education

  • Superauto Milk Steaming Systems

    There are a lot of different ways that superautos handle milk steaming. While the end result is your morning latte or cappuccino, how you get there has an effect on the final product. Here’s a rundown of some of the milk systems you might run into while browsing Seattle Coffee Gear!

    Panarello

    Panarello steam wands work a lot like the kinds of steam wands you find on semi-automatic espresso machines. The difference is that these wands are designed to direct steam in your milk in such a way that less finesse is required compared to a standard steam wand. While you do have to hold the milk up to the wand to do the steaming, these devices also let you decide how hot you’d like your milk. This is useful for superauto owners because one of the complaints some people have about these types of machines is milk not being hot enough. On the other hand, the whole point of superautos is to make the whole process automatic, so you'll have to decide for yourself if you value control more than convenience. Take a look at the Philips Carina for an example of a Panarello system.

    Siphon System

    Cappuccinotores and other siphoning systems pull milk through a tube into a steam chamber within the machine. From there the milk is delivered to your cup. These systems are easy to use and convenient, but they can require a bit of extra cleaning and don’t offer much control over the process of steaming the milk. Since milk is drawn into the machine, it's hard to get all the way in and clean the inner-workings of the steam system by hand. Luckily most siphon systems feature a cleaning cycle that makes it easy to run a cleaning agent through the system to clean out any gunk. Another thing to keep in mind is that siphons don't always handle alternative milks or cream easily. You should make sure your machine will be able to heat something other than milk if you use an alternative. The Miele line of superautos uses a siphon system.

    Carafes

    Carafes generally have you pouring milk into a container that you then plug in to your machine. Milk is pulled from the carafe into a steam chamber, then dispensed into your drink. This method helps to cut down on waste, you can simply store the carafe in the fridge with any excess milk. These systems do mean another item to clean, and often are more expensive than the other options on this list. Otherwise, carafe fed milk systems are a really great option that simplifies your steaming. The Saeco Incanto Carafe features a carafe.

    Hygiesteam

    Hygiesteam is a unique system developed by Saeco for use with Xelsis machines from 2018 onward. This system uses cleaning agents and a metal siphon that self cleans itself periodically to help alleviate cleaning issues. While the siphon can be placed in any container, a specially designed carafe supplied with the machine even combines some of the conveniences of other carafe based systems. Overall, the Xelsis' Hygiesteam system produces some of the best milk we've ever had out of a superauto, largely due to the control you get from the touch screen interface of the machine. Check out Hygiesteam on the Xelsis here.

    LatteGo

    The newest entry to the superauto milk steaming family is Philips' LatteGo. This device looks just like the carafe you might find on other machines, but actually offers something very new and different. Instead of pulling milk through tubing, milk is pulled into a simple steam chamber and poured through a part of the carafe itself. A siphon at the bottom of the device pulls the milk up into a chamber that steam is injected into, but that chamber is part of the carafe instead of the machine. The milk is then poured through a large spout into your coffee. This is a great system that creates excellent texture and can be cleaned and stored very easily. It really combines some of the best elements of different milk steaming systems into one package. The LatteGo system is available only on the Philips 3200 LG for now.

    As you can see, there are a lot of options for superauto milk steaming!

     

     

     

  • Clearing Space: Where To Put It All?

    It's a constant struggle as a coffee fan, where do you put all of your supplies? How do you manage a machine, grinder, accessories, cups, the coffee itself... Sometimes it feels like too much! Here are some ideas for ways to keep down the clutter and manage your coffee making space, from grinders, to drip brewers, to espresso.

    General Tips

    The first thing we recommend is creating a dedicated space. This isn't possible for everyone, but whether it's a kitchen island, a space next to the sink, or the top of a shelf, it helps. Carving out a specific space for your coffee equipment helps cut down on mess and clutter. You also wont have to worry about finding your gear when it's time to get brewing. The biggest consideration in picking your space is access to power and water. This is especially important for an espresso brewer, where you'll need to provide both in steady supply.

    We also recommend dedicating some organizational space to your brewing space as well. This could be a drawer under the counter, a cabinet, or dedicated shelf space below your brewing area. Having a place to carefully and generally store your accessories next to, but without cluttering your brewing space is important.

