Bright Lights, Little City: CHRIS OGLESBY

“Bright Lights, Little City” is a space for our friends, staff and customers to share anecdotes about the city we love. This month, we’re proud to share a piece by Chris Oglesby.

Do you have your own Austin story that is waiting to be told? You can submit it here for a chance to be featured in our next month's Bright Lights, Little City. 

In Which: Billy F. Gibbons Performs at My Book Release Party.

From the first weekend I moved to this little city in summer 1990, I became more aware of a deep arterial connection between Austin and my west Texas hometown Lubbock. I had read an article by Austin journalist Molly Ivins observing how Lubbock is a good place to be from (implying “no longer there”) and why many of Lubbock’s more creative denizens tend to migrate to Austin. I noticed this phenomenon right away firsthand.

Like many peers in the slacker days of early 1990s Austin, my first bed in Austin was a futon couch belonging to fellow Lubbock expatriates, and my first weekend we went down to 6th Street, which was less lively then. I proclaimed, “I wish we’d see someone we know,” and within minutes a good friend from Lubbock passed by like he owned the street. And so it began. Austin is a little city.

The Lubbock Game evolved in Austin among my fellow flatland expatriates, and the Game goes like this: We ask “Do you know where he/she is from?” (RE: musician/actor/artist/etc whom we’re watching or listening to at the moment) And the cognoscente groan emphatically, “Lubbock.” The answer is always Lubbock.

The apparently large percentage of Austin’s influential artists who admit publicly, “When I lived in Lubbock…,” is uncanny. Examples include Flatanders Joe Ely, Butch Hancock & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Greater Tuna co-creator Jaston Williams, Lost Gonzos Bob Livingston and Gary P. Nunn, The Texana Dames cosmic dance band, A-List producer & pedal-steel player Lloyd Maines, blues legend Angela Strehli, songwriter Kimmie Rhodes, and okay you get the idea, right? Austin is a little city.  

Long story short: this obsession for years living in Austin led to me receiving a contract with University of Texas Press to publish a book from my writings & interviews with many of those Lubbock-area artists who deeply influence Austin culture and beyond. The book is entitled “Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music.” The title is based on something Jimmie Gilmore supposedly said to someone else, and I now confess that it’s way too long for a book title; almost no one remembers it or says it right. I later told Terry Allen that I wished I had named the book “Dirt” and he agreed that Dirt is a better name. Anyway…

Back to Austin, September 2006: University of Texas Press publishes my book (ISBN: 978-0-292-71434-2), it receives an appropriate amount of good reviews from critics. I got an award for research. The musicians involved seem to like the book, as do the straight folk back in Lubbock, which is no humble balancing feat.

So this is when Bob Livingston, of legendary Lost Gonzo Band fame (think: “Home with the Armadillo”, Jerry Jeff Walker, Cosmic Cowboy Michael Martin Murphey, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Redneck Mother”, etc.), contacts me with his idea, “Chris, if you can find a place with a stage and backline, I bet if you have a book signing party several of us musicians would show up to play.” I reply that I agree it’s a good idea but I don’t want to ask such a favor of the artists. However Gonzo Bob assures me, if I find the right place he’ll corral them and musicians will come. Austin is a little city.

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Stubb’s BBQ & Live Music downtown on Red River arguably is one of Austin’s all-time premiere music venues, and do you know where the titular founder C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield came to Austin from, and where the co-founders of Stubb’s BBQ grew up? Did you guess Lubbock? Good for you. So that is how I’ve known the founders of Stubb’s most my life and felt free to ask; nonetheless, I am immensely grateful when they offer the downstairs stage and bar, along with paid sound-crew, for a Sunday night book-signing party at Stubb’s. Generous indeed. Austin is a little city.

Sunday November 12, 2006. One of those events that is impossible to describe to anyone who was not there but in short it was like a huge all-star family reunion of anyone in Austin with connections to Lubbock, a joyful fellowship of artists who hail from the Hub City. Many artists who had never performed together had the opportunity to do so. Mighty hugs, huge authentic laughs, spontaneous dancing. Gonzo Bob took over as de facto stage manager while I autographed copies of the book provided by UT Press (Full disclosure, my editor at UT Press is Allison Faust, who comes from…did you guess Lubbock?) Impromptu performances by Connie, Traci, and Charlene Hancock of the Texana Dames with patriarch Tom X Hancock; Flatlander Jimmie Dale Gilmore sang with his son Colin Gilmore; Zydeco star Ponty Bone rocked his accordion; songwriter/guitarist David Halley rolled on guitar; Legendary sidemen supported throughout the night: fiddler Richard Bowden, guitarist John X Reed, keyboardist Dee Purkeypile; performance artist and national treasure Jo Carol Pierce, and international award-winning poet Paul Bullock, did their things.

Enter Billy Gibbons and Billy Bob Thornton. Okay, before I forget, Stu Cook drummer for Creedence Clearwater Revival was also hanging around in the crowd this night but never got on stage as far as I know. (I do not make this up; Austin is a little city.) Southern rock veteran Jay Boy Adams is another artist who graces my book with his stories. In the 1970’ & 80’s, the Jay Boy Adams Band toured with and opened for ZZ Top, and Jay doubled as Billy Gibbons’ guitar tech while ZZ Top was onstage. November 2006, Gibbons was in Austin to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Texas Grammy voters with his friend Billy Bob Thornton there to present. So Jay invites them to attend our little book-signing party. Bob Livingston says to me, “Billy Gibbons wants to play.” I say, “Let him.” There happened to be a film crew on site for some unknown serendipitous reason, so if you don’t believe me, here is a link to video:

Afterwards, Jay horse-collars me outside of Stubb’s and says to me endearingly, “What did you think of that, you little fucker?” I said “Well, there’s when I got married and now that is the second greatest thing that ever happened to me.” Thank God, Austin is a little city.

