• 3 ways of explaining coffee

    3 ways of explaining coffee

    3 ways of explaining coffee

    By Jonas Gehl
    CEO Prolog Coffee

    “What is coffee?” This was the first question I asked the judges when I competed in the barista championships in 2019. It was meant rhetorical but during my presentation I wanted to investigate this topic together with the judges – and the audience. The investigation had obviously also been carried out months before in preparation to the actual competition. During this period, it struck me that how we describe coffee is often missing a key component in our understanding of it. In Prolog we often talk about “Being present with the taste”. However, what we don’t always think about is how intrinsically this tasting is connected to understanding coffee itself. Let’s first float a little over the topic, What is Coffee?, and then let’s take a dive into this latter claim.

    Explanation no. 1: Coffee is described by its parts.

    This claim is linked to how we look at coffee from at retail customers perspective. “What does the bag say?” An example could be: This is an Ethiopian coffee from Yirgacheffe, produced by Chelchele cooperative, grown at 2000 masl, heirloom varieties, natural processed and has flavor notes of blueberry, bergamot and peach. Is this a good description of coffee? If you want to buy a bag of coffee this will work as a pretty good guideline. Is it a very good description of coffee itself? Probably not.

    Explanation no. 2: Coffee is DNA, soil and sun.

    A more precise way of explaining coffee would be to look at what coffee consists of, literally soil and sun (amongst perhaps others). Basically, we zoom in from very broad descriptions like altitude and variety down to the finest molecule structures. The coffee bean (or seed) that we roast and extract is a product of the environment wherein it grows, and of the DNA of the plant which the environment helps shaping. After having zoomed in, we see that coffee is a fascinating and very complex form of life that, just like any other life, is unique and special. We see that it matters a lot how the coffee plant is treated with respect with regards to soil and sun conditions. On a more scientific level we can now explain coffee more precisely by taking a very close look at the lifeform. On the other hand, being able to understand coffee on this level might not always be useful in a day to day living where our biggest concern is that we enjoy the flavor of it. However, the fact that we can explain, and more importantly, understand coffee also at this level gives us knowledge and tools to support the environment of coffee plants  as well as for developing beautiful flavor experiences.

    Explanation no. 3: Coffee is described by its taste. 

    Here we come back to first part of the article: “Being present with the taste”. How is this linked to the explanation of what coffee is?

    Have you ever heard of wine tasters that by the mere taste of a wine can identify both grape variety, vineyard, producer and vintage - and can do this consistently over a tasting of many wines? Does this come from having read labels on the wines? Yes, partly, but more from the fact that these wine tasters have a remarkably well trained palate, that can pick up on the tiniest flavors. Does it come from an understanding of varieties and soil and sun dispositions? Again, yes, but also again, more from the fact that the wine tasters sensorial alertness and understanding is highly developed. Basically, what happens when we taste something, an apple or a piece of sausage, is that this triggers our neuro system to fire a cascade of complex events which ultimately also links to a center in or brain of memory and understanding. This renders the association of the sensorial experience of an apple with the object “an apple” but also to an understanding of whether we enjoy this taste experience or not – and also to which degree of joy. To exemplify, I personally tend to like biodynamically grown apples better than conventional grown apples – though there can be exceptions. Now, all this information and understanding have been created without even having looked at the label of the apple (if this was a thing), nor having scrutinized it in a laboratory. This gift of being able to extract complex and direct sensorial information is something we have been born with. This is fascinating but as much as I think it’s fascinating as much do I think this is something which is easily overlooked in how we describe edible/drinkable matters, in this case coffee. Is it really that surprising that we can understand something very well that we haven’t only read about or measured in a laboratory but also actually contained within us? In a weird, but very basic, way, when we taste something, it is literally embedded in us - for some time a least. When we taste a coffee from Mexico, we don’t only taste a coffee from Mexico, we also get a little piece of Mexico within our bodies, quite literally. In that way, we can sensorially get literally closer to understanding this particular coffee than we do when reading about it or scrutinizing it in a lab. The third, and I would to some degree say best, way of explaining what coffee is would then be by this very simple exercise: by merely tasting coffee.

    How can we use these different explanations in an everyday life with coffee, either as just a piece of enjoyment, or as a coffee professional?

