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I left my heart in San Francisco but found it again in Bolivia

To say its been a busy few weeks is a massive understatement. You may have noticed I’ve been on the quite side, so thought it might be a good time to bring you all up to date.

My mammoth trip began with a trip to San Francisco, and my first experience of trans Atlantic flight with a budget airline Norweigan air. I remember seeing that Ryanair were in the running for this franchise, and I have to say that I was pleased it was not them. Apart from having to buy the worst headphones in the world, I have to say I like cheap flights to America.
I was in San Francisco for the latest instalment of Tamper Tantrum. This was our 15th Tamper Tantrum event over the past few years, and our second time into the United States.
But before that I was lucky enough to meet up with my hero Tom Owen for a couple of hours and a recording of a podcast to come out soon for Tamper Tantrum. It was officially #tomowenday. A tour of the warehouse was enlightening, and getting to meet all the team (and its a big team at sweetmarias) just sending out green coffee.
Tom was a real gentleman and warm and insightful, an hour of amazingness. Cant wait to share it with you all.
A tour of some of the most famous coffee shops ion San Fran ensued with the highlight being Wreacking Ball and the famous and obligatory pineapple wallpaper selfie
The main event was at the Headquarters of Github, who is is a web-based Git or version control repository and Internet hosting service. It is mostly used for code. Without the jargon people store things a little like dropbox who are programmers and they are huge. There headquarters are a tech haven of table tennis tables and it equipment, and the guys and girls there were so welcoming and sharing. I got a tour of the building and made me very jealous of all their facilities.
Photo courtesy of Cris Mendoza
The event itself went super well with speakers from Hanna Neuschwander, Professor Bill Ristenpart, Trish Rothgeb, Kin Khao and a super debate with Katie Carguilo and Colleen Anunu and Myself and Mayra Orellana-Powell. Videos will be coming out in the next few months at www.tampertantrum.com
One of the speakers was my “mate” Alejandro Martinez, I always like to take pictures of him eating, just because it amuses me. Tartine bakery was amazing !!
As soon as I put down the microphone I hot footed to the apartment to pack to start a mega journey. The first flight was to El Salvador where I had a 6 hour layover. Although not meant to leave the airport, what do you do whilst in El Salvador ? Well you meet up with your friend Ernesto Menendez of La Ilusion and Alaska fame. A few hours and a good breakfast with a friend was amazing, and we chatted about so many different things, last harvest, next harvest and everything in between.
Back to the airport for a stop off at Peru and then on to La Paz at 2am in the morning. La Paz is the most unique city in the world with its space like lots and its mega thin air, breathing becomes a major chore.
4 hours after arriving the alarm clock goes off to hot foot again into a taxi to begin the annual tradition of cycling down the death road to Corico. Now a tourist attraction, with a bypass built, 15 years ago it was known as the worlds most dangerous road with many many deaths. Now you start at nearly 5000 meters above sea level and cycle your way down to around 1200 masl. I’ve done it so many times now I have lost count.
Still dangerous there have been many injuries and more than 22 cyclists have lost their lives on Bolivia’s “Death Road” since 1998. We started with snow and rain reducing visibility to nothing. Certainly the worst conditions I have ever done the ride in. The further down we got the dryer and warmer we got, with the weather clearing around half way.
Then the drive to Caranarvi. My annual trip, somewhere I look forward to every year. We arrived to rain, again a first, something I’ve not seen on this scale in Cararvi before.
A couple of days in the cupping room tasting the new crops, I think we can all be excited about the upcoming harvest. But the main event was yet to happen. In between I got to visit a few people we are buying from in Vincente and Carmelita and was all the fun.
Pedro Rodriguez our exporter started a project called “Sol de Mañana.” He has been sourcing coffee from small producers in the region for three decades. However, this steady decline of coffee production has not only put the sustainability of his export business at risk, but the future of coffee production in Bolivia is at risk of disappearing forever.
In return for joining the program “Sol de Mañana” producers take on agronomic advice, replanting old plant stock, working the land and tackling farming head on – not “just letting it happen.” And they are supported by the team at the mill in Caranrvi. The mill will try and partner them up with a roastery, Our biggest success from this has been Vincent Paye who is part of the first ten producers to have crop from the program. Hew has turned around his yields and his quality to one of our favourite coffees. But the mill decided it was time to get the other 9 involved so we held the first ever Sol de Mañana cupping competition.
All 10 coffees were put on the table and scored by and international jury of me and Joanna Alm of Drop Coffee Roasters Sweeden and a winner was decided. With the wining coffee guaranteed to be sold to one of us. All but one of the families came to the mill to watch us cup and see who would win.
From the competition we decided that next year we will work with 4 of the 10 buying all the coffee from all of their farms, and much fun was had meeting them and explaining why some did better than others. The scores were high, and I can say very easily I would have bought any of the lots, and it came down to personal cupping preferences. We also encouraged them to try the coffees and see why we preferred some to others it was a fun discussion.
But that was not enough so as soon as we cupped us, and the producers made our way to an indoor football pitch and has a game of Has Bean Vs Drop Coffee. A highly fought battle and some lucky goals from Drop meant it was a 3-3 draw. But highlights were that I had not only Tedacio Mamani on my team (who’s coffee we have bought for years and you may remember sent him a Sunderland shit back in the day) but Bebeto and his two other sons. Such a kick to play football with them.
 
