Can one person make positive changes in the world?

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Can one person make positive changes in the world?  This and other questions like it have caused me to ponder an answer. We know there are great names in history.  Without intentionally naming them, I will say that like you, there are some people I consider heroes from history. These people created movements that brought awareness to an issue. The great ones were able to cast their vision and then find others who bought into the vision and came along side the visionary using their talents for furthering the cause. Others supported their mission financially.

Social Intelligence Capitalism is my cause. My hope is to change mindsets. Expose systems that are designed to take advantage of those in poverty. These systems are by design, meant to keep people poor so companies can maximize their profit margin. I want to call to light corporate phrases like “Our responsibility is to our share holders” which translates as “we are rich and our stock owners are rich and we will step on others to get richer because we have no responsibility to the poor of the world or anyone else for that matter.”

“Greed is good!” has been the mantra for corporations way too long. Please do not get me wrong. I want to make a lot of money. I want to own a nice car and live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Maybe even 2 of each.  However, not at the direct or intentional expense of anybody else. My goal on my way to wealth is to make sure that everyone from crop to cup is blessed and that lives are positively impacted.

I asked at the beginning “Can one person make a positive change in the world. Looking at the great names from history would lead one to answer yes. However, they were not alone. It took others to elevate them. So does that mean the answer is no?

Tom Dancer
Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee LLC
The world’s finest coffee roasted fresh for you

The last three minutes (the life of a roast master)

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We talked about grading green coffee beans and sampling coffee to find the best of the best. What comes next is equally as important.  It is the roasting of the beans. If any of the other previous steps fall short then no matter how great the roast master is, the end product will fall short.

Up next is the creation of  a unique roast profile for each coffee. We will not get much into this part because I have written about it before.  The roast master is comparable to a head chef. The chef creates the ideal recipe highlighting the tastes and textures of the food. Then makes sure it is repeat the same way each time it is made. We create a way to roast the coffee to highlight different flavors and characteristics and to make sure it tastes the same each time, every time.

Today we are going to talk about the production roast. Roast Day! The night before my lovely bride Maxine creates a roast report. Each week she gathers all the order information i.e. new orders, subscription orders and change orders.  She double checks everything because this is important to get right. All I have to do is weigh out the beans and throw them into the roaster, sort of.

Each batch will take 12-15 minutes to roast. If under 12 minutes, the beans will not have enough time to develop all their flavors. If over 15 minutes, the cell walls start to char leaving a smokey flavor in the cup. The first part of the roast will last 9-11 minutes which is on the boring side. I have to sit there and make sure the coffee is ramping up at a controlled rate. Then the first “crack” happens (popping sound from the bean). From crack to drop (taking beans out of the roaster), no matter what the ending temperature is 3 minutes. If it is a low temperature, then I have to turn off the gas and open the vents to slow the temperature rise. I must be very careful not to “stall the roast” (make the temperature go backwards). A stalled roast means we will not sell that batch. Less than 12 minutes or over 15 minutes means I will not sell that batch.

So much is riding on those last 3 minutes that my heart rate and blood pressure do increase as well as my emotions. I have thought about filming my facial expression during that time but I think the thought of being laughed at quickly nixed that idea. Just know that your smooth, perfect cup of Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee is made with a lot of time, care, energy, heart-stopping moments and love. All you have to do is sit back, enjoy and smile.

Coffee Cupping Grading

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If the coffee passes our visual inspection then we will use a standard sample roast profile and let the coffee sit a couple of days. That is when the official cupping test begins. It is a very precise procedure. We coarse grind 13 grams of coffee per 5 ounce cup.  We do this for 3 separate cups to make sure all 3 are consistent with each other during the cupping process.   After weighing and grinding, we then smell the grounds which is the fragrance. taking note of the different subtle fragrances.  200 degree water is then poured into the grounds and we take note of any changes in the aroma. We wait three minutes and then break the “crust” (top layer of grounds) with a spoon and remove the crust, taking note of any other fragrance present on the spoon. We then wait an additional few minutes for the coffee to cool enough to slurp.

