Coffee Express

Providing great service to coffee houses and other specialty retailers in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana

Monthly Archives / July 2014

A Life and a Legacy in Tea

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By all accounts, John Harney’s last day was a good one… featuring strawberries.

John was an early and energetic riser, frequently preparing a hearty breakfast for the latest in the endless stream of visitors to his 200 year old house near the center of Sharon, CT at the edge of the Berkshires. He would then walk briskly through the town, greeting neighbors, and patronizing merchants. John always walked briskly, attacking flights of stairs as if there was a prize at the top.

On this day, John encountered a crop of exceptional strawberries at a roadside stand and bought the lot. The afternoon was spent distributing those strawberries to the 160 plus employees at the Harney and Sons Tea factory in Millerton, NY. This was a personal task, from the office staff in the front, to the shipping line in the back. He would look at the labels on the boxes and share stories about the customers.

Mr. Harney died that night, Tuesday, June 17. He did not linger. That would not have been his style. He was 83 years old.

John’s young life was not one of privilege, but he distinguished himself in The Marines, in Cornell University’s School of Hospitality, as an innkeeper, in his community, his church, and ultimately as a champion of the American tea industry.

John loved family and friends above all things. His beloved wife, Elyse, five children, and many grandchildren will carry on John’s legacy of generosity, charity, good humor, hospitality, and fine tea.

His wake was attended by thousands from the local community, every corner of the country, and beyond. After the burial there was a Bar-BQ with a Jazz band in the Harney’s beautiful back yard. Strawberry shortcake was served.

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Cultivars

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Also referred to as coffee varieties or varietals, most sub-species of coffee are cultivars, which means cultivated, or selectively bred – “single origin” simply indicates that the coffee is from one specific geographic location. Some species are native, some are intentional hybrids, and some are mutations that occurred naturally (but those differences are for a more extensive discussion than I have time for here). Types of cultivars available today include Typica, Catuai, Bourbon, Caturra, Pacamara, Geisha, Mundo Novo, and Maragogype, among others. These cultivars are from the Arabica, not Robusta, plant.

[Even though right here is not the logical spot to throw this in, I want to challenge the constantly repeated “coffee is second only to oil as a traded commodity.” It’s not second – on one list, it comes in around 25th. OK. . . got that off my chest.. – TI]

It is of utmost importance for growers to match a cultivar with geography. Soil composition, elevation, rainfall, sun, and shade all play a part. Cup quality, yield and resistance to disease – such as leaf rust – also inform the decision as to which varieties will work best.

Most Arabica coffees encountered are Caturra and Catuai. Mundo Novo is prevalent, but only because Brazil is by far the largest grower of coffee. Colombia has Caturra, Typica, Bourbon, and Maragogype. Pacamara is from El Salvador and came from a cross between a Bourbon mutation called Pacas and the huge “elephant bean” Maragogype.

Lately Typica and Geisha, both of which can be grown pretty much anywhere in the “Bean Belt”, hold the most panache. Geisha especially has been winning awards and is pricey, but not offered with any regularity. I was in Jamaica in 1983 with a brand new video camera, and still have my VHS tape of an official from the country’s Coffee Industry Board explaining the difference between Typica and Geisha. I’ll get it posted here very soon!

Cultivar, elevation and processing descriptions come with our Microlot coffees. If you want information on some of our other offerings, ask Genevieve, Sue, or Joyce, and they will try to get an answer for you.