 

Artist Christopher J. Oglesby creates paintings in Austin Texas; please visit his website www.prettycoolart.com

Oglesby also created www.virtualubbock.com dedicated to West Texas music & culture; authored a book about creativity & numerous magazine articles about life in Texas; and he has produced more than 100 successful music events in Austin and beyond.

The Roast: The Art of Skim

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At Little City we cup a lot of coffees. Cupping is the step-by-step process used for evaluating a coffee’s individual attributes to assess its overall quality. Its steps are numerous and steeped in guidelines and protocols. A cupper at source in Ethiopia or Indonesia should theoretically follow the same procedures as a potential buyer in Austin. It is an international language that connects the industry and aims to keep all points of the supply chain on the same page when discussing a particular coffee’s quality and value.

Read more about cupping protocols here!

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One step in the cupping process that is rarely discussed in terms of protocol is the skim. After the coffee has been brewed (8.5g of coffee per 150mL of water at 200-205 deg F for 4 minutes) and the crust of grounds formed on top has been broken (with the bottom side of a spoon in 3 swift motions), the foam that remains on the surface of the cup must be removed. This step is strictly functional, ensuring that the cuppers get a clean spoonful of liquor - the term used for the brewed coffee that will be slurped by spoon during evaluation. Aside from washing dishes, skimming is likely the most monotonous and time consuming step of the entire cupping process.

In our years of daily cupping and travel we have skimmed a lot of cups and have seen a lot of cups skimmed. Below are some videos of the various methods we’ve encountered:

The two-spoon method

The most common skim. Two spoons are placed together and slowly fanned out around the inside edge of the cup to collect the foam from the top. Here Randy makes it look easy though it will take some practice for new cuppers to be able to remove all of the foam in one motion.

The one-spoon method

This method was captured at a Coffees of the World class given by Joel and Eric in Varginha, Brazil and was the catalyst for this extremely specific and geeky blog post. Here Jorge Assis of Monte Alegre uses a one-handed scoop to corral the foam and then a swirling motion on the surface of the cup to coax it in to the spoon. One may argue that this amount of motion could cause excessive agitation and potentially over-extract the sample, but who are we to argue with a guy who has been cupping longer than half of our company has been alive? Plus it looks super cool and leaves a perfectly clean cup!

The Blow Method

Finally a look at the rarest of the skim methods we’ve witnessed - the blow technique. In this video Joel took at a local coffee competition in the state of Parana years ago, a contestant floats all of the foam to one side of the cup with a gust of breath before gently scooping it out with his spoon. This technique is rarely seen in Specialty Coffee and is more commonly seen with old-school cuppers who use the Brazilian COB (Classificação Oficial Brasileiro) system, where the roast is lighter and the grind coarser, thus facilitating the blow, if you will. We’re not sure if it is critical to the technique, but the Sam Elliot stache definitely doesn’t hurt.

There you have it - three videos that prove the skim worthy of our attention and appreciation. We encourage our fellow cuppers to practice these techniques and turn us on to your own special skim methods. Be sure to tag us in your videos and use the hashtag #artoftheskim.

The Source: Single Origin Diversity - Café De Costa Rica

As we’re making final selections on Costa Rican coffees and waiting for the shipments to arrive, Ian recaps his sourcing trip to Costa Rica and the takeaways from the different farms and regions in this month's edition of "The Source."

While I would love nothing more than for my list on a trip to Costa Rica to include nothing but various tropical fruits I will add to my guaro from atop my beachside perch, while wearing the Little City hat on sourcing trips (literally, actually, check out the photos. I love that hat) I got food poisoning the moment I got to the beach. So instead of rehashing my romantic relationship with the toilet at my Airbnb, I’m sharing a little more about the coffee sourcing part of the trip to Costa Rica and various coffee producing regions I visited in January.

The first context of Single Origin coffee for me was Juan Valdez himself. For any of you who don’t remember the legend of the man, check this out. While Juan is obviously the national coffee hero of Colombia, I was informed that he drinks Costa Rican coffee. Some Costa Ricans actually had a bumper sticker created, resulting in a lawsuit between Colombian and Costa Rican coffee. The lawsuit was settled after finding a Costa Rican named Juan Valdez, who did in fact drink Costa Rican coffee.

Broad generalizations of coffee from one country to another are just as silly as that bumper sticker. Coffee quality varies drastically from origin to origin and region to region. We visited farms from the West Valley, Central Valley, and the Tarrazu Region, each with its own historic, socioeconomic, cultural, landscape, and flavor profile differences.

All in all, Costa Rica has eight main growing regions:

  • The Central Valley
  • Tres Rios
  • West Valley
  • Turrialba
  • Orosi
  • Tarrazu
  • Guanacaste
  • Brunca

In all honesty, I haven't been to all of them. Though I have been to three of the better known areas. During my last trip in January, I visited and cupped coffees from the Central Valley, West Valley, and Tarrazu regions. By the end of it, flavor attributes from each region started to present themselves in the cup. But that’s not the point… we were on a mission.  (I tend to get side tracked, so bear with me.)

