Caravan and Cafe Femenino

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a meal of yellow curry and sticky rice with Connie from OPTCO as we discussed the work their Café Femenino Program was doing, specifically with the families and communities in Peru. The cause this coffee stands for has been dear to my heart ever since learning about it. This beautiful program that also includes a foundation helps partner with communities to bring empowerment for women through education, leadership training and practical application to coffee-growing communities around the globe.

As its name suggests, Cafe Femenino has women in leadership and decision-making roles throughout the coffee’s cycle. One story I took away from my lunch with Connie was how the Cafe Femenino Program has strongly encouraged and implemented women meeting together with other women to knit together a sense of community and support for and with each other. In some areas, women have not been allowed to step foot outside of their house without permission from the man of the house.

With assistance from Cafe Femenino Program, what used to be communities with household dictatorships, are being transformed into working partnerships running the house together. Women are now getting the credit they deserve from their hard work on the coffee farm, being paid directly and creating empowerment among themselves.

We have proudly sourced this coffee for over 3  years and it has continued to be the best selling origin in our Tasting Room. The Certifications it boasts are a sign of the hard work and attention to detail that these women take in handling their craft.

 As a barista responsible for the final presentation of these women’s combined efforts, I proudly pour this coffee as a final piece to the journey.

– Kat Stauffer

Your bread and butter – The importance of a clean machine

For those of us who have ever worked in or owned a coffee shop, we are all probably very aware of the expense of an espresso machine. To get a good quality machine that will be used a lot in a coffee shop or restaurant, these can range from $10,000-$25,000 depending on the specs you need for your establishment. When I first started working in the coffee industry as a barista years ago, I was amazed by this cost!

That being said, with the amount of money we invest into this piece of equipment which essentially is our means of bringing in customers and making a profit, we should recognize the importance of keeping a clean and healthy machine.  

Long story short, there are two key ingredients to consider when keeping up with machine maintenance. Firstly, coffee beans have oils. These can be both a blessing and a curse for coffee lovers. The oils in coffee can produce the wonderful flavors that coffee lovers cherish, but they can also be the reason for a drink to have an awful taste.

Espresso Machine

These oils will cling to most anything they can in your espresso machine and coffee grinder, they will get old and start to bring strange flavors to your coffee. It is so important to clean your machine at least once a day by backflushing with an espresso machine cleaning agent of your choosing; it’s even better when this can be done twice in a day’s service. Your espresso grinder also needs to be cleaned daily by washing the hopper, vacuuming out the grinds from that day’s use, and brushing down the accessible interior and exterior parts with a soft-bristled grinder brush. We also recommend running a product such as Grindz™ through your grinders every one to four weeks, depending on usage. This natural product helps soak up the oils in your grinder, preventing build-up and extending the life of the burrs.

The second thing to think about to prolong the life of your machine is to have a good water filtration system in your line before plumbing into your espresso machine. In a lot of areas in the USA hard water is prevalent in the water system and this can play havoc with your machine. By having a good water filtration system you can prevent the buildup of limescale in the boilers and pipes which in some cases can lead to having to send the machine away to a specialist to go through an acid bath to remove this limescale. This can be costly in terms of service and you are unable to open the shop if you don’t have your espresso machine.


Take care of your espresso machine and other equipment; they are your bread and butter.

Celebrate with Us: National Fair Trade month

fair trade coffee

October is the 9th National Fair Trade Month, and with many of our coffees certified Fair Trade and all our coffees bought at better-than Fair Trade prices, we are celebrating. But what exactly is Fair Trade? The words have become buzzwords, a certification, a movement. Perhaps you, like many other coffee lovers, will only drink Fair Trade-certified coffees–and your dedication to justice is worthy of applause. Again the question: what IS Fair Trade, and why should we care?

Today, 168 million children are trapped in negative labor situations. The coffee industry is well-known to be one of the worst for child labor exploitation and sub-human working standards. The average coffee farmer barely breaks even financially, and his workers are seasonal drifters, whose children pick in the fields from dawn til dust beside them. Education is spotty or non-existant and food and shelter, especially in off-harvest seasons, are iffy.


Then, look at the life of the average coffee farmer in, say, northern Peru. Usually he has to take out a loan from the local umbrella cooperative to make it through the year until his coffee harvest comes in. Once the coffee is sold–to the lowest, quickest bidder, because he doesn’t have resiliency to wait for better prices–he makes just enough to pay his workers and pay back the loan, only to start the sordid cycle over again. He is preyed on by coyotes, or unscrupulous coffee buyers, and can’t develop the time and education needed to advocate for himself in the international coffee forum.

