A Delicious Way to Support Ontario Nature!

We are excited to announce the introduction of our first Special Edition coffee, “Ontario Nature” Blend.  This is a special blend in many ways.  It is Triple Certified: Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and Organic, and like all of our coffees, is is roasted and packed using 100% green energy from Bullfrog Power. And, if that isn’t enough, we are taking it over the top, by donating $1.50 from the sale of each bag to Ontario Nature!  Ontario Nature is a charitable organization representing more than 30,000 members and supporters and 150 member groups from across Ontario. They will use the funds to protect wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler stopping in our Etobicoke backyard on its return possibly from our Bird Friendly Nicaraguan coffee farm.

By choosing to drink certified Bird Friendly coffee, our customers have always supported conservation of the neotropical forest ecosystems in which our coffee grows. Now, through Ontario Nature, you can support conservation of habitat in Ontario too – by simply changing the coffee you drink.

Picking at Gaia Estate

Pickers pick only the ripe red coffee cherries at Gaia Estate. They allow the green ones to ripen and return for them another day.


And what a wonderful coffee it is! It has a lovely honeyed aroma, with balanced tones of chocolate and nuts. It is a lovely, smooth coffee with a long, sweet aftertaste that rings pleasantly in the pallet after the cup is gone.  

We are so excited to launch our first Special Edition coffee that, for a limited time, we are offering FREE shipping of the Ontario Nature Blend any where in Ontario for orders over $25.

By making this one purchase, we collectively support ecosystem and biodiversity conservation in coffee growing countries and here in Canada.  Do it now

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Help Monarch Butterflies by planting Milkweed

Although it doesn’t have anything to do with coffee or birds, we are happy to see the David Suzuki Foundation’s current #GotMilkweed program aimed at planting more Milkweed to act as host plants for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. We like it because it points out that helping to save a species (and in this case the phenomenon of the Monarch Migration) is all about habitat.

Milkweed plants are an essential part of the Monarch’s lifecycle but it has been eradicated from much of the butterfly’s range – in cities and in the country thus destroying the butterfly’s natural habitat. The #GotMilkweed campaign’s goal is to replant a milkweed corridor in Toronto to help these insects increase their numbers. If the project succeeds, we would see patches of milkweed plant around us in the place of dull, boring grass.  A new generation of children will learn the pleasure of playing with Milkweed pods and releasing the seeds and we will see more of these beautiful butterflies in the summer and fall.

A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Bergamot plant in our patio garden.

A Monarch Butterfly visiting a Bergamot plant in our patio garden.

It is a small thing that can make a big difference – we see a future where we look for places to plant milkweeds and other plants to provide habitat and food for insects and birds. Imagine, for example, how nice it would be to drive down a highway and see milkweeds and other wildflowers making the scenery much more beautiful than the boring grass monoculture that has become the standard road side treatment.  In the same way, we see a future where people ask for their Fair trade coffee to be Bird Friendly too, so every cup provides habitat for Migratory Songbirds in addition to providing a fair deal for farmers.

More information: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/media/news/2014/04/got-milkweed/

On a related note – we add our voice to support the proposed changes to Ontario’s Weed Control Act that would remove Milkweed from the list and make it legal to grow. About time! http://www.farms.com/ag-industry-news/ontario-proposes-an-amendment-to-the-weed-control-act-560.aspx About time.

A Different Cup of Coffee

More than 10 years ago, we set out to create a different kind of company – one that would give consumers a way to use their purchasing power to make the world better rather than worse. We wanted to provide a product that was green at its core – not something that just looked green or came out of a “green” facility with a super duper recycling program. We wanted to create a true “triple bottom line” company that produced tangible environmental and social benefits.

Releasing the roasted coffee.

Releasing the roasted coffee.

Coffee was the perfect product for our experiment – for one thing, we love really good coffee and had a hard time finding a consistent source. And, most importantly, traditionally cultivated coffee is grown in a way that preserves habitat for wildlife – including Migratory Songbirds. Coffee is increasingly being grown in partial shade or full sun, transforming what was once a thriving forest ecosystem into “Eco Deserts” capable of supporting little life: Where there was once a thriving forest ecosystem, the only living thing is the crop being cultivated.

A few years before we started Birds and Beans, The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center had developed the Bird Friendly Coffee Certification.  Its aim is to identify and certify farms that provided good habitat for migratory songbirds – or more accurately are functioning ecosystems.

