Plainspoken Coffee. A Coffee Review for Ordinary People by Ordinary People, #13. Audubon Premium Shade Grown Coffees. A review in our conservation organization coffee series.
The National Audubon Society promotes a small line of “habitat-friendly certified organic premium shade grown” coffees*, which are available at some supermarkets, and via their Audubon Coffee Club web site. All the coffees are Rainforest Alliance certified. They are distributed by Rogers Family Company, whose other brands include San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee, The Organic Coffee Co., Fairwinds Coffee, Cunningham’s Coffee, Pleasant Hill Farms Quality Coffee, and East India Coffee and Tea. Rogers Family Company only buys beans from “farms that have demonstrated an interest in environmental responsibility” and in fact, owns at least two plantations.
Several kinds of Audubon coffee are offered: a Breakfast Blend, Rainforest Blend, French Roast and Decaf, and can be purchased ground or whole bean at the web site. Nowhere on the web site or package can you determine the country of origin of these coffees, much less a region or farm (although they may be sourced at least in part from the Rogers Family Panamanian farms). Nor do you get a choice of roast. A roast level is not indicated on the package, but on the web site, away from the individual product pages, it notes that beans are “roasted to their fullest flavor point – a little darker than most coffees.” (Update: the web site is now much more thorough, and the coffees are now certified organic and 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.)
In my local grocery store, Audubon coffee was only available ground, at about $9.50 for 12 oz. I purchased the Breakfast Blend, featuring the John James Audubon portrait of a Red-shouldered Hawk on the label. An interesting (odd?) choice of bird, as many populations are not migratory, and those that do winter in the northern tropics are found in lowlands and avoid higher elevations, where most coffee would be grown.
The bottom of my package indicated it was distributed by JBR Gourmet Foods, Inc. JBR changed its name to Rogers Family Company in late 2005. I hoped this coffee wasn’t that old!
As luck would have it, there were many people hanging around the day we tried this coffee, so we had a lot of opinions. Most of us were unenthusiastic. The most frequent comment was that it tasted over-roasted, burnt, and bitter. Even fresh, it kind of tasted like coffee that had been left cooking in the pot too long. It was quite acidic, but left a “hairy” feeling on the tongue. For the tasting panel regulars, it was not much beyond diner coffee.
Ergo, regular reviewers gave this coffee a very low score, averaging 1.25 motmots. Two reviewers who frequently drink grocery store coffee liked it more, and their average score was 2.5 motmots. This was an interesting result, and indicates that this coffee might be a “step up” for ordinary coffee drinkers and convince them to switch to sustainable coffee. However, I expect that many people would need to be farm more impressed to spend the extra money. It is probably better fresher, or whole bean, but alas, I picked this up the way many people might — off the shelf of a busy grocery store.
I’d like to try this fresher, and whole bean, via the coffee club, or hear from folks who have tried it this way.
*There is some interesting history to this coffee. According to “Sustainable Coffee at the Crossroads” (Rice and McLean, Consumers Choice Council, 1999), Audubon originally sold the very first coffee using Smithsonian’s Bird-Friendly certification criteria, around 1997. It was originally roasted by Boyd’s Coffee and called Cafe Audubon. Audubon dumped it because they were not happy with the sales and marketing revenue.