This Week in Coffee: Farming - Soil Effects

This Week in Coffee: Focus on Farming Part 2: Soil Effects


For the third week in a row, the studio is serving as a warm and safe refuge from the snow storms. Inside we are brewing up some wonderful espressos from our guest roaster Gracenote Coffee of Berlin, Massachusetts and delicious pourover options from our fantastic house roaster George Howell Coffee.

IMG_0314Currently in the hopper is Gracenote's Ethiopian Konga espresso. This bright and sweet espresso has been a popular option over the past few weeks, presenting with flavors of stone fruit, candied lemon, and hibiscus. Next up is a new and limited option, Colombia Bellavista Cortes! This microlot option is a special treat with notes of cherry cola, lemon, and cocoa. Come in later this week to try it out while it lasts!

Pourover options this week include George Howell's Mamuto AB from Kenya and La Bendición from Guatemala. Mamuto is rich and smooth with flavors of blackberry, cherry, and plum. La Bendición is bright and fruity with flavors of lime, tangerine, and jammy fruit.

Focus on Farming: Soil Effects

In last week's This Week in Coffee post, we outlined a few of the major factors that contribute to the growth, harvest, and quality of coffee beans. Today we focus in on one of the several factors effecting the decision of where and how to plant coffee: soil characteristics.

View from Alto Bonito

Soil content and consistency can have a great impact on the success of coffee growth. To grow successfully, coffee needs access to proper amounts of water and nutrients. The micro-organisms, minerals, organic matter, and acidity of soil will all adjust characteristics of the coffee plant and the resulting coffee bean. Many of these characteristics can be controlled through farming techniques, adding fertilizers and lime, but there is another soil quality that is harder to control: texture. As noted by George Howell, the ideal soil type is one that is "loamy--crumbly, permeable, having high oxygen content, and be deep, especially in drier areas."

Why deep? And why in particular in dry areas? Coffee plants can survive through long dry seasons characteristic of many coffee growing regions, as long as the soil is able to retain a certain moisture content. Coffee roots can extend three meters into the ground to reach this moisture, making deeper soil that remains moist the longest, the most beneficial for the coffee plant. At the same time, this soil moisture level is a delicate balance, as too high a moisture content can overwhelm the plant and  be harmful to the root system. Farmers must take great care to properly water their plants, knowing the specific depth and textures of their soil and in some cases building in controlled drainage and monitoring soil erosion.


For further detail on farming and optimal growing conditions, stay tuned for next week's post about climate and regional differences.

If you have not yet had a chance to watch Lex Media's broadcast of "What's Brewing" talk at RSC with George Howell, check it out HERE.

This Week in Coffee: Focus on Farming

This Week in Coffee: Focus on Farming Part 1

More snow?! We can think of no better way to warm up to this winter weather than coming by for a hot cup of coffee, tea, or perhaps a delicious mocha latte. Cozy up with a croissant or sticky bun from Iggy's Bread of Cambridge, take comfort in a bowl of hot oatmeal with brown sugar, dates, cranberries, and pecans, or get a warm boost of protein with our house made vegetarian chili. Yum!


Currently in the Cafe we are brewing up some recent favorites from Gracenote Coffee and George Howell Coffee. In the espresso hopper today, we have Gracenote's Ethiopian Konga, a bright and naturally sweet espresso that presents with notes of stone fruit, candied lemon, and hibiscus. Coming up next will be Pulcal of Guatemala. This option is soothing and sweet with flavors of caramel, brownie, and key lime pie.

For pourover options this week we are serving George Howell's Karinga from Kenya and Kochere from Ethiopia. Karinga is rich with fruit flavors of blackberry, black grape, and apple. Kochere is light and tea-like with flavors of earl grey, honeydew, and apricot.

Focus on Farming: Overview

Leaving the snowy Northeast behind, we can turn tour attention to tropical, coffee growing regions for a focus on farming! In the coming weeks, stay tuned to the "This Week in Coffee" posts for further details on the various factors that affect the growing and taste of coffee.

Photo Courtesy of George Howell Coffee

Today, we will start with some basics...

There are four primary factors that influence methods for growing and eventual taste of coffee beans: where, what, how, and harvest.

First, a farmer must decide where is the best place to plant. There are several secondary factors that affect this decision, including soil characteristics, altitude, and climate.

The next question is what species to grow. Not all coffee plants are the same. Some species produce higher quality coffees than others, and certain species will grow better in certain climactic conditions or at certain elevations.