    The first would be to see that coffee can definitely be described in a multiple of ways, and that having an eye on all of them might be helpful to understand the product at different levels and in different circumstances. This leads to the next one, that without being able to understand the coffee as in explanation 2 or 3, we wouldn’t have the need to describe it as in explanation 1 (meaning, without our sensorial and/or analytic interest in coffee, we wouldn't have any coffee bags with descriptors on the shelves in retail stores). And without explanation 3 we probably wouldn’t today be as interested in understanding coffee as we are in explanation 2. However, the funny thing is that that even though explanation 3 in some ways are the most straight forward it is the one that is also easiest overlooked. So when we in Prolog say it is about “Being present with the taste”, it’s a way of appreciating that we actually get these amazing sensorial experiences with coffee. On a more practical level it’s also about being honest about the level of enjoyment that the flavor experience in front of us renders. And finally, this is also the backbone of why we say that our coffee in Prolog needs to "at the same time be delicious and sense evoking". That it’s delicious makes us want to drink it but that it wakes up our senses is a celebration of exactly that, our senses, but also a celebration of our fascinating sensorial world.

    So, next time you have a cup of coffee, you can do what we try to remind ourselves of doing in Prolog: To take a moment of just “being present with the taste.”

    Continue reading
  • Sustainability Report for 2020

    Sustainability Report for 2020

    Sustainability Report for 2020                          January 2021

    By Jonas Gehl
    CEO Prolog Coffee

    A recap. For the full report visit: Sustainability Report 2020

    Sustainable, why on earth…?

    ”We want to give an amazing coffee experience to our guests in the coffee bar as well as to our whole sale customers.”

    This is the phrase we keep repeating over and over again in Prolog, almost like a mantra. We do this to keep ourselves reminded why we put so much work in making a good tasting coffee. For us, “good” means it has to be amazing, or more precisely, it has to be in the pursuit of something amazing.

    But it’s not just the flavor on your tongue that defines how good your coffee experience is going to be. It’s literally the whole experience.

    We believe the taste of the coffee starts much earlier than when the hot liquid hits your taste buds.

    It might start with a smile from a barista when you open the door to our coffee bar.

    It might start with the feeling of you being able to serve a great product in your café, bakery, restaurant, etc.

    But it might also start with just an amazing sensorial coffee experience. The cup of coffee you will never forget, maybe “the God shot”, to use a 90s phrase.

    Common for all these examples, though, is that the ability to build these things comes down to one thing: people.

    No machine can give you that honest smile, no machine can build the perfect coffee setup and take all your preferences into account. No machine can make a “God shot”. You might say “Deus ex machina”, as referring to a “godly” intervention in screenplays, but even that godly intervention is made by a human being.

    It has been quite clear all the time that for Prolog to live up to this goal, we have had to make Prolog a good place to work – for people.

    It has therefore also been clear to us that in order to make a beautifully tasting coffee at origin, the same set of ideas has to be applied there as well.

    Essentially, with all the products and people we work with, this is where we have to start.

    Therefore, to Prolog, giving an amazing coffee experience essentially means building a company that you want to work in and with, long term. In other words, this means building something that lasts, something that’s sustainable.


    The Beginning

    We opened our doors in March 2016. We were a baby, energized, but confused. Needed to know how to grasp everything, needed to know where to put the coffee, the tamper, the milk cartons. Omni roasting or not…?

    4½ years later, where are we now?

    We are a 4½ year old child.

    But we are learning fast. In November 2018 when we were 2½ years old we realized something, again. If we want to make this company sustainable it doesn’t only matter what we do, it also matters how the world around us do - the environment.

    In matter of seconds this led us to an obvious conclusion: We needed to take more conscious decisions than ever on how we impact the nature that surrounds us. 

    From here it really kicked off. Two goals were set: Inspired by restaurateur and friend in London, Douglas McMaster, we decided to go Zero Waste. And inspired by our friends from Buna in Mexico, we decided to go on a journey to become B Corp certified. We are still on both journeys but every day the road gets more and more paved. And it’s nicer to walk on.

    So how does the road look like today, in 2020? What has happened since? Where are we now?


