Read this

I don’t often post links to other blog posts on here. I guess maybe twitter, combined with less blog posts out there, equals less for me to post.

However, this is definitely worth a read. Written by Sebastian (of Phil & Sebastian) about his experiences in Colombia recently, I think it offers a new perspective on things there and is impressively informative without being dry.

Reflections on Coffee in Colombia

Comments are closed on this page, as any responses should be left on their blog.

The future of speciality coffee

It was hard to listen to the various presentations at the SCAA Symposium this year without thinking about what it would mean in real terms for quality coffee in the future.
I don’t profess to make particularly accurate predictions (the various annual efforts on here stand as testament to that). However, based on the various talks I would make the following guesses:

A shift in production away from diversity

Currently about 60% of the world’s coffee comes from just 4 different producing countries. I hadn’t realise the distribution was stacked that way, but these are countries that are able to apply new technologies relatively easily that will allow even greater yields without expanding the area given up to grow coffee.

My prediction (in between 10 and 20 years) would be that 60% from 4 becomes 80% from those 4 countries. Right now there is a lot of incentive to grow coffee in Brazil. Not only are prices high but exchange rates make their currency even more valuable. This will spur greater investment and a significant bump in yield. The majority of this coffee will be poor to average. Variety/genetic research will focus on palatability of product, rather than excellence.

Coffee is chased up the mountain

Climate change means that coffee growing at current altitudes will be decreasingly possible and rewarding. Farmers at lower altitudes will likely switch crop to something more stable and less affected by disease and temperature (palm oil etc). Those that can grow coffee higher up, where temperatures remain cooler, will continue to do so. However, this reduction in planted area for coffee (as well as a hopeful focus on quality in order to make a sustainable living) will make coffee grown at altitude increasingly expensive.

Climate change figures (esp likely temp changes) seemed to vary at Symposium, but I hope Dr Peter Baker’s presentation will be made available as it was both informative and compelling. No one seems to be arguing the base fact that less land will be viable for speciality coffee in the future.

Diversity in speciality coffee

Throughout Central America, some of South America and East Africa I expect to see less total coffee being produced – especially less speciality coffee. This will drive up prices further but I think we’ll see some truly exceptional stuff as we learn more about producing higher cup quality on purpose. (Looking to the GCQRI on that one….)

If you retail coffee then start thinking about how you’ll see it when it doubles in price. I think it will, and will be sustainable there too. The gap between speciality and commodity will widen significantly. I think genuine speciality (some would say high-end speciality) will also break away from the broad church that we cover with the term “speciality coffee” today.


We’re going to see GMOs in coffee. I don’t like it, you probably don’t like it, nobody wants to talk about it, but I think these will likely appear first in the big 4 producing countries where there is greater need for economic stability from the coffee trade.

I hope that speciality works contrary to this to start to mine the genetic diversity in nature to see if we can’t find what we need there.

In summary

I don’t think fantastic coffee is going to disappear despite the challenges it faces. It is going to become increasingly scarce and its cost of production on top means that we’ll see a much bigger divide between C-market (which will likely drop back) and Speciality. You’ll have to fight to find it and buy it.

Whether you can plan that far ahead about how to be effective in a market that different, I don’t know. It is certainly worth some thought.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who was at Symposium, or who is interested in this sort of thing, about how wrong they think I am!

Episode Five – Peter Giuliano

I really hope people enjoy this one – because I really, really enjoyed the conversation I had with Peter.  We’d planned to talk about some fermentation experiments he’d been working on, but we cover a range of things. Listening back it seems like we planned this more than we had – this wasn’t the case, it was just a little serendipitous.

In this podcast:

– What is fermentation in coffee?
– What can a coffee being “washed” mean?
– Some experiments with fermentation
– Peter’s favourite coffee books
– Variety Vs Varietal

There is more stuff in there too. I think it is a really helpful listen if you want to better understand this incredibly important part of the process. I just couldn’t chop this one down – so if you hate the longer podcasts I’m (sort of) sorry!

You can do stuff like subscribe or leave some sort of rating or comment on iTunes here, or you can subscribe to the podcast feed here.

