Nano Lots within Micro Lots

Comment

Nano Lots within Micro Lots

We have been able to explore our coffees in many ways this season. Picking cherries, tracking drying progress on the drying tables, cupping results with coffee producers, and spending endless hours in the Quality Control lab, we certainly have a more complete picture and understanding of the entire process, start to finish. 

One unique approach we took with our coffees this season came in breaking down each lot by screen size and exploring where the focus lies for quality intensity. This has been quite educational to us, and we have decided to prepare several lots by individual screen size this year! 

It is difficult to prepare lots in this fashion in Ethiopia (just one lot done this way can add at least a couple days of heavily-intensive work and 14-hour days, and we are paying each worker 3x her usual fee for each day) but we feel the reward is worth the effort for several special coffees. The dynamic cup complexity this approach offers us is remarkable. 

For example, screen 16 of our Guji Kercha Dubisa delivers a lovely dose of watermelon soda, lemon balm and vanilla cream, while screen 15 sharpens that focus to a watermelon candy, lemon zest and warming vanilla. The character in screens 13/14 intensifies into regional Ethiopian herbs like tan’adam and koseret. Separating and experiencing each screen size expands the variation and concentration, and each screen becomes its own unique cup profile. On the roasting end, you will be able to isolate variables and maximize consistency in development due to the extreme regularity (both screen size and density) of these tiny lots. Additionally, by preparing many of our coffees by screen size this year, it creates opportunities for nano lots within micro lots. Many of our customers already in the know on these projects are securing lots but we have some still to be explored, so get in touch for details! We absolutely recommend forward booking on some of these very limited lots.

Quality Control Manager overseeing screen size sorting in Addis

Quality Control Manager overseeing screen size sorting in Addis

Comment

New Ethiopian Coffees Arriving Soon (Info + Booking)

Comment

New Ethiopian Coffees Arriving Soon (Info + Booking)

Eyachew Zinabu

Eyachew Zinabu

Get Ready!

This coffee season in Ethiopia is not disappointing. In fact, I dare say that this has been one of the most incredible seasons for Ethiopian coffee in many years. Since we spent the entire harvesting/processing season working on site, we have been able to implement detailed protocols and progressive experiments, from better cherry acquisition for washing stations and process control points, to storage improvements and dry mill procedures. We have some ridiculously sparkling naturals coming in from all over Ethiopia, including some crazy tricks from our partnerships with Reko Koba in Kochere and Semalo Pride in Gelana Abaya.  We just cupped the first warehouse samples of Honey lots from these washing stations, and we are all in for a treat. 

Tiret Cooperative

On the other side of the country, in the Gololcha District of Harar, the Tiret Cooperative has come through many difficulties this season. Unseasonal rains have diminished harvest returns by up to 60% for some producers. Deribe Wubayehu, one of the cornerstones of quality in the Cooperative, lost 20% of his coffee farm from a major landslide. This event shifted the flow of a mountain spring river right through the middle of his land. He used it as an opportunity to build a water-powered mill for his corn production. The coffee that he was able to produce is tasting better than ever. These producers are incredibly hard-working and resilient, and their coffees are increasingly better each year we have the privilege of partnering with them. Community leader Abebayehu is currently in Dire Dawa with Zelalem, our Relationship and Quality Manager in Ethiopia. They are preparing farmer lots for export, and the first reports of micro lots are coming back as Grade 1!!! (This is a big deal FYI, and shows a huge improvement in their production over last year.)

We still have a few bags of current crop microlot coffees from the Tiret Cooperative: contact us to check them out for yourself.

Stay tuned as many new lots begin leaving Ethiopia.

Forward booking is available and encouraged for anybody interested in securing these coffees. 

Comment

2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip Recap

Comment

2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip Recap

Yep, folks, we made history last week.
Not such a bizarre claim when it comes down to it.
See this face? 

That's Shimelis Abebe, a coffee farmer in Gololcha, Harar, cupping coffee for the first time. (That's his brother Tegeney next to him. Tegeney won a goat in a bet from Ytegessu: his coffee scored higher.)

This historic cupping, the first ever in the area, is just the beginning of the excitement from our 2017 Ethiopia Origin Trip. So buckle up and grab some coffee... here we go!

