Category Archives: Buzz

This category filters posts that address recent buzz in the specialty coffee industry through either the Cafe Hounds’ words or through those of others.

Beyond Coffee: Sustainable Coffee – A Global Solution (Video)

An introductory preview of the sustainable movement, beginning with the organic movement and discussing the needs for global consciousness.  This website, cafehound.com will evaluate the theory and methodologies of some of the people that speak in this video with the goal of contributing to the formulation of objective and credible sustainability standards for the agricultural industry worldwide.  It all begins with coffee.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gObzERrtTCs

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Official Release… “Cafe Hound”

Picture 1_3

Dear Readers,

Over the past six weeks, we have enjoyed unofficially blogging on cafehound.com and have seen the development of the blog and its traffic from visitors “accidentally” coming to our blog. It has been a pleasure to offer diverse information accessible on our blog. Today, we take another important step and officially introduce to you cafehound.com.

What you will find on our blog is random but hopefully informative. As the blog’s name suggests, we are Cafe Hound. We search for the best coffee the world can offer. In Cafe Hounding section, you can read our reviews of cafes from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Coming soon, we will add reviews of coffee houses outside the US. We are also proud to present to you the exclusive interviews of “Who Is Who” in specialty coffee industry. We are honored to have Chuck Patton (founder and owner of Bird Rock Cafe Roasters in La Jolla, California) as our inaugural feature in this interview section. To be added to the list of fame are Eileen Hassi (founder and owner of Ritual Coffee in San Francisco), Michael McGuire (owner and roaster of K-Bay Caffe in Homer, Alaska), Timothy Castle (founder and CEO of Castle & Company, Santa Monica, California), and Karen Cebreros (founder and CEO of Elan Organic, San Diego, California).

Cafe Hound is not only the place you can get reviews and knowledge about your neighborhood cafes. We carefully select and present to you interesting news and upcoming events in coffee industry. Moreover, with our expertise in economics, finance, international relations, and public policy, we devote a section of the blog to analytical and educational issues related to every stage of specialty coffee production– from crop to cup, or from beans to brew. Currently, we proudly review an interesting article by Christopher Bacon of the University of California, Santa Cruz, on how organic, Fair-Trade, eco-friendly coffee could potentially help poor farmers in developing economies get out of poverty. Our main objective is to present to you the cutting-edge academic research on coffee-related issues in a non-academic language. Stay tuned for more of these geeky but exciting posts.

You may want to ask yourself why we, as an academic economist and a policy expert, fell in love with coffee and decided to devote our time to this blog. We have explained it all in the About the Hounds section. For those who have known us before, this section will give you eye-opening stories of the “dark” (but creamy and aromatic) side of our lives. We hope it entertains you and answers your curiosity.

You may also want to know what we expect from this blog. Well, first and foremost, we view this blog as our way to get us exposed to more people in the coffee industry. This is not only those working in the industry itself, but also those who are frequent customers of coffee houses and share our passion in great coffee. Please come join us in our journey to search for the best coffee. Please suggest to us where we should go “cafe hounding.” If you have favorite neighborhood coffee houses, feel free to share with us.

Finally, we realize there are several blogs and discussion boards out there covering coffee and cafes. Many of them are fantastic and comprehensive. By no means do we view our blog as their competitor. Instead, we think that our blog will offer something different, and provide you with both casual and more formal, semi-academic knowledge. The Cafe Hounding section does not rate the cafes (like yelp or other restaurant rating websites) but rather presents you with objective reviews of coffee houses that we carefully select. Most of them are mentioned by local coffee geeks as the “best in town” cafes or employ baristas who have made it to the final round of national or international competitions. The Interviews section gives you behind-the-scene stories about people in your neighborhood cafes and others in the industry that you may not have known before. Finally, the coffee.edu section takes advantage of our strengths and expertise in our main professions as an academic economist and a policy expert. It is very educational in a strict academic sense, i.e. very nerdy, but hopefully is exciting for those readers who are interested in more than just the taste and aroma of coffee.

And with this introduction, we officially proudly present to you… cafehound.com.

–The Hounds

Buzz: Otherside of the ’15th Avenue Coffee and Tea’ Coin

Just because I think both the detractors (read: haters) and the supporters of the newish Starbucks move to test the higher end specialty coffee waters have made some very salient points with regard to the changing dynamics of the specialty coffee industry.

