Today we’re joined by Denet Lewis from Beans & Barbell. Denet’s company Beans & Barbells is currently a mobile pop-up cafe the primarily caters to the CrossFit communities. Denet brings a wealth of knowledge to our discussion as he grew up on a coffee farm in South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Highlights & Takeaways
Some Key Points
Episode 37 Transcript
Brendan Hanson: All right, today on the show we are joined by Denet Lewis. I’ve actually got Cary in the studio with me again. Cary, thanks for being here and —
Cary: Glad to be here again.
Brendan: Denet, thanks for joining us today. How are you?
Denet: I’m doing well. Hey, Cary, how’s it going?
Cary: Good. Good to meet you, man.
Denet: Nice to meet you. I feel like I know you guys because I’ve listened to your previous podcast quite a bit.
Brendan: We get that more and more.
Cary: I know, that’s great. It’s really cool to hear.
Brendan: You’re up in the bay area, Denet?
Denet: Yes, South Bay in San Jose.
Brendan: Okay, cool. Well, I know just before the show you mentioned your name is actually short for Denetsose? Did I pronounce that right?
Denet: Well, that was close. It’s Denetsose, which is actually a Navajo Indian name. My parents were intrigued with the Navajo Indian culture before I was born and named me after one of the Navajo Indians. A medicine man by Denetsose.
Cary: Wow. You guys have any native background?
Denet: No, just the name.
Cary: Just completely intrigued then went for it. [laughs] Love it.
Denet: Yes and my sister’s Yanabaha.
Denet: She goes by Yana.
Brendan: Cool. Well, we’ve got a pretty extensive list of topics we’re going to cover today. Before we get in to that, would you mind giving us a little background on yourself? I know you mentioned in your email that you grew up on Kona on a coffee farm.
Denet: Yes. My parents moved or well, we moved to Hawaii when I was in elementary school. My dad started a coffee farm in South Kona in Honaunau. I grew up there and we’ll be talking more about that in the show. I then went on after — Really wanted nothing to do with coffee and went and became an engineer, and study technology, and worked as a program manager in technology for years. Now, earlier this year, I got back into coffee.
Brendan: Full circle.
Denet: It has been a full circle.
Brendan: What drew you back to coffee?
Denet: Well, I had been doing program management and I guess wasn’t getting where I wanted in the corporate world. Eventually, got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying the corporate world as much as I did in my early days. Then I ended up getting affected by a layoff. I was looking for another job and decided — My parents was back in Hawaii last year actually for the holidays. For Christmas my parents gave me some extra Kona coffee that they got from one of the guys that used to work for my dad and tell me, “Well here, why don’t you have some fun, give it out to some friends at the gym or sell it, and see what you can do.” I went back to the gym and started a coffee education class.
Denet: We started doing tasting and I’d take people through. “This is green coffee, this is a coffee fruit. Here are some different roast.” We started off that way and wound up in cold brew some time later.
Brendan: All right.
Cary: Very cool. Did you drink a lot of coffee throughout your corporate job or —
Denet: It varied through the years. I really enjoyed the coffee break but I think part of that was a chance to get off campus as much as enjoying the coffee.
Denet: I confess the majority of it was Peet’s and Starbucks-
Denet: -which most people buy.
Brendan: Those are peoples’ —
Denet: We did have a Coffee Bean and Leaf as well in the area.
Brendan: All right. You mentioned you’ve been teaching people coffee at the gym. I’ve noticed with a lot of our clients, a lot of our customers and just a lot of people we talked to that coffee is becoming huge in the CrossFit world and –
Cary: The fitness world.
Brendan: – just fitness in general. As like a zero-calorie type energy drink. Are you seeing the same thing or —
Denet: Yes. My girlfriend who’s been a tremendous help with getting the business up and running and really help. She’s pretty dedicated into doing CrossFit. I’ve spent my years both to the Gold’s Gym and at CrossFit gyms as well, we definitely noticed a large interest in — Well, first off, you have the paleo lifestyle, which was actually start — Robb Wolf started getting that popular a number of years back. Along those lines people are looking for healthier alternatives and they also want the caffeine for the energy boost. Coffee is certainly a very appreciated beverage in the CrossFit community.
