Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hanging out in Costa Rica with a Specialty Coffee Legend

Costa Rican Breakfast of fried plantains
poached eggs, avocado, farmers cheese,
thick bacon and tortillas - plus coffee
I am checking out at the US Air Sky Club at Phoenix Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Costa Rica (a little coffee tasting and buying trip). Since I rarely leave California, I am not well acquainted with the world of frequent flyer clubs. With a few hours of layover ahead of us, my wife decided to buy a day pass the US Air Sky Club.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the prospect of free beer and wine, but since it was late morning, my initial inclination was to pass. When I walked by the bar on my way back from the restroom, I was stunned to see Markham Cabernet, Hanna Chardonnay, Rutherford Hill Cabernet and Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio all lined up behind the bar.

Eyeing the Markham, I changed my mind about waiting and decided to order up.  Here is the dialogue that followed.

Bob: “I’ll take a glass of the Markham.”

Attendant: (Eyeing the $2 tip in my hand) “That’s twelve bucks.”

Bob: “I thought beer and wine was free?”

Attendant: “Not the good stuff.”

Bob: “Damn, I thought this was the greatest place in the travel world with free premium wines.”

Attendant: “No sir – that would be United. That's why they call it the friendly skies."

Bob: “Too bad, I was ready to spend the day here and take a later flight.”

We shared a good laugh and I passed on the Le Terre house wine.

Luz and Jim
Once in Costa Rica, we took off to the Central Valley Coffee Region, where the finest Costa Rican coffee beans are grown.  Our host, Jim Stewart – Founder of Seattle's Best Coffee, who rose to become one of the most iconic figures in the specialty coffee industry. Also hosting ("I'm just a farmer") - his lovely wife Luz Marina Trujillo, who has spent two decades turning her Santa Elena Coffee Estate into one of the most respected in Central America.

Stewart learned the business from Coffee Bean founder Herb Hyman, after working at Coffee Bean in the late 1960's.  To make a long story short, he roasted his green coffee beans on Vashon Island, southwest of Seattle. His little company evolved into Stewart Brothers Coffee, then became SBC when a Chicago based firm contested the use of the Stewart name.  SBC became known as Seattle's Best Coffee after a coffee tasting competition crowned Stewart's coffee as number one - the best in Seattle.  Years later, he sold the company (now owned by Starbucks) and is working the coffee estate with Luz.

Coffee cherries arrive from the field
Click here to visit our facebook page, where you will find lots of videos and photos from our visit - an inside look at the coffee producing business. 

On the two and half hour bus trip from the coffee estate to our Los Suenos hotel, we had the opportunity to interview Stewart.  A few highlights:

On Starbucks: Stewart says that as successful as Starbucks founder Howard Schultz has been, he considers Coffee Bean founder Herb Hyman and Alfred H. Peet, the Dutch-American entrepreneur and the founder of Peet's Coffee, to be the true founders of the specialty coffee industry.

On Single Cup Coffee: Stewart says he can’t believe the success of single cup coffee and the willingness of people to essentially pay $60 a pound.

Coffee Compared to Wine: "It is amazing to me that a decent cup of coffee is ever brewed," says Stewart, pointing to the exhausting process that goes into your daily cup of coffee.  "The cherries need to be grown, picked, sorted, dried, transported, roasted and then the consumer has every opportunity to brew it wrong. There are so many ways to mess it up. Once you get a bottle of wine home, it takes quite a bit of effort to ruin it."

Cocktail Hour - Made better by a Costa Rican sunset
On Restaurant Coffee:  Stewart wonders why restaurants are so price sensitive about coffee - so much so that they take the risk of serving average coffee. "A cup of coffee is usually the last thing served, so why would you not want it to be great," he asks.  In fact, he thinks every good restaurant should use a French Press at the table to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

On Dunkin' Donuts:  Stewart says he is not surprised that Dunkin' Donuts coffee has become a cult phenomenon of sorts. "Everybody loves their donuts," says Stewart. "I just wish they would roast better coffee."

On Tasting Coffee: "Don’t let anyone refill your cup before it is empty," says Stewart. "When coffee cools off, that's when you can really taste the flavor."

By the way - you can enjoy the convenience of Keurig Brewed Single Cup Coffee, Tassimo Single Cup Coffee and many of our wonderful Micro Roasts (Costa Rican coming soon) in your Southern California office. Gourmet Coffee Service is the leader in Southern California office refreshment. www.gourmetcoffeeservice.com

800 834-0220 Because you deserve to be spoiled in the office!

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