After a long day of presentations, we were rewarded with a stimulating class on coffee cupping - similar to wine tasting but for coffee (click on the image to the left for a video). Can't say I'm really any better at detecting the "flavor profile," as they say, but I learned a lot about coffee in the process which debunked a few myths...

1. Dark roasts typically have less acidity while lighter roasts have more since they retain more of their natural flavors.

2. Hence, darker roasts mask the flavor more making it harder to notice the different notes of the bean., i.e. fruity, herby, etc.. When they say "Charbucks," it basically means that Starbucks has really dark coffee; some may even say burnt. By not allowing more of the coffee's natural flavors to show through, Starbucks can obtain the uniformity they need across the globe for quality control..

3. If you ask the barista for a full-body coffee, it doesn't necessarily mean you are asking for a dark roast. Body refers to the weight or viscosity of a coffee. Our Master Cupper, Sarah Crosby-Baker of Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, compared "body" to the difference you feel when you drink whole milk vs.skim milk...one is thicker than the other on your tongue.

4. Kona coffee is not more expensive because its exotic or any more special. It's because it is grown on US soil where workers have to be paid a fair wage and be covered for workman's comp and payroll taxes. Sounds like what the fair-trade model is trying to do for coffee grown in developing countries. If more people knew that, they would understand the concept of fair trade a bit better.

5. Just like there is seasonality within fruits and vegetables there is seasonality with coffee. Just because coffee is grown in a temporal climate doesn't mean it can grow year-round. Some roasters are starting to pay more attention to this cycle and only offer certain regional varieties when they are in season. The typical harvest for Mexico and Central America is b/w Oct-Dec. bringing those beans to market by March or April. If stored properly, raw beans can last in cool storage but better when it is fresh.

A bit more on the coffee we tried...A large part of the Community Agroecology Network's (CAN) model is their fair trade coffee program where they work with small-scale coffee farmer cooperatives in Mexico and Central America. Unlike some fair trade brands, CAN along with other coffee cooperatives like Cooperative Coffees, cut out even more middle men traveling straight from grower to roaster. It develops long-term relationships with community based partners and ensures a fair price for the coffee farmer. CAN's innovative approach involves UCSC students and researches who nurture this international network and its commitment to building sustainable rural livelihoods. What they bring back is a story about the coffee, the people and the project. Instead of a nutrition table, there is a "sustainability facts" label telling you about the coffee's origin as well as the social and economic factors of the region. You can order CAN coffee online, click here!

Will leave you with one last, fun act...If you didn't know (I didn't), Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee - true story. The story goes that a shepherd noticed his goats were acting a little zanny after eating a certain berry. He figured the berry must have some intoxicating properties and processed the bean into a drinkable substance...presto chango, coffee!

Today was the first day of my Agroecology course at UCSC's Sustainable Living Center where every meal begins with a story. It's right up my alley because I love to know the story of my food. The passionate kitchen staff calls us all to circle and then each one takes a turn describing the meal with colorful images and mouth watering detail on both ingredients and origin.

We spent the better part of the today becoming more familiar with the practice of Agroecology which has roots dating back to the 1930's by Basil Bensin. In the early 80's, Miguel Altieri resurrected the study and with the help of Steve Gliessman (course director @ USCS) brought it to international attention. Now there are over 15 courses on the subject with classes at University of Vermont and the University of Pennsylvania. Steve is the foremost authority on the subject writing textbooks and serving as a consultant for schools looking to expand their agricultural programs traveling as far as South Africa's University of Venda. Steve opened the course with, "The reason we need agroecology is because we need to treat agricultural systems as ecosystems in order to manage them sustainably."

Here we are taking a tour of the Sustainable Living Center's campus. In the center is course director, Steve Gliessman. Behind him are the farm fields which serve as study plots as well as a CSA. Behind Steve lies the beautiful Monterrey Bay where cool breezes move in off of the coast each evening and full sun drenches the crops during the day.

Small World Story...After passing Steve five times or more the first day, I finally stopped him and asked, "Were you ever in an environmental film?" I explained how I have been working for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival and that he looked so familiar. He nonchalantly mentioned one possible film, Birdsong & Coffee. To which my remark was, "Of course! That's right! I knew I recognized you. But you were more than just in the film, you were one of the main characters." He blushed! You can watch the full-length version on line. Click Here. The film talks about his work with coffee co-ops in Central America and efforts to help farmers get a fair price for their crops. The movie also advocates for the traditional shade grown style of raising coffee which not only prevents soil erosion as seen in deforested fields but provides necessary habitat for migrating song birds.