My Very Special Father’s Day

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The boys took Maxine and me out to dinner and a movie for Father’s Day on Monday night. I guess I shouldn’t call our sons “boys” because at 25 and 22, they have truly  become remarkable men. Before I go any further, I just want to say how proud they made me feel. They took the initiative, made decisions and took charge of the evening. Not only that, they paid for everything.

Jeremy (the eldest) has not been an adventurous eater in the past. As we were trying some exotic dips with our appetizer, I was surprised to see him taking some.  When I commented on it, he said, “I found it is safer to try new things at a fine restaurant.” Interesting observation, I thought.

Jarell (the younger) on the other hand, is willing to try new things and likes to experiment greatly with different combinations of flavors.  While that is fun, he sometimes lacks the experience to know what works best for him.

As I observed this, I realized that while I refuse to be set in my ways and will continue to try new foods, I am also of the age and experience to know what I like and what I do not like when it comes to certain foods (like Brussels sprouts).

Case in point….there was a vendor next to us last Saturday’s farmers market who makes his own mustards. While my wife had a ball sampling and eventually buying his product, I did not bother to even sample his products.  I have tried enough variety of mustards throughout the years to understand that I am a French’s yellow mustard guy. I am also a Heinz Ketchup and a Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce guy

Knowing name brands or knowing the chef gives one the confidence to buy their products, simply because you know the quality of the product. 3 years ago I became a coffee roaster. Now I will only buy, roast and sell the world’s finest coffee. We have made sure that our brand Tap Dancers specialty Coffee has become synonymous with that of high quality.

If you have not finished trying and experimenting with coffees, why not try our product and see if you are ready to make Tap Dancers Specialty coffee the one you stick with for life.

The Power of Three

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The number 3 has had significant meaning throughout history.  Time itself is divided into 3….past, present and future.  “According to Jewish law, once something is done three times it is considered a permanent thing.” – Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian). The ministry of Jesus lasted 3 years on Earth and His resurrection was on the third day….3 is definitely a victorious number. It’s exciting to think about our company as permanent and victorious.

Although it feels more like a little while ago that we made the decision to start Tap Dancers Specialty coffee. We are officially 3 years old this month (March 2015).

Last anniversary we talked about the past and the lessons learned through our mistakes. While it is important to remember times like smoking up the entire warehouse so bad I couldn’t see the other side of the warehouse, this year we are way more excited about our future and what it will bring.

At present, we are excited and frankly dumbfounded at times to be invited to participate in more and more events. Instead of us going out and finding where to market our coffee, things are coming to us. We even get to be a picky about which events we choose. We have a ways to go and we are absolutely grateful for this journey that we get to experience. We are even more grateful for people like you who are encouraging us and cheering on to our next levels. It makes us want to be better at everything we do.

I used to joke that we are “almost world famous”, but recently I checked on where our emails are read and we were humbled to discover that we have people from as far away as Japan, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and South Africa that read these emails. We also have several countries represented in our Facebook profile including The Philippines, Sweden and Serbia. This year our coffee has actually been sent to and enjoyed in The Bahamas!

We have developed a great relationship with a direct buyer from Guatemala and currently we are in the beginning stages of developing relationships with folks from Mexico and Colombia. In just three years I can say that Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee has become known throughout the world.

What is our goal this year besides growing and keeping our commitment to the world’s finest coffee roasted fresh for you?  We hope to begin to make more positive differences in our local community and our world by supporting organizations that help individuals and families get to their next level. After all, isn’t that one of the purposes which we were created for….making a positive difference?

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.

 

Agile and Flexible

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During my time as a stock broker, I watched new startups try to take on their big established competitors. The successful startups had two characteristics that set them apart.  They were agile and flexible.  Agility is an ability to think quickly and to be mentally acute or aware. Flexibility is the susceptibility of modification or adaptation.

