El Boliviazo

Bolivian coffee sits in the long shadows cast by its mighty neighbors.  It is bordered to the east by Brazil, a coffee colossus on whose every twist of fate the market moves.  To the west lies Peru, a sleeping giant that has emerged from its slumber as an organic powerhouse with its sights set on the specialty market.  And a bit further to the northwest is Colombia, the world’s most important specialty origin, where the Andes divide into three cordilleras to create three times the area suitable for coffee growing and seemingly endless possibilities for growers and buyers focused on cup quality.  But Bolivia has commanding heights of its own — rugged Andean mountains producing exquisite coffees that have earned it a small but ferociously loyal group of followers.  We are happy to be in that number, even happier about our sourcing partnerships in Bolivia, and happiest of all to be in the midst of un verdadero Boliviazo — an extraordinary run of releases of nine separate single-origin lots from Bolivia.  As a more-than-casual observer of Bolivia’s specialty coffee sector, I can’t think of another roaster outside of Bolivia that has ever offered more.

Last week we released the first three, starting with the single-origin Anjilanaka organic lot that has long been the anchor of our Direct Trade program in Bolivia.  It is the first of four releases from the Rodriguez family, one of our two Direct Trade partners in Bolivia.  Pedro Rodríguez, together with his children Pedro Pablo and Daniela, operate Agricafé, a quality-obsessed mill based in Caranavi that has expanded into smallholder projects and farming operations in recent years without sacrificing its exacting focus on cup quality.

The Anjilanaka and Colonia Llust’a Bolivia lots are the results of a project called Sol de Mañana that links smallholder growers in the area around the Agricafé mill and buyers who share a commitment to quality.  The other two lots from the Rodríguez clan, both forthcoming special selections, are from farms the family owns and operates: the Finca Don Carlos Bourbon and the Finca La Linda Honey Java.

The third coffee we released last week was a single-variety Typica lot that is the first of five separate varietal lots from our other Direct Trade partner in Bolivia, Finca Takesi.  With coffee in production at over 2,600 meters above sea level, Carlos and Mariana Iturralde call their Finca Takesi the highest coffee farm in the world, and we have seen no evidence to dispute the claim.  We are proud to be the only roaster in the United States to offer Finca Takesi’s coffee, and incredibly excited about this year’s outrageously good lineup.  Next up from Finca Takesi: a Catuaí, a Java and a Typica peaberry.  Anchoring the Finca Takesi lineup is a nanolot of Geisha — the most elegant coffee variety grown at the highest elevation in the world.  If the trial roasts we tasted at our Chicago Roasting Works last week are any indication, it is a coffee that is worthy of superlatives, and an appropriate way to bring El Boliviazo to a close.  Watch out for a presale of the Geisha lot on our website in the days ahead.

The WCR Chekhov Program

We are pleased to announce today that we have joined the World Coffee Research “Chekhov” program and will contribute a half-cent per pound on all our purchases to WCR to support its growing research agenda.

Our support for WCR is nothing new.  Intelligentsia has been actively engaged with WCR since before it was born.  One of my colleagues, Geoff Watts, was part of the “genesis group” of specialty leaders who helped the organization take flight in the days when it was still known as GCQRI, the Global Coffee Quality Research Initiative.  Another colleague, James McLaughlin, currently serves on the WCR Board of Directors.  And we have made regular contributions to WCR since its inception.  But until today, we have not been eligible to participate in the WCR check-off program — implemented by importers — since we imported our own coffee.  We continue to source nearly all the coffee we buy directly (I am writing this post during a sourcing trip to Mexico to visit our Direct Trade partners there), but in 2017 will move to bring this coffee in through importers participating in the program.

What difference does it make how we support WCR?  A lot, and the Chekhov pun helps to explain why.

The author’s writing isn’t the only source of his enduring influence — his literary theories still inform young writers today.  One of those theories, known as “Chekhov’s gun,” helps writers to strip their narratives only to their most essential elements.  Chekhov tells them not to hang a gun on the wall of a character’s house in the first act unless that gun will go off in the second or third acts.  If it doesn’t, Chekhov argues, it has no business being on the wall in the first place.

Usually when a company writes a check to a cause it supports, the decision on whether or how much to give is influenced by how that company is performing.  Perhaps it gives a little more in a good year, a little less in an off year.  Under the check-off program, companies don’t deliberate about how much they can afford to give, they check the box because they believe they can’t afford not to give.  They understand that these decisions shouldn’t trail annual profit calculations because the work WCR does is helps to drive profits, and not just ours — anyone in the specialty coffee sector who is growing or buying coffee is benefitting from WCR’s work.  Its Sensory Lexicon, International Multi-Location Varietal Trial, On-Farm Technology Trials, variety catalog, genetic testing and nursery verification, and most of all its breeding program are all helping secure the future of the specialty coffee sector and the futures of the farms and firms that trade in that sector.  Contributing shouldn’t be optional.  Our participation in the check-off program makes our contribution part of the cost of doing business.  Essential, as Chekhov might have liked.

Our amazing in-house artist didn’t include a gun in this Chekhov portrait, but not because this script doesn’t have a gun — because the gun went off long before this script started.  It was the starter’s gun in a race between climate change and coffee breeding.  In lane one is climate change, seeming to accelerate as the race wears on, driving up temperatures, distorting weather patterns and threatening the entire specialty enterprise as it picks up speed.  WCR is in lane two, working to develop coffee varieties that marry cup quality with increased resilience production threats before it is too late.



This weekend, Intelligentsia is proud to stand up for the principles of equality, fairness, freedom and human rights.

We believe the ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries enacted last week represents a clear affront to those principles. And the American Civil Liberties Union believes it represents a clear violation of our Constitution and due process. That’s why the ACLU was part of the successful effort to block the implementation of the ban in New York, and why it is suing the administration to overturn the initiative entirely. And that’s why we are contributing a percentage of all sales in our coffeebars this weekend to the ACLU, joining it and hundreds of other coffee companies across the country in defense of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the progressive values we share.

From Friday, February 3 to Sunday, February 5, every purchase you make in our stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York will support this effort. And while supplies last, we will donate all profits from sales of our Itty Bitty Askinosie chocolate bars to the cause, because nothing counters the bitter taste of discrimination like a little sweetness. Don’t live near one of our coffeebars? We’ve got you covered: buy any single-origin coffee on our website this weekend and we will contribute a percentage of your purchase to the ACLU.

This weekend’s initiative is only the first action Intelligentsia will take in 2017 as part of a broader campaign to defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights here at home and the causes of economic justice, environmental conservation and equality everywhere. It is a natural commitment for a coffee company that has been at the forefront of celebrating the diversity of coffee, expressed in the flavors it produces, the places where it is grown and the people who make it delicious.

Coffee is an immigrant here in the United States, after all. It was born in Western Ethiopia and the Boma Plateau of South Sudan and made a migrant’s journey through the Middle East, Europe and Latin America before it ever reached our shores. Its flavor is imparted by the places where it is grown and the painstaking work of passionate people — people who are beginning to question whether they are as welcome here as their coffee is. We don’t just believe in our right to visit them on their farms and host them in our coffeebars — our business depends on it. So we are committing to the hard work necessary to ensure our freedom to visit one another, to continue to celebrate coffee’s diversity, and to show them and the entire world that they are more welcome than ever.

This weekend, please help us deliver that message — be our guest us at one of our coffeebars or purchase a single-origin coffee on our website.