2017 was a year that brought us both the excitement of discovery and the satisfaction of maturing and strengthened relationships. There is an interesting tension that exists between these two experiences in coffee sourcing. On one hand, we are committed and have responsibility to long term partnerships with growers that are built on mutually beneficial growth. At the same time, the impact of changing climates and the desire for new sensory experiences in our cups will always lead to the discovery of new people, places and coffees.
Long term relationships
Creating a stable and reliable supply relationship is a benefit for both the producers and for us. Growers have a longterm partner willing to pay higher prices i.e., through premiums for better quality, organic and fairtrade practices and we get have a consistent supply of excellent coffee for our customers year over year.
This year 73% of our coffee was sourced from producer associations that we have worked with for at least two years, with 57% coming from producers we have worked with for over four consecutive harvests.
New relations accounted for 27% of our coffee in 2017. A significant portion of this was in response to the roya (coffee leaf rust) outbreak in Chiapas, Mexico that had unfortunately made Chiapas an unreliable source of high quality coffee in recent years. While Chiapas is now in recovery, we took 2017 as an opportunity to develop a new relation with a group called Cielito Lindo in Peña Blanca, Honduras. This worked out beautifully, with excellent coffee arriving from this group of producers that recently converted to organic agriculture.
Traceability and transparency
100% of our coffee is traceable to the producer association that grew it. Normally when we work with small farm cooperatives, coffee is pooled and blended from a large number of member farms in order to meet the quantity necessary to fill an order. Farms are typically just 2-5 hectares, the size of 2-5 soccer fields. In 2017 over 65% of the coffee we purchased was from producer associations that we know well and do business with directly.
I have been fortunate to develop personal relationships with many of the people responsible for the production of our coffee. This year almost 22% of our coffee was traceable to the exact farm, in many cases from farmers we know personally and keep in touch with through the year. This number is important because it also reflects the success of these associations in finding a market for unique and valuable coffees, returning more revenue to the farmer while allowing us to present more interesting and tasty coffees to you.
Exceptional quality in the cup
We work with small scale farmers to bring you exceptional coffees. That’s our commitment. The differential for “exceptional coffee” that we typically pay is for higher quality coffee and fairtrade and organic practices. In 2017 this differential was an export price of approximately 76% higher than the conventional coffee market price.
Measurable success stories in 2017
The sourcing year begins in Central America, with the most significant harvest of the year occurring in January/February and the tastiest, most unique coffees coming off the trees into March. Honduras was until recently what would be described as a ‘utility’ origin for us – good value coffees that didn’t necessarily offer a great deal in in terms of unique, interesting flavour. This reality has been turned upside down over the past three years thanks to the exemplary work of the producers of Café Orgánico Marcala in the La Paz department.
In 2017 the major advancement with Café Orgánico Marcala, Honduras was a successful integration of non-traditional processing methods into what you might call their “value addition arsenal”. By deploying honey and natural processing on a large scale they managed to improve the value and marketability of their coffees while providing buyers like ourselves a diverse range of flavour profiles that can all be acquired from the same community. Rommel and Pedro Melghem produced the tastiest natural and honey processed coffees, respectively. With that noted, tradition should not be underappreciated– Demetrio Melghem continued to blow my mind with his exquisite 100% washed Catuaí, which was probably the most exciting coffee I tasted this year.
To the West of Honduras we also saw the maturation of a multi-year relationship in Guatemala. This year our Head Roaster, Cliff Hansen, took responsibility for sourcing in Guatemala and did an excellent job working with the team at the CODECH cooperative in Concepción Huista, Huehuetenango. They are now able to coordinate and conduct a fairly large scale, highly important cupping competition at their offices in Concepción Huista each March at the end of harvest. Just 3 years ago this capacity didn’t exist and the competition had to be held off-site.
It was also an extremely successful year for long time producer Efrain Carhuallocllo Salvador from Chirinos, Peru. Efrain has produced among the best Peruvian coffee that we’ve tasted. Most exciting for him, his coffee was entered into the Peru Cup of Excellence competition and placed 2nd! The small selection of coffee that was effectively rated the 2nd best coffee in the country for the year wound up selling on auction for over $50.00 per pound (38 times current market price)!
We look forward to enjoying the results of the 2017 Peruvian harvest, along with those from Rwanda, DR Congo and Colombia that will all be arriving in the coming month or two. And of course the seasonal