The story of David and Goliath is a great example. Goliath was a giant who spent his life in warfare. He had the finest weaponry available and armament to match his extensive combat training. When David made the decision to battle Goliath, established wisdom (in the person of King Saul) told him to take on the same type of armor and weapons.  But David knew he could not win the battle by matching Goliath’s method of battle.  He was an accomplished warrior in his own environment and he understood that he needed to depend on what worked for him (slingshot, stones and trust in God).  We all know how that story ended.

For Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee to become successful, we understand that we have to be agile and flexible. Our agility comes in our unique marketing efforts.  We ask you to try our coffee. We know our coffee is the finest coffee sold in Omaha so the next step is to have you order a bag.  Receiving a bag of our “specialty grade, roast to order, personalized door to door service coffee” for such a great price point is difficult for folks to really comprehend.  We cannot deny that we are trying to court our customers to fall in love with what we do and with our coffee.

The next step progression for a customer is to become a regular subscriber.  Here is where we show off our flexibility. We offer more options to our subscribers than what is available online. Along with weekly or bi-weekly orders, we also are able to accommodate anyone’s preference (once every three weeks, monthly or some other option). We offer the option of a 16 ounce bag exclusively to our subscribers, because for some of them, a 12 ounce bag will not last them long enough between deliveries.

My wife has shown an even deeper level of flexibility because she works with people’s budgets when it comes to gifts.  She has created everything from custom $15.00 gift bags to $200.00 extravagant baskets.

Because we are truly agile and flexible, we are able to adapt to your specific needs and wants, instead of us dictating to you how to buy our coffee.  We love leaving the power of options where it belongs….in the hands of our customers.

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.

This blog was very difficult for me to write, because the deep temptation to name names and rant about the cheap packaging many other coffee roasters use was difficult to overcome.  I am maturing to the place where I will not go there in formal communications.  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.

Third Wave Coffee

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We are in the Third Wave Coffee era, here’s what that means.

Specialty grade coffee first got its name in 1974 by Ms. Erna Knutsen, now considered “The Grand Old Lady of Specialty Coffee”.

At the turn of the century, I discovered specialty grade coffee after years of searching for that great cup of coffee.   A few years later I became a home roaster, and shortly after that, I dreamt of owning my own specialty coffee roasting business.

Up until now, small roasters like me had a bit of an identity crisis and did not know what to call ourselves.  Several names were tried i.e. craft roasting, old world roasting, artisanal roasting, micro-roasting. But none of them seem to fit.

Led by the big three (Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea of Chicago Il, Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland Or, and Counter Culture Coffee of Durham NC) “third wave coffee roasters” became the term that is widely accepted for what we are doing.

Third Wave Coffee

The excepted definition of third wave coffee is accredited to Pulitzer Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold who in 2008 wrote, “The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet’s and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”

The major knock on this wonderful high-end coffee is the elitism and snobbery that is quite often associated with the coffee.

Our goal from the beginning has always been to introduce specialty grade coffee to Omaha and let it be available to anyone and everyone who enjoys a great cup of coffee.

Our business model of having a warehouse instead of a retail location, relying on word of mouth versus expensive advertising, roasting to order and free delivery in the metro area, means we are able to offer a superior product at an affordable price.  Mostly, this enables folks from all walks of life to enjoy and experience this “third wave”.

To make it even more accessable, we have even created a Mobile Coffee Shop!

Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee, roasted fresh for you is simply the finest specialty grade coffee you can buy…….minus the snobbery. We are hoping you will jump on this third wave coffee ride, you won’t be disappointed.

Best Coffee Roaster: Best of Omaha Winners Circle 2015

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7 BEST OF OMAHA MOB

Our marketing team, Basik Studios, asked me to write a blog on Tap Dancers Specialty Coffee being voted Best of Omaha 2015 second place in the category of Best Coffee Roaster. Before I go any further I want acknowledge that they have done a tremendous job helping us build our brand and market share.