  • Starbucks MUST be respected for its sheer ability to throw money and professional marketing at any scheme that they arrange.
  • The hipster coffee house vibe — that many of the places that are charging $20 a pound for fresh roasted coffee from reputable outfits like Blue Bottle, Ritual, Novo, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture — does not appear to be something that the Starbucks corporate people will ever be able to roll-out on a large scale.
  • What it does appear Starbucks’ wants is to leverage its sheer advantage in liquidity (read: lots of $$$) and marketing to increase their share of a market that is a sub-sector of their core industry.  As a major buyer of green coffee all over the world it seems logical that they would leverage the best of their strategic relationships to promote higher premiums, no?  It makes perfect business sense and the following article gives a more balanced look at the non-hater side of the the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea story.

Source: Tamp Tamp Blog

Coffee Menu Sandwich sign

We finally made it to see the new 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea (”Inspired by Starbucks” as it says on the door) on Capitol Hill in Seattle. After all the specialty coffee hubbub, pressand dramaover what this means, and after reading the considerably dramatic yelp reviews, we had to see it for ourselves. It puts an interesting question out there – can Starbucks make a better Starbucks?

In New York, when we first heard about it, we were skeptical. When we think of Starbucks, we picture the lines of caffeine deprived junkies queued up by the dozen, packed into a place pumping out big milky drinks by the gallon, with rarely a smile on any face – customer or barista. Like most situations in New York, the stakes are higher, and the throngs battle it out to make it out with their drink. Does it taste like coffee? Perhaps, but what’s most important is that you made it out with something hot and you’re still alive.

Starbucks Coffee

This is the line at the original Starbucks retail location at Pike Place Market, downtown Seattle. This location used to be a fine purveyor of coffee beans only; now it looks a lot like an everyday Manhattan retail location (read: packed and stressful).

Starbucks’ reputation in New York is bad. And for people who’ve only known that big, corporate, bad-tasting, fast food retail-y experience, I don’t blame them. But as a Seattleite that grew up alongside the explosive growth of the company, I always speak positively of my very first experiences getting lattes at (where else?) Starbucks. And it was good. Our whole industry, and certainly my company, would be much less significant (even nonexistent) if Starbucks hadn’t tapped the consumer demand and opened the floodgates.

But still, there’s no denying that Starbucks lately has fallen on hard times. The coffee just hasn’t been that good, the shops are kind of dumpy, all Starbucks’ seem to have an unpleasant smell (what is the deal with that smell?). I hadn’t had coffee from Starbucks (with the exception of a Clover coffee last year) in several years. Why bother, when there are independent places, with great coffee, and great service (you can visit our tour if you need tips) right around the corners from many a Starbucks in NYC?

On the other hand, there are a lot of independent cafes that rest happily with the knowledge that they’re not Starbucks. But are they good? Well, no, not really. The coffee is ok, maybe some of the baristas are nice, and the atmosphere is decent. By and large, these cafes provide a sub-par experience. As consultants, we run into this mentality all the time, and are constantly checking that clients begin providing a much higher standard of service, and of course, most importantly, are providing the best possible product. There is simply no way that being “not Starbucks” is anything more than a lie owner/managers use to tell themselves they are doing a good job in their cafes. Most very high end cafes think of Starbucks as completely irrelevant – and while I think there are some great aspects of Starbucks (they’ve got independents trounced when it comes to retail and merchandising, for example, and it’s worth watching them for that), I generally tend to agree with the high end independents.

So when we walked into 15th Avenue Coffee on Capitol Hill, steps away from Victrola, we were keeping all of our standards as high as we do at any shop we visit. What’s the atmosphere like? Are we greeted right away? Are the chairs comfortable and are there multiple types of seating? Can we see this space being multi-functional, serving a lot of customers from various backgrounds? And of course, how is the product?

Macchiato refurbished Linea

We were greeted cordially and were provided with some suggestions about what to try. I had a macchiato, and Neil got a Costa Rican coffee. We were served in porcelain cups. The latte art on my coffee was lovely. And most importantly, the coffee tasted pretty good. Maybe not the most unbelievable, delicious coffee in the world, but certainly pleasant and drinkable, and considerably better than many independent cafes in Seattle. I’m fairly certain that most coffee consumers wouldn’t see a discernible difference when picking between 15th Ave and Victrola in terms of cup quality. In New York, this shop could make a killing.