We are judged by our peers on how loud we slurp. True awe goes to the loudest slurpers. During the tasting phase we will concentrate on each part of the coffee’s makeup. The categories are flavor, acidity, body, balance and aftertaste, all the while looking for the hint of taints. If a coffee makes it past this stage, then we continue to sample the coffee as it cools. For us to consider buying the coffee it must taste great at all temperatures.

The final stage before purchasing is verifying its origin. No matter how much we enjoy the coffee we will not buy it until we can verify the origin. Not only do we know where the coffee came from, we know the name of the farmer who grew and processed the coffee as well. We make sure the farmer got paid. We want the farmer to be rewarded for their hard work.

Geez, after reading this I just realized, I am one of those geeky coffee guys.

How are coffee beans graded?

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We have always highlighted how are coffee tastes. Today I am feeling extra nerdy, so I am doing an entire nerdy series of a bean’s journey to becoming Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee.

We have said we only buy specialty grade coffee. Below is how coffee is graded. I will not go into what each item means Lets just leave it at they are defects found in coffee. Grade 1 (Specialty grade) is 0-3 full defects. Also must be free of cup faults and taints. Zero quakers allowed. Moisture content between 9-13%.

Tap Dancers Coffee has zero tolerance for any defect except for shells, broken beans and bug bites. Bug bites confirm that no pesticide was used.

These defects are the cause of why other coffees has a bitter acrid aftertaste and since ours do not have these taints and defects our coffee has a buttery smooth mouthfeel and wonderful lingering aftertaste.


 3 Shells 1
 2 sour or rancid beans 1
 2 beans in parchment 1
 1 cherry 1
 1 large husk 1
 2–3 small husks 1
 1 black bean 1
 1 large stone/earth clod 5
 1 medium-sized stone/earth clod 2
 1 small stone/earth clod 1
 1 large stick 5
 1 medium-sized stick 2
 1 small stick 1
 5 broken beans 1
 5 green or immature beans 1
5 insect damaged beans 1
Grade 1: Specialty Grade Coffee Beans: no primary defects, 0-3 full defects, sorted with a maximum of 5% above and 5% below specified screen size or range of screen size, and exhibiting a distinct attribute in one or more of the following areas: taste, acidity, body, or aroma. Also must be free of cup faults and taints. Zero quakers allowed. Moisture content between 9-13%.


Grade 2: Premium Grade Coffee Beans: Same as Grade 1 except maximum of 3 quakers. 0-8 full defects.


Grade 3: Exchange Grade Coffee Beans: 50% above screen 15 and less than 5% below screen 15. Max of 5 quakers. Must be free from faults. 9-23 full defects.


Grade 4: Standard Grade Coffee Beans: 24-86 full defects.


Grade 5: Off Grade Coffee Beans: More than 86 full defects.

It’s in the Bag

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Our goal at Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee is to create value by doing everything to the finest levels available. The bags we use to package our coffee are a true testament to our philosophy.

I must be maturing, because I am resisting the deep temptation to name names and rant about the cheap packaging many other coffee roasters use was difficult to overcome.  Instead, I will tell you the “whys” about the bags we have chosen to use for our beans. I am proud of the fact that we chose not to compromise the freshness of our beans by providing simply the best packaging available.

There are a couple of things we have to consider to ensure our coffee retains all of its goodness until you drink it. One is keeping the coffee fresh. Once coffee is roasted, the bean expels carbon dioxide and absorbs oxygen. It is the absorption of oxygen that creates a stale coffee.  This process of expelling and absorbing within the coffee bean cannot be slowed down (no matter what the temperature).  The process speeds up however, with exposure to air so it is important to keep the coffee as air tight as possible after the roast.

The other thing we have to be aware of with coffee is that it is very absorbent. Not only do we have to be concerned about outside moisture, we have to be concerned about what the beans come in contact with. Metallic foils (like aluminum or tin), plastic, cardboard and yes, even kraft paper will ALL taint the taste of coffee.  Is that surprising?

The bags Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee uses to package our coffee address these concerns, while not being too inconvenient to use for the consumer. We use an impulse sealer to completely seal the bag. The side notches enable you to open the bag easily. The bags not only seal airtight, but are easy to reseal to help keep the air exposure to a minimum. The bags have a patented one way degassing valve. This valve insures that air only goes out and no oxygen comes back in.

