Certified Or Not? USDA Updating Its Regulations For Coffee Brands

It’s difficult to figure out which brands are legitimately organic and which aren’t. That’s the point.

It’s hard to demand better when you don’t even know where to start, right? The coffee industry’s supply chain has long since danced on a thin line between necessary and highly convoluted, with many today calling for ‘snipping the links’ to improve transparency. This could mean farmers also operating as roasters. This could mean importers receiving less money. It’s a lot of talk with not much action…but the USDA has had about enough.

Short for the United States Department of Agriculture, the USDA is a well-known organic label on many specialty coffee brands. So well-known, in fact, it’s starting to lose meaning entirely. New standards are now being implemented to better manage a severe lack of oversight on ethical and eco-friendly farming standards in the coffee industry. Inconsistent implementation, misinterpreting the rules and a lack of consequences for those that shirk responsibility are cited as common issues with the label.

You can never ask too many questions. Do you often look into organic labels when buying a product? If so, do you go the extra mile to see if they’re legit?

The Coffee Crisis Is Worse Than You Think

It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of an entire planet on the brink of no return.

Climate change is a powerful-yet-nebulous force that only seems to manifest in detached news reports and the occasional quip we make about the weather feeling ‘off’ this year. The plight of farmers makes our hearts ache, yes…and we can still feel entirely powerless on how to actually hold corporations responsible for the damage they do. It’s all a lot of numbers and shrinking minutes, not at all helped by a lack of awareness.

Fortunately, we still have time left.

Vox just published a video on the global coffee crisis — with a predominant focus on Colombia — and what it means for the people who work there. They explore the differences between the two major coffee varieties, how even mild changes in temperature completely overhaul the coffee growing process, and the change of coffee prices over the decades. It’s very telling how some of the rhetoric bragged about in the 1920’s is rather similar to the rhetoric used today. A lot of fluff about respecting farmers without the numbers or working conditions to match.

Give this video a watch if you need to catch up on what’s affecting one of today’s top coffee producers. While there’s still more work to do on the consumer end of things, knowledge can only make things better.

boon boona coffee

Decaf, Decaf Everywhere: Boon Boona Coffee’s Decaf

I’ve been wanting to try Ethiopian coffee for a while. I mean, it’s the birthplace of coffee and all that.

Every time I search for a decaf coffee bag I take my time reading about every little detail. The goals of the roasters bringing this bag to my shelf. The benefits for the farmers toiling away behind-the-scenes, often unseen as the backbone of the industry at large (aside from a few candid photographs). It’s a lot to think about before clicking that purchase button, but it’s important. Boon Boona Coffee ticks off several of those high points for me: it’s a local roaster, a black-owned business and an Ethiopian origin all in one.

Let’s take a look at Boon Boona Coffee‘s specialty decaf variety and how it stacks up against all the coffee reviewed so far. If you’ve missed out on my previous posts, check out my recent review of Onyx Coffee Lab’s Decaf Colombia Huila or Sightglass Coffee’s Hunky Dory.

It’s time to dip into the world of classic Ethiopian coffee:

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onyx coffee lab coffee bag

Decaf, Decaf Everywhere: Onyx Coffee Lab’s Decaf Colombia Huila

One of the first things to accept concerning specialty coffee is that you might not get every flavor note listed on the bag. Seems odd, right? It’s one of the primary reasons why you buy in the first place.

The thing is…there are just too many variables for something as subtle as coffee. Your own unique tastebuds are a huge factor in what you taste or don’t, for starters. The freshness of the roast and grind is another, literally grounded in the science behind flavor chemicals. Then there are the unique brewing methods, up to and including whether you use filtered water! As such, I’ve learned not to be entirely disappointed if I miss out on one or two of the coffee’s features. Maybe I won’t give it a round of applause, but I won’t necessarily deem it a failure, either.

So we transition into Onyx Coffee Lab and their specialty decaf variety, advertising an impressive medley of flavors that include apple, brown sugar, almond and dark chocolate. Even better? They boast some of the most beautiful packaging I’ve ever seen. If you’ve missed my previous decaf coffee reviews, check out my breakdown of Sightglass Coffee’s Hunky Dory or Counter Culture Coffee’s Decaf Kuichi.

You’re going to love this one:

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How To Get Your Pourover Brew Tasting Perfect

I love learning new techniques. Makes me twice as excited to make a cup of joe in the morning.

The pourover is one of the most user-friendly ways of brewing coffee at home. That doesn’t mean it still can’t be improved! The Perfect Daily Grind has a great five-minute read on how to improve your pourover technique. They go into the scientifics behind blooming, stress the need for filtered water and explore different pour methods. Some of the most common problems facing pourover users are incompatible filters or the wrong water temperature. You don’t want to burn all the flavor out of your beans, right?

I’ve used my pourover dozens of times since I got it a few months back, so I can safely say I’m improving. For instance, I can literally see the difference between using hot water and boiling water. Hot water lifts a delicious, amber crema from the coffee, clinging together even as you keep pouring. Boiling water, on the other hand, results in a more bubbly crema with a weaker color. When I’m spending anywhere between $15 to $22 on a bag of coffee, I’ll be damned if I don’t pull the best possible extraction.

partners coffee roasters

Decaf, Decaf Everywhere: Partners Coffee Roasters’ Ghost Town

Another day, another decaf. This one caught my eye for a few reasons.