Without spending too much time droning on about the specific criteria we use when sourcing (if you’re interested, take a look at our sourcing outline), this particular trip was intended to identify a coffee profile that can replace our current Peruvian blend component. A washed coffee with mellow acidity, full body, and notes of milk chocolate. It’s a relatively easy profile to identify, in all honesty; the hard part is the quality threshold. Let’s say you want a nice lager beer. If the criterion is just lager, a Lone Star tall boy works just fine, but if you want exceptional quality, nothing comes close to the St. Augesteiner Helles Lager (IMO). Trouble is, that damn St. Augustiner can’t be found anywhere outside of Bavaria. Our blend components are no different (they actually stand up quite well on their own as a single origin). To get the quality we are looking for, going to source is the only way.

In addition to the blend profile, we want some coffee to nerd out on. Last year we featured coffees from El Cedral farm in Dota Tarrazu, Costa Rica. Personally, this was one of my favorite coffees of all time. A well rounded, natural processed, Yellow and Red Catuai, full bodied, strong notes of stone fruit, milk chocolate and an after taste that doesn’t disappoint. Naturally (Pun intended), I had to visit to see what made El cedral so exceptional last year.

Sitting at 1,900–2,000 masl, it was one of the highest farms in the Dota, Tarrazu region. Generally speaking, the higher the altitude, the longer the maturation period (due to a milder climate). From my experience this increases the chances of an amazing cup of coffee. While most of the coffees in this valley had been harvested already or were in the middle of picking, El Cedral was just beginning to reach full maturity. This coffee wouldn’t be picked until a few weeks after I left, so unfortunately we have not yet tasted it. (Samples will be arriving in Austin in the next few weeks).

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From the picture above you can see the small town of Dota; located at the center is Coopodota, a cooperative processing mill that all the growers in this region are a part of. While the smallholder growers may not have the resources independently, as a group they are capable of some pretty incredible things. The mill was one of the most sustainable and organized mills I’ve seen. Sustainably speaking, all of the coffee pulp is composted and used to fertilize the crops. The water from the mill is either sprayed into grazing fields or star grass for purification. Most of the electricity is generated from the nearby river and the dryers are heated using only coffee parchment.

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Overall, the co-op administration has most of the control to decide which lots get picked on which days and to determine how they will be processed. The two receiving stations are the larger more industrious station and then the microlot receiving station.

Stopping by one co-op to find the perfect coffees for our blends isn’t enough, though. Another great example with its own nuances would be La Candelaria. We would be meeting Coricafes Green Coffee Manager, Stefan Wille, at the farm. Stefan had actually been to Little City’s roasting facility to visit months beforehand.

  Stefan Wille (left), Ian Myers (middle), Fernando Cabada (right)

Stefan Wille (left), Ian Myers (middle), Fernando Cabada (right)

After the 1.5-hour car ride to the West Valley, just northwest of San Jose, we arrived at the Candalaria Estate, Stefan waiting patiently at the gate. Funny enough, Stefan did not realize it was the coffee roaster he had visited in Austin, TX coming to visit until he saw my face. The coffee industry has had of way of making the world feel like a small place. The potential to run into someone you met in a completely different country is very real.

Candelaria Estate was founded in 1965 by Otto Kloeti. Otto, Uwe Thormaehlen, and Klaus Ronning founded Coricafe, the independent coffee exporter, the same year. Candalaria was purchased from producers in the province of Alajela, 40 km northwest of San Jose. Like most coffee growing regions in Costa Rica, the road to Candelaria was winding, steep, and only sometimes paved. Once inside the farm you immediately see the recently harvest coffee shrubs from the lower altitude lots of the farm. At the time, Candelaria was in full swing of harvest, though at 10 a.m., most the action is still happening in the fields. Stefan showed us the newly updated washing station and also showed off some of the old ox-powered equipment.

After touring the washing station and mill, we moved on to the highest lot on the property. The views were fantastic, though most of the coffee at even its highest lot had been picked already. It’s great for tasting but not so great for photos. Hence the non-coffee-oriented landscape photo.  

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One of the fascinating things I learned while at Candelaria was how they processed the waste water from the washing station. Otto Kloeti took steps toward sustainable clean water years ago at the washing station. Otto hypothesized that by sprinkling the waste water over star grass, it would filter the water enough to rejoin the rivers. After testing, his hypothesis was proven true, and it is now used by many other farmers in the region.

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The Source: Sourcing Seasonality

In this entry, Little City GM Ian Myers provides an introduction to our new section called "The Source," and explains some of the basics of sourcing seasonal coffee.

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Hopefully you have experienced the enhanced flavor of coffee that is freshly roasted, ground, and brewed. It’s life-changing, or at least it was for me. But what about freshness in terms of seasonal coffee? And I am not talking about Pumpkin Spice or White Christmas seasonal, but rather “fresh crop coffee” that was freshly harvested.

What does “seasonal” coffee even mean? The coffee shrub, like many other trees, has harvest periods throughout the year, when its fruits are ripe for the picking. Depending on rainfall and weather patterns, the coffee plant can have one or several harvests throughout the year. Those harvest times vary by country, and even by the specific region within a country.  As Joel talks about in The Roast [LINK], the coffee bean is actually a seed, and the minute that coffee seed is harvested, it is removed from its protecting mother plant and subject to degradation. In other words, the clock is ticking. What happens as the bean ages? The first sign that a coffee bean is past its prime is that the flavor attributes fade—the coffee loses its brightness, sharpness, and intensity. After that stage, the coffee starts to taste “past crop,” gaining papery, woody, flavors and even astringency.

