Category Archives: Education

Find Your Coffee

At cafehound.com, we endeavor to locate the best coffee in the world. Over the last eight years we’ve happily watched as globally, the options available to the public have exponentially increased and the public’s general awareness of specialty coffee has deepened. Although we still believe that tracking down the best coffee in the world is central to our mission, we recently decided to dip our toes into the area of recommending specific coffee(s) to coffee lovers based on a mixture of qualitative and empirical analysis.

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In two posts (1 and 2) from 2015, we took verbal reviews of specialty coffees from the site coffeereview.com,  and we employed various clustering algorithms to discover groupings of coffee (based on words used to describe them and other factors). This served as our initial foray into using Data Science on expert coffee reviews to improve our understanding of specialty coffee.

Over the past month, we’ve set out to improve upon that original work in order to empower java lovers to discover the perfect brew. Our years of cupping coffee and talking with experts have shown that – after a certain point – what constitutes a “good cup of coffee” is subjective and specific to the palette of the beholder.

With that in mind, cafehound.com chose to use a large, multiyear list of coffee reviews from Kenneth David’s coffeereview.com site to explore the relationship between the descriptions used to rate coffee aroma, flavor, aftertaste, body, acidity and finish. We hypothesized that there are distinct groupings of coffee based on their roast profile, body, and flavors that are relevant to informing consumer preferences in the overall marketplace. To clarify, a market segmentation based on a representative sample of surveyed consumer preferences may be more useful to marketing professionals, but that is outside of the scope of this post. Instead, we’re using the structure inferred from math and reviews of specific coffees to estimate categories of the potential “coffee experience.” These categories may provide coffee consumers with guideposts for exploring new specialty coffees.

Our results led to six broad categories of coffee that we’ve ordered from lightest to darkest roast (based on average Agtron ratings). Agtron ratings are a numerical representation of the consistency of the roast color (lower numbers indicate a darker roast <45, higher numbers indicate a lighter roast 50+). More than the roast determines the flavor profile and overall body of the coffee, which is why some of these segments may appear similar.

Initially, we bring this content to you via occasionally updated web pages. Depending on demand, we may scale our service to provide daily or weekly recommendation updates.

For now, follow the link below to Find Your Coffee.

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For code share:

Shiny Segmentation and Prediction

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Coffee Inspiration: TEDtalk

As I gear up for a well-deserved break — and return to the origin of my coffee inspiration — I leave you with a couple inspirational coffee-themed independent TED talks.

Angolan Coffee: Cafe Ginga Lobito

AngoNabeiro / Cafe Delta / Cafe Ginga
Estrada do Cacuaco Km 5
PO Box 5727, Luanda
Email: anabeiro@snet.co.ao
Tel: +244 222 840161 / 62

How is the coffee?  How well is it delivered?

My expectations for any coffee that is roasted in a hot and muggy coffee producing country and transported to the United States in luggage are generally pretty low.  Opportunities for the coffee to be damaged by heat, humidity, and poor packaging are far too great. Upon receiving this kilogram of roasted whole bean coffee I politely thanked the gift bearer and placed any hope of this coffee stimulating my palate far from the reach of reality.  A couple of days later, I used my 480-watt Baratza Virtuoso burr grinder to grind up a fine espresso sample of the beans for use in a Gaggia Classic modified machine with a Rancho Silvia wand.  About 23 seconds later, a full Illy cup of syrupy espresso was ready to be slurped.  My initial surprise was that the machine pulled the shot surprisingly well for a first try.

After sipping the shot I was surprised again with the freshness and fruitiness of the drink.  The aroma of the beans was not nearly as satisfying as the drink itself.  The quality of the beans themselves did leave a little to be desired.  The roast was not consistent enough to be considered specialty quality – with some beans barely brown and others burnt to a crisp. Also, some were very small and damaged while others were huge.  Furthermore, I found a piece of metal wire resting in between a few beans when I was pouring the bag into a storage container – reflecting less than ideal quality control standards by the processing company. The packaging for the beans is metalized with an additional layer of multicolored labeling and a valve application for allowing gases to escape after sealing – a high quality packing meant for beans that a company would expect to export and/or sell retail.

