Tuesday 15th to Wednesday 16th and possibly Thursday 17th November 2016
Slight panic sets in as Jersey airport becomes fog bound for most of the day ahead of setting off to Sumatra. Plan A, a straightforward flight to London or Plan B an overnight ferry* from Jersey to Portsmouth followed by a taxi journey sprint to Heathrow, not exactly enticing!
Thankfully Plan A was enacted, the fog cleared on cue around 17.30 and my 20.20 flight took off on schedule. A night spent at Gatwick airport was followed by a coach journey at 6 am to Heathrow to ensure I made the 10.00 o’clock flight to Kuala Lumpar (KL). Don’t let anyone kid you that travelling is glamourous!
The flight to KL takes around 12 hours and you gain around 8 hours as you travel. Maybe that should read you lose 8 hours of your life travelling this way round the planet because it’s certainly an endurance test. This was followed up by a 1 hour connecting flight to Medan on the Island of Sumatra. The word discombobulated comes to mind as we are collected by our hosts and driven to our hotel not sure exactly which day of the week we were now on. It’s a sign of the times out here that our vehicle is searched and all our luggage passed through detectors prior to us being searched going into the Hotel, a widely known American chain.
As with all the places our hosts are extraordinarily generous ensuring we’re fed and watered and given time to freshen up prior to our visit to the coffee processing factory of Sarimakmur in Medan.
The city of Medan has a population of around 2.5 million people but sadly the infrastructure seems capable of only handling half that number as the roads appear to be permanently gridlocked. It takes an inordinate amount of time to travel the short distance to the plant and many near misses with the “pedestrian” pavement seemingly not out of bounds for the myriad of moped users. It’s incredible that there aren’t bodies strewn everywhere.
Eventually we arrive at our destination the vast coffee processing plant of Sarimakmur. Security is tight and when you see how much coffee is here it comes as no surprise.
*P.S. Plan B would never have worked as it transpired. The ferry was cancelled due to an unidentified package being found
The coffee that is grown in Sumatra mostly comes from small holders. Thousands of families producing small quantities of what in the end is an exquisite coffee. In my part of the world the people who produce much of the coffee we drink remain anonymous, which is quite convenient when it comes to pricing their effort. After all how difficult can it possibly be to grow coffee? Anyone could do it, and if anyone can do it why should we pay them more than the going commodity rate. The coffee equivalent of the minimum wage.
But isn’t this so true even in our own society.
Our waterfront café is cleaned daily by Maria. Every evening she appears as if by magic ready to clean our café of the detritus that has built up throughout the day. I don’t know her surname and she barely speaks a word of English. I do know that she originates from Brazil but have no idea how she ended up in my part of the world.
Maria takes immense pride in her work and as a result our café is left spotlessly clean by the time she leaves. The agency for which she works will no doubt be paying her the minimum wage which in reality means that she can barely scrape a living on Jersey without working ridiculous hours.
It reminds me of two pictures I took when visiting Colombia a few years back. They hang on our cafe walls. One is entitled “Pablus, coffee picker”, the other “Sofia, bag stamper”. Pablus is wearing a jumper and is tethered to a tree because the slopes are so steep and the bugs vicious. I know his name is Pablus because he told me so. Sofia stands proudly in front of brand new empty coffee sacks that she has marked up. Like Maria it’s really important that these individuals are recognised as such. Without a name they may just as well be human ants. Like millions of people who get little or no recognition for the vital work they do and whose humanity doesn’t seem to matter.
One of the reasons why those who supported Brexit and Trump won was because so many in our society feel threatened by these “foreigners taking our jobs”. That great tsunami of legal and illegal immigrants who apparently threaten our way of life, you know the one where we all sit down for tea at 4 o’clock and eat cucumber sandwiches. Yet if you have the temerity to ask those unfortunates who find themselves unemployed to do these humble jobs for such little money most would feel affronted. “We want a decent rate of pay for an honest day’s work” they’ll say as they click the “buy” button on Amazon’s “Black Friday” fake sale. But aren’t the jobs that Maria and Pablus just as important as the skill of the best Barista? A great cup of coffee served in a filthy café isn’t exactly going to attract the punters is it? It’s just that in our society we choose to demean that which needs to be done every day no matter how apparently unpleasant.
Like so many agricultural products Coffee takes a huge amount of effort to produce yet it remains a relatively cheap beverage. In reality though if everyone in the chain was paid a living wage the average consumer wouldn’t be able to afford a cup of coffee.
