Thursday, April 28, 2011

High birding standards, even higher coffee standards.

I've done a lot of birding in my day. In fact,  I've been doing it from the age of about 10. Except that period where I was to cool for it in high school. Sadly, looking back, I never should have taken that hiatus. It did nothing to help the fact that I wasn't the cool kid in school. What it did do is hinder my ability to soak up information like scientific names and bird song when my brain was a great big sponge. Nowadays, it's hard work learning that shit.

In all those years of birding I remember two things most. One; every lifer and where it was seen. Two; birders always had a Tim Horton's coffee with them. Back then, it was all you could get really. But now, I cringe every time I see a birder drinking it. If you are serious about birding, you must be serious about bird conservation. I mean, even if you are nothing more than a lister, you should be into conservation. If for no other reason than to ensure the growth of your list. If you are purely a lister, I encourage you to take it to another level. You can still grow your list whilst really getting to know birds.

I might sound a little hypocritical there because this blog is about a guy doing a big year. That might be true but I'm not really a lister. I have other ideas that are at the heart of this documentary I'm trying to make; Like removing the myth that birders are all the same, and bringing bird conservation to a new audience. The only real list I have is the one I'm making this year. I do have a collection of google images I keep for myself of every bird I've seen anywhere in the world. But I only use it as a reminder of that day or trip. There's no life list that physically exists.

Now, back to coffee. Has anyone actually tasted that 'road' coffee? It's terrible. Nothing more than dirty water really. And worst of all, it's not good for our feathered friends (or the habitat they live in). I also doubt it's great for the farmers in countries it comes from. Any large corporation will do what they can to seem like do-gooders but they aren't. We'd be naive to think that profit isn't king.

My wife jokingly scorns me for being a snob. Frankly, with certain things, I am. And often, I'm proud of my snobbery. Food is one of them. I won't eat pre-packaged food. It's just not worth the money or the time saved. I'd rather spend every waking moment cooking and cleaning dishes than feed my kids a single meal of pre-packaged food. Not to mention I proudly support the farms that my town is surrounded by. Coffee is the other thing. With coffee, I'm something of a SUPER SNOB! Ask anyone I know, I'm sure they'll tell you at length how I am about coffee. And not in that contrived advertising-created 'coffee moment' way. I just want a better tasting product for my very hard earned money, preferably with less negative environmental impact.

If you know anything about coffee, you know it's naturally an undergrowth plant. Meaning it's meant to grow under the shade of other plants and trees. People being people, we just didn't think we were getting enough yield from that natural way of growing coffee. So, we set about modifying the plant to grow it in massive clear cut fields. We probably knew this was wrong, but profit would go up, up, up. So we started flattening forests and making beautiful (looking) green fields of coffee. Those fields DO look quite beautiful in a photo. Lots of green leaves and so on. The problem is, those beautiful expanses of green are lifeless. Or at least not nearly as full of life as they were when the natural forest was standing.

People started drinking shade grown coffee to 'help the environment'. And that was a good start; at least we were caring. The problem is education. To get shade grown certification, you don't need many shade trees on a coffee farm. And by not many, I mean you could have just one or two - or another crop - none of which actually provides good habitat. That's obviously not enough to make as much of a difference as we need to. It's possible to buy coffee from plantations with, on average, 40% shade trees with a variety of native trees and a variety of heights - makes sense when you think about where you see different birds in the forest. To learn everything you need to know about bird-friendly certification, visit The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Full-sun Coffee plantation. Looks pretty, but it used to be a jungle.

Certified bird-friendly coffee plantation.
Enter Birds and Beans triple certified coffee. Certified organic, certified bird friendly, certified fair trade and rainforest alliance. They even roast it with Bullfrog Power green energy. These people are environmentalists at heart that found a great way to do some good. Let's face it, if it's good for the planet, it's often viewed as the hard way for people. Not so with Birds and Beans. Here is a way you can do good environmentally whilst getting a superior product in the process. It's good all around; you get a WAY better cup of coffee, the environment gets a much deserved break and farmers are paid properly for their efforts. It encourages farmers to go the organic, natural route and preserve their natural environment as a result of us paying them better. Win, win and win.

org_logo_smBirds and Beans are certified organic by Ecocert to offer our certified organic coffees.
bird_friendly_coffeeThey are licensed with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to offer Certified Bird Friendly® coffees.
logo_fairtradeThey are licensed with Transfair Canada to offer Certified Fair Trade coffees.
ra_smAnd they are licensed with the Rainforest Alliance to offer Rainforest Alliance certified coffees.

Here's my recipe for the perfect cup of coffee. I only make mine with the Aerobie AeroPress. $39 dollars very well spent. Since I got it, I haven't used my drip machine even once.

Boil some water with your kettle. Sure there's a perfect temperature it should be but I don't worry too much. I boil some water and let it sit for 10 minutes in the kettle to cool a bit.

Grind just enough Birds and Beans coffee for that one cup. Two scoops with the AeroPress scoop. Don't you dare buy pre-ground coffee. Do it yourself. And only enough for each cup you drink (enter the coffee snob). Sometimes, on weekends when I have the time, I even grind it by hand using our manual grinder. Warning: this adds at least 10-15 minutes to making a cup but it smells sooooo good, you use less energy and gain a tiny bit of exercise in the process.

Insert the little filter. 

Place your press onto the cup you love.

Put your freshly ground Birds and Beans coffee into the press.

Pour your slightly cooled boiling water in. 

Stir it with the provided stir-stick for about ten seconds.

Then press it slowly. Take about 15-20 seconds to press it. Don't rush. If you're making coffee this way, you clearly have the extra seconds to spare.

Remove the press, discard the coffee and tiny paper filter into your bucket to go out to the compost in your back yard.

You've just made yourself a perfect espresso coffee. If you prefer a full cup, just fill the rest of your cup with more kettle water.

Having finished that, you can go outside and wait for the birds to wake up while you have your advertising-prescribed 'coffee moment'. The various chirping sounds you hear are the birds thanking you for caring.

You can learn everything you need to about ditching corporate coffee (basically just dirty water) and switching to the better way here.
If you happen to live in the USA, try

Images used were provided by Birds and Beans (except the coffee making process, those were shot by my wife, Rachel).


  1. I've been drinking Kicking Horse out of B.C. for the past year and contacted them wondering if they were going to get Smithsonian certified. There coffee is shade grown but it never occurred to me what that could actually mean. Great post!

  2. Crystal. I can't speak for their product but it's an important distinction to be sure about when buying coffee. Please, pass this on to all your coffee drinking friends.

  3. Question for you Crystal. What was their response to your query?

  4. I was told that they were looking into applying for it since their coffee was shade grown and bird friendly. Their coffee is great but after this pound I'm going to order some Birds and Beans to try. There is also The Atwood Blend available that benefits the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, that will be next after the Birds and Beans.

  5. I am going to visit the PIBO in the beginning of May. Be sure to look out for that post. there will be several posts. i am there for 8 days. can't wait.