Tag Archives: Maher

Cafe Hounding: Juan Valdez & Cafe Bonsai – Santa Marta, Colombia

Juan Valdez in Santa Marta city center near the main port
Cafe Bonsai in Taganga (little bay fishing town slightly east of Santa Marta)

Collage ala Santa Marta

JUAN VALDEZ – Santa Marta

In my relatively limited experience, providing high quality coffee in terribly hot and humid conditions is usually an EPIC FAIL based on my experience with several of the coffee barons in Managua, Nicaragua.

That said, Juan Valdez has managed to keep its product consistently above average (though not excellent) everywhere that I have tried it.  This includes the city center in Santa Marta, Colombia.  They also provide paying customers with 30 minutes of free wifi (if requested) and have a variety of tasty baked treats to go along with their splendid coffees.  They probably do better business with their cold drinks here in Santa Marta, but also do a decent job of selling and preparing their hot ‘pod’ drinks and single and double shot espresso drinks. My girlfriend thoroughly enjoyed their Cheese/Bread Stick (Palito de Queso) and also the Almojabana (which reminded her of the delicious Brazilian treat Pao de Queijo).

The seating at a Juan Valdez is always comfortable and intelligently situated to provide for the right combination of privacy and social interaction – a key element of Colombian culture.

The Juan Valdez in Santa Marta attracts the local color – musicians and other interesting characters – who come to entertain the heavily foreign  (read: German) tourists who setup camp here to practice their Spanish and regroup after excursions in and around the Department of Magdalena. Overall Juan Valdez rarely fails to deliver on the customer expectation for a special and above average experience with above average coffee.  Oma cannot compete with Juan Valdez on a national level and this fact is only cemented by positive experiences like the ones I had at the Juan Valdez in Santa Marta. I hope they keep up the good work – and continue to send good merchandise to the DC shops so I can continue to buy their shirts and travel mugs when visiting the Organization of American States!

CAFE BONSAI – Taganga

One such tourist destination in Magdalena is the small fishing town east of Santa Marta by the name of Taganga.  Taganga is most known for offering affordable and decent quality scuba diving lessons/certification classes to tourists traveling through this tropical outpost in Colombia.

In Taganga, my friend and I happened upon the self-proclaimed “Nicest Little Coffee Shop in the Southern Hemisphere” – which I had to put to the test.  We meandered in, after being followed all the way to the door by a local stray dog looking for some air condition and table scraps. The atmosphere was definitely cool, bohemian, and welcoming to the backpacking tourist hailing from Europe (judging by our company inside).  The Left-leaning Aterciopelados blared on the radio and our bohemian waitress/barista took our order after we evaluated their very lengthy menu on the wall for several minutes.

My first inclination was to request the gold standard for a coffee shop – espresso please.

But, I hinted to my friend that the machine was not running (likely to save electricity) and that if they were to pull my shot immediately after turning on the machine, it would be of the worst quality with no crema whatsoever.  My prediction was 100% correct – despite the coffee being from a local cooperative of indigenous growers who sell their coffee through designated ‘Casa Indigena’ – indigenous cooperative trade associations (such as this one http://intermundos.org/sierra_nevada1.htm). I suspect that the coffee quality is better than my espresso reflected, so I encourage additional research.

On a side note, the iced tea that my friend ordered was also surprisingly unpleasant.  Sadly, it appears that the biggest sell here was that they have English speaking staff, English marketing materials, free wi-fi (that cuts out a lot), and a HUGE menu. Quantity, not quality. Also of note, the prices were expensive even relative to coffee shops in DC and California. Positively, the cozy bohemian feel becomes quite endearing and familiar as an ex-pat in Colombia.

Next time I visit Taganga, I will probably stick with the fresh fish and fresh juices consumed  under a straw hut overlooking the bay. Santa Marta and the surrounding areas are quaint, safe and beautiful. I highly suggest visiting!

Looking out over the bay in Taganga while waiting for my freshly caught Red Snapper to be served.

Another interesting side note – much of this little town’s wealth came from ‘seed money’ in the 70s as a result of the lucrative illicit marijuana trade to the US. Local traquetos laundered the money by investing in real estate, agro-industry, and boosting the local tourism industry. The U.S. market has long since moved to closer producers (British Columbia, Mexico, California) to meet domestic demand and Taganga appears to rely mostly on tourism as its lifeblood. Cheers.

