Birds & Beans now available

by JulieCraves on February 21, 2009

The Birds & Beans: The Good Coffee web site is now up and running. Since I posted about this initiative, which offers only Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified coffee, there have been a few tweaks and changes.

  • The price is a tad higher than first announced: two pounds for $19.25 plus shipping.
  • Looks like you can subscribe from anywhere in the U.S., not just New England (Canadian customers should order from Birds & Beans Canada, which has a wider choice of coffees and no subscription restrictions).
  • Right now, they do not seem to be putting the country of origin on any of the bags, and only mentioning Colombia as the origin of the medium-roast coffee on the web site. This might mean they will source from various Bird-Friendly certified farms and focus on a flavor profile. Personally, I think promoting specific origins is a critical part of educating the public. I also think that birders, to whom this line is targeted, would be especially enthusiastic and receptive to the specific stories behind some of the Bird-Friendly certified farms. So much research has been done at some of them, they could put a bird list and photos on the web site — and birders, of all consumers, would totally get this. Big missed marketing opportunity, in my opinion.

There is an attractive page with photos of eight species of migratory birds. I assume that there will be some sort of text accompanying them at some point, as they aren’t even identified. They are all migratory species that breed in North America and winter in the tropics, but not all species that depend on, or even winter in, coffee farms. There are also nice bios of the bird conservationists that have been supporting this effort.

We have been trying out all three varieties of Birds & Beans coffees this week. I had intended on posting a longer review later, but since I will be in Nicaragua when the trial period expires, it looks like now is the time to fire off our first impressions. I won’t rate them with motmots, since they have not been tasted by as many people yet as usual.

These were all roasted by Wicked Joe. No roast date on the package.

The “Scarlet Tanager” dark roast is really dark. Starbucks fans, line up here. I was told this is currently from Peru, and aside from a few small microlots sometimes offered by other roasters, I have yet to meet a Peruvian coffee I really like. So this was not my cup, but I did find it very smooth for such a dark roast. Folks who liked a darker roast in our office that have tried it so far were happy with it.

The medium roast “Chestnut-sided Warbler” was perhaps a tad on the dark side of medium, with all beans showing an oil sheen and many oil spots. There was evidence on some beans that it had been roasted too rapidly (this creates little divots in the beans where rapid expansion pops a hunk off). I presume the actual origin of this is Mesa de los Santos, which has long been the only Bird-Friendly certified farm in Colombia. We’ve reviewed and commented on this origin previously, so I won’t go into the details here. This coffee garnered the most diverse comments. A few wished it had been just a tad lighter so some of the more sweeter tones would emerge. Others got the sweetness right away, and pegged a cherry-like fruit flavor. It was smooth and quite bright for a medium/dark roast.

The light roast “Wood Thrush” was the winner of the group. As of this writing, it is sourced from Mexico, and had the chocolate sweetness one expects from this origin. It was especially good in a French press, where it had character and some complexity. Brewed, it was just a nice, pleasant classic Latin American cup. Overall, it just had more going on in the cup than the other two.

The primary audience for these coffees is birders. Most birders I know drink a lot of dark, pedestrian coffee. I think they will find the Birds & Beans coffee a real step up, but not too different from the flavor and roast profiles they are accustomed to, or so exotic that they don’t “get it.” The “Wood Thrush” will also please those that have somewhat more refined palates. All the coffees should completely satisfy people who really care about habitat and biodiversity preservation and want it fully represented in their cup.

If you try these coffees, please leave some impressions in the comments — both on the taste and your thoughts on the web site and “theme.” I’m especially interested in what birders think!

Revised on December 13, 2019

Posted in Retail and specialty roasters,Smithsonian Bird-Friendly

Brenton Head February 21, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I hope that Birds and Beans will be posting their coffees overseas as well. Caring about bird conservation is a worldwide concern. A lot of people are donating to the World Land Trust UK and US to conserve bird populations throughout the Americas. I would rather pay some postage and never have to support the Multinational Coffee companies ever again. I have been getting coffees from the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in California. The Mountain Gorilla and Cerulean Warbler coffees. These are all exciting developments. Brenton.

Julie February 22, 2009 at 8:32 am

Brenton, I know this particular initiative isn't shipping to the UK.

Smithsonian has had trouble getting into the UK market. There are two roasters in the UK I can recommend that do a very nice job of sourcing coffee and have good descriptions of the farms to help you evaluate them: HasBean and Square Mile Coffee Roasters. I have not seen that they sell certified shade coffees, but neither does Thanksgiving Coffee Company (their shade coffees are "self-certified"), if that is a requirement for you.

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