As the General Manager of Little City, I wear many hats. But, along with head roaster Eric Wolf and all of our team, one of the ones I am most proud of is how we keep our blends fresh by constantly sourcing fresh crop seasonal coffees. Along with our seasonal microlots, we are always planning ahead for coffees that will go into Congress Ave, Republic, Grackle, Messenger, Violet Crown and other blends. Our blends are crafted in the sense that they are not the same coffees year round, nor are they “where microlots go to die.” (A common industry practice is to use blends as a place to get rid of older coffees that might have once been good, but have since faded and now taste faded or woody.) We are constantly planning our blends and changing out the components with fresh crop so they don’t fade, or, worse yet, develop those “past crop” woody flavors.

  The Little City team cupping Costa Rica samples from Ian’s sourcing trip, to determine which freshly harvested (seasonal) coffee will replace the Peruvian coffee in some of our blends.

The Little City team cupping Costa Rica samples from Ian’s sourcing trip, to determine which freshly harvested (seasonal) coffee will replace the Peruvian coffee in some of our blends.

You may have seen calendars showing the harvest, ship, and arrival periods from each country. God, I wish it were that easy. The only way to understand the ever-changing harvest seasons and ensure freshness is through relationships with producers and exporters, and visiting them as often as possible to have an ear to the ground about the intricacies of each harvest.

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Counter clockwise: Ian cupping coffee in Costa Rica, Eric in the fields of the Huila Department in Colombia, and Joel enjoying a non-coffee beverage in Myanmar.

 

Of course, even “perfect” planning doesn’t ensure flawless execution. For example, we’ve sometimes struggled getting coffees into the U.S. from countries like Myanmar, or even neighboring Mexico. The steps between harvest, processing, sampling, contracting, milling, bagging, exporting, and importing take real time and attention. Best case is three months after harvest, and we’ve found that working with exceptional producers and carefully vetting supply chains help to hit that target. I traveled to Costa Rica last month and last week our team made a decision about the new Costa Rica blend component. You can follow those coffees at #lccostarica.

But I am so proud of our results. It’s time consuming and expensive to constantly be sourcing new coffees for the blends, not to mention the time spent working on the roast curves to ensure they don’t alter the blend profile. But it’s worth it. I am very proud of the work we do and the quality of our blends. They are not afterthoughts. Our motto is Everyone Deserves a Great Cup of Coffee. And with all of our blends, that rings true year round.

The Roast: The Challenges of Storage

Welcome to The Roast, where we detail the journey of unroasted green coffee through storage, transport, roasting at our facility, and eventually to your door as the brown beans you know. In this first piece, we look at the technical coffee storage challenges that inspired us to rethink our methods.

Heraclitus famously claimed that you can’t step in the same river twice. Maybe the same could be said about coffee roasting—you can never roast the same coffee twice. But you can sure as hell try! 

Why can you never roast the same coffee twice? Coffee is so many things—a plant, a stimulant, a ritual; but when you boil it all down, coffee is a seed (OK, we promised puns, so there you go. Never boil your coffee!) And, like all seeds, it is living entity that is constantly changing and adapting to its environment.

  • Coffee seeds, or beans, are hygroscopic, meaning they actively exchange moisture with the environment around them. Put coffee in a humid place, it will get wetter; put it in an arid place, it will get dryer.

  • Many of the components that give coffee the flavor we so love are preserved in the cell walls of the endosperm. If the coffee is not stored properly then those reserves will be depleted through processes such as respiration and oxidation. As temperature and relative humidity increase, the rate at which these activities occur also increase, further depleting these reserves and thus decreasing the quality of the coffee.  

  • Depending on a seed’s chemical composition, it will need to be dried to a different moisture content level in order to be safely stored. Simply put, moisture content is the amount of water in the seed and is either calculated in “wet basis” terms, meaning the the amount of water divided by the total weight of the seed (dry matter + water) or “dry basis” terms, meaning the amount of water divided by just the amount of dry matter. While water is necessary for the life of the seed, it can also be a bad hombre, leading to rapid deterioration from mold, fermentation, or a high rate of metabolic activity that consumes the cell reserves. This degradation happens through reduction in sugar levels, and increases the levels of polyphenols, electrical conductivity and potassium leaching, among others (Borém et al, 2008).

  • Seeds that are oily need to be dried more. Why? Since water and oil don’t easily bind, the water in these seeds is less bound to the seed, and is more available to do its bad hombre activities such as fermentation or mold formation. On the opposite end of the spectrum, starchy seeds can be dried less, since water binds to starch and is therefore less available.

  • Coffee seeds lie in the middle - not too oily, not too starchy. Empirical evidence suggests that the ideal moisture content to store coffee is 11% wet basis (Corrêa et al. 2003; Afonso Junior et al. 2008). The best way to maintain this is to store the coffee at less than 70% relative humidity at the coldest temperature possible above freezing (Borém et al, 2008).

As Guy Clark sang (and Steve Earle wrote), “they say in Texas the weather is always changing, and one thing change will bring is something new.” Over the years, we have struggled with the changing weather in our efforts to keep constant temperature and humidity. Sometimes the summer heat and humidity have inspired our AC to kick on and maintain a wonderful homeostasis at 65° F and 60% relative humidity. Other times, not. Similarly, a cold winter dry spell many a time has left our humidifiers struggling to keep pace with the dry air.

In the past few months we completely remodeled our green warehouse space. First, we increased its size so that we can bring more coffee in-house at once, thus bringing under our control even more the quality of our coffee. More importantly, we added (lots) more insulation, an oversize AC, and mist-aspersion. We can’t stop the aging process of the seed, but I’ll be damned if we won’t die trying!