    Finally, there's storing the coffee beans themselves. We recommend a solution like an Airscape or a Fellow Atmos. These canisters  vacuum seal your coffee, keeping it fresher for longer. It's also easier to scoop coffee from a canister than it is from a bag.

    Espresso

    For espresso setups, having a clear workflow from machine, to grinder, to tamp, to machine is key. You'll want a mat like a this one from Rocket Espresso, and to store your portafilter in your machine. Another tip is to keep a catch tray under your grinder. This way you'll be able to easily clean up any excess grounds and cut down on mess.

    Another big thing to keep in mind is your circuit. You'll want to make sure that running your grinder and espresso machine at once won't trip anything, otherwise you might be in for a longer wait for your morning coffee.

    Otherwise, keeping your grinder, portafilter, and machine close to each other and near needed power, water, and milk will be a huge help!

    Drip Brewing

    For drip brewing a lot of the same principals apply, but you'll also want to be able to carefully weigh out your grounds before brewing. If you're a fan of measuring volume instead of weight, you may want to keep a second storage container handy for excess ground coffee. Otherwise, you might miss your grind amounts and throw coffee out.

    Handy storage options for drip and pourover brewing include this filter holder, it's designed for V60 dripper filters, but can fit other filters as well.

    Keeping a grinder, whole and ground canisters, and filters close at hand should lead to an excellent cup of drip.

    There are other organization tips out there, but all of the above should get you started on curating a space for your brewing. This will help you to enjoy your morning cup with less prep and less cleanup, giving you more time to focus on the coffee!

  • Pressurized Vs. Unpressurized - What's the Difference?

    A classic question for new espresso machine customers is what's the difference between an unpressurized and pressurized portafilter basket. The answer is actually pretty simple, but to understand the whole story we need to start with the basics. First of all, the portafilter is what holds the coffee when brewing espresso. It's what you grind, distribute, and tamp in. Water is then pushed through the "puck" of coffee contained in the portafilter to brew the espresso. With all of this in mind, we know that we need pressure to make this happen. That pressure is created when the pumped water meets the finely ground coffee. All of this is why espresso requires very fine coffee, so that there is the perfect amount of resistance as water is pressed through.

    The basket is the insert that holds the coffee in the portafilter. Removed from the portafilter, it looks like a metal cup with holes in the bottom. These holes are what ultimately lets the brewed coffee through into your cup. So where does the pressurized vs. unpressurized terminology come in?

    The basics

    Unpressurized baskets are what you find in higher end machines, and always how professional espresso is brewed. These are baskets that function entirely as mentioned above. In an unpressurized basket, nearly all of the resistance is created by the coffee, not by the basket. When everything is dialed in, this creates the best result, because you're making the coffee and the pump do all the work.

    Pressurized baskets are a little bit different. These baskets use one of a few different methods to artificially add resistance. In some cases, a small chamber with offset holes acts as that resistance. Others designs use a smaller set of holes centered in the middle of the basket to slow extraction. In any case, the result is artificial resistance that slows down the brewing process, giving more time for the coffee to extract.

    So why would you want one over the other?

    As noted above, unpressurized portafilters naturally provide the best extraction, creating the best espresso. With that said, this also takes a very fine grind that is carefully dialed in. This means that you have to spend time on getting everything just right, and have an espresso specific grinder. Unpressurized baskets create less perfect espresso, but are less finicky and can handle a coarser grind. It's up to you to determine where the sweet spot is for you!

  • Choosing a Semi-Automatic Espresso Machine - Part 2

    Last week we took a look at some key factors in choosing a semi-auto espresso machine. This week we wanted to touch on some odds and ends of the espresso machine purchasing process!

    What Else Is There?

    In addition to the core elements we discussed last week, espresso machines can do a little something extra too. Gauges, control mechanisms, types of steam wands, and PID Controllers are all bells and whistles that can add substance or just cost. So what are some nifty extras to keep an eye out for?

    One especially common talking point for higher end machines is PID controllers. We have an entire article devoted to how these devices work, so I won't detail everything. That said, to put it simply, PID controllers regulate temperatures. Instead of a thermostat that waits for water to dips below a certain temperature to activate the heating element, a machine with a PID controller is always monitoring water temps. This makes for much more consistent temperatures, and better espresso when brewing.