From the back

Does that mean that Victrola needs to look out? It’s doubtful. Victrola has a strong customer base and has been making great coffee for years. In fact, my theory is that Starbucks moved to that location to test the waters in a very tough location for them, just steps away from a high-end independent. In this spot Starbucks is definitely going to see if it’s possible for them to reclaim their glory as a high-end, products focused business. I think that for quality focused independents, this new incarnation will only increase awareness and bring in more customers, especially if they launch cafes in cafe-deprived areas.

Patio

What about other, smaller, less quality-focused cafes? Should they be concerned? Absolutely — if you’re using Starbucks as your measuring stick. Those cafes are in trouble anyway, they just haven’t seen someone come along to challenge them yet. But look out, everybody. Here comes a company that means business and wants to reclaim what it has lost.

Buzz: Why the Starbucks “15th Ave” Store Is Doomed to Fail

Source: Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path, Harvard Business School
Date: 2009.07.28

Editor’s note: Peter continues the conversation he started here in his next post, Further Thoughts on Starbucks’ 15 Avenue Experiment)

Late last week, Starbucks opened a new coffeehouse. Considering they have around 15,000 outlets, this might not seem like news. But there’s a wrinkle: the new coffeehouse is called 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea, and is an attempt by SBUX to create a distinct, bespoke, of-the-neighborhood coffeehouse.

Two and a half years ago, Howard Schultz famously distressed over the “commoditization of the Starbucks experience,” and after returning as CEO, committed to transforming it.

But 15th Ave Coffee & Tea is an experiment doomed to failure, because there’s no way a corporate coffee chain can create an authentic neighborhood coffeehouse experience. Your favorite local coffeehouse is the product of someone’s passion, dedication, and probable borderline craziness. 15th Ave is the product of corporate product design and development. Read the introductory copy on the 15th Ave website:

Fresh roasted coffee. Tea picked from the far reaches of the world with care. Artisan baked breads and treats that are sure to delight. A little flair of Italia with some heavenly gelato or affogato. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea brings these flavors of the world direct to your local neighborhood everyday.

This is so transparently corporate marketing speak. Compare it to the website of my favorite San Francisco coffeehouse,Farley’s, which is amateurish (and I mean that by its Latin root: done for the love) and personal:

Roger Farley Hillyard broke his coffee pot back in 1988 and could not find a store to purchase a replacement part. After scouring the city, Farley’s was conceptualized as a coffee and tea store. Through various incarnations, the present day concept of creating a place of community for the community was developed….The character of Farley’s mirrors the uniqueness of the people and allows for a genuine and distinctive experience for everyone.

Faking it is not a good strategy in bed or in retail.

Perhaps my biggest beef with 15th Ave is that it’s fundamentally dishonest. Everyone knows it’s run by Starbucks, but the website and the store do all they can to suggest it’s a true independent (though the high level of interior design suggests a bankroll out of the reach of most entrepreneurs).

So why not just call it “Starbucks”? About a year and a half ago, I posted on Adaptive Path’s blog about how Starbucks could improve its experience, and many of those ideas are being attempted with 15th Ave. Do the folks in corporate feel that the Starbucks brand is so brittle that it couldn’t encompass this experience?

It’s pretty clear that there’s a high degree of consternation about the associations people have with the Starbucks Experience. I find it foolish that they’re trying to re-engage the more sophisticated end of the coffeehouse market through this new, out-of-whole-cloth creation. What Starbucks needs is a series of “experience interventions” within their existing store framework.

Instead of expending efforts creating whole new experiences, prototype and iterate improvements on the existing experience. Keep fiddling until you’ve found something that hits your sweet spot, that lucrative space above Dunkin Donuts and McDonald’s, and below the quirky and sophisticated local roaster.

When I first heard about 15th Ave, I wanted to like it. I find plenty to admire about Starbucks — when I lived in Manhattan in the mid-90s, they did more to improve the quality of that city’s erstwhile swill than any other single factor. And I think it’s great when companies pilot new concepts, particularly those that are driven by improving experiences. But the clumsy cloak-and-dagger of how this “independent” store’s status was handled leaves such a foul taste that I can only assume it will go the way of Circadia, Starbucks’ failed, late-90s attempt at a similarly funky neighborhood coffeehouse that sold booze.

Howard, stop fiddling with these distractions. Focus on improving the core.

(For those further interested in retail experience design, Adaptive Path recently published a detailed case study of work we did with Mission Bicycles, a boutique fixed-gear bicycle retailer in San Francisco.)