Brendan: Sure. All right. As far as our outline goes today, we’ve got a lot of stuff to cover up, from history of coffee, to the different types, the labels that get put on coffee, growing coffee in different styles. One of the things that you’ve mentioned you wanted to discuss was the history of coffee. To be honest with you, I don’t know a whole lot about the history. Going to let you take the lead on that if you’re comfortable with that and then I’m sure Cary and I will chime in with questions as we have them.
Denet: Well, I’d be happy to cover some of it. Again, I’ll give some people some resources if they want to really dig in and get more details.
Brendan: Yes, absolutely.
Denet: History too is my — Quite a bit of it I’ve learned from my dad when we had the coffee farm going. I will put that disclosure that I learned a lot from growing up on the coffee farm but also from researching coffee. Originally it was a beverage that — Well, the story goes that there was a goat farmer and some people think it was Yemen but more of the stories lead towards Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee. There was a monastery or there was a place and I guess this goat farmer, he was watching his goats and he noticed that they wandered off to this other area and they ate the leaves and berries of this plant that they got a lot of energy. Well, the goat farmer got curious and started chewing on the berries himself and notice the boost in energy. Brought them back to the monastery and they started talking about coffee. That’s how it originally got into — Or the legend goes that it got into becoming a beverage.
Denet: There’s a couple of interesting twist. There’s a book and I put the reference up on the notes. Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity, that really covers the early history well. In that book if you listen carefully, she says that the early start when the goat farmer brought it back, some of the people there had a pretty good knowledge of plants. They went out and looked at the coffee plants and they realized or suspected that these had been cultivated centuries before. That leads to the question if perhaps they were cultivated, and then lost for centuries, and then rediscovered, which is a more interesting story yet.
Brendan: Sure. Yes, it’s amazing to think. Same with beer. I think about beer and how that was discovered where they were basically chewing on corn and spitting it to a bucket and –
Brendan: – randomly ferments.
Brendan: With coffee, how do you figure out to pull this fruit apart?
Denet: As the coffee world evolved it actually — Coffee was put illegal through a number of times in history in a number of different places. It has this really interesting long history as a commodity, too. It sometimes it’s been the second most traded commodity. I think right now it’s fallen down but it’s still one of the top traded commodities. You mentioned beer, so you have to realize coffee worked its way into Germany at a time when they were consuming tremendous amounts of beer. It eventually became a beverage which to this day is consumed in larger quantities than beer in Germany and most of the world.
Brendan: Yes, it really is incredible.
Denet: It is.
Cary: Everybody drinks. [laughs] It boils down to it.
Denet: Yes. It’s a very widely consumed beverage.
Brendan: Absolutely. You got any more history for us on moving forward through coffee or should we jump in to the different types?
Cary: I got a question real quick. You mentioned the goat farmer eating the leaves and the berries, and you grew up in a coffee farm, is this a standard practice for a farmer? Do you guys eat the raw berries or leaves and taste that or is that just —
Denet: I’ve had tea made from the leaves and the leaves don’t taste good at all, they’re bitter. Generally, no one eats the leaves because they’re just not something — they don’t taste good. Now the berries on the other hand, they actually are sweet. When you pick the red one, they’re ripe. When you pick a ripe berry it has a very unique flavor, which is nothing like coffee. Then you have the seed inside which it actually has a slimy little texture to it and a hard shell on it but the skin in the berry itself it has a nice taste to it but it’s nothing that you’d expect from or recognize from the taste of coffee.
Cary: Interesting. A farmer doesn’t go out and taste these and say, “Yes, that tastes ripe, I’m going to harvest them now,” or anything like that, they just know?
Denet: It’s common for people to pop one or two in their mouth and chew on it and then spit the seed out just to taste it but it’s not commonly eaten.
Brendan: For the coffee fruit, is the flesh of the berries used for anything or is that typically just discarded?
Denet: Well, you just really tipped into a very interesting and hot question.
Denet: Historically, as I first remember, when I was a young kid we traveled throughout Central America. I guess my dad had an interest in farming as I was growing up. We visited different coffee farms in Central America. In those days they’d take the coffee fruit, it was a poor man’s drink. Were some of the workers or the people that couldn’t actually afford coffee or wouldn’t consume it, they would make a beverage from the coffee fruit.