Feedback always welcome – really hope people enjoy this one.


Coffee Berry Borer & Global Climate Change

Dr. Juliana Jaramillo, a researcher working in Kenya at ICIPE, kindly sent me a few papers concerning Coffee Berry Borer (Hypothenemus hampei) and the effect on climate change.  For a lot of people reading this, the ins and outs of pest control in coffee producing countries isn’t particularly compelling stuff.  That doesn’t mean it is isn’t important, nor deserving of wider attention and interest.

To give a quick idea of its impact:  It is estimated to cause losses of over $500 million USD per year, and affects 20 million coffee producing families worldwide.  Despite this there seems to be a lack of funding in research to provide solutions.

A quick primer on the beetle

Coffee Berry Borer, also known widely as Broca, is technically a small beetle native to Africa – though its effects are now global.  It destroys crops by using the fruit as a home for its young.  The female beetle burrows into the fruit and lays eggs inside.  These eggs hatch and the larvae eat the coffee seeds from the inside out.  By doing this they massively reduce income for coffee producers by reducing yield, as well as quality.

drawing by Gonzalo Hoyos, CENICAFE

Pest Control

There are a few different ways to control the pest – some to prevent attack, and others to deal with damaged fruit.  Pesticides are only useful before the fruit has been infested.  I found a few different suggestions for pesticides online, only to later find that they had been banned in some countries for the unsustainable and negative impact on the environment.  (Pesticides like endrin)


Probably the most common solution are traps. These are pretty easy to make yourself, though they can be purchased. These work by luring the beetles into the traps (often using pheromones), where they are captured and drown.

CIRAD claims that traps can increase affected yields by 10-16%, and cost less than using insecticides. You still have to use some form of chemicals. There is more information about traps here (pdf), and a guide to making one yourself here.

 A control that is considered more sustainable (and acceptable under organic farming certifications) is the introduction of a natural enemy of the beetle.


Enter Karnyothrips flavipes which are a species of thrips, and quite possibly a natural predator of berry boras.  Dr Jaramillo’s latest paper 1 looks at whether this is a viable predator that could introduced to help suppress the coffee berry borer.  Obviously introducing a species into a new environment comes with a whole new set of issues, though it may already be in various countries and simply needs an increase in numbers and concentration.

The thrips follows the borer into the cherry and lays its eggs, and then eats the borers undeveloped young.  Obviously it doesn’t prevent initial infestation and damage, but can limit the size of the borer population.

The other organic option was similar – to introduce a parasitoid.  A parasitoid is very much the same as a parasite, with the exception that it will ultimately kill the the host.  In the past various wasps have been used, with limited success.

Global Climate Change

I don’t think we can really question this is happening.  We’re seeing its effects and there is plenty of data to support it.  Below is a graph from a paper titled “The impact of climatic variability and climate change on arabic coffee crop in Brazil”, which can be found (in English) here.

The effects have also been studied in Mexico.  In a paper titled “Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture: A Case of Study of Coffee Production in Veracruz, Mexico” (abstract available here) one conclusion is that by 2020 the model projects that the increase in temperature would result in a 34% reduction in crop, meaning that growing coffee would no longer be financially viable there.

I also found this interesting little graphic showing the change in coffee producing area with temperature in Uganda.  I know it is concerning robusta but I still think it is relevant.

Added to the fact that climate change is already causing problems for coffee in places like Colombia, specifically with a substantial increase in leaf rust, it is also worrying to read Dr Jaramillo’s paper from 2006 ((.  To quote from it:

In the case of H.hampei, average daily temperatures of 26°C could lead to a reduction of the maximum intrinsic rate of increase, and, consequently, reduced pest activity in coffee plantations. Over the last three decades, the average daily temperature per year ranged between 17.3–22.3°C for Ethiopia, 18.7–24.5°C for Kenya, 22.3–29.8°C for Tanzania and for Colombia 15.5–29.3°C (data from 1989 to 2007, as H. hampei was introduced in 1988 into the country). The potential number of H. hampei generations per year was in average 3.4 for Colombia, 3.1 for Kenya, 3.1 for Tanzania and 1.3 for Ethiopia. According to our predictive model, in regions where the actual average daily temperature has not yet reached 26.7°C, every 1°C increase, would also increase the actual rate towards the maximum value by an average of 8.5%.”

