interested in social responsibility and environmental sustainability.  Their main faciltiy in Colorado is 100% wind powered.  Their website explains more about their buying practices and their business philosophy.  You can check out their “Socially Responsible Score Card” here

We spent most of our time milling around in the Cupping Lab. Apparently word of our visit got around the office because over the next hours almost everyone in house, from Allego President, Chris Thorns to the entire marketing staff (Hi Mike, Tara, Jeff, Heather, Holly, and Laura!) came down to say Hi and chit-chat with the “Coffee girls”.

Heather Zapletal, the Director of Sales, started to set up for a “scent” training, with hundreds of small bottles each filled with a different scent. We all got to try our hand at guessing the smells – its really hard to tell “browning sugar” from “caramel”; there was even “earth” smell (which Sara identified as beets) and “basmati rice”.

We ended the night back at our beloved Kate’s house and hit the hey early because our morning would come too soon.

-Melanie and Sara Rose.

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 People of the Internet: We like you.  And we like talking with you.  Somtimes on this blog we get to dialogue back and forth with our readers.  Sometimes, as with the Class on Fire, we decide the conversation is so good we want to move it to the public arena and make it a post of its very own.

Below is a comment from Person of the Internet: Jason.  His comment hit on one of the major topics of debate in the coffee world.  Does “aware” coffee taste as good as other coffees? Below is Jason’s question as well as a response from both Sara and Melanie – so three voices in all.  While the questions are posed in response to Jason – we really are asking you, the consumers and blog readers for your thoughts.

Jason – Thanks for your poignent question and for sparking this discussion. 

Jason Says:

 “Just wondering….. I’ve read about your adventures and the seemingly endless search for “eco-friendly” coffees and proprietors of such beverages, but…I was just wondering if anywhere in your journey you were actually going to do your tastebuds a favor and seek out some gooooood coffee and actually share that information with the world. This information would be just as valuable as know the recycling practices of said places. I myself am not interested in spending my hard earned dollars on an inferior product simply because the seller pushes hype and marketing over quality. I’m certain that there are plenty of places that place value on providing a great product along with being socially responsible. Maybe in the future you could also provide an evaluation of beverages consumed… I think you could.”

Sara Says:

“Hi Jay

Thanks for reading our blog!  We have been searching for eco-friendly coffees and businesses that think about the environment and the people impacted along the way, and we have had an amazing trip. 

Some of the coffee we have had has been amazingly delicious, while some of the coffee has been sub-par.  I  feel the exact same way you do about quality coffee…that is partially why we have dedicated all this time to seeking out coffee.   As well as tasting better, higher quality coffee can help people become more aware of what they are drinking. 

I would love to know more about your thoughts on marketing and hype in the eco-friendly coffee world.  We have seen a lot of instances where a business said one thing but did another, etc…
As for our blog, we decided to keep a positive spin in our writing.  We are not out there to criticize people or tell them how to run their own business.  The knowledge we want to share is about responsible consumerism.  We have also found that what tastes good to one might not taste good to another.  What do you think?”

Melanie Says:

“Hey Jason. You can see by the fact that we both are compelled to respond that you are asking an essential question. 

My thought is to challenge a different assumption (not saying that you have this belief, just that we encountered it a lot):
If coffee is eco/people friendly, does it necessarily mean that its not high quality?  In my opinion the two are not mutually exclusive.  On our trip we had some amazing coffees and some pretty not-so-amazing coffees in both the “aware” and “conventional” categories.

Three people we met on the trip offered what I find to be great perspectives on this matter: (who all supply delicious coffee)

1) From Global Village coffee (Chapel Hill, NC) –   You have two tomatoes: one grown on a large farm using pesticides, chemical fertilizers and mechanical planting process.  The other from a local farm, organically produced, sun ripened, hand picked – which do you choose? 

Many people would choose the one from the organic farm – the assumption being that its redder in color, smaller in size and will probably be juicer and taste better.  Why do we not use the same thought process when it comes to coffee? 

From what I understand of the coffee farming process (which is still small), it takes more effort and attention to grow the coffee plants organically or in an environmentally friendly way.  Wouldn’t that extra love enhance the taste of the coffee? Or to put it another way – how would producin organic or “aware” coffee hurt  the coffee? 

