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Coffee: Brew-Ha-Ha

The so-called third wave of coffee culture has arrived.

Connoisseurs are participating in formal cuppings—as coffee sampling is called—and even average customers are well versed in espresso variations. Although a great cup of coffee depends upon expert brewing, the first step is informed purchasing. Buying generic coffee in bulk doesn’t cut it. Not when savvy sippers know the difference between a Costa Rica Tarrazu and a Sumatra Mandheling.

What's the scoop?

Current coffee buzzwords include organic, sustainable, shade grown, and Fair Trade Certified. Organic coffees are grown entirely without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Sustainability addresses the environment as well as social and economic responsibility. Shade-grown coffees are cultivated on plantations where the bushes are integrated into the rainforest—not grown in rows in cleared plots—thus preserving biodiversity. Buying Fair Trade Certified coffees ensures that the small-scale farmers receive a fair price.

Some operators are turning to local artisan roasters. Bigger companies, however, can supply more than just beans. Most offer merchandising support and even turnkey brewing systems. Many are also showing more social responsibility and becoming greener. And large roasters can be a one-stop shop for a range of products.

S&D Coffee, for example, has its Buffalo & Spring line, offering proprietary blends, such as Cayman-Caribbean, exotic varietals like East African Yirgacheffe and Fair Trade Certified sustainable coffees like Earth Song Blend. S&D commits a portion of sales of its Buffalo & Spring coffees to Coffee Kids, a nonprofit organization aimed at improving the lives of families in growing regions. For its part, Sara Lee Foodservice is introducing Good Origin sustainable coffee. The company partnered with the Utz-certified Good Inside foundation to guarantee the origins of its coffee—traceable from farm to cup. Under the Good Origin Premium label are Moyobamba Peru, Terrenos Gemelos and Copita Madura Decaf and the Good Origin Gourmet label includes Pluma de Oaxaca, Tres Joyas and Copa Oscura Decaf. 

Store coffee properly for top flavor and aroma. Air, light, heat and moisture all affect quality.

Roast of the town

There are lots of coffee shops around town, including Starbucks, but our customers say we have the best coffee—because we roast our own beans,” says Tammy Durbin, co-owner of the 2-unit Capitol Roasters Café in Charleston, West Virginia, which sells a variety of espresso-based drinks and brewed coffees, as well as panini sandwiches and fresh baked pastries. That extra step of in-house roasting is a key point of differentiation in a competitive market. Capitol has been roasting its beans since it opened eight years ago. “It prompts sales,” says Durbin. “The beans smell wonderful when they come out of the cooling bin and people are fascinated by the process.”

But the major advantage of roasting on-premise, says Durbin, is that it is more cost-effective. Green beans are much cheaper than pre-roasted. “We buy in bulk, ordering 1,000 pounds at a time to minimize shipping costs,” she adds. The green beans are processed in 2.5-pound batches in a mini-roaster. “There is the initial investment in the equipment,” Durbin concedes, “but we paid that off a long time ago.” The roaster is easy to operate, and small batches ensure that the coffee is always fresh—a big draw for customers.

Organic growth

The organic coffee market is now a billion dollar industry, according to the Organic Trade Association. Although the organic coffee sector represents just about three percent of total U.S. green coffee imports, it is growing at an average of 32 percent annually.

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