If the Maria’s, Sofia’s and Pablus’ of this world weren’t prepared to work for so little money we wouldn’t have such relatively cheap food. Our own lifestyles would be curtailed as we found ourselves without the disposable income to indulge our extraordinary consumerist activity.
Ultimately though this isn’t a blog railing about the injustices of the world it’s more about simply taking time to recognise those who make our world tick. More to the point they are not “they” or “the other”, they are us, human beings with the same hopes and aspirations we all have. We all matter.
Starting my trip to northern Sumatra from the Island of Jersey means that on occasion it can feel a bit like being Frodo from the Lord of the Rings cycle venturing out into a vast unknown and unforgiving wilderness. You can read all the stories about the exploitation of the rainforest and its impact on bio-diversity and global warming, but until you see it with your own eyes it’s just another news story that will be lost in tomorrow’s chip paper.
Photo from Lord of the Rings
Yet what’s happening in Sumatra, much like the destruction of the Amazon rainforest will in the end impact on us all. The conversation though seems increasingly to be lost on us. The extraordinary political events of 2016 both in the US and Europe reflect a seemingly inexorable desire for isolation. The growing fear of the stranger. Suspicion stalks our every thought.
Yet it is the enemy within for whom we should reserve our greatest concerns. In the US between 2001-13*, there were over 406,000 deaths caused by firearms, against 3,380 deaths globally of US citizens caused by terrorism. All the dialogue though is about putting up walls or banning certain religious minorities from entering the country as if this somehow makes the country a safer and better place.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
In the UK we’ve recently experienced BREXIT as once again the fear of the stranger raises its ugly head. Theresa May’s government has even suggested that companies should disclose how many foreign workers they employ. Although this idea has since been dismissed it seems extraordinary that we could have been headed to an idea last seen in 1930’s Germany when Jews were forced to wear the Star of David on their clothing so that they could be easily identified. We all know where that ended.
Photo from Getty Images
Thankfully though there are still people out there concerned for the future of this planet. On October 15, 2016 a deal was announced in Kigali, Rwanda that aims to cap and reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a major “greenhouse” gas. Although not perfect it does at least recognise the worldwide threat of climate change.
The fact that 200 countries have signed up does go some way to restore my faith in humanity. This issue is transnational. It will be long after my generation has passed that the consequences of our actions will be felt by those who follow.
Will we be able to look them in the face and say that we did the best we could on our watch, or will we have to acknowledge that we spent far too much time navel gazing? In 30 days’ time I’ll begin to find out.
*source: centre for disease control and prevention US state department
It’s time again for another adventure to the Coffee lands. In November I’ll be travelling to Sumatra, part of the Indonesian archipelago. It is the 6th biggest “Island” in the world and is just over twice the size of Great Britain. The Island sits on the equator and has a population of around 50 million people.
Much of the flora and forna of Sumatra is unique to this part of the world but sadly almost half of its tropical rainforest has been lost since the 1980’s, an environmental disaster if ever there was one. Despite all attempts at moratoriums nearly a million hectares are still being cut each year and the last pristine areas, in provinces such as Ache and Papua, are now prime targets for giant logging, palm and mining companies. Indonesia is roughly the 4th largest coffee producer in the world with about 7 million bags per year, but only 15-18% of the coffee is Arabica. It would be interesting to hear about their huge Robusta crop and maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to re-educate people about this much maligned varietal. More than 90% of the coffee is produced by smallholders with plots averaging 1-2 hectare, and are often just a part of the crops produced on a farmers land, that makes traceability pretty challenging. We start in Medan, the capital of Indonesia’s North Sumatra province which is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. From here we visit Sarimakmur dry mill and the Port of Belawan. The port is used for the export of that highly controversial product Palm oil as well as for Rubber, Tea and of course Coffee. We then fly north to Takengon in the Aceh province where we’ll be visiting the Sumatera Jaya Kopi co-operative and Permata Gayo co-operative in Bener Meriah, Aceh. This Co-operative is of particular interest as they have signed up to the Café Femenino foundation something I last came across in Peru and about which I wrote extensively in my book “you can make a difference” In our store Sumatra Mandheling is one of the most popular coffees we sell. It is the only coffee that we truly dark roast as it has the ability to retain a wonderfully dark rich flavour without tipping into burnt charcoal territory. A lot of that has to do with the slightly higher density and moisture level of the bean when measured against many Central American coffees. With an average humidity level in Medan of 64%, no wonder it’s a challenge to get the moisture out of the green coffee beans! As ever there will be lots to learn and talk about. No doubt the people I will meet will give me a reality check and ultimately once again question how we live our lives in Jersey and the responsibility we share when it comes to looking after planet Earth.