But after the game the ladies inspired by joanna also asked if they could have a game so it was boys vs girls, and I managed to talk Vincente’s (Paye)son to come on my team and have a kick around (he’s a good footballer). This was far dirtier than I expected with feet flying everywhere, but another tightly fought battle needed up 1-1.
The following day was spent visiting some farms we have been working with for a couple of years in La Linda, Don Carlos and Alisitias. Great to see the development of these farms and how they have come along from the very first seedlings planted. I also brought a drone with me so I could get some amazing arial shots. These will be edited in due course 🙂
A fantastic trip, mixed with old friends a new in the north and south of America (and a little bit in the middle)

Red Giant sets off into the Sunset

The new blends launched a few months ago and you seem to be enjoying them. I know I have been.

I did a blogpost back in April explaining about our new blends and how going forwards we would be rotating and reinventing some of them. Its time for Red Giant to take a bow as we welcome in Sunset

Sunset will be the new name for RED giant, which was a replacement for Jailbreak. We changed Jailbreak a lot while it was called that, now we are just being a little more transparent that its changed its components.Its exactly the blend jailbreak mark 450 would have been (or something like that).

Blends in the ‘Red’ profile will be focused on balance, sweetness and cleanliness. It’ll is consistent, easy-to-work-with, tasty, sweet, smooth and balanced espresso.

Its made up of

50% El Salvador Argentina Washed Bourbon
25% El Salvador La Fany Washed Bourbon
25% Kenya Kiriga AB Washed

Please don’t be sad Red Giant has gone (or that Jailbreak has too). Its the same thing, just changing with the times. Just think of it as a child growing up and changing with the seasons. I hope you love it as much as we are loving it here.

You can buy it here

 

Recycling coffee bags

I think we can all agree now, that recycling is a very important part of everyday life. Resourses are not infinite, and ladfill gets, well ….. full.

Its always something thats bugged me about coffee bags, becuase of the way they are made, they can not easily be recylcled.

We have tried many different bags, but none keep the coffee as fresh as we would like, so rather than compromise the product, we have carried on regardless. This keeps me awake at night as sustainability is not only about buying coffee fairly and with ethics, its not only using organic certifications (or organic principles more on this in the coming weeks), but my being sustainable in as many areas as you can.

Se we found out about this company that will recycle coffee bags, but at a cost. This cost is out of reach of most people, so we have invested in a bag recycleing box at Has Bean. We get through a lot of bags so it’s a start.

But we have decided that if you (home or coffee shop customers) buy coffee from us, we will pay for the recycling costs of Has Bean bags all you have to do is get them back to us. Collect as many as you can and send them to us at the address below and we will do the rest.

Has Bean Coffee Ltd
Unit 16, Ladford Covert
Ladfordfields Industrial Estate
Seighford, Stafford
Staffordshire
ST18 9QL
United Kingdom

Then the collected waste will undergo extrusion and pelletisation to be moulded into various recycled plastic products.

Its not perfect, and we will see if (depending on interest) maybe rolling it out to some collection points, but every journey begins with one step, and this is our first.

In My Mug reboot

Its been months in the making (literally) but you may have noticed the past few weeks In My Mug http:/wwww.inmymug.com has changed. After 449 episodes it felt like it was really time to shake up the format. I know I’ve done this a few times (shaking it up), but this feel the most drastic and the best yet.

This week was one was one of my favourites to record, as we had the “Steve’s fun bag challenge” where a member of the team has to come in and weigh out 3 bags by eye, getting as close as they can to 250g. Its a test of speed and accuracy, where every gram over or under they get a second added t their score and then the time that its taken added on. Its not something we wild every week, but was great to get Mick on screen for the first one.

We also had our guest brewer slot this week with Katie coming on and chasing her favourite brew method and making the coffee for me. Again, great to share the awesome team we have here with you.

Each week there will be something new and different, and the aim is to keep them a little shorter than they have been in the past to keep it snappier.

I’d love you to check it out, and I’d love your feedback, and I hope if you have not watched one for a while, you will dive in you may be surprised.

Brazil nut (Wildcard)

I did a blogpost back in April explaining about our new blends and how going forwards we would be rotating and reinventing some of them. So we have Red (Jailbreak replacement and Philter) White Blend (which would be a replacement for Jaberwocky, Kicker and 1973) and Black Blend (that would be a replacement for Black and Breakfast Bomb). I’ve loved the feedback on them and on the whole everyone has embraced the new blends (and bags).

