Hi there. Welcome to the Roasted in Brooklyn podcast, this is our first episode, and today I’m going to do a little introduction on coffee and what coffee means to us here at Roasted In Brooklyn.
The sounds you hear in the background are taken from an actual coffee shop in New York City. Being a barista for the last four years in Brooklyn, these are the sounds of my home away from home. The place that not only pays my bills, but where some of my favorite people frequent. We catch up on things, discuss philosophies and news, and any number of things. Of course, they’re customers but they mean a lot more than that to me.
Outside of the sacred bond between customer and barista, I’d like to talk about coffee. Right now we’re living a golden age of coffee, but before we get today, let’s take a short trip down the history of coffee.
Welcome to Ethiopia. The year is 850 AD, and a goat herder is standing watch over his goats.
Life’s tough herding goats in the desert. Not only are there bandits, famine, drought, angry Gods, and who knows what else… But worst of all those damn goats will eat just about everything.
One day, a goat herder named Kaldi catches those darn pesky goats eating berries from a plant that he doesn’t recognize. He’s too late to stop them, and now he’s worried… If his goats are poisoned and die, the consequences can be dire.
Then out of nowhere the goats are going crazy. They’re jumping all over the place, they’re running in circles, they’re driving each other wild!
When the goat’s finally calmed down, Kaldi ran to the chief Monk to present the coffee beans. But, upon inspection the Monk declared that the beans were “the devil’s work!” and threw thing into a fire.
The smell of the roasting beans drew out all the other monks, and when they came to investigate they crushed up the beans and made it into a drink.
This is the birth of coffee.
Ethiopia to this day is still one of the most important growers of coffee beans. The strain, known as Arabica, has been spread across the world and become one of the most important commodities of human kind, an estimated 200 billion dollar business worldwide.
Ethiopia currently accounts for 3% of the coffee production around the world, according to Wikipedia. Also 15 million Ethiopians rely on coffee business for their income, and it brings in an estimated $350 million per year for Ethiopia which is 34% of total exports.
Welcome to the port of Mokha in Yemen. It’s now the 16th century and coffee is making its way around the world. Of course, it doesn’t quite have the power that tea does, but coffee is saving its best years for our time, the 21st century.
At the time, Mokha was the exclusive world supplier of coffee. The plant, which grows mainly in high climates loves the surrounding highlands in Yemen, and it allowed them to produce coffee easily.
Coffee spread throughout the Ottoman Turkish Empire which had occupied Yemen since the 15th century.
Eventually coffee spread out to other areas, it became cheaper to buy, and easier to find.
Coffee went on that way for quite a while. It eventually became something that you found in the grocery store, a diner, or ordered with desert in a restaurant.
One of my favorite pop-culture coffee moments is in AMC’s Mad Men, when Martinson’s Coffee hired Sterling Cooper, the advertising firm at the center of the show, and their new talent thought of a catchy song to go with an old, established coffee company.
By the 1960s, coffee was already something that was… boring. It was something of the beatnicks, and of GIs, and of the past.
It’s delicious, it’s hot, and it’s brown. That’s the best that someone could’ve expected from coffee.
Even being a child of the 80s, the most extravagant memory I have of coffee is the small tin of International Delights my mom kept in the cabinet for when my grandmother would visit. This flavored instant coffee was the epitome of coffee extravagance, I can still remember the taste of the “cappuchino flavor.”
That was until…
The coffee world changed from one single idea.
The proliferation of Starbucks can have its own entire episode, and most likely will. But the thing to keep in mind is that this whole barista’ing and coffee lifestyle is owed in a very large part to Howard Schultz and the business model that allows for a relatively small space to have a single espresso machine, fancy coffee beans, a fridge for milk, and a cash register to become a powerhouse industry unto itself.
Any self-respecting barista will automatically scoff at Starbucks, and rightfully so. Their coffee isn’t that great, their machines are mainly push button and minimize the artistry in making coffee, and it’s a monstrously large corporation with all the negatives that come along with that – but, I’ll also admit that they offer full medical benefits to their employees and even help with funding their employees education, which is pretty cool.
For those of you keeping track, we’ve wrapped up the second wave of coffee.
And if you would like to buckle up your seat belts, we begin our takeoff for… The Third Wave.
Before I get lost too much into things, I like to break up the coffee world into two distinct aspects: behind the counter, and in front of the counter.
As a customer, you probably don’t need to worry much about things on “our side” of the counter. I sometimes think that with coffee where things get lost is that all the technical, interesting, and nerdy sides of coffee are so fascinating to baristas and coffee professionals, that we lose sight that most consumers mostly care if their coffee tastes good.
For example, I’ve had the pleasure of drinking a coffee known as Panamanian Geisha, which sold for quite a lot of money.
It was like drinking a Jackson Pollack painting. [slurping confused] I’m not sure I could even describe it’s taste as coffee, but more like a tea.
But for regular consumers, that can be slightly confusing.
While not everyone would describe third wave coffee in this manner, to me, it seems like a point in time of coffee where the specialization of the professionals that make coffee is far, far, far outpacing the information that customer’s know, or even necessarily care, about.
As a barista that still works in a coffee shop, I can tell you, that when most people buy coffee there’s still a great deal of information missing on their side when purchasing. Of course, it’s my job to explain exactly what’s going on, but it can feel so off-track that it would be like a person going into a Ford dealership and asking to buy a turnip.
But this is definitely not a problem, if anything it’s the perfect moment for a site like Roasted in Brooklyn to come into existence.
Thankfully, Brooklyn has an unbelievable coffee scene, and we’ve, so far, partnered up with four incredible roasters: Brooklyn Roasting Company, Kos Kaffe & Roasting House, Oslo Coffee, and Unity Roasting & Sourcing. As well as one chai company: Dona Chai.
And we’re growing. I mean that in a lot of ways. We’re going to be partnering up with more and more roasters, we’re also going to be doing more and more features on coffee shops, as well as doing interviews with coffee professionals.
There’ll also be more podcasts like this one, where we can all learn more about coffee together. I care a great deal about coffee consumers, and coffee in general, and my ultimate goal is that the next time you go and buy coffee you’ll be able to ask for the coffee that you know matches the flavors that you want the most. Or that you can confidently order the drink that you really want. Or be able to appreciate what one coffee shop does over another, and widen your coffee palette.
No matter the reason why coffee matters to you, I hope that Roasted in Brooklyn helps you discover it more fully, and you can enjoy this wonderful drink even more than you already do.
Thank you so much. I’m Ric from Roasted in Brooklyn, until next time.