Standart issue 7

Standing for the art of coffee

Keith Parkins
Mar 21, 2017 · 9 min read
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Standart issue 7 at The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop

The fun part about our industry is that we use knowledge to turn coffee into an experience our customers love. — Gwilym Davies

When I first came across Standart I thought it was a book, a book I could not find.

It is not a book, a quarterly publication, similar concept to Dark Mountain.

Dark Mountain is an annual volume, now twice yearly, an anthology of essays, short stories, poetry and art. Downside, the art is usually rubbish, badly reproduced, much of the writing, unintelligible, pretentious drivel. Originally each issue was crowdfunded, now supported by subscription.

That though is where the resemblance ends, Standart is high quality writing, high quality artwork, the topic coffee, supported by subscription.

Once upon a time, there was a period of dark coffee and socialism in Czechoslovakia, and that was when the ‘Standard Coffee Blend’ was born. The coffee was, well, let’s say horrible. However, it served as the very beginning of a coffee drinking culture in the part of Europe we come from.

It’s been a long road, and we’ve taken huge strides since then. Speciality coffee and the lifestyle of third wave cafés are knocking at our doors. We would like to show people that our passion is not posh or hipster — good coffee can be the standard for every cup.

Last year, I spent two weeks September and October in a luxury villa overlooking a vineyard, with views to the horizon. The wine, previous year’s vintage, was by far the best red wine I have ever tried. I then learnt of the care, the vines inspected every day, pests removed by hand, no chemicals used. The grapes were picked when just right.The soil and sun and the local micro-environment played a part, as did the winery that turned the ripened grapes into wine.

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bottle of red wine Melissonas Hill vineyard

Speciality coffee, parallels the world of top quality wine.

A skilled barista, with a machine set just right, brews us a coffee. The barista the one we see, is only the end of the chain, starting with the farmer on his finca looking after the bushes, picking the cherries when just right, the washing, the drying, the packing, the roasting, then finally, quality beans delivered to the barista to practice her art.

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Alvarado coffee beans from Honduras at Makushi /

Each bean has a story to tell, a story we are not aware of. The farmer who maybe has half a morning's walk to his coffee bushes growing on a 45 degree slope. The trek by foot or bicycle across a mountain range to take those beans to market. This is a whole different world to commodity beans from large mechanised plantations, price fixed on foreign commodity markets. I often wonder, when I see a bag of quality beans, always with the roast date and origin, why they do not tell the story of the bean, or at the very least these days a QR code to access that story.

Standart, in words and pictures, tries to capture this world of speciality coffee, where everyone strives to bring you that perfect cup of coffee, where every bean has a story to tell.

If asked, major world coffee producer, few would name Vietnam, now second only to Brazil. Vietnam, not a traditional coffee grower, was encouraged by the World Bank to grow coffee, with guaranteed contracts and prices. Ten years on, when Vietnam was ready to sell, there were no buyers. This huge supply dumped on the world market, caused the world commodity price to collapse.

If you grow a commodity crop, international commodity exchanges determine the price you receive, the price of inputs are again determined by international markets.

Vulture capitalists when they invest in coffee, are looking for fast return. This is why first and foremost countries should aim for food sovereignty, cash crops should be secondary, and with a crop like coffee, aim for quality, establish direct links, to the speciality coffee shops, build in traceability. Aim for steady state, not growth. Open coops, small players, that trade with each other, will be best positioned to achieve this.

declining share of earnings to growers

If we look at three periods, 1971–1980, 1981–1990, 1991–1999, the percentage of earnings to growers has shrunk (from an already small percentage), whereas to consuming countries (which started at over 50%) has dramatically increased.

One of the scandals of coffee, beside that of tax dodging by Starbucks and Caffè Nero and what they serve is an affront to any coffee drinker, is how little of what we pay for a cup of coffee finds its way back to the growers, and of that diminishing return, how little finds its way to women.

According to a UN report, The Role of Women in Agriculture, small holders in developing countries, 43% of the labour is provided by women, the same sector that provides 70% of the world’s coffee.

The women may provide 43% of the workforce, but of that diminishing return to the growers, only 10% finds its way to the women. And they own less than 10% of the land on which they work.

According to the UN, if these women had equal access to resources, crop yields would increase by 30%, the number going hungry would drop by 17%.