    What about pressure gauges? This is a question we get a lot. For example, when moving from the Barista Express to the Barista Pro, they dropped the mechanical steam gauge. This bothered some folks, and it's understandable why on the surface. In reality, a pressure gauge is largely only useful for diagnosing problems in the machine. While it can be fun and reassuring to watch the needle on a gauge jump, they aren't really needed for successful operation. This is a nice to have that won't add loads of cost, but don't discount a machine just because it doesn't have one of these.

    Steam and Control

    Control interfaces, on the other hand, can be make or break elements. While we are confident in the interfaces of the machines that we sell at SCG, not all machines are created equal. Oddly placed levers, bad buttons, or worse, can really hamper your enjoyment of using a machine. Personal preference is really going to play a role in determining what your favorite type of interface is, but know that it's reasonable to consider this carefully when shopping.

    Finally, steam wands and water spouts may be a big deal for you too. Some machines, like the Breville Bambino, feature auto steam wands. These can simplify your steaming process and allow you to focus on dialing in your shots. That said, most will prefer finer control. What's nice is that in most cases you can use manual or auto steaming, so you're not locked in. It's a feature you might want to look for if you're brand new to milk steaming in general. It's also important to consider how much a hot water valve matters to you. If you're a regular Americano drinker, you may want to make sure that your machine of choice has this feature, and not all machines do.

    The last thing on the list is, of course, aesthetic. You'll want to love the way your machine looks, because it will likely be a long time before you buy another one!

  • Espresso Machine Maintenance

    One key element of owning an espresso machine is maintaining it. This means regular cleaning and maintenance. We get a lot of questions about how often one should backflush and descale, so we wanted to talk a little bit about that here! We'll start with more frequent maintenance like cleaning the grouphead and backflushing, then get into descaling.

    A lot of your cleaning schedule will revolve around usage. If you brew multiple drinks per day, you'll want to clean more frequently. For the purposes of this article we're assuming you make 1-3 drinks per day. Another thing to note is that we're keeping this general. Most machines, from Brevilles and DeLonghis all the way up to Rockets and Izzos will require the maintenance outlined here. You should, of course, take the guidelines of the manufacturer into account when planning maintenance! We're also catering this piece for those with semi-automatic machines. Superautomatics have more guided cleaning cycles, but we'll talk more about maintaining them in future posts as well!

    Daily and Weekly Cleaning

    One easy to do thing that will keep your machine making great espresso day to day is to ensure that your portafilter and the screen in the brew group is free of coffee grounds. This means giving your portafilter a quick wipedown after every shot, ensuring it is dry and clean. You should also run a quick rinse of water through the screen after each shot before you reattach the portafilter. Simply start a brew cycle and stop it to push some water through. This clears and grounds that may have clung to the screen during brewing. It's also VERY important to purge the steam wand whenever you steam milk! This is as easy as turning the steam on outside of milk after you finish steaming. This will clear any milk that gets sucked back into the wand during steaming. You'll want to be sure to completely wipe off any stuck on milk as well. As always, when handling the steam wand, be careful not to touch a hot wand or the steam it produces.

    You will also want to perform regular backflushing of the grouphead. Backflushing is done by using the blind basket (the one with no holes!) in your portafilter along with a little bit of water and/or backflush detergent. You'll then run a backflushing cycle, which differs from machine to machine (your manual should explain how to do this). It's worth it to backflush with water every day or two, but detergent backflushing is only needed every 1-3 weeks depending on use. A busy cafe might backflush with detergent daily, but this isn't necessary for home use.

    It's also worth using a grouphead brush to scrub the grouphead every week or so. This can free and clingy grounds and keep the screen clean. These tools make this easy, but a used toothbrush or other small, handheld brush can work to clean the screen too.