Many coffee growing regions are below the temperature threshold that sees a reduction in broca. Global warming will push many regions into the temperature zones that will see a significant increase in the rate of reproduction – which is obviously a concern.

So we’re looking at an increase in borers in many parts of the world.  Not good.  I’d be interested to hear from people, especially those with an interest in organic and sustainable growing, about how they feel about introducing predators from outside the specific ecosystem to deal with the problems.  

Combine CBB with leaf rust and other issues, and there are certainly some serious challenges for coffee ahead due to the effects of climate change. I’d love to hear more from people who are travelling and dealing with lots of producers on this subject. Tom Owens briefly mentions some issues in this post (which you should all have read!). I also feel like I’ve skimmed this topic slightly – so if people have good links they want to share do please post a comment!

  1. Juliana Jaramillo & Eric G. Chapman & Fernando E. Vega & James D. Harwood (2010) Molecular diagnosis of a previously unreported predatorprey association in coffee: Karnyothrips flavipes Jones (Thysanoptera: Phlaeothripidae) predation, on the coffee berry borer  ↩︎

Brewing Espresso at Altitude

There has long been discussion about what happens when you brew espresso somewhere at relatively high altitude. This has become, and will become even more, relevant as the WBC is taking place in Bogota this year. Bogota is the third highest capital city in the world, some 2625 metres above sea level (approx 8,600ft).

At this altitude water will boil at 91.2°C/196.2°F – below the 93.5°C/200°F that the Aurelias will be set to. What follows is mostly personal opinion 1, coupled with a possible experiment that might answer some questions.

When we’re brewing espresso the system is under pressure (9 bars mostly), rather than the much lower atmospheric pressure. One of the unique aspects of brewing under pressure is that water is able to dissolve a lot more CO2 than it usually can at atmospheric pressure. When the coffee liquid leaves the basket we see that it is unable to retain that CO2 which forms bubbles that get trapped by various surfactants as a foam: crema.

People will often remark that at altitude the coffee acts like it hasn’t had a chance to rest/degas. The espresso tends to have very large bubbles, and lacks strength – often disappearing very quickly. This is, of course, similar to brewing very fresh coffee (up to 48-96hrs post roast) at sea level.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that surely CO2 would be more likely to be drawn from the coffee bean when stored at low pressure than at higher pressure?

My guess (and it is a guess) is that the pressure change from the bottom of the basket to atmosphere is much larger than normal when brewing at altitude. I would guess that the saturation point for CO2 in water at 2625m is significantly lower than the saturation point at sea level. The liquid loses more gas, and we see this as bigger bubbles. With foams in liquid the strength is dependent on bubble size (the smaller the stronger – think good milk foam), so these larger bubbles of crema will disappear faster.

What does this mean for competitors? Here is my advice:

Bring scales. I know a lot of people don’t like it (though I don’t really understand why), but your espresso volume is going to be radically different for an identical flow rate at sea level. Know your brew recipe before you come, and before you start freaking out about how things taste, check whether you are brewing on spec. Espresso is a recipe that is based on weights and flow rates. Going by eye is tough. I’ve tried, when I was there in 2007, and it took a while before things made sense!

Pulling shots in Bogota

Another question remains – should espresso be aged longer for brewing at altitude?

This is a good question, and one I think we need to do a few experiments on. Ageing espresso will certainly reduce the amount of CO2 left in the coffee beans, but surely at the expense of some loss of pleasing aromas and the potential development of negative flavours. I’d like to run a two way experiment, but it needs participants who have access to coffee machines at different altitudes.

Take two bags of espresso from the same roasts/blending batch. Store one at sea level, store the other at high altitude. Ideally in similar temperatures. After 10 days bring both back down to sea level and observe variations in volume for a fixed weight of coffee, liquid and brew time. Based on my amateur theorising above – there should be no detectable differences, or – if anything – the coffee stored at altitude might have less crema/volume when brewed.