137 million people no longer going hungry, by the simple, simple though not simple to achieve, expedient of greater equal access, nothing more.

According to the World Bank, when women have greater status within the family, more of the income goes to child nutrition, health and education.

An example from Burundi of this lack of status within the family. When a woman’s husband died, if she sold the land, all the proceeds would go to the brothers of her husband.

Something to ponder and reflect upon, next time enjoying that carefully crafted coffee, of that paid where is it going?

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café mortel or death café /

There’s something romantic about turning your loved one’s remains into a diamond.

The only good death is one I’ve chosen, on my own terms.

Death is like nothing. It’s not like sleep; not like being in a dark room. It’s nothing.

Who wants another cupcake?

Café mortel or death café, a somewhat macabre activity, meet over a cappuccino and cookie and discuss death. And no, not local chapters of Dial M for Murder.

The first café mortel gathered in 2004, in the Restaurant du Théâtre du Passage in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Bernard Crettaz’s wife had died not long before, and he wanted to talk about mortality. It turned out that others did too, and after that first gathering, there was a second, and then a third. By 2010, death cafés had arrived in Paris, and in the next year, Jon Underwood held a death café in his home in Hackney.

A couple of years ago, I had the idea for a chain disrupter loyalty card for independent coffee shops, discussed it at the tine with independent coffee shops. I am pleased to see that in Toronto, Toronto Coffee Conspiracy have launched such a card.

We love to work with and collaborate with interesting companies. Let’s have a cup of coffee together (at least a virtual one), and talk about the creative opportunities inherent in becoming a partner of Standart.

Standart does not have advertising (at least not in the conventional sense), instead partners, associates who share their commitment to quality. In issue 7, Hemro (coffee grinders), Comandante(hand coffee grinders) and Extraction Lab Brooklyn (suppliers of tea and coffee).

Zoë Saunders, who after a move to Brooklyn, went in search for a new regular coffee shop. The catch? It had to be vegan.

My experience of a vegan cappuccino in Malaika, a vegan coffee shop in Puerto de la Cruz, was awful coffee.

I wished for a cappuccino. Being vegan, no milk, artificial milks only, a long list including almond, coconut, spelt, soya. I let them choose. I was recommended spelt. The result a disgusting cappuccino that tasted as though several spoonfuls of sugar dumped in the coffee. The beans were cheap rubbish over-roasted Italian beans intended for the catering trade. Normally would be bitter, but so sweet, hid the otherwise bitterness of the over-roasted burnt beans. The beans sourced from Caffé Salomoni, a brand coffee, suppliers to hotels, restaurants and cafés, which says it all. The blend, Optimo é con Caffé Espresso, which includes robusta. No roast date, and as shipped from Italy, probably long past their optimum, assuming it had any meaning in this context.

The idea of podcast, from issue 6, is a good idea, as is putting on soundcloud, the sound quality could be better. I would also recommend adding to bandcamp.

A few of the articles, or at least shortened versions, are available at Standart Journal.

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coffee books and coffee magazines in undercroft at Makushi /

In addition to subscription, a few coffee shops stock Standart. The only one I am familiar with is Small Batch in Brighton, though I cannot say I have ever seen Standart on sale. Makushi on a coffee table in the undercroft at the rear of the shop has Standart as reading material.

Magazine Brighton would be an obvious choice, especially as they actually sell coffee beans from Coffee at 33 just up the street.

Standart is from Czech Republic, or is it Slovakia, not that clear. I was surprised, as my experience of Prague was the lack of quality coffee shops, as now the norm in England.

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cakes in Mama’s Baking

Cafe-Cafe expensive, pretentious and please do not laugh, Nespresso. Try across the road opposite, Mama’s Baking. A cake shop, where the girls do their best with the coffee, but not quality beans. And therein lies the problem, no one roasting beans or so I thought. Without a quality roastery, everyone was stuffed for a source of quality beans. On the day I was leaving, on my way to the Kafka Museum, I passed Bakeshop little bakery. I had a cappuccino on my way back. Excellent, and as I learnt later, they source their beans from another coffee shop that roast their own beans.

Prague is excellent for bread and beer, and the architecture.

Loan of current issue of Standart courtesy of The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop.

The Little Bicycle Coffee Shop

Musings on all things coffee and occasionally tea

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