The third factor, "how," refers to care for the coffee plant and methods to ensure that the plant is receiving proper nutrients and an appropriate amount of water.

The fourth and final decision making factor is when and how to harvest. Harvesting is a tricky and delicate process, complicated by the varied rate of ripening. Coffee beans are seeds of coffee cherries that grow in clusters on the coffee shrub. Ideally coffee is harvested when it is ripe, however, within one cluster of coffee cherries, some cherries can be more ripe than others. Farmers must take great care to hand pick the appropriately ripened cherries to produce the highest quality product possible. Once harvested, the coffee is processed to remove the fruit, dried, and then packaged and shipped to roasters around the world.

Want to learn more about the ins and out of growing coffee? George Howell Coffee is a wonderful resource, with clear and interesting descriptions of the farming and sourcing process on their website.

Another great source for more information is LexMedia's "What's Brewing?" broadcast of George Howell's "Coffee Talk" at the Studio this past October. Check out Part 1: Finding the Best Coffee Around the World for more on sourcing coffee. More detail on "What's Brewing?" and other episode links are available on an earlier post to our blog.

A New Coffee Cart Here for Single Origin Saturdays

A portable espresso service has been born as a result of a joint venture between Rob Vandermark and Steve Lim. It started before Steve ever joined RSC and was embarking on a coffee journey in Colorado. His employer at the time had a gorgeous La Marzocco Single Group GS3 Espresso Machine that was not in operation but he would not part with it. After three years of begging, pleading and negotiating, it was turned over to Steve. Now armed with an espresso machine…what next? The previous home owners of Steve’s current residence left behind a sturdy, well in-tact office desk…with a counter top perfectly sized for a – you guessed it – espresso cart! After countless hours and days designing the countertop for barista efficiency as well as the plumbing, what started as a thought became a reality.

The espresso cart first made its debut at Seven Cycles in Watertown, MA days before Thanksgiving. Steve Lim and Sal Persico operated the cart using George Howell’s season-changing Alchemy espresso blend. The demonstration was held in the Seven showroom, and provided espresso drinks for employees and visiting guests. A visible sign of a successful demonstration is when there were requests for three, sometimes four refills!

The espresso cart is available initially for weekend events, both indoor and outdoor. As mentioned before the espresso cart’s primary operator is a La Marzocco Single Group GS3 Espresso Machine. The espresso grinder is a Malkoenig K30 Vario which grinds at low volume if sound level is an issue. If two types of espresso are requested, a second grinder can be provided. The plumbing includes a five-gallon reservoir with a three-gallon expansion tank to ensure a smooth operation from start-up to shutdown. To complete the cart, it is armed with a high-pressure milk pitcher rinser and wash sink. All the electrical power required is 110V, so no worries hunting for high powered outlets!

For the time being, the espresso cart will be in operation on Saturdays at the Studio for “Single Origin Saturdays.” Each Single Origin Saturday features an espresso from one of our coffee roaster partners served from the cart. This is a great time to understand the various nuances that can separate blends to various coffee growing regions. The origin will change based on seasonality, but each espresso will be loaded with information from your friendly baristas!

For events/catering inquiries, please contact Steve Lim at

Happiness on the bike this fall is...

Happiness on the bike this fall is...

...dressing right for the weather.  All it takes to be perfectly comfortable on slightly cooler, more brisk rides are a few more pieces of well-made clothing and happiness on the bike can almost definitely be assured!

Our model, smiley Stan, is showing off Rapha arm and knee warmers which very effectively extend the time you can comfortably wear your summer bike clothes. During this time of year, it might be chilly at the start of a ride, but when the day warms up, it's easy to adjust the layers without being burdened by too many extra clothes.

Stan is also sportinglong-fingered gloves and shoe covers - these items keep the fingers and toes comfortable throughout most of the coldest weather.

Add to this ensemble a light wind vest (jacket without sleeves) and viola! A full fall of cycling through gorgeous New England is yours. We've got everything here and more at the Studio: come by to check out our tested and true selection. We have years of experience of riding in all conditions so we have some helpful advice to offer on riding and bike setup for inclement weather, as well.

Before you go out and after you return from a ride, what better way to warm up from the inside than a latte, cappuccino or fragrant loose-leaf tea? Right now, enjoy coffee from Sterling coffee roasters. We always have a great line-up of outstanding and interesting coffee and espresso drinks as well as a tea menu that ensures a big smile on your face.