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  New improvements to our storage facility.

New improvements to our storage facility.

We have always been searching for the best packaging to transport and store the coffee. I have had the good fortune of participating in some pioneering studies for coffee packaging (Ribeiro 2011; Ribeiro et al. 2013; Andrade 2017).

  The sensory analysis team for the scientific research behind a recent innovation in coffee packaging - lower cost high-barrier bags. (Fabricio Andrade’s PhD dissertation which is listed in the references below.)

The sensory analysis team for the scientific research behind a recent innovation in coffee packaging - lower cost high-barrier bags. (Fabricio Andrade’s PhD dissertation which is listed in the references below.)

Our very first coffee was Daterra’s Pearl Reserve which came to us in vacuum-sealed bags as part of their Penta system. When we started importing ourselves, we used vacuum-sealed and then Grain Pro ® bags. Now we are an early adopter for a new packaging technology that provides high-quality moisture barrier bags at a reduced cost for growers (the same ones referenced above in the photo of the sensory analysis team).

  A photo of a much younger me at Daterra’s warehouse in Patrocinio, learning about their Penta System for quality control, including the vacuum-sealed boxes.

A photo of a much younger me at Daterra’s warehouse in Patrocinio, learning about their Penta System for quality control, including the vacuum-sealed boxes.

  One of the earlier containers we brought in, with vacuum-sealed bags inside boxes.

One of the earlier containers we brought in, with vacuum-sealed bags inside boxes.

Another recent innovation we have implemented with our Brazilian export partner Sancoffee is the use of high-barrier big bags, a method proven to provide better protection for the coffee.

  A photo of our coffee in a high barrier big-bag awaiting export.

A photo of our coffee in a high barrier big-bag awaiting export.

Growing up in Iowa, the sight of grain silos was common, but nothing I gave much thought to.  Yet when completing my masters in Agricultural Engineering, one of my favorite classes was on grain silos—calculating systemic pressure, dimensioning fans, determining when to aerate or not based on relative humidity, external temperature and grain mass temperature... I know, I know, it doesn't sound too interesting, and I’m still not sure how I got from loving coffee for coffee’s sake to applying the Janssen equation to determine wall stress in silos.

But perhaps in this awkward interest I have company. After all, you, dear reader, are still reading :) Let's not think about it too much. As a reward for getting through it, here are Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris singing Steve Earle's Ft. Worth Blues.

Cheers!

Joel

 

References

Afonso Junior, P.C., F.M. Borém, P.C. Corrêa, and V.C. Siqueira. 2014. “Physical and Thermal Properties of Coffee Fruit and Seeds.” In Handbook of Coffee Post-Harvest Technology, edited by F.M. Borèm, 1sted., 30–47. Norcross: Gin Press.

Andrade, F.T. 2017. “Qualidade Do Café Natural Especial Acondicionado Em Embalagens Impermeáveis E Armazenado No Brasil E No Exterior.” UFLA.

Borém, F.M., E.P. Isquierdo, F.C. Ribeiro, J.T Almeida Neto, and A. Piagentini. 2014. “Coffee Storage, Milling and Sorting.” In Handbook of Coffee Post-Harvest Technology, edited by F.M. Borém, 1sted., 143–72. Norcross: Gin Press.

Corrêa, P. C., P. C. Afonso Júnior, F. S. Silva, and D. M Ribeiro. 2003. “Qualidade Dos Grãos de Café (Coffea Arabica L.) Durante O Armazenamento Em Condições Diversas.” Revista Brasileira de Armazenamento 7: 137–47.

Ribeiro, Fabiana Carmanini. 2013. “Métodos Alternativos Para Armazenamento de Cafés Especiais.” Universidade Federal de Lavras.

Ribeiro, Fabiana Carmanini, Flavio Meira Borem, Gerson Silva Giomo, Renato Ribeiro De Lima, Marcelo Ribeiro Malta, and Luisa Pereira Figueiredo. 2011. “Storage of Green Coffee in Hermetic Packaging Injected with CO2.” Journal of Stored Products Research. doi:10.1016/j.jspr.2011.05.007.

Bright Lights, Little City: James Hand 

The ongoing “Bright Lights, Little City” column is a place for our staff and customers to share their Austin anecdotes — no coffee required. This month, Little City’s Joel Shuler starts us off with the melancholy of Country music. 

In his revisionist history podcast, Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the hypothesis that Country music makes people cry because it is not afraid to be specific. And with James Hand, you get the feeling that he ain’t delving into self pity as much as he is just stating the specific facts of his life. 

"When you stopped loving me, so did I
Ain't it strange, now we both see eye to eye
Neither one of us, cares if I live or die
When you stopped loving me, so did I" 

Then again, maybe the only thing that could make me respect the guy more than his genuine authenticity is if the opposite were true — if he worked in Dell’s tech support department troubleshooting business servers during the day and at night could flip a switch and bam, out comes James Hand. 

I have two James Hand stories that I find myself going back to. When I first moved to Austin, I couldn't get a job. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could fill a day of an Austin tour of “places that wouldn’t hire me.” I would go to Ginny's Little Longhorn a few times a week to blow off some steam and drink through whatever spare change I had left from groceries, buying cans of Pearl for a buck. When I heard James play for the first time, I was so impressed I felt the need to buy him a beer. I offered to buy him a Lonestar, which, given my financial means at the time, meant I was likely going home a few sheets shy of my original intent. His response: "No sir, I am going to buy YOU a beer." It was the best damn beer I have ever had. 

