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July 2009 Newsletter

There will be no special coffee this month. As sometimes happens
I just couldn't find anything I considered good enough to justify
the "special" tag.  I do have some really extra special coffees
on the way, but unfortunately they are still floating around on a
boat somewhere. The economic crisis has caused a good deal of
disruption to global shipping schedules, with ships often held
back until a full cargo can be loaded.

There have also been a fair amount of problems with coffee
supplies anyway. High quality coffees are becoming increasingly
scarce, at the same time as competition for them becomes more
intense. Crop damage in Colombia and government interference in
Ethiopia have combined to restrict the supply of top grade
Arabicas.

The Colombian situation has led to a scramble for coffees to fill
contracts sold a year or more in advance. Colombia is the second
largest producer of Arabica coffee in the world (Brazil is first)
and finding effective substitutes means skimming the cream of
central and South American crops. It also involves paying a lot
more. Prices are up about 20% this year, but so far the increase
hasn't been passed on to the consumer.

The Ethiopian situation is a lot trickier. Coffee exports have
been taken over by the Ethiopian government, mostly because
coffee earns 60% of Ethiopia's foreign currency inflows and the
government perceived that they weren't getting a big enough piece
of the action.

The problem is that the government doesn't understand specialty
coffee and treats the whole crop as a commodity, like wheat or
oil. Good, bad or indifferent, it's all being lumped in together
at present, so getting hold of quality Ethiopian coffees is a
lottery.

One really bright point among the gloom (for me) is Cuban coffee.
I've just taken delivery of a tonne of Cuba Serrano Lavado. This
is a bit more green coffee than I usually buy all at once but it
was the minimum(!) amount if I wanted the coffee at all. Not to
mention the price, and that I have to pay for it all at once.
Five figure green coffee bills are a bit of a shock to the
system!

But ... it does mean that I've got another year's assured supply
of Café de Cuba locked up. And I can sleep peacefully knowing
that I don't need to dramatically reformulate my espresso blends.

Finally, some young people overseas have started playing with the
concept of removing crema from espresso. Here is my response to
them:

"I've already commented on Home Barista, but I'll tell you this:
37 years ago the guy that first taught me to pull an espresso
shot (on an ancient Rancilio lever machine ) lined me and 2 other
apprentice idiots up (sorry, waiters-in-training) and made us
taste straight espressos. Blerck! He then pulled a new set of
shots, skimmed the crema off with a teaspoon and made us
taste the resultant black liquid. MAJOR Blerck!

He then proceeded to hammer into our admittedly thick and mushy
skulls the concept that if it didn't have crema (he just called
it "The Cream") it wasn't espresso, and if we served anything
resembling the black liquid to our mostly Italian cliental he
would first enlarge the necessary orifices with the cup, saucer,
spoon and his boot, and then pour it into the three of us as
enemas.

It was a lesson I've never forgotten. If it doesn't have crema,
it's not espresso. And the followup comments on HB seem to me to
be trending strongly in the direction of "tastes like moka pot"."


Alan