Fast forward to growing up in Hawaii, we admittedly had a mill. We’d pulp the — or depulp. It’s called pulp, but we’d knock the skin off and then typically we would use that for composting. Now, it’s actually in certain places and I play around with getting some of it as a cascara. It’s the Spanish word for the coffee fruit. Anyways, it’s something you can make your beverage out of that doesn’t taste anything like coffee. It’s light in caffeine, similar to green tea and has a unique flavor or unique taste.
Also, more recently there’s been some companies that have started to take the dried fruit and mill it into flour. I know at least one company is making cookies with some of the flour in it. I’ve heard some high-end chefs that use a little bit of the coffee fruit to sprinkle on some chocolate. It’s something that’s definitely getting used more.
Brendan: Very interesting. Yes, we live in a like no-waste — Well, I shouldn’t say that but a lot more conscious society now that would rather not waste anything.
Denet: Right and even before with the no-waste, we would compost it and turn it into soil, which would get reused on the farm. It wasn’t like we were actually wasting it.
Brendan: Sure. Yes, not just throwing it out.
Denet: Now, we’re finding some other uses for it too.
Brendan: Are there trace amounts of caffeine in the flesh of the fruit or is it all the caffeine stored in that in the bean and the coffee seed?
Denet: The bean has higher amounts of caffeine but the skin absolutely does have caffeine.
Brendan: As well.
Denet: Not as much. Again, it’s similar to what you’d get from a — If you make a tea out of it or a drink out of it, it’s similar to what you’d get from a green tea.
Cary: What would you describe the flavor of the green tea that you would make from the flesh? Is it similar in taste?
Denet: I confess, I have three drinks here. One of the drinks I have is a version of it. I’m actually drinking coffee cherry as they call it or a cascara. It has a smell that just really — whenever I smell it, it brings me back into my dad’s farm into the mill. It smells exactly like the coffee mill. It’s a little bit of — you get a touch of hibiscus in it. It’s more of a white fruity kind of flavor. There is a touch of prune, a touch of hibiscus and —
Brendan: That’d be good on nitro.
Denet: Yes, I’ve tried it. It is good on nitro.
Brendan: Is it? [laughs]
Denet: Actually, at the moment I confess, I’ve carbonated this one and have it lightly carbonated. I haven’t decided which I like better, carbonation or nitro on it.
Brendan: All right. That’s a good amount of history on coffee. Obviously, something I haven’t explored too much, if at all.
Cary: I can see some of this stuff growing to the pulp and using ortiz and stuff. I can only see all this stuff growing more.
Brendan: Yes, getting bigger and bigger.
Denet: It is high in antioxidants, so I think we will be seeing more beverages from it. A number of the high-end cafes are starting to play around with offering cascara beverages.
Cary: The next health wave right there.
Brendan: Yes. Replace the acai berry.
Denet: Could be.
Cary: That’s right. [laughs]
Brendan: All right. Moving on to the two types of coffee, you’ve got arabica and robusta, correct?
Denet: Those are two major varieties. I won’t say they’re the only varieties. I think there’s probably thousands unknown different varieties in Ethiopia but the majority of coffee that is farmed commercially comes from one of those two, either the arabica or the robusta families. We should take a step back and define commodity coffee versus specialty coffee.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that. I’m sure a lot of the coffee folks are. Like wine, there’s a rating system on coffee for up to theoretically a hundred points. Any coffee that’s been cupped and comes in above an 80 would be considered a specialty coffee. Anything below 80 would be considered a commodity coffee. Throughout most of the world of robusta are still largely grown with less quality controls and they’re coming in more as a commodity version.
Some of the arabics can be a commodity coffee too. There’s a perception that robustas are not — can it give you as nice of a drink as the arabic? Just before this podcast, I had a chat with my dad. I thought I remembered this and I wanted to confirm it. We had this coffee farm in Kona. Different coffee varieties, have different properties. For example we started planting these wild Hawaiian arabic coffee on our farm. Then some of the plant locations were — Hawaii is extremely rocky and volcanic, especially in Kona region. But some of the areas they’d have less drainage. A number of the trees, some percent of them would struggle to survive. Some of the trees would die.