About 10 years later, I took the Amtrak from Austin to Little Rock to visit my grandmother before she passed away. Knowing it was the last time I would see her, I was in a pretty morose mood, which was not helped by the rather gloomy view the Amtrak route gives you of the US - not so much A City of New Orleans picturesque Americana as it seems to be a run-on view of America’s back alleys and junkyards.  On the way back the train stopped in Fort Worth outside the stock yards, and who boarded the train with his guitar? He looked spent, and I was too. I didn’t feel the need to engage like I had a decade ago. It seemed like the best thing I could offer him was some space and peace and quiet. And I had all I needed. I was on a train, in Fort Worth, outside the stockyards, sharing a passenger car with a modern day Jimmie Rodgers. 

Got a better Austin story? Send it our way, if we publish it in one of our newsletters we'll send you a Little City shirt and bag of coffee.

Port to Cup Tour Reflections and Video

We’re excited to share a video recap from our Port to Cup tour, where Little City brought together growers from the Philippines and Myanmar to help them better understand their product and the coffee supply chain. Check out the video below and read on for insights from the experience.

 

Port to Cup Tour Participants and Partners

Since the tour, Little City has continued to foster its relationships with several of the growers, both through purchasing their coffee, and through Joel’s work with the Coffee Quality Institute in supporting the budding Myanmar Specialty Coffee Industry. This July, through a USAID grant and under the supervision of Winrock International and the Coffee Quality Institute, two of the tour participants, Melanie Edwards and Su Su Aung, received wet and dry mills to increase the production and quality of coffee in their respective communities.

Little City has also purchased lots from two of the tour participants: Melanie Edwards, who works with the Tha Pyay Gone villagers through her economic growth organization Behind the Leaf, formerly called Lilypad; and Sai Wan, who owns Green Land Estate.

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Melanie and Sai share their experience:

[The growers] are wonderful, hardworking, and sometimes I feel like they are not appreciated for the hard work that they do. And so I came here just wanting to tell about them, and also I wanted to learn as much as I could. This is an excellent trip for me to be able to learn all the aspects of the coffee.
— Melanie Edwards, director of Behind the Leaf, an economic growth organization in Myanmar
The United States is consuming our speciality coffee, but I don’t know exactly [how they consume it], and how they market, how they sell the specialty coffee. So after I went on the Port to Cup [tour], I learned a lot about speciality coffee, and who are the key players in this kind of business, this kind of industry… To see our coffee in the hands of the buyer - I was very proud of that.
— Sai Wan, owner of Green Land Estate and winner of best coffee in Myanmar

Pa-O Villagers of Tha Pye Gone

We are proud to offer some of the first coffees available from Myanmar, a country emerging from isolation in many ways. We’ve found that a key to understanding the country lies in regional and ethnic diversity.

We have partnered with the village of Tha Pye Gone and the Pa-O villagers which inhabit it. The Pa-O people are just one of the nine ethnic groups of the Shan State, where we source our coffee.

Like many other tribes in Myanmar, the Pa-O have their own language and traditions. Legend has it that the Pa-O are descended from a female dragon and an alchemist named Zawgyi. Accounts vary, but one version explains that, disguised as a human, the dragon fell in love with Zawgyi, but he left her when he discovered she was actually a dragon. The eggs she left behind when she flew back to her dragon kingdom hatched the Pa-O people.

Today the Pa-O people wear colorful turbans. Men drape the tail of their turban to one side and women shape theirs to resemble the head of the female dragon.

The Pa-O people grow the staple thanapet crop and much of the region’s root vegetables including garlic, peanuts, and various types of beans. You can learn more about the coffee growers of Tha Pye Gone and their amazing coffee here.

Further reading on the Pa-O:

http://www2.irrawaddy.com/article.php?art_id=971
http://myaltruistictravels.com/2016/06/visiting-pao-tribes-shan-state-myanmar/

 

Thoughts on Myanmar Refugee Crisis

We are very proud of being one of the first roasters in the world to offer coffee from Myanmar, and given international concerns about the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and more specifically concerns several of our customers have raised with us about purchasing Myanmar coffee, we wanted to provide here a brief statement. As a team we debated whether this was necessary, since it seems a little self-aggrandizing for a coffee roaster to have an “official” position on an undeniably tragic international refugee crisis. While our statement can make no real difference, we feel the need to speak up to support the Myanmar coffee industry. 

We have worked hard to support the specialty coffee industry in Myanmar, from Joel’s work with international aid organizations, to our Port to Cup Tour last spring, and through our continuing relationships with our growing partners. In the end, we decided to provide this information because it is important that you continue to purchase these coffees, be it from us or from others, and continue to support the hard work of the growers and the international organizations that aid them. 

Myanmar is emerging from decades of economic and social isolation. The violence against the Rohingya is not a collective effort that was voted on by the general population. The agrarian communities that grow coffee likely have less knowledge of the events in the Rakhine state than we do.    

To our knowledge, our coffee-growing partners are in no way involved with the persecution of the Rohingya people. The coffee growing regions we source from are far from the Rakhine state, located in the northwest coastal region where the Rohingya people are. This season, we have sourced two microlots from Myanmar. Tha Pye Gone is a coffee produced by locals in the village of the same name, with the help of Lilypad, a charitable organization led by Melanie Edwards. Melanie has been living in rural Myanmar for 15 years, and this project is a part of her work to provide viable livelihoods to rural communities. Green Land, our second coffee, is grown by Sai Wan, whose family opposed the military dictatorship that largely began the oppressive policies against the Rohingya.      
        
