specialty coffee

Brazilian quality Innovations

Given that Brazil has one of the most developed economies and coffee sectors throughout all of the coffee producing origins, its coffee producers and exporters are relatively "wealthy" in terms of resources and knowledge, placing them ahead of the curve when it comes to having the capacity to innovate in coffee production. About 80% of Brazilian coffee is natural processed. This is due to a few different factors, not least because labour is relatively expensive in Brazil. In general, labour costs combined with the fact that many farms have good infrastructure, coffee production in Brazil is more mechanized than it is in other producing origins. One potential paradox to this, when it comes to specialty coffee, is the value that is often placed on specialty coffee being handcrafted or otherwise produced in a special way.

What we've found, over the years, is that it is not always the case that labour or time intensiveness equals coffee quality. Especially in Brazil, where we are continually impressed by the strides its specialty coffee community is making by using its relative wealth and resources to produce ever more interesting and more tasty coffees.

Over the past few years in particular, we've noticed innovations in three areas: picking, processing and fermentation.

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Picking 

In Brazil, coffee tends to be planted at "lower" elevations in comparison to other origins. This, in combination with the lack of manual labour, means that mechanical pickers are very commonly used to strip coffee cherries off of the trees. If undertaken only once in a season, farmers are left with a vast number of over- and under-ripe cherries, so in order to optimize the picking of ripe cherries, producers have come up with three levels of stripping: first from the top, then the middle, and finally the bottom of the tree. These pickings are further sorted into micro-lot and commodity grades.

Interesting to note is that the middle of the tree tends to produce the best quality since it has the most balanced sun-exposure and the leaves protect the cherries from the elements (e.g. wind and frost). As well, while handpicking isn’t common, higher altitude farms or farms within mountainous areas require handpicking since machines aren't able to operate at these angles.
 

Processing

Since Brazil is best known and equipped for producing naturals and pulped naturals, these processes are naturally the first to undergo experimentation and development.

At higher elevation/small production farms, farmers are innovating the way they dry coffee since there is not a lot of room for drying beds or patios. Small huts with fermentation tank-like tanks with mesh floors are being built and solar panels are installed, which powers a turbine that creates warm or cold airflow based on drying needs. The drying method within these huts consists of first filling up the tank with five tons of cherries and then injecting a controlled amount of air flow upward through the mesh and on to the cherries. This whole process takes about 30 days to complete. According to Alex, who last travelled to Brazil for our August 2017 buying trip, while this process is slower than others, it provides a stable drying environment and temperatures. In terms of cup quality, he experienced that the coffee is quite fresh and fruit-forward.

Carmo Coffees is both our longest-standing and most trusted partner in Brazil. They're also conducting some of the most forward-looking experiments in Brazilian specialty coffee. Within the area of processing, they are one of the few producers doing washed processing and for the first time, we are offering a washed Brazilian coffee that has been produced by them. We chose this lot not because it is a washed coffee, necessarily, but because it is really, really good.

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Fermentation

Carmo is also experimenting with yeast fermentation. Brazilian coffee producers in general haven’t had the energy or desire to ferment the coffee due to it being time and resource intensive. Brazil's coffee producing tradition has been focused on volume and uniformity. The times are changing and Carmo is at the forefront.

While the Carmo team is choosing to be proprietary about the protocol of their fermentation experiments, the fact that they’re starting to experiment is itself significant. And already proving to be rewarding: one of the experimental lots last year was scored 93-points by no less than Kentaro Maruyama.

What they were willing to share is that at one of the experimental farms, they had employed a yeast expert from France that had been traveling all over the world to teach producers how to use yeast in coffee fermentation. The basic concept is to utilize a single yeast bacterial culture within a stable tank/environment. This bacterial culture then lives in the tank and impacts the cherries in a way that is replicable year after year (since it's a single culture). The biggest upside is having replicable profiles year after year. Some  downsides are that it pollutes water and is time consuming.

Brazil is unique as a coffee origin because it has the land, infrastructure and capital to be freer in focusing on innovating, while most other origins are working just to make coffee a sustainable enterprise. In other words, Brazilian producers have the resources to carry out experiments and not just invest in disease prevention and other practical investments. Hopefully over time, as coffee markets and consumers become more educated about the costs involved in producing coffee and prices subsequently rise to meet these realities, the Brazilian approach to coffee innovation will become a model for other coffee origins to follow.

-Melanie

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Get in touch with Nico for samples if you are located in Europe & Asia and Sal if you are located in the US and Canada.

Living Our Values: Why we set the benchmark at 86

The following is a excerpt from our report Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017. Number one on our list of values is "We seek the right quality."

We often describe ourselves as an "86 company," meaning we begin with coffees that score 86 points and work our way up. We felt we should define what that means, why 86 is our benchmark, and what it means for the industry to source high quality coffee.


Defining Quality

We want to define what we mean by the term quality, especially since we claim to find the truly good coffees. We search for quality through screening and scrutinizing, then we articulate the result with a list of the coffee’s flavor attributes, and a numerical score out of 100. CCS sets the bar at 86 points for the coffee we buy. We recognize that this number isn’t self explained, but it is an efficient and simplified way of communicating a starting point for most people in the industry.

The common denominator for an “86” coffee is its clarity, and this means more than clean coffee. Clarity is a sensorial term that describes how a coffee opens and expresses its attributes, usually with the help of a structuring acidity. This combination creates complexity in the cup and many more desired attributes.

Sharing this experience of actually tasting the qualities through cupping is key to understanding and agreeing on a value for a coffee. Thus the point of using a numeric scale to express the quality is also a way to define its monetary value. Premium is a term for the extra money paid for higher quality, which suggests that the starting point is the right one. We disagree, because that level is more often than not too low.

High quality in coffee is the result of a concrete process and a particular craft, it doesn’t just happen. When certain conditions are in place, making a delicious coffee is achievable, but not easy. By setting our benchmark at 86 we mean to honor the honest craftsmanship and care that goes into making a truly special coffee.

Robert

Read the full report.

A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!

A coffee picker from Gesha Village, Ethiopia. Just look at that selection!

Living Our Values 2017

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It’s that time of year when we pause to review our past and plan for our future. At CCS, we have taken this time to consider why this company was founded, its successes and frustrations, and our hopes for the coming years.

The report, “Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017,” is an attempt to highlight the work we are doing to achieve our mission to “source the right coffee, the right way.”

With this document we aim to hold ourselves accountable to our producers, partners, and customers, and everyone working in specialty coffee.

Before the end-of-year celebrations begin in earnest, we hope you find a moment to read this report. We invite you to question, comment and respond. Please email us at info@collaborativecoffeesource.com with your thoughts.

Read the report: Collaborative Coffee Source, Living Our Values 2017

Santa Barbara, Honduras 2017

Neptaly Bautista: an early CCS partner in Santa Barbara

Neptaly Bautista: an early CCS partner in Santa Barbara

Field Reports from early and late harvest visits

This is an intro and a comment to what CCS is doing in Santa Barbara. As we are celebrating our 12th+ year of working in this region we are assessing some experiences and looking ahead; at how we want work here going forward.

CCS is making such a direct impact in this community like nowhere else I can think of. Our position is strong, which comes with great responsibility. One that I do not take lightly. It is really humbling. Our deeds are seen and our words are heard. Any temptation to give suggestions to a farmer-friend must be well thought through before it is said, or else, before you know it, what you said will be done.

These partnerships have fortunately been mutually beneficial. Yields have never been higher and the quality has never been better. That is of course not to our credit and is thanks to hard work from the people that live and breathe in Santa Barbara.

There is no mistake: Buying is Power. It has always been like that in this business and continues to be the case. CCS’ buying-power is evident in Santa Barbara, which is important for the things we want to achieve with San Vicente. This is a fact that we are well aware of and is something that needs to be protected, nourished, cherished and held on to.

In the years that have passed since the beginning of our focused sourcing and concrete buying from the region began, CCS is now committing to 20 times our original volume. When looking ahead we should prepare ourselves, collaborate with our farming partners (including our exporter San Vicente), and communicate with the marketplace that we will double the current volume within the next few years; a growth that is inevitable and has been almost organic.