    Descaling and Steam Wand Cleaning

    The two maintenance items you'll perform less frequently are thorough cleaning of the steam wand and descaling. The former involves using a milk system cleaner with your machine's steam wand to clean out any milk gunk stuck inside the wand. This process can vary from system to system, so refer to your manual and the cleaning product's guidelines to clean it properly! This process should be performed every month or two on your espresso machine. Soaking the steam tips in a cleaning solution like the one above in this timeframe can also keep your steaming system fresh! Just be sure to fully wipe down and purge the wand to ensure no cleaning solution ends up in your latte!

    Descaling is, of course, one of the most important things to stay on top of to maintain your machine. You can descale with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, or with a dedicated descaling cleaner. To descale, you'll want to run the water/cleaner mix through the machine until you've pulled through about a cup of water. This allows the mix to fill the boiler and pipes of the machine. Next, you'll shut of the machine for 20 minutes to an hour. This will give the solution time to remove the limescale buildup inside the machine. Next, run about a quarter of the reservoir through the brew head and the steam wand, then shut the machine off for another 20 minutes. Finally, run the rest of the reservoir through the machine, and then run two or more reservoirs of clean water through the brew head and the steam wand. In the end you'll have a freshly descaled machine!

    It should be noted that some machines should NOT be descaled by anyone other than a professional technician. This is true, most notably, of Rockets. A quick search for your machine + descaling should help you determine if its safe to descale your machine at home. This is a process that should be performed every 3-6 months. The main factors affecting time between descales are how frequently you use the machine and the hardness of the water you run through it.

    We hope this look at normal maintenance is helpful for you! By adhering to a simple schedule like this you can keep your machine running in great shape for many years.

     

  • To Heat Or Not To Heat?

    One complaint we often see is that brewers don't keep coffee hot long enough. This, or that they don't brew at a high enough temperature. While we'd never tell someone how to enjoy their coffee, we thought we might share some insight on what's up with all this temperature talk!

    Brew Temp

    Generally, it's agreed that coffee is best brewed at 198-202 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is chemical. It's a complicated topic, but suffice to to say that we can scientifically guarantee that this temperature range produces the best coffee when brewing drip. For some coffee drinkers, that's just not hot enough! We can respect a want for a hotter brew, but the fact of the matter is that high quality drip brewers stick to this temperature range. Cheap brewers often start at lower temps and then shoot up to temps above this range, scorching the coffee. A high quality drip brewer will maintain the ideal temperature the whole way through.

    So what's the answer if you want hotter coffee? Really, it's to drink lighter roasts! Darker roasts extract at lower temps, so your cup will get very bitter if brewed too hot. Lighter roasts may lose some complexity at higher temps, but you can enjoy them hotter with less bitterness.

    Warming Plat Woes

    The other component of this equation is keeping the coffee hot in the pot. First of all, by warming the pot with some hot water before you brew, the coffee will keep its temp as it hits the carafe. This is a huge help, because a room temp put will suck some of that heat as the coffee brews! The other element is carafe type and heating plate. Sometimes we get complaints that high end brewers don't have plates that stay on all day. This is a feature, not a bug! By sitting in a glass carafe on a heating plate, coffee tends to scorch and burn over time, leading to an awful taste. If you plan to drink a pot more than two hours later (the shutoff time for most heating plates) we recommend brewing a fresh one then!

    Another option for maintaining heat is to switch to a stainless steel carafe. If pre-warmed, a well insulated stainless carafe can keep coffee hot for hours. This works especially well if your palate doesn't notice the metallic taste!

    Of course, all of this changes when you introduce pressure to create espresso!

  • Superauto Milk

    If you've shopped around for an espresso machine before you're probably encountered the great super vs. semi-auto debate. You probably also know that superautos grind whole coffee beans and brew consistent shots. One thing that can be a bit of a mystery though is milk systems. With options like cappuccinotores, panarellos, and carafes there's a lot to learn when it comes to superauto milk!

    Setting Expectations

    One thing that is key to your decision making at the top is expectations. The first thing that can be a tough latte to swallow is temperatures. Superauto machines always struggle to produce milk at a hot enough temperature for some coffee drinkers. This has to do with the relatively narrow band of temperature that's acceptable for milk steaming, as well as the tech at play in automatic systems. This is one reason to potentially consider a panarello system, but more on that in a bit.