Again, the taste was exotic and I was encouraged enough to make an entire pot of drip coffee with the same beans.  The end result was a bit less to my specific liking – I like a brighter coffee with a lighter roast and more mild finish.  Although, on colder days I like a drip coffee with a bit more character in the body than my usual Central American and Colombian varieties.  I’ve begun mixing some beans from Cundinamarca, Colombia with my Angolan coffee that apparently originates on an estate (fazenda) called Lobito (not to be confused with the port city of the same name) and am pleased to drink this blend in both espresso and drip coffee form.

What’s in a name? Ginga’s backstory

The Ginga (Njinga) name is distinctly Angolan, as it refers to a queen dating back to the times of the Ngondo Kingdom in Africa.  The Ngondo Kingdom was originally a tributary kingdom of the Kingdom of Congo – existing before the Portuguese colonizers arrived in 1482.  The Ngondo Kingdom was governed by Ginga’s father, Ngola Kiluange(Kiluanji), when the Portuguese arrived. He fiercely resisted the Portuguese as well as all other foreigners until his eventual decapitation. The Portuguese attributed the name Angola to the lands now known as Angola, not knowing/caring that the Ngola was the name of the ruler, not the lands.

Queen Ginga is a legendary figure in African history and the object of pride in Angola, as she is viewed as one of Angola’s most shrewd diplomats, rulers, military minds and intelligent leaders.  So much is written on her that her entire history appears to be in dispute and includes elements of near-mythology – certainly originating from the 16th century equivalent of smear campaigns and propaganda.  She is rumored to, at times, have adopted cannibalism, a very pious Catholic lifestyle, and – according to Maquis de Sade’s “Philosophy in the Bedroom” – she sacrificed elements of her all male harem of lovers immediately after lovemaking. In other words, there is much mystery and intrigue surrounding her life but she is most certainly a key historical figure in the Angolan national identity.

Throughout her political career, Queen Ginga both resisted and compromised with her Portuguese occupiers.  There seems to have been a relative interdependency between Ginga and Portugal.  She converted to Christianity, adopted tribal customs, and went to war with the crown and neighboring tribes – whatever ensured her survival.  Perhaps this is why the brand name Ginga is appropriate for a coffee company that claims to be 100% Angolan, yet is very much entangled in a past connected to Portugal. Ginga is one of two coffee brands connected to a holding company called AngoNabeiro, the other being Delta Café (a widely known Portuguese brand).  AngoNabeiro is part of a Portuguese conglomerate known as Nabeirogest, or more informally, Grupo Nabeiro.  One of the strongest performing companies in this group is Café Delta.  Café Delta dominates the coffee market in Portugal, is expanding rapidly in Angola and Brazil, and has long been active in segments of the East Asian market for roasted coffee (see Macau).

But, the Portuguese connection dates back to before Angolan Independence when AngoNabeiro was setting up coffee production operations in 1973 right before Portugal experienced a coup d’état in 1974 and, as part of a larger Portuguese agreement, Angola was liberated from colonization through the Alvor Agreement (Acordo do Alvor) in 1975.  Between 1975 and 2002, Angola endured a violent civil war that ravaged the countryside and made sustaining its agricultural economy very unpredictable. As in nearly all civil conflicts, land/property rights were constantly challenged creating terrible instability for coffee farm owners.

During the earlier part of the difficult times in Angola, Rui Patricio oversaw daily operations and ownership of AngoNabeiro inside of Angola.  Production continued, although at very small quantities, until 1983 when the company closed due to lacking technical assistance and know-how.  The physical infrastructure where AngoNabeiro’s main facility was located was loosely protected, unproductively, until 1998 when Delta Café proposed a revitalization of its coffee production in Angola.  By 2000, the Café Ginga brand emerged and by 2002 the civil war in Angola finally ended. Café Ginga and AngoNabeiro has grown steadily since, with an estimated US$1.2 million of annual revenues in 2005 according to Director General Rui Melo. Part of their growth has been thanks to a business structure where the mixed-capital Angolan company, AngoNabeiro benefits from Grupo Nabeiro’s know-how and financial largesse (capital and cash-on-hand). Café Delta is one of many companies housed within Grupo Nabeiro and it has been tremendously successful over the past decade.  As Ginga changes outside perceptions of high quality coffee within the Angolan market their ambitions are set on carving out market share in nearby South Africa and other countries in their immediate vicinity.

