Big Joe’s Quarantini is the Bea’s Knees

A few months ago I challenged our good friend, Big Joe, based in Seattle, to create some coffee cocktails with our coffee. Within days he whipped up some great ones (recall the Kahlúa Pig Coffee Cocktail). He was going to tinker more and even write a blog post. But then there was work, COVID-19 shutdowns and sheltering, and the momentum was lost. I excerpted some of his inner thoughts from an email to me, which I share here with his permission:

“When I think of your coffee I think of strong coffee, and I don’t think of mixed drinks.  I want to think of a drink that does your coffee justice as well.

I feel excited and challenged to create cocktails that respect premium coffee and is not just some sickly sweet dessert drink that make the coffee irrelevant. One drink will be martini-esque — just pure cold vodka, a to-be-determined proportion of strong-brewed coffee, and maybe a fun rim of coffee grounds held on by a little surprise tang of lemon juice or a smooth kiss of maple syrup (just as glue on the rim to hold a few grounds).  The grounds are both a visual reminder that this is a serious coffee drink and they will provide the aromatics that a lot of modern cocktails add — something for the nose alone not necessarily “in” the drink.

And final thoughts.  The latest craze in speakeasy mixology is “chocolate bitters” — just a few drops added to unexpected drinks (the product is just highly concentrated chocolate essence and optional spices and natural bitter preservatives).  Imagine even something with whiskey, vermouth, pineapple juice AND THEN a few drops of chocolate bitters — I swear I’ve tasted four different drinks (two were mine) where chocolate bitters really made it a unique experience.  It is easy to find “chocolate bitters” in Seattle or Portland or online. There are also companies making “coffee bitters” to add that unique complex hint of coffee flavor molecules to other drinks.  (For people who like surprises of flavor, which is not everybody). 

Side note, I think that “new flavors” are a cooking trick that some people really like. That’s why there are food trends that fade away – they are exciting at first, but once the surprise factor is gone … the NEXT new flavor profile will cause the last trend to fade away for quite a while.  I don’t own chocolate bitters or coffee bitters, and I doubt many blog readers would want to go purchase a bottle to make a recipe.  I mention that because I would like to experiment with a strong drink that adds a carefully calculated bit of coffee just to the level of increasing the flavor complexity without tasting “like coffee” BUT to pull it off it may also need a little chocolate bitters.  I may or may not achieve this result, but I will  experiment with it …”

The martini recipe is 2 oz coffee and 2 oz vodka poured over ice. Stirred not shaken. Then strained into coffee-rimmed martini glass. Coffee is held on by lemon juice or maple syrup. One plate with maple syrup,  one plate with coffee grounds. 

Enjoy your Bea’s Knees quarantini. Thanks, Big Joe!

Uncharted Territory

Coronavirus, COVID-19 … it is alarming and consuming all of our attention, worldwide. (I had published this, and already have to update it). On March 21 Governor Ige mandated that effective 3/26, anyone, resident or visitor, flying into Hawaii must self-quarantine for 14 days. Today, March 23, he proclaimed that all persons in the state must stay at their home or place of residence, effective until April 30. There are exceptions for essential businesses and operations. My interpretation is coffee farming and operations can still continue. Just a week ago, life on the islands was going the way the rest of the country was rapidly moving, without yet being mandated: bars should be closed; restaurants should be open just for takeout and delivery; state parks were closed or closing; social gatherings should be limited to ten people.

Hawaii might have it easier than other states because of its warmer climate. It seems that COVID-19 might be slowed, but not stopped, with warmer weather. If you have access to the New York Times, you can read, “Warmer Weather May Slow, but Not Halt, Coronavirus.” If you can’t read it, here at least is the study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to which they refer, “Will Coronavirus Pandemic Diminish by Summer?

