Farm to Cup: Caffe Vita & Jackson 20 Travel to Guatemala

| December 17, 2014

For many years, Caffe Vita has sourced excellent coffee through our farm direct partnerships in Guatemala, one of the most prized coffee producing regions in Central America.

Coffee cherries.

Coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Usually, our Green Coffee Buyer Daniel visits the farms on his own but last week, a special guest from Alexandria, VA came along for the ride. Chef Brian McPherson of Jackson 20 has served Caffe Vita since opening six years ago. Located in the Hotel Monaco by Kimpton, Jackson 20 was named after President Andrew Jackson and is known for contemporary versions of traditional American classics.

So how did a Chef from Virginia get to spend six days in Guatemala with Caffe Vita? Long story short, our own, Bob Prince, pitched the idea to Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, consistently named one of FORTUNE’s 2014 “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and a longstanding Caffe Vita wholesale account. The goal of trekking six days throughout Guatemala together was to take a talented chef who uses our coffee in his or her restaurant on a journey to witness Caffe Vita’s innovative farm to cup process.

The first week of December, Bob, Daniel and Chef Brian visited current, former and potential new partners in four coffee producing areas of Guatemala. When the trip began last Sunday, it was clear that Guatemalan hospitality would be a common thread throughout their stay.

Chef Brian and Bob Prince

Chef Brian and Bob Prince looking tough at Finca Nuevo Vinas.

First they spent time with the Keller Family in Finca Nuevo Vias where Caffe Vita has sourced coffee for seven years. The community threw a party and roasted a pig to welcome their guests on the last day of their trip in the country, a highlight of the experience according to Daniel. The FNV coffee has been farmed by the Keller family for over 100 years, and in 2003, they made the full transition to organic farming, an expensive and lengthy certification process. This is where Chef Brian first witnessed pulping, where the seed from the coffee cherry is removed from the actual fruit. For six years, he has served Caffe Vita coffee and now he knows exactly where it comes from.

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Chef Brian McPherson holds pulped coffee cherries in Guatemala.

Next, they made their way to Finca Pacamaral to meet the farm’s new owner, Sergio. Vita previously purchased coffee from this land but Daniel was looking forward to meeting with Sergio to discuss a potential partnership in the future.

After Finca Pacamaral, Valmar in Coban was next on the list, where Vita has purchased coffee for the past two years. Coban’s climate this time of year is very similar to Seattle, cold, wet and cloudy. Bob and Daniel felt completely at home surveying the property in their rain gear, and were welcomed into the farm home of the Valdez family.

Coffee cherries dry in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Coffee drying in the sun at Santo Tomas Pachuj.

Then it was onto Santo Tomas Pachuj where Andres Fahsen grows coffee near the Lake Atitlán region, a nature preserve. Andres visited with us at Caffe Vita in Capitol Hill when he was in town for the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual event last April.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

Compost with red worms at Finca Chacaya.

After Santo Tomas Pachuj the team drove to Finca Chacaya, a farm on the western shores of Atitlan that still grows old typica coffee, the first variety of coffee brought to the country and which is now hard to find.

Lastly, the team drove to San Juan Sacatepequez to visit the celebrated farm San Jose Ocana. Guillermo Sanchez gave a wonderful tour and provided a delicious lunch of local cuisine.

To be able to share this unique farm to cup process with Chef Brian was a fantastic experience for Bob and Daniel. Now that he has witnessed it for himself, Chef says that he plans to find new ways to use Vita coffee in his restaurant. Even bringing home dried husks to hopefully make bitters to be used in Jackson 20’s famous bar program.

Connecting with our Guatemalan farmers over long conversations, property tours, cuppings, and special meals with hard working families is certainly an experience these guys will never forget. “Every farmer we met exuded a strong sense of stewardship and pride for their land,” according to Daniel. This is something that Caffe Vita takes into account when searching for the best coffee; it’s about more than just a cup of coffee.

Learn more about how Caffe Vita meticulously sources the best coffee through our farm direct partnerships across the globe and purchase our own Guatemala Valmar single origin coffee today while supplies last.

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Finca Nuevo Vinas

| December 15, 2014

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to Guatemala. It was my first time visiting the country and Central America all together, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The only place I could compare it to was Mexico, having traveled there many times.

Guatemala is a beautiful country, with very welcoming people, rich historic culture and bustling day to day life. Since I work in coffee sales at Caffe Vita I was very excited to go to a country that is in the top ten coffee producing countries in the world. In every restaurant or café I would go to I had to try their coffee. Didn’t matter where I had coffee it was always way better than your average cup of joe.

Trying many Guatemalan coffees was amazing, but spending a full day at the Santa Isabel (Finca Nuevo Vinas) coffee farm was an experience I will never forget. Caffe Vita has been sourcing coffee from this sustainable and organic coffee farm for 9 years.