What my dad did is he started playing around with well, “If one variety can’t grow in this particular spot, well, let me replace it with a different variety.” We actually had primarily arabic farm but there were a small percentage of robusta plants and yellow or red caturras that were put in to mix with it. My dad said he wasn’t able to run enough tests but he thought that having the mix of varieties gave a better cup quality and a little more body on the coffee. You have to realize the robusta plants typically are a little more hardy, so if you have a location that’s not suitable for arabic plant, you might be able to get a different variety to grow in there.
Brendan: Okay. Aside from the label and the commodity versus specialty, what’s the main difference between the two plants?
Denet: Well, one of the noticeable difference is when you drink them is the caffeine content of a robusta is considerably higher. There’s tons of variables that what actually does a caffeine content. Roughly, it’s a rough rule of thumb it’s about double the caffeine content.
Denet: You’ll notice certain coffees out there are promoting themselves as very high in caffeine that’s because they’re using primarily a robusta.
Brendan: Makes sense.
Denet: Now, the robusta plant tends to be a little bit smaller. A lot of the mechanized farming or machine pickers in the machine farming will lean towards the robusta plant because it’s a smaller tree. My dad was saying a lot of times some of them would have a what’s called burst-blooming, which would mean the majority of the plant would bloom at once and then you’d have subsequently seven or eight months later you’d have — When you pick the coffee, you’d have the majority of the beans ripe and at once. Where historically, with the arabic plants you don’t get that burst-blooming, so you’d have to do a two, three, or four different picks through the coffee farm, depending upon the weather conditions.
Denet: From the cup quality and the drink quality, usually, I think you get a more flavorful coffee with arabic coffee for sure. Now, certain espressos you can get a better crema if you mix in a little bit of a robusta.
I think a lot of people, if you look on coffee in a — You could just go to your local grocery store, you’ll see in a lot of bags, it will say a 100% arabic. But I think that their mistake in the taking that arabic is good quality, robusta is bad. When in fact, it’s really how well was the farm cared for, what kind of quality was put into raising those beans. That has a lot to do with what kind of quality drink you’ll get from it at the end.
Cary: Right. That’s what I was going to ask is how do you decipher the two plants, is it purely by what they look like? I know obviously they produce different style beans but knowing going in and then you said the cupping, if they’re under 80, who decides if it’s determined the — What were the labels you give them a commodity versus?
Denet: Right. This goes to a lot of the farming trends that go around. Essentially, farmers who are trying to make money by growing large quantities because they get paid per pound at the end of the day, so they’re trying to grow more quantity. The goal has been what can you do to produce the maximum amount of quantity of coffee, so that you can sell more pounds and make more money? Through the different waves of coffee, I can give some credit to the second wave and more credit to the third wave. Then again, the people like my dad who were doing high-quality way back, outside of the waves.
Anyways, the thing is you want to look at, okay, instead of paying the farmer to grow high quantities of coffee, what can you do to pay them or for growing a quality product and switch the incentive to growing high quality instead of high quantity? That’s really where the specialty coffee starts to shine.
Brendan: We’re seeing more and more of that now, right, as a —
Denet: Absolutely, I confess, I told you, I had a couple of drinks in front of me. The other drink I have, it is a nitro cold brew that I brewed up. I pulled it out of the kegerator just before this recording. It’s a beautiful coffee. What I did is I have a 50% of a Panama geisha coffee here, which is one of the most desired coffees in the world right now. It’s a very desirable to have the Panama geisha coffees, that is a variety of coffee.
The other half I have in here is actually a coffee — It’s a blue Jamaican coffee that was grown in Haiti.
Denet: I have some exotic varieties of coffee in here. It’s a really nice cold brew.
Brendan: Did you make that blend yourself?
Denet: Yes, I —
Brendan: Did you steep those beans together? Are the coffee grounds together when you made the cold brew or did you make two different cold brews and then blend them?
Denet: These were two different then blended.
Cary: Nice. How big of a batch are you doing typically each time?
Denet: I range from tiny batches up to five gallons.
Brendan: A keg full.
Cary: A full keg. How long does that last you? Is it just you drinking it or —
Brendan: Not a day.
Denet: Well, I do the fitness events. I can’t down five gallons myself.
Denet: I would like to greatly expand the quantity coming up here soon. I’m hoping to get into some serious catering or be upping the volumes considerably. For the most part too, and we can get more into this later but I’ve been using a lot of a slow drip, Kyoto style of brewing.