The last time we had any coffee from Cuba was 3 years ago and since then nothing has been available to us. So it was a welcome surprise when our coffee importers advised that they had laid their hands on the latest crop.
The coffee from 3 years ago has become legendary, we roasted it pretty dark which resulted in lots of deep tobacco notes and really positive feedback from many of our customers who have been craving it ever since. So I guess I made some assumptions as to how we were going to roast this latest offering.
However as always with any new coffee we carry out a series of sample roasts to establish what level of roast best shows off the coffee’s characteristics. Many people sample roast to identify defects, but our importers have done this piece of work for us so our job is simply to get the best from the coffee.
I tend to carry out three roast styles, one just after the first cracking phase of the coffee, the second prior to a second crack and then finally a roast that goes well into the second crack level. This gives us a really good contrast of profiles from which we can establish how the flavour notes are changing.
Given the history I was expecting the first couple of roasts to really just make up the numbers and thought that it was inevitable that this coffee would excel at the darker part of the spectrum. That however was not the case at all and came as a complete surprise to me.
This coffee has got to be one of the smoothest coffees I’ve tasted in a long time as a light medium roast. When I tasted the dark roast I was left with this very “narrow” high roast coffee taste with all the complexity wiped out. Still a little taken aback I turned to my trusty French press to see if my initial take still held true. It did and it made the most fabulous smooth, almost syrupy coffee with great gingerbread notes. A complete contrast to the coffee I remembered from 3 years ago and it just goes to show that no matter how long you are in this business coffee has that wonderful habit of surprising even the most jaded of palates.
The first thing to point out is the difference between “aged” coffee and simply “old” coffee. Truly aged coffee is carefully aged, usually for six months to three years, by regularly monitoring and rotating the beans to distribute moisture and even out the aging process between coffee bags. This prevents mould and rot from occurring. Coffee is usually aged at origin, and is often aged at a higher altitude, where the temperature and humidity are more stable than at lower elevations.
In the case of Old Brown Java traders used to hold coffee as an alternative to cash as its value was seen as being more stable than the local currency. This led to the coffee sometimes being held or traded / bartered for a number of years and as a result it took on its characteristically yellowy / brownish hue.
The concept of consciously aging coffee is a relatively new idea and came about as a result of improved logistics between the country of origin and Europe. When coffee first came to Europe in the 1500s, it was, due to the journey time aged. Europe's coffee supply in those days came from the port of Mocha in what is now Yemen. Prior to the building of the Suez canal (1869) any coffee imported into Europe spent a long time at sea as the journey by necessity meant going around the southern tip of Africa. This was also the case when coffee production spread to Indonesia and India.
Unbeknown to the exporters at the time, it was the length of time at sea and the salty sea air that changed the taste profile of the coffee significantly. In particular coffee from southern India which today we identify as “Monsooned” Malabar became puffed up and desiccated. The result was that Europeans enjoyed the aged coffee’s taste over the taste of fresh coffee.
However the building of the Suez Canal and the shortened journey times unintentionally changed the taste profile of the coffee. As a result the whole aging process shifted to origin
Today aged coffee has largely fallen out of fashion but it still has a significant following and for good reason. Old Brown Java is unique as a dark roasted coffee. If you enjoy a full favour with low acidity this coffee makes a wonderful espresso. It also provides a deep rich background coffee flavour for those of you who enjoy Lattes.
Monsooned Malabar is by contrast roasted a lot lighter and is as a result nuttier in profile but lacks the acidity that traditionally comes with light roasted coffees. Great as a filter coffee but even better as an Americano.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee or Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is a classification of coffee grown in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. The best lots of Blue Mountain coffee are noted for their mild flavour and lack of bitterness. Over the past few decades, this coffee has developed a reputation that has made it one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world. Over 80% of all Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is exported to Japan. In addition to its use for brewed coffee, the beans are the flavour base of Tia Maria coffee liqueur.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is a globally protected certification mark, meaning only coffee certified by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica can be labeled as such. It comes from a recognised growing region in the Blue Mountain region of Jamaica, and its cultivation is monitored by the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica.
