How Brazillian Beans Became Bitches Brew

With great coffee comes great responsibility. Coffee beans provide a camaraderie as reliable, if not more reliable, than humans. Who could you depend on more than your morning cup of joe? Coffee, over the years, has taken on a human form in our lives. It fosters the ability to alter our emotions and provide for our cerebral needs. Some might even call it the MVP of their life team.

We care about where this vital part of our lives starts its journey. We also care about the integrity of the harvesting process as we invite this team member into our daily routine — not to mention, our digestive tracts. We went to the certified organic coffee experts to learn more about their process on the farm and their knack for unique names. Creative Director, Courtney Jay Biebl, got the scoop from Groundwork partner and ‘Chief Coffee Guy,’ Jeff Chean.

Groundwork clearly knows its coffee history. Tell us how you incorporate coffee’s origins into your brews today. How has the process stayed the same, and what has changed?

What we know as coffee today came from what is essentially the “cherry pit” of a coffee plant. In the early days, it was more common to eat the fruit in which the coffee bean grows. It was also common to pound the beans and eat them rolled in animal fat. Or sometimes the leaves from the coffee plant were steeped to make a tea-like drink. Groundwork doesn’t really continue those traditions. However, we get back to the basics of coffee in a very important way by promoting the non-use of agrotoxins and chemical fertilizers. Think of it as coffee the way your great-grandparents would have grown it, if they happened to live in the tropics. In fact, when I’ve spoken with organic farmers, it is not uncommon for them to describe their methods as the same used by their grandparents.  As an example, Fazenda Camocim is a biodynamic-certified farm in Brazil, whose methods include tying harvests into moon cycles. They also incorporate the ancient methods of using herbal/animal bone elixirs, dating back to a time when humans were transitioning from nomadic life to agrarian society. While there have been advances in organic agricultural practices, the focus has remained keeping the process clean. Organic and sustainable practices are a natural pairing, since they revolve around a clean, natural process. The goal is to take good care of the land, return to it as much as is taken, protect waterways, and ensure the wellbeing of people.  

What does organic coffee mean to a consumer?

The public perception of a label like “organic” is usually only the tip of the iceberg.  A great example is the idea that Kosher equates to purity.  The idea of a product being approved “by a higher power”, as advertised by the Kosher company Hebrew National, doesn’t mean it’s pure in the same sense understood by the modern consumer. I think for most people, organic means that the product is cleaner, and not genetically modified. However, the certified organic label stands for a lot more than that. What it really means is that, from field to table, everyone in the chain of supply has been certified to handle their piece of the process. The farmer grows produce using only approved methods, in soil that has been tested and is free of chemicals. The people who then transport and handle the produce segregate it to prevent contact with non-certified products. Everyone in the chain documents their efforts with logs and lot numbers to ensure compliance with certified organic standards. I live and breathe the process in an intimate manner every day. Most people’s minds probably don’t go where my head does when they pick up and inspect a head of organic lettuce.

Groundwork partners with various charities and uses coffee as a way of connecting people. Tell us more about that.

Our slogan at Groundwork is “Coffee – Tea – Community.” Our work with non-profit organizations is part of the community factor. We wanted to pick causes that relate to our all-organic company, so we’ve tried to give back to organizations that are either aiding our communities, or ones that are environmentally focused. We’ve partnered with Good Neighbors on their “Coffee Meets Water” program, which repairs water wells in Ethiopia. We also host monthly beach cleanups, in partnership with local wetsuit company, Kassia + Surf. And we supply coffee and training at the café of the Downtown Women’s Shelter in Los Angeles, which helps provide women with job skills to get back on their feet.

Your coffee has some interesting names, such as “Bitches Brew”, “Black Gold” and “Venice.” Why did you chose those names?

Groundwork has a tradition of not taking ourselves too seriously. We look for the irreverent and fun side of things.  Bitches Brew is namesake to a Miles Davis album. Black Gold is a nod to The Beverly Hillbillies, and an homage to coffee’s status as the most traded commodity next to oil. Venice Blend is just keeping a connection to the community in Venice Beach where we started.

What does “Where Old Meets New” mean to you?

I think the organic specialty coffee industry is a perfect example of where old meets new. “Old” meets “new” in the mixing of the “old” ways of farming, which are the best ways to produce organic coffee, and “new” ways that the coffee industry is evolving with our increasingly global economy and society. The current trend in coffee is for coffee companies to make the journey to origin in order to interact with coffee producers at the farm level. This wasn’t happening as much 15 years ago, when coffee roasters primarily bought coffee through brokers, were pretty removed from the farming process, and only a few companies were taking the trip to coffee farms to see where their coffee was grown. Now many coffee roasters are traveling to coffee farms and encouraging farmers to grow coffee in a way that promotes quality. Once on the coffee farm, this “new” trend meets the very “traditional” world of coffee growing. Many farmers, especially certified organic farmers, are using generations old methods—composting, sowing coffee plants where they grow in symbiosis with other plants, etc.

Another way that the specialty coffee industry has exemplified the concept of “old meets new” is with the resurgence of manual brewing. The concept of brewing manually was essentially abandoned in favor of mechanical brewing until the mid-’00s. Coffee professionals started picking up manual brewing again so that they could have greater control over their brewing. For example, the Chemex, invented by Peter Schlumbohm in 1941, was included in the collection of MOMA in the 1950s, but by the 1990s was considered pretty outdated. However, it was picked back up in mid-’00s and is now a staple of most “third-wave” coffee cafes. The “old” part of the manual brewing trend in third-wave coffee is the action of brewing by hand and some of the equipment. And it meets the “new” in the modern theory and scientific method behind it (carefully measuring and controlling all factors so as to be able to isolate and manipulate single components).

It’s clear why Groundwork is a leader in the certified organic coffee field.  Often, the old way of doing things offers a new and improved experience. We love how today’s experts in organic coffee farming learned everything from the generations before them. The method of quality has been proven to withstand the test of time… and taste.

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