Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweetleaf, LIC, NY

10-93 Jackson Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101
I may be somewhat biased, and feeling a little nostalgic at the moment, but I'm going to go ahead and announce that the best coffee in the world can be found in Long Island City at Sweetleaf. The tea and tunes are pretty rockin' too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Roasting Plant

I am a little bit stumped by the sleek, yet friendly, Roasting Plant cafe in the Lower East Side. All, that's right, all of their beans are described as fair trade, but when I went to their website, I did not see anything about fair trade certification or the producers. All they mentioned was having an "eye towards fair trade practices". What exactly that means, I am waiting to hear back. Below is my inquiry to RP...

Dear Roasting Plant,

I visit your store often, and I am a big fan of your coffee and friendly baristas. However, I do have one concern -

I saw in the store that all of your coffees are fair trade, a rarity among cafes, and I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. Upon going through your website I was confused as to what you meant as an "eye towards fair trade". Does that mean you are a fair trade certified roaster? Does it mean you are not certified by transfair, but pay above the established minimum "fair" price per pound for all the beans you buy? Does it mean you are working towards becoming a fair trade buyer and roaster?

I was hoping you could clarify because, as is, I feel a little misled. If you are upholding the pillars of fair trade, you should shout it from buildingtops because it is my feeling that consumers are growing increasingly aware of and sensitive to theses labels and issues. However, if you are not really fair trade yet, I think you should be careful not to dilute your own reputation and that of the true fair trade systems in place around the world by misrepresenting your product.

I am curious about the specifics of who and where your coffee really comes from. If you know this info, I would love to hear more!

Thanks for your time, your feedback, and of course, the superb cappuccinos!

Kind Regards,
Liz O'Connell

81 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002 (between Broome & Grand)
Hours: 7am – 8pm weekdays, 8am – 8pm weekends

Liz's Rating
Linger? – Usually you can find a spot to sit on the bench or ledge inside, or you can sit outside with your pooch by the doggy drinking bowl.
Cost - $
Value – High
Taste – 3 stars
Mood – 3 stars
Wifi - yes

Friday, October 23, 2009

Joe The Art of Coffee

Joe's is already known to many New Yorkers as one of the best javaspots in town, so I won't gush too much and just say that, "yes, it is that good" and "yes, they know what they are doing." Each Joe's barista puts such care and excitement into each shot, and the slow but steady growth of this brother/sister owned shop over the past five years speaks highly of their consistency and quality.

I learned something while at Joe's that I had never thought about before. When I asked my friendly barista if Joe's beans were fair trade certified she said "no, but they are so good they don't have to be." As I pondered how this could possibly work, she explained that their roaster, Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, selected only the finest of coffees to roast. These green beans had been grown with such attention and skill that the taste was noticeably better. A difference the farmers understood as well. These farmers take extreme pride in their product, and therefor accept nothing less than what they knew their crop is worth. In this way, she said, the farmers provide a higher quality product, and expect higher compensation in return. As is the case with many other specialty coffee roasters, Barrington does not worry about being fair trade certified because they believe the respect they show for the coffee and the farmer can be detected at first sip.

After all, no Americano Misto could have turned out as tastey as mine, if the right beans were not used to begin with. The quality was actually noticeable at first glance, as no conventional coffee could have made the thick, golden crema that gathered on my drink.

This was my first ever Americano Misto, which is espresso, hot water, and a touch of steamed milk. I recommend it for those dreary mornings when you need a little extra caffeine and little extra warmth. It went down smooth as water, tasted slightly of vanilla, and kept my hands warm for ten blocks.

9 East 13th Street, New York, NY 10003 (1 of 5 Manhattan locations)
Hours: 7am – 8pm daily

Liz's Rating
Linger? – It's usually pretty crowded with students pouring over books and laptops
Cost - $
Value – High
Taste – 5 stars
Mood – 3 stars
Wifi - not sure

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fair Trade: The Movement

The idea behind the fair trade movement is simple: paying people a decent wage for their work.

The past 15 years have been a time of tremendous growth for the coffee industry. Demand for coffee increased tremendously-the price for one serving climbing upwards of $4. Why in this time of growth were coffee farmers around the word suffering from malnutrition and increasing debt? Where was all this money going, if not to the farmer? These questions are of the sort the fair trade movement attempts to answer and solve. If we pay $4 for a coffee and a farmer makes less than .50 cents per pound of coffee produced, there is a leak in the cup somewhere. Fair trade helps this problem by cutting out the layers, upon layers of middlemen in the distribution chain and guaranteeing that the farmer receives at least a minimum price per pound of coffee grown, picked, dried, husked, re-dried, sorted and sold. No small amount of work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

71 Irving Place

Tucked away on Irving place, just East of Union Square and north of NYU land, this café is brimming with a hominess that can often times be lacking in NYC. Take three steps down into 71 Irving Place and you have entered a cozy, old-fashion sitting room.

The coffee here is Irving’s own, that is, all the coffee sold here was roasted at Irving Farm Coffee Company, located in Hudson Valley New York. Roasting their own coffee means that 71 Irving place has greater control over the way their product tastes. And what a product they offer. Irving Farms boasts a huge variety of coffee, of diverse origin. There are flavored coffees, organics, decaffeinated, Espresso blends, and a fair trade Guatemalan coffee. All regions of coffee land are represented from Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi), to Asia (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India) and South America (Nicaragua, Columbia, Costa Rica) to North America (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawaii). By buying a cup of coffee in this cozy café basement, I have the opportunity to travel to another region of the world.