Cafe Hounding: Cafe Don Pedro – Bogota, Colombia

Carrera 11A # 89-48
Bogota – Colombia
http://www.cafedonpedro.com/primera_del_Cafe.htm

Don Pedro's interior from the back room looking out towards the adjoined bakery run by Pedro's wife.

Cafe Don Pedro is one of those places that began Maher Hound’s entire journey into the coffee world.  An exercise in objectivity would be senseless in this post considering my first encounter with the wonderful Colombian grown stimulant known as Cafe Don Pedro began in the late nineties after my father received a pound as a gift from a friend stationed at the US Embassy in Bogota.  At the time my family did not find the coffee particularly amazing and I was too young to have taken up the habit of coffee drinking full-time yet.

Several years later, after being reintroduced to Colombian coffee through a chocolate covered experience with Oma coffee, I found my way down to Colombia and into the storied retail location of Cafe Don Pedro on Calle 90 where it intersects Carrera 11A.  Beyond having one of the most folkloric, traditional coffee themed interior designs I have ever seen in a coffee shop; Cafe Don Pedro had very well trained and highly knowledgeable staff that were able to describe everything about the entire supply chain process of a coffee plant/bean and how to prepare beverages with care and with style.

My first visit to Cafe Don Pedro in the flesh was in 2006.  This was before I had been properly introduced to cupping and understanding the careful and lengthy process of training one’s palate to distinguish subtle discrepancies in the flavor profile of different beans and brews.  Even at this early juncture of my coffee loving career, I knew I had come across a truly amazing quality of coffee.  Upon my departure from Colombia several months later I carried several pounds of the delicious substance with me (beans were packaged according to their Department (a national sub-unit similar to a State) of origin). The most well-rounded beans sold by Don Pedro were probably the Cudinamarca blend – taken from the region immediately surrounding Bogota.  The most unique and distinctly (although quite mild) beans were those from Huila, found south of Neiva heading towards the Colombia-Ecuador border on the 45 highway. The Huila beans – last time I tried them in 2008 – had a vanilla and nutty undertone in the finish that was preceded by bright orange acidity in the initial sip.

Upon my return to Colombia in 2008, I made another stop at Don Pedro and enjoyed the comfortable ambiance and coffee of the shop.  Did I mention that, because they roast coffee every day right in the front of the shop, there is an overwhelmingly pleasant aroma of fresh roasted coffee that greets each customer upon entering the shop?

In 2008 I sat down and discussed the business – both the beauty of owning one’s own specialty coffee retail location in a country dominated by the Juan Valdez and FEDERCAFE image AND the problems associated with trying to leverage the international recognition of the Juan Valdez label while trying to directly export one’s own brand to international markets.  It appears that Pedro de Narveaz is still wrapped up in a legal dispute with the National Coffee Growers Federation in Colombia and this will likely – due to the political clout and financial resources of the Federation – end badly for our beloved Don Pedro.

Despite these facts, his business does incredibly well just by selling to the  Bogota equivalent of Washington, D.C.’s ‘Embassy Row’ with high praise coming from the US Embassy in Bogota and his own product positioning in Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport for those hoping to grab a bag of Don Pedro before hopping on the plane. I returned yet again to Don Pedro in July 2010 to grab five pounds and sample a delicious espresso with my girlfriend.  As she enjoyed her cappuccino with ‘fluffy foam’ and delicious coffee cookie treats, I reminisced about the more than four years of coffee patronage at this wonderful location in downtown Bogota.  Now, with the store moving down the street into a smaller shop on Calle 89 with 11A, I am both saddened and excited about the future of the Cafe Don Pedro experience.  The new commerce brought to this neighborhood by the incoming Mall will definitely boost foot traffic in and around Cafe Don Pedro, but it will also dramatically alter the quiet and charming experience that this neighborhood offered the older Bogotano crowd looking for an elegant cafe to discuss Colombian culture, society, politics and – most importantly – coffee.

 

Gently kissing this cup of C-marca espresso blend goodnight on my last evening in Bogota in July 2010.

Cafe Hounding: Ozzie’s Coffee Bar – Old Forge, NY

3019 Main St.
Old Forge, New York

As many of those who relish in a fresh cup of specialty coffee stumble across this page in ‘google’ searches for the next best thing in their locale, I stumbled across Ozzie’s Coffee Bar in Old Forge, New York while on vacation with family.  Often when traveling, one must take what they can get when it comes to getting the daily brew of coffee.