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The trip to the farm started out with farm owner, Martin Keller, picking us up in Guatemala City. At first he offered to fly us down in his plane. A short 8 minute flight was all, but my wife preferred that we drove. So we hopped in the car and headed down. Martin and his brother Alex own and operate this family farm and were born and raised in Guatemala. Their great grandparents came to the country from Germany and purchased the land the farm now exists on. Now, four generations of the Keller family have owned and operated this 3000 acre coffee farm that is about an hour drive south of Guatemala City.

As we got closer to the farm our discussions focused on the major two-year problem in Guatemala, and all of Central and South American, taht coffee farmers are facing. This would be “Rust”, a fungus that severely affects and kills most all plants and fruit bearing trees.

The origin of Rust is still unknown, and there are many theories to where it came from. Climate change? Or something man made to target smaller producers? There are more but the bottom line is that its impact on the coffee industry has been very significant. In 2013 Guatemalan coffee production was down 40% as the rust causes plants to produce a lot less fruit and if untreated the plant will eventually die.

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Many small produces are forced to spray chemicals to try and treat this disease. However, Martin pointed out many farms that have sprayed a number of times, their plants are still in bad shape and not producing as much coffee fruit as they did before.

At the Keller family farm, (Finca Nuevo Vinas) they are a certified organic farm, so spraying chemicals is not an option and furthermore they just don’t believe in treating the plants this way. So they have been doing all they can figure out the best way to fight this problem. They have up-rooted many of their 20-30 year old coffee plants and re-planted new ones, and they currently have a nursery of coffee plants 20 times the size that they normally do. Many scientists have also come to their farm study the disease, but the future is uncertain.

The Keller family is really on the forefront of this issue and is on the Board of Directors for Ana Café, the Guatemalan National Coffee Association. The board is knee deep in discussions with 1000s of Guatemalan coffee producers to help each other out and get Guatemala’s coffee production back to where it should be.

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In all business there is a risk, but when something like this happens to your crop, your livelihood is in immediate jeopardy, especially for the small Guatemalan farmers that just make enough money to take care of their families. If their crop is very low or non-existent there is nothing else they can do to support their family.

We proceeded to tour the farm and I was so impressed by the Keller family’s practices in sustainability. They literally engineer everything on this farm. From welding steel pieces for irrigation systems, to building of their own 50 kilo coffee roasters down to the nuts and bolts.

The farm also has 900 sheep that tend to the weeds, and a new crop of 150 baby sheep on the way to alleviate using weed-eaters that take gas and manpower. The mothers of these baby sheep will actually teach them which weeds to eat and to not eat the coffee plants!

After the amazing tour of the farm and production facilities we sat down with Martin to enjoy a farm fresh meal. Home made soup, roasted chicken (they recently butchered) and a fresh garden salad. It was now time to cup some coffee!

We cupped their most recent crop of naturals (organic), as early November is the very beginning of the harvest season in Guatemala and lasts until the Spring, as well as last years naturals and some new coffees they are featuring as part of their roasting business. I really enjoyed all their coffees and could not wait to share my experience with my friends and co-workers back home in Seattle.

After the cupping and one final espresso we headed back to Guatemala City. It was my last night in Guatemala so Martin’s brother Alex took me out to dinner at his favorite Guatemalan steakhouse, filled with business people (all who knew Alex and said hello as we sat at the bar). We chatted about a lot of things happening at their farm and roasting business. Alex also told me the story about how the Keller’s got started with Caffe Vita and how the deal was made when Vita Founder, Mike McConnell’s took his first trip to the farm, but that’s a story for another day…

- Skyler

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A Bite Of Old Seattle At 14 Carrot Cafe

| October 27, 2014

Cold rain pours outside but it’s warm inside. It smells good in here. Specials written in chalk on a blackboard, tattered hard cover books line a wall, funky local art, sounds sizzling comes from the kitchen, laughter and conversation all around. This is how Seattle used to be…causal, comfortable and blue collar. There aren’t that many places like that anymore. Most of the Seattle I knew is gone but the 14 Carrot Cafe is still here and they’ve been here since ’77. I’ve been eating here almost as long, it’s always been good, they know what they’re doing.
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img_1213img_13201I sit down at a nice old wood table with an old fashioned smiling plastic Halloween pumpkin by the salt & pepper shakers. I look around I see families, friends, workmates having Bloody Marys, a birthday party, people on dates. I sit alone facing the window with a view of rainy Eastlake Avenue. The hospitable waiter shuffles over with black coffee in a diner mug. Caffe’ Vita coffee. That’s how you do it. The comfort of coffee on a cold rainy day in Seattle. I cup my hands around the coffee mug for warmth. This is my kind of place. They give you your food then they leave you alone and the staff is casual. There’s no outfits here. Just people. There’s an espresso stand outside. I can hear and see steam rising from it. Brown thick espresso shots pour out. A line of people, probably regulars from the neighborhood, wait patiently for their drink.