2) From Higher Grounds (Leeds, AL) and echoed by Cuvee Coffee (Spring, TX) – These folks said their ideal would be to have all coffee produced with social and environmental awareness and then let the quality of coffee be the factor that determines which companies succeed. 

I also want to second Sara’s question – is fairly traded, enviro/people friendly coffee hype, marketing, a personal purchasing philosophy, a trend, a way of life, or all of the above and more?  Why do you choose, or choose not, to buy products that have a certification or that you know were sourced responsibly?

Lastly,  in any community you have a choice about how to contribute;  we choose to contribute to the coffee community by highlighting the positive and good people and coffees that we come across.  Bad press is just not our style.  If we have a cup that’s bad, we simply don’t mention it.  If the cup is amazing, we usually say so.  (But, just because we don’t say something about the coffee at a particular place, it does not mean the coffee is bad.)  In our lives and on this blog we try to keep our attention on the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful.

 Thanks for reading – comment at will.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

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People of the Internet: I need you all to clap your hands and say “Yay Sara!” for on March 9th, 2008 Sara Rose mastered the art of bike riding and her life will be forever changed! But that comes later in the story, first come all the wake up, get dressed eat breakfast kind of things.

The two of us were sharing a bed when Kate came in and pounced us awake! We three lay around for a while chatting and laughing; basking in the glory of our trio united. We rolled out of bed and began breakfast preparations. Lightly sautéed vegetables laid on a bed of fresh baby spinach; half a sweet and juicy grapefruit; eggs-in-a-basket; with homemade cappuccinos. Close friends gathered around a sunshine soaked table on Sunday morning. Thank you world for this moment.

The Plate.Spring sun.

Chris and his roommate Matt live in a house with 10 bikes. 4 people, 10 bikes. Being cycle enthusiasts, She’s a natural!they proposed we bike into Ft. Collins to get our mid-morning cup o’joe, and we were all gung-hoe about it….well….almost all. Sara was psyched but she had her reservations, she had only been on a bike two times before in her life, each time involved a fearful fall. But she was confidant and ready to try again. Along the bike bath, under bridges, past puppies and strollers, hang a right on to the street, cruise in the bike lane (that means next to traffic), hop on to the side walk and lock up the bike. Sara was a rockstar! When we got to the Beancycle, a bicycle themed coffee shop, we were all so excited about Sara’s accomplishment that the barista treated her to coffee on the house! Thanks Beancycle! (I promise to cut back on the “!”s from now on)

The sun was still shining brightly so we decided to stroll the streets of Fort Collins.Nosey Bear! Once we had posed with statues and explored nature and toy stores for a while it was time to eat again! We moseyed on over to the Ft. Collins Food Coop for more fresh produce and other organic snacks. With our tummies sufficiently satiated we hopped back on the bikes and rolled home. A pleasant pedestrian called out to us, as our clan cycled by “Yeah! You go, get some spring!” Thank you stranger! (So I lied about the “!”, but hey, there fun!)

It was time for us three ladies to head to Boulder so we snapped a family photo, exchanged bear hugs and headed south.

Say “Cheese”

Seeing as we didn’t really eat lunch, low blood sugar hit us as we arrived in Boulder. Unable to make cooking decisions we headed down to a Tibetan restaurant where we were joined by a fellow Clark Alum, Brian.

A bright exciting day melted into a warm cozy night and we all drifted happily out of one dream world into the next.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

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March 8th, 2008
First Day in Colorado!

Driving out of New Mexico into the breaking dawn; the inky midnight sky evolved into deep hazy blue. A slight glow cresting in the distance beckoned us on, “sunshine is coming, this will be a good day”. The horizon brightened in the East and Melanie drifted in and out of dreamy sleep as Sara drove on.

Switch.

big sky country

Big skies and bold mountains held Melanie’s attention.woah!

Sara slept. And slept. And slept. sleeeeeeeping
…and then…
We finally arrived in Denver. We went straight to see Kate and Rachel. Laughter and loving ensued. We were only able to hug Rachel before she flew away back to Northampton. Since the supposed 9 hour drive only took us 6, we had a few hours to relax. What do people on a coffee tour do? Go to coffee shops of course. Kate’s friend directed us over to St. Marks Coffeehouse. Once again, our coffee was paired with excellent conversation while sitting outside in the sunshine. 300 days of sun in Colorado seemed to be coming true for us.

