How I got hooked

My curiosity about coffee started when my wife brought home some ground coffee from Starbucks during one of her trips in Manila, so that finally, we can use the coffeemaker given to her as a gift long ago. “Wow, this is nice,” I said.

Miyam was more into coffee, while I was the SwissMiss kind of guy, preferring hot chocolate. But having brewed coffee at home changed that, and I switched to coffee full-time. Since we’re a million miles away from the nearest Starbucks branch, we bought what was more readily available — either the already ground Monk’s Blend from the monastery in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon, or the whole beans from Bo’s Coffee Club, which I had ground in the coffee shop coz I didn’t have a grinder then. Both are available in neighboring Cagayan de Oro City, 90 kilometers away.

We enjoyed these coffees in our ignorance, as I’m sure many of you do. Then we debated how to store coffee properly. Maybe a glass container with a tight lid? Is cork enough? Or should it have a rubber lining serving as a gasket? Until I came across this wonderful essay on “Freshness & Coffee Storage.”

My curiosity got deeper, and, thanks to the Internet, I read and read a lot, which led me to CoffeeGeek, to SweetMarias, to the Green Coffee Buying Club, and many other sites espousing the need to buy green coffee beans, and roasting them at home, to get the best out of coffee.

I was drooling on the coffees they were “cupping,” whose flavor they describe as having “red grape, and a winey fruit tone that is partially covered by chocolate,” or “leather, tobacco, dark fruit, semi-sweet, slight licorice.” And whose aroma they say has an “amazing fragrance” or has some “hint of anise? berry, very ripe fruit.” Are these coffee they’re talking about here? I definitely could not say the same of the coffees I was having!

Man, I gotta have a roaster! But you can’t find one around here. I bet it’s difficult to find one in Manila, too. So I asked my cousin Tipoy to buy me the FreshRoast+8 from Invalsa (the only one I found selling the 220v version), an online shop in the US, and ship it via LBC. The roast came with sampler packs of Bolivian coffee. I can never forget my first taste of freshly roasted specialty grade coffee, and so I described it to friends as … um … orgasmic. Hahaha!!!

I gotta have more of those “specialty grade” (meaning, the best of the best) beans, too! I ordered green beans from online sites like Coffee Bean Corral and Coffee Store House, and had them shipped by air. What a costly proposition! But I did it just to see what good coffee really is.

Looking at my old emails, among my first orders were Guatemala Huehuetenango, Ethiopian Harrar Horse, Yemen Mocca Matari, Java (from Indonesia), Brazil Organic Sul de Minas, Guatemala Antigua, Colombia Organic Bucaramanga. Such exotic names, but they’re actually just named after their place of origin (country, province or region, and sometimes down to the town or village level, or even the name of the estate or farmer).

Whoa!!! Now, that’s coffee!!! My untrained palate may not have sensed those elaborate descriptions by the professionals cuppers, but with these specialty grade coffees, I definitely tasted and smelled a lot of things I hadn’t experienced before. And so for a few weeks I was on Cloud 9, floating in coffee nirvana. My wife was just as happy, because I woke her up every morning with the scent of freshly brewed coffee from freshly roasted beans all over the house. (But I found out in the forums that homeroasting coffee is mostly a guy thing, like my other two hobbies, photography and computers.)

Average green coffee bean prices, at least those I consider affordable, range from $5 to $7 a pound. (The really good ones can range from $20 to over $100!) Doing some math, say at $5 a pound, which could yield me 30-40 cups per pound, so I’d be paying about 6 – 8 pesos per cup. Not bad, considering that at Starbucks, you pay maybe $100 for “pressed coffee” (brewed with a French press), yet you get much better coffee at home.

For the best coffees of the world, I was willing to pay that much. But shipping the green coffee beans to the Philippines was the problem. For my first orders, I used JohnnyAir to bring the beans here. They charge $7.50/lb + $10 handling fee + 10% VAT. I know FedEx or UPS or DHL is even more expensive. Now, that becomes unaffordable.

And so the search for local green beans began.


3 Responses to “How I got hooked”

  1. Shaun Taylor on December 17th, 2008 4:03 am

    Keep on chasing Cloud 9. The journey is so rewarding… but you already know that. ;-)

    Rock on, Bob!

  2. Bobby on December 17th, 2008 3:32 pm

    Yes indeed, Shaun. But I gotta do more of the sweating exercises, too, as you do. My exercise is just running with my pitbull in the morning. :-)

  3. Woody on December 18th, 2008 7:13 am

    Bob, is there a Philippine story / legend that is equivalent to the Lewis Carrol _Through the Looking Glass_ and Alice “falling down the rabbit hole”? That seems to be the catch-phrase for getting totally hooked on the subject of coffee!

    Great blog – looking forward to this being another of my daily reads…


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