Movie Screening of "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" and Monk speaking on Tibet

Hey all,

So on April 15th, prior to our screening of "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama" (highly recommended), we had a monk from the Drepung Gomang Institute speak about the current situation in Tibet. He spoke for about thirty minutes, and answered questions following the film, although afterwards he deferred to the Dalai Lama for the best answers.

The Dalai Lama does support the olympics, and doesn't want to deprive the people of China of having it in their country. Nor does he want the athletes to be punished. Nor does he call for a boycott of Chinese goods, because it would lead to suffering by the people of China. And of course he doesn't want violence. I personally find it interesting and sadly amusing to hear Chinese political leaders calling him a terrorist or similar. But we know how that word can be misused by leaders (such as Mr. Bush and his allies). I am encouraged by recent moves by China to meet with the Dalai Lama's envoys, and hope progress will be made, in no small part due to public pressure and grass roots protests, like the ones we had on Bardstown Road!

Cheers...and keep up the activism people..it really does work if you stay organized and "never give up!"


Great American Meatout at Ray's Monkey House

Hey, free vegan food is hard to resist, so we had a great turnout for the annual Great American Meatout at Ray's Monkey House, sponsored by Earthsave. Between Nate handing out cupcakes (asking people "would you like a vegetarian cupcake?" he got a few funny looks, because people may think "as opposed to a meat-filled one?") and the college kids visiting from CUNY playing guitar for our open mic, it was a fun evening all around...

Here are some pix: (pretty sure the date was Mar 21st)

Thailand Trip ! Coffee, Thai wedding, elephants, bro, etc..

Jody and I made it to Thailand for a brief visit Feb 27-Mar 10th! We visited a bunch of coffee shops, one roaster, one coffee processing plant, visited my brother in Chiang Mai, had a traditional Thai wedding, went to an Elephant rescue sanctuary, and a bunch of other stuff....so we were busy, but it was great!

Here is a writeup of my "coffee stuff" plus a few pictures and a link to my other coffee pictures. More pix available upon request...

When I got off the plane in Bangkok I had only had Starbucks coffee for the past 24hours. From the Louisville airport kiosks (where their workers are no longer permitted to accept tips), to the three flights on United Airlines (which serves only Starbucks) I had few options. It was better than the airplane coffee of the old days, but it left me looking forward to exploring the coffees of Thailand, and Chiang Mai up north in particular. That was where I was headed.

Bangkok had plenty of coffee, mostly espresso or americanos for me. Soy milk was hard to come by, which didn’t bother me – I seldom drink anything but black coffee – but it did bother my wife, Jody, who as a vegan doesn’t drink cow milk. Our guest house had instant coffee in the room, and a coffeemaker with local (Chiang Mai) beans for breakfast and during the day. The owner explained that she no longer used Starbucks beans because they were too expensive. Our most pleasant coffee was probably an indie place on the river, where I had a double espresso. Price was just under $2 (55 baht).

On to Chiang Mai, far in the north near Cambodia and Laos. My brother had just moved there (days earlier) from Beijing, and we were set to be married in a traditional Northern Thailand Buddhist wedding at the end of the week. The husband of our wedding coordinator, an expat from BC Canada who had lived in Chiang Mai for 20 years, knew quite a bit about the history of the local coffee industry. Here is some information that I extracted from him: (in no way fact-checked or verified, but Simon does almost qualify as a local now)

History of Coffee in Chiang Mai, according to Simon:
In the 80’s, an NGO, the German Thai Highland Projects brought coffee trees to the hills outside of Chiang Mai. Originally, they only had lowland Robusta. Quite a bit was planted, and before long there was coffee. But they quickly realized that there was no infrastructure to get the coffee out. Nobody was buying it. Then a dutch guy – Gerald – came in and started to roast and sell locally. He was married to a member of the Lahu hill tribe, and lived there as well. He got it going in a few restaurants, but the market was still very limited. But others noticed his coffee, and started copying. So before long several roasters sprang up.

Gerald died in the early to mid 90’s, with the Chiang Mai coffee industry still in its infancy. Gerald sold his business to JJ Coffee. There was also Duong Dee Hill Tribe coffee, which began selling packaged coffee at grocery stores. Before Duong Dee, local coffee had pretty much only been sold in restaurants. Bon Café started marketing heavily strictly to hotels.

Starbucks came to town in the mid to late 90’s, located at the Night Bazaar. They chose a spot that would give them heavy visibility to tourists. For them, it was largely a marketing location. From then on, trendy coffee spots began popping up, and gradually spread throughout the town.