Rui Melo interview on history of AngoNabeiro (Portuguese): http://www.winne.com/dninterview.php?intervid=1686

Mr. Rui Melo
Manager / Director General of AngoNabeiro

Official Release… “Cafe Hound”

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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

coffee.edu: Alternative Coffee Markets and Poverty Reduction

Can Fair-Trade, eco-friendly coffee help farmers get out of poverty? One study suggests so.

Poverty and income fluctuation are the most important problems for many households in developing economies. Poverty is exacerbated when these poor households also face fluctuated income. For these poor households living in poverty and lack of access to financial markets, a slight drop in the price of their agricultural product forces them to reduce consumption and health expenditure, withdraw their children from school, or sell their productive assets. All of these responses to the adverse event lead to lower productivity in the long run, further reducing their chance to get out of poverty. This is especially the case for poor small-scale farmers, whose income is low and vulnerable to crop failures or drops in output prices. However, a study of coffee farmers in Northern Nicaragua by Christopher Bacon may provide a potential partial solution for poverty and vulnerability reduction for these households.

The study took advantage of the changing structure of the global coffee markets in the 1990s (the disintegration of the International Coffee Agreement, market liberalization, and higher rate of transnational corporate concentration). The events led to the decline in world coffee price since 1997 throughout 2005. (Specifically, the average price of mild Arabica beans grown outside Colombia dropped from almost 2 USD per pound in 1997 to slightly above 50 cent in 2001.)  To make the situation worse for Nicaraguan farmers, the drop in world coffee price came at the same time as the 1999-2001 droughts.

Bacon conducted an interesting survey of 228 small-scale coffee farmers in Northern Nicaragua in 2001, right at the time when coffee price hit one of the lowest levels in years. He found that the average prices paid at the farm gate for the 2001-01 harvests differed tremendously by the markets. Coffee sold by cooperative members directly to roasters commanded the highest average price at 1.09 USD while cooperative Fair-Trade coffee and cooperative organic coffee were sold at 0.84 and 0.63 USD, respectively. In contrast, farmers selling coffee to local middleman earned only 0.37 USD. When Bacon looked at how long until the farmers got fully paid, he found that selling to local middleman took only 9 days while selling organic coffee through cooperatives took 73 days. The result is consistent to the fact that the farmers were forced to sell their product to local middlemen at large discount in order to get the payment quickly to satisfy their urgent need due to financial market imperfection.

According to 2000-01 harvest data, 80% of Nicaraguan coffee was potentially specialty coffee. However, only 10% of the 2000-01 harvests were indeed sold as specialty coffee. Bacon therefore concluded that specialty, and other nonconventional coffee markets (such as Fair Trade and eco-friendly coffee markets), which commanded higher price, would be a potential strategy that could help small-scale coffee farmers in Nicaragua achieve higher prices of their product and in the end mitigate their poverty and vulnerable to price shocks. What needed is the creation of the alternative nonconventional coffee markets for these farmers with potential for premium coffee trade.

Questions remain, however: What in fact explains the higher price in special coffee market and in other alternative coffee markets? Is it the inelastic consumer demand? Is it due to insurance or hedging mechanisms that provide the farmers a “buffer” to the change in world coffee price? Is it the bargaining power the farmers have as opposed to the exporter/importers? More research is needed before we fully understand whether and how nonconventional alternative coffee markets could help the poor coffee farmers. Surprisingly, the higher price is not one of the leading reasons the the surveyed households listed as their reasons for growing organic coffee, which include safety for their families and children without agrochemicals on the farm, lower expenditures for synthetic inputs, better environment, and protecting water. But promoting certified, organic, Fair-Trade, eco-friendly coffee to the poor farmers might be one of the strategies to which poverty-reduction campaigns might want to pay more attention, at least for now.