    The other issue is microfoam quality. There is no automatic frothing system that exists that can fully recreate a professional's work. Because it takes minute adjustments to maintain a good froth and incorporate foam, superautos have a tough time nailing it. The good news is that these machines are getting closer! Examples like the Saeco Xelsis can even produce milk for latte art with a bit of practice.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Panarello Wands

    So with the understanding that temp and texture are tough to recreate, what are the options out there? Let's start with panarellos.

    Panarellos (like the ones on the Saeco X-Small, pictured above), look quite a but like manual steam wands. The biggest difference is in material and shape. Panarellos often combine metal materials like stainless steel with plastic, making them more cost effective than fully manual steam wands. They also are designed to froth milk with less careful pitcher adjustments. Where a steam wand is simply a tube with a tip at the end to release steam, panarellos guide and restrict steam flow more carefully, and add a bit of air to the steam. This means they are less powerful and capable than a manual wand, but easier to use. Some panarellos even have built in temperature sensing to ensure that milk is frothed to the perfect temp. In action, this means that you'll physically hold a container of milk up to the wand while it does its thing. Generally you won't need to make any adjustments though, and the wand will take care of the rest. The benefits here are in more direct temperature control, while you give up some texture quality and ease of use.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Cappuccinotores and Siphons

    So what about cappuccinotores?

    These nifty attachments fit onto panarello wands and other systems to make the frothing process fully automatic. This brings a standard panarello wand in line with other milk siphon systems that don't utilize carafes. With these systems, milk is sucked up into the machine, then heated and textured, then poured into the cup. Systems like this are incredibly easy to use, you just drop a pipe end into your milk and the machine does the rest. The biggest issue with these systems are temperature control and cleanup. Because these machines literally suck in the milk from the container, keeping them clean is key. Removing and rinsing the pipe regularly is important, as well as using a cleaning solution to get inside of the machine. Most superautos with pipe systems will have an automated cleaning procedure that you can run with some cleaner as well. A great example of a machine with a siphon system like this is the Miele CM6.

     

    Types Of Steam Systems - Carafes

    The last type of milk system we'll cover today is the carafe. Technically, carafe based systems are a subset of siphons. Generally carafes simply act as a container to easily store the milk you'll use in a siphon system. This is the case with the optional carafe that comes standard with the Miele CM6350 or as an add on to the 6150, as well as the Xelsis from Saeco. It's worth mentioning carafes though because of how much simpler they make the process. The Xelsis' hygiesteam system works with a carafe to alleviate the cleaning issues we mentioned above, and even just cutting out the step of pouring milk into a container to be siphoned from is a time saver. On some machines, like the Incanto Carafe, you actually just plug the carafe into the espresso machine instead of using a siphon. These systems are considered high end, so the biggest downside you'll face is price. Additionally, as with any siphon system, temperature can be lower than desired for some!

    With new systems like Phillips' Latte GO on the horizon, superauto steaming continues to change and evolve!

     

  • The Convenience of a Superauto

    We talk a lot about semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines. If you've read our blog before you probably know that a superauto combines grinder and brewer in one. This is different from a semi-auto, which requires a standalone grinder. You may also know already that a superautos can brew coffee (and usually steam milk) with just a push of a button! But how do they stack up against semi-autos?

     

    Ease of Use

    The first and most obvious answer is ease of use. Professional baristas train for a long time to be able to make exquisite drinks on semi-automatic machines. A superauto makes this process far easier. It's true that in reality there's more to them than pushing a button and getting coffee out of one of these machines, but it's pretty close. The machine will also help you learn what different coffee drinks are if you're intimidated by the café menu!

    The other challenge with semi-auto machines is milk steaming. Where you may need to spend hours learning the perfect way to steam a pitcher of milk, a superauto's milk system does it by itself. Now, it's important to note, you'll never get milk like what a professional can steam on a superauto. Correctly creating microfoam and incorporating it into milk is so delicate that a machine will always struggle. However, milk systems in superautos do a great job, and steam milk better than many amateurs out there anyway!

    These machines also save time. The full process of grinding, weighing, brewing, and steaming milk on a semi-auto can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on your skill level. A superauto can produce a latte or cappuccino in just a minute or two. What's more, there's usually less clean up with a superauto.

