Category Archives: Theory of coffee enjoyment

Change is Good

So we moved. North. While it allows my husband and I to be closer to family, there is something of a challenge in re-orienting myself to being in a new place. It isn’t all the things I knew I would need to change (like, for example, the USPS location) but also the many little things that I didn’t. One of those is finding the most advantageous way for my long-time customers to buy their coffee.

I’m used to roasting and sending one or two pounds per customer at a time, and with shipping included in my pricing, it’s all pretty simple. Now that postage—even bulk—has increased so much, I find:

— Some customers from my former local area who used to buy directly want larger quantities at a time, and

— I’m still trying to develop a pricing scheme that works for both of us.

In view of these customer-driven changes, I’ll be working on a new plan. Stay tuned; contact me by email with any questions/requests; and enjoy your coffee!


While I Was Sleeping Through Covid

What a strange couple of years it has been! I want to thank all my wonderful customers who have apparently been drinking even more coffee and (I hope) enjoying it even while the world seemed pretty messed up and scary. Thank you.

So, while we were away, the world changed, especially logistics. We are seeing ridiculous inflationary pressures from disruption of supply chain, labor shortages in harvesting, price-gouging for space on a container ship and all sorts of artificial (human-caused) shocks to the coffee system around the world. In addition to that, climate change and/or regular old bad weather has reduced actual and projected harvests of specialty coffee in just about every region. All this has happened while we started drinking more of the good stuff. Competition for the highest-grade coffee beans is the fiercest I’ve seen it in my 15 years doing this. As a result, prices are rising.

I wish I could say that all the premium price is going to the farmers who grow the coffee we love, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Many are under terrible pressure, and more have abandoned growing coffee in favor of other crops more tolerant of wild weather and with better profit potential. Result: Even less top-quality coffee on the market. Put frowny face here.

So all this leads to me having to raise prices to adjust to current economic reality. Bummer. I promise I will try to keep these to a minimum without sacrificing quality. Thank you for your patience.


News Flash: Coffee is Sort Of Good For You—Maybe


Another study on whether coffee-drinking is good for you is making the rounds in the popular press, from Harvard, so it has some cred. Actually, it’s a meta-analysis and a new study that purports to include the biggest data set to date. (All the research geeks are excited now.) If you want to read it, it’s linked here:

I guarantee that no matter how many cups of coffee you have had, it will put you to sleep, but that’s not my observation today. I’m pointing out that this highly-touted study in a reputable research journal is practically useless for telling us if drinking coffee, specifically “3 cups a day”, is good at keeping death away. Those who aren’t medical researchers can perhaps already tell that avoiding death is probably a complex process that even complex statistics cannot fully explain, but I want to point out the most basic failures of research design here:

1) They never specify how much coffee is in a “cup.” The SCAA says it’s 5oz, most coffee chains use 8oz as the measure, and who knows how much your travel mug holds. And how much of your coffee is coffee and not milk, sugar, foam and of course, water?

2) While they apparently kept track of whether the coffee was decaf or full-caf, no measure of brew strength was specified. I can tell you my daily brew is way stronger than “church coffee.”  Does that make a difference? I’ll bet it does.

3) There was no teasing out statistics on those whose coffee-drinking also included ingesting cigarette smoke. I’d think that would muddy the statistical waters enough as to render the whole effort null.

Harvard, say it ain’t so. You can do better than this!  I’m going to have my “2nd” cup….



Panama is Back!

Yay! I love Panamanian coffee—mild, delicate floral and brown sugary sweet cups that are sheer Nirvana at a light roast. It was a light-roast washed Bourbon from Boquete that first made me a coffee drinker to begin with. What a revelation—Coffee can have flavor that isn’t bitterness and burned tires!

Anyway, the lovely traditional Panamanian stuff went away about ten years ago as coffee leaf rust (roya), land speculation and low coffee prices caused many of the farmers to quit coffee altogether. Some didn’t, however, and they looked for more disease-resistant varietals that would fetch a higher price, one more in line with the cost of growing high-end coffee. They found one, and it has been very successful. Moreover, its margin allows farmers to economically produce some more familiar kinds of specialty-grade coffee as well.