The two additional special features of these bags are not visible. The bags have a high vapor barrier and a neutral lining. The vapor barrier keeps moisture out of the bag. If you tear open the bag and lick the inside of the bag you will taste nothing.  These features all help to insure your coffee retains its freshness and remains untainted.

Inflexible and Uncompromising

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Last week I wrote about the importance of being agile and flexible. Just after we sent out our email, we had an order requesting to grind our coffee before delivering it. This request had me over a quandary.  I realized that we said we were flexible. Now what do I do?  My immediate thought was NO! We will only sell whole beans. After I took a breath and calmed myself, I will admit that the answer did not come quickly. The reality is only 8% of Americans buy fresh whole beans. Also, ground coffee isn’t just outpacing whole bean coffee; ground coffee is increasing its lead each year.  After looking at the facts and re-examing our no grind position, We decided to stand firm on the no grinding issue……we simply want your last cup to taste as great as your first.

Coffee sales graph
Coffee sales graph

I also have been very adamant and outspoken about K-cups. I will confess that we looked into having our coffee packaged in K-cups.  Why did I look into the possibility of coffee pods? Sales of coffee pods have grown by a blistering 138,324 percent — yes, 138,324 percent — over the past 10 years, according to data from Euromonitor. They have jumped more than tenfold since 2009 alone. And they’re still rising at an annual clip of more than 30 percent.

K-cup sales graph
K-cup sales graph

But, for us to make a profit, we would have to sell the pods from $1.50 to $2.00 per pod.  That is with us doing a volume discount of producing 5000 pods at one time. The packaging company asked how I came up with that price? I told them I was basing it off of using 14 grams of coffee per pod. Their response?…..”Do like everyone else does and cut it down to 7 grams per cup to drop the price.” Hmmmm….so you want me to compromise both having ground coffee AND less coffee than I should per pod?  Did you know that the pod packaging is more expensive than the coffee itself?  Again, we decided to stand firm on our no pod position.

So while we are agile and flexible, we are also inflexible and stubborn. Instead of stubborn it sounds better to say uncompromising. As a brand, Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee stands for something. What it stands for is more important than market share. After all, like my father always told me, “if your name doesn’t stand for something, then it means nothing” We are Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee…..the world’s finest coffee roasted fresh for you. And that’s who we intend to keep on being.


Oh Wata Dara, say it ain’t so!

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In the previous 2 seasons (2012 and 2013) we had a coffee that was good enough to repeat. In fact it was such a good selling coffee, I was looking forward to adding it to our offerings again this year. For those of you who could not guess, I am talking about no other than the Ethiopian Wata Dara.  This amazing coffee really helped us launch and establish Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee as a purveyor of fine fresh roasted coffee and had a signature chocolaty finish that people came to love.

Two weeks ago I finally got the email from my coffee broker that the coffee had arrived in port and cleared customs.   He quickly sent me a sample of this season’s crop. Once the sample came in I eagerly got ready to go through our process of cupping coffee. The first step is to visually inspect the beans and give them a quality score.  I noticed the big variances in the size of the beans which was not the case in previous years. A roaster wants the beans to be the same size, otherwise, the smaller beans will be over roasted and the bigger beans will end up under roasted.

Upon further inspection, I started to notice more bug bites than usual. I justified this to myself because this coffee is grown organically but again, this was not the case in previous years. Then more issues arose with a lot of broken beans appearing. It got to the point to where normally, I would have already failed the bean on the inspection alone and not bothered to even roast them. But this was Wata Dara! Surely I can make an exception for this great coffee so I went ahead a did a sample roast.

Continue reading Oh Wata Dara, say it ain’t so!

A Roast is NOT Just a Roast!

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What does it mean when people ask for a certain type of roast?  Do they even know what it means or are they looking for a certain flavor?  Being a specialty grade coffee roaster, we do not often refer to roast types alone since our goal is to bring out all the natural and wonderful flavors of the bean itself.  Specialty grade beans are grown on purpose and are organic, fair-trade, low in acidity and not inherently bitter so it is easy to concentrate and talk solely about flavor.

For most other grades of beans (commercial, premium, gourmet), talking about the roast is way more important since there is high acidity and inherent bitterness to deal with.