    Another component in the ease of use argument is maintenance. Semi-auto machines require you to know exactly how and when to perform backflushes, cleaning, and descaling. While these aren't impossible to learn, they do make maintaining a one of these machines more complex than a superauto. By contrast, a superauto will give you helpful indicators, warnings, and prompts. Typically cleaning and maintenance is a step by step process that the machine can walk you through as well.

    The Tradeoff

    None of this is to say there's no tradeoff with these machines. The biggest is control. On a semi-auto you can tease out the complexities of a single origin to really craft something unique. Superautos work better with blends, as they tend to pull shots with a little less finesse. This isn't to say their coffee is bad though. On the contrary, the control you get out of a semi-auto doesn't mean better drinks. Instead, semi-auto espresso machines are often enjoyed by coffee hobbyists who enjoy a more complex process.

    As noted above, the same is true for milk. Superautos create good milk texture, but not on the level of a pro barista. That said, it takes a lot of practice and skill to make quality steamed milk, and some higher end machines get very close to what a barista could do.

    Finally, superautos tend to create cooler drinks than semi-auto machines. This is a real stumbling point for some coffee drinkers, so be sure to take a look at reviews for the specific machine you're considering.

    One thing you don't necessarily have to compromise though, is price!

     

    Pricing

    Superautos, like semi-autos, run the gamut in terms of price. From the Saeco XSmall clocking in around $500 all the way up to higher dollar machines like the Miele CM6350. Truly, there's a superauto for every budget.

     

  • Single Origins Vs. Blends

    We talk a lot about single origins, blends, brew methods, and tasting notes here, but when you’re new to the coffee world those terms can be intimidating! This week we want to look at some basic coffee vocabulary.

    Single Origins

    There are two main types of third wave coffee that you can buy, blends and single origins. Some people think the term “single origin” is just a snooty buzzword used to sell expensive coffee. On the contrary! Its just a designation to help people understand what they’re drinking. A single origin roast is one who’s beans come from the same processing station (and often the same farm) in a region. Typically you’ll see names like Counter Culture’s “Ethiopia Idido” or Tony's “Kenya Kiganjo AA.” These names can be confusing! The first thing to look for is the country. This is the most simple element of single origins, as coffees from a single country tend to have similar flavor profiles, with the details worked out in the processing and roasting. In the case of our first example, the word “Idido” refers to the Idido cooperative where the beans were produced and processed in Ethiopia. In our second example, the term AA refers to the grade of the beans. AA beans are the largest and most dense coffee beans, something that effects flavor. On the flipside, the word “peaberry” would denote a specific type of smaller bean, preferable for other roasts. These elements of a single origin’s name are often explained on the bag, but if they aren’t covered there you can usually search for the coffee on the roaster’s website for the full story! We try to share anything especially unique on our product pages as well!

     

    We usually recommend trying single origins as pourovers to get the most out of their complexities. Once you have some experience with selecting different single origins, you can start experimenting with different brew methods!

    Blends

    Most coffee drinkers consume more blends than anything. A blend is simply a combination of single origin beans mixed together! Most grocery store coffee you find will be blends, but plenty of micro-roasters get creative with them too! Often blends will be developed to highlight a specific tasting note or region. Most blends will feature a creative name, such as Stumptown’s “Hair Bender." A blend of South American beans may provide a jumping off point for you to find other South American origins that you enjoy! In other cases, roasters work to find a combination of beans that when roasted in a specific way create a particularly intense chocolate flavor. In these cases, blends can help you dial in specific notes to look for in the future. Most blends tend to be signature or seasonal, and are also often offered for specific brew methods as well! Intelligentsia’s “Black Cat Espresso” is a combination of beans perfect for espresso, and a great place to start for the new home barista.

     

    Blends tend to stay in stock for longer than single origins as well, because the beans can rotate in and out with less noticeable changes to their flavor profiles. In some cases, roasters may offer seasonal blends to celebrate specific holidays, or feature freshly harvested beans that are only available seasonally themselves. We update our product pages when we get a new batch of a blend in so that the page stays accurate to any bean changes!