The Moreno family: one of CCS' strongest partnerships anywhere

The Moreno family: one of CCS' strongest partnerships anywhere

How This All Began

It started with buying just a few bags from Natividad Benitez, the first-place winner of Cup of Excellence in 2005. It sparked a relationship between Natividad and MOCCA in Oslo (later MOCCA’s roasting operation became a separate roasting company: KAFFA) yet instead we found ourselves growing into relationships with some of his neighbors over the course of the next couple of years. From these humble beginnings, today we find ourselves working with 40 families — and counting — through Collaborative Coffee Source.

Santa Barbara is one of those regions that was clearly discovered and defined by the CoE program. Arturo Angel Paz of San Vicente Coffee Exporters, is a dedicated and curious coffee cupper. He met Miguel Moreno of El Cedral, an ambitious and anxious producer (he was in huge debt at the time just before the competition) when Miguel dropped off one of his samples. From this moment, these two men have been instrumental in changing the Honduran coffee scene forever: Santa Barbara has clearly developed into an appellation. Ironically today, coffee cherries from Marcala (formerly recognized as the important coffee region in Honduras) are bought to be dried in Santa Barbara.

Like so many places we are visiting and buying from, the coffee supply chain and trade has clearly separated into two tracks: commercial or specialty, which not only defines level of ambition and empowerment, but livelihood and thus, level of poverty, to be clear. The dream of most farmers in the know is to find ‘a buyer’ — un comprador — one to grow with. Coffee farming is incredibly labor intensive and the only way to make a living when one has a small farm is to work the land yourself and engaging other family members. Only when the land is larger, just like in any economy, really, can one afford the overhead cost of management.

Having pickers/workers/employees, even in countries where the cost of labor is already unsustainably low (for the worker) when paid at its minimum level, is still the main cost for making coffee. It is also the cost that farmers really experience to be their main economic challenge.

The current price of coffee, even when at levels paid for specialty coffee these days, is dependent on keeping people in poverty, or at least paying them as little as possible for a job that is not only hard and uncomfortable — but totally necessary.

So when we speak about ‘equitable’ and ‘sustainable’ business for the people, we mean everyone involved.

Pedro Sagastume (L) and his son-in-law, Edwin Pineda (R). Gen II relationships in SB

Pedro Sagastume (L) and his son-in-law, Edwin Pineda (R). Gen II relationships in SB

Paying up

Having responsibility suggests that one act responsibly. Our sense of ‘duty’ in these Santa Barbara communities is firm. I strongly believe that the only way to talk about the issues of ‘livelihood’ and ‘poverty’ is to acknowledge the fact that money matters — for all parties involved — and now is the time to bring it up with our suppliers in a way that is also making them feel the responsibility that they have as employers of coffee workers, many times from their own community and sometimes their neighbors.

There can be a subtle nuance between suggesting and requiring something. As much as there may be a desire to change things for what we think is better, we walk a fine line in trying not to impose our mindset. Exposing ignorance is one thing. Worse is being seen as disrespecting cultural differences and inter-relational dynamics in the communities that we - after all - visit only for a few days each year. We have to acknowledge that we don’t live our farming partners’ lives.

Still, this is the new paradigm we are working toward: This harvest/buying season we are increasing the FOB price to $4.25/4.50 per pound (hence Farm Gate pricing is increasing proportionally) as the BASE price for an 86-points lot, we are at the same time ‘asking’ that the farmers also the pay their workers: farm-workers, pickers, etc., more. It is not a condition, but this increase of 50 cts/lb from last season is meant to give the farmer/land owner/owner of the facilities/business person/ employer an opportunity to distribute some of the gains they are making in relationship with us, to their workers.

As for the farms themselves: the stories, challenges and qualities from this harvest, we’ll share these over the next few weeks as we receive the lots and distribute them to their homes all over the world. Due to the prolonged harvest season, which started in January and went all the way to June, we have visited the region more often this year and have thus selected lots from the mid-harvest point (March), which has now just landed. The lots selected from the later harvest point (June) will soon be afloat.

Follow here and our social media for more on the specific farm updates that we will present in the coming days and weeks.

Coming up in the next season, we will work closely with a team of people on the ground to improve quality even further and in all aspects of making great coffee: husbandry, picking, processing, drying and packaging.

See you soon at a cupping table near you!

- Robert W

CCS' New Design Profile

If you've experienced the process of growing your hair out from a short hairstyle to a longer one, you understand exactly what is meant by the "awkward growing out" period. This year CCS is creating a new design profile because we want to better and more simply communicate the work that we do. Design is a language that connects with the senses; it conveys meaning through images and style in a way that is intuitive. It does some of the work in communicating that words cannot.

CCS' new icon is the Right Whale, which got its name from whale hunters who appreciated it for having all the qualities that they needed. Just as the whale hunters viewed this specie as the 'right one' we believe our customers and suppliers are confident in us based on the quality of our work and products. We aim to find the right coffee supplier and coffee for the right roaster and vice versa.

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Like CCS and its partners, the Right Whale species is divided into southern and northern groups that travel the ocean between the continents and always live within tight-knit communities. Whereas the Right Whale is distinctive and a bit odd it its looks and smile, we've been told that we're a bit odd and unique. We take this to mean that we're noticed for having a different approach to specialty coffee and are appreciated for it ;).

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In the coming months, look out for the whale and its distinctive dark blue colour. The blue was chosen to both contrast and complement the playfulness of the whale while simultaneously conveying the complexity of our industry and the professionalism that our team strives for.

Our new typography - which you will initially see more in our price lists, print and posters - is inspired by the trade industry: it's a moderate and sober use of typography that used to be found on inventory lists from the 1930s until the 1980s, that we are repurposing for ourselves now.

We are now going to focus on unveiling a brand new website that will hopefully launch by the end of the year. The aims for it are to be easy to navigate, interactive, and containing all the information that you're wishing for in an accessible format.

A big thank you for your ongoing support!

- Melanie & the rest of the CCS team

Panama Harvest Visit, March 2017

The purpose of my recent visit to Boquete, Panama was to spend a couple of days cupping with long-time friends and partners. Over the course of this visit, I observed and learned about the latest developments concerning how coffee cultivation has changed in this famed micro-region. My hosts and the coffees we cupped included:

  • Hacienda Esmeralda, Geishas, Washed and Naturals
  • Elida Estate, Catuaí and Geisha, Washed and Naturals
  • Panama Coffee Traders (PCT): the new sourcing and export company of Wilford and Wilford Lamastus Jr. of Finca Elida. Catuaí and Geisha, Washed and Naturals.

This visit proved to be a bit early ‘in the season’ for cupping, although mid-March isn’t typically early in Central America. One major reason for this comparatively “later” harvest period is that the farmers we are buying from, along with many more in the Boquete valley, are growing their best coffees at higher and higher altitudes, in part due to climate change.
 

Climate Change, Geisha & the Harvest Period

Ronaldo, who has been working with coffee farming in Boquete over three decades (most notably at La Hacienda Esmeralda) is unequivocal about the average temperature noticeably increasing upward over the years. Rain patterns have also been changing; there is later or irregular rain, leading to “irregular” flowering and harvest periods. The harvest period is now starting in December lasting in August, with the main harvest period going from February through April.

The farmers in Boquete are incredibly competitive and they have long been rivalling one another in growing Geisha trees at the climactically highest altitudes possible. Early on this meant exceeding 1900 meters above sea level, then 2000 and today, ‘high’ has increased to 2100 masl. What was once not even considered possible is now happening, due both to competition and climate change. What’s next?

Ripe geisha cherries at La Hacienda Esmeralda

Ripe geisha cherries at La Hacienda Esmeralda

Regardless of temperature or climate change, the Geisha plant is a sturdy one once it has settled. But it is also delicate and slow growing in terms of producing fruit worth calling a harvest. These factors, along with the high altitudes, the fact that Geisha cultivation requires seven to eight years or more of careful husbandry, the necessary wind protection, nourishment, and waiting, all culminate in the Geishaendeavour requiring great investments in time and all other imaginable resources.