Let’s start with how the bean looks BEFORE the roast.  Pictured below is the “green bean” which is how the bean looks when we receive it at our dock.

1 green-beans

22 °C (72 °F) Green Beans

Can be stored for one to two years.


Next, we will look at the stages and temperatures that the beans go through while in the roaster.  This initial phase is the “drying phase” when they lose water and increase in size:

2 drying-phase

165 °C (329 °F) Drying Phase

As the coffee bean stays in the roaster, the beans will eventually crack from the heat.  Unlike popcorn, it does not change its shape too much but there is an audible sound.  Kept in the heat longer, you will hear it crack again.  These two “cracks” are applicably called “the first crack” and “the second crack”.  Each roast level below is described with basic temperatures and cracks.  What it does not tell you are the amazing artisanship it takes on behalf of the roast master to actually bring it to that temperature, the monitoring of air flow, timing and great instinct needed to produce an outstanding roasted bean.  Dark roasts are not synonymous with strong or bold flavors.  The better the bean, the more you will taste and understand how flavors are brought out by a particular roast.


The Cinnamon Roast is the very lightest roast level and is completed BEFORE the first crack.  It is almost tea-like in its character.  It is light brown in color with toasted grain flavors and sharp acidic tones.

3 cinanmon

196 °C (385 °F) Cinnamon Roast


The New England Roast is preferred by some specialty roasters because it highlights the coffee’s origin characteristics and acidic complexity.  It is moderate light brown but still varicolored in appearance.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we occasionally use this roast when we roast some of our more exotic beans.

4 new-england

205 °C (401 °F) New England Roast


The American Roast is completed during the first crack which enables it to preserve the bean’s original character.  It is medium light brown.

5 american

210 °C (410 °F) American Roast


The City Roast is the most common roast for specialty grade coffee roaster.  It is finished after the first crack and is a medium brown color.   The multiple varieties of the character of the bean are very apparent while tasting (cupping).  With this roast, we are able to detect most of the beans flavors and can then decide whether to roast darker or lighter to bring out a distinct flavor.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we currently use this roast for our Guatemalan Pena Blanca.

6 city

219 °C (426 °F) City Roast


The Full City Roast is completed at the beginning of the second crack.  It is a medium dark brown and depending on the bean, may have a very light oil sheen.  You will begin to taste more of the lower notes in the coffee.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, we currently use this roast for our Kenya Kamviu Dark.

7 full-city

225 °C (437 °F) Full City Roast


The Vienna Roast is completed right in the middle of the second crack.  Most of the bean’s original characteristics are overshadowed and a more bitter-sweet, deeper caramel-y flavor will surface.  The color is moderate dark brown which may have a light oil sheen.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, this is the absolute furthest we will go on the roast. We are currently using this roast for our Ethiopian Wata Dara.

8 vienna

230 °C (446 °F) Vienna Roast


The next 3 roasts are used by many roasters or coffee shops that do not sell specialty grade beans or blends with lower grade beans.  They are roasts that use various stages of burning the bean.  Many lower grades of beans are inherently very acidic and bitter so by roasting them darker, they can sometimes take out the bitterness and most of the acidity.  At Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee our business’ vision is to bring out inherent flavors of the original bean so we have chosen not do the following roast profiles.  We are not snobs however in understanding the fact that there are many people around the world who have acquired a taste for these roasts and when these roast lovers do not find what they are looking for with us, we do not mind letting them know that we respect their taste and even refer them to other roasters that we know can fulfill the taste they are looking for.


The French Roast is completed at the end of the second crack.  Very little of the inherent flavors of the original bean remain and the taste of the bean now has burnt undertones and diminished acidity.  The beans are dark brown and have a shiny oily appearance.


9 french

240 °C (464 °F) French Roast


The Italian Roast which is completed at least 20 seconds after the second crack.  It is very dark brown and very shiny with very distinct burnt tones, a thin body and almost no hints of acidity.

10 itialian

245 °C (473 °F) Italian Roast


The Spanish Roast is completed long after the second crack is finished.  Its color is almost black (extremely dark brown) and the beans are very shiny and oily.  Charcoal and tar tones dominate the taste with a flat, thin body and no hints of acidity.

