Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Consolidation: Peet's Buys Stumptown

While the illustration above pretty well sums up what many in the trade think Stumptown has done, the only thing that surprises me about this news (you can read more here) is that it's taken this long. 

Dare we hope that Portland and environs finally gets some coffee that's actually seen the inside of a drum roaster past first pop? Probably not, but joking aside Peet's scale and tremendous sourcing expertise, access to capital and infrastructure will be huge plusses for Stumptown. 

Of course cold brew is the main reason given for the buy, but what one wishes Peet's would get out of this, in carefully reviewing Stumptown's marketing of its coffee, is a reminder of the focused, product-driven and passionate company it itself once was and could be again. Unfortunately the legendary Berkeley-based firm has utterly and totally lost its way, going from a product-driven purist of the highest order to a faltering, unfocused marketing-driven machine with said marketing reflecting no discernible strategy or position. In selling their souls they didn't even get a good price and went out with a whimper not a bang. 

The procession of boneheaded moves in recent years at Peet's is beyond counting, but includes acknowledging third wave farm-to-cup positioning by disclosing the name of exactly one farm (San Sebastian in Antigua) on its menu board; halfheartedly offering a couple of medium roasts and exactly one light one after three decades of "deep" roasting; utterly abandoning even the pretense of having the quality of the non-coffee items sold match that of the coffee;  and most recently trashing one of the best whole leaf tea brands in American retail history in favor of flavored crap under the Mighty Leaf label. 

Here's hoping they do indeed leave Stumptown alone as they've said they'd do (of course Starbucks said the same thing about The Coffee Connection and we all know how that turned out). 

Stay tuned for further mergers and acquisitions. 

Caffè Terzi, Bologna

One of the producers of the video below sent it along to me and I thought it was worth posting for several reasons - not the least being that if your only exposure to espresso in the U.S. is either the mega-chains or Third Wave places you'd have no idea of the sensibility that underlies espresso in its native land. 

The gentleman featured in this clip unquestionably knows his coffee and his art, and how refreshing to see beans in the doser-grinder hoppers that are neither oily and incinerated or (a la Stumptown, Water Street and the sorry rest) a Folgers shade of sickly tan, but instead optimally developed for the brewing method in use. 

The next thing you'll notice if you pay close attention is that the ~7 gram dose for a single shot going into the portafilter looks like nothing compared to the overfilled triple baskets in use stateside, and after you're done being shocked (or in my case delighted) by that you can see the master barista brewing shots into demitasses already containing the proper amount of sugar, which is actually required (as Dr. Illy taught us long ago) to bring the coffee into balance and reveal all of the flavors present. 

Most of the trade in the U.S. looks down on Italian espresso as something it has long since transcended, when the reality is the most knowledgeable practitioners of blending, roasting and brewing there have forgotten more about excellence in coffee and cuisine altogether than the self-styled leading lights in the U.S. will ever know. 

Caffè Terzi