Then take two bags of identical espresso and store both for 10 days at sea level. Then brew one at sea level and one at altitude. Record variations in volume for fixed weight of coffee, liquid and brew time.

This way we’ll know whether the issue is ageing of brewing. I would predict that when brewed identically the high altitude espresso should be just as delicious as the low altitude one – but I am very happy to be proven wrong.

One aspect to consider is when the brewing liquid might reach boiling point. If someone is pulling very fast shots, where the brew water doesn’t lose much heat to the coffee – then I’d expect to see some issues towards the end of the shot as the exit liquid from the basket will be very close to boiling, if not boiling at high altitude. Properly brewed espressos shouldn’t (in theory) see the same problem. Anyone have video of a naked portafilter at high altitude?

Comments, thoughts, accurate science and brutal critiques of the above welcome!  Thanks to Brent Fortune for setting my brain off!

  1. Warning: Amateur Science Alert!  ↩︎

The Speciality Coffee Crisis

This isn’t designed to be a fear-mongering post, but this is really something we have to talk about and think about as an industry.

I think we can accept as fact that the growth in consumption of high quality coffee is not being matched by growth in production. At some point in the not too distant future there will be a tipping point where total demand starts to comfortably exceed total production and this will result in a dramatic price spike.
Continue reading “The Speciality Coffee Crisis”

Coffee Leaf Rust

There are many large and embarrassing gaps in my coffee knowledge, and coffee leaf rust is one of those. However, it seems that this is something that is having an increasing impact on producers and the industry so it seemed like time to do some research.

Before having a look at recent changes in global climate, rust resistant varieties and the conflict of crop vs cup we should probably start with exactly what coffee leaf rust is:
Continue reading “Coffee Leaf Rust”

Rate my predictions for 2008

On January 2nd this year I made five predictions – you can read them here – and I guess before I put up my predictions for 2009 I should probably decide how well I did last year.  Or better still – you guys decide!

1 – The spread of the Clover.

I could be really brave and predict that Starbucks will start using
them, but I think the guys at Clover would curse me for jinxing them!

I think I did pretty well here – though no one predicted Starbucks buying them outright.  You could argue that Starbucks haven’t really spread them around, but as I am not in the States I don’t know how often they are cropping up.

2 – World Barista Championships

I am not going to be as bold/stupid as to try and pick a winner but I
think the shift away from a Scandinavian-heavy final will continue.

2 of the 6 finalists were Scandinavian, but neither placed in the top 3.  I feel pretty safe claiming this one!  Congrats again to Stephen!

3 – Coffee prices continue to rise

I am not sure I am going to be able to claim this one.  Whilst things did look good (briefly) for this prediction earlier in the year prices seemed to have slumped at the end of it.  (Don’t worry – I am not going to go on about the media exaggerated financial issues).


4 – Pressure Profiling in Espresso

I am not sure on this one.  Synesso released the Hydra – the first machine with a pump per group as far as I know, LM released their new paddle group, John “The Awesome” Ermacoff kindly built me a pressure profiler that makes my head hurt but makes me happy, and the new Slayer machine also is big on pressure profiling.  All the above says yay, but I don’t feel we’ve come much further on understanding it all.

5 – The continued rise of the Microlot

Again I feel the need to plead my case here.  Certainly this was the year of the Ethiopian microlot – the numbered lots from Aricha and Beloya getting everyone very excited for good reason.  This was the year that Esmeralda divided their crop into micro microlots for the auction.  This was also a year that my understanding of microlots got a little more nuanced, and I felt less sure that they were all I had wanted them to be 12 months ago.  From this point on I leave it up to you dear reader – how well did I predict the year?



(You can add your own half point answers if you feel the need)

Would love to hear your comments on this.  I think I’d like to claim 4 out of 5, but that is up for debate!  Look out for my next set of hilarious predictions come January 1st!

Thoughts on the last Esmeralda auction

According to the owner of the stoneworks auction website, I was one of up to 3000 users watching or participating in the latest auction. It went on for 9 hours and you had to feel very, very sorry for the Japanese who would have started bidding at 10pm and finished around 7am. (though you suspect they probably had access to sufficient caffeine)

I am not going to go through who won what (it is there on the website still) but there are a couple of things about this auction process, about the success of this farm, that I want to write a little about and get some feedback on from the community.