11 spanish

250 °C (482 °F) Spanish Roast

How to brew it better at home?

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I found this article on New Haven News  written By Tim Carman, The Washington Post

Sometimes obsession sneaks up on you slowly. One day you’re satisfied with 7-Eleven coffee poured into a used Big Gulp cup. A few years later, you refuse to choke down anything not prepared on a pour-over bar at the nearest specialty coffee shop.

Other times, obsession strikes you in a flash.

I can, for example, tell you the exact moment my home-coffee-brewing addiction kicked in: It was 10:58 a.m. on Dec. 12. I was sampling cups prepared by Alex and Chad McCracken, the brothers behind the Wydown, a forthcoming specialty coffee shop here. At their former pop-up in D.C., the siblings had brewed five different preparations of the same Finca Kilimanjaro, a Salvadoran bean roasted by PT’s Coffee Roasting in Topeka, Kan. Among the devices they employed was a siphon, a twin-chambered glass tower powered by a glowing halogen lamp.

The siphon’s charms were immediate: evil-scientist-grade equipment that can make you feel like a 10-year-old with a chemistry set. But that childhood reverie vanished with one sip of coffee. Compared with the other devices (two pour-over cones, an AeroPress and a Clever dripper), the siphon-produced cup was more complex, balancing sweetness and acidity. If the other devices had emphasized the Finca Kilimanjaro’s bracingly sour brightness, the siphon had transformed it into candied lemon. I was hooked.

I was sold on the siphon, sure, but more than that, I was fascinated by the different flavors that each device unlocked in the same coffee. I wanted to experiment more.

Within a month, I had secured not only a Yama three-cup siphon but also other tools for my morning caffeine ritual: a Bee House dripper, an AeroPress coffee and espresso maker and a digital scale to weigh my coffee and water down to the nearest gram. Then came the more expensive stuff: a high-end electric drip maker often touted as the best on the market, and a single-cup device capable of brewing any freshly ground beans. That latter piece of equipment, I thought, would serve as a litmus test to see whether, when it comes to coffee brewing, convenience and quality are mutually exclusive.

But the paradox about trying to improve your home coffee experience is that none of those fancy instruments and machines will guarantee you a perfect cup every time. As any veteran roaster or barista will tell you, coffee is not a fixed commodity, its quality the same day in and day out. It’s an agricultural product that degrades like any other fresh ingredient you buy at the grocery store. Freshness is paramount.

Home brewing is “a moving target, because the coffee itself is a moving target,” says Joel Finkelstein, the owner and roaster behind Qualia Coffee here. He says only one kind of coffee will give you the same cup each time: “If it’s old and stale, you can get total consistency,” Finkelstein cracks.

So a high-quality cup begins with freshly roasted beans, but it doesn’t end there. Home brewing has evolved beyond the one-button convenience of Mr. Coffee and the disposable pods of Nespresso. You need education. For starters, you need to understand the benefits of a burr grinder, which pulverizes those fresh beans more evenly than your typical cheapo blade grinder. A burr grinder also allows you to adjust the grind size of your beans, an important feature when you start using the more labor-intensive tools to brew coffee.

One grind size does not fit all of these contraptions. Immersion brewers — devices such as the siphon and French press, in which the full complement of water remains in contact with the grounds for the entire steeping process — typically require a coarser grind to prevent bitter, over-extracted coffee. Pour-over devices — whether a Hario v60 dripper, a Chemex coffeemaker or some other contraption in which water passes over the grounds more quickly — generally take a medium or fine grind.

“The longer the extraction time, the coarser the grind,” the Wydown’s Chad McCracken notes.

From there, things can get really geeky really fast. Any barista worth her weight in Geisha beans will determine the perfect coffee-to-water ratio for every available bag, looking for a calculation that brings out a bean’s best characteristics. Baristas may start with a general ratio — say, one ounce of coffee to 16 ounces of water — but will quickly adjust the percentages to arrive at the perfect cup. Or at least the perfect cup according to their taste, which is important to remember.

“At the end of the day, it’s good to who’s making it,” says Judith Mandel, a former barista with Peregrine Espresso who finished ninth out of 40-plus competitors in the U.S. Brewers Cup last year in Boston. Mandel now works as a barista for Blue Bottle Coffee in the Bay Area.