Last week, March 15, Californians aged 65+, that includes Bea, were directed to stay isolated at home. She can always eat off Bea’s bounty (I recounted the edibles she was growing a year ago in this post). Less than a week after that directive, all Californians were told to shelter in place. One evening my brother, who lives in San Francisco, went to three stores and was unable to find pasta or coffee, only decaf. (He wasn’t looking for toilet paper).

I read that coffee futures have gone up since there’s some uncertainty about the international coffee supply chain. This isn’t the original article I read, but something I recently found when searching, “Even coffee supplies under threat amid global transport woes.

Don’t forget there are domestic sources for coffee — in Hawaii and now California. Bea’s Knees coffee is much more affordable than what I recently saw announced on Instagram, coffee from The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA. $75 for five ounces; that’s $225 for less than a pound. More details were on the Frinj site. My friend in Carlsbad who’s in the floral business gave me a little inside scoop on Ecke and Mellano as “credible names in the international floral agriculture industry & Frazee is a big name in So. Cal.” And see this blog post, if you want to see what I wrote earlier about California coffee.

For our small business, so far it is actually pretty much business as usual. No one’s sick or knows anyone who’s sick, and we’re taking the precautions we can. Coffee is still roasted, shipped, and delivered according to schedule. The majority of our customers are domestic. Customers are adjusting their orders since they plan to be working from home and staying home more than usual. We have the green beans, no risk there. Will our people stay healthy and will this business be allowed to continue to work, roast, and package? Will the USPS and FedEx infrastructure still be able to deliver as usual?

The coffee trees … they’ll be fine. They just grow and do their thing for the next months. Harvest is still months away. If the tree maintenance (pruning, fertilizing, etc.) can’t be done as well as usual due to personnel downtime for illness or not being allowed to work, that’s OK. Harvest time might be impacted. We all know the future is uncharted territory. We’ll worry about that later.

Are there moments, even now, when you know you are fine? Or with these unfamiliar situations, you even see a silver lining? A pulling together and heightened appreciation for your loved ones? Let’s try not to let our anxiety about the future take over our present lives. Let’s all try to take deep, nourishing breaths and handle what comes our way with as much grace as we can possibly muster. We, the whole word, really are in this altogether.

Real life isn’t always going to be perfect or go our way, but the recurring acknowledgement of what is working in our lives can help us not only to survive but surmount our difficulties.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

Truth in Labeling

A little over a week ago the bill strengthening labeling requirements for Hawaii-grown coffee blends was deferred. This is disappointing, because it was getting further along without opposition than previous attempts. Committees hear a bill, and if approved, the bill continues along to the next committee before it can become law. Similar bills have been introduced and killed for almost 20 years.

As a reminder, only 10% of Kona coffee is required in order for a coffee to be called a Kona blend. The image I used for this post is a visual of approximately what 10% looks like. Imagine all the white space filled with coffees from anywhere else in the world, but this could be called a Kona blend.

Bill HB1886 would require that a Hawaii Coffee Blend (or a blend identified as any regional coffee — Kona or otherwise — grown in Hawai’i) contain at least 51% of the coffee in the package and actually be grown in the region specified on the label.  Further, HB1886 requires that the “non-Hawai’i grown” coffee also be identified on the label so consumers are fully informed as to the product they are purchasing.

Here’s a video about 100% Kona vs. Kona blends.

Here are a few articles from West Hawaii Today that relate to Bill HB1886: (1) “It’s Not Just a Kona Problem,” Jan. 31, 2020 and (2) “Bill calling for Kona coffee percentage increase stalls,” Feb. 29, 2020.

Last year I wrote a post about a lawsuit against fake Kona coffee. It’s not the same as the blending issue, but it’s related and has to do with consumer deception:

Cuppin’ Da Bea’s Knees

Less than a year ago my husband and I took an Intro to Cupping workshop at Pacific Coffee Research, which I blogged about. We learned a lot but were also overwhelmed and intimidated … not by the nice people at PCR, but by the cupping process. We knew we were interested in having our coffee cupped, but we wanted to wait for the second season’s coffee, because we know our coffee will be improving year to year.