The Who

Yeah, it's crooked. I don't think the mill worker quite had the knack yet. L-R (Front row): Mike Stemm (Dominion Trading), Neal Mead (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Emily McIntyre (Catalyst), Bonnie & Brent Kennedy (Bend Roasting Co.), dude with a great shirt, Eshetu (Qonqona mill management), Michael McIntyre (Catalyst). Back row: gentleman with killer suspenders, David Biller (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Matthias (Operations manager), Charley Austin (Happy Cup), Dean Falleti (Upper Left Roasters), Tom Kennedy (Kennedy Coffee), Chris Alspach (Upper Left Roasters), and Zelalem Girma (Dominion Trading).

Yeah, it's crooked. I don't think the mill worker quite had the knack yet. L-R (Front row): Mike Stemm (Dominion Trading), Neal Mead (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Emily McIntyre (Catalyst), Bonnie & Brent Kennedy (Bend Roasting Co.), dude with a great shirt, Eshetu (Qonqona mill management), Michael McIntyre (Catalyst). Back row: gentleman with killer suspenders, David Biller (Extracto Coffee Roasters), Matthias (Operations manager), Charley Austin (Happy Cup), Dean Falleti (Upper Left Roasters), Tom Kennedy (Kennedy Coffee), Chris Alspach (Upper Left Roasters), and Zelalem Girma (Dominion Trading).

Sidama

For only 8 days on the ground, we crammed an enormous number of miles, smiles, and cupping vessels in. Our first leg of the trip focused on the Bensa region of Sidama, where we visited several wet mills and had the chance to introduce our American friends with the folks who've been caretaking and processing their coffees. For several folks in our crew, it was a first origin trip, which made everything extra-special and gave real weight to moments like this one, when the Upper Left crew met Samson, the manger of the mill that produced their Aleta Wondo coffee.

DSCF7640.jpg

As a coffee person, I can make a safe bet you have either visited or seen photos from the Aregash Lodge near Yirgalem, Sidama. I just wrote a long and poetic essay about the place for Fresh Cup Mag so I won't lay the whole thing on you here, but suffice it to say that the Aregash is not just a place where you can count on the salads not destroying you (a big deal here!) but also a place full of love and welcome and careful attention to detail. We held a dance party and a cupping here.


Yirgacheffe / Kochere

If you follow Catalyst at all, you'll have heard us talk a lot about Reko Koba and Semalo Pride mills, two projects in which we are providing many services, including efficiency analysis, experimentation and process control, training, and photography/storytelling. We will be bringing these coffees to our customers this year, so sit tight.

The drive is long and wild—ill-made, unfinished asphalt roads give way to rough gravel... the body grows weary and the mind reels with culture shock and the constant high-pitched, "You you you!" from local urchins hoping for a handout. After the road winds deep into the country, we climbed past the symmetrical lines of trees in forest reserves and to the marvelous field—that's Field with a capitol 'F'!—that leads to Pride Mill. Check it out!

We visited Reko Koba and Semalo Pride mills in the same day; the management team from both mills met us in the city of Dilla, where we held a cupping; for each, it was their first. The coffees were MIND-BLOWING and the afternoon was incredibly special as American roasters and Ethiopian coffee workers got to share in a mutual appreciation and evaluation of their coffee.

Gololcha, Harar (Tiret Cooperative)

And then it was time for us to drive (and drive, and drive) up over the beautiful skeleton of the earth to the remote community of Gololcha, Harar, where we held the cupping mentioned above. I could go into so much detail, and probably will in future writings. It was definitely one of the 'you had to be there' moments that will bear important fruit in the world.

75 farmers and government coffee workers gathered together with us in an overcrowded, hot hall and we cupped 19 TCPCA coffees together. We had brought all the cupping supplies with us, and Abebeyahu rented a generator to power the hot water tower we brought. (Chug, chug little engine... it took forever with the weak current to get to temp!)

As we cupped, we walked them through each part of the process, explaining what was happening and most importantly, WHY it mattered to them. And everybody who wanted to took a turn before we lifted the lids and learned the names on each lot. There were some surprises. A few farmers had lower scores than expected. A few, much higher. For each there was a reason which we discussed, calling out and recognizing each individual's hard work and tiret, or best effort.

Lots of other stuff happened on this trip. Eire made friends on the coffee farms. (This one is Ytigessu's)

We posed for cheesy coffee photos.

DSCF8549.jpg

And we drank lots and lots of Habesha beer.

You should join us next time.

Comment

Tips & Tricks from Catalyst Coffee (#1)

1 Comment

Tips & Tricks from Catalyst Coffee (#1)

Greetings and Happy New Year from Catalyst Coffee!