The Fair Trade Guatemalan is priced at $12.50/1b, certainly not the most expensive offering on their menu. One-pound bags range between $11 and $13, except for the Rare Hawaiian Kona Estate Extra Fancy Greenwell Estate, $32/lb. This is my must-try next time. I wonder if it’s priced so much higher because it’s grown with American workers. Interesting question. This coffee was grown organically and in a bird friendly environment. What exactly is bird friendly you ask? This refers to coffee grown in a rainforest without cutting down the valuable layer of the canopy in which birds live.

I tried the cappuccino, of course. It was actually a little bitter, for my taste, and very bols. My friend tried the Sinful Delight – chocolate hazelnut flavored coffee – and was hooked. There is also a good selection of healthy lunch options. I had the flavorful Mediterranean sandwich with basil pesto! Finally, to add one more perk to the cozy, stay-a-while atmosphere, wine is offered at night.

71 Irving Place, New York, NY 10001
Hours: 7am – 9pm daily

Liz's Rating
Linger – Yes
Cost - $$
Value – High
Taste – 4 stars
Mood – 5 stars
Wifi - No

Monday, September 28, 2009

So what is Fair Trade?

Simply put, fair trade is a minimum price. It is also a movement.

If a product is fair trade certified it means that the farmer has received at least the minimum "fair' price per pound of coffee sold. The current fair trade price is $1.26 per pound, and $1.41 per pound of organic coffee. The conventional/free market price is much lower, usually less than 50% of the fair trade price, and is also more volatile.

A fair trade certified product also means there is a long-term relationship between buyer and seller. This relationship allows for the farmer to have a consistent income source and the buyer to have a consistent product. This also allows for the buyer to have more control over the growing and selection process, such as organic, shade grown, and bird friendly methods. The producer learns how to grow a higher quality, more environmentally friendly product which they can demand more money for. The result of this mutually beneficial relationship is a superior coffee.

Finally, fair trade certification often means that the coffee growers form cooperatives, to increase their collective bargaining power, and mitigate their risks in production each year. Buyers often commit to paying a portion of final profits to the farmer so that they can invest in their business or community development projects.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dean Cycon, Original Javatrekker

Thankfully, some of us can, in fact, be rockstars. One of whom I hold in particular esteem is Dean Cycon. Dean is a trailblazer in the fair trade movement. He is the founder of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee and author of Javatrekker: Dispatches From the world of Fair Trade Coffee. Dean coined the phrase Javatrekking, which I adapted (with eternal gratitude and inspiration) as the title of my blog.

We do not all have the funds or flexibility (yet!) to travel to the source of the world’s best coffee beans, but thanks to Javatrekker, we can now envision the places our favorite coffees originate from and relate to the farmers who make their livelihood raising this delicious plant.

Javatrekker is an exciting read that takes us on a worldwide tour though the coffee supply chain. Dean reveals some of the difficulties and downfalls of a global marketplace, but also shares the triumphs that can be achieved when a fair trade arrangement can be agreed upon and upheld. Farmers in cooperatives that earn at least the minimum fair price per pound are able to change their lives and futures for the better. Farmers in fair trade cooperatives can minimize the risks associated with producing a volatile product, climb out of the cycles on debt that often plague poor individuals in the developing world, reinvest in their communities and business, and, most importantly, provide for their families.

Javatrekker tells the story of the people behind each cup of routine coffee we drink. It is eye-opening and will certainly prompt you to think, perhaps for the first time, about just how much goes into your 12oz. cup.

Thanks Dean!

Come JavaWalk with me

Parched—how I feel as I plop down at my desk at 9:04 am, still sweating from the extra layer I thought I would need, but then could not slip out of on the crowded 6 train. I gulp down the last sip of my lukewarm coffee and exhale slowly. What will today bring? Extraordinary bliss? Unnecessary stress? I stare into the dregs and search for a sign in the black trail of espresso that lines the bottom of my empty cup.

What’s the point of all this anyways? I learned quickly that the trills of having a “real” job amount to email responses I receive from faceless colleagues. What happened to the real people? What happened to the idealistic dreams I clung to in college? I may be acting (a little) melodramatic, but I can’t keep from thinking that my value in life is now measured by what I can accomplish behind this glowing box with 64 keys between the hours of nine and five each day.

We can’t all be rock climbers and rockstars, but I won’t settle for this drought any longer. There is far too much I yearn to learn, see, do, and understand. This world is vast, yet with each day that passes, I feel that our lives grow increasingly connected and dependant on one another. Every choice we make, from squeezing into a departing subway car, to buying a morning beverage, plays into something bigger. The global economy is a force for change more powerful than any other. My desire to be an engaged participant in this global relationship is what fuels my new blog: JavaWalking. In this blog I will document the responsible and informed choices that even we sheltered urbanites can make everyday to connect with communities far away.

So, after a nice cold glass of water, I rub the sleep from my eyes and embark on an adventure. I will tell the stories of a city girl attempting to understand trade, and make it more fair in the process. Latte by latte, we can make little sips for big change. Drink up!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coming Soon

This blog is a work in progress and an idea in motion. Stay tuned!