So we recently had our coffee cupped and our green (unroasted) beans graded and analyzed. They did this without us around. They’re supposed to be quiet and not influence each other’s observations. We got our information back from PCR, and we think the results were solid. Right now our idea is to go through this process with each season’s coffee, because it’s an outside, independent party following a standardized protocol to make a subjective process quantitative and objective. In a few years we’d like to enter a coffee cupping competition as a learning experience.

We got back the remaining sorted green beans and roasted-for-cupping beans. When professionals cup, they roast the coffee much lighter than we drink it. When we took the cupping class, PCR was going to include our coffee with the other coffees, but unfortunately their sample roaster was broken at the time. So this is the first time we’ve tried our coffee this way.

Hubby and I were left to our own devices, armed with our notes from our PCR class last year, to cup the coffee. There is a 16-step protocol in our class notes, which we actually mostly followed. But the class was taken a while ago, and we hadn’t practiced the protocol until now, so some things were forgotten; mistakes were made. We quickly learned one lesson — if you’re using a measuring cup, warm it up prior to wetting all the grounds. If we had the exact same cupping cups, and did this enough, we could’ve just poured from our kettle directly into the cups instead of introducing a measuring cup in between. We saw that the first cup probably had cooler water than the 200°, so I introduced a flaw fairly early on.

We took our notes on dry aroma, wet aroma, and then all the various parameters. We didn’t give a final score, because we don’t know how to assign absolute numbers. Still, it was a first step at cupping and trying to evaluate and remember our coffee. We’d have to practice much more for this to really be useful.

In any case, I’ll share our coffee descriptors from the two professionals:

Professional #1: (+) Dark Chocolate, Toasted spices, Bittersweet Chocolate, Hint red fruit, Compote, Nutty, Malic Acid

Professional #2: (+) Nutty, Chocolate, Hint red fruit, Dark Chocolate, Sweet cream, Toasted almond, Brown Sugar

What do you taste in our coffee?

The Whole Farm Has Met the Ax

We’ve reached an important milestone for our farm — as of mid-January, the whole farm has now been stumped. It’s a harsh pruning method, but now that we know that the trees recover, it is also a good way to tame a “feral” coffee farm.

Yay! Celebrate!

We’ve reclaimed the coffee farm. The days of a jungle coffee farm are behind us!

See (1) my very first post and (2) this post from last year for more background on pruning. Because of our terrain, it didn’t make sense to stump by rows, but by blocks. When we started in 2018, it was the plan to stump a block a year, meaning 1/3 of our farm is growing leaves and not producing fruit every year. No fruit means no housing for coffee borer beetles.

The Stump Class of 2020

As of a few weeks ago, with this block, all of our coffee trees have now been stumped.

The Stump Class of 2019

This block did not contribute any fruit to the past season’s coffee harvest. They got to concentrate on growing, without having to produce fruit.

This part of Block 2, stumped in January 2019, is doing well.
The trees circled in orange were stumped at the same time. Some recovered fine; some didn’t fare so well. The larger trees between the foreground and banana trees, circled in purple, were stumped in 2018.

This blog post is from about a year ago:

This article looked at those 2019 stumps a few months later, in June:

The Stump Class of 2018

The trees in the first block to be stumped in 2018 have mostly survived. Yet it’s very interesting how some trees have thrived (they’re currently 9′-12′ tall), and some are only 3′ tall. It’s probably not the pruning, though. Some trees have very small trunks — they weren’t big to start with. Maybe the nutrients or water flow away there, or the roots have hit bedrock, whereas other trees’ roots have tapped into the good stuff.

This blog post was written five months after stumping Block 1, class of 2018:

There are always more problems to solve and more to be done, and it sometimes weighs heavily on me. But we do have to try and reflect upon and linger on what we have accomplished. For my own encouragement, this is a meatier post I’ll have to refer back to every once in a while.