So, having identified the problem and the solution, Birds and Beans was born. We bought a small Commercial Roaster, some green Bird Friendly coffee and started developing our roast profiles. After about a year of development, we were ready to launch.

We sold our first coffee at the Guelph Organic Show in January 2003. Now we are a Certified Organic Roaster and have 2 much larger roasters and a full line of Certified Organic, Certified Bird Friendly, Fair Trade and Direct Trade coffees. We offer the World’s first and only Triple Certified Espresso – Commit, an espresso blend.

A decade later, we can declare our experiment a success. Birds and Beans is a going concern where every pound of coffee sold is helping to protect valuable habitat as well as contributing to a decent life for the farmers and their families. About 5 years ago, we were joined by Bill Wilson and his colleagues from New England, who wanted to use the Birds & Beans name in the USA – and out of that has grown a valuable partnership that is spreading the word to an even wider audience. Our coffee receives rave reviews from all who try it. Together, we are building a different kind of coffee brand.

This month we are undertaking a ‘bird survey’ in Nicaragua on the 450 farm co-op, UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, co-sponsored by York University and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. We buy a good deal of coffee directly from the co-op. The conservation biologists conducting the survey reported 21 species of migrant birds present in the first few days of field work.

Bird Friendly habitat

Shade coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.

Supporting this kind of work is unheard of for companies of our size as it doesn’t have a commercial payoff. So why do we do it?  Simple.  Its because we have aligned our business with our true values and our business expresses them just as we do. It isn’t a ploy or a marketing gimmick.  It is what we care about.  We founded this company as a vehicle to promote conservation and this is an opportunity to do just that.

The study represents new work in this region and so the findings will add to the body of knowledge of how that ecosystem functions.  This will help our growers to make better decisions on how to manage their farms in the future.

Thanks to all of you who have supported us and have enjoyed a different cup of coffee….

 

The Christmas Gift for Coffee Lovers

Our coffee of the month is the perfect Christmas gift for coffee lovers lovers!   Send a different pound of our delicious Bird Friendly® of coffee every month.  Or the same one each month if you prefer.  Or every other month.  Start the first shipment on the date you set so it arrives just before Christmas or in January.  Its flexible!  Pay in advance or pay as you go.  Read more details here.

As an added bonus this year, when you purchase a coffee of the month subscription of 4 shipments or more, we will send your recipient our beautiful 2014 Coffee Songbirds Calendar with the first installment (December or January) and one to you too!  

calendar front page

Neotropical Migrants from Bird Friendly Coffee Plantations of Central and South America

Our December coffee of the month offering is our 2013 Christmas Blend… A rich, smooth, delicious coffee with a festive label.

Christmas Blend 2013

Now isn’t Christmas easy this year?

Coffee Songbirds, 2014 Calendar

Our new Coffee Songbirds Calendar for 2014 is Available Now!  This beautiful Calendar speaks for itself.  Each month a different migratory songbird with text by Pulitzer Prize nominee Scott Weidensaul and a map of summer and winter territory courtesy of Cornell Lab or Ornithology.  A great Christmas gift for the coffee lover, bird lover or conservationist!

calendar front page

Neotropical Migrants from Bird Friendly Coffee Plantations of Central and South America

 

Calendar cack cover

Back Cover with samples

 

Seeking a Compost Partner

About us:

We are the cafe part of Canada’s leading roaster of Certified Bird Friendly coffee. Our location is unique – unlike any other we’ve seen. Out back we have a lovely patio with a  view of Lake Ontario and a Native wildflower garden. The purpose of the garden is to provide habitat for birds and pollinators and to provide a beautiful backdrop for our patio.

Behind our wildflower garden is a huge composter – where we compost our coffee roaster chaffe, grinds and kitchen scraps. Since we don’t fertilize or water the wildflowers, we really don’t have a great need for the end product but we’re pretty sure someone out there really needs some great organic compost.

Our composter

Our onsite composter at Birds and Beans Café-by-the-Lake

About you:

You are reasonably local to us and are in need of some beautiful rich organic compost. You are willing to do some of the work required such as turning the piles and able to give direction to us on the adjusting the mix of inputs if required.

We’d prefer that you are a Community organization or perhaps involved in community garden but we will consider any one willing to help, You will have to agree to bag and remove the compost at your expense.

So, if this sounds like a match made in heaven to you, drop us a line and we’ll get dirty together….

