W.A.S.T.E.

  • Seasonal, Not Local

     I've been thinking about selling our roasted coffee at a farmer's market.  Strange, as I'm not a farmer.  Coffee is a funny thing.  It isn't local.  I can buy local wine, local cabbage, local beef, local honey, local fish, local soap.  But Mexico is the closest coffee I can get.  I understand the principles behind the movement to eat locally, and I generally support them, but I buy wine from Chile, and cheese from Spain, and lentils from India, and peppers from Peru.  Basically, you can't get great D.O. foods locally.  So what is coffee?  The green beans are an imported commodity, but if it is roasted and consumed in my neighborhood by my friends and family, if it employs my neighbors and is hand-sorted and packaged here in PDX, does it count as a "local" product?  Since we are buying responsibly traded (direct or fairly traded green coffee), doesn't that contribute to financial stability and good ecological practices at a continental, if not regional, level?

    Regardless, there is also the seasonality of coffee to consider.  I'm beginning to understand why the big coffee companies roast their beans so dark as to obliterate any nuance of flavor: coffee is seasonal and it runs out.  Quickly, if you're not on top of things.  I've wanted to have  a steady supply of Mexican and Guatemalan coffees on hand, but the new crop is about to start showing up in the warehouses - that means scarcity right now.  It also means that what I had last year may not be the same as what I have this year.  It isn't the kind of thing where I can simply find what I like and stick with it.  Harvests may be poor, weather unpredictable, lots variable, who knows.  What this means for me is that I end up tasting more broadly, looking to grab a bag or two of something I love before it is all bought up.  Tricky business.  It also makes for an adventure.  The coffee is like a tasting menu - if you trust where you are getting it, the coffee will always be new, interesting, and delicious.  I remember being fascinated by the daily menus in the smaller restaurants in Mexico.  Every day, there would be a menu with 3-5 courses, a couple of options for each course, for a great price.  They cooked great, rotating foods.  What I had for lunch Monday was not what I had for lunch Thursday.  Similarly with coffee, as my supply of Huehetenango runs out, I get to seek something equally interesting to replace it.  What we offer is fluid and dynamic in this sense.  Next week might take us to Brazil, then Panama, then Nicaragua.  I enjoy this aspect of roasting - the searching.  It would be great to be a Stumptown and have cultivated relationships with specific farmers (thank goodness for these types of direct traders - they are elevating the quality of coffee all across the market).  But it is also so wonderful to be a leaf on the rippling water, heading toward whatever is next.

    So I guess this is a local business with a global root system, enmeshed in communities both near and distant.  I'm glad to be a resident.

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