First of all I was quite surprised that the Petersons decided to auction off so many small individual lots. The high prices achieved in the past were a function (in my mind) of both quality and scarcity. I don’t debate the mesmerising cup this coffee is capable of producing, but I don’t think that it would have reached $130/lb last year if there had been 10 times the volume available. Granted, the small individually processed batches have drive the price up on the top lots to similar heights but this then leaves the issue of how to communicate the difference between Stumptown and Sweet Maria’s $105.25 lot and a $6 lot. What key areas would the consumer respond to and be willing to massively increase their spend for?

The variation in price also implies a variation in quality. This is not a criticism of the farm – no farmer in the world is going to claim they produce nothing but exceptional coffee. I do worry, however, that there is potential to damage the brand. (and I have no doubt that it is a brand now) I have seen more extreme examples of this in other super-farms such as Daterra. Daterra is a cutting edge farm, capable of producing stellar coffee, and the research they are involved in is invaluable. I know they did a great deal of work on tracing aroma in the cup back to the crop with Illy and I hope eventually some of that research will see the light of day. What surprises me is that they have not distinguished very strongly between their best lots (like the reserve) and then other lots which don’t taste as good. I have seen several roasters proudly claiming the Daterra component of their blend without specifying which one it was and the coffee not tasting great. I thought the idea of the Esmeralda Especial worked well, but was still being muddied by some people so if anything I would have thought they would have distinguished lots even more aggressively.

I feel very strongly that for us to really move forward in speciality coffee we must consistently deliver on our promises to the consumer. Asking them to pay a high price for a cup promises that it will be worth it, and making proud boasts about the coffees we use promises that they will taste something that will be starkly different, discoverable and satisfying. Will every single roast of the Esmeralda be great this year from all the different companies? Does a new, but interested consumer, tasting an average cup of Esmeralda leave them very confused about the prices of the higher lots? Do we risk looking exclusive rather than inclusive to those teetering on the edge of becoming interested and excited about great coffee?

My other thought on the success of the farm has been the double edged sword of the visibility of the Geisha varietal used. I travelled a little bit in Costa Rica last year and every farm I visited had at least a little Geisha planted. Some were more cautious than others in the space they were giving over to the gamble. In three or four years will we see a sudden flood of Geisha on the market (which will immediately drop its desirability) and will it be any good. A while ago I dug through my coffee text books to see if I could find any references to the varietal. I found very little except for a small study carried out abotu 40 years ago in Costa Rica comparing the success of various varietals of which Geisha was won. It lost out primarily because of its lack of yield – less of a problem if you have quality and scarcity on your side, but with lots of people suddenly producing lower yields from their farms scarcity becomes void. No notes are made in the study about increased cup quality, but that study could still easily be dismissed as techniques have moved on and you could also argue that Costa Rica’s quest for yield held it back as an origin producing distinct and amazing coffees until the more recent micro-mill revolution that we are seeing signs of. (if people want me to dig up the study I can do)

On this subject I am very happy to concede I might be wrong. I haven’t spent enough time at origin to feel completely confidant in the above statements, and if Peter or Geoff or anyone else who has spent a lot of time at origin are reading and want to correct me I would be very grateful. I really just want to learn more, and hope that we aren’t all debated-out on this issue which covers just about all of the coffee industry.

Off to Costa Rica

Writing this from Miami airport (not a likeable airport at all, but that could be jetlag/travel cynicism kicking in). About to catch my flight down to San Jose and then I am there for a week doing various bits and pieces. The video camera is packed, the camera too so I shall try and record bits and pieces that might be of interest.

More coming soon……..

Off to Colombia tomorrow

Really looking forward to it. Will try and post from there – depending on connection of course. Memory cards emptied, camera batteries charged and a few barista bits and pieces packed.

Hopefully gonna get to a few farms, and I think it is harvest time so lots of delicious cherries for me. (I hope anyway!)

Sorry if I am a little slow on the contact forms/consultancy requests for the next week and a bit.