 

Kate took over driving up to Fort Collins since our clutch muscles were cramped. The sunshine continued as we unloaded at our friend Chris’ house.

The evening took us over to a business that enlightened our environmental minds. The New Belgium Brewing Company, besides making some incredibly tasty beer, focuses on the same things that CoffeeInAction does: environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and community; the three seeds. Their website, which is also pretty cool, lists what they are doing to be more conscious on a day to day basis. Check out their sustainability practices:

  1. Increased efficiencies in the brewing process
  2. Utilized green design throughout our building
  3. Implemented a process for treating our wastewater
  4. On-site energy production
  5. Wind-powered electricity since 1999
  6. Employ a High Involvement Culture
  7. Sustainable Eventing
  8. Actionable Advocacy
  9. Constant benchmarking
  10. Partnering to support innovative technology

We learned a lot at the brewery in Fort Collins and while exploring the website. According to our host Chris jobs at New Belgium are hard to come by because they provide ownership into the company after a year and support riding your bike to work by giving each employee/owner a new bike!

p3080188.jpg Chris and Kate

p3080201.jpg three united!

– Sara Rose and Melanie

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Logs and Figures
10:06 am or 9:06 am (at some point we crossed a time zone) – Welcome to New Mexico :). We see snow 😦.
12:24 am – First view of the Rockies

 

Thank you Albuquerque for your sunshine; helpful men in hard hats; long-walks (but not on the beach) and interesting tourist attractions. We GPS-ed the city center and found a cozy spot for Suzie. The aforementioned hard hats pointed us in the direction of “Old-Town” and the bus to take us there. We decided to walk (according to Atlanta-ites, that’s because we are from New York). Seeing snow earlier in the day had made us so sad, but the sun helped us quickly warm up so we removed our jackets and sweaters.  Yay! We wandered the streets of the old city for a while, admiring turquoise, hot peppers and blankets – then we needed coffee. 

On our friend Kerry’s recommendation we headed over to R B Winning coffee next to the University of New Mexico. Our overextended former student selves felt a little bit at home around all those students. The mix of community: hippy to hipster, baby to professor, and student to professional, was welcoming and comforting. The barista’s knew almost everyone in the store and our travel mugs got us an automatic discount (good for our wallet AND good for the environment – sweet)!

Our last stop that evening was the Brubaker’s of Santa Fe. Lauren, Lida, and Kate live in the mountains. We spent the evening relaxing and chatting. We were even taken to the portal.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

 

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Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Logs and Figures
1:34 pm – Welcome to Oklahoma
3:58 pm – We see snow for the first time in 4 weeks. Sad faces all around.

Making the left turn onto a familiar street in Tulsa Melanie consults the GPS again, and then takes out a map. “We are in the right place, but it looks all wrong.” The neighborhood which Melanie remembers looking like a quaint English town with tree-lined streets and green, softly rolling lawns looks more like ice storm disaster zone. Branches strewn all over the place, entire trees cut into large pieces on people’s lawns, and the trees in the medians trimmed to about 4 feet in height.

Melanie:

I met the Stanbaughs back in October. The youth programs I work on have a two week long home-stay component for the students. In October we brought a group of Serbian students to Tulsa and I had the option to stay in a hotel or with a host family of my own. Easy choice – host family, of course! What better way to get to know a city then through people who live there (which is also a major premise behind Couch Surfing)? I lucked out, man. Being with the Stanbaughs felt natural, fun, loving, comfortable (the list goes on). Basically, they are the best you could ask for. When Sara and I decided to take this roadtrip I knew I had to see them again; they feel like family now and I really want Sara to meet them.

The story continues…..

We cooked dinner and played board games with the family all night long. People of the Internet: you must play Ticket to Ride some day, it’s the best game ever. Not too much happened on the coffee front but the Stanbaugh’s home was good for the soul.

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

FIRE!