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are now almost entirely Arabica beans, with Robusta being produced down south.

One funny story about Starbucks early days is that they introduced a “hill tribe blend” and on the packaging used the logo from Duong Dee Coffee. They eventually came up with their own local blend.

Well, that is the abbreviated history according to Simon.

I was personally surprised at the sheer number of slick trendy coffeeshops around town. One stretch of road had one every half block. They appeared to be fancy Starbucks clones, with very few distinguishing features. Their clientele was almost all locals. Also, around town, one could find coffee nearly every block in small stands. Many would have real single group espresso machines and proper commercial grinders. Some would have mediocre non-commercial machines, which of course produced inferior shots.

Many of the fancier shops had decent latte art, which impressed me. Their presentation was often quite nice. Some shops, and roadside stands even, would serve a cup of tea to cleanse your palate after the coffee. Very pleasant. The average store price for espresso was about 45 baht ($1.50) and a latte was 55 baht (just under $2.00). Coffee on the street ranged from 10 baht to 60 baht, usually 25-30 baht (just under $1.00). Nescafe instant coffee was widespread also.

Many stands also made what is called “Ancient Coffee” or “Bag Coffee.” This coffee is made by keeping a cloth sack (bag) in a medium size steel pitcher for a long period of time. More coffee and hot water were added periodically, but it seemed kind of like a very long-term French press, without the pressing. The resulting coffee ended up very black and almost smoky-like. Carnation “oil” (it had sort of an oily creamy consistency and appearance) is added first from a can or squeeze bottle. Then, Carnation condensed milk is added. Then it is filled with the black coffee and stirred. I actually liked the ancient coffee. My local stand in Chiang Mai sold me large cups (about 12+ oz) for 15 baht (fifty cents).

We managed to visit a local Roaster, and Coffeeshop … The roaster there, named Noi, gave me a tour of his roastery. He works on a small Probat, and L5, so it is basically identical to what we have at Rays, just smaller. He was very friendly, and I enjoyed his americanos. He had a special discounted price if you bought the banana pancakes with it. (highly recommended)

In general, I didn’t find the local espresso or americanos particularly good. I’m fairly spoiled by Ray’s Monkey House freshly roasted super high quality coffee. But it was extremely exciting to see a new and growing coffee industry taking root in Chiang Mai. I wish them the best of luck, and I’m sure they will get better and better. I took plenty of pictures, so here are a few!


More coffee-related pictures from my trip can be found at http://s67.photobucket.com/albums/h309/nimbusbeer/Thailand%2008%20coffee/

February Ice storm, and new vent stacks for the roaster

Well, anyone living in Louisville remembers the freaky weather from this winter. Tornadoes (twice) and ice storms (feels like a couple decent ones). Anyway, the first ice storm knocked down a big chunk of the old old tree in our backyard. Fortunately it landed between the house, shed, and parked vehicles (pickup truck and cruiser) and missed everything - even our compost bin...

The second ice storm resulted in a 7 am phone call from Jacob telling me the awning had collapsed. I hiked over from my house (two blocks) and sure enough the whole thing was on the ground blocking the front entrance. He had cleared a path on the side porch for people to get in. After a little warming and melting, and with a hand from someone next door at cumberland brews, we slid the 25 foot awning to the left of our shop where our other neighbor doesn't use their storefront and voila, a front door again.

It took the awning company a couple days to pick it up for repairs, and over two months to finish getting it back up there (and about 50 phone calls and ....you don't want to know). Contractors. Grumble. But it is finally up and finished (finished April 25th!).

Benjamin took some pictures of the awining in front, so I'll post them here soon...


Inside the shop, I was working on upgrading our roaster vent to increase airflow. I had it at the correct diameter according to the Probat spec manual, but acting on advice from the roaster over at Ritual Coffee in San Francisco, I went ahead and put in 8 inch pipe. Here are the pictures (I know, not too exciting for non-coffee geeks):



Finally a new post from me !!

Hi everyone!

I'm way way behind on posting here, so let me try to play catchup, starting from way way back in February. So much has happened - and fortunately I was taking pictures. I've just been too darn busy to put them onto photobucket and then drag them over here...anyway, excuses excuses so let me get rolling in chronological order: I'll split it up into multiple posts, that way I can make slow progress at least (after 1 am right now, so I don't expect to get done tonight...).

The good news is that Ray's is rolling right along, everyone is well, big exciting things are happening left and right, AND our baby is due any day now....