Then again, those tattooed coffee-bar baristas probably know a lot more about their drinks than most of us. They know the proper water temperature for extraction (195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit), the proper technique for pouring water into a dripper cone (concentric circles from the middle, careful not to overfill the device) and the proper amount of time for “blooming” ground beans with hot water (variable, often dependent on how fresh the beans are as the wet grounds release carbon dioxide). They probably even use a timer and digital scale to make sure the weights and brewing times are airtight.

And that’s just for a pour-over device. At shops such as Chinatown Coffee, baristas must also know how to use even more tools, such as the Clever dripper and that high-tech siphon. If you talk to enough baristas, you begin to hear a pattern: They all have their own approaches, their own ratios, their own ideas about brewing the ideal cup. It begins to make you feel like it’s a Wild West out there, with no set standards for baristas and home-brewers to follow.

“There’s a lot of opinionated baristas who don’t have a lot of science behind them,” says Alex McCracken of the Wydown.

Yet there are standards. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has set them down in its “Coffee Brewing Handbook,” which is based on the scientific research conducted by the Coffee Brewing Institute (later the Coffee Brewing Center) in the mid-20th century. Of course, to make sense of the science, a barista has to become familiar with a refractometer and how to measure things such as the “extraction percentage.”

At this point, my own personal obsession stops just short of refractometers. I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the level of Mandel, whose OCD-like labors have led her to employ screens (to sift grounds for precisely uniform particles) and a rubber restrictor in her kettle (to slow the flow of water). But she’s striving for Brewers Cup championships. I’m merely looking for a great cup of home-brewed coffee.

This is where the bad news comes in: There is no ideal brewing system, perfect for every bean and every taste bud. I’ve been absorbing that hard lesson through a lot of trial and error, testing and retesting, and yet some part of me still wants to pronounce that one of these devices outperforms the others. Some days I think it’s the siphon (which generally produces a balanced, full-bodied cup). Other days I think it’s the Bee House dripper (which always seems to extract a bean’s best flavors). But one morning the Clever might surprise me with an exquisite cup, and I want to hold it forever close.

Then the Moccamaster KBG-741 AO arrives via delivery. It’s a handmade automatic drip machine, the top model produced by Technivorm in the Netherlands, engineered to heat water to the proper temperatures and steep grounds the proper length of time. It’s one of only four home brewers certified by the SCAA. I don’t want to believe this contraption can brew something as complex as my (increasingly sophisticated) efforts, but it does. Or it can, I should say.

The Moccamaster’s performance reminds me of something Ryan Jensen, owner of Peregrine Espresso, told me recently: Large-batch brewers may one day reclaim specialty coffee shops. Think of it as the rise of the machines, again.

“The next wave is actually not doing manual brewing,” Jensen says. It’s sort of an admission, he adds, that “machines are better at this than humans.”


It’s not about the caffeine!

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I truly enjoy bringing our coffee out to public venues and sharing it with people. Interacting with folks from all walks of life. It is definitely one of the perks for me. I confess that one thing that irks me are people who only want to drink coffee for the “caffeine kick”. Sometimes I want to shout “It is not about the caffeine. It’s about the taste! If caffeine is all you desire, just pop a pill!”  Alas, my wife holds me back from reacting like that.

There are highly caffeinated coffee beans available on the market that contain up to 50% more caffeine. They are not specialty grade and they honestly taste terrible. In fact, in my original business plan we were going to offer a “geek blend” for programmers and gamers to offer a highly caffeinated coffee. However, when we adopted the tag line “The world’s finest coffee roasted fresh for you” we made the commitment to only buy, roast and sell specialty grade coffee.

What Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee is all about is a lifestyle that appreciates and enjoys life to the fullest. We feel that life is too short to drink bad tasting coffee. While getting up is not always a pleasant experience, drinking that first cup of coffee does bring a simple but wonderful joy into our lives that helps us start our day. When coffee tastes this good, it is also something that can be enjoyed at various times of the day and in great drink and food recipes.

So let’s focus on the taste, not the caffeine.  When you are at an age where you have more years behind you than ahead of you, you will never regret the choices in life when you decided to simply experience the best.