The Blue Mountains are generally located between Kingston to the south and Port Antonio to the north. Rising to 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), they are some of the highest mountains in the Caribbean. The climate of the region is cool and misty with high rainfall. The soil is rich, with excellent drainage. This combination of climate and soil is considered ideal for coffee
Stoneleigh Estate is in the eastern Blue Mountains which are blessed with high-altitude, rich-soil, plentiful rainfall, warm temperatures and regular mists, which give these beans their delightful, unique character. The varietals of coffee grown on the estate is mainly typica with some geisha and covers approximately 35 acres including the factory. They produce an average of 100 tonnes per year.
Deciding how we roast our coffee is more art than science, however a little science does help. Environmental conditions will impact on the degree of roast, so one of the first checks we carry out is a moisture analysis of the coffee. Anything below 10% and the roast will tend towards a light medium style. Over 12% and a full medium to dark roast may well be more appropriate.
This year’s Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee sits at 10.9% moisture giving us a good exploratory window in which to develop those more subtle notes.
We also consider the air pressure which if notably high or low can impact our target temperature. Today we’re at 1018mb again, helpfully average.
When sample roasting the coffee the drum must be suitably hot and to ensure everything is stable we also carry out a sample roast of another coffee which is then disposed of.
Once the coffee is in the sample roaster we need to be patient. We listen carefully to the coffee as it develops. The first “crack” indicates a significant change in the properties of the coffee and for me it is at this point the roaster needs to be hyper sensitive as to how the coffee is developing.
We also need to watch the coffee as it slowly moves from green, to hay, to light brown and finally the colour we are looking for.
The timing of the removal of the coffee from the roasting drum is where a bit of the art comes in. I’m looking for a nicely developed bean. I don’t want to see too many wrinkles on the surface of the bean. I’ll also be smelling it to help identify where I believe we are on the taste curve.
However given all of the above it is the taste test that ultimately counts. The samples we roasted came out within 4 degrees of each other both samples looked nicely developed. One thing that did catch my eye though was that the slightly lighter roasted coffee looked a little “flat”. Hard to explain what I mean by that but it just puts a little doubt in the mind as we moved on to taste the coffees.
I always say to my team that we are so privileged to taste some of the best coffees in the world on a daily basis. What I mean is that we almost never get to taste a really poor coffee. So when we taste Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee we already have an incredibly high standard to match.
So first reactions to the coffee. Both samples are beautifully clean, as expected the lighter sample delivers a higher level of acidity than its darker roasted version. The question is, is that a good level of acidity or would we prefer those notes to be slighter lower.
Well in the end we’ve plumbed for the slightly fuller roast. It delivers a wonderfully balanced coffee. A full soft sweetness that lingers long on the taste buds.
Although we made this coffee in a French press, I can see this coffee working well in a “pour over” as well as an espresso.
Is it worth the money, maybe I’m not the best person to ask! Jamaican Blue Mountain like Champagne or Belgian Chocolates are products that are life enhancing and as the old adage goes “a little of what you fancy does you good!”
We've created a short video with the explanation of a method that is both science and art, giving you an insight into the process that goes on at Halkett Place.
Please like, favourite and share with anyone who has an interest in the decisions of a premier coffee roaster.
I’m currently reading a book by Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s fame. It goes by the intriguing title of “A lapsed Anarchist’s approach to building a great business”.
Now not everyone will have heard of Zingerman’s and for good reason. Their only “bricks and mortar” outlet is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and they have no intention of replicating themselves on every high street in the world. Despite this Inc. Magazine described Zingerman’s as “the coolest small company in America”, so it’s probably worth hearing them out.
In Jersey the slogan “think twice, buy local” has been extensively used to create awareness of the economic benefit to the local economy of spending money within our Island as opposed to buying the same or similar goods on-line. With the news that we spend on average £7,000 per household per annum on-line it would seem that it is a message falling on deaf ears.
But how hung up should we get about all this local spending and more to the point what do we actually mean by the term ”buying local”?
Paul Muller, a partner in Full Belly Farm, an organic producer near Sacramento California suggests that “buying local” means “having a relationship with the end user”. Ari Weinzweig talks about “building connections among people who share our values”
Thus pushing the “buying local” definition further we can now include the following:
Having a relationship with the people who grow our coffee
Having a relationship with the people we work with here in Jersey
Having a relationship with the end user
If we can improve on all we do all of the time, we will not only build a sustainable business but also help to build a sustainable economy based on local produce, not just in Jersey but throughout the globe.
It’s time we redefined “buying local” and made it relevant in a 21st century world.
This was a question posed to me in-store the other day and at face value seems to be quite a simple one to answer. That is until you start to think about the parameters around making great coffee.
