Category Archives: Beans

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

Cafe Hounding: The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa – Culver City, CA

10117 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA
www.conservatorycoffeeandtea.com

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My long-time friend and her husband who had lived in Los Angeles in the past few years had suggested to me several times about The Conservatory in Culver City. Finally I had a chance to visit this coffee house on Halloween Day. Upon arrival in this coffee house, you will be greeted with piles of green beans from all over the world. Then you will see the roaster right there next to the seating area, which I thought it was very cool. Although I expected slow customer traffic as it was a weekend plus Halloween, there were quite a lot of people coming during more than an hour that I was there. There were plenty of tables inside and outside the cafe so seating didn’t seem to be a problem.

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I ordered a large latte and it was prepared for me by Ingrid, who turned out to be a daughter of the owner. My latte was prepared from the house espresso blend, which consisted of Brazilian and Sumatra beans. Surprisingly, it had strong body but not too muddy as what I would expect from Sumatra. This was great as I am personally not a big fan of strong, dark roasted coffee. The latte art was also beautiful.

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Ingrid was very friendly and told me about this place while preparing my latte. The Conservatory is a family business and has been operating for over 15 years. At least one of the family members is always at the cafe when it is open. They also have quite a large selection of tea leaves. If you are hungry, some pastries are available as well.

The location of the cafe is great. It is in downtown Culver City on Washington Blvd, just a couple of blocks from a bunch of the city’s trendy restaurants and theaters. From my past experience visiting Culver City, street parking in this area is not a big problem as well (although I was very lucky to get a spot right in front of the cafe this time).

Overall, The Conservatory is a great place to have coffee drinks or to purchase coffee beans. If you look for a “neighborhood” cafe around West LA that you can relax and escape a bit from the notoriously pretentious LA environment, you may find this lovely coffee house a place you want to revisit again.

Cafe Hounding: Simon’s Coffee Shop – Cambridge, MA

1736 Massachusette Ave
Cambridge, MA
617.497.7766
www.simonscoffeeshop.com

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I visited Simon’s Coffee in Cambridge, MA, after reading great reviews about this place on coffeegeek.com and yelp. Finally I decided to check this place out on my last day during my Boston trip. Visiting the cafe was easy as it was just about two blocks from Porter Square Red Line station.

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Simon’s Coffee has been operated for 7 years. It now uses beans from George Howell’s Terroir and Barismo. Both were local roasters with great reputation. I ordered a latte, which was prepared from Barismo’s Sonata blend. The blend consisted of Brazil moreninha formosa, Ethiopia koke, Guatemala nimac kapeh, and Costa Rica helsar de zarcero. The blend was very good. It was medium mild, which was my favorite, and the aroma was great.

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Although the day I visited the cafe was the same day as the White Chrome barista competition in Boston and, according to Simon-the-owner, his top baristas were at the competition, the latte I got was still very good and I was not disappointed. The staff were also very friendly. Keith and Christine (the barista) greeted me with smiles and we had lively conversation while I was waiting for my latte. Simon was not at the cafe when I was there but I ran into him later that day at the White Chrome competition. He was a very friendly guy and that explained a lot why his staff were friendly with no attitude. I also learned from Simon that the owner of Barismo had worked together with him for years before starting the roasting business.

The cafe was very crowded during my visit, which testified the quality and reputation of the place. Most of the customers seemed to be local and ranged from students to young professionals. It is indeed a nice place to get great coffee in Boston area. I will definitely visit Simon’s again. See you soon, Simon… I am looking forward to the even better shot of espresso you promised me next time I visit Boston!

Cafe Hounding: Blue Bottle Coffee – Mint Plaza, San Francisco

Blue Bottle Coffee Co. – Mint Plaza, San Francisco
66 Mint St. (corner of Jessie), San Francisco, CA, 94103
bluebottlecoffee.net

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Blue Bottle Coffee is a household name for coffee geeks living or visiting San Francisco.  San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with James Freeman about a month ago. I have been frequented this cafe, both getting a latte at the cafe or buying their beans to bring back to my home in San Diego. The flagship Blue Bottle is at the Mint Plaza, not too far from Civic Center and Union Square. However, it is not located on the main streets so this place is ideal if you want a quick escape from the hectic people traffic on Market and Powell.

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The cafe is easy to spot if you know exactly where it is. Otherwise, try to locate a cute “blue bottle” logo on the wall of the building behind the Mint Building. Once you enter the cafe, you will find yourself in a craftsman-decorated 17ft-ceiling room with modern, industrial redecoration. Looking around, you will see glassware of Blue Bottle’s Kyoto-style coffee maker and other coffee-related appliances on cafe’s long countertop. It really makes you feel like being in a chemistry lab rather than a cafe, which is very cool.