Buzz: Nicholas Cho on Starbucks New Strategy

July 26, 2009: Washington Post

Your Local Coffee Shop,
Courtesy of Starbucks?

Coffee used to be about consumption. It wasn’t supposed to taste very good and was often freeze-dried. I remember my introduction to the beverage that would become my livelihood: My parents laughed as I gagged on the bitter swill. This was the first wave of coffee.

Recently, coffee became more about enjoyment. Make me a cappuccino! I want it blended up with some ice! I love it with an extra pump of vanilla! No longer do we put up with bad-tasting coffee. In fact, coffee doesn’t even have to taste like coffee at all. This is America! I’m entitled to something yummy! That was the second wave.

Now we’re seeing the development of a third wave — a shift that my colleagues in the specialty-coffee industry have helped nurture. Much like wine appreciation or music appreciation, third-wave coffee isn’t just about pleasure. Coffee enthusiasts are taking the time to understand what goes into a truly great cup, researching everything from where beans are grown to proper brewing. This is the wave that I rode at Murky Coffee, which I ran for seven years, and that I’ll follow at the new place I’m helping open this week in Washington, Chinatown Coffee Company.

But now the waters are getting a little choppy.

The big green mermaid wants some of the third-wave action. On Friday, Starbucks opened a store in Seattle that’s not what you’re used to seeing on, say, every other block of most U.S. cities. It’s called “15th Ave. Coffee & Tea, Inspired by Starbucks,” and it’s apparently part of the company’s effort to refresh the brand. The plan is to offer the independent coffee-bar experience: better coffee, more knowledgeable baristas and a more refined cafe environment.

In other words, they’re encroaching on my turf.

In what has become legend in Seattle, about 10 dark-suited executive types clutching logo-emblazoned notebooks went on a series of research trips to some successful independent coffee bars in the city, including Victrola Coffee Roasters. The barista trainer there, a friend of mine, told me that one of the baristas grilled the visitors until they confessed their mission: to take notes on the cafe’s vibe. Another barista supposedly got sick of seeing his every move discussed and notated. He leapt toward the corporate spies, jumping up and down while exclaiming, “Dance, monkey! Dance!”

I wonder if they wrote that down.

I actually wish them the best. Maybe Starbucks will return to being about coffee instead of about milkshakes, breakfast sandwiches and Sheryl Crow CDs.

This might seem strange coming from me; I am an independent coffee retailer, after all. Last year I received a bit of attention when my Capitol Hill shop was closed because of tax problems, and later when a customer at my Arlington cafe flew off the handle because he didn’t like our policy of not serving espresso over ice. Bloggers began debating whether the customer truly is always right, the sort of policy that’s more common at corporate chains.

So some people might assume that I’d poo-poo Starbucks’s efforts. Everyone expects the proverbial little guy to sling stones at the big guy, as if doing anything else would be un-American.

But if Starbucks brings one of these new concepts to Washington, I’ll be among the first in line. To me, Starbucks is only a problem if the quality of their coffee gets worse, and this new spinoff might help it get better. (If they want to compete with the likes of Victrola and other great third-wave coffee bars, it’s going to have to get a lot better.)

I hope the coffee wars help nudge the caliber of all coffee upward. Just because you’re not a corporate behemoth doesn’t mean you serve delicious brew. The dirty little secret of most independent coffee shops is that they don’t know how or don’t care to serve high-quality coffee. They believe that furnishing their shops with comfy chairs and knowing the names of their customers’ dogs is all that matters. What’s arguably worse is that some of the most highly respected chefs in the country are serving some truly awful coffee. Apparently great coffee doesn’t help get you a show on the Food Network.

My customers tell me that, aside from the coffee, what makes a great coffee shop experience is the authenticity, which is one of those you-know-it-when-you-see-it things. How can you manufacture authenticity? That’s the problem that has plagued Starbucks for years, and I don’t know if this latest project will help them figure it out.

Still, I really do wish them the best. After all their research, we’ll see if what should actually be called “Inspired by Dancing Monkeys” is another success for the mermaid.

nick@murkycoffee.com

Nicholas Cho is the former owner of Murky Coffee and the chairman of the United States Barista Championship.

Ecotourism: Quindio, Colombia

I apologize in advance for those who cannot read Spanish but I was so excited about this article in Cambio that I had to share it with our loyal readers.