The coffees themselves are becoming more elegant, whether wet processed or other. I think that when it is well done, Geisha might be one of the best varieties to make naturals from. I’m not saying that natural processing makes for a better cup than washed per se. But the best version of this variety and this method is showing its best and true attributes here. These Geisha naturals showcase the processing method in such a way that makes for both complexity and balance: they have all the floral notes and structured acidity, together with all the sweetness, body, and juiciness that a 94-points kind-of-coffee ought to have.
 

Hacienda Esmeralda

During the weekend of my visit, La Hacienda Esmeralda was celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The farm started with dairy production during the late ‘60s, moved into coffee soon afterward and is today strong in both fields. In the coffee world, Esmeralda is The World's #1 most recognized farm for Geisha coffee. After all, it was the Peterson family that discovered it. Who even spoke about Geisha before the Best of Panama competition in 2004?

Happy 50th Anniversary, La Hacienda Esmeralda! Big congrats to the Peterson Family.

Happy 50th Anniversary, La Hacienda Esmeralda! Big congrats to the Peterson Family.

Earlier, I mentioned Ronaldo who has been working with the Peterson family since 2002. He arrived when they bought the now-famous plot on the Jaramillo hillside where the first Geisha trees were discovered. Back then, Geisha trees were being harvested from an altitude range of 1450 to 1650 masl. Much has changed since then.

Esmeralda continues to dry their lots on cement patios and in mechanical driers. There has been little innovation there. Their meticulousness, however, is unquestionable, along with their coffees’ cup results. As a matter of fact, I have yet to see the same consistency in results from other markets. I’m thinking particularly about colleagues from across the border in Costa Rica, who claim theirs are the best practices when it comes to drying naturals and ‘honey’ coffee on raised African beds. I’m wondering whether these methods truly make a difference.

What are the cup-profile correlations? And what are the long-term effects of a given method? How well does the processed green coffee keep its quality?

Robert (left) with Wilford Lamastus of Finca Elida

Robert (left) with Wilford Lamastus of Finca Elida


Finca Elida and Designing Flavour

Speaking of processing and cup quality, Wilford Lamastus of Finca Elida told me he is growing more and more skeptical of de-pulping machines (i.e. eco-pulpers). He thinks it is obvious that the pulper’s physical strain on the parchment, including the centrifuging of the mucilage, is damaging the coffee-in-parchment to an extent that is limiting the quality potential of the coffee both in the cup and over time.

While I understood his evidence as anecdotal, I think it is worth following up. Wilford now processes his best coffee without de-pulping. Rather, the skin is removed using good old-fashioned fermentation and washing techniques, which he calls hand washed coffee. I like that.

This classic process uses more water, so for this is a problematic trend (if it becomes one, again) in terms of environmental considerations. On the other hand, and this became clear to me later in the conversation with Wilford, the other motivation for taking the cherry-skin off carefully is to preserve the skin as well as possible so he can make the best possible cascara from it. Some good news for the same environmental analyses.

Drying at Finca Elida

Drying at Finca Elida

Elida’s lots, both washed and natural, are generally cupping great, with scores ranging from 86 to 89 points (the family might have scored them higher). There were only a few scoring a disappointing 84 points and then the family knew something had gone wrong, whether in the drying or in the roasting. There were also cups that were (un)questionably winey, but then again, these are spot-on for other buyers’ preferences. So it goes.

Like those winey flavors in your naturals and want more? You’ve got it! The Elida approach to servicing a market, by designing flavor, is something we are seeing in other places in the coffee world too. Wilford is adamant about this approach being a pragmatic one. From his perspective as a craftsman, the ‘secret’ lies in the drying of naturals. For those that want a cleaner cup with less mature-fruit driven flavors, he will suggest a faster dried coffee cherry: one dried on a hotter surface; using thinner layers; with more sun exposure and more raking; over 5-7 days. Done! For a fruitier cup for other markets, he will deliberately do a slower drying by using raised African beds, thicker layers, less shade or less direct sunlight, turning just once a day, with a two-week drying time, or more.
 

Pricing

Beyond the yearly ritual of cupping with Rachel (at Esmeralda) and Wilford & Wilford Jr. (at Elida), I learned a few things about how Boquete producers strategize their production and sales, even designing profiles of their lots to meet various markets. It has been evident for years that Boquete is the home of Geisha in quite literal, as well as statistical senses. There is a tremendous amount of Geisha plants being grown, whether it’s the re-planting of existing farm land, or new plantings. The Lamastus' farms alone will plant 45,000+ trees this year, which is on par with their growth last year. Given the time it takes to see any noticeable harvest, production levels aren’t going to explode any time soon.

The Petersons, easily already the biggest Geisha farmers in this community, continue to buy land and grow trees at a formidable rate. They do so in no rush and with no cutting of corners. The family work with coffee based on solid investments and farm work. I often think that we owe a great deal of gratitude to the fact that it was this family, and this community, that discovered Geisha. Had it been somebody else, what would they have done? Would the field have advanced to where it is today?

The Petersons: (from left) Daniel, Rachel, Erik, Susan & Price)

The Petersons: (from left) Daniel, Rachel, Erik, Susan & Price)

Auctions continue to be a thermometer and a regulator for the price setting of Geisha coffee, although, going from astronomically high prices of $300+ per pound, to more down-to-earth levels of $30/lb and below speaks clearly, in dollar value terms, that not all Geisha lots are ‘worth' the same. At BoP and at Esmeralda’s very own auctions, the lots are very competitive in quality. For example, Esmeralda is not auctioning any lot under 88-points. This means that when they sell their Private Collection, it is a blend of 86-88 points, which is not a bad deal, considering that one does not need to bid for it.

Farmers delivering to and succeeding at Best of Panama know that they cannot expect to sell their non-auction 86-point Geishas at +$30 per pound. While I think these price-structures are interesting and well deserved, we must realize that there is a new economy in coffee that is separate from and totally different than the rest of the coffee market. Like in any other well-functioning economy, knowledge is power. In Boquete, cupping is key, and the best farmers in this town are also the best cuppers, competing with their customers in knowing the most about what’s on the table. When these coffees meet an educated market, offered by empowered farmers, it is a quite beautiful battle. One that is ‘fought’ on equal terms.

The Best of Panama Auction has been instrumental in empowering Panama coffee farmers in setting great benchmark prices for their lots

The Best of Panama Auction has been instrumental in empowering Panama coffee farmers in setting great benchmark prices for their lots

Elida sells its Catuaí cascara for $3.50/lb and its Geisha for $10/lb. Power!

This year, the Lamastuses introduced me to their Panama Coffee Traders' (PCT) program for sourcing and buying lots from neighbours. This company was started with the aim of finding buyers good and sold Boquete coffees that are at a lower price-point. While my visit proved to be a bit early in the season, I still cupped some lots and have asked about places, people and potential for future relationships. I scored one non-Geisha from PCT at 86 points and the highest scores were between 86.5 and 87-points but both were Geisha.

Well, the season isn’t over and symptomatically of climate change and coffee growing at higher altitudes, the BoP which used to take place in Early-April is now happening at the end of May. Hopefully you, the buyer, will accept these realities and not fill up your inventories with other Central American coffees, while Boquete coffee have not yet been harvested.

- Robert

SCA x CCS 2017

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We will be cupping a curated selection of our coffees: available, soon to be available, along with some stunners that simply need revisiting.

Date: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Time: 10:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: The Cupping Exchange, Room 618
 

Honduras

From the currently harvesting. Showcasing long-time friends and new acquaintances from Santa Barbara, which produces some of our most interesting Central American offerings coming from some of our longest-standing relationships.

Moreno Family, El Cedral, Santa Barbara

Moreno Family, El Cedral, Santa Barbara

Guatemala

A selection of some of the most versatile coffees we offer. Featuring cups from Antigua & Huehuetenango.

Luis Pedro Zelaya Zamora, Bella Vista Mill

Luis Pedro Zelaya Zamora, Bella Vista Mill


Kenya

Charles Cardoso from Kenyacof will be on hand to discuss the flight of freshly harvested coffees (on offer), along with the ups and downs of the just completed harvest season.

Mary Maina, Manyeki Estate

Mary Maina, Manyeki Estate


Ethiopia

From mainstays to our first international presentation of newly established relationships with cooperatives in the Agaro region.

Asnake Nigat of Kata Muduga Union

Asnake Nigat of Kata Muduga Union


Colombia

Alejandro Renjifo of Fairfield Trading will accompany the presentation of our Acevedo lots, freshly arrived and meticulously curated during the Acevedo Cup Competition from December 2016.

Alejandro Renjifo (R) with Acevedo Cup winner Fernando Bustos (C) & Eduardo Urquina of Fairfield Trading (L)

Alejandro Renjifo (R) with Acevedo Cup winner Fernando Bustos (C) & Eduardo Urquina of Fairfield Trading (L)


Burundi

Ben Carlson from Long Miles Coffee joins us as we cup and reflect on how stunning these Burundian coffees have been and what it took to get them there.

Ben Carlson (L) with Jeremie Nakimuhana (C) from Long Miles with a farmer from Mikuba Hill

Ben Carlson (L) with Jeremie Nakimuhana (C) from Long Miles with a farmer from Mikuba Hill


Sal, Martell, Robert and David will be on hand to talk about the coffees, the origins, and also CCS, our model and fielding inquiries/interest on working together.

Our session is open to the public. The room is set for 30 people, with 25/30 spots already confirmed.

Get in touch with Sal to secure these last spots. He will also be happy to schedule a meeting with you should you not be able to attend the cupping.

What Makes a Great Origin Partner?

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Ciro Lugo, Acevedo, Huila

Ciro Lugo, Acevedo, Huila

While in Colombia several weeks ago, David and I explored a new microregion that we have high hopes for working extensively with in the future: Acevedo, a municipality located in the southeast corner of the Huila department. When we originally made our travel plans, the idea was to travel when we could cup through the best of the main harvest, which usually takes place between May to July in South Colombia (‘mitaca’/fly is usually in November). But given the many and devastating effects of El Niño this year, the peak of harvest had not yet occurred. In many cases, farmers experienced little to no harvest at all during the main harvest period and were only starting to see mature cherries by the time we arrived in late August. We were presented with some excellent lots anyway, which are now making their way to our East Coast US warehouse in NJ, and this speaks to the quality of the producers we met throughout the week we spent in Acevedo.

We’ve met great people who have provided us with good to great coffees from various departments in Colombia throughout the years, but for one reason or another, we’ve had difficulty finding partners that are just the right fit for us. Colombia was a bit of an elusive origin for us until we started the wonderful partnership we’ve been developing with the always innovative and exceptional team at La Palma & El Túcan over the last two years. But given the boutique nature of their projects, we wanted to find an supplier/exporter who could provide us access to a larger group of small producers growing exceptional coffee with goal of working on a long-term basis.

New partnerships for us, while not always entered into slowly (though they sometimes are) are always very thoughtfully considered. We are not only looking for the best cups from one harvest; we are looking to invest our time and energy (and business) into teams who share our value of building long-term relationships based on mutually beneficial goals, such as understanding what quality is and all that it requires. Put in a different way: there’s a big difference between working with a supplier that will try to do whatever you ask in order to get your business, and one who has confidence, their own ambitions, and the knowledge they’re providing you with their very best efforts and coffee.
 

The Unsung Work of the Exporter

The work of the coffee grower is the focal point in almost all discussions about origin and coffee production. There are good and very obvious reasons for this. Some of our strongest partnerships are with the people who own/manage coffee plantations and we both love to highlight and want to share their work with as many roasters as we can reach.

In some cases, the most important partnership at an origin is with the exporter. Even in instances where the farm(er) is the basis for a relationship, the coffee simply wouldn’t reach us in the shape we expect if not for the work of a dedicated exporter. Sometimes the farmer and the exporter are one and the same but very often, they are separate. Just as we provide more than logistical services to roasters, exporters provide a vital and wide array of services both to us, as well as to the farmers we buy coffee from.

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At its most basic, the work of the exporters we buy coffee from include quality control, packaging, and the organizing and handling of the export process. In several cases they do and have to be involved with much more, bringing me to the introduction to our new export partner in Acevedo.
 

Fairfield Trading

Alejandro Renjifo, Fairfield’s founder and president, has a background one might not expect from the person that led us along bumpy dirt roads for four hours every day during the week we toured in and around Acevedo meeting with potential (and in some cases now, actual) farmer partners. In his former career as a coffee economist, Alejandro held long stints at both the International Coffee Organization (ICO) and the Federación Nacionale de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC). One highlight from this past experience is that during his time with the FNC, he was the one to launch its specialty division for North America (!).

This background alone, while impressive, isn’t what inspires our confidence as a coffee importer. What has mostly struck us about the Fairfield team is that they value and have cultivated excellent palates as well as possess a keen sense for how to forge good and personal relations with each and every smallholder with which they work. Spending the first half of each day cupping the farmers’ coffees that we later visited, it was easy to see how much thought and planning had gone into each table and subsequent visit. It wasn’t just that the coffees presented matched the farmers we later visited; it was specifically that the coffees were so obviously targeted toward what the Fairfield team thought we’d be interested in both from a cup perspective, as well as the people who made the coffees likely being good matches for us on interpersonal levels.

Understanding and finding the balance between these two elements requires great skill.

Alejandro (L) with Ciro Lugo and Luis Anibal Calderon

Alejandro (L) with Ciro Lugo and Luis Anibal Calderon

Some of you reading this know that we are proud of the partnerships we’ve forged throughout the years with the farmers we work with in Santa Barbara, Honduras. All the coffees we buy from this microregion are consistently good to excellent and the transformations we see each year not only on the farms, but in the wider communities as a result of the investments our partners are able to make from the premiums we (you) pay, brings us and our partnering farmers endless pride and further drive to work even better.

The reason I bring up Santa Barbara here is because David had noted similarities with the people he met in Acevedo during his first visit in May, in terms of the atmosphere of the community and the people’s ambitions, to our partners in Santa Barbara. The idea that we could be at the beginning of this caliber of partnership in Acevedo is as exciting as it is motivating.

The CCS Acevedo Cup can’t come soon enough.

Melanie

2016 El Niño/La Niña & Effects

Eight months of dry heat has left plants struggling to produce fruit. The farmer pictured above simply had no coffee production as of May, during the usual peak of harvest. Zero.

Eight months of dry heat has left plants struggling to produce fruit. The farmer pictured above simply had no coffee production as of May, during the usual peak of harvest. Zero.

Climate Change & Its Impacts on Coffee Production

Most of us are well aware that coffee is highly susceptible to climate change. During visits to pretty well all coffee producing countries, the evidence - signs and stories - are there for all of us to see and hear.During our recent travels to both Colombia and Brazil, the impacts of climate change were all around us. From Colombian producer stories of little to no (yes, zero) production during peak harvest, to decreased sugar content in cherries due to plants being impacted by severe rains in Brazil, it becomes increasingly obvious that in addition to having strong agronomic practices and great cup profiles, being a great coffee producer now also means being adaptable to climate change.
 

El Niño vs. La Niña

First a brief background to the two weather phenomena we observed the effects of during our recent trip.

Whereas El Niño is referring to the warming of tropical Pacific surface waters from near the International Date Line to the west coast of South America from November to March once every 3 to 7 years, La Niña is the cooling of sea surface temperatures and takes place roughly half as often as El Niño.

(For an in-depth intro to the connections between climate change and these two weather phenomena, please see the links (below) under "Further Reading".)
 

El Niño & Colombia's Coffee Harvest

While travelling throughout the countryside in Huila, Colombia our team learned that while there was a net increase in coffee production between July 2015 to July 2016, this figure says nothing of the devastation El Niño wreaked earlier this year. Many of the country's departments, in particular Huila, experienced both the worst drought conditions and some of the highest recorded temperatures in over 130 years.

As described earlier, many farmers suffered through zero production moving into the peak of harvest. The lack of a harvest was caused by cherries not producing seeds due to the lack of rain and lead to a further serious consequence that many cherry picking labourers, who are paid by weight, simply refused to pick whatever was produced on the trees. For affected coffee farmers, the lack of picking causes even more future harm because the trees are then not prepared for the next harvest cycle.
 

La Niña & Brazil

While El Niño causes dry and even drought like conditions, like the ones our Colombian partners faced, La Niña produces the opposite: excessively rainy/wet conditions. In the case of our partners in the Carmo de Minas region of Brazil, La Niña brought three times the amount of rain at the beginning of the season than normal and this caused not only damage to many of the cherries, but also a disproportionate number of defects due to the increased opportunities for bacteria to infect drying cherries on the branches of coffee trees. In Brazil, the heat is often so intense during the dry season, when coffee is harvested, that fruit begins to parch while its still on the branches.

The results of all of this is evident in the cup, as many of the coffees we tasted had less sweetness and complexity than in previous years. The good news is that we were able to find and pick out the best of what was on offer. It just took more concentration during our screening and more samples to find these gems. From a farm perspective, our partners are fortunately well organized and have great practices and infrastructure in place. They can rely on some of their other farm activities to make up for coffee deficits from this harvest and are able to plan, adapt to and mitigate possible long-term effects from the weather conditions this year.


It wasn't all bad news during the course of this trip. We are delighted to report that in Colombia, production has picked up due to increased and steady rain over the past couple of months. We have begun working with a new partner in the Acevedo, Huila region in Colombia that we will elaborate further on in the near future.

In Brazil, our partners at Carmo Coffees are working on some incredibly interesting and potentially ground-breaking work on varieties and processing. We hope to offer some early showcases from this work in the coming arrivals and will keep you posted on how the coffees cup when we receive samples.

 

Further Reading

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1306-x

https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/enso/march-2016-el-ni%C3%B1o-update-spring-forward

http://reliefweb.int/report/world/la-ni-early-warning-early-action-analysis-potential-la-ni-2016-2017-revised-edition

http://www.cafedecolombia.com/bb-fnc-en/index.php/comments/how_el_nino_la_nina_affect_production_of_cafe_de_colombia/

Coffee Profile: Washed Gesha, Gesha Village Estate

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z (1)
23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z (1)

Name: Gesha Village
Nearest Town: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Varieties: Wild Gesha
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Washed Gesha goes through a mechanical demucilager, soaked for 24-36 hours and then shade dried to 30 percent moisture content.It is then transferred to a raised African bed for further drying before it is bagged and stored for export.


Cupping Notes

Lot 14(WHQ-G1-14):With hints of peach and cranberry, Lot 14 scored 87 points for its tropical profile.Smooth with light florals notes, this Gesha lot is easy on the palate.

Lot 21(WHQ-G1-121):With a burst of aromatic fruits, Lot 21 scored a high of 87.5 points during CCS cuppings in both North American and Europe with everyone noting the cups sweetness even as it cooled.Reminiscent of baked pears, this Gesha lot is elegant and complete.

Lot 32(WHQ-G1-32):A welcome to late Summer/ early Autumn, Lot 32 scored in at 87 points and is full of deep red berries and apricots.The mouthfeel of this washed Gesha is full and lingers pleasantly after each sip.

Lot 123(WHQ-G1-123):This lot scored a high of 87 points for its transparent qualities.With very subdued acidity levels, the introduction of Lot 123 from Gesha Village offers a melange of cooked berries.Blackberries and lingonberries are very prominent and has a clean finish. 
 

The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.


Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

22991764230_61bc816d76_z.jpg

Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

23287632835_04e4995d4b_z.jpg

Coffee Profile: Natural Gesha, Gesha Village Estate

23261512476_975c8a6b91_z
23261512476_975c8a6b91_z

Name: Gesha Village
Province: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Natural
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Varieties: Wild Gesha
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Naturals from The Gesha Village go through a rigorous selection process.Run through a wash, floaters are removed and all quality cherries are transferred to raised African beds where they are dried in thin layers using a parabolic plastic cover.


Cupping Notes

Lot 1.4(NHQ-G1-1.4): Tropical with clear aromatics of Guava, this natural lot from Gesha Village is bright and flavorful and scored a high of 87.5.Full of cantaloupe, the finish is refreshing.

Lot 1314(NHQ-G1-1314):A very floral natural Gesha, Lot 1314 combines the acidity of apples with hints of mango.Long yet sweet, this lots allows you to savor the complexity of Gesha in a naturally complex state.Scoring 87 points during cupping, it lives up to its name.

Lot 1617(NHQ-G1-1617):The highest score of our Gesha naturals(88 points), Lot 1617 is a wonderful experience combining orange blossoms and rose petals.With a sparkling acidity level, this lot is bright with a slight hint of rosemary.

Lot 7910(NHQ-G1-7910): With a score of 87, this natural Gesha is vibrant and full of bright red berries.Raspberry is very prominent with notes of red apples adding a hint of sweetness. 
 

The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z-1.jpg

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.
 

Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

22991764230_61bc816d76_z.jpg

Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

23287632835_04e4995d4b_z.jpg

Coffee Profile: Illubabor Variety, Gesha Village Estate

23287639555_019267440e_z
23287639555_019267440e_z

Name: Gesha Village
Province: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Variety: Illubabor 1974
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


About

Illubabor 1974 is a research variety washed with a mechanical demucilager, soaked for 24-36 hours and then shade dried to 30 percent moisture content.It is then transferred to a raised African bed for further drying before it is bagged and stored for export.


Cupping Notes

Lot 252627(WHQ-JR-252627):Illubabor is a varietal which introduces us to the wonderful prospects Gesha Village has to offer beyond Gesha coffee varieties.Scoring a high of 88 points during US and European cuppings, this varietal is wild with jasmine, honey and passionfruit standing out.The body is sweet with finishes of melon and honeydew.Truly a gem from the Gesha Village estate.


The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants
23287555755_9bdbd51a95_z.jpg

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.

23204926041_ca4a667dc2_z-1.jpg

Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.


The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.

23287559545_efff52ce74_z.jpg

Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.


Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.


Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?

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Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.


Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.

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Santa Barbara, Honduras 2016 update

Yojoa Lake & Santa Barbara Mountain

Yojoa Lake & Santa Barbara Mountain

Since the beginning of our work in Santa Barbara, Honduras, which even started before CCS existed, through our sister-company KAFFA Oslo (a roaster), the relationships we’ve developed within this region have been some of the strongest and most exciting of all the relationships we have in all the coffee origins we work with.

What started out as purchasing coffee from a mere handful of farmers has expanded to our working with almost 40 producers across 4 municipalities. And the growth is only increasing, which is good since a high demand for these coffees have developed over the years. Still, there is more demand than there is supply and we still need to be scrutinizing and picky to get the really good stuff. The great news is that more and more farmers are becoming ambitious and know what the market is demanding.

Santa Barbara is an area that has, over the years, become recognized namely by some of the very same producers we have developed close ties with. And more broadly, Honduras has made a strong name for itself in the coffee world. For example, in this year’s Cup of Excellence (2016), Honduras was put on the map as an origin that has a variety of varieties that now include geisha. Some of these coffees are scoring the high 80s and are even reaching 90s, thus fetching historically high auction prices (worldwide) at +$120/lb.

View from El Guayabo, the plot that produced one of the best coffees from Santa Barbara this season

View from El Guayabo, the plot that produced one of the best coffees from Santa Barbara this season

There are three major developments that we are excited about sharing with respect to our work in Santa Barbara (S.B.) this year:

1) A new price agreement

We have raised the bar and so necessarily, the price. The fact that the market is still low should not matter to the long-standing and loyal producers of the greatest coffees around.

Our goal always from the beginning is to only buy 86+ point coffee. Practically, some of the lots we have purchased from SB have been at 85 points. In agreeing to work with someone long-term, there needs to be support even and perhaps especially during the times that all factors are not at their optimal.

Today, we happily report that there are more 86-point coffees than ever and consequently, we are raising prices for the considerable efforts made. So we are both paying more than ever. On the other hand, if the coffees are less than 86, we are also paying less.

The price and score breakdown

The price and score breakdown

The prices this year range from $3.00/lb to $4.50/lb FOB and in today’s market, these prices are very high. Our farmer partners not only expressed gratitude for our continued relationship and support but they are re-investing in land, facilities, their families and their children’s education. Some of the farmers we’ve worked with longest are truly prospering.

CCS' strongest Santa Barbara allies: the Moreno family

CCS' strongest Santa Barbara allies: the Moreno family

2) Deforestation is not accepted!

The demand for coffee has pressured/tempted an increasing number of farmers to cut adjacent natural forest in order to plant more coffee. The consequences of these practices are devastating and we have expressed a strict opposition to this. To be clear, CCS will not buy coffee from newly deforested areas and we have had meeting with the mayor of one of the municipalities in order to get even support for this message.

Some negative effects from deforestation

Some negative effects from deforestation

Another sad image about deforestation and its effects

Another sad image about deforestation and its effects

A gentlemen's agreement: no forest killing! The Morenos are in agreement and will help communicate this important message around the community

A gentlemen's agreement: no forest killing! The Morenos are in agreement and will help communicate this important message around the community

3) Processing: drying & shade

As we’ve come to learn, one of the key factors in making good quality coffee is processing. It is also clear that the process itself, and the drying stage in particular, is making for a more or less long-lived cup quality. This is becoming increasingly important in S.B. as the international recognition for the area rises and the prices go up.

Roasters need for green coffee to keep up their quality months after arrival. A fading coffee feels demoralizing to all of us and is oftentimes not an understood or experienced phenomenon by the farmer. Some are educating themselves about this and taking the need for solutions seriously.

As a general rule our partners have been implementing drying slower and under shade in order to protect parchment from direct sunlight in the first steps of the drying process. This has proven favorable.

Although this is currently one of the investments we are seeing in the field, just four years it was rare to see farmers drying their own coffee in the first place. These days, some are very proud of their being masters of the processing craft.

- Robert

Mario Moreno w/ his new drying beds now with shade

Mario Moreno w/ his new drying beds now with shade

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Direct Trade and the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange: What’s the Problem?

98% of the coffee exported out of Ethiopia goes through the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange (ECX), so to say it’s important is a massive understatement. But it’s also a struggle to understand, makes transparency seem as out of reach as world peace, and causes a lot of misrepresentation about what Ethiopian coffee is and how the export process works. In fact, it’s almost incomprehensible as to why the ECX is so, well, incomprehensible. Anyone who imports Ethiopian coffee can attest to the resulting challenges, frustrations, and constant changes they experience when buying from this coveted origin.

So two stakeholders in the Ethiopian coffee trade have sat down for a Q&A on what the ECX is, why it makes it difficult to buy directly from source, and how the process may improve in the future. Read on to to discover what this confusing system is all about.

Coffee being processed in Gedeb, Ethiopia

Coffee being processed in Gedeb, Ethiopia

The Q&A Participants

Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco P.L.C. is an exporter of Ethiopian coffee. Her family has been working in the coffee trade in Ethiopia for three generations, and Moplaco was established by her father, Yanni, in 1971.

Melanie Leeson is a coffee buyer/importer for the Collaborative Coffee Source, whose founders have been establishing close partnerships with coffee producers and exporters since 2005 through their sister company, Kaffa Roastery, in Oslo, Norway. Since 2012, CCS has independently continued to strengthen these early partnerships and is continuously and thoughtfully adding new partnerships – producers, exporters, and roasters alike – to its supplier roster and customer base, which together span over five continents.


The ECX: A Q&A

Melanie Leeson: Heleanna, explain to me the different ways someone can buy coffee from Ethiopia. Is it possible to have direct trade Ethiopian coffee?

Heleanna Georgalis: Well, yes. You can buy in three ways:

1. Directly from Unions which form an umbrella on top of a number of cooperatives. Coffees bought this way can come in bulk (e.g. a Sidamo Gr-2) with no specificity behind it, or can come “directly” from the specific cooperatives you have chosen to buy from. This coffee can be fully traceable and recognisable.

2. Directly from a commercial farm that has a minimum of 35 hectares of land. These farms are also recognisable. They offer traceable coffee from their own land, along with coffee most likely collected from the farmers around them.

3. From an exporter who can ONLY buy their coffee from the auction. These coffees are not traceable and are only given general names from wider geographic areas. For example, a Sidamo A would include areas such as Bensa, Guji, and Harorensa.

Wild coffee trees in Kaffa forest

Wild coffee trees in Kaffa forest

Melanie Leeson: Are there any downsides to buying from cooperatives via unions? Why doesn’t everyone who wants traceable coffee just buy from the unions?

Heleanna Georgalis: Although I’m not a buyer myself, I believe people may, in many cases, prefer to buy from an exporter, as they’ve already built a relationship of trust over time.

Buying from a cooperative and union, although they may offer the advantages of traceability and the access to see where and how the coffee has been produced, requires an enormous investment of time. This may form an impediment. And even once a relationship has been established with the cooperative, timely communication and reliability with the union-exporter may become hurdles. In addition, the farmers of the cooperative may not be the full beneficiaries of all these efforts.

However, this option still remains the best option for establishing a desired “direct trade”, as it allows you to deal as close to the origin as possible.

Processing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Processing Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Melanie Leeson: Buyers see a lot of names of Ethiopian coffees in the market. Can you explain how all these names come about, given the fact that 98% of the total produced volume in Ethiopia is still bought from the ECX?

Heleanna Georgalis: There are about four different types of names an exporter, whether a union, farm, or private exporter, can use:

1. A general wider area, such as Sidamo.

2. A specific area, such as Guji, that can be accessed through the ECX because it’s graded as an 80+ coffee. In this case, “Guji coffee” becomes traceable to the wider Guji area. So this kind of traceability is possible for some localities traded through the ECX, but certainly not for all.

3. A specific location, such as Haricha. However, this is only possible if the exporter is a cooperative/union from the area that can directly trade the coffee as “Haricha”. Or if they’re a commercial farm that’s established in that area.

4. A brand that’s a registered name an exporter has given to their coffee.

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Melanie Leeson: Is it possible for an exporter to buy coffee from cooperatives and farms and then market these coffees using their names and locations?

Heleanna Georgalis: “Absolutely not” would be the definite and short answer to this. So when an exporter claims that a coffee comes from Haricha in Yirgachefe, you have to wonder how they know, given the lack of traceability inherent in the auction.

Equally, when an exporter says that their coffee comes directly from one particular washing station, you have to wonder – again – how they could possibly know this, since the coffees from a wider area are just blended together and then given a grade and a classification.

Where is your coffee really from?

Where is your coffee really from?

Melanie Leeson: What was the rationale behind the creation of the ECX? Why the move to remove traceability in the coffee buying process?

Heleanna Georgalis: Let’s say “a lack of adequate information and understanding of the workings of coffee”.

ECX was formed out of the belief that Ethiopia would be able to eliminate or reduce poverty if commodities could have a platform to be traded on, rather than an informal system of supply mainly controlled by or benefiting the “middleman”.

However, coffee already had an established system and platform of trade that had existed since the 1970s. It was well designed to represent and trade coffee in a traceable and sustainable way. Like every system it had its drawbacks, but these were easy to correct.

The move to remove traceability emerged from a belief that if the exporter and the supplier of coffee could identify each other, then collusions could form that would distort the market and make it difficult and unfair for all the players to participate. So the most valuable information of the coffee was removed, but the collusions and special relationships that plagued the previous system have gone underground but have not been hindered.

Moplaco’s Yirgacheffe warehouse

Moplaco’s Yirgacheffe warehouse

Melanie Leeson: I read earlier this year that ECX was rolling out a geotagging system this season. Each bag now comes with a scannable code that will provide the buyer with its precise geographic information. Is this program operational? How is it working out?

Heleanna Georgalis: This system, although cumbersome to implement, and cumbersome for the logistics of any exporter’s warehouse, gave me the hope that the information we need would be restored to us. It would enable us to sell high quality coffee traceably.

At the moment, the system has not yet been fully established. Although efforts have been made to deliver tagged coffee bags to us, they cannot actually be read or traced. I sincerely hope that, as of next year, we will have a clearer view on how the system will actually operate.

Coffee picking in Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Coffee picking in Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Melanie Leeson : What do you think about buyers’ demands for traceability?

Heleanna Georgalis: Reasonable, I would say. How can a product be “special” if it is bulked and blended with other products? How can you understand and appreciate the specificities of each coffee and location unless this information is available?

However, like many demands, this can also become a hurdle to both exporters and buyers in sourcing the best coffees they can. If Ethiopia exports 98% of all its coffees through the auction, it would be unreasonable to believe that this amount would not be sufficient to cover their need for a great coffee.

At the end of the day, traceability does not guarantee quality, although I would say that quality needs to be traceable up to a certain point. I do find some of the demands unreasonable, but then who am I to judge what people have to do to sell their coffee?

Cupping coffees picked and processed at Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Cupping coffees picked and processed at Gesha Village, Ethiopia

Melanie Leeson: One final follow-up question on the geotagging system. As I understand it, the exporter buying a coffee from the auction cannot see or taste the coffee before it is purchased; it’s purchased simply based on the grade the ECX cuppers have given it.

Let’s say the geotagging system is perfectly operational – still, what’s the point of being able to trace the coffee if you have no way of buying it again? If you’re purchasing coffees from the auction with only the wide geographic region and grade as your basis for purchase, then what is traceability for? Other than simply to know where the coffee comes from.

Heleanna Georgalis: This is a very valid point for a person who needs consistency over time. In fact, it represents the exact point that our established new system needs to work on. However, an importer should also remember that, given the current state of infrastructure in Ethiopia, a good Guji Gr-1 wouldn’t taste fundamentally different from another good Guji Gr-1, to give an example.

In Ethiopia, processing is where fundamental changes can happen in the quality of the coffee, but it hasn’t evolved much yet. So both traceability and the ability to re-buy coffee year-to-year is something that isn’t really possible in Ethiopia yet – but the ability to re-buy wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway until processing is revolutionized.

Ethiopia Guji beans

Ethiopia Guji beans

Melanie Leeson: So, so, so many more questions… We could write a book about how coffee works in Ethiopia. Thank you for shedding some light on these points. I look forward to learning more and seeing how the link between traceability and quality develops over time here.

Original article on Perfect Daily Grind

Specialty or Marketability: What Are We Really Selling?

Melanie Leeson and Heleanna georgalis

Melanie Leeson and Heleanna georgalis

via Perfect Daily Grind

The internet has done wonders for coffee. It’s brought the stories of producers to life, revealing the extraordinary work that they do. It’s spread the message of how amazing good coffee can taste, making words like “single origin” and “acidity” far more common. It’s enabled people at origin to reach new markets and receive better prices for their product.

But has all this gone too far? Do we now sell specialty coffee or do we sell a like-inducing photo? And is the time and effort that producers put into marketing themselves for specialty – allowing origin visits, teaching purchasers about their work – being adequately repaid?

Two coffee professionals, one exporter and one importer, share their views on the state of specialty in Ethiopia.

Are we helping communities by selling their coffee – or are we selling communities to help our coffee businesses?

Are we helping communities by selling their coffee – or are we selling communities to help our coffee businesses?

The Exporter Point-of-View: Heleanna

Heleanna Green coffee exporter, farmer, and roaster; one half of Moplaco P.L.C.

My coffee journey has been one of disappointment through to excitement and, now, unease.

As an exporter from Ethiopia, I’m always striving to find the best coffee possible within the limitations that the current auction system (Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, ECX) imposes. Whenever I find great coffee, I get really excited and I hope that my partners will feel the same.

We’re all working towards the same goal: producing a delicious cup. And as someone working in the early part of the chain, I’m trying to find the right market and client base for a given coffee: people who will appreciate it, promote it, and put their best efforts into delivering what the farmers and processors have already put into it.

When I joined the coffee world, one of my first discoveries was that coffee is contradictorily one of the most valuable and yet undervalued commodities in the world. I firmly believed that quality was important and that Ethiopia had the potential to produce it.

Yet I felt frustrated about the way Ethiopia was perceived amongst top roasters. One of them even told me, “Your father saw coffee as this precious little shrub that he had to take care of and that the farmers behind it mattered. But coffee is sold in bulk, in big volumes, so all that romanticism does not matter.” I remember the disappointment I felt so sharply – yet also the burning conviction that my father was right.

Then I discovered the growing specialty market, and I was thrilled to be a part of coffee at that time. I was talking to people who shared the same beliefs as my father and me, I was hearing the word “sustainability”, and I truly felt that people were starting to really think about the future of coffee and the farming communities producing it. I met great people like Geoff Watts, co-owner of Intelligentsia, and saw how all these people upheld those values.

And as more and more people flocked towards specialty, we were delighted. Yet over time, we spotted another shift – one that has left me with feelings of concern.

Today, everyone collects images and stories. And I have to ask myself, has specialty become a competition to take the best photos and gather the best stories? Or is it still about the essence of the coffee itself? Why does a coffee sell: is it its marketability or is it its worth?

Is this coffee farm better if it has an exciting story?

Is this coffee farm better if it has an exciting story?

Here in Ethiopia, I see people selling the wildest stories to a very willing audience. But how many people truly understood how to source really good coffee, how to identify the potential of it, and at the same time sincerely support the communities around it?

Yes, advertising, reviews, public relations, social relations, media, and our own personal experiences affect our perceptions. But are we forgetting about the “sustainable”, “equitable”, “quality driven”, “uniquely sourced” principles that the specialty industry originally set out to achieve? And is the lack of marketing going to plunge otherwise great coffee to the depths of the unknown?

Does the lack of a story have to mean a diminishing perception of quality of the coffee itself?

What sells this coffee: its processing or the photo of its processing? 

What sells this coffee: its processing or the photo of its processing? 

The Importer Point-of-View: Melanie

Melanie Leeson, Director of Marketing and Development at Collaborative Coffee Source, a coffee importer.

I used to think of marketing as a four-letter word. But that was until my perception about what marketing can be changed.

I entered into this business eight years ago, as a barista in Canada, and have worked as a buyer/importer for the last four years for roasters all around the world. And so I’ve encountered a lot of different ideas about, and approaches to doing, specialty coffee.

Within these years, my perception of what marketing is and how it can be used has evolved quite a bit. As an example, one of my early perception shifts came from acknowledging that “education” distributed through a for-profit business is marketing. And so I no longer think of marketing as bad – but I do think that we in specialty need to examine our relationship between marketability and sustainability.

Visiting origin is marketable and it can be sustainable – but the idea that every single roaster who is doing specialty coffee should travel to each origin they buy coffee from isn’t. I think there’s a necessary time and place for roasters to get to know their producing partners and to see how production is done, but I don’t understand it when small/microroasters travel to an origin to source two bags of coffee, using up a lot of a producer’s or exporter’s valuable time and resources in doing so.

Why not travel with your importer and a group of colleagues, so that you can all share your host’s resources? You’d likely see and do more than you would be able to alone, and it would be less costly for the producer.

Marketing doesn’t have to be bad – but it is marketing.

Marketing doesn’t have to be bad – but it is marketing.

As a buyer, I also understand the necessity of working with suppliers with a good reputation and who know how to market their work. For a start, it’s absolutely crucial that you work with people who can expertly prepare and export coffee: I need to be able to present that coffee in the same way I experienced it while cupping it during the buying process – and this will only happen if the coffee departed milled, packaged and organised into the container properly. Regardless of how much effort went into production and how special the cup profile is, the preparation and export process makes or breaks the final result.

So when it comes to the marketability of a coffee, I’m not only looking for engaging photos and stories (though they are nice and I do like them); I’m looking for suppliers that share my value of transparency. And that hinges on the ability for everyone along the coffee chain to be able to convey to the end coffee drinker precisely who made their cup of coffee and what was involved in the producing and transporting of it.

I think it’s great that there are select suppliers who are able to demand high prices for their boutique nano-lots. If it means that coffee is perceived and treated with as much respect as a well-crafted cocktail or glass of wine, I’m all for it.

But I’m in agreement with Heleanna about the need for us to question what “specialty” and “sustainability” mean to us in 2016. It’s far too early for specialty coffee to be coasting on the past 20+ years of hard work in educating the public. There are still far too many producers struggling because they are unknown or, worse, that are not being compensated fairly for their contributions to our industry.

Written by H. Georgalis of Moplaco P.L.C. and M. Leeson of Collaborative Coffee Source and edited by T. Newton.

Coffee & Genetic Diversity

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'Science' is often conflated with 'truth' and this assumption can have far-reaching impacts, both positive and negative, on an industry that is as reliant on evidence-based conclusions as specialty coffee is.

Bruno Latour, a philosopher and sociologist of science, wrote a clear and in-depth analysis back in 1987 about the ways in which scientific communities are inseparable from the traditions, culture and societal perspectives that surround them. This is something that is not often acknowledged within the course of scientific debates and it came to mind when I recently came across diverging sets of research on genetic variability: a topic that is of vital importance to the future of coffee.

Since 2013, World Coffee Research has been undertaking studies on genetic variability and one of their preliminary findings was that there is almost no genetic diversity amongst coffee plants, whether wild or cultivated. Thisconclusion was based on 'an incredibly diverse range' of around 1000 plant samples. It is important to note that these samples were taken from the CATIE coffee germplasm collection, and not wild Ethiopian coffee forests.

If these findings hold true, the consequences could be dire for coffee which is increasingly under threat from climate change and its associated diseases, pests, rain and temperature fluctuations, etc. Coffee requires, as other viable crops do, a broad range of genes from which to select and plant future coffee.

But the findings from World Coffee Research are not corroborated by other researchers who are investigating this same topic. For example, Ethiopian and German researchers from Addis Ababa University and Freie Universität Berlin jointly published an article in 2014 that used inter-simple sequence repeats (ISSR) fingerprinting analysis and found high genetic variability in the forest populations it studied.

One of the realities about conducting any kind of research is that it is almost always conducted within a specific sphere of influence, whether a university, a small international community of acquainted researchers, or a company that has its own R&D department. I'm glad that World Coffee Research exists - it is made up of many great coffee organizations and companies that are specifically working for the specialty coffee community. This industry needs to have bodies such as WCR in order for all of us to thrive and innovate.

What my very short and select literature review highlights is the need for more and closer cooperation between specialty coffee and the wider scientific community. Why shouldn't specialty coffee benefit from the fact that a lot of resources and great minds outside 'our sphere' are addressing some of our biggest questions and challenges?

- Melanie

Ethiopian Coffee: The Timeline

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I want to explain a process that you all have questions about and is super important to your offerings: the timeline of getting Ethiopian coffee from the tree to your roastery.

The prevailing expectation is that since harvest begins in October and ends from December-January, cupping/selections happen in February and March is shipment month. This schedule is based on buyers' experience of the former auction system. It does not reflect the way the current auction system works for mixed containers.

In the old system, coffee was sent to a centralized warehouse and then purchased in Addis. This meant that a coffee purchased in the morning was delivered to the buyer's facility the same day.

When the new ECX system was implemented, the decision was made to place warehouses in 7 locations across the country that make up the geographic regions that coffees are now sold as (e.g. Yirgacheffe, Sidama, Limmu, etc.). So now, when a lot is purchased, it has to travel from the countryside to Addis after the regulated inspections are made and paperwork is in order. This process takes, on average, 10 days.

By the time the coffee arrives in Addis, it has not yet been evaluated by the buyer. In fact, one can only make a quality claim while the coffee is still at its original warehouse. Basically the process makes it impossible to make quality claims because: 1. you have to pay a non-refundable fee of $150 to have your coffee inspected, 2. you have to have a staff member be there to do the inspection, 3. you have to pay your driver's expenses while any claim is made and the resulting appeal is followed up. And of course, the coffee isn't going anywhere and can't be offered to any customers while this process is unfolding.

Let's assume a lot has been purchased on February 1 (e.g. Kochere gr. 1) and it proceeds to Addis without incident:

February 1: Kochere gr. 1 is purchased (it's a full container lot, so 300 bags) February 8: Inspections and paperwork are completed February 10: Kochere arrives at warehouse in Addis February 11: Kochere is first cupped and evaluated by the buyer February 12: sample is sent out to a potential client (e.g. CCS) February 17: sample arrives at CCS' lab for evaluation February 18: sample is roasted February 20: sample is cupped and let's assume, approved February 21: lot goes into the queue for mechanical and hand sorting at the exporter's facility February 28: it's ready for export March 1: earliest possible departure date from exporter to CLU for final inspection before export March 4: container is approved for export by CLU March 5: departure from Addis to Djibouti March 10: container arrives to Djibouti port March 15: container departs from port April 15: container arrives at Antwerp/New Jersey port April 22: container is stripped at Pacorini/Continental warehouse April 24: earliest possible loading to you the roaster

The above timeline is based on the following assumptions: 1. absolutely every step occurs without incident 2. only one lot is within the container

In reality, we purchase containers that are made up of at least 2 different lots (usually it's more like ±5) so that we're able to offer a good variety to our roasters. So each of these lots have to go through the above process and then approved by us for purchase. Getting 5 lots coming from different warehouses with the exact cup characteristics that we like and then getting them machine and hand sorted for export makes March export, well, pretty challenging, to put things lightly. And all the above also assumes that the export facility is functioning at top efficiency and capacity.

Last week the electricity went out on Wednesday at Moplaco and wasn't functioning again until Friday afternoon. Not only was production halted, but a staff member had to take the time to follow up vigilantly with the utilities company to ensure that someone was actually addressing this situation. Heleanna estimates that an entire container's production was halted due to these three days of the electricity cut.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating Ethiopian Easter with Heleanna, her friends and family. One of the people I met on Sunday works for an Italian development agency and another works as an IT consultant for the World Bank. Both of them work with a variety of commodities and have years of experience working not only in Ethiopia but around the world on development projects.

I explained some of the challenges that I've noticed about the export process for coffee and asked for their perspective as to why it's so labyrinthine and challenging. They had some common answers: - small business doesn't matter to policymakers, so there is very little will to make the export process more efficient and transparent, even while government officials totally acknowledge the challenges that exporters face. This is also taking into account that coffee export makes up 31% of export revenues for the country - the current auction system is a mess and failure but there are so many parties with vested interests and so many people employed by the current system that a dissembling of the structure is simply not going to happen. The question now is how and whether the structure will be improved - there's no cultural value for transparency and accountability in bureaucratic processes

It's not all dismal. The Ethiopia of today is completely different from the Ethiopia of five years ago. Addis is a vibrant and developing city with a metro line, a fantastic food scene, commercial centres and hotels cropping up everywhere, and a thriving arts and music scene. As the World Bank consultant put it: Ethiopia is where Central America was 10 years ago. As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, receiving coffee from our Central American partners is much more smooth and efficient than it is getting coffee from East Africa. This consultant believes that Ethiopian policies and business culture are heading in a similar positive direction.

- Melanie

CCS' Love Affair with Ethiopia

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While it's necessary and perfectly normal for us to visit our partners at origin once or twice a season, we're in Ethiopia for the third time this season. This time I'm spending six weeks with our main exporter, Heleanna Georgalis of Moplaco Trading Co. The purpose of this stay is to both help Moplaco complete some of its ongoing projects (e.g. helping to complete an informative and user-friendly website about its many functions and activities) and also for CCS to gain better insight into this amazing and incredibly complex coffee origin.

At this very moment, CCS' first USA-bound container of Moplaco coffees (see above photos) is passing inspection at CLU (Coffee Liquoring Unit) which is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture. Every single bag is sampled from three places and then these samples are mixed and cupped before the shipment can be cleared for export. This inspection process is just one in many that coffee undergoes throughout the season before it can be shipped to our warehouse and then to you.

One of the things that is always on my mind when addressing the complexities of any origin (because they all are in some way or another), is trying to work out what people really mean when they say things and whether I'm understanding them from their point-of-view. This topic of intercultural complexity is something that coffee buyers have to consider but few have written about. Maybe it's because for some this process is reflexive. At CCS, however, intercultural communication is something we are exploring more and choosing to discuss because it is such a fundamental aspect of doing specialty coffee, which hinges on strong and trustworthy relationships between all the people throughout the supply chain.

We've found that having closer cultural similarities with our Latin American partners and their partnering government institutions has meant there is a base level of understanding about how to conduct business. This means that on average, receiving the coffees we choose from these origins are fairly straightforward. This is not generally the case with our East African suppliers and in particular, the frequently changing legislation they have to go through in order to export our coffees.

So, while it is unlikely that I will learn all the relevant ins and outs of Ethiopian business culture and communication during this prolonged stay, the goal is for us to learn and convey the current state of specialty coffee in Ethiopia and hopefully answer some questions you have about this fascinating origin.

- Melanie