This is why Fair Trade coffee exists. If a coffee is certified Fair Trade, it is guaranteed to have been purchased at better-than commodity-market prices, to have been produced under fair working conditions without child or slave labor. The farmers have access to education and micro-loans, and as many middlemen as possible have been eliminated.

While Fair Trade is not the ONLY kind of buying that puts justice for the producers foremost, we are proud to roast multiple Fair Trade coffees, including the Organic Sumatra Mandheling. Thank you for joining in with the just coffee revolution!

Back to School: Why Coffee Matters

My small hometown got its first espresso drive-through just as I launched my freshman year in highschool. This happening changed my life. Pre-drive-through, I was not a coffee drinker. Perhaps this was because my exposure to coffee was of the generic pre-ground variety found in cans on the grocery store aisle and brewed by my parents. Suffice it to say that somehow the taste never appealed to me. But then a friend told me about a Caramel Latte from said espresso spot. “It’s got coffee in it and it’s delicious!” And apparently it wasn’t only the flavor fellow students enjoyed; it was also the caffeine buzz they received. Admittedly, I was curious.

Enter my first 12-ounce Vanilla Latte with whipped cream on top. One sip and I was over the moon. The creamy milk, the sweet caramel flavoring, the vanilla infused whipped cream, the thick caramel drizzle, and the chocolate covered espresso bean–talk about a whirlwind of enjoyment! Though I could barely taste the espresso, my love affair with coffee had begun.

Things evolved. Vanilla Lattes gave way to imbibing a little coffee with my cream and flavor, and in a strangely simultaneous progression, with the start of every school year, my palate for coffee developed. I transitioned to taking just a little cream in my coffee, no added flavor, thank you. Somewhere along that timeline, I found myself preferring the delicious flavor of artisanally roasted and prepared straight (black) coffee and espresso. By my senior year in college, I was roasting my own.

Obviously the connection between school and coffee is dear to my heart, but as my classmates and I discovered, coffee has a broader application. Not only is it delicious in its various forms, the caffeine punch inherent in the brew increases concentration, effectiveness, efficiency, and provides a long-lasting burst of necessary energy to complete difficult mental and physical tasks. Case in point–my Masters of Business Administration degree. There is no way I would have been able to tackle working full-time and going to school full-time with a toddler to boot (need I add the descriptor “full time?”). without the wondrous work of coffee. So as school launches once again and life plunges headlong into fall, it only seems fitting to give a nod to this indispensable and empowering gift. Yay, coffee!

— Marcus

Cultivating Atmosphere

Just as the atmosphere around Earth supports life, the atmosphere in your coffee shop supports your business. Cultivating the right atmosphere is just as important as the quality of coffee you serve.

The atmosphere of a coffee shop is one of the first things we notice and has a great amount of influence on our overall experience. When it comes to restaurants and coffee shops we tend to “judge their book by its cover” and if a place gives off the image of low quality we will often assume the food and drinks will reflect that image.

You could pull the best shots in the world but if you have a bad atmosphere it can be hard to get people in the door and even harder to have them come back as repeat customers.

Here are a few questions you can ask to help you cultivate the right atmosphere for your coffee shop.

1) What kind of atmosphere do you want?

Maybe you want your coffee shop to be the first place people think of when they meet up with a friend, or would rather serve those who need a quiet sanctuary for getting lost in the pages of a good book. Maybe you want it to be a place for people to quickly stop and get their drinks during a busy week-day.

Whatever kind of atmosphere you want, you need to start by looking at the things you can change to cultivate that kind of environment.

For example, mellow music and comfortable chairs will be much more inviting to an individual who is looking for a place to read, while group seating and larger tables will be more appealing to people looking to meet together.

2) What kind of “life” is your atmosphere already cultivating?

An important thing to consider is what type of customer you are already attracting. Knowing who you are marketing to can greatly influence your decisions about the atmosphere.

Here are a few examples:

Are there a lot of group tables with only one person at them? It may be good to remove some larger seating areas in favor of single seating areas.

Are most people grabbing their coffee to go? It may be good to remove some seating and introduce better systems to help people get in and out more efficiently.

Are a lot of people using laptops or tablets? It could be a good idea to add more electrical outlets for people to charge their devices.