Yes, today was the day we had long been waiting for. We learned to WELD. Metal and Sparks and Big Helmets! It was fun. We are women who like power tools and big machines. Ok, you need context:

We spent all day Tuesday with Dan Joliff and the awesome dudes of the US Roaster Corps. Our day with Dan was full of experiential learning opportunities, the best kind. The Roasters Exchange is a building and repair facility for coffee roasters. Side note: the person who roasts coffee, the machine that does the roasting, and the facility that holds the machine and the person are all called ROASTERS.

Our first flame of the day came from the test roaster. Dan coached us a bit and then let us run a roast or two under his watchful gaze. TutoringThe company tests all of their machines before they send them ouSample Roastert to customers so they have a wide variety of green beans available to test the machines on. Neither of us had seen low grade Robusta beans before; it was an incredible learning experience. High quality green beans are well washed, well sorted and even in color. These low quality beans had sticks and pebbles in the sack with them, were littered with black rotted beans as well as unripe tan/white beans. Holding the dirty beans really gave us an appreciation for the effort and attention that goes into creating a well made bag of coffee seeds.

 

Bad Beans!

Once he trusted us not to destroy the good coffee beans, Dan moved us up to a larger machine. We liked the BIG MACHINE. One of the highlights from the day was walking around the factory looking at all the machines in pieces. There were a few antique roasters around (and we mean the machines this time), it was fascinating to look into the old machines and really learn the mechanics of it all.

Roaster face

Body

Cooling tray

 

 

Drum
Antique Roaster survived Katrina
Peek-a-boo

For Me? Thanks!

Continuing our day of hands-on learning we moved to the metal wPower Ranger!orking section of the factory. If you ever want to feel powerful, learn to weld. FIRE, harnessed, is awesome! Here you have two pieces of steel, STEEL – superman is made of steel, this stuff is strong. With just a few moments of effort these two pieces of metal were stuck together. And we did it! We stuck the metal together! That’s power. Heh-heh-heh.

view from inside the helmet Melting Metal

 

Banana Curls, Puffy sleeves, BIG METAL HEAD???????

 

We did it!Thanks Guys!

 

The HopperWe played with metal for half-an-hour then Dan had some roasting orders he needed filled for the factory shop. He let us roast the rest of the beans that day – about 10 batches in all. We took turns operating the machine until our stomachs were rumbling as loud as the roaster.
Go, Roaster, Go!

 

Hee-Tee!!

Our learning cycle was complete during dinner at Toby Keiths. A few months back Dan told us via e-mail that we “could not come to Oklahoma City and not go to Toby Keith’s”, to which Sara replied “What’s a Toby Keiths”? Toby Keith, for those of you who don’t know, is a country singer and he also has a string of restaurants. We dined at one of his establishments that evening. The dish was so big we shared it and still couldn’t finish. A hard days work earned a great meal.

The night ended at the home of our Couch Surfing hosts, Matt and Amanda. Matt works as the Director of a Kayak Center in the middle of Oklahoma City. Who knew there was Kayaking in Oklahoma? Matt, that’s who knew.

We ended the day significantly smarter then we started. Thanks OKC!

Melanie and Sara Rose

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March 2nd, 2008.
Logs and Figures

Coffee/espresso drinks: 113
Bathroom stops: 104
12:41 pm: Suzie hits 3000 miles

Our time in Austin had to be short since we had a date with fire in Oklahoma City. Arriving around 2 pm, our goal was to hit up at least 3 coffee shops before night fall. Our first caffeination destination was Progress Coffee where clean white walls, a hip, modern feel and bright accents greet you as you walk in the door.

Tyler, the adorable and scruffy red-headed manager, told us about the environmentally friendly practices of Progress. They use bio-degradable to-go containers and utensils made from potato starch. We were both really impressed to hear that none of the products at Progress have corn syrup or hydrogenated oils and that all of the cleaning products are eco-friendly. Love it! Icing on the cake? The employees benefit from the socially responsible policies of the store; all staff is paid a minimum of $9.00 per hour, plus have an option for health insurance.