As some of you know, much of my passion for specialty coffee comes from my experiences at farms in Colombia.  The ecotourism business model has many shapes and sizes and its application to coffee first became a big deal in Costa Rica with the Cafe Britt tours. Similar models have evolved in Central America (such as Finca Esperanza Verde in Nicaragua) and elsewhere but in Colombia it has been difficult to really get one off the ground due to concerns (tourist more than local) about security.

It brings me great joy to share the development of a similar effort in Colombia.

Things are still getting off the ground at El Agrado but stay tuned for more information as I investigate.  Hopefully we’ll all be cupping coffee in the beautiful mountainside of Colombia before we know it.

–  Maher Hound

Source: Cambio

Desde hace poco menos de una década, los productores de vino chilenos y argentinos entendieron que una de las mejores maneras de consentir a sus clientes era abriendo sus viñedos a la visita de esas personas que por afición o trabajo quisieran vivir la experiencia vitivinícola de manera profunda. El resultado fue impresionante y hoy, muy orgullosos, los del Cono Sur pueden hablar de un turismo especializado en la vid.

De la misma manera, los amantes del café en el mundo entero estaban esperando que en Colombia -la tierra donde se produce el mejor grano del mundo-, algo similar sucediera. Y está sucediendo. Se trata del proyecto El Agrado, en el corregimiento Pueblo Tapao -en Montenegro, Quindío-, que nació como un gigante Centro de Análisis y Catación de Café de la Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia y que, poco a poco, se ha convertido en el lugar donde los expertos quieren ir a aprender todo sobre el café.

A 1.330 metros de altura, en la exuberante finca de 43 hectáreas, nació bajo la idea de “crear una cultura de taza en los caficultores del Quindío, para que ellos mismos hicieran ajustes en los procesos de recolección, beneficio, secado, almacenamiento y hasta preparado de café, para así asegurar la competitividad del producto de la región a largo plazo -según explica Jaime Duque, jefe del programa de Cafés Especiales y Aseguramiento de la Calidad de la Federación-. Sin embargo, el concepto se ha ampliado, ya que esta finca es el lugar donde los expertos en el tema pueden venir a ‘zambullirse’ en una experiencia completa de café”.

Con toda la tecnología de punta -inversión en maquinaria italiana y alemana para todos los procesos-, El Agrado seleccionó el mejor personal del país para capacitar a sus visitantes, incluidos los ‘patieros’ (que son quienes operan los equipos de despulpado y en algunos casos los de secado) y los recolectores de la zona, con el único fin de llegar al último resultado que es una taza de café de altísima calidad.

En busca de ver todo el proceso del café, desde la recolección hasta el cómo preparar un buen capuchino -al final del recorrido hay baristas que enseñan todas la técnicas de preparación-, a la finca llegan tres perfiles de visitantes: los clientes internacionales del café de Colombia, los propios caficultores colombianos que buscan educarse y aficionados de todas partes que quieren vivir la experiencia.

“La idea es que muy pronto se formalice un tour en el que podamos recibir a muchos visitantes del mundo que quieran vivir esta experiencia -explica Lucas Restrepo, gerente comercial de la Federación-. Por ahora solo recibimos y capacitamos a pocos, pero tenemos claro que hay que ir hacia un turismo de café, ya que seguimos empeñados en mostrar y demostrar que tenemos el mejor ingrediente del mundo”.

Lion Coffee Opens in Downtown San Diego in August

Lion Coffee

Lion Coffee

UPDATE: LION is now open. You can also read our Cafe Hounding post on LION.

Back story: Lion Coffee will open its cafe in downtown San Diego in August. The location is at the corner of Market and First, which was once occupied by one of the best Starbucks in downtown area. Honestly, it was sad that Starbucks decided to shut down this store instead of one of the other six in the vicinity. The store was lovely. It had floor-to-ceiling clear windows with big maple trees outside that helped shade the afternoon sunlight and also provided a semi-garden feeling to the customers. I hope that Lion Coffee keeps the ambiance of its predecessor.

coming soon...

coming soon...

Lion Coffee is one of America’s oldest coffee company and the largest trader of Hawaiian Kona coffee. It will definitely be an interesting and unique addition to the coffee scene in the gaslamp quarter of San Diego. So far, Lion Coffee has had only one retail store in the entire mainland USA. The new store in downtown will be a relocation from their former location in Mission Valley, which garnered great reviews from its customers over the past year.

Stay tuned for Cafe Hounding from us once the store is open.

–Kris Hound