    Notes and Additives

    One question we get a lot is whether or not roasts contain the items listed in their tasting notes. It’s important to know that those notes are simply a roasters interpretation of the flavors in the coffee. If a coffee notes strawberry, it simply means that it has a strawberry like flavor in the mix, not that it actually includes strawberries. In some cases, coffees DO feature additives, but this is always very clearly noted. The only coffee available through SCG with additives is Coast Roast’s “New Orleans Blend With Chicory.”

     

    We’ll dig into tasting notes and cupping in a later post, but we hope this helps outline some differences in different types of coffee!
  • Interview: Ivania Rivera of Aldea Global

    Hey coffee lovers!

    We were given the extraordinary opportunity to interview Ivania Rivera, Head of Specialty Coffee for Aldea Global! Check out our video interview below, followed by the full transcript of the interview!

    Full Interview

    Seattle Coffee Gear: Can you tell us a little bit about Aldea Global?
    Ivania Rivera: Yes, we are a farmer’s association in Nicaragua. Right now we have over 11,00 members, total members. From those we have some vegetable producers, women who do business in rural areas. From those, 4,800 are small coffee producers. We started in 1992, and have been in the coffee industry since 2000. We are growing every year, little by little. We offer very different speciality coffees, and very different qualities of coffee.
    SCG: What does your role within the organization entail?
    IR: I do kind of everything! [laughs] But I have a lot of contact with the farmers and producers. I normally am taking care of the receiving centers, working with the dry milling process to the different preparations of coffee we have on contract. I also do the sales and contracts with importers, and follow up with roasters.
    SCG: Very cool, so kind of working in the middle area connecting roasters and producers. This is exciting for us because we don’t get the opportunity to talk much with people involved with producing. We get to talk to roasters all the time, but it’s a really awesome, unique opportunity to get to talk to someone involved with producing the coffee. How did you get involved with Aldea Global originally?
    IR: Well, it was something that I always liked, coffee. The first experience I had in coffee was I was a coffee picker on a farm. So I was wondering what’s next. What happens to the coffee cherry, where is this coffee going to? That was when I was pretty young. Then I moved to the U.S. to study agricultural business for export, then came back to Nicaragua and went to Aldea Global to see if there was an opportunity for me, and of course there was because we are coffee producers. Inotega is a region that produces 60% of the coffee from Nicaragua.
    SCG: That’s great. It’s an interesting story because we often work backwards. I worked in a cafe when I was a college student making coffee. I’ve always had an interest in where the coffee comes from. So it’s very interesting to hear the reverse of that. Someone who was involved in producing the coffee wanting to know where it ends up. It’s very exciting to bring those two groups together. So what excites you most about coffee in general, as an industry?
    IR: For me something that is really important is all of the people that are involved in the industry. It’s not only the production, but the transport, the milling, the processing, the shipping, the importing, roasting the coffee… Putting together all of the logistic people it takes to move this coffee from the producer to the final consumer. It’s a lot of hands involved. It’s a lot of work and a lot of love.
    SCG: Yea, there’s a lot of…
    IR: Passion!
    SCG: Yes! And the exciting thing about third wave roasting too is I think there’s a lot of passion all the way through. It’s not just going to a huge company doing the roaster. It’s going to small roasters that have a concern for the people that are producing the coffee too.
    IR: Yes, just imagine for example, one cup, having a cup of coffee. How many cherries does this coffee need? How many hands touched the coffee? Who was in charge of selling and buying that coffee? Who did the logistics? Who did the transportation? Who did the distribution? Who did the roasting? All of this takes a lot of effort, hands, and passion. So that’s why I’m excited about coffee.
    SCG: That makes sense to me, that’s one of the many things that excites me too! What do you think it is that makes coffee from Nicaragua unique?
    IR: I would say, for Nicaragua, for most of the producers, it’s a lifestyle. It’s something that our people are doing for a lifetime. Once you are born on a farm, once you grow up enough in a coffee farmer family, then that’s something that you will do for life. That’s something that will become the only way of income for the farm. A way of living living, that produce is paying for the whole life of the family. So something that is really unique for Nicaraguan coffee is that all of the processes and production is done by family members. 92% of the producers in Nicaragua are small producers. So they are normally doing all of the process with their family. That’s something that’s important.