These are our friends and business partners, and we do not believe coffee growers should be punished for the actions of a military that are outside of their control.

Here are some links we found useful in trying to better understand the situation:

Who’s Behind Myanmar Coffee?

This article originally appeared in Fresh Cup Magazine, and is coauthored by Little City's own Joel Shuler, as well as Amy Vannocker, general manager at Mandalay Coffee Group.

Within the specialty coffee industry, the emergence of Myanmar as a coffee origin is currently a popular subject, and rightfully so. The situation is unique: after generations of relative isolation, the country is reconnecting with the rest of the world. Coffee, as it has done many times throughout history, is once again creating opportunities for those connections, and providing one lens through which the world can get to know this complicated nation in a time of transition.

Much of what the rest of the world knows of the Myanmar coffee industry relates to work funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As part of a five-year rural development project focused on improving agricultural value chains in Myanmar, USAID awarded funds to the implementing non-profit organization, Winrock International, which has partnered with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to support Myanmar’s coffee professionals as they make a name for themselves in the global specialty coffee scene.

From agronomy workshops with smallholder farmers, to barista trainings in growing cities, to national strategizing meetings with industry leaders, this initiative aims to encourage inclusive growth and has brought international attention to the coffees of Myanmar.

While the financial support, know-how, and access to markets provided by these organizations is vital, they support an industry that has long existed in Myanmar. Here is an introduction to some of the local people who make up the coffee industry in Myanmar, and their thoughts on what role specialty coffee might have in their future.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and space.

 POWER COUPLE: Mya Mya Aye (left) and Myo Thet Htun work for the  Mandalay Coffee Group .

POWER COUPLE: Mya Mya Aye (left) and Myo Thet Htun work for the Mandalay Coffee Group.

Mya Mya Aye and Myo Thet Htun

Mya Mya Aye and Myo Thet Htun are key employees of the Mandalay Coffee Group (MCG), the largest coffee mill and specialty coffee–focused exporter in Myanmar. Mya Mya Aye handles many administrative duties, works with the warehouse supervisor to make sure every MCG lot is properly sampled, and green grades, roasts, and cups on a daily basis. Myo Thet Htun, better known by his nickname Moe Set, oversees the pulping, drying, and dry milling of the coffee. Together they manage nearly fifty workers during harvest season, and they have been with MCG since the processing plant opened in mid-2015.

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Mya Mya Aye and Moe Set are from Meiktila and Myingyan respectively, both in Myanmar’s central dry zone. They met while working for the same company in June of 2013, and married in November of 2014. The couple lives on the MCG premises, and much of the specialty coffee produced in Myanmar passes under their eyes, be it on a spreadsheet and in the cup with Mya Mya Aye, or in the process of transforming the cherries into the highest possible quality green coffee beans with Moe Set. This year MCG took first prize in the “dry naturals” category of the annual Myanmar Coffee Association (MCA) competition for cup quality, with international judges giving a record-breaking score of 89.58 points.

How did you start to work with MCG?

MS: My wife’s sister works at the small factory of a local coffee roaster here in Pyin Oo Lwin, and when the MCG board of directors was looking for people to operate this new processing center, she recommended us through that roaster. Before we joined MCG, I was teaching math, physics, and chemistry to students in grade eight to ten, and Mya Mya Aye was an accountant. We didn’t have any coffee knowledge at first, but we have learned a lot from MCG’s directors, and the experts we’ve met through CQI. Now we believe that coffee is really interesting and we are working hard to make a good product.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in coffee as compared to other jobs available? Why is specialty coffee unique or interesting to you?

MMA: One disadvantage to our work is that during harvest season we have very little or no holiday, and if one of us is resting the other needs to be available to supervise the workers. But as MCG is becoming more established and systematic in the way we do things, it is more possible for us to set things in motion and take a couple days for visiting family together without worrying too much.

MS: Specialty coffee is so great in quality that everyone is pleased when they drink it or learn about the background story of the dedicated work involved in producing it. If the mill is not too busy I sometimes take a moment to participate in cuppings, and I’m learning how green [unripe] cherries feel dry in the cup, or how inconsistent drying on the patio can lead to a moldy flavor. This motivates me to make sure our processing work is careful because I don’t want anyone to taste Myanmar coffee and have a bad flavor.

 Green Land Estate owner Sai Wan Maing.

Green Land Estate owner Sai Wan Maing.

Sai Wan Maing

Sai Wan Maing is the owner of Green Land Estate, one of the largest and most respected coffee farms in Myanmar. Sai Wan started Green Land in 1999, planting thirty acres of coffee outside of Pyin Oo Lwin. Four years later, he was named Outstanding Coffee Grower by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Over the years, coffee production has expanded at Green Land, and today over 430 acres are under production. Last year, one of Green Land’s coffees won the second annual MCA competition for cup quality, and Sai Wan also became one of the first Q arabica graders in Myanmar.

 Drying shed at Green Land Estate.

Drying shed at Green Land Estate.

How did you become interested in coffee?

Many people in Myanmar prefer tea or three-in-one instant coffee, but I grew up with pure coffee—I always enjoyed drinking coffee. When I was young, my family would travel from Yangon to visit relatives in Northern Shan, and I remember enjoying the peaceful nature of the coffee farms we passed along the way. When the government started leasing land around Pyin Oo Lwin at low rates, we decided to expand from other businesses and try coffee. Everything has grown since then.

