Wiz Kelefa: New Yorker Profiles Aida Batlle
In the issue dropping November 21st, The New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh profiles Aida Batlle, “the Lady Gaga of Coffee”. (Aida’s words, not his – he calls her “a fifth-generation coffee grower and first-generation coffee celebrity”, which is accurate and all, but kind of bland.)
The New Yorker won’t let you read the whole story until you A. “Activate access to the issue in question” for $5.99, B. “Subscribe now to the complete online archive for just $1.28 an issue” (not bad on the per rag rate, sure, but they make you buy a year’s worth, which tops out at $59.99), or C. wait until next week and pick one up at your local newsstand. The choice is yours, but in case you’re weighing pricing options, be aware that Mr. Sennah’s feature is titled “Sacred Grounds”, a galling bit of remedial-level coffee journalism homonym hijinks destined for neither Pulitzer Prize nor Sprudgie Award.
Apparently the iPad app version of this feature has an exclusive Counter Culture Coffee video component, something we’re gonna try to exclusively rip and make available to you in the next few days, dear readers. In the meantime, here’s the abstract looky-loo free version of the feature currently available online:
In 2003, and Batlle decided to enter El Salvador’s inaugural Cup of Excellence competition. Coffee from Finca Kilimanjaro, one of her farms, impressed the panel of judges. At auction, a Norwegian roaster [SprudgeNote: Solberg & Hansen] paid $14.06 per pound for Batlle’s coffee. The auction earned Batlle almost forty thousand dollars. More important, the publicity introduced Batlle to the coffee buyers she calls the “dream team”: Peter Giuliano, from Counter Culture Coffee; Thompson Owen, the mad scientist behind Sweet Maria’s, in Oakland; and Duane Sorenson, the founder of Stumptown, in Portland, Oregon. Batlle’s success has to do with culture as well as agriculture: she speaks unaccented English, she isn’t intimidated by coffee connoisseurs, and she understands foodie culture in the global North. Plenty of farmers have great land and great cherry, but almost none of them share Batlle’s keen understanding of what her customers want to drink, what they want to hear, and what they’re willing to pay. Writer accompanies Batlle on a visit to Stumptown’s New York roasting facility in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Discusses the history of coffee cultivation, marketing, and consumption. The farmer-obsessed coffee movement that has arisen over the past decade is sometimes called the “third wave,” to distinguish it from the European-inspired, espresso-oriented second wave, which produced Starbucks. (In this model, the first wave would be the enthusiasm of a century ago, which created national brands like Folgers and Maxwell House.) “Third wave” is an imprecise term, and in some ways a misleading one, since it reduces hundreds of years of coffee history to a few decades of American whims.