2017 is here. Let's start the new year with some tips and tricks for coffee success!


Marketing/Blogging Images
We've all stumbled upon images such as this in our travels on coffee websites,  blogs, or marketing material. Poor quality, uneven roasting, roast defects, oh my. Don't be that company! Get yourself some high quality, marketable, images to use for your various media formats. Where? Pixabay (Free Stock Images)Flickr Commons (Attribution Only), and of course we fine folks at Catalyst have hundreds, if not thousands, of images you can use (like this one, which Emily took a month ago in Yirgacheffe). Do me a solid too and do not Google Gank your images (you wouldn't steal a car...you wouldn't steal a purse...you wouldn't use Google Image Search to steal coffee photos). Give credit where credit is due and use high quality, beautiful, roast defect-free images.

Building out that New Space or Just Starting

I wrote a series of articles from Daily Coffee News on starting your first roasting operation. For those of you looking to expand into a new space or legitimately starting a shop, have a read and get off on the right foot with your favorite health inspector. If you have any questions, reach out. I've seen it all. A roaster falling through the floor of an old warehouse? Check. HVAC not aligning? Check. A natural gas ready roaster being hooked up to a propane tank? Check (Don't do that).

SASNANS and SASNAR Oh My

This article from my friend Andy Newbom (Dropbox Download as the original article is gone from the IP Coffee Blog) gives you a wonderful overview of contract terms. If you have questions about your contract or want to learn how to book coffee ahead, let me know, or email at andrew@catalystcoffeeconsulting.com.

The Futures Market

I'm one of those weird roasters who also loves spreadsheets and futures markets. If you want to learn a little about this market, increase your negotiating and buying prowess, and become a market nerd like me, visit Khan Academy. They have a series of free classes that explain the futures markets, options, hedging, and other concepts you will want to know and understand as your company grows.

Finally, Safety First

Did you know OSHA offers free, no fine or punishment, inspections? They do and I highly recommend you contact your local OSHA office and schedule one. Industrial Hygiene and Safety inspectors will visit your facility and provide suggestions to improve worker safety, maintain your equipment, and keep your ears and lungs performing at their best. At the very least, get yourself some N95 masks and ear plugs. You'll thank me 30 years from now (preferably with a bag of coffee).

Happy New Year from all of us at Catalyst!

- Andrew Russo

1 Comment

Coffee (Buna) Ceremony

1 Comment

Coffee (Buna) Ceremony

Every culture is unique: Ethiopia's is more so. Over the years in this Eastern Africa country, many cultures have touched and exchanged motifs, phrases, food, and ideas, while still preserving the truly autonomous culture that refused colonization, alone in the continent. Next to the old man sitting beneath his vibrant purple shawl to guard a gate, patience writ across his face and a dazzling white lace prayer cap on his head, is a Land Rover of a new model and a driver with Ray-bans. Young men talk on their cell phones while driving donkey carts.

One cultural motif that appears everywhere—as insidious as frankincense in the wind–is the coffee, or buna, ceremony. Here in the land where coffee was discovered growing wild many centuries ago the ritual of preparing coffee has reached a fine point. In every home, from dirt floor to marble, you will find the charcoal burner, jabena pot, and tray with sini cups that form the ritual.

pouring-smaill.jpg

"Here, we always drink coffee together." my host tells me. "We are very connected with our neighbors, and we have buna and talk about life." Ceremonies can last for hours as the coffee is roasted, ground, brewed, and drunk. It is an essential safe place for the new and the old to meet, with nearly all 82 tribes uniting in ritual around Ethiopia. In rural areas it is part of witchcraft ceremonies, the smoke an offering to the spirits.

This week I had the privilege of experiencing my first Ethiopian buna ceremony. As a coffee professional of 8 years and counting, to spend the winter with my husband and daughter in the birthplace of coffee is highly romantic, a rich coming-home that I little expected when I said yes to the opportunity. 

Our friend is a busy man in the export business. He first took us to his home to share white honey from his origin-place in the north of Ethiopia, Tigray. And then he offered us coffee. I said yes out of instinct: I had forgotten what that means here. He pulled up chairs for us in the courtyard and his wife began to drag out the geometric green-and-white mat, the white cupboard with six small white cups and saucers, the frankincense burner, the charcoal stove (medijah), the skillet filled with green coffee, and the straw fan for waving away smoke. She had a faint smile on her face as she began the ceremony.