Brendan: Yes, definitely want to get into that a little bit later. We didn’t talk about this upfront but what do you do specifically now? You mentioned your business and your wife has been a huge help in it, what — You care to plug your business, what your business name is, what you’re doing?
Denet: Yes. It’s Beans N Barbells. We have a pop-up cafe where we go to local fitness events. We’re also looking to get into the catering. I’d like to become a provider of cold brew to some of the tech companies or other startups. Really, I’m looking to provide companies where I can go in and provide at a keg level, or help with some expertise of setting up kegerators, and have a nitro cold brew on tap. I’m looking to really expand and grow the business.
Brendan: Awesome. Yes, it seems like that’s an area that’s growing more and more. I know there’s Joyride Coffee out of San Francisco and New York, and then there’s some locals —
Denet: Bona Fide.
Brendan: Yes, they’re right north of us, in Santa Barbara. Caribbean coffee, Bona Fide.
Denet: I’m looking to get a little bit more in the craft or probably slightly smaller scale, where I’m really honing in on the craft of the beverage. I do like to work closely with the farmers where I’m sourcing the beans from.
Brendan: Nice. I got to imagine that’s probably a really cool part of making coffee or making cold brew is visiting the farms. Actually, one of our clients is down in Brazil right now. I think he’s doing the same thing, just meeting farmers and going to check out different farms.
Cary: Yes. See where your product’s coming —
Denet: I wanted to cover this and it’s really pretty interesting. There’s a big change coming up that I realized too. If you think of a coffee plant and who spends the most time with it, the farmers typically are spending, let’s just say, seven or eight months from when the the coffee plant blossoms to when they’re picking a bean or when you’re picking the cherry, which would later get milled a couple times before you end up with a coffee bean. But anyways, they’re spending quite a few months with the coffee. Then you have your roaster that spends what? Typically, let’s say 15 minutes. Usually a little bit quicker than that but in the vicinity of under 20 minutes with their coffee. Then you’ve got the barista that’s spending what? Four minutes, if they’re doing a pour over. Less than that, if they’re doing espresso. It’s interesting to look at the time.
I was just thinking, “Well, interestingly, the barista or the cold brewers were going to swap and have it where we’re spending next to the farmer. The second most amount of time with the coffee because we certainly spend a lot more time with our cold grew than you would roasting the coffee. I just thought that —
Denet: That’s an interesting relationship to think about. I don’t know. How will that change affect the coffee industry or the drink where the cold brewer start to spend a substantial more amount of time with the bean than the roasters?
Brendan: That is an interesting point. Yes, a lot of the coffee shop owners who I’ve talked to, they say, they’ve been cold brewing for ages. However, they’ve never — Well, a lot of them have never sold it as cold brew until more recently now that cold brew — Just that name, it’s like a catchphrase. It’s starting to pick up. People are starting to sell what they’ve been selling forever. They’re just calling it cold brew now, rather than iced coffee or whatever they had labeled it as prior just because the term cold brew is finally or it’s now becoming very, very popular.
Denet: Right, it certainly is. I was chatting with Jeremiah, I’ll give a shout out to Jeremiah from my Temple Coffee Roasters. He helped give me some advice early on. Thank you Jeremiah, if you hear this. I had a really nice cold brew over there that he made with some Brazilian naturals.
Anyways, we were chatting and we were like, “Well, what is it called brew and how do you define it?” Okay. “Well, if I’m using a hot bloom at what point is it still — Is that still a cold brew? Are you brewing it at room temperature? Do you need to brew it in a chilled environment?” There’s lots of different areas that need to be defined.
Then there’s also the thing, “Well, what if you do a Japanese iced coffee where you’re brewing it hot and then immediately chilling it, versus a hot bloom, versus a full cold brew?” It’s lots of things that still need to be — To find out as the term goes on.
Brendan: What are your thoughts on that? I actually asked that question to Heather and Todd from Klatch Coffee when they were on a few episodes ago. What was that? Episode 31 or 32 they were on. I asked them to help me try to define cold brew. Just obviously replacing heat with time but then they brought up, “What about hot blooming?”
Cary: Right. It’s almost like cold brew is, like you said, like a catchphrase and it needs a bigger name like craft beer, craft coffee. There’s no levels to making it.
