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jimseven"jimseven" - 5 new articles

  1. 10 years of writing this blog
  2. Miscellanea for September
  3. A few things I learned writing the atlas
  4. Book Review: The Coffee Roaster’s Companion
  5. Distributing/Selling The World Atlas of Coffee
  6. More Recent Articles
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  8. Prior Mailing Archive

10 years of writing this blog

Ten years ago today I posted my first post on here. The idea was pretty simple – I wanted to learn more (learning can be hard if you feel isolated) and sharing is beneficial if you want to learn faster. I think that what was true then is true today.

Milestones, arbitrary as they may be, always tend to be times of introspection and (while nothing is more boring than a blogger writing about a blog post about their own blog) it has been interesting to spend a moment considering the role of my writing on here in my career in coffee.

I remember registering the blog, inspired by the blogs of Thomas Gauperaa (gone now), Chris Tacy and Tonx (also gone now). In the next few years it seemed like coffee blogging became somewhat fashionable – at one point I had maybe 300 blogs in the “coffee” folder of my RSS client. Then, slowly, they all began to disappear or become dormant. That isn’t to say that new, interesting blogs haven’t started more recently – more that there was a massive swell that has since receded.

There are somewhere around 400,000-450,000 words published on here, spread across about 870 blog posts. I did think about turning the best bits of it into a little book but I’d imagine the demand for something like that would be so small that the resulting price would put off the few interested. I’m quite pleased that the timing of my book has meant that I do get to publish something I’m proud of on my ten year anniversary. (I’m also delighted, and relieved, by people’s positive reaction to the book. Thank you!)

I think it is worth restating how valuable writing here has been to me. It has done so much for me, both personally and professionally, that I’ll continue to recommend people do it – no matter how much further out of fashion it falls.

Writing here has always been a great way to clarify my thoughts, to force me to think coherently enough on

    


Miscellanea for September

I thought I’d post a quick round up of various things that are going on at the moment:

The Atlas

First of all – it looks like copies of the World Atlas of Coffee are starting to arrive with resellers. There’s no embargo on the book so, even though the release date is the 6th October, you can grab them now. Amazon will ship so books are delivered on release day.

There’ll be copies for sale in the Square Mile Webshop if you want to buy a signed copy direct from me (which would be lovely – but local is good too!). At the latest, signed copies will be available from the 10th October, dependent on the stock arriving and my travel schedule.

It’s not too late if you want to be a stockist. Just fill in your details here, and the local publisher and distributor will get in touch with you (anywhere in the world).

I’m Hiring

I need some help with the various projects I have ongoing, mostly the Coffee Jobs Board. Therefore I’m looking for a part time EA/PA, ideally based in London. You can see the ad (and perhaps apply!) here. It feels a little weird to be hiring for this role, but having some support would be extremely helpful. I hope that I can offer more than money for someone interested in this industry, or in business.

Upcoming Events

I go to Moscow tomorrow, for a Black Eagle event there with DoubleB. After that it’s Seoul to take part in the WBC All Stars event – looking forward to hanging out with Matt, Alejandro and Nick! I’m curious to see how the coffee culture there has changed in the last two years. (I will try not to flood my instagram and twitter with my incredulous postings!)

Straight after Korea is Barista Camp. I’m delighted the camp has sold out, and I think it is going to be both educational and huge amounts of fun. I’m looking forward to meeting baristas from all over Europe, and there should be plenty of time to chat about all things coffee. It’s been a while since I travelled and got to meet lots of new coffee people – if you’re going to be at one of these events then do please say hello.

It’ll be weird to be travelling the day the book comes out – but that’s another post for next month…

    

A few things I learned writing the atlas

The experience of writing the book was an interesting one, and not always pleasant. The process involved finding as much information as I could, trying to pare it down to what I considered important and then doing my best to fact-check what I found.

There were moments when there would be little epiphanies, though these weren’t always good feeling ones. I came into coffee at a time when speciality was on the rise. I came to know coffee through stories of direct trade, relationships with producers, trying to pay premiums and to push quality forward.