This has been one of the more difficult blogs to write. Do I give the first place people props for winning? Do I say “Thank you for your vote”, even if I’m not sure the blog readers have voted? Do I try and sound humble?… “Ah shucks, it is just an honor to be nominated let alone win something.”

After giving much thought to these and other questions the answer is NO! Maxine and I are absolutely bursting with pride. To us it is the equivalent of parents watching their teenager win a silver medal at the Olympics. We were the 60-1 horse placing in one of the Triple Crown races. When voting got started this past July we were just over two years old and competing with several other coffee roasters who have been in business for decades. Just like the lyrics in the song “High Hopes”:

 

Just what makes that little old ant

Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes

 

We knew our business model of importing the world’s finest coffee, roasting to order each week and then delivering this fresh roasted coffee to your front door at no extra charge, would take time to catch on in Omaha.  Being in the winner’s circle of Best of Omaha so early in our business life is a true confirmation that we are going in the right direction. We are so happy to share this recognition with each of you and look forward to becoming better and better at what we do each year. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.

Winter Coffee Line Up

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As I have said in the past, the only constant is change.  But in our case, we embrace the changes because although it may mean saying good-bye to a coffee we have loved, we get to introduce new coffees that we love.

All of the coffees I import are from small farms and co-ops that are committed to growing specialty grade coffees.  In the coffee industry, the coffee produced from these small farms and co-ops are call micro-lots.  Last spring, we bought all of Kenya Gathinja’s coffee crop, which was our largest single purchase.  At the time, we projected it would last us until next spring but our sales exceeded our expectations and we sold out of the coffee 2 weeks ago.  Although we will miss Kenya Gathinja, we have found a new Kenyan coffee that we are excited about….Kenya Kiambara. The new Kenyan, while slightly different, has the same flavor profile as the Gathinja so there will not be too much of an adjustment for our Kenyan Gathinja lovers.

We are also introducing our new Honduras Raos Royal Decaf.  The mountain water decaffeination process is the best process to decaffeinate a coffee and to make sure the flavor is retained.

Lastly, we also have our new Guatemala blend readily available. We have taken our new Guatemala Blend out to test market at the pass few events and it has been very well received.

Here is our new and familiar coffee line-up that we will have available throughout this winter:

KENYA KIAMBARA MEDIUM

Kenya Kiambara medium roast: Bright and tangy, sparkling citric grapefruit acidity, with a pronounced herbal character in a stout and vibrant cup, without a bitter aftertaste. This is our strongest coffee.

KENYA KIAMBARA DARK

Kenya Kiambara dark roast: Earthy, smoky flavor that hits the sides of your tongue with hints of mocha. A very creamy, smooth and balanced coffee with a warm aftertaste. A true dessert coffee when milk and sugar are added and is perfect for making iced coffee.

HONDURAS RAOS ROYAL

Honduras Raos Royal Decaf: This is a medium body coffee with lovely sweet cocoa notes finishes with a pleasant clean aftertaste. Certified fair trade and organic. Decaffeination done by Royal Select Water process, which is recognized as the finest process available.

GUATEMALA BLEND

Guatemala Blend: By using three special roast profiles we have created this delightfully yummy blend. Carmelly sweet chocolate with notes of crisp citrus and a hint of nuttiness.

GUATEMALA ANDRINA

Guatemala Andrina: Medium body coffee with notes of milk chocolate. This delightful coffee has a touch of sweetness and finishes with a pleasant lingering after taste.

GUATEMALA BEATRIZ

Guatemala Beatriz: Medium body coffee starts with a crisp lemony tartness and is followed by a mellow peach undernotes. Finishes very refreshing.

ETHIOPIA QUEEEN CITY

Ethiopia Queen City: A very complex sun dried medium body coffee with notes of apricots and mangoes and exotic spices of cloves and cinnamon.

ESPRESSO BLEND

Espresso Blend:  We found the right combination that blends the boldness of our Kenya Gathinja Medium with the sweetness of the Guatemala Beatriz and combined them with our rich chocolate Guatemala Adrina for complexity.

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