Monday, October 24, 2016

62. Serious Potato Taste Defect "Fall Out"

Oct. 24, 2016
I spent the past week on the North American West Coast -- Los Angeles and Vancouver to be specific. I visited roasters in both cities and the Swiss Water Decaffeination Coffee Co. in Burnaby. My plan was to promote interest in the Rwandan Ejo Heza coffee that Artisan Coffee Imports is bringing in to Oakland in January. I got a clear reminder of just how serious the potato taste defect (PTD) "fall-out" is among specialty coffee buyers. Too many have been "stung" too many times. Many told me "we just stopped buying it."

This is difficult but probably not "new" news for stakeholders in Rwanda's coffee industry. Many producers and exporters in Kigali and its environs have expressed to me frustration with an inability to increase volumes with specialty buyers. I suspect a few know they have lost buyers due to potato taste, but probably many do not realize that this is the reason a small specialty buyer did not return. Therefore in a recent survey of the 16 washing stations in the AGLC project, 56% said they had at least one problem with potato taste in the past year, but only one said a customer had rejected a load due to PTD. (The survey did not ask how many customers the Producer Organization thought they had lost, only how many had rejected a shipment.)

Meanwhile, ICO data shows the following downward trend for Rwanda's production. The causes for the production declines are more complex than "just" PTD, of course. The AGLC research team has written papers on issues related to productivity, motivation and capacity (link here). All of these "root" causes affect PTD also, we just don't have numbers yet to say exactly how.

Figure: Rwanda’s Arabica green coffee production trend is downward. Source: ICO

Below are a few quotes I heard while on the road. But don't get discouraged - especially if you're a buyer or a producer. Each of the people I talked to were happy to hear that research continues to reduce and eliminate PTD root causes. Most were willing to consider trying another batch of Rwandan or Burundian coffee, even if they had been avoiding it intentionally for years. They all know the great taste that it can have, and they miss it!

"[On potato taste] I'm at the point of withdrawl. I'm so tired of it. I get a great Burundi or Rwanda and then 'bam!' the potato smell hits you as you brew. I've trained my staff to notice it, but I just don't want the hassle."  ~ small, micro-roaster with retail outlet in Culver City, CA (Los Angeles neighborhood).

"We are focusing on providing micro-lot, specialty decaffeinated coffee, but we cannot take out defects -- only the caffeine. We can't buy Rwandan, Burundian or Congo coffee and decaffeinate because if even one of those beans gets into the system it could ruin the entire batch and more than 7,000 lbs of coffee."  ~ executive at Swiss Water Process

"We stopped buying Rwanda a couple years ago. Too many incidents of potato defect. We pride ourselves on great tasting coffee, so it's just too risky."   ~ green buyer for Vancouver roaster buying ~ 20 containers/year

"We have to train the baristas very carefully to detect PTD and throw away the batch. Seems like every Rwanda or Burundi has a few, but with the very high quality ones (like Gaharo from Long Miles Coffee Project), the incidents have been very, very few."  ~ high-end roaster in Costa Mesa, CA (Los Angeles neighborhood)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

61.5 The PROCESS, Rose Park Roasters and the Perfect Cup

October 20, 2016
At the end of a busy day of Los Angeles visits, I slipped into a quiet, suburban area of LA called Long Beach. At least the part I was in seemed quiet and suburban. I went there to find the Rose Park Cafe, a relatively new cafe on the LA scene, started by roaster Andrew Phillips. I was amazed as I walked in the front door with the proclamation, "WELCOME TO THE PROCESS" painted in 18 inch-high lettering, white on black, very bold, across the most prominent wall in the cafe. These guys were as committed to "Lean" as I was!

I stepped in and learned from barista Ronny that Andrew, the owner/roaster, believes a perfect cup of coffee is "a miracle", because so many things can go wrong at every point in the long coffee supply chain. So true! So Andrew is fanatic about following processes for roasting and brewing coffee. This is a great illustration of the principles of "Lean at Origin," Artisan Coffee Imports' new training program for washing stations. Every production process, whether it's brewing an espresso, roasting 60 Kg of beans or washing 9 metric tons of beans at night on top of a mountain -- all of these parts of producing great coffee are a process. Processes have variability, and unless we control the variability, we have problems.

Thank you, Andrew! For taking care of "the process" at this end of the value chain. At Artisan Coffee Imports we will continue to preach the importance of "process control" at the farm and washing station level.
Barista Ronny
"...a globally transpiring dialogue. One that connects farmers,
processors, roasters, baristas and you!"