Small changes can yield big results! It’s important to be mindful of the full experience the customer has from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave.

3) What is the atmosphere like outside of your coffee shop?

As well as looking at the kind of atmosphere you’re already cultivating inside your coffee shop, you need to look outside to your surroundings. A coffee shop that thrives in an inner city may not thrive in a rural community. Adapting to your surroundings is a key to survival.


More than just coffee

Nowadays people are spending more and more of their money on experiences rather than products. Live music, poetry readings, board games, or even art showings are great ways to provide experiences that cultivate a specific atmosphere inside your shop while also keeping you involved in your community.

Interior Design

While there are no set rules on how a coffee shop should be decorated, it is important to keep your intended effect in mind when you are decorating.


Spend time in places and coffee shops that inspire you. Think about what it is that you like and draws you to those elements and how you could implement them in your shop. The end result will feel more authentic, and ultimately provide a better atmosphere for customers.

-Alex Koeppen


Home Roasting 101

Home Roasting 101

Welcome to the wonderful world of home roasting!  I like to tell people that if you can make fried eggs, you can roast your own coffee. It is a great way to enjoy incredible fresh roasted beans, control the roast color and method, and gain a sense of pride knowing that you are drinking your own handiwork. Roasting your own coffee is easy to get into. Please do not be intimated by all the information out there. Relax, enjoy your time, and most importantly, drink that coffee! I’ll provide some basic steps below:

Step One: Buy Awesome Unroasted Coffee (Green Beans)

The first and arguably the most important step is finding the right green beans. Look for responsibly-sourced coffee. If you have any questions about what that means check out our blog on it. Here is a link to the green beans that we sell. Just remember, your coffee will lose weight during the roasting process, sometimes as much as 15 percent.

Step Two: Get Familiar with Roasting Coffee

Coffee is roasted to temperatures of anywhere from 350-450 degrees Farenheit, or more! It can take from 10-30+ minutes per batch. Below are the different stages in the roasting process.  This information can be found in Home Coffee Roasting by Kenneth Davids. I highly recommend this book!

Home Coffee Roasting: Romance & Revival

These roasting stages are:

  • Unroasted (Green Coffee): Hasn’t even touched the roaster. Very hard and dense. Chewing could lead to chipped teeth and grinding will ruin grinder. Be patient Jedi, you’re almost there!
  • Light Roasted (yellowish in color): Hard, crunchy, just beginning to roast.
  • First Crack (light brown in color): Toasted Grain flavors, high acidity, tea-like in character. Builds complexity as it roasts.  This first crack sounds like popcorn popping. 375+ degrees.
  • Beginning of Caramelization: Oils begin to move from inside to outside the bean, bean expands dramatically in size. 400+ degrees.
  • Just Before Second Crack: The brightness, nut and fruit notes of coffee are found here. 400-420+ degrees.
  • Second Crack: The second crack sounds much more tinny than the first, yet it can still be heard. Pay close attention here.  Chocolate notes and smokey aspects begin to develop. 425+ degrees–think Full City roasts.
  • Dark Roast: High tobacco notes, high smoke flavor and smoke can be seen. Roasting much more will result in a fire. 440+ degrees–think French Roast.
  • Fire! Fire! Burnt and crispy. Not recommended. 460+ degrees. Fire extinguishers may be required.


  • As soon as you are finishing roasting, COOL the coffee as fast as you can! Not cooling will bake the coffee. Baked coffee, unlike Baked Alaska, is not pleasant!
  • Smoke, smoke, smoke. There is lots of smoke when roasting. Unfortunately, the smoke does not smell like delicious coffee. For the sake of your friends and family, find a way to manage the smoke such as roasting outside. My first roasting experience resulted in my wife banning me from roasting in the kitchen!

Some other places to find good information on roasting coffee is Sweet Maria’s and Instructables. Paul Allen’s blog on roast color is found HERE (entitled “Into the Light”), and my blog on the different styles and waves of coffee is found HERE (entitled “Who’s on First”).

Step Three: Get The Gear

There are many different kinds of roasting equipment, everything from the simple cast-iron skillet to expensive professional home roasting equipment. Here, I will list a few of those along with a link to a place to buy them. Just remember, there are many more out there then what you see here. Feel free to do some further research.

