Monday, April 15, 2019

All That Coffee Hype

There is a lot of hype in the coffee industry. Companies vie for consumer dollars by making false claims or hyping coffee that is not equivalent to the hype. We recently attended SCA, the premier trade show for the coffee industry, in Boston, and made a lot of wonderful contacts from new origins and equipment manufacturers... but were also annoyed by the hype of some others.

We hope to bring you coffees from some new origins we are exploring, sold by the producers in Direct Trade, and all fabulously delicious. It will take some time after the show to arrange to try these coffees in house. We need to perform R&D on different roast levels so we can offer you the optimal roast options (or blends).

In regards to the hype, here are the top hypes of the show, and in the industry at this moment:

Geisha (Arabica subspecies):  Ever since a Geisha coffee from Costa Rica won a best of show at SCA, and Starbucks® featured the remainder of that specific lot in their New York locations at $7 a cup, producers have been trying to cash in. What are the facts?

1. Geisha: (currently misspelled due to popular usage, originally from the Gesha mountains in Africa) is a subspecies with unclear developmental history. It is likely another spontaneous mutation of an Arabica coffee, much like most unique variations we have today, and found its way across the globe, becoming popular in Central America. It is a delightful coffee with a smooth, low acid profile, and citrus tones. Is it inherently "better" or tastier than Bourbon or other subspecies? Depends entirely on your taste and whether the producer gave it special treatment and it grew at high altitude or not. For us, it is too light a profile, and appeals mostly to people with "front palate" preferences.

The SCA show featured a number of producers of Geisha coffee, who were trying to sell it at about 300% premiums over other species. Is it worth that? We don't feel so, and we don't think our customer base would enjoy spending $50 a pound to drink it.

Any species or subspecies of coffee can boast superior quality if it is coddled enough, and this is what wins awards. But is every lot of Geisha special? Well, think of the milk-fed 500-pound pumpkin at the county fair. It's a heck of a pumpkin. But not every pumpkin of that seed lot is going to be special.

Enough, already, on the hype about Geisha, please!

2. Microlots / unique origins:  We saw a lot of people with lovely graphics and presentation trying to get ridiculous prices per OUNCE for coffee, because it was a remote region or subtype. When we sampled it, it was usually an excellent cup of coffee. But at retail it might be $120 a pound. Was it worth $120 a pound? Nothing we tried was. We'd gladly challenge all those microlots in a cupping contest with our best origins on Len's Coffee.

So, we passed on many of these hyped up coffees, and will pursue connections with honest, hard working farmers looking for fair prices on their wonderful coffees. Stay tuned for some great new origins!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

JAZ Improv Coffees : Great New Fun

The restless muse that inspires our coffee R&D here at Len's cannot be contained, it can only be supplicated by periodic forays into uncharted ground.

When creating a new coffee blend, we often feel restricted by the normal process of testing and marketing to determine if a coffee will succeed and become a part of our permanent lineup. However, what if we take away that concern? What if we had a line of experimental coffees that explored some challenging (and even heroic*) themes involving first analyzing and categorizing each coffee origin's dominant taste characteristics - is it buttery? Is it caramely? Sweet? Citrusy? What dominant notes can we bring out and enhance with natural extracts to create a uniquely intense culinary experience? And then what if we said that we don't care if these coffees have a "career"?

"Plein air" paintings, sand castles, sidewalk art... none of these are repeatable or even permanent things. They capture an artisanal moment and can be appreciated while they last. That is the essence of JAZ Improv coffees! We also gave them away FREE in the holiday season because to us, they were a celebration of coffee creativity that we wanted to present as a thank you to our wonderful customers.

Our initial offering : JAZ Improv Pirate Series, embodied coffee themes that were Caribbean in origin (Parrot Bay / Butter Me Rum) and the coasts of Madagascar (Long Live Libertalia!) and even Polynesia Amnesia. Drawing from our unparalleled diversity in world coffee species and origins, and seeking new achievements in the blending arts, we had a great time and (we think) made some great coffees.

As of this writing we are working on a 3-coffee theme, JAZ Improv : Traveler Series. These coffees pay homage to culinary treasures from popular world locations and take coffee boldly where it has never gone before. Black Forest Blend captures the mystery of Germany's Der Schwarzwald (Black Forest) with its delightful dark, tart cherry-based desserts. More to come!

We've had many customers ask if they can buy these coffees after their release was over, and we have realized that we should make any remaining stock available to customers at the fun price of only $5 a bag, always... while supplies last on each coffee. So watch for the new JAZ Improv Coffee Page, coming soon, if you are looking for another hit on something that struck your fancy.

We'll keep creating it if you'll keep drinking it!

* You wouldn't believe the time and effort and creativity that goes into a new "themed" coffee. Sometimes we experiment with 20 iterations, testing each out with focus groups!