    Zero Waste

    Fellow partner and Creative Director in Prolog, Bo Lindegaard, created a whole generic program for Zero Waste. With this program we realized that Zero Waste is more a journey than an actual goal. A goal you can get very close to though.
       An obvious challenge we faced was fx toilet paper. Should we start to compost this?
       What about The To Go Cup? Could we afford saying no to 33% of our customers, dying as a company – with a glowing ethical halo surrounding us - but still dying, missing out in being able to do a real impact?
       Should we stop using our refractometer because it uses single use batteries? In that case we would definitely undermine our first objective, “to make Prolog a nice place to work”, as I know our Bar Manager, Igor Dedic, would feel heavily discriminated and disrespected by this intervention. We wouldn’t be able to do that. 

    This being said we also realized in this Zero Waste process that we can do much more than what we thought at first eye glance. Some of these things:

    We don’t sell any bottled soft drinks anymore. Instead we got installed a water tap system where you for free can tap water with and without gas. We also think this helps giving our guests a better experience.
       Sebastian Quistorff, Brand Director and co-founder spend days travelling to Thorshøjgaard and convinced biodynamic pioneer, Niels, to sell us milk in reusable glass bottles. Eventually we couldn’t work that out because Thorshøjgaard wasn’t able to pasteurize the milk, which without, we wouldn’t be able to use it legally. In the end, we found a beautiful small farm, Søtofte Jordbrug. Søtofte makes amazing natural milk with cows that has their horns intact, only feeds on grass, gets milked tapped on the field, etc. etc. It’s good stuff! And we get it delivered in returnable glass bottles: zero waste
       Instead of using normal wood stirring sticks, I got the idea of making homemade stirring sticks of local Danish left over willow that is being cleaned. They do take some time to make but we and the customers love them. They add an extra aesthetic dimension to the drinks we serve, like ice latte and our seasonal lemonade. You can keep it if you want, and they are: zero waste.
       One of the simpler inventions was getting a compost bin where we compost everything from napkins, over to croissants and of course coffee grounds.
       When you start thinking in a Zero Waste way it quickly becomes apparent that there are so many things you can do and that you can change quiet easily, most often even with a better product in the end.
       Other examples are: reusable coffee tins for wholesale customers, hand dryer on the bathroom instead of napkins, no single use cloths, recycling sorting for (almost) all fractions, etc.
       As this writing goes on we are working on rechargeable batteries for the refractometer and on eliminating take away cups. The last frontier we still haven’t found a way to get around with our dignity kept intact you can guess yourselves…



    Sebastian and I travelled to Mexico together in January 2017 to visit Buna, a beautiful Mexican coffee company located in Roma in Mexico City.  
       One of the founders, Lalo, was crazy enough to say yes to Sebastian’s proposal to do a pop up at their coffee bar when Lalo and his dad accidentally stumbled into Prolog one September morning. The ten days in Mexico was magical in every way. On the day after arrival Lalo got us up at 5am to visit a coffee project in Zongozotla, Puebla, where Buna was looking at starting a relationship with a group of farmers. You could see by the terminated way David was almost leading group of farmers to their coffee trees that working with coffee, or should I say coffee trees, was something important, something that made a difference. The reason why David was walking with such power was because he wanted to analyze the coffee farmers soil. David is a biologist and the one of Buna’s founders who was in charge of their green coffee projects. I have never met a person who like David understands the shape of a coffee tree or a pile of compost. And the compost part I mean with the deepest respect. It’s a cosmos of its own.
    The day after our Zongozotla trip we were very tired. The way you are tired after a 20 hour flight, a lot of mezcal, a day trip to the mountains and finally waking up in your bed – and hadn’t had any coffee yet… We were pondering over life with Lalo and we got to learn more about Buna. Lalo talked about their projects with producing honey, making their own chocolate from Mexican cocoa, them getting biodynamic milk in reusable bottles and finally about a guy with a strange name, Yvon Chouinard. Yvon was the founder of Patagonia, a clothing brand I had heard little of but that I could see everyone in Buna was wearing. I also understood Buna applied to become a member of B Corp, some organization where you would be able to get certified a sustainable company. For sure, this conversation sparked some fire in Sebastian and me. Later in the week, we were chatting with Lalo over his coffee table. On the table were laying three books, “Philosophy of Freedom” by Rudolph Steiner, “Other Minds” by Peter Godfrey Smith and “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard. Inspired by our conversations I bought all three books when I got home but Yvon’s was the one I read the first.
       I think we all had our motivations to kick start an even more sustainable program in Prolog. To me, “Let My People Go Surfing” was the point of no return. It was: “We’re going to work sustainable, or we are not going to work.”
       Now, having a better understanding of Yvon and Patagonia we got to know that B Corp was an organization started by former Patagonia employees and the dots started to align. At this point we now also loved Patagonia the way Buna did, we wanted to become a more sustainable company and the answer was simple: B Corp.
       In B Corp you are assessed in five different categories: Governance, Workers, Customers, Community and Environment.
       In that way it’s a broad certification that doesn’t only limit you to for example environment as other certifications. As we have always thought about the necessity of Prolog to be overall sustainable this made a lot of sense to us.
       Bottom line, for now two years, we have slowly gathered different sorts of information and build tools and systems to move our company in an overall more sustainable direction, with the first goal to get B Corp certified. We are not 100% their yet but at this point we are close to virtually shake hands with Yvon – and Buna, who has been awesome enough to get their certification in the meantime.
       When we get our certification, you will know for sure, as you are reading this right now. And you will be able to see how we perform in the different categories on this website:

    What else have we done in 2020?

    In Prolog I think we can be proud to keep working on a number of different projects to keep getting better and - more importantly – wiser every day. Sometimes it goes by in a pace where it can get difficult to keep track on all the work we do. So if not for another reason, then for our own, here is a list of other work we have been doing in 2020 to pave our “road of sustainability”:

    • Prolog Culture Book for our staff.
    • Job descriptions for everyone.
    • Clear budgets for everyone to see and understand.
    • Together with Alexander Elsner CphBusiness Denmark and created an Environmental Management program for Prolog.
    • Open reporting on the financial state to everyone in the team.
    • Made an organizational map.
    • Gone through a project with the state of Denmark on optimizing the sustainability in our company: Bæredygtig Bundlinje.
    • Initiated work with two companies that works on a reusable take away cup.
    • Changed light spots in the coffee bar to a more environment friendly version.
    • Changed our coffee bags to a version you could recycle with plastic and to a version that uses a lot less ink.
    • Together with Technological Institute of Denmark analyzed the environmental impact of our coffee bags.
    • Weighed out the total amount of trash in a week in May 2020.
    • Assembled and published online a record of all the coffees we have bought in 2020 and the FOB prices of these coffees.
    • Signed “The Pledge” – an organization of coffee companies that share FOB prices online for the coffees they buy.
    • Got recycling sorting for all fractions except one (label rolls).

    Social Goals for 2021

    Establish even better work environment for all employees.

    This includes:

    • Establish a formal program for reducing stress on the workplace and in the job.
    • More staff parties.
    • Expand our onboarding program for new employees.
    • Establish educational goals for all employees.

    Get more and better information on the coffee producing at origin. 

    This includes:

    • For our direct trade projects, establish a better protocol for gathering data of the projects on: Value chain/economy, agriculture, climate, living conditions, culture and politics.
    • Create Piggy Bank for our Direct Trade projects in Mexico.

    Coffee Buying

    In 2020 we started collecting FOB (Price of the coffee when it is loaded to the cargo ship in the port of origin) prices on all coffees we have bought - either direct or through an importer. We have done this to get a better understanding of the value chain down to the coffee tree, as we find it crucial to understand how and where the money is flowing. We believe it has to flow back to the people who actually hands on produce the coffee.

    FOB prices, though are not telling us everything, fx what we are paying for the coffees.

    If we buy direct, our margins on the coffees are naturally higher, as we cut out middle men. On the plus side this means we can invest more in fx our piggy bank in Mexico.

    However, we don’t want to buy coffees direct if we can’t make sure to get the information needed to understand and back up the projects where we buy coffee from – even when the coffees are tasting good.

    When we can’t make sure to establish a direct trade with the sufficient transparency of information ourselves, we buy from selected importers that work in the ways we would like to do ourselves. We still ask these importers to provide the same information as we would have gathered ourselves. In these cases, our buying prices for the coffees naturally goes up, as the importers in these cases essentially are doing “our job” of gathering information as well as taking the risk on importing and pre-shipment quality control.

    To keep our value chain open and transparent we have from 2020 signed “The Pledge”, which means you can find all the FOB prices of the coffees we are buying on our web site.

    Continue reading