Whirley Pop

Whirley Pop

West Bend Air

West Bend Air Crazy

Fresh Roast

Fresh Roast SR500

Behmor 1600

Behmor 1600

Behmor 1600

Hot Top Roaster

Hot Top Coffee Roaster

Cast Iron Skillet

Cast Iron Skillet

Step Four: Wait, Enjoy, Repeat!

As with all good things, there is a small waiting period. After the roasting process, your fine coffee is releasing crazy amounts of CO2. This impedes your ability to really taste your new delicious creation. By waiting 24 hours you will begin to fully smell and taste the glorious riches of fresh-roasted coffee. And if you are anything like us over here at Caravan, once you taste fresh roasted coffee you’ll never go back!

Final Note

Messed up? Didn’t get to first crack? Baked your coffee? Burnt your coffee to a crisp? Caught it on fire? Blew a fuse? Smoked up your house? Caught your roaster on fire?

It’s OK! If you’ve done it, chances are I’ve done it… at least twice! Keep trying. The first time I roasted coffee I ended up baking it the first three times. Making mistakes is totally natural and happens to all of us. However, give it a few more chances and you could be in for a real treat!

If you have any questions feel free to contact us HERE at Caravan Coffee. Happy Home roasting!


How Much Do You Know about Coffee Roasting? Part 3

coffee roasting, light coffee roasting, caravan coffee roasting

Into the Light

This is part 3 of a 4-part series from our Roastmaster, Paul Allen.  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

Last month, in Part 2 of our series, we looked at some definitions and delved into the light roasting profile, its flavor and what some of the chemicals were doing during the process. Now, we move attention to the medium and dark roasts and think about their profiles. Again we are not so concerned about whether we like a given profile but with recognizing what it tastes and looks like.

Michael McIntyre, a coffee professional and fellow Q Grader, says, “Coffee’s dynamic history is a small testament to its full spectrum of enjoyment. That dynamic is experienced in a roaster’s interpretation through roast development. The roaster has a unique opportunity, nay obligation, to study a coffee’s performance potential under the microscope of taste and present that coffee to the world the way that he or she feels it is best represented, or dare I say, preferred.” This is why we practice different roasts for different coffees and clients.

Medium Roast

wheel_bigThe medium roast develops past the light roast as time and temperature rise and keep ticking. This is when the Maillard reaction kicks in, creating flavor and browning the beans, with huge implications in what we taste in the cup. We see and taste the Maillard reaction in the browning of bread into toast, the colors of beer, chocolate, coffee, and maple syrup, and the flavor of roast meat.

Some suggest this reaction optimizes at medium roast. Once again from my experience, we can’t reduce flavor attributes to a single roast level for every coffee. At this level, the flavors nutty and chocolate are often found–but not always.

At medium roast we begin to add body, decrease acidity and see a slight drop in origin distinction. This is where you’ll find a good balance of bitterness, acidity and fullness. Organic acids are changing in strength: Citric acid is now only 50% of its original concentration, meaning that it is losing more of that lemon/orange taste. Acetic acid (e.g. vinegar) is at its peak. At low concentrations, acetic acid imparts a pleasant clean, sweet-seeming characteristic, but at higher concentrations, as in a medium roast, it can have some fermented characteristics. Quinic acids (e.g. found in tonic water) are increasing also, bringing some bitterness and astringency.

Dark Roast

By the time you hit dark roast, the Maillard Reaction is in full swing. We find sweetness in the cup, which is of course desirable, but there are diminishing returns as starch and cellulose also carbonize. Chlorogenic acid (CQA) has split into quinic acid (often experienced from coffee brewed too long on the burner) and caffeic acid, a good antioxidant yet both bitter and astringent. The caffeic acid in coffee is often responsible for the bitterness we associate with coffee. Quinic acid, on the other hand, is the actual primary cause of coffee’s acidity and astringency.

At this roast level, the coffee will begin to lose brightness as well as gain some bitterness and a fuller body. A dark roast tends to have flavor notes that can, but not always, rely more on the roasting itself than the unique character of the bean (such as smokiness). At this stage bean quality becomes less discernible, like comparing overcooked fine sirloin or ground beef; even a culinary expert might not be able to tell the difference.

Next month we will start drawing some conclusions from these profiles we’ve been exploring.


Tea 101: Orange Pekoe

black tea, orange pekoe, tea, caravan coffee

Tea 101: Orange Pekoe

Tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world; bested only by water. How much consideration have you given the tea served at your coffee shop or drive thru?