I usually visit Blue Bottle in the afternoon of weekdays, and always find the cafe packed with customers. Sometimes, the line even goes beyond the entrance. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and willing to answer your questions (including those related to the chemical reactions that might be happening in one of those glass beakers!). Since the cafe was very busy during the last time of my visit, I did not have a chance to talk to the barista although my latte was very good as expected. (Last month, my cappuccino was prepared by Sally, who had worked with Blue Bottle for 8 months. The drink was great, too.) Blue Bottle uses their 17ft Ceiling Blend for their espresso drinks. It mimics the Italian espresso blend but substituted robusta with high-quality organic arabica, resulting in a very smooth coffee with nice aroma. Blue Bottle also uses organic milk for their latte and cappuccino. If you are an ice-coffee guy, try Blue Bottle’s Kyoto or New Orleans ice coffee. (The Kyoto-style coffee takes over a day to prepare, slowly brewing drop by drop at room temperature.)

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In terms of its ambience, the cafe is good for those who want a short break with a cup of coffee. The high ceiling makes the cafe airy, open, and relax. People also meet here for some quick informal business discussions. Although the cafe seems to be crowded and people have to wait for their drinks at times, I never have problem finding a seat in this cafe. There might be just around 20-30 seats in total, all with communal high bars rather than individual tables. Customers tend not to sit for a long time. One of the reason is that this cafe is not laptop-friendly (no electrical plugs and no wireless internet). However, I concur that this is a good policy after all, given the size of the cafe and the number of customers it serves. This is the place that you can come to enjoy your drink, relax, and leave your work behind– at least for a short moment.

–Kris Hound

Cafe Hounding: Caffe del Doge – Palo Alto

Caffe del Doge

419 University Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 323-3600

www.caffedeldoge.com

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Caffe del Doge in Palo Alto is a franchise of an Italy-based company but owned by a group of local shareholders. It is a fine cafe located on University Ave near Stanford University and within a walking distance from the Palo Alto CalTrain station. I have frequented this cafe for several times and finally had a chance to write about it.

I visited Caffe del Doge earlier this week. It was in the late morning during the summer time so the cafe was not as crowded as it usually was during the school year. The place seems to be a meeting place for local business people as well as a study place for Stanford students. The cafe has a high ceiling with an upstair loft providing extra seating. The interior decoration is in bold yellow and presents various pictures of beautiful Italy in general and Venice in particular. There are a couple of outdoor tables and indoor high bar stools overlooking outside if you would like to enjoy people watching. But free wireless internet and electrical plugs are also available if you prefer working on your laptop instead.

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Ironically, my most favorite drink at Doge is not coffee. Most of the time I ordered their thick and dense “drinking hot chocolate” (which got quite a lot of hostile reviews in yelp!). It turns out that there are not so many places that you can have this kind of hot chocolate so I tried to take the advantage of this offer when I visited Doge. The pastry is also delicious.  But your total bill can add up quickly as the price of food and drink sold in this cafe is on a relatively high range. But remember that the cafe is located in Palo Alto and the ingredients they use are of high quality so we should not complain here. The cafe also sells selections of roasted coffee beans (both blends and single origins from the America and East Africa) and chocolate bars.

Since I was on cafe hounding mission, I decided to order a cappuccino instead of the usual favorite hot chocolate. As always, the staff was very attentive and carefully prepared for my drink. They used their own classic blend “Doge Nero” for my cappuccino. According to their description of the blend, Nero was introduced in 1996 and became the best selling blend in Doge’s Venice cafe. For me, the blend was not too strong (both in terms of body and aroma) but seemed to work quite well with the foam in my cappuccino due to its dark chocolate aftertaste. Given the tradition and trend in specialty coffee that promote 100% Arabica blends, I was surprised to learn that Nero was in fact a blend of Central and South American Arabica and also ROBUSTA from Karnataka region of India!

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

(Left) Careful preparation of my cappuccino; (Top Right) My cappuccino with various choices of sweeteners; (Bottom Right) My drinking hot chocolate

Overall, what is lacked at Palo Alto Caffe del Doge is the good smell of roasted coffee beans that you usually expect to get when you visit a cafe that roasts their own beans on premise. This is because Palo Alto Doge does not roast their beans at the cafe. In fact, the beans were roasted and shipped to the cafe directly from the roasting facility in Italy. If you are a cafe geek looking for coffee aroma upon stepping inside the store or someone who is very obsessed with very freshly roasted beans, then you will have to knock some points out of Palo Alto Caffe del Doge. But overall, the cafe is a very fine place to have coffee in Palo Alto. Will I revisit there again? YES, of course.

–Kris Hound