Myanmar is undergoing a period of substantial political change. How has this change impacted coffee growing? Even as recently as four to five years ago, there was not much demand for coffee, and very little differentiation for higher quality coffee. The fact is that there were just not that many buyers—mostly local buyers, as well as some from China and Thailand. Together with the support of USAID, Winrock International, the CQI, and local partners like Sithar Coffee, we are bringing coffee education to the local market here in Myanmar, and access to foreign markets in the United States, Switzerland, France, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and others.

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What are some of the challenges ahead, both for Green Land and for the emerging specialty coffee industry in Myanmar?

Low yields are one of the biggest challenges both for Green Land and for other smaller estate farms in Myanmar. Most of the small farms in Myanmar produce very low yields, which makes it difficult for them to cover the cost of production. Another challenge for Myanmar will be the growth of the specialty coffee industry in neighboring China.

 Agronomist and senior program officer with Winrock International, Ko Ko Win (above in center). (Photo: courtesy of Ko Ko Win.)

Agronomist and senior program officer with Winrock International, Ko Ko Win (above in center). (Photo: courtesy of Ko Ko Win.)

Ko Ko Win

Ko Ko Win is an agronomist and a senior program officer with Winrock International, working with smallholder growers to improve both coffee yields and quality. He graduated from Yezin Agricultural University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science, and after graduation began working for the Ministry of Agriculture as an agronomist. In 2004 he was selected to study in Israel, focusing on high technology fresh vegetable production using greenhouses and fertigation. In 2010 Win was awarded a scholarship by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to pursue a master’s degree in agriculture and rural development in South Korea.

How did you get involved in coffee?

Although Myanmar might seem like a “new origin” to foreign coffee markets, we have been growing coffee here for many years, since the British colonial period. I personally started working in coffee when I returned from Israel in 2005. I worked with coffee growers in the agriculture extension office for five years, between my studies in Israel and South Korea. When I returned from Korea, I worked for the coffee research department of the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2013 I left the ministry to work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) on their Alternative Development/Sustainable Livelihood project in Myanmar. The goal of that project was to replace opium production with coffee production. In 2015, I began my work with Winrock International.

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As an agronomist with experience in specialty coffee production, what areas of Myanmar do you think have potential for producing high quality specialty coffees?

Coffee production areas that are currently moving towards specialty level include Ywar Ngan and Pin Laung (Southern Shan), Pyin Oo Lwin and Mogok (Mandalay Division), and parts of Chin State. There are also lots of areas with potential that have not been explored very much yet, such as Kyaing Tong (Eastern Shan), Kyauk Ta Lone Gyi (Southern Shan), and De Maw So (Kayah State). This is not a comprehensive list since specialty coffee production is new to Myanmar and there are so many areas to explore.

 Farmer and Roaster Su Nandar Linn’s family owns Shwe Ywar Ngan Coffee. (Photo: courtesy of Su Nandar Linn.)

Farmer and Roaster Su Nandar Linn’s family owns Shwe Ywar Ngan Coffee. (Photo: courtesy of Su Nandar Linn.)

Su Nandar Linn

Su Nandar Linn’s family owns Shwe Ywar Ngan Coffee, a farm, processor, and roaster in Ywar Ngan, Shan State. Her father, Win Aung Kyaw, has been in the coffee business since 1975, and has played an important role in disseminating both improved coffee cultivars and new coffee production technologies. The oldest of four children, Su Nandar Linn has embraced the new specialty coffee movement in Myanmar. One of Shwe Ywar Ngan’s washed coffees placed fourth in this year’s annual MCA competition for cup quality, scoring 85.33 points. Su Nandar Linn is determined to keep improving over time.

How did your family get into the coffee business? What all does Shwe Ywar Ngan do?

My father started roasting coffee when he was only seventeen, and from there the business grew over the years to incorporate coffee at many levels, from growing to processing to exporting. My family moved to Ywar Ngan township in 1998 to grow and process coffee here, and some of my earliest memories are of playing on the drying patios when I was around four years old. My family has always preferred coffee over tea. In addition to growing, we process coffee using washed, natural, and honeyed methods. We produce green coffee beans but also roast and package for the national market.

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Myanmar coffee has recently gained increased international attention. How are these new connections influencing you?

It’s been great since Winrock and the CQI have come to Ywar Ngan and helped us with processing and producing. We have learned so many things from Marcelo about producing and processing specialty coffee [Marcelo Pereira, a former CQI consultant who was subsequently hired by Winrock International as a smallholder specialist to lead their coffee team]. I have attended many of the workshops that he has put on, about farm maintenance, pruning, and using bokashi [a method of composting]. I also learned how to roast better with Scott [Scott Conary, owner of Carrboro Coffee Roasters and a consultant with the CQI], how to do different processing with Mario [Mario Fernandez, technical director of the CQI], and I did the Q Arabica Training Course with Luz Stella Artajo-Medina [a CQI instructor].

These workshops have been valuable for me, giving me the opportunity to learn new methods which I didn’t know in the past. There’s been quite a change in the quality of the coffee after the interactions with CQI and Winrock International. These workshops and courses have influenced me in such a way that now I feel like I’m tasting and processing like a professional, and that I now have the skills to produce and process better and better every year, taking Myanmar coffee to a new level.

What are your plans for your career?

My plan is to become a specialist in terms of quality. I recently finished university in Mandalay, and I have no plans to work in any other field other than coffee. It has been a long road, with years of hard work and learning from our mistakes. I think I can learn from this and take the legacy of Shwe Ywar Ngan coffee even further. I’m very much fond of coffee, and this is where I want to be.