Comparing different coffee bean suppliers in the Caribbean

Besides setting up a new espresso machine, I cannot think of anything more exciting for a barista than to sample and taste different coffee beans. Especially if they’re also from different suppliers.

So far I’ve been able to try a single origin Ethiopian Sidamo and Rwandan bean from Malongo, a French roaster in France with a local dealer. I personally like the fresh citrus flavors of Ethiopian coffee but the Rwandan bean made an excellent espresso and customers liked it better, or so it seemed. The acidity of the Ethiopia beans is too far from home for people who are used to dark French and Italian roasts from more or less generic commercial blends rather than specialty coffee beans.

I also sampled blends from Carib Bean Coffee in Antigua. Though I was disappointed to only receive blends from them, they were well balanced and accessible for everyone. Not just coffee fetishists such as myself! I believe their coffee could replace our standard Starbucks beans for milk based coffees easily and make an excellent coffee. I was most pleased with their Hurricane Brew, a medium dark blend, and the Primo Espresso, a very dark roast. That is surprising because I usually shy away from dark roasts for espresso. The beans were roasted fresh and shipping was swift, so their taste was outstanding!

Lately I have had the pleasure of trying a few samples from Batdorf & Bronson, who’s roasting coffee in Olympia, WA. They roast n demand, after your order and ship quickly. So your order is as fresh as it can be, all things considered. Our shipping office sadly did not pack them on a temperature controlled container so I’m guessing it was a bit below their optimal flavors. However, upon opening the 12 oz “Dancing Goat” sample, we where amazed at the wonderful nutty and caramel odors and a beautiful warm saturated coffee wave came over us. After setting the Baratza grinder to the correct setting and weight, I was deeply moved to finally taste an outstanding coffee again on this island! Wow! The richness of the blend, the balance of the sugars, acidity and bitters was awesome. Full body, rich after taste. Hints of nuts, chocolate and other flavors that I simply could not identity quickly enough. Wonderful!

Besides the beans, however, there are others factors to consider. Cost, of course, but also reliability, logistics, reputation and their green bean sorcerer.

  1. Malongo is the closest but has the worst logistics process. Nothing is roasted to order, roast dates aren’t listed and all those things considered it is rather expensive coffee.
  2. Carib Bean Coffee is not on the island but on regular shipping routes, both by air and seas. So delivery could be regular. The blends are better than Malongo and prices relatively better. It’s a regional respected company with a name to loose so they could make a good partner for introducing third wave coffee in St Maarten and the Caribbean!
  3. Batdorf has the best coffee, it’s roasted to order and shipping is speedy. It’s hard and expensive to get a few pounds here in a cooled container, so we’d probably have to order up and minimize transport costs. However, that negates the freshness of the bean because they’ll be waiting in our fridges,.not someone else’s. They are specialty coffee roaster and have made quite a name, so also a great company to partner with if the logistics can be optimized.

All in all very complex but exciting!

Once I have tasted all the samples, I plan on ordering two coffees from each candidate and organize a coffee tasting for the management team of the Market Garden supermarket and a few others. This way, they get to participate in what I’m doing and learn more about coffee, brewing, roasts, flavors and third wave coffee!

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Sourcing coffee beans, next stage

The story continues…

After choosing two US coffee roasters from the short list of four for Double Dutch Café, we have entered the next stage.

  • Amavida.com (Florida)
  • Batdorfcoffee.com (Washington)
  • Carib Bean Coffee (Antigua)

We’re ordering samples from both suppliers, determine how the ordering process works and how we must handle the logistics of getting the fresh roasted beans from the warehouse in Miami to Sint Maarten. I trust they will deliver them appropriately to Miami but the warehouse must store them in a temperature controlled environment and ship them in the same way.

It will be learning experience for everyone on our side, because coffee is usually not treated with this much care.

Sourcing Great Coffee Beans for Sint Maarten

Getting good coffee on this island is a challenge. That’s funny because we live right in the middle of the some of the world’s best coffee countries. So you’d expect a larger selection. Sadly, the opposite is true.

While every coffee selling business here seems to focus on making coffee from cups (Nespresso, Lavazza, Illy) and the local population mostly used to and stuck with cheap, large scale, commercially produced filter coffee such as Santa Domingo ground coffee, very few places have whole coffee beans to begin with.

When I started to make an inventory of the equipment needed to create a Specialty Coffee shop on St Maarten, I immediately noticed the lack of good grinders & espresso machines, long delivery times, uncertain product availability and total lack of good single-origin coffee beans. Malongo, a large French roaster with a presence on the French side of this island (Saint Martin) was the exception. Sadly, their stock was low, the beans old (almost a year after packaging date, no roast date mentioned anywhere!) and the selection limited to four countries: Brasil, Colombia, Rwanda, Ethiopia. And they had just survived hurricane Irma as well but I have no idea how good or bad their stock survived that storm.

So I am doing what everybody here does: if you can’t get it here and people won’t get it for you, you find and buy it yourself in the US, send it to Miami, FL, and have it shipped here by one of the several shipping companies that visit the island at least twice week. Here’s the list of roasters that I’ve contacted and who’ve replied to me they’d be interested in selling us beans at wholesale:

I’m very excited to make a choice from these wonderful companies, their coffee descriptions online give me a lot of confidence that they are indeed “Third Wave Roasters” and take quality seriously. I still have an order coming in from Malongo that will last a while, but their orders take 2 months to fulfill and that’s simply too long. I contacted Smit & Dorlas in Curaçao but they don’t have single origin coffees, only blends – but can ship these in 2 weeks -, and blends are not what I want to serve in the Double Dutch Cafe for black coffees, if at all possible.