Chocolate is a pretty common flavor note in the coffee world. Why not? Cocoa plants undergo just as complex a cultivation process as coffee cherries, with similar flavors and colors, to boot. One of the most popular cafe drinks — the iconic mocha — blend these two worlds together for an unforgettable combo. American roasters today have some pretty mean competition at the best of times, so they often get more specific when heralding what makes their beans special. Instead of just chocolate (usually) you get milk chocolate, dark chocolate or, in this instance, white chocolate.

What’s a good decaf coffee you can try? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s take a look at Partners Coffee Roasters’ Ghost Town decaf beans and see if it lives up to its promise. If you missed the first part of the Decaf, Decaf Everywhere series, check out my review of Counter Culture Coffee’s Slow Motion here. It’s tasty stuff.

Without further ado!

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From Part-Time Barista To Making Coffee At Home: My Homebrewing Coffee Journey (Part Two)

The coffee journey never ends. Anyone who pretends to know all there is about this ancient bean is a liar…and an unsuccessful one, at that.

At-home coffee. Homebrew coffee. Making coffee at home. Whatever you happen to call it, this method has taken a front seat for many in the wake of the coronavirus. Myself included! After many a year deprioritizing this beloved fascination in favor of more immediate concerns, I’ve since purchased a manual coffee grinder, a French press and some decaf beans to start my homebrewing coffee journey. Not content with just a few options on the table, I’ve decided to try out the pourover, as well. You can find the first part of the series here.

How are all these different brew methods faring? Let me count the ways.

I recently got my Hario pourover and Malita filters from Seattle Coffee Gear (as you can likely see, they’re my go-to for online coffee supplies). I bought my French Press off of Amazon, however…and let me say, I do not generally recommend this. It’s best to buy your coffee supplies from either a specialty supplier or the original business, as the site is loaded with fake sellers that either sell knock-offs or used versions that slipped quality control. Fortunately for me, my French Press arrived in mint condition.

My very first personal French Press coffee, though…wasn’t great.

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From Part-Time Barista To Making Coffee At Home: My Homebrewing Coffee Journey

A former barista and longtime coffee lover just now starting a homebrewing coffee journey? It’s more likely than you think.

Let’s take a few steps back. My priorities were already being shuffled around long before the pandemic stepped in and shook us for all our loose change. From moving to a new apartment to figuring out a career shift, my desire to have an omnipresent home cafe in the corner of my kitchen was a lovely dream, but just that. A distant dream of making coffee at home, constantly pushed onto the back burner and growing ever loftier with every new excuse. If I wanted to enjoy a good cup, there was always a great cafe (or three) just a walk away. I live in the heart of Washington: throw a stone.

These days it’s too risky to even go to the low-activity cafes or roasteries, on top of everyone’s wallets being burned out. Now that things are both more stable and entirely unstable for me, my love for coffee has been resuscitated beyond said coffeehouse trips (and endless poring through coffee industry reports). It’s time to save money in the long run and create a homebrewing coffee set-up, at my own pace and with my preferences front and center.

While living with my mother I’d bounced between using her little red Keurig and her French Press (buying specialty beans had also been low-priority). After I moved, my roommate also happened to have a Keurig on standby. One collecting dust, at that. I’d proceed to use it a few times a week with grocery store coffee staples like Peet’s and Signature Select, giving me another coveted taste of the homebrewing experience (as well as a reminder of why I don’t want to rely on unsustainable coffee pods in the future).

One day my roommate was cleaning up the place and asked if I wanted to sell her Keurig, flicking on the lightbulb in my head that I have a prime opportunity to finally, at long last, upgrade.

Don’t let my procrastination turn you away: putting together your own coffee corner is a ton of fun. I’m going to share my homebrewing coffee journey in this ongoing series, from the equipment I’ve bought to the beans I’m grinding. I’ll also share recipes I’m trying out, homebrewing coffee resources and my thoughts on coffee culture. If you have a coffee set-up you’ve been thinking of starting, or just enjoy the thrill of the journey, read on.

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A Wealth Of History In Each Bean: The Depth Of Central America’s Coffee

The more I read about coffee, the more I need to learn. It’s not a pain point for me, but rather, a joy.

With every single country having a unique relationship with coffee, it only makes sense getting to the bottom of this bean is like trying to reach the deep ocean with the tips of your fingers. If you’re in the mood for an informative-yet-brisk read, this piece over on Vinepair takes a brief look at each coffee variety throughout Central America. This guide sheds light on the incredibly subtle flavor notes that can be cultivated (such as brown sugar and honey) to the astronomically high prices-per-pound, quite literally, only found in high places.

The sheer depth of detail that goes into cultivation is a lesson in patience. Some coffee varieties found mean competition in the mass market not even for their flavor notes, but for the fact they were more resistant to destructive rust. The Robusta variety, as such, might see more popularity in the future for being less delicate than the more coveted Arabica. You’ll never find me wagging a finger at someone for lacking cultural or technical coffee knowledge, because the very nature of this widespread and ancient drink means there’s always something new to discover.

And what fun it is.