During my recent visit to Old Forge, I expected that I would not find anything worthy of Cafe Hound mention given the remote location and *assumed* lack of access to high quality roasters.  My assumption proved wrong the moment I walked through the doors of Ozzie’s Coffee Bar.

Ozzie’s customer service was yet another perk of this pleasant coffee cabin nestled into the quaint Adirondack town of Old Forge, New York.

I entered in search of free Wifi so that my friend and I could get some work done in between kayaking on the beautiful lakes of the Adirondack Mountains – only to find that there was no wifi available in this quaint shop. Although I nearly darted out the door upon learning of the lack of wifi, I took the plunge and ordered a standard double espresso to test their bean and barista quality.

My first impression was less than optimum given the fact that they served me a watery espresso in a large to-go coffee cup… but… I cleared my mind and took in the aroma.  To my surprise the aroma was fresh, earthy with hints of chocolate.  Next, I sipped in some of the semi-frothy crema that found its way on top of this drink.  It was pretty decent – made with well roasted and well preserved (i.e. relatively fresh) beans.  My only gripe is that the drink was too watered down because the barista intentionally over-pulled the shot (correctly assuming that the average consumer wants more liquid rather than more taste).

My friend ordered a chai latte (hot) and was also very pleasantly surprised.  I tasted her drink and found that it was made with high quality ingredients and was well prepared.  What a pleasant surprise.

The following day I returned to order another espresso (this time made with less than half the previous amount of water) and my friend ordered a skim cappuccino.  Both drinks were superb and thus I had to ask the baristas where the beans were from. I also asked for the owners information since I didn’t see her in the shop.

Albeit not that surprisingly, the beans used at Ozzie’s are not locally roasted.  Instead, the owner, Kristy Sutherland, prefers to create her own custom blend through a wholesale purchasing partnership with Aroma Coffee Roast in Larchmont, New York. Aroma is a known entity in the world of specialty roasters and continues to use a 12 KG roaster in order to achieve the careful control of each batch roasted on a daily basis.

In addition to splendid coffee, Ozzie’s also locally sources a variety of tasty treats, panini, sandwiches, salads and baked goods on a daily basis.  Cafe Hound promotes both an excursion to the beautiful Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and a stop by Ozzie’s Coffee Bar along the way. We guarantee that there you will find plenty of hidden gems and scenic views along the way.

Woof News: Winter 2010 Update

2010 is upon us and what began as a graduation gift idea between professor and scholar has now evolved into a means of stimulating interest in the specialty coffee industry and in its entire supply chain –

– from farm level decision makers who must decide how to react to how global climate change is impacting their growing season and yields;

– to cooperatives who must decide how to integrate IT solutions into their business processes;

– farmers who must choose between numerous certification choices;

– exporters who must decide what price is a ‘fair’ one at which to sell their prized beans;

– importers who must navigate an increasingly competitive specialty coffee market;

– specialty roasters who must communicate their value proposition to a growing market segment;

– shops trying to differentiate their brand and product from the Starbucks baseline and from other shops claiming to provide the ‘gourmet’ experience;

– to end-consumers who seek clarity and consistency of quality despite all of the contingencies that must occur before the latte art is disturbed by the first sip.

Cafehound.com was launched early this fall as an online medium for Krislert Samphantharak and Matthew Maher to communicate and share their knowledge and experience with each other more than anything else. It began as an incremental journey to explore various portions of the supply chain in detail and encourage participation and collaboration with some of the major actors in the specialty coffee industry.  Before long, Café Hound was able to secure interviews with roasters, importers, shop owners, professional baristas, farmers and people involved on the academic/research end of the soft commodities market.  Given the very positive response that the website has received and as a consequence of very promising content in the future, Café Hound has decided to begin institutionalizing some processes.

1. Custom blend releases on occasion to generate publicity and raise funds for charity

2. Regular café reviews  spanning the globe with occasional guest postings from our friends and associates abroad

3. Spotlight pieces that investigate particular segments of the supply chain with specific attention to farmers, importers and roasters.

4. Academic themed reviews of literature empirically evaluating aspects of the soft commodities market, especially coffee and specialty coffee

5. Newsletter updates

6. Creating a non-profit organization to provide a legal basis for managing funds and further enhancing our ability to provide value to entrepreneurial agricultural producers and children in the developing world.

Regards,

– The Hounds

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