Category: coffee

Kickapoo Coffee keeps on growing

Des Moines Farmers Market - Mars Cafe/Kickapoo Coffee Roasters

Photo by Flickr user Seth Reineke, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As I’ve mentioned countless times before, Kickapoo Coffee is the house brew here at Chez TCOmnivore. Organic, fair-trade, perfectly roasted in small batches right here in Wisconsin … what’s not to love?

So, I was glad to learn that they’ve gotten a little room to stretch their wings. According to their Facebook page, they roasted their last batch of beans at the old Viroqua train depot on September 25, and roasted their first batch in Viroqua’s Food Enterprise Center five days later. (The move was supported by the Vernon Economic Development Corporation (VEDA), which fosters economic development in Vernon County in Wisconsin’s Driftless Region.) As Nick Brown details,

The new facility, representing massive square-footage upgrade from 1,500 to 5,200, was custom designed for the Kickapoo team, which is now roasting about 3,800 pounds per week under 18-foot ceilings. ”We were hurting for space,” Kickapoo Co-Owner Caleb Nicholes told Daily Coffee News. “We had been in the same location for the last 6-plus years, which was a very small, albeit cute, historic train depot.”

Check out Brown’s post for some lovely photos of the new space.

In other news, Urban Outfitters—that “overpriced fauxhemian retailer“—just opened its first coffee bar inside its Midtown Manhattan store. What coffee are they serving? Amazingly enough, Kickapoo’s! If these adorable Kickopoovians are any indication, it seems like a pairing that will work just fine.

How coffee from a maligned region came to fetch top dollar

Duromina mit Bohnen

Photo by coffee_circle via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Gregory Warner had a nice piece on NPR yesterday that examined the specialty coffee business from the perspective of some Ethiopian growers. As he described,

coffee aficionados pay top dollar for single-origin roasts.

The professional prospectors working for specialty coffee companies will travel far and wide, Marco Polo-style, to discover that next champion bean.

But to the farmers who hope to be that next great discovery, the emergence of this new coffee aristocracy is less Marco Polo, more Cinderella: How do you get your coffee bean to the ball?

Consider this tale of impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers whose beans once sold for rock bottom prices:

The yellowed highlands around the city of Jimma in Ethiopia are where coffee was discovered in the 8th century. But by the end of the 20th century, its reputation had become as shaky as a car ride on its mountain roads.

For the details on that reputation and how a growers’ cooperative overcame it, head here for both the audio and text versions of the story.

Seattle Coffee Works: This ain’t no Starbucks!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about NPR’s coffee series, J and I were in Seattle recently. Although we (unintentionally) walked by the oldest Starbucks store, we didn’t venture in. Instead, we visited the nearby Seattle Coffee Works. As co-owner Sebastian Simsch describes,

“We love Starbucks. It’s good for us. It says that this is a gourmet coffee aisle,” he said, sweeping his arm to show Pike Street. “If you want corporate, go to them. If you want gourmet coffee, come here.”

Chemex brew at Seattle Coffee Works. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Chemex brew at Seattle Coffee Works. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Seattle Coffee Works is a coffeehouse really worth seeking out if you’re ever in town. (If you don’t believe me, heed the 4.5 stars and 287 reviews on Yelp.) As testified to by their Coffee Manifesto (see photo below), these folks love quality coffee and are happy to share that love with anyone interested. On our first visit, I had one of the two coffees readily available (stored in thermal carafes) since I had an impending work commitment and therefore not much time. J was just along for the ride on this trip, which meant he had plenty of time and therefore ordered a Chemex coffee. (If you’re unfamiliar with Chemex brewing, check out this charming demonstration video.) The barista informed J that it would probably be 30 minutes before his coffee was ready—it was the morning rush, and Chemex takes time—but he was game. I ate my bagel, drank my strawberry-banana-soy smoothie, and sipped my dark roast. Eventually J headed to the “slow bar” when one of the staff members could slip away from handling other customers. J loves African coffees, so he didn’t hesitate when he was offered Kenya AA as an option for his brew. The knowledgeable worker chatted with J about the Chemex process and offered tips for doing it optimally if we were ever inclined to try it at home. All the while, a great deal of care was taken to brew a very special cup of joe. As just one example, they warm the Chemex carafe with hot water before brewing the coffee, just like a bartender might chill your martini glass with icy water before pouring your cocktail. The resulting coffee was complex, flavorful, and smoooooth.

After such a luxurious, “I’ve died and gone to coffee heaven” experience, we had to come back again the next morning. I had a later start to my work obligations that day, and we arrived during a lull in what can be steady morning business, so this time we both ordered Chemex preparations. Luckily, the crew was just wrapping up a cupping (i.e., tasting) when we ordered, so I got to hang out at the “slow bar” while the energetic and engaging Sebastian himself made our coffee. J, of course, had his favorite Kenya AA again. (Thanks to Sebastian, I now know that “double A” refers to the size of the bean—AA is the biggest, compared smaller sizes like peaberry. Why did I never learn this before?) Sebastian was extraordinarily informative and personable. Since the cupping had finished but not yet been cleared away, he encouraged me to dive in and sip the three best rated samples of the day and let me know what he thought while he brewed J’s Kenya AA.

Rather than getting another Kenya AA, I decided (with some encouragement from Sebastian) to try the Bali Organic Kintamani [PDF], which was brewed while I headed back to our table to enjoy the delicious vegan donuts I’d selected from their baked-goods case. Imported by Royal Coffee, the Bali Kintamani comes with a story, which Sebastian shared with us table-side when he delivered my coffee. That story is also recounted on SCW’s blog:

Royal Coffee imports a few container loads of coffee every day (that’s about 1,000 bags or 130,000 pounds of raw coffee every day!)