Denet: Well, I think we’re similar to where the beer industry was, I’m guessing it was in the 2000 when all the craft brewers started to get popular and started heading down that directions. I think the cold grew will follow somewhere between what Kombucha did or craft beer. To me, when people ask me, what’s cold brew I define it by we’re primarily using time instead of heat or pressure to do the extraction.
Brendan: Yes. I think that’s going to have to be some form of the definition, so next eBook.
Cary: What is —
Brendan: The cold brew dictionary.
Cary: Yes, exactly.
Brendan: One of our next topics was labels. We’ve talked about specialty, that’s probably a label that can be put on coffee. You mentioned naturals. Just quick aside, what makes a coffee considered a natural?
Denet: Well, that is part of the milling process or lack of milling process. A natural has to do with — Coffee is a fruit, you pick it, when the coffee itself — we call it a cherry, sometimes people call it a berry. But the cherry, the fruit, you need to knock off an outer layer of skin and then there’s an inner layer or another layer, which usually we would mill it, we dry it, and then you end up with parchment.
What we did is we had a wet mill and we do wet milling. Basically, you pick coffee from the farm, you dump it in the mill, the mill knocks off the outer skin, and then it goes into a tank. I actually helped my dad build this. We had a wood tank with some fiberglass on there.
We’d soak the coffee in there for a number of hours, I think it was 10 or 12 hours. Then, once that float — You’d skim off the surface any coffee that was floating would get poured out as a floater, which was an undesirable defect — potentially defected bean. Then you’d to pull the good coffee beans out of there and put them on the drying deck where we’d sun-dry them. Depending on the weather conditions, it could be a couple of days, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer.
Anyways, the natural is where they’re leaving the outer skin out longer and they’re trying to dry the coffee with the outer skin on it. Then you’re just doing a mill. I would imagine they’re doing something similar to what is called the green mill where you’re knocking off the harder skin. You do get stronger flavor profiles when the fruit is dried on there but you also could have more defects. It’s probably a harder process to get right.
Brendan: Yes, because leaving the skin on obviously more stuff could go wrong, I’m assuming.
Denet: Yes. In other countries when you have your bag of coffee — If you pick coffee and leave it in the bag for too many hours, it will start to diminish the quality of the coffee. If you’re drying it, I could imagine if you get the pile too thick you would not dry it uniformly, you’d have issues. Or if you had high humidity or rain, you could potentially get some issues with how well the coffee is drying.
At least in Hawaii and a lot of — I know a lot of other parts of the world where you have good facilities doing a wet mill is considered the desirable process to be doing. Now, there is a trend coming up with some of the naturals.
Brendan: Okay. Yes. That’s just a term I’ve never looked into and I’ve heard a couple times recently, so I was just curious about that. Some of the other labels that we had talked about discussing were obviously organic versus non-organic. What’s required to make your coffee considered organic or non-organic.
Cary: It’s never really non-organic, is it?
Denet: Okay. This is a topic I’m really glad you brought up. I’d love to talk about this awhile.
Denet: My dad got our farm certified organic back in the ’90s in Hawaii. We put in drip irrigation. I remember my dad as we went to become organic, you can’t use certain chemicals. The first thing you can’t use chemical fertilizers but also you can’t use herbicides or pesticides. In theory, that’s what organic is. Now in reality, there’s lots more to it than that. For example, there were times where we would have certain things that are approved to use as an organic farmer. For example, we use safer soap, which we would sometimes — We had this tractor, it was this Honda, it was like the coolest riding lawn mower but it had four-wheel steering. Four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering. As a kid I thought it was a really fun to take it out and spin around some donuts on there. [laughs] But anyhow, I had —
Brendan: As a 38-year-old, I think it’d probably be fun to go that.
Cary: That’s right.
Denet: It had a roll bar on it. My dad made this attachment on the roll bar where we put these four of their feeders out there, so they’re basically things where we could spray the coffee. We’d spray it with soap. The idea was to — Actually, we’d spray it with a number of different things, soap was one of them. That was something that was approved to use on a organic farm. What you do is you try to use it as a natural insecticide. Sometimes we’d get, I think they were aphids. Interestingly enough, the ants were farming aphids on the coffee trees. You’d spray them with soap and that clog up the aphids spores and get rid of them.