The first question that is rarely asked is “why do we grind coffee in the first place?”
Grinding coffee beans simply increases the surface or contact area of the coffee bean. The greater the surface area created the quicker that flavour can potentially be extracted. You can in fact extract coffee flavour from whole beans, it just takes a long time and in the meantime you’ll have lost the will to live!
So why do we grind coffee to different degrees for different coffee makers?
Well it’s all about contact time; that is the length of time the water is in contact with the coffee grounds. The shorter that period, the less coffee flavour is extracted; the converse is also therefore true. So in simple terms the fineness of the grind selected is determined by how long the coffee is likely to be in contact with the coffee.
There are three main ways in which coffee flavour is extracted from coffee...
1. Under pressure or Espresso method, this includes traditional espresso machines as well as “Stove top” Bialetti styled machines. We could also add Aeropress, although this is a hybrid of two methods.
2. Using gravity, this is what filter coffee is about and is one of the simplest and easy ways to make fresh coffee whether using an electric machine or manually pouring the water over the coffee.
3. Steeping – Today this would be French press or Cafetiere, historically the Percolator. Here the coffee is in contact with the water for the greatest period of time. The longest contact time is Cold Brew coffee which proves that coffee flavour can be extracted even using cold water if the contact time is sufficiently long.
So as a general rule of thumb the shorter the contact time the finer the coffee needs to be ground. At this point someone will put their hand up and say “what about Turkish style coffee?” And of course they would be right, there’s always one method that will break the general theory, but this is for other reasons to be discussed in another blog.
But of course it isn’t that simple. Contact time can also be influenced by the amount of ground coffee being used. The greater the depth of the bed of coffee through which the water passes the longer the water is in contact with the coffee. A fairly obvious statement but this also is another way in which the flavour of the coffee can be changed.
You may find that a particular coffee tastes better when ground a little coarser than might be considered “normal”, however by using more coffee some of the more bitter notes may fade whilst some of the lower taste notes improve.
In the industry we would call this “dialling in the coffee”, which is another term for optimising the flavour of the coffee you have selected.
In summary then the coffee industry sets some general parameters for what is defined as “filter coffee”, however as you can see this may not be achieving the flavour you prefer. We already have customers who request us to grind their coffee on different settings to achieve the taste they prefer.
Hopefully this blog will go some way to help you to get the best out of your coffee, after all there’s no such thing as a standard human being!
So what about the green revolution, the fear that without chemicals we won’t be able to feed ourselves? David Hogg is scathing on this point…
He called the green revolution “carbon mining” which has in his view done untold damage to our environment. Whilst acknowledging that organically grown crop yields are lower than conventionally grown crops Briony Young prefers to talk about quality rather than quantity being the real issue. She believes we good eat a lot less and feel better if we eat good nourishing healthy food rather than masses of chemically charged “cheap” food.
They are all scathing about the huge subsidies paid to European and American farmers which hide the true cost of food production. They point out that no one ever talks about “natures subsidy”. The better the ecology the healthier we are which means lower medical bills.
If it’s all so obvious why then aren’t we implementing their ideas globally today? The response is a cynical one, there’s too much money involved. Their belief is that the impact of this strategy would cause major financial issues for those who manufacture Agro-chemicals as well as for the Pharmaceutical industry both of which have hugely powerful political lobbies. One could see very quickly how the words “charlatans” and “fools paradise” would seep into the conversation and could kill off this remarkable programmes.
In the meantime there is a huge amount of work to be done. 4 million trees need planting at a rate of 2,000 a day and that is just the start. This is to put lost carbon and moisture back into the soil. There’s an on-going educational programme. They need to ensure there are markets created into which the produce can be sold. NAANDI guarantee the farmers that they will buy their crops whether or not they make a profit.
But both NAANDI and nature need time, changing attitudes and the immense environmental destruction that has taken place over the last 100 years isn’t something that can be put right over night. Just raising carbon levels in depleted soils by 2 or 3 parts takes more than a decade. NAANDI also constantly needs to seek donors for their programmes.
They currently make no charge to the farmers for all the services they are providing. If they did nothing would happen. As always there’s an irony here, more of which in a later blog.
Finally one of David Hogg’s comments struck a warning bell for us on Jersey. It was about bringing food production back to a local sustainable level. In India millions of tons of food are wasted every year by centralising food production. In a week when on Jersey a major grower is about to shut down we might just like to ponder on that final point and reflect upon where our tiny Island is headed.