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Archive for the ‘social responsibility’ Category

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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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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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!

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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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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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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.

Jay
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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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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