I will blog about the progress that I’m making in getting serious coffee to St Maarten and having people take coffee more seriously on this island. 🙂

Cooperation with Market Garden supermarket

I’m proud to announce that I’ve closed a cooperation with Market Garden supermarket in Simpson Bay. I am providing consulting services to them on their new coffee shop inside the supermarket, the Market Café. Calibration of the espresso machine, which grinders, grinder settings, milk, coffee recipes and some training of the other baristas.

Soft opening is currently underway with full opening scheduled for end of next week. Official opening to be announced in April 2018.

I’m still waiting on another grinder so I have two, one for black coffees and one for milk drinks. But I’ve been busy trying out different recipes for Cappuccino, Latte, Flat White and the iced versions. Lack of proper coffee equipment is one of the greatest challenges on this island. Local suppliers have nothing so everything has been ordered from USA.

Here are some photos of the drinks I made.

Everything is focused on drinks to-go and we use certified biodegradable paper cups for everything. So sadly, you can’t see the coffee and milk layering. Maybe in the future…

Baratza Virtuoso

baratza virtuoso

So happy to finally have received my Baratza coffee grinder and Bonavita water kettle!

With the grinder, I can finally start grinding my own beans for brewing with my Aeropress or Hario V60. I’ve had these beans for months already so I’m glad I can use them at last. Most fresh roasted beans are beyond their peak after 3 months, so sadly they won’t be as good as they could have been.

I’m starting with Ethiopian beans from Nordkappcoffee.com in Utrecht, my friend Jasper also supplies coffee to the Koffieschool where I got my training and Jasper is a King in roasting. Ethiopian coffee is fresh with citric notes and green flavors, so that is something completely different from the dark roasted Ethiopian coffee I get from the local supermarket!

Next in line is the beans from Man met bril in Rotterdam! Can’t wait!

Getting Started with Specialty Coffee

If you are serious about coffee and want to learn and experiment more, I’ve put together a list of items on Amazon that will help you getting started.

You basically have a choice to make about which brewing method to start with:

  • Aeropress
  • Chemex
  • Hario V60

If you prefer an espresso-style (stronger) cup of coffee, then choose Aeropress. If you prefer a more smooth, rich bodied cup of coffee.

Next, you will need to get a coffee bean grinder,a scale to measure the grinds with a precision of 0.1 grams, a water kettle with precise control of the water temperature and ideally also a thermometer to check the water temperature. But if you choose one of the kettles I’ve listed, they have a built-in thermometer so you can forgo that.

If you’re the only person drinking coffee at home (I sympathize with you) then you might want to get a great hand grinder and skip the more expensive Baratza grinder for now. You always get them later and then use the hand grinder for your travel needs!

hand grinder

Facts about coffee

Ideal coffee water is fresh and pure in taste and has no discernible odors. It should be mineral-rich, yet have a balanced mineral content. A total hardness of 7–12° EH, a carbonate hardness of 3–4° EH and a pH value of 6.5–7.5 are ideal. Only then can coffee develop its full aroma.

Source: Deutscher Kaffeeverband

Read more about the meaning of EH or Eh, as chemical literature calls it, here.

What does this mean for anyone on a small island making coffee?

  • Don’t use tap water!
  • Don’t use water that has been desalinated!
  • Don’t use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water!
  • Don’t use just any mineral water but pay attention to pH and “dissolved minerals” per liter

If you do get RO water, get some tablets from Third Wave Water and you are fine!
Update: Chemists at MIT and 2 UK baristas have made a deep dive on this subject and analysed why soft water is particularly bad for making coffee.

Your Help Needed in Coffee Tasting

I’m about ready to try out different recipes for making filter coffee and sampling various coffees. But I could use your help with this! I simply can’t drink all the coffee myself.

On Friday 24th, Sunday 26th and Monday 27th of November from 10 AM – 1 PM, I will host small coffee tastings at my home. Only 4 seats are available each day, so make sure you sign up if you’re interested!

You will taste coffee made by a coffee maker (OXO on), the espresso-style Aeropress and the ultimate filter brewing method Hario V60.

Go to the No Pressure Coffee Facebook page, like it (if you haven’t already) and sign up for one of the sessions using the Events section.

There is no cost for this. I will supply the coffee, tea, water and juice that day and will also bake one or two cakes so you can keep your blood sugar levels at a reasonable level.

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I have WiFi at home, so you can work from my home instead of yours that day and enjoy the company of other coffee lovers, good conversations on coffee making and what goes into a great cup of coffee! You’ll learn something about coffee, I’m sure of that.

Hope to see you!

Sourcing local coffee

While away on Guadeloupe, I’m taking time out to source a local supermarket for their coffee. Guadeloupe used to make lots of coffee for the European Continent but stopped due to competition. After WWII, production has slowly but surely increased again and farmers are more focused on producing higher quality Arabica and Robusta beans. But there’s also a local Bourbon variety that is sometimes added to produce and fuller bodied, round and subtle blend. I’m particularly interested in that variety which is imported from the other French colony Bourbon, off the coast of Madagascar.

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