The owner, Josh Bingaman, was not around so Tyler handed us a copy of L Style/G Style magazine where Progress is featured in the March/April 2008 issue. G Style describes Josh as “Open-minded, enlightened and welcoming…” and highlights the environmental sustainability of his store and the way he welcomes all members of Austin’s community into the café. Progress pairs their fair trade organic coffee with the use organic food sourced from local farms. To extend that connection, Josh joined the board of the Sustainable Food Center and hosts fundraisers for a variety of charities in the Progress space, including an event for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Progress’s progress was made clear in both the article and from our experience inside the café. As you cozy up to the counter to order your drink, you find yourself next to fire-engine red bike (its an awesome cruiser!) with a sign advertising the Hill Country Ride For Aids. According to G Style, this is the first bike out of 13 to advertise the event in Austin. Progress will sponsor several riders from the Progress Cycling Community Club in this year’s event. Community in Austin ran (er…wheeled) right into us!

On the way to our next fix we stopped to meet Trevor, our Couch Surfing host for the evening. Trevor needed a place to do some work and was intrigued by CoffeeInAction, so he came with us to our second caffeination. Meeting with Sharla Megilligan, the founder of Dominican Joe on the sun-soaked patio was a relishable experience. The bright rays warmed our cheeks while the espresso tingled our taste buds.

The concept of Dominican Joe’s captivated us, and we had lots of questions for Sharla. First, Sharla and her business parter Mehul Patel founded Makarios, “a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities and vocational training for the impoverished in the Dominican Republic and Haiti”. A while later they decided they wanted to be able to have an even greater positive impact in the DR. They wanted employ another type of business model in order generate greater returns on the coffee the farmers produce. Their website explains that by “…Skipping the large corporate middle-man, Makarios works directly with farmers in the region and pays them higher wages and supports their communities in an effort to develop self-sustaining skills for the future.” The money earned though this trading system is used to support educational programs in the farming communities.

Sharla had to run, so we went back inside and took some pictures. Behind the counter stands a big sign that reads

sweet signage The t-shirts sport the motto “drink coffee, change the world”. We like that!

p3160363.jpg p3160364.jpg

Proudly displayed throughout the store are pieces of pottery and art from the Dominican Republic as well as many recycling bins.

 

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Kristin, one of the managers, sat with us and told us about her experience working at Dominican Joe’s while Sara sipped on fresh squeesed limeade (an incredibly refreshing comfort food after living on an island for a year). Kristin explained that employees are encouraged to learn more about the Dominican Republic through Sharla’s first hand accounts and are given opportunities to travel with Makarios to origin. We found out that Dominican Joe’s is involved with the Texas School for the Deaf: a high school student interns four days a week.

This interesting pairing of non-profit organization and for-profit coffee shop fosters the education of coffee consumers about the farming regions as well as education for farmers in their communities. Education for all, and we support it!

After picking up our travel mugs from Caffe Medici we met up with Emma, a Clark U friend and fellow Couch surfer, at Trevor’s house and drank wine, cooked yummy veggies and tofu, reminisced and rejuvenated our minds.

whose that? p3020462.jpg action shot

Sara missed Majuro when the palm tree outside Trevor’s apartment swished in the wind during the night.

The next morning we needed some coffee on the way out so we stopped at Jo’s. Attached to a hotel on South Congress St, a hip commuting crowd patronizes the walk-up only window. Then we settled into Suzie the Saab for our long drive to Tulsa.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

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2/26 Logs and Figures

Coffee/espresso drinks: 90
Bathroom stops: 79
4:30 pm: 2000 miles

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

2/28 New Orleans Roasters

In a city that is a major port for coffee importing, there was a fairly small amount of independent coffee roasters pre-Katrina. Post Katrina there are even fewer. Bob Arceneaux and the Coffee Roasters of New Orleans was the first roasting facility to re-open post-storm. Knowing that a storm was approaching Bob and other employees has lined the entrances to the building and the parameters of the coffee roasters with sand bags. In the end the sandbags mostly served to keep the water in after the storm. Their first day back in the building was spent scooping mud and crawfish out of their machines.

Coffee Roasters of New Orleans quickly sent their bright yellow roaster off to the US Roaster Exchange to be refurbished. They borrowed a roaster, rented some space at higher elevation and got right back to work.