img_1312They serve breakfast all day, but a must is the coffee cake-you gotta have the coffee cake! That’s why I’m here. Warm with powdered sugar and whipped butter piled so high it playfully falls off the side as you dig your fork in. It’s sweet and tastes homemade, comfort food. Just the right amount of texture. It’s a pleasure just sitting here eating this. It’s almost a shame to finish the last bite but it tastes so good with the last sip of coffee.

img_1311People hug on the wet sidewalk as each go their separate ways. I’m walking out happy and full and warm. I’m already thinking about my next visit.

“Raspberry Beret” plays on the speakers as I leave. Old school Prince. Not the new Prince but the Prince that we all know and love & had on cassette. 14 Carrot is truly one of a kind; a bridge to the past and the present and the future.
And I’ll back. For more coffee cake & coffee! After all, I’m a Seattleite. I gotta keep this going.

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Here’s to you,

14 Carrot Cafe
2305 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102
14carrotcafe.com

Featured Partner: Coastal Kitchen

| October 21, 2014

Meet Jeremy Hardy
The man not only behind Coastal Kitchen, but the 5 Spot, Jitterbug, Atlas Foods, the Hi-Life, Mioposto and Endolyne Joe’s.

“I love that we have the opportunity to expose people to different cultures. It’s very cool.”- JH

“I love that we have the opportunity to expose people to different cultures. It’s very cool.”- JH

The Boston native fell in love with the camaraderie, gratification, speed, and urgency of the food and beverage industry while washing dishes at the age of 14. After becoming a history major, he found jobs planting trees and bartending before opening up his first restaurant in 1988, the Beeliner Diner, followed by the Coastal Kitchen in 1993.

The Rotating Menu
If you’ve lived in Seattle, you know that we have about three seasons- wet, wetter and sunny. Which is why you’ll see the menu change 3 times a year, reflecting cuisines from coastal regions. In the past, Coastal Kitchen’s menu has spanned Brazil, Sicily, the Bay of Bengal, and Southeast Asia to name a few. They rarely return to a region, but when they do, the menu is completely re-done. They’re currently on their 97th menu featuring Morocco, but keep an eye out for Hawaiian eats coming up this summer, along with their millennial (100th) menu (!!!) during the summer of 2016.

menu

Once a region is chosen, Jeremy and his hardworking staff go through a three-month process of reading literature, researching migratory patterns, and learning more about native ingredients. After the menu has been created, the entire staff attends a tasting, offers their input, and makes changes accordingly.

Then there’s the oyster bar. Consisting of at least 7 varietals, depending on what’s available on a day-to-day basis. Coastal Kitchen also has a seasonal section on the menu that changes weekly as ingredients become available (think snap peas, berries, etc.).

If you’ve visited in the past, you’ll also notice that the walls are adorned with art that corresponds to the menu, and the potty humor changes as well… You’ll have to check that out in person. Just head over to the restroom and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Sustainable Fishing:
Jeremy follows the Monterey Bay fishing guidelines to make sure that they select seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that have minimal impact on the environment.

oyster bar

“We make no claims to authenticity but we try our damnedest to do it right.” – JH

SS: What was your original vision for the restaurant?

JH: We wanted big flavor, vibrant food, a worldly menu. We started off with a southeast focus- the seaborne south. It wasn’t until 2004 that we really started focusing the menu on seafood.

SS: What has been your favorite region of all time?
JH: You know how you see a movie, and you think, ”That’s my favorite movie!” Then you see another, and think, “THAT’S my favorite movie.” Well that’s how I feel about the food. [Jeremy paused and thought long and hard] Okay, it would probably have to be the Amalfi coast [Italy]- because of the sea urchin.

SS: And a favorite from the current menu?
JH: From the current menu, it would have to be the Tagine D’Agneau. The lamb just falls off the bone, but the Pistache Sole Croûte comes in as a close second.

SS: Dessert?
JH: Caffe Luna paired with the chocolate torte. That one was easy!

Blunch happens seven days a week until 3pm, the oyster bar is available from 3pm- midnight, dinner from 5pm- 10pm and happy hour (mon- fri) from 3pm-6pm and again from 10pm- midnight.

If you need an excuse to take your palate on a food journey, Coastal Kitchen also participates in Seattle Restaurant Week (October 19-30, 2014). Make sure you stop by if you haven’t already! For a closer look at their hours and menu, visit >> http://coastalkitchenseattle.com

Happy eating!
Sarah Samuth

Casablanca