The Bali Kintamani Natural represents the best of what only importers of that size can do. Max Fulmer of Royal Coffee went to Indonesia in the summer of 2009, visiting several of the Indonesian islands. As he visited Bali, which has yet to succeed to position itself as a brand-name coffee-growing region, he saw an opportunity to use the “natural” process in the water-poor highlands of Kintamani to both improve the quality and consistency of the resulting coffee. Max did what only a coffee-minded importer can do, he proposed a no-risk experiment to the farmers at a specific Subak Abian [a sort of cooperative]: Try the natural-process method for one season. We’ll buy a container (40,000 pounds) of your coffee regardless of the outcome of the experiment.

The experiment worked. The resulting cup is one of the juiciest, most fruit-forward cups we’ve tasted around here.

For more on coffee growing and processing in the Kintamani Highlands, check out the second article in the August 2009 Royal Coffee newsletter. And for more on Sebastian and another alternative brewing technology (cold brewing), check out this article from Seattle Met.

If you like great coffee, or are curious to learn more, I strongly encourage you to visit Seattle Coffee Works. For the most leisurely experience, head there after the morning rush, but even then you’ll find knowledgeable staff who can help perk up your day. The shop is located on Pike near Pike Place Market; or check out their second location, Ballard Coffee Works, which opened last year.

SCW coffee manifesto

The Coffee Manifesto of Seattle Coffee Works. Photo by The Conscientious Omnivore (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

One bean to rule them all


Photo by Hector Garcia via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The start of NPR’s special series on coffee yesterday couldn’t have been more timely for me, since I just got back from a trip that included several days in Seattle. (For the record, I walked past but not into the first Starbucks; more on my West coast trip coming soon.)

As science reporter Dan Charles describes,

Coffee is more than a drink. For many of us — OK, for me — it’s woven into the fabric of every day.

It also connects us to far corners of the globe.

For instance, every Friday, a truck pulls up to the warehouse of , a small roaster and coffee distributor in Durham, N.C., and unloads a bunch of heavy burlap sacks.

On any random day, that truck could bring “10 bags from a farm in El Salvador; 20 bags from a cooperative in Burundi; two bags of a special coffee from Guatemala,” says Kim Elena Ionescu, one of the coffee buyers for Counter Culture Coffee. She travels the world, visiting coffee farms and deciding which beans the company will buy.

Find the first installment (audio, text, photos) here, this morning’s entry here, and a lovely NPR coffee quiz here. For the rest of the series rolling out in the next day or so, keep an eye on NPR’s food blog, The Salt.

Inside the depot-turned-roastery at Kickapoo Coffee

I’ve said many times before (most recently here) what a big fan I am of fair-trade, mostly organic, small-batch–roasted Kickapoo Coffee. But you know what, they’re so great, I think I’ll say it again:

Kickapoo Coffee kicks butt!

For some charming photos of the crew and roastery, which is housed in the old train depot in Viroqua, Wisconsin, check out the Kickapoo Coffee “Artist Story” recently posted at the lovely Ray + Kelly blog.

Kickapoo Coffee

Photo by beautifulcataya (Shihmei Barger) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Waiter, there’s weasel poop in my coffee (and beer)

Yep, you read the headline right. Personally, I haven’t actually had “cat poo coffee” as it’s sometimes called. However, I did have the privilege once of sampling an amazing beer made with some of this coffee, an oatmeal stout called Beer Geek Brunch (I had the Cognac Edition) from the adventurous, inventive Mikkeller brewery of Denmark.

What I didn’t know is that the high prices for this coffee have led some enterprising, less-than-scrupulous folks to find ways to milk this niche market. As Claire O’Neill details in this wonderful post at NPR’s The Salt,

the Asian palm civet, a native mammal (not really a cat) to Southeast Asia, eats the ripest berries of a coffee plant; through the process of digestion, the seed is separated from the fruit and is fermented. Traditionally, wild civets would go about their business and humans would collect the fermented droppings….

“The problem,” says Oliver Strand, another coffee connoisseur, “is that it became so desired as a luxury good that they started caging the animals and feeding them coffee that isn’t ripe.”

Strand, who often writes about coffee for The New York Times and is working on a book, says that not only is the fruit unripe, but also that some civet farmers are feeding the animals varieties like Robusta, decried by many coffee lovers as an inferior bean — the one often used in instant coffee.

For all the details on this fascinating coffee, including tasting notes and photos, head to the full NPR post here, and check out this nice audio story from the BBC.

Dark Force vs Weasel

Photo by Bernt Rostad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Wisconsin Life: Kickapoo Coffee

Photo by robbplusjessie (Robb & Jessie Stankey) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Late last week, the great Wisconsin Public Radio feature “Wisconsin Life” focused on the wonderful Kickapoo Coffee.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s our house coffee thanks to their commitment to fair trade, sustainable (and usually organic) growing practices, and delicious, impeccably roasted beans. The Kickapoo segment on WPR reminded me once again just how much I love the Kickapoo crew. J and I are going to have to make the trip to Viroqua sometime for one of their monthly public cuppings.

So, give the WPR segment a listen here. Then for more on Kickapoo, check out the lovely PDF from Roast Magazine when they won the Micro Roaster of the Year award in 2010.

Then, watch the episode of Wisconsin Foodie from Wisconsin Public Television that features Kickapoo.

Finally, you can follow Kickapoo on Facebook and—if they don’t stock stores in your area—order coffee right from their website.