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January | February 2011

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From the Editor

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ON A RECENT MORNING, I was at my local grocery store trying to decide which bottle of vinegar to buy, when an odd tag caught my eye.

Hanging from the neck of one container was a card that read, “WARNING: This balsamic vinegar contains lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm.” For a moment, I stared at the bottle in disbelief. Then I replaced it on the shelf and chose another product to buy.

Warnings such as these are the result of California’s Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, which requires that businesses advise customers about substances on a state list that may cause cancer or reproductive harm. As I learned later, lead present in the soil can be absorbed into grapes, which are pressed and crafted into vinegar. Any balsamic or red wine vinegar containing elevated lead levels, or those manufacturers that decline to have their vinegars tested, must display a warning sign at point of sale in California.

What does this alarming warning have to do with coffee? As Roast’s publisher, Connie Blumhardt, pointed out in a column last year, quite a lot. Roasted coffee releases a natural chemical byproduct called acrylamide, which also happens to be a chemical used to make cements, dyes and paper products. Under Proposition 65, acrylamide is listed as a potential carcinogen, which means that purveyors of coffee in California could someday be required to post a warning similar to the label displayed on the vinegar bottle. In this issue of Roast, Robert F. Nelson, president and CEO of the National Coffee Association, explains why roasters and coffee retailers throughout the United States should be closely tracking Proposition 65. As the acrylamide story plays out in California, it’s important for our trade associations to advocate for the coffee industry—and keep consumers educated and excited about drinking coffee.

Also in this issue:

• K.C. O’Keefe delves into coffee grading analytics; in other words, how do cuppers test themselves to ensure that they’re calibrating with their peers in other roasteries and at origin? O’Keefe presents tips that will help you become a more consistent cupper.

• Jonathan Rosenthal explores Haiti’s past and contemplates the future of its coffee industry one year after the country was rocked by a devastating earthquake.

• Christopher Schooley begins another year with probing questions for coffee roasters in the Firestarters column. While small roasters are providing us with an abundance of entrepreneurial spirit and energy (not to mention lots of good coffee), it’s crucial to also recognize the larger-volume roasting companies for all that they can teach us about quality control, economies of scale, efficiency, dedication and originality—all while producing lots (and lots) of good coffee.
Throughout 2011, stay tuned for Schooley’s illuminating interviews with roasters at large coffee companies, including the first: Caribou Coffee’s Bill Anstedt.

Cheers,
Kelly


 
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