But theres the 4th blend, the place for us to play and have the fun. Dark Side of the moon has been lots of fun to play with and a coffee thats received lots of love. But its time for the first change. An in the spirit of having fun were reviving a blend we have not had for a while.

Brazil nut is a cheeky nod towards what was the very popular Perfetio and I’ve received many many many emails saying that perfetio isn’t a word and I must have accidentally slipped when typing. The truth is that I did slip but a very long time ago and the name just stuck!
In Brazil they speak Portuguese and the word ‘perfect’ in Portuguese is ‘perfeito’, when I first created this blend many moons ago I was going to go for that as the name but accidentally made a typo. Once I’d seen it there I quite liked how it looked so decided to keep it as it was, always fun creating a new word! I’m sure at the time if you searched the internet for ‘perfetio’ it would have said you couldn’t spell but now you’re shown lots of things about this blend, a giant success I think!

We have called it Brazil nut as I have already said, its a nod towards Perfetio and not a direct same blend, but its fun and I like it.

The blend is made up of

40% Brazil Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama Natural Yellow Bourbon
30% Brazil Fazenda Cachoeira da Grama Pulped Natural Canario
30% Brazil Fazenda Inglaterra Pulped Natural Bourbon
In the cup you can expect a fantastic body, loads of sweetness and creaminess, heaps of smooth milk chocolate with walnut and a gorgeous finish.

You can buy it here.

Child labour and coffee harvesting

I’ve really been enjoying writing recently, and its been great starting to publish things on the blog again. I’ve also started write a book (have I told you about my book http://coffeeography.co.uk ). I never realised writing a book could be so time consuming, so it means the flow of things here is not as prolific as I might hope.

Step in guest bloggers, I’ve asked some of my coffee friends if they want to write something on the blog for everyone to enjoy.
The first door I knocked on was that of Alejandro Martinez from Finca Argentina in El Salvador. I gave him a blank piece of paper to share thoughts he has.
Little did I realise that he was going to scribble all over that paper and draw two fingers to the world. Well maybe not that bad, but I think the piece he has written is quite controversial, and make rattle some cages and make people have opinions, but what else is a blog for than to make people have opinions.
So sit back enjoy, and read the disclaimer the thoughts and opinions shared in this blog may not be that of the blog owner 🙂 But I must admit its made me challenge many of my thoughts, and brought clearer into focus how import it is that we don’t impose our values on society’s and cultures that have different ones.

 

Child labour and coffee harvesting
By Alejandro Martinez
 

The other day I went with my family to pick coffee at the farm. A few days later, my sister-in-law and I got into an argument about the topic of kids picking coffee. Apparently, she saw a picture that my wife posted of Lucas, my son, with a basket of coffee. It seems he did not look too happy, despite my counter claims that he had a blast. You can judge for yourself, since I am attaching the picture to this post.

I feel that not everyone understands the complexity of the issue, and I thought about writing a little bit about it in order to shed some perspective from the field.

First, I do want to emphasize that it is preferable for children not to do any work. I do believe that kids should have fun and play as much as they can in their childhood. I empathize given that at my age and many years of hard work and pent-up bitterness, those days when you are young and without a worry were the best ones.

However, here is the hard reality of the rural farm worker and his family. Most workers get paid a low wage, which tends to be not sufficient to cover all basic needs. Furthermore, consider that work is often intermittent and there are times that a worker is unable to find work, sometimes for up to two or three months.

 

Now, consider the following factors:
School year is in sync with the coffee harvest: the school year usually ends about the time that the coffee harvest begins. Public schools are on vacation for the three or four months of the coffee harvest. It is not by coincidence but probably by design given how important coffee used to be in El Salvador. So, during the harvest, parents usually have no one to leave their children with given that both parents go out to pick coffee.

Children are usually not registered as workers. Kids normally are around, accompanying their parents. Heck, once I even saw an 8-month-old baby inside a basket next to her mom in the estate. I remember it vividly since he was the same age as my kid at the time. Thus, some kids will help their parents by combining their pickings with their parents. It is a way to contribute to the family income.

Picking coffee is not hazardous. No one is exposed to pesticides or toxic chemicals. The climate is mild and shade trees provide cover from the sun. There is one issue though, the weight of the coffee bag. Now, kids usually carry the amount that they can lift. In the case of my son, no more than twenty pounds…he is really skinny.

 

Finally, no one is forced to pick a minimum amount of coffee. At harvest, the coffee is paid by weight, so the more a worker picks the more he gets paid. Children are not able to pick the same amount as an adult, but it does not matter, since payment is done by weight.

So, I had a hard time explaining all this to my sister-in-law. It is easy to judge from the outside, but each family has their own unique situation. It is not popular to talk about this and I know it is a touchy subject, but I feel that we may do more harm than good if we preclude children from helping their parents around harvest time. We may even impact a child’s health if the kid goes hungry because his parents have no money to sustain him. So, why not allow them to contribute and make a better future for themselves?