I overheard a coworker saying that he used to go to Dunn Bros. (a local coffee shop chain, known for roasting their coffee in-store), but he got tired of not knowing whether the same beans would be available. So now he goes to Caribou (a chain that’s local in the same sense that Starbucks is local to Seattle). Caribou always has what he wants.

The funny thing is that this guy appreciates limited release beers from local breweries like Surly. He understands that he can’t always get that beer he wants. Coffee, like wine and like the ingredients in beer, is an agricultural product, varying dramatically by region and season. Awareness of this fact is heightened when you work with someone who can specialize in truly specialty coffee, who can bring in just a bag or two of an amazing bean they’ve discovered.

People expect this with wine, some people understand it with beer (think globally, drink locally), but it’s still an unusual attitude toward coffee.

Enter people like local coffee roaster Jeremy Raths. Garrick van Buren talks with Jeremy in recent episodes of the First Crack Podcast. In episode 99, Garrick and Jeremy talk about how in his business he can focus on these small batches of excellent, limited availability coffees. And perhaps more to the heart of the matter, how the existence of a market for these fine coffees that can command a decent price improves the lives (or at least livelihood) of the farmers, who otherwise earn something close to dirt. Jeremy has volunteered with a group that helps farmers learn to judge the quality of their coffee, which leads to better coffee and ther ability to command a higher price.

The same is true in tea, by the way.

tea from Uva in sri lanka, 10% to the local community, tastes amazing. it could almost turn me into a tea man (James Governor on Twitter)

My introduction to specialty tea was a delightful Sri Lankan, as well. It’s one of the reasons I buy from TeaSource, as I trust the owner (Bill Waddington) to find those exceptional teas that blow me away. Single estate is very much the norm in the specialty tea world, and is having a similar effect on tea growers’ lives as we find in coffee.

Back to the First Crack. In episode 100, Jeremy and Garrick talk about cupping coffee, tasting it to judge its quality. That’s a fun episode as well, with little nuggets of wisdom:

You should never play golf, roast, or cup coffee, after having a fight with anybody… Just go somewhere and shut up.

Thanks for that, Jeremy.