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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Auction Coffee

Kelly Greenlee's amazing desserts have become a much-anticipated attraction at First Parish's annual service auction, and last night's offerings did not disappoint. In an effort to do some justice to the quality of the desserts, I serve some good coffee.  I promised those present that I would share a little information on the coffees that were offered this time.

The regular coffee was Selva Negra dark roast, from the La Hammonia farm on Selva Negra Coffee Estate, which I have visited during each of my five study tours (so far) in Nicaragua. It is always the most popular coffee at the annual coffee tasting event organized by students in my Secret Life of Coffee class. This coffee is not fair-trade, because Selva Negra is one large estate, rather than a cooperative of small farms. It is, however, recognized by the Rainforest Alliance as a socially and environmentally sustainable farm, and I can certainly vouch for that certification. I know the farm well, including both temporary and permanent worker housing and dining areas. Selva Negra is a leader in sustainability, where a thoroughly integrated approach connects the coffee farm, hotel, food cultivation, energy, and waste streams. During the peak harvest and tourism seasons, many hundreds of people are living on the farm, and almost no waste goes off-site. In addition, a large portion of the farm is set aside as a biosphere reserve known for orchids, birds, and even primates. You can order Selva Negra coffee through its web site or through JavaVino in Atlanta.

The decaf coffee is roasted at Dean's Beans in Orange, Massachusetts, a leader in organic and fair-trade coffee. Dean Cycon was a human-rights lawyer who entered the coffee business specifically as a way to empower coffee farmers he met during his work with Nobel Laureate Rigoberta MenchĂș. His book Javatrekker is required reading for my coffee students, a fun read, and the best introduction I know of to the need for more justice in the coffee trade. (MenchĂș's autobiography is also a worthwhile read, focusing on the long civil war in Guatemala.)

Dean's book includes an entire chapter on the deadly human-rights abuses in the state of Chiapas in far southern Mexico. The decaf coffee we served at the auction comes from the Mut Vitz cooperative in Chiapas, and is decaffeinated through a Swiss-water process that introduces no chemicals. I purchase this coffee frequently, because it is a delicious single-origin coffee that is readily available in both regular and decaf form, so that my coffee students and audiences can make a direct comparison.

I prepared both coffees in high-temperature drip brewers, which are an improvement over typical brewers and a big improvement over percolators. If you purchase these coffees for home use, however, I recommend preparing them with a French press or other small-batch method. See my coffee care page for more preparation tips.

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