I've been around a lot of roasting coffee and I'm familiar with its smells, sounds, and presence. But this experience was far more visceral. The beans rustle in the pan, back and forth, back and forth. The occasional flip of the wrist sends them into the air and collapsing back into the shallow skillet. The fire crackles and thick grey wisps of smoke rise to blow into our eyes, heavy with the chunks of frankincense, til now to me merely a mythical spice and now an unforgettable olfactory memory. We talk peacefully among ourselves, the sun dappling the children's cheeks as they run around us. When the coffee hits first, then second crack, it is startlingly loud. Our hostess begins fanning rapidly with a circular woven straw mat as the coffee darkens, oils surface, and finally it is held out to each guest to wave the smoke to his or her nose and nod approvingly.

In our brewing we emphasize keeping coffee from overextraction: we recommend using a timer, and brews are usually between 3 and 4 minutes. In buna, though, the coffee is boiled, poured into another vessel and back into the ornate pot, boiled and poured again, and over and over until the kadami (buna maker) deems it finished. A tiny amount of coffee is poured then from one small cup into the next until all have been coated with oily brown liquid, and then they are filled to the brim and handed with grace to each guest to be enjoyed at leisure.

The coffee is thick with particulates, especially at the bottom of the cup, and has a bracing woody hit on the palate. I know I'm lucky that this time around, the coffee is drawn from a Grade 2 Yirgacheffe sample our friend had on hand from the recent harvest cycle: often the coffee is local reject market (the scrapings of the quality barrel, in other words). White sugar is offered with each cup. Popcorn is eaten by the handful while the ceremony proceeds.

For me, coming from my hometown of Portland, Oregon, where I spend my days emailing, making hard decisions, interfacing with businesses, and trying hard to juggle the labor with parenthood and a healthy life, the buna ceremony offers a window into a kind of leisure I find I value more than I knew: a sweetness in everyday life and a magic found in familiar moments. Over the next few months I know I will partake in many more buna ceremonies, and each will be different while still calling forth the countless other ceremonies around this beautiful Ethiopian community worldwide. And further, the grace of buna will bestow an intention on my coffee preparation at other times. As I sleepily grind my coffee, measure and brew through my pourover, and drink with the day's first batch of emails, I will breathe a little deeper and remember the hard and beautiful lives of my friends in the Horn of Africa. The grace of buna, like the grace of the Ethiopian people themselves, can suffuse us in every facet of our lives, if we let it. 

— Emily McIntyre


1 Comment

Andrew Russo Joins Catalyst

Comment

Andrew Russo Joins Catalyst

Welcome to Catalyst's new blog!

origin updates - customer & producer profiles - technical exploration


In the time I've known Andrew Russo, I've never seen him boast or put someone else down. In an industry full of blather, that in itself is a recommendation.

But there's a lot more to Andrew than quiet competence, as you will see in the months to come. We've been trying to recruit Andrew on the down-low for a while now, following his innovative foray into online coffee education (Craft Coffee Institute), his well-researched writings on Probat's history and the pitfalls of planning a roastery, and his Save Lekali foundation, for which he raised $23,000 single-handedly and got every penny through to the village with 100% traceability for donors. We're impressed by his coffee cupping and roasting skills, his selfless volunteering in times of disaster through Team Rubicon USA, and his devotion to his family. We're excited that he's pursuing an advanced degree in nonprofit management and that he's a relentless history buff. We're vaguely intimidated that he's an endurance athlete and casually "runs 10 miles" on an average Friday.

As Michael and I spend more and more time at origin, we know the beautiful Catalyst community of roasters, green buyers, baristas, and US-based coffee pros also deserve focus and attention. Starting today, Andrew will be transitioning into handling coffee orders, sample requests, and followups. He'll also share aspects of Quality Control and roast profile analysis with Michael. He'll take on the occasional consulting engagement. And he will apply his strong ability with systems to the sprawling, well-intentioned origin projects we are engaged in, increasing accountability and ensuring the right checks and balances are in place as we connect more and more roasters and producers who share visions.

In the days to come we will be reaching out to introduce you to Andrew and fill you in on ordering and support protocols to ensure you are well taken care of while Michael and I head to Ethiopia for the winter (more on that soon). For now, if you have the time, please take a moment to email Andrew at andrew@catalystcoffeeconsulting.com to wish him well in his new position!

- Emily McIntyre

Comment