What didn’t make sense to me were certifications like Fair Trade. I was dismissive of them because I couldn’t see how they fit into my world of speciality. They didn’t focus on quality at all! How ridiculous! What was worse, so many of my favourite coffees came from single estates – and when I learned that a single estate couldn’t ever be Fair Trade certified it seemed even more laughable to me. (Ah, the arrogance of youth…)

Writing the history of each coffee producing country brought my foolishness and shortsightedness into sharp focus. What I wanted to do was look at the history of each country to understand how it had ended up with the level of traceability it had: why was coffee in Central America so much more traceable than coffee in Papua New Guinea or Ethiopia?

The Europeans

Each and every chapter could likely have contained a sub heading of “That time the Europeans were complete b*stards” because, invariably in every country there was such a time. The English, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Belgians (especially the Belgians – who were often utterly evil and no one seems to take them to task about this any more) did atrocious, unspeakable things – from a place of greed, ignorance and a callous belief in their superiority. It got to the point during the research that I was just waiting, as I worked chronologically through the local coffee production timeline, for the bad things to happen – I was never disappointed…

The locals

That doesn’t mean that all the terrible things were done by colonists. The painful past and guilt of land ownership, of theft and displacement, of abuse and slavery, belongs to a great many people in each and every country. This doesn’t mean everyone who owns a coffee farm is a terrible person, or that every person who owns a coffee farm has some historical skeleton in the closet – it just means it’s all complicated. Certainly more complicated than I can deal with in this post, or within the book.

Fair Trade

When you look at the past the actions of those who set up schemes like Fair Trade make more sense – and the idea that it was designed to support cooperatives, rather than those whose families had acquired land at some stage, makes a great deal of sense. This side of coffee’s history is rarely on display, and while the price crashes of the past are well known I don’t think many people in my coffee generation are particularly aware of this stuff.

I’m sure it isn’t just me

Like I said – the history of coffee and land ownership raise incredibly big, difficult issues, and I didn’t really look to tackle them in the book. I hope people who read through the chapters are inspired to read a little more on the subject. For a quick overview, and a starting place on the subject, have a look at the Wikipedia article on land reform by country.

Why I won’t buy anything from Chiquita Banana

Writing about Guatemala was one of the most depressing chapters for me. You can read plenty about it online, but the summary would be that 10 years of progressive land reform between 1944 and 1954 didn’t sit well with US owned United Fruit Company. Their big, very profitable business, owned 42 percent of arable land in Guatemala (how they got it is another story) and it was threatened by this reform. In short, they convinced the USA government to have the CIA stage a coup d’etat, which spiralled into a civil war – the longest and bloodiest in Central American history. 100,000 Guatemalans would be “disappeared” during this war. United Fruit Company is now known as Chiquita Banana. This is the same company that had apparently urged the Colombian military to fire on its striking banana workers in 1928 – estimates of the casualties at the time range from 47 up to 2,000. (In case you were wondering where the term “Banana Republic” came from…)

Bananas or coffee?

On one level this has nothing to do with coffee. However, in so many ways it has everything to do with coffee – with our relationship with those who produce the crops we import, with the attitude we’ve inherited towards trade with developing countries, and how our history has shaped our present. As a species we like to demonstrate a complete failure to learn the lessons of our history. I confess that I had been in coffee a surprisingly long time before I really dug into its history. It was revelatory, saddening and also inspiring. I’d like to do better, for us all to do better – and I am more driven to that end than I have ever been.

 

World Atlas of Coffee 1 - Amazon UKAmazon USA

  1. I hope to have a website up showing all resellers as soon as possible, if you’d like to shop with independents  ↩︎
    


Book Review: The Coffee Roaster’s Companion

In the past I’ve written up lists of recommended reading, and there is always one question that comes up that, I have struggled to answer: “What book should I buy on coffee roasting?”