Anyways, organic versus non-organic — There’s a lot to it. To get certified as organic you have to meet certain qualifications. You’d want to have a test done to make sure that there’s not a chemical residue. You really have to wait a number of years after last using herbicide before you can get the farm as a certified organic farm.
Brendan: That lingers for awhile, huh?
Denet: It does. It does. There’s also certain chemical fertilizers, well, you won’t be able to use those to be a certified organic farm. You’d want to start using the natural fertilizers. You’ve got bat guanos, bird guanos, fish emulsions, different seaweeds, and all sorts of different exotic things you can put on there to really enhance the health of the coffee. One of the things — You’re growing a plant, the plant is used to having its own ecosystem and it needs nutrients. The better nutrients and the better you can take care of that plant, the better coffee you’re going to have.
Some of the advanced areas of farming — You want to figure out, “Okay. Well, if this farm is producing a coffee that cups really high–” If you’re getting a really good cupping coffee, maybe you want to run some tissue analysis on the plants and see what nutrients are in those plants. Can you duplicate that by going to another farm that’s not producing as good? Can you run soil and leaf tissue analysis and try to match the farm that’s doing better? There’s a lot of science going into this.
Brendan: Yes, no kidding. I’m assuming you could do the same thing for — Test a plant. Can we duplicate this organically? If this was a non-organic plant producing this, can we replicate it organically?
Denet: I’m going to just jump forward. One of the big challenges with going fully organic is weed control. Coffee grows I think in about 70 countries around the world. Typically, it like cool nights and warm days. Where coffee grows, lots of other plants grow. You’re in essentially tropical areas with decent rainfall or some water, so weed control is — It’s really challenging. The plant world is pretty vicious. If you’re not using chemical herbicides, well, controlling the weeds can be extremely labor-intensive. I went up and down some rows in my dad’s coffee trees and pulled some weeds by hand, you can’t last very long before not wanting to go that route.
We tried planting some grass underneath to control things but still it’s really challenging to control the weeds on a fully organic farm. Particularly, when the trees are younger too and aren’t producing as much. When they are larger trees though, it’s a little bit easier but still it’s very challenging.
Brendan: Yes, I bet. There’s obviously organic options to help control weed.
Denet: You can’t use poisons to kill plants if you’re going to be fully organic. There are some different options that people are trying. For example, I think there was a device where people would use a propane tank and they could do controlled burning but then again, you do have a —
Brendan: I think I’ve seen that.
Denet: – a fire risk when you’re doing that. When you go to other countries, in larger farms, it’s even less manageable than doing a small farm. In Hawaii we had four acres of coffee, which is a very small farm but if you’re going to Brazil or somewhere and having a large farm, it’s a harder issue.
From my dad what I’ve learned is in certain cases using small amounts of herbicide to control plants, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may in certain cases be your best bet. You can debate whether if having fully organic versus more local, having someone that’s paid money to get the organic certification versus you use that money to pay the farmers a little bit more. You can make lots of arguments about what’s the best route.
I think the society as a whole has really given up Monsanto and Roundup are really under the — Well, people are starting to ban Roundup but then the question is, well, what do you replace that herbicide with?
Part of the problem to is the modern farming practices outside of the coffee world where they’ve genetically modified plants, so you can spray herbicide directly on them. I think that’s really a practice that society as a whole should try to reevaluate. Do we want to be eating food that has or do we want to spraying herbicides directly onto our food crops? I certainly have a lot of questions on whether that’s a good practice to be doing. First is if you have a farmer that’s going out there and actually just spraying amounts of an herbicide on invasive –
Cary: Just the weed around the plant.
Denet: – species of weeds to control them, that’s a much — You could have a sustainable farm where someone actually is using chemical herbicides.
Brendan: Yes, absolutely. When you’re talking organic, let’s say I had two coffee trees, exact same type of tree side by side and I was feeding one completely organically, the second one was non-organic, meaning I’m using some sort of chemical fertilizers. At the end of the day, I’ll probably notice a difference in both the growth rate, the fruit size, and then obviously the taste at the end of the day. I can’t ask if you’ve experimented with that at all necessarily but any idea what the differences could be there?