To contact us, leave a comment here or call 647-439-3294.

Our Wildflower Garden

Our Wildflower Garden

To Bee or not to Bee

There have been a number of disturbing reports about mass bee die offs in the news recently – such as this report of 37 million bees dying in Ontario.

The cause of  these die offs has not yet been establish but it is likely that they are being caused by a relatively new class of pesticides call neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are sprayed like other pesticides but are also increasingly being used to coat seeds of corn (and possibly other crops) so the seed may be sowed earlier — before the temperature and moisture conditions are right for germination and not be eaten by ground dwelling insects. The problem is that the insecticide makes its way into the leaves and the pollen of the plant and the bees take the pollen back to the hives and the pesticide kills the bees. It also appears that pesticide is introduced to the environment during the planting process, exposing bees and other animals at that point too.

bee

It is estimated that the majority of corn now planted in North America is now coated with Neonicotinoids – a rise that coincides with the increase in Bee Colony Collapse disorder. The link has not been proven yet, a fact the chemical companies are quick to point out but the European Union has introduced at 2 year ban on 3 neonicotinoids as a precautionary measure. The evidence is mounting and we suggest that US and Canadian governments should follow the same path – better safe than sorry.  We lived very well before these pesticides were introduced and a temporary ban seems like the right thing to do while the studies are done.

There’s another disturbing fact that doesn’t get mentioned in the stories – the bees that are dying are our domestic honey bees – the ones kept to pollinate crops and make honey.  We’ve moved more and more to a model of agriculture that requires honey bee hives to be brought in to pollinate crops as we’ve reduced the biodiversity in farm fields to the point where they are eco-deserts – nothing much lives there except the crop we are growing. We have replaced the natural pollinators with domesticated bees — essentially hives of agricultural workers. And now, in our never ending quest to maximize yield and minimize immediate cost, we appear to be killing the domestic honey bees – our agricultural partners on whom we are utterly dependent.

If we are unable to keep bees, we won’t be able to grow crops that depend on them for pollination but our governments do not act. If something was killing our cattle, hogs or chickens, we would see action – so why not for the bees? How will our crops be pollinated with out them?

Bird and Pollinator Garden

Our Bird and Pollinator Garden at Birds and Beans Café-by-the-Lake

The simple answer is that they won’t be unless we take steps to protect the biodiversity of pollinators whether they be domesticated or wild. The native wild pollinators are being killed by the same agents as the Honey Bees and they are losing their natural habitat. The loses are hard to quantify because we don’t count them.

Protecting the pollinator diversity requires 2 simple steps.

  1. Provide habitat for the bees and
  2. Stop poisoning the bees.

So, what can we do? I encourage everyone to contact their elected representatives and urge them to support a temporary moratorium on the sale and use of Neonicotinoids. The justification for doing so may be found in something called “The Precautionary Principle” – which says we have a duty to prevent harm to the environment if it is in our power to do so, even though all the evidence is not in – or, in other words, Common Sense.

You can also do your part to help reduce the market for the products of this kind of chemical intensive industrial agriculture. Start by supporting Organic and small scale local farmers. Summer is a great time to purchase local food at a Farmer’s Market – ask the farmers about the the food and how it is grown. Does it cost more to support the small scale farmers? It can do but you get benefits for that extra cost. You are strengthening your community, it is better for the environment and the food tastes better! If we all take some action on this, collectively we will have an impact.

Finally, if you have a garden, plant some native plants that will provide a food source for our native pollinators. Our native bees are in trouble too but nobody is counting them so we don’t have the numbers. We must protect the species that we have, we are going to need them in the future. We have done this behind our cafe and we enjoy seeing a wide variety of bees visiting our native plants.

What Bird Friendly® Looks Like in Nicaragua

A guest post for Earth Day from Scott Weidensaul, one of our “Voices for the Birds” (http://www.scottweidensaul.com)

In January, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Nicaragua, visiting a number of the farms that supply Bird Friendly® coffee to Birds & Beans – an experience that drove home the critical importance of such Smithsonian-certified shade coffee farms to the survival of migratory birds.

Much of our time was spent in the country’s northern highlands, a region of exceptional avian diversity, where Birds & Beans is partnering with UCA San Juan del Rio Coco, a cooperative of more than 400 small family farmers, all growing USDA organic coffee, 60 percent of which is also certified Bird Friendly®.

 

Bird Friendly habitat

Shade coffee – and quality bird habitat – as far as the eye can see.

My guide was Jefferson Shriver, who with his wife Gabriela Narvaez runs Gaia Estate, also a Birds & Beans supplier. We met with the leadership of UCA San Juan, including their general manager Griselda Jarquín Lopez, and learned that the cooperative has decided to become 100 percent Bird Friendly® within three years – a significant step for this large, successful operation, which ships more than 2.5 million pounds of coffee each year.

I also had a chance to see first-hand how important the traditional shade coffee farms of this region are to migratory birds. Whether one is driving north from Managua, or looking at the region from space via Google Earth, you’re struck by the realization that the highlands around San Juan del Rio Coco are an immense island of quality bird habitat, surrounded by denuded cattle pastures, grain fields and sun coffee monocultures. In the highlands, though, traditional shade coffee farming has preserved an oasis for birds.

I was expecting farms that looked like, well, farms. Instead, the Bird Friendly® certified farms of producers like Marvin Venega look like almost untouched forest – high, complex canopies of native trees, draped with vines and spangled with orchids. In the shade of these forests, Venega and his neighbors grow not just coffee, but also cacao, vanilla, starfruit, cinnamon and a host of other crops – a system that is centuries old.

The habitat they protect simply drips with birds. We found great, rolling flocks moving through the woods. There were migrants like Philadelphia, yellow-throated and warbling vireos; yellow, chestnut-sided and Wilson’s warblers; summer tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Mixed with them were flamboyant resident species like emerald toucanets, blue-crowned motmots and masked tityras. Baltimore orioles from the north fed beside yellow-backed orioles, and Tennessee warblers were everywhere. It was paradise for a birder like me, and I hardly knew which way to look.

Marvin Venega with a cacao pod

Marvin Venega with a cacao pod

The coffee you drink makes a real, demonstrable difference for the birds that migrate to Central America. Because of the premium price they receive for Bird Friendly® coffee, farmers like Marvin Venega are actually restoring degraded habitat. Marvin proudly showed us an old corn field where, with the cooperative’s support, he has planted thousands of saplings of native trees and shrubs. Within a few years, this too would become vital habitat for migrants like blue-headed vireos and western wood-pewees.

The habitat preservation that every bag of Birds & Beans coffee makes possible isn’t happening just in the northern highlands. We wrapped up our trip at Gaia Estates, not far from the Pacific coast, which Jefferson and Gabriela have turned into a model of organic, Bird Friendly® habitat.

At daybreak, we sat on the deck of their cabin listening to flocks of parrots and parakeets screeching overhead. Dozens of western tanagers mobbed fruiting trees, while ruby-throated hummingbirds – perhaps the same ones that nest at our home in Pennsylvania – flitted from flower to flower. The woods were filled with hundreds of yellow warblers, and the more open areas were alive with scissor-tailed flycatchers and western kingbirds.    

 Marvin's kids try birding

Marvin’s kids try birding

Jefferson and Gabriela are now Birds & Beans’ official representatives in Latin America, helping us forge partnerships not only with farmers in Nicaragua, but in countries as far afield as Peru and Colombia – and in the process, to safeguard the kind of habitat that birds we all love must have to survive.

How Much Coffee Should I Use?

We are often asked how much coffee to use to brew the perfect cup. Well, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) provides expert advice on all things coffee and the brewing ratio they suggest is 55g of coffee for 1 litre of brew. Since we don’t usually get out the scale to brew coffee, I weighed out 55g of beans and roughly translated to volume:

  • 10 tablespoons of beans to 1 litre of brew, or
  • 2.5 tablespoons beans per cup (8 fluid oz)

When we roast a new coffee, we start with the SCAA brewing ratio. In our experience, this brews a strong delicious cup of coffee – in most cases. Interestingly, some coffees taste much better by reducing the ratio of coffee to water. The Nicaragua Gaia Estate coffee is much better brewed at about 3/4 strength (a little less than two tablespoons per cup).

The SCAA recommends grinding the coffee at the time of brewing, so the measurements above are for beans. I measure out the beans and put them through the grinder. It makes less mess than trying to measure ground coffee too. If you are measuring ground coffee the amount needed may be a bit more or less depending on how compacted it is.