Until today the options have been limited to Ken David’s book, or the harder to find little books like Gerhard A. Jensen’s “Coffee Roasting”. Neither are likely to make you an better at roasting, whether you roast at home or roast commercially. Roasting is a tricky business, and learning to roast feels more like trial and error than anything else. Many companies consider their roasting techniques and approaches proprietary, and have traditionally been unwilling to share. I’m actually a believer in proprietary information, and when I found out Scott Rao was going to write a book on coffee roasting this inspired further action for me at work. I had little doubt that this was going to be a book that was going to make coffee, across the whole industry, significantly better. I have not been disappointed.

Writing about roasting chemistry is difficult, and I think Scott has done an impressive job in cutting to the chase and presenting the important stuff in a way that seems real and accessible. While we understand the Chlorogenic acids are important, the whole discussion of them in roasting or brewing often feels abstract – here they do not.

What most people will want to read straight away are the practical roasting sections. Scott himself acknowledges this, but I would heed his note:

“I implore the reader to study the entire book and not focus solely on the “how to” chapters. Experience with my previous books has taught me that readers who cherry-pick the parts that appeal to them end up missing some of the big picture, leading them to misapply some recommendations”

I’m not going to cover the practical information in the book, other than to say that it is valuable and I definitely learned a good deal on my first couple of read throughs. Discussion of Rate of Rise (RoR), development, and things like ΔT are important, useful and ultimately very helpful. Scott has a very practical, methodical approach and I have no doubt that we’ll be looking at how we can implement his advice in a variety of places at work. I’m also delighted to see a section on sample roasting – something that it is almost impossible to find any good resources on.

Some people will reject what is in here, as it is contrary to their practices or beliefs. We’ve presented roasting as an art, as a personal expression of a roaster, so opinions that don’t validate what some people do can feel like criticism. They’re not – they’re opportunities to get better. Scott is cautious throughout to state that he’s trying to open up discussion. I think he’s given coffee roasters a base language that will allow us to better express the green coffees that we love, that we want to share and showcase to their full potential. I don’t think I absolutely agree with everything Scott writes, but I feel in a much better place when it comes to discussing that, arguing my point, and pushing my understanding of roasting to achieve the cup of coffee that we have in my heads.

You can buy the book direct from Scott. If you have any dealings with roasting coffee then I suspect this may be the best $45 you’ll spend.

The Coffee Roaster’s Companion – $45

    

Distributing/Selling The World Atlas of Coffee

After the last blog post I received a lot of emails and tweets from various people asking about selling the Atlas in their cafe, in their online shop etc, from around the world. So – if you’re a coffee business of any kind then hopefully this will be of interest to you…

I should be clear that I’m just the author, not the publisher – so I have limited control over somethings. However, it would mean a lot to me to have cafes supporting the book and I definitely want to do whatever I can to enable this and get distributors access to good pricing, to make this worthwhile. I want this to be useful to any coffee business in every way possible.

Worldwide the English language edition will be out in October. Translations won’t be out until June next year, though the English version will be available via distributors. There are currently translations planned (but not confirmed) for French, Spanish, Dutch, Czech, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Hopefully more to follow!

To help make all this easier I had a quick chat with the publisher and figured I would start with collecting the information of companies that would be interested. I can hopefully work with distributors and my publisher to sort out direct access to books. There will likely be a minimum order to get wholesale pricing, but I don’t know what that is yet.

There are a couple of boxes to check, relating to potential events. Nothing is confirmed yet, but I travel a lot and (while most authors tell you to avoid book signings) there may be a chance to do something creative if I am a town or city where people are stocking it. I am also working on an idea for a launch event that I’d like to try and coordinate nationally (and internationally if possible) that could be a more interesting way to do a book launch, and also get consumers a little more excited and curious about the possibilities of coffee. Nothing below is a commitment of any kind – just collecting contact info at this stage. Thanks again to those who’ve gotten in touch, the response has been lovely and I’m grateful that so many people want to support the book.

    


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