Here are their beautiful borrowed San Franciscans!
roaster roaster! p2280310.jpg

 

Bob gave us a tour of the facilities and even let us have a rare glance at the only items that remain from the old location:

spoon, bowl, Bob

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We spent the last hour of our time with them cupping two different Sumatran coffees. Roasters cup for a number of reasons, in this case we were cupping to decide which bean they liked better, in order to start carrying and selling that selection. Each coffee was roasted medium and dark. As coffee is roasted the flavors change and develop. In order to give each coffee a “fair chance” its roasted both ways, some coffees will taste better as a medium and some as a dark roast.

The glamorous side of cupping:
spoon…slurp…spit.

 

We could not leave New Orleans with out at least seeing the French Quarter. Strolling the old city streets in the mid-day sunshine was a perfect pleasure. We sampled some of Café Du Monde’s chicory au lait and beignets, watched adorable street performers, and saw a door Sara’s mom would adore. While we ate Po’boys at Brangelina’s favorite dive, Denali had some fun of his own.

who did that?

adorable doors

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denali and the beads p2280353.jpg

Driving through Louisiana, a little red sign stating “Coffee House” drew us a little further off the highway then we normally would go. We found a collection of old houses selling coffee and pottery, and offering a sense of nostalgia. Denali bonded with the chef and we saw a real live alligator!

 

p2280379.jpg nostalgic

be carefull Denali alligator!!!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Logs and Figures:

– We ponder Geaux Green signs in Baton Rouge…Go Green!
-6:15 pm we cross into Mississippi
-8:51 pm enter Texas at exit 877 (possibly the highest exit # we will ever see).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Driving into the Texas night we see the dim glow of city lights. Our curiosity aroused we consult the atlas to determine our location. Curiouser and curiouser, there is no city marked for miles. We crest a hill to see the orange lights splaying out far into the northern darkness and muting the stars. What is this space? What necessitates apartment buildings and football fields of orange electricity? Something unnatural is occurring here. Approaching the sci-fi city, a strange concoction of awe, fear and foreboding dominate the conversation. Deep into the monochrome maze a small white lights shines on blue writing “Goodyear”. Passing though the factory, the sound of our wheels rings loud and clear, guilt and compliance.

We are silenced.

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p2270261.jpgNew Orleans was a whirlwind of coffee, community, and collecting new knowledge. After a night of dorm-life (Melanie’s brother let us crash on the floor of his freshman room) we headed over to a coffee shop that takes supporting the local community, especially post-Katrina, deeply to heart.

Fair Grinds is located near the Fair Grounds race track. Before opening Robert removed 5 layers of wall covering until they found the original beaded board with paintings from the 1930’s.

 

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In 2002 Robert, the owner, opened the doors of a business he felt provided “a service that was applicable to, and gave back to, the local community.” He asked himself what the local community needed and wanted. He recounted a story for us which he said embodied what it meant to be part of the community.

The thing that happened in our 1st months that was so sweet…one Saturday night the only fridge in the shop went out. Word spread that the store was going to have to close until the problem could be fixed. All the customers brought the milk home and kept it in their fridges. They even brought it back the next day! That brought home the power of ownership for me.

Many of Robert’s business practices were inspired by customers and by his own experiences as a customer. Instead of opening the doors exactly at 6am, Robert lets in the few folks who arrive early. They can sit inside the warm coffee shop (especially when it is cold or raining, etc) instead of being left in the cold. He said taking ideas from the customers empowers them and helps them have a sense of ownership in their local coffee shop.

Robert has created a space where the community can come together to support one another after the storm. He also explained that time in New Orleans is separated into two periods: “before the storm” and “after the storm”. Above the busy and bustling space where coffee is prepared and served is a space used for community organized events. Two large rooms and a bathroom are filled with bookshelves, yoga mats, chairs designed by local artists and tables. The front room has two large windows that let in beautiful afternoon light.  

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While we were chatting with Robert a woman approached him about using the space for an art class. Robert explained that he charges no rent for the space. He only asks that his staff are able to attend the meetings and classes if they are interested.

Robert also facilitates connection between community members. He introduced us to a local activist and told us about the food map that developed post-Katrina to ensure access to safe, nutritious, and enjoyable food: NOFFN.ORG. During our meeting a friend of Robert’s pointed out a woman from a local apartment building who was struggling to remain in her home. Robert immediately called a lawyer who lived in the local area and a few minutes later they were sitting together just a few tables away.