All tea comes from a single plant, the Camellia Sinensis. An evergreen bush, tea is grown predominantly in Southeastern Asia. Although scientists believe Yunnan Province in China to be the birthplace of the tea plant, both Indian and Chinese mythology stake legendary claims to its discovery.

Before the advent of tea cultivation, two genera of Camellia Sinensis thrived in the wild. The “China bush” is at home on the foggy mountainsides of Southwestern China and produces a small, tender leaf during a short growing period. Separated from China by the Himalayan Mountains, the “Assam bush” prefers the jungle-like conditions of Northeastern India and yields a large, broad leaf that can be picked year-round.

black tea, tea grading, 101Tea Leaf Quality

When describing the size of tea leaves and their origin, the term Orange Pekoe is used. This term has nothing to do with the taste of orange. Rather, Orange refers to the Dutch noble House of Orange-Nassau, which brought tea to Europe during the 18th century. Pekoe refers to the top bud of the tea plant. To be classified as Orange Pekoe, the tea must be composed purely of the top two leaves and bud of the tea plant.

After being picked, tea leaves are placed in meshes to sort out their sizes. Fuller leaves stay in the top meshes while broken or crushed leaves (“Broken Orange Pekoe”) fall to the bottom. The tiny remnants of the sorting and/or crushing process result in fannings (because they are “fanned” away) or dust (swept from the bottom). Because the surface area of these particles are smaller, tannin (natural in tea) is released quicker (after 1-2 minutes) often resulting in a bitter or astringent taste. A larger leaf has a broader surface area and thereby can be steeped longer before tannin is released (3-5 minutes). This results in a fuller, smooth flavor.

– Kat Stauffer

Who’s on First & the Waves of Coffee

abbot and costello, who's on first, coffee waves

Who's on First & the Evolution of Coffee

In one of the most recognized comedic skits of the 1900’s, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have a hilarious exchange as Abbott explains to Costello that the men who play for his baseball team are named Who, What, and I Don’t Know, thoroughly confusing him in the process. Great skit! Yet, what does this have to do with Coffee?

In many ways coffee can be just as confusing. There are many different styles and eras of coffee. In her circa-2003 industry-defining article, Trish Rothgeb explains the first three waves of coffee. The first wave is known for its canned, pre-ground, mass-produced coffee, as many of us drank growing up. When envisioning the first wave, think “The best part of waking up is folgers in your cup,” and picture your granny’s percolator on the back of the stove.

Who’s on first? Folgers and Maxwell House.

The second wave of coffee is seen as a reaction to the first and began in the late 1960s. It is in the second wave that artisan-style coffee began to come to fruition–think sourcing great coffee and then roasting it to a French Roast. The second wave brought specialty coffee mainstream and introduced words like “latte” and “barista” to our vocabulary. It was really the second wave that made what we do now in coffee possible by building a culture around coffee.

What’s on second? Peet’s and Starbucks.

Yet, there were some who did not like 20-oz. cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos. Their aim was to do everything the artisanal way and move to a lighter roasted style of coffee that allowed the unique character of each coffee to shine through in the cup. This third wave is characterized by direct sourcing and a focus on sustainability as well as a simple approach to drinks–menus often don’t offer syrups, and cup sizes may end at 12 oz.

I Don’t Know? Stumptown and Intelligentsia.

Some say there is another coffee wave emerging. This wave will be different from all of the rest and has not yet been entirely defined. The common theme is, “you’ll know it when you see and taste it.” So why do these waves matter?

coffee , barista, latte art

In the last part of the skit, Abbott tells Costello that I Don’t Give a Darn is playing shortstop. When thinking about these terms it is easy to say, “I Don’t Give a Darn, just sell me great coffee.” Yet, built in that statement is the desire for great coffee. Excellent coffee, like everything well-done, takes practice and constantly evolves.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter Who’s on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third. What matters is our aim and vision for coffee. What will leave a lasting impact is our goal for excellent coffee, responsible sourcing, and environmental and economic sustainability.  Even if we do not care about the definition, coffee lovers will fuel a fourth wave, a fifth wave, a sixth wave, etc.  These waves mean that we are constantly improving in every facet of coffee.  If we are to get there, we must continually evolve how we source coffee, how we roast and prepare it, and our environmental and economic impact. Whether you’re drinking first, second, third, or are way out in left field: I think we can all agree to that!

– Marcus

“Who’s On First” available at:

Ms. Rothgeb’s articles is available at: