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Getting back to the brewHoliday season 2008… that means CoffeeInAction has left the desperate public with nothing to buzz about. We sincerely apologize. Not to worry. The book of everything (our log and notebook from the trip) has found its way back into our loving hands. Charming Chicago is next and both Melanie and Sara were, in fact, charmed. The “Windy City” is filled with social entreprenuers, local-community oriented businesses, and of course, sustainable coffee. Not to mention good friends and great times! And I (Sara) do promise you the conclusion of our road trip, and maybe some insight into our learning by February 2009. If not, I will buy anyone who has been negatively affected by our slacking a bag of sustainable coffee when they come to visit in Boulder. Happy reading!

Personal updates en route as well.

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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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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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Driving for so many hours Sara and I can get a little loopy…

Funny Hats

But sometimes it is the road that gets a little interesting.

Its a giant something…

Giant Behind OR James and the….

 

 

 

 

One of these things is not like the other…
Its the beer!
Mom, Dad – If you really want grandkids all you have to do is visit Alabama.
Buy Babies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana came with its own adventures.
Oh No!

For a certain roaster we know…Hi Doug!
And finally, this kept us amused for a long time!
8 inches of snow in NY that day!
-Melanie (and Sara Rose)
P.S. Last week Sara and I were featured in the local Westchester newspaper and this picture was large-and-in-charge covering the top half of a page.

Yup, this picture.

Classy!

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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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