Fair Grinds employs a number of environmentally friendly practices: the to-go cups for cold drinks are made from biodegradable corn starch and the baked items come from numerous local bakers, and coffee grounds are given to community gardens right near the store. When municipal recycling disappeared post-storm, Robert found a place that would recycle cardboard and newspapers.

The icing on the cake of Fair Grounds was chocolate. All the chocolate sold in the store comes from Ghana, through two different companies. Fair Grinds gets their chocolate syrups and powders from The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, which creates the finished chocolate product in-country (which is rare). We encourage you to read about the amazing work of this company by clicking on the link above; we were really impressed. Also, the chocolate bars sold in store come from Divine Chocolate: A Farmer-Owned Fair Trade Company.

Our morning at Fair Grinds was a stupendous introduction to New Orleans. We spent the afternoon with our friend Farhad talking about the struggles and successes of community building and local education post-Katrina.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

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Feb. 25, 2008

We wake up in Raleigh at an uncomfortably early hour to pack the car and head out for Atlanta, Georgia. Late that afternoon we arrive in time to meet with Chris Owens at the Counter Culture training center in Atlanta. The space is beautiful – a coffee fans fully loaded, well lit, wood floored, clean, workspace (not that wood floors have anything to do with good coffee, but we appreciate them). img_1269.jpg Chris told us about Counter Cultures free training programs and we talked at length about purchasing contracts, relationship trade and direct trade. There is a growing movement towards these forms of trade.

Relationship Trade, Fair Trade and Direct Trade are all structures that work to create a more equitable exchange of money for goods. What this means is that more money is making it back to the people who are laboring to produce the coffee beans. The general idea is to build close professional relationships with people in as many stages of the trading process as possible; farmers, coffee farming cooperatives, importers, roasters and consumers. We, CoffeeInAction, believe the ideal situation would be to know the owner of the farm and be able to purchase and import green beans (un-roasted coffee) directly from the farm. While this is the ideal, for many reasons this is not always possible.

One example of a relationship or direct model is when the roaster and farmer agree on a price for an amount of coffee. The roaster then calls an importer (who s/he would have a relationship with) and asks for that shipment to be placed. The importer is paid enough money by the roaster to cover processing fees plus a profit margin, and the beans are shipped. A small number of businesses have been able to adopt this model of trade. Throughout our trip we have seen that this concept is expanding within the field.

Almost all coffee that enters the US does so through a coffee importer/distributor. Over time a coffee distributor will learn that certain roasters are looking for certain kinds of coffee. The importer will learn more about that kind of coffee, what farms are working that way, and develop relationships with coffee farming cooperatives or individual farms that meet these requests. Sometimes after a relationship is formed this way, the loop is completed when the roaster is able to travel to origin and meet the farmers whose beans they have been roasting.

At this point many people have heard of Fair Trade: be it coffee, tea, chocolate, honey, rice, the list goes on. Fair Trade is a label given to things that have been certified by Transfair USA. On the transfair website the mission states “TransFair USA enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products.” The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) states “Fair Trade Certification has proven to be a valuable tool in providing integrity and transparency to coffee commerce and in building consumer demand for Fair Trade coffee. SCAA also recognizes that there are other ways for members to promote the concepts of equitable trade, sustainability and transparency.” As we learn more about equitable trade, we are learning how specialty coffee business around the U.S. are incorporating one or more of these concepts into their own company.

Counter Culture has a direct relationship with many coffee farms. An essential difference between relationship trade and conventional trade is the nature of the contracts. Chris explained to us that Counter Culture relationships intend to create contracts with individual farms or cooperatives to ensure that labor costs are covered, as well as the price of coffee for that season.

We walked with Chris a few blocks to Octane Coffee, a classy, modern and comfortable venue that attracts customers from all walks of lifeimg_1271.jpg (but from what we hear Atlantans don’t do much walking). M’Lissa Muckerman hosts a cupping every other Monday night. On the off weeks she organizes tastings, studies, and other events. That evening a water tasting was taking place. We observed, smelled, tasted and described water treated or sourced 8 different ways: filtered tap water, spring water, glacial water, mineral water, reverse osmosis, double-distilled, processed water, and soda water. The descriptions of the water and the event are artfully presented at M’lissa’s blog:

 

-Sara Rose and Melanie

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