Holiday Gift Guide

Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. offers many gift options that pair well with coffee and tea.

If you work in the café hospitality industry, chances are you’ve given a lot of coffee and tea as gifts—and probably received almost as much in return. Coffee beans, instant coffee packs, and loose-leaf tea tins do make great gifts, but why not gift adventurously? The joy of giving is also a chance to explore new territory and gift something the recipient might not have tried before. Specialty coffee and tea professionals are often experts in terroir, keen sensory evaluators who love to learn about the origins of what they eat and drink. This gift guide offers suggestions of what to get for the barista or café owner who has it all (and maybe what to also add to your own wish list) to put those palate skills to work savoring something special.

Spice It Up

Based in New York, Burlap & Barrel is the only comprehensive single-origin spice company in the United States.

“We work directly with smallholder farmers in thirteen countries to source unique spices for professional chefs and home cooks,” says co-founder Ethan Frisch. “As a public benefit corporation, we set our partner farmers up to export their own crops for the first time. They get access to a whole new market for their spices, and we get access to spices that other companies can’t source.”

Frisch suggests creating infusions from spices, on their own or as blends. As for brew time and temperature, “spices are way more forgiving than coffee!” he says. “I recommend using them in whatever way is easiest for people.”

Burlap & Barrel includes recipes and tips on its website, and its Facebook page has an active community of cooks and foodies who share their favorite uses for spices.

Cloud Forest Yellow Cardamom is grown on a biodynamic farm in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The cardamom fruit yellows as it ripens and is sweeter than the more common green cardamom, making it a great ingredient when blending your own chai.

High Curcumin Turmeric Slices are grown by a cooperative of organic farmers in Diriamba, Nicaragua. Sliced turmeric, rather than ground powder (which Burlap & Barrel also sells), works better for infusing flavor into a dish or a drink. Try dropping some slices into your next batch of cold brew for an exciting twist.

The coffee community spends time educating consumers that coffee grows on trees and is often picked by hand. Frisch is on a similar mission to teach food and beverage pros that spices, too, have their origin story, and grow on trees, vines, or in the dirt before showing up ground and packed. The Cinnamon Verum Shavings, for example, will change the way you think about cinnamon.

“The Zanzibar archipelago, particularly the island of Pemba, where our cinnamon grows, is really beautiful, with steep hills descending down into lush ravines. The main road on the island is on the ridgeline above the canopy of the jungle,” describes Frisch of his recent spice sourcing trip. “The cinnamomum verum tree was brought to Zanzibar in the 19th century by Arab sailors and merchants and now grows wild in the jungle, along with clove trees and pepper vines. It’s a small tree with lots of branches growing out of a central trunk, and those branches are cut by hand and carried back to the co-op’s workshop, where the bark is peeled and laid on grass mats to dry in the sun. The cinnamon shavings are the bark from the youngest branches of the cinnamon tree, which are prized for their complex citrusy and herbal flavor.”

Infuse it straight for a new way to experience a familiar flavor.

Nuts About Nuts

Gifting time of year is an opportunity to support local and family businesses. Family-owned and operated Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was established in 1924. Coffee beans, like nuts, are seeds, and their roasting processes bear many parallels.

“The Ferris Coffee & Nut team is committed to responsible sourcing and building thriving relationships to produce delicious, high-quality products,” says Sarah Eyk, content manager for Ferris. “We are in the business of plant-grown food and beverages. We depend on the planet’s people and its resources.”

Gift giving is also a chance to show convictions about sustainability. Eyk describes how Ferris “strives for continuous improvement through stewardship in our business practices, our ecological impact, and positive engagement with our community.” This can be seen in their coffees, some of which are blends named for local neighborhoods, and in other organic, single-origin, and sustainably sourced offerings.

Ferris’ fruit and nut mixes come in 16-oz. plastic jars that make perfect gifts for a whole office or team to share, or to bring to a holiday party. The team at Ferris suggests “Raw Major Mango Mix as a wonderful complement to green tea.” The sweetness of dried fruits makes it a perfect tea pairing, eliminating the need for any sweetener in the drink. To pair with coffee, they recommend “anything with chocolate, like our Roasted Salted Cherries Berries & Nuts with Dark Chocolate.”

Chocolate & More Chocolate

Chocolate may be the original gift idea, but with the number of fine chocolates available from specialized chocolatiers, there is something new for everyone, from terroir purists to sweet-toothed teens. Cacao grown in different origins presents as varied flavor profiles as coffee and tea from different places, and artisan chocolate makers are reclaiming the treat as a craft product made with care from the harvest of cacao pods to the embossed wrapping of bars.

Exquisito Chocolates opened Miami’s first chocolate factory in May 2018, located in the historic Little Havana neighborhood.

“Starting with organic cacao beans directly sourced from eight farms in seven different countries, Exquisito makes all its chocolate confections from the bean to the bar,” says owner Carolina Quijano. “It takes four days to make a single batch of chocolate from fresh roasted cocoa beans that properly balances all the delicate flavor profiles.”

Exquisito’s products include premium chocolate bars (Cookies & Dream, White Chocolate, Peanut Gallery, Almond Gosh), infused truffles (Champagne Papi, Fresh Baked Oreo, Little Guavana), ground haute chocolates, and Latin s’mores, to name a few.

Exquisito: Gettin’ Nibby Wit’ It, Monte Grand-e Crew, and Almond Gosh! chocolate bars.

“One of our top chocolates to pair with coffee or tea is our Gettin’ Nibby With It bar,” says Quijano. “It is a 73% Hacienda Victoria [from Guayaquil, Ecuador] with pieces of crunchy nibs. The bar is fruity, almost with a mild raisin taste and the bitter nibs elevate your cup of coffee and tea with each bite.”

Or, there’s the Cafe Con Leche, which is an homage to the Miami cafecito.

“We make two different bars with Panther coffee and Per’La coffee roasted locally to create very different flavor profiles,” adds Quijano. Beyond careful sourcing and crafting of its products, Exquisito also offers tours of their factory.

Coffee and cacao have long been natural companions, from lower elevation farms where both trees can be intercropped to collaborations between coffee roasters and chocolate makers. Kyle Hodges, of Chicago’s Dark Matter Coffee, talks about their partnership with La Rifa in Mexico City.

“La Rifa is a group of intellectually honest and progressive artisans, [led by] Daniel Reza Barrientos and Mónica Lozano,” he says. The alignment between the two companies lies in mutual respect for culinary progression while maintaining the same love for tradition. “The folks at La Rifa use two ingredients in their chocolate: cocoa and sugar. Their dedication to studiousness of their craft instead mastery has grabbed our hearts for sure.”

Similar to Dark Matter’s seasonal coffee rotations, different La Rifa chocolates are available seasonally, all made with cacao from Mexico and grown in agroforestry systems.

La Rifa chocolate bar collab with Dark Matter Coffee. Photo by Manny Valesco.

“Cacao for the Uranga is cultivated by the Jimenez Garcia family in agroforestry systems that include precious woods, fruits, flowers, vanilla, and various spices,” says Hodges. “It is fermented and dried under sunlight in boxes made from red cedar resulting in a chocolate with fresh flavors and mild acidity.”

The Almendra Blanca cacaos, used for the Blanco Marfil bar, have a higher amount of butter resulting in a chocolate with intense flavors with no bitterness. Hodges discusses La Rifa’s chocolate with language familiar to those who source, cup, roast, and serve specialty coffee.

“Since the pre-Hispanic era, Soconusco [is] one of the regions most valued for the taste of its cocoa, rich in flavor and aromatics, thanks to the fertile soil,” he says. Cacao for the Soconusco bar shares terrain with various trees, flowers, and fruits, which helps conserve of the whole ecosystem in the region. The Jaguar Blanco is a mixture of cacaos native to Ostuacán, Chiapas. Most are young trees, from five to six years old. “Their environment influences their notes of dairy and caramel,” says Hodges.

Dark Matter’s coffees riff on music and art, featuring unconventional names and creative connections; pairing these coffees with La Rifa chocolate creates a veritable gift basket of nature, art, music, and flavor.

The Gift of Craft

Spices, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate are only the appetizer course of familiar foodstuffs being revitalized by new companies focusing on craft and origin. Locally crafted honey, marmalade, preserves, jam, barbeque sauce, and hot sauce are popping up in small towns and big cities alike, offering products that are especially interesting to folks with a professional background in tasting and understanding sourcing supply chains. Late nights cupping coffee and building a vocabulary of flavor make it that much more exciting to give and receive the craft food and drink renaissance happening beyond coffee and tea.

And, because it seems incomplete to let a gift guide go without mentioning at least one fun new brew tool, Hodges suggests the Origami Pour Over from Japan, of which Dark Matter is the exclusive U.S. importer.

Origami pour over. Photo by Manny Valesco

“2019 World Brewers Cup Champion Du Jianing of China used pink Origami,” says Hodges. “These are great items for those baristas who have it all or someone just starting out.”

The holidays can be busy, with extra shifts and late-night production runs, but hopefully holiday gatherings are spaces to try something new and to share these new discoveries with colleagues, friends, and families.