Denet: Yes. I’m going to go out on a limb, no pun intended. I’m going to paraphrase what I’ve learned. I think having more complete nutrients, having a broader spectrum of nutrients is going to give you a better tasting fruit. If you’re giving your tree — If you’re giving it really good fertilizers that have tons of micronutrients in it then you’re going to get a better tasting fruit and have a healthier plant. Then this gets magnified as time goes on. If you’re just giving a few chemical fertilizer and really trying to up the yield, well what happens after 20 years of doing that? You’re going to start to really deplete your soil of some of the micronutrients.
In terms of sustainability, clearly going with a more comprehensive nutrients is the way to go. Now the area that gets more debatable, while if you have the fully organic versus someone that’s using some organics and then they’re mixing in — If they’re giving it a little chemical phosphorus or nitrogen because the tree was a little bit low on them but they’re also giving it some organic matter, well — There are certainly times where a good farmer could do a mix and have something that is pretty healthy and produces really nice fruit.
Cary: A little bit of both, yes.
Brendan: Why not supplement?
Cary: That’s right.
Brendan: [laughs] Moving on from the organic stuff. The last label I had a question on is though you see on coffee a lot of times is fair trade. What exactly does fair trade mean and what’s that referring to?
Denet: Good topic. Okay. First off, my dad’s farm again was in the US, so we were not fair trade because we weren’t subject to the fair trade rules. We had US labor laws in effect. You’re under —
Brendan: You almost, in effect, “Well, we’re a fair trade,” you just couldn’t put that label on it.
Denet: Well, fair trade is a certain guidelines where the farmers are getting paid, where the pickers are getting paid a certain fair trade wage. Interestingly enough, some critics have pointed out fair trade does not have any effect on quality. It’s looking at what wages are the farmers being paid. It’s not looking at what kind of quality is the farm producing. Then there’s another thing a lot of people are doing, which is a nicer — A term I preferred to see is direct trade, meaning, it’s a shorter supply chain form the farmer to you, when you see that direct trade. I would always go with direct trade before fair trade.
Brendan: That’s becoming more popular, right?
Denet: It is and I think that’s a good thing. The shorter the supply chain and the closer the farmer is to the person drinking it, I would say the better.
Cary: Absolutely, yes.
Brendan: All right. Well, that makes sense.
Denet: Another thing is when you’re in some of the developing nations where wages are quite low, well, if the farmer is strapped for money, is it better to pay your fair trade fees and certification fees or is it better just to pay the farmer more? That’s another one of the controversial arguments that it comes up with the fair trade model, but overall, the concept of compensating farmers more certainly — We need to appreciate the farmers and look to make sure that they’re being compensated well for the work they do.
Brendan: Absolutely. All right. Well, I think that covers the labels, huh?
Brendan: Or at least the ones that we had mentioned on our notes. Denet I think what I want to do is break this episode up in to two parts because we’ve got a solid amount of content there. Then if you’ve got time to continue on with growing coffee, and the different styles, and ways to serve, we could do that and then do a two-part episode?
Denet: That would be awesome.
Brendan: All right. Let’s do a quick little outro here. I’m going to grab another drink because my beer seems to have emptied itself and [laughter] then we’ll get going again. Well, yes I think that will conclude part one of this interview. We will definitely add part two and then following — Part two will probably come out in early January 2107. Denet, thanks for joining us today and looking forward to part two.
Denet: Me too. Well, thank you. It’s been a lot of fun.
Cary: Yes, very informative.
Brendan: Once again, we’d like to thank Denitt Lewis for joining us today. He provided a lot of information and a lot of insight that typically a lot of us don’t even think about. Make sure you stay tuned for part two our interview with Denitt Lewis, which should air sometime in early 2017.
One more thing I’d quickly like to mention is that we’re going to do our question and answer episode here before the end of the year. If you’ve got any questions regarding draft components, kegging systems, cold brewing coffee, or really anything, give us a call, leave us a voicemail, we’ll play it on the air, and we’ll discuss the question that you had. You can call us at 888-620-2739 extension six. Again that’s 8888-620-2739 extension six.
All right, that’s going to do it for today. Thanks again to Denet Lewis for joining us, for Cary joining me in the studio. I’m Brendan Hanson and we’ll see you again next Friday on the Drips and Draughts podcast.
[00:51:42] [END OF AUDIO]
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