    SCG: Sure, that’s really interesting and I imagine that leads to a respect for all parts of the process that maybe you wouldn’t see in a factory farming setting. That’s definitely unique.
    IR: Yea, it’s something that’s important to the whole family. Even the kids are assisting with the harvest, and they’re taking care of the quality there. Doing sorting to add quality to it. They get involved with the process.
    SCG: So something we talked about that ties into all of this a little earlier that ties into all of this is that the current socio-political climate in Nicaragua is kind of tumultuous and in flux. I think that many people here and in most parts of the Western world don’t have a great understanding of what that really means, especially how it affects the coffee trade. Do you have any thoughts on that particularly?
    IR: We had some difficulties when the situation started in April. It turned very difficult to do some shipping of coffee in some parts of Nicaragua, but in terms of the coffee producing areas, they were not affected. The producers continue taking care of the farms, continue working, and this year we are preparing all of the receiving centers to receive that coffee. So what we hope to do during this political crisis is support the farmers. We cannot say “hey I’m not buying your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua” or “I’m not financing your coffee because this is going on in Nicaragua.” We have to support our members because if they receive the services that they require, they stay in the farm, they keep producing, and that’s the only way that we can say “we are here to support our members.” So we provide them with loans, even during the crisis, we are financing right now, we are opening our business to new members, and getting ready for shipping and sales. I know many importers and roasters are worried about whether this coffee will get out of Nicaragua, but the coffee needs to get out of Nicaragua anyway. We don’t have any reason to have the coffee sit there.
    SCG: Right, and I think it speaks to, regardless of the political climate, these are still families working these farms.
    IR: and this is the Rural areas, most of the crisis is happening in the big cities. The big cities and urban places. But the Rural areas are working. Everybody needs to produce coffee there.
    SCG: It’s very interesting, and we’re very privileged to be able to ask you directly about things like that. Because that’s something that’s hard for us to get an accurate picture of a lot of the time with the wild news cycles that we see here. It’s hard to get reliable information about this. Do you think political challenges aside, more broadly, and maybe even historically, what do you think the biggest challenge is for growing coffee in the region specifically?
    IR: Many people may thins politics is the biggest issue or challenge, but I think it’s prices. That’s the biggest challenge right now. Not the political crisis. As you’ve you seen in recent years, prices have been lower. For a producer, it takes more money to produce enough coffee. So it gets really difficult to negotiate prices when the prices are down, as they are right now. It’s a difficult time for the producers because they ask if the coffee prices are how they are, how are we going to keep producing? How are we going to invest in the farm? How are we going to pay our workers to pick the coffee? How are we going to move that coffee from farms to the receiving centers? How can we continue the process? For small farmers it’s really difficult to think “we have been working on this farm for many years, this is the only way we have money to invest in the farm, and now I’m selling my coffee for less than it costs to produce.” So that’s a big challenge right now in Nicaragua and the region. It’s hard.
    SCG: I think that speaks to the value and importance of organizations like yours too. In terms of building those alliances and trying to help provide answers for those farmers because without that help it might be even harder.
    IR: Yes, but I’m also not just talking about the 4,800 members that we have. In Nicaragua we have 42,000 coffee producers. What about the rest? What about the coffee farmers who are not part of a cooperative like Aldea Global and have to sell coffee locally? It’s difficult for them.
    SCG: That’s a definite challenge. You’d hope, as the political environment improves, that perhaps you’d see prices improve as well. Ee appreciate your time so much, did you have any other thoughts that you wanted to share?
    IR: Well something that I always encourage people in the industry to do is, if you have the chance to talk to people about coffee, it’s good for you to come and visit us someday in your life. That’s the only way you can get the real, real information from the farmers on how coffee is produced. On all the effort it takes to produce a single bean. Did you know, coffee is hand picked? Did you know coffee is hand dried?
    SCG: I bet many people don’t!
    IR: Yes! Many people don’t know. So it’s good for people who are involved in coffee to know all the processes it takes, all the people it takes. That’s something that I like to share, that I always encourage.
    SCG: Well we appreciate your knowledge and willingness to share that information with us, and we’ll do our best to try to educate people on that too. Thanks for your time!

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