Over the last decade, gesha (sometimes spelled geisha but not related to the Japanese courtesan) has been successfully grown in Western Panama, and it has gained a following among light-roast enthusiasts. Gesha is an Ethiopian cultivar with a very floral flavor and a high price (would be $40/lb or more.) I think it tastes like a cross between black tea and coffee. I don’t generally stock it because it’s way more expensive than our other offerings and appeals to a very few. Still, if you ever want Gesha, email me. I’ll price it out and get back to you. Meanwhile give thanks for Gesha; it’s why I can get some delicious Bourbon and Typica lots, like the one coming back to our offering list next week. Yay!

Enjoy your coffee!


May 21 Specials

We are trying out a monthly plan to designate some of our offerings as On Sale. They will sell at a discount and you will probably get an upgrade on the size because I need to reclaim some space in the inventory room. I hope you will also see this as a sign you need to try something different, as well.

So what’s on sale in May?

Rwanda “Mille Collines” Bourbon is a sweet younger sister to the best Kenyan coffees. Slightly less assertive in the acidity department, Rwanda goes for black tea-like acidity rather than the grapefruit. There is some baking spice and maybe raisin notes as well. The preparation was absolutely pristine on this lot. It’s a good time to try it.

Sulawesi “White Eagle” Pulped Natural is a cleaner, less rustic version of a classic Sumatra. Notes of cedar, black licorice and herbs with a hint of tobacco characterize the medium roasts–quite interesting and tasty. Going darker, it develops a bittersweet chocolate base with a more Sumatra-y profile. It would be a shame to only try these Indos dark roast (though they are so good in espresso).

DECAF Classic Espresso Blend. Speaking of espresso, we are offering a sale on the classic espresso blend this month. It’s got big body for a decaf plus a lot of flavor, too. No robusta coffee in the blend means that you will get less crema in your espresso shots, but there won’t be any burned rubber tire flavors, either. I’m guessing you will get used to that. 🙂

If you have any questions, please reach out to [email protected].

Enjoy your coffee!


Varietals I Like, Part I

As I discussed in the last post, the varietal of coffee in your cup has a major impact on the characteristics you like and don’t like. Varietals and cultivars are the DNA-level determinants of what single-origin coffee tastes like. Processing and roast levels are the other two major factors, but they can only amplify what the basic raw material is there to begin with.

As you may already be aware, coffee we drink today primarily comes from two branches of the coffee tree of life: arabica and robusta. This depiction of all the known varieties and species of coffee from Cafe Imports (thanks!) helps us visualize the relationships. Click the image for a full-size version, and prepare to be awed.

Arabica and Robusta. The two species we drink today, arabica and robusta grow naturally, as does liberica (which I understand tastes terrible) and canephora which exists commercially only as an input to certain hybrids. Robusta has very high caffeine content and is what produces the bitter burned-tire flavors to popular commercial espresso and cheap grocery store coffees. Major espresso chains who want their shots to major on bittering, dark roast flavors and volumous crema will add somewhere between 10% and 30% robusta to their blends. NanoRoast never uses robusta, even in espresso blends.

Ethiopians? Arabica coffees include all Bourbon and Typica and their hybrids as well as wild Ethiopian heirloom varietals that are so prized. We won’t discuss Ethiopians much here; they are subject to a lot of secrecy. Only one, Gesha, is being widely planted in Central America as a high-priced specialty—a delicacy in the coffee world. It’s very floral while other Ethiopian heirlooms are fruity. All this said, many of the Ethiopian naturals I prepare for you look pointed like Typica.

Bourbon. Bourbon varietals trace to coffees brought from the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean by French missionaries in the early 18th century to East Africa, the Caribbean and eventually to Mexico and South America. These well-behaved beans are roundish and usually small to medium sized. They produce mild, nutty or floral coffees such as classic Burundi, Panama and Colombian and make high-rated pristine cups when washed-processed.

Typica.  Typica varietals and their hybrids travelled from Ethiopia primarily to Yemen, India and finally Indonesia. You can still find them in the Americas, but they predominate in Asia. Larger, pointed and tending toward fruity flavors, Typica has provided a versatile canvas for different processing methods such as natural dry processing in Yemen, washed processing in India and wet-hulling in Indonesia, each producing very different variations on the fruity theme.

Next time: A Look at My Favorite of Today’s Hybrids, Mutations and Cultivars

Varietals Matter

I’m back to talking about coffee today, specifically one important element in the coffees I choose to offer for your coffee enjoyment. Today, let’s consider varietals as an important  tip-off to what to expect in the cup.

Want to know why an heirloom Ethiopian tastes different from an estate-grown Brazil? There are three major pieces to cup profile:

  1. how I select, roast, and blend it,
  2. how the producer prepared the coffee cherries harvested,
  3. the raw DNA of the plant producing the coffee cherry.

Role of Terroir, Whatever That Is... These all interact within a context called terroir–those environmental characteristics in which the plant grows, including altitude, soil composition, temperature and humidity at key points in cherry development, how stressed the plant was from disease and insect attacks, amount and kind of fertilizer used, and so on almost forever. These are the same things your local wine snob goes on about when raving about a cabernet sauvignon from his/her favorite vineyard. I mention terroir because it’s a wild card that keeps anyone from making a definitive pronouncement about what a particular coffee will taste like in the specifics. Nevertheless, we can still get clues as to how the coffee plant has adjusted to the place where it grows, just like grapes do.

What do I need to know about varietals? Just as you might be able to distinguish a Granny Smith apple from a Honeycrisp just by taste and might develop a preference for the sweeter Honeycrisp over the tart Granny Smith, so a Bourbon coffee bean grown anywhere will tend to produce a clean, clear taste profile that’s a bit floral and sweet while a Djember will tend herbal and rustic even if it’s not grown in Sumatra and wet-hulled. So think of varietal as the canvas upon which the artist paints–is it a canvas, side of an old block building or a slab of wood? All these can provide a decent foundation for a painting, but the differences are key to the artist’s intent and users’ enjoyment. Getting to know your varietals can give you a good idea of what the basic foundation of your cup tastes like. I’ll follow up in another post to discuss some of my favorite varietals and what they tell us.

Why does the varietal matter?  Finally today, before we dive into the specifics, let’s mention the reason varietal matters. The shorter answer is twofold: 1) varietals are what’s in the coffee’s DNA; 2) mutations happen, diseases happen, market needs change and bigger climate change makes some coffee varieties obsolete. Varietals can be developed or selected to guide the way those changes happen, so that we still like drinking coffee and farmers will still grow it.

Role of farmers. Farmers have been tinkering with coffee plants since the beginning to favor those that produce bigger crops, resist disease and/or are more conducive to local processing methods, eg, availability of water primarily. Over time, these natural and man-made hybrids are selected, sometimes in spite of degradation in quality of flavor if the market demands it. Growers can reasonably assume that if most of the world wants cheap, dark-roast instant (sorry but true) , then the extra work the older, disease-prone, smaller-yield high-end just isn’t worth the work. Fortunately, there is a growing population of people who think really good coffee is worth the premium. For those, the labor of love that these traditional varietals represent is worth it.

Next time: “So what varietals do I look for?”

Will 2021 be better?

I know we all hope 2021 will erase the craziness, pandemic and economic problems of 2020, but I’m not holding my breath for a quick fix. Around here, we are doing what we can to keep our loved ones and the general public safe and hoping to see better days by the time the weather finally turns nice (that’s around April or July.)

Just so you know, we have had few issues getting supplies of very high-quality coffee to roast for you since last March, but the disruption of lockdowns, reduced staffing at ports and handlers stateside is finally catching up with us. I have never seen my importers’ stocks so low nor delays in scheduled shipments so widespread. It’s COVD around the world, and it might impact even us.

Here’s what we expect in general:

Offerings: The offerings list may temporarily get thinner as we wait for delayed crops to arrive. For example, I’ve been waiting for a shipment from Burundi that’s now 3 months late. Hope it shows up soon, because it is going to be tasty.

Prices: I’m trying not to raise prices. Increases to me aren’t hitting uniformly, and I’ve even had a couple of pleasant surprises, so I’m hoping it all evens out.

Ethical sourcing: While I’m trying not to raise prices, I’m doubling down on sourcing that pays farmers fairly. I was outraged by some news about large buyers trying to squeeze farmers due to market dislocation (see my blog post on how COVD is impacting the harvest in Colombia, for example) this year. I feel there is a place in hell for those greedy people who oppress the poor, doubly during this tough year.

Shipping, part 1: Who knows what is going to happen with the US Post Office after last year? As long as your coffee gets to you in a reasonable, reliable length of time, we probably won’t change…but we are watching.

Shipping, part 2: Everyone hates paying for shipping, and shipping isn’t cheap. Nevertheless, we will be trying out free shipping for everyone and will see what happens. If I can still stay solvent, we will keep shipping free. You’re welcome.

Website: We will be redesigning the website to streamline it and make it a better resource, especially for sorting through all the origins to find what you want.

Thank you for staying with us in 2021. Without “U” there’s no “us.”

Enjoy your coffee!


Impact of COVD on Coffee Farmers in Colombia

Warning! This is not a happy story. In fact, I hope it motivates you to action. If we all do something positive, we might have a better world, and better coffee, too.

I was reading on the BBC site today and came across this report of the coffee harvest in Antioquia, Colombia. 

As you might imagine, the COVD-19 pandemic is adversely affecting farmers in Colombia as workers become scarce or sick. We find out from the article that several things are troubling:

– Starbucks and Nestle buy up the majority of coffee and use their clout to get the cheapest commodity prices, regardless of the long-term impact on the market. The average price per kilogram is about $2.40, or $.90/lb., less than what it was in the 1980s. It would have to be nearer to $12/kg to “significantly improve wages.” If we did that, the experts say, it would cost us about $.10 (ten cents) per cup. Currently, that “worker premium” is going to corporate profits.

– While many Latin American countries could restructure their industries and trade with consumer nations and see a big benefit, a certain North American country known for throwing its weight around continues to press for things to stay the same. Who says trade policy is morally neutral?

– Workers who do show up to pick often work in strenuous, dangerous conditions, both in an OSHA sense and also a COVD-exposure sense. Pay is about $.05 (five cents) a pound, no benefits.

I’m seeing similar stories reported from all over the coffee-producing world. I suspect that the smaller harvest this year will put upward pressure on prices to roasters and customers, but we don’t know for sure for two reasons:

1. I’ve been buying up excellent specialty lots more than usual just in case. There have been good buys on high quality coffee from ethical farm sources, so I’m investing more, both for the farmers and for the end customer (you).

2. NanoRoast doesn’t buy commodity coffee; we buy top-grade specialty coffee, usually from long-term trusted suppliers who source directly from the farmer or from importers who are buying fair trade lots (where “fair trade” means FTA or better practices. There are several certifications in this group.) In short, when you buy from us, you can be assured that your coffee was obtained in the most ethical, sustainable way possible.

A final note: If you want to help support investment in the small farmers around the world who are growing coffee, check out, the micro-lending site. They have a very good record. I have once-in-awhile been able to lend to the same farmer that I buy from, and that’s so cool!

Enjoy your coffee, and make the world better!


Enjoy Your Coffee More

A blog I follow on wine enjoyment ( ran this rather interesting post ( on how to improve tasting skills. Since I am interested in the challenge of trying to accurately describe what a particular coffee tastes like, I read this post with an eye to tasting coffee rather than wine. Of course, some of it doesn’t translate well—like discussion of “oaky” flavors, but most of the principles actually apply to coffee.

I like that exercising my brain while enjoying coffee (or wine) is actually good for me. Gotta go exercise some more and have another cup.

Want to review the steps in tasting your coffee? Check out our How to Taste Coffee page here

Enjoy your coffee!