A few more tips for making great coffee:

  • use coffee roasted within the last 4-6 weeks
  • use filtered (no chlorine) good quality water
  • use clean equipment (grinders, brewers and carafes)
  • make sure the brewing temperature is between 90-96 C (195-205 F)
  • use the right grind for the method of brewing (coarse for french press, regular for filter, fine for aeropress)
  • do not leave brewed coffee on active heat

Gaia Estate – A Bird Friendly® Coffee Grower’s Perspective

A guest post from Jefferson Shriver and Gabriela Narvaez are Owners of Gaia Estate, Diriamba, Nicaragua:

The planet is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for agriculture.  This is especially the case with full sun, rain fed monocrops grown in the tropics where pounding rain, high winds, and long dry periods are an annual experience.

Fortunately, coffee is a forest crop by nature, and forests can create natural buffers for such inhospitable conditions.  As organic, agro-forestry farmers, we just help that process along a bit.

Shade Grown Coffee at Gaia

The ecosystem is functioning in this “agro-forest” on the Gaia Estate.

At Gaia Estate in Nicaragua, coffee was first grown here over 100 years ago by simply clearing a bit of the underbrush from a natural forest. The place looks much the same today, with over seventy species of trees on 90 acres.  A thick blanket of leaf litter covers the ground all year, maintaining soil humidity, preventing erosion, and building up organic matter that our coffee loves. Our three story shade canopy of fruit and forest trees shields the coffee from strong rains and volatile temperatures, and slows the maturation of the coffee beans, giving the coffee more complexity and sweetness.  The limes, bananas and avocado intercropped with coffee as that first shade layer give us plenty of fruit year round for our family, workers, and a bit of extra to sell.  Most people say they feel they are walking through a park when they come to Gaia.  We feel much the same way – like gardeners in a forest – and can’t imagine farming any other way.

Picking at Gaia Estate

Pickers pick only the ripe red coffee cherries at Gaia Estate. They allow the green ones to ripen and return for them another day.

We know that Gaia is a refuge for migratory and resident birds, and a host of animals and insects.  This is also very important to us.  Since assuming ownership of the farm six years ago, we are seeing greater populations of migratory and resident birds, butterflies, lizards, iguana, and rabbits. We’ve even spotted a few deer and monkeys recently, the first to come back to this area in a long time. We don’t have to worry about the risk of worker exposure to poison because we don’t use pesticides or herbicides.  The soil is alive with micro-organisms, worms and ants that all co-exist here given we use only organic fertilizer and repellents.

Butterfly

Bird Friendly® certified coffee farms are a functioning ecosystem with biodiversity that rivals rainforest.

I am hesitant to over-romanticize, however.  Annually we apply a half bucket of organic fertilizer to every plant.  Compare that to the bottle cap of urea we see our neighbors apply to their conventionally grown coffee plants, and you can see that our production costs can get expensive.  All of the coffee cherry residues, horse and cow manure, and fallen branches we convert to charcoal are used to make a rich blend of organic fertilizer.    Then we hand weed instead of applying herbicides like Round Up or paraquat.  While this is also time consuming and more expensive, it allows us to let tree seedlings – spread by birds and bats throughout the farm – grow back and replenish the agro-forestry system over time.  These kinds of practices also generate more employment, meeting a critical need in the local community.  Finally, there is nothing easy about regulating the shade of trees 20 meters high. The pruning of branches is necessary to allow some sunlight in for the coffee, and requires careful handling for both the tree and the coffee below.

Pruned Tree

On Bird Friendly® certified farms, trees must retain 80% coverage after pruning!

Not everyone farms this way.  As I write, in addition to the songs of at least a half dozen birds, I also hear the whirring of chainsaws in the distance.  The value of trees in Nicaragua are calculated when they are horizontal, in board feet, not vertical and alive.  Deforestation in Nicaragua, like much of Latin America, continues at a relentless pace.  Tragically, most coffee markets do not reward farmers for growing coffee in the shade.  There is no market value assigned to shade.  Bird Friendly is a small but significant exception to the industry standard.  If more people buy SMBC Bird Friendly coffee and demand grows, we would love to share the Birds & Beans and Bird Friendly certified market with our neighbors. After all, we are not an island – what our neighbors are doing ultimately affect our growing conditions and the health of the ecosystem we take care of at Gaia.  The orioles and warblers and thrushes, if they could speak to us during their short visits here annually, would probably agree.

Jefferson Shriver and Gabriela Narvaez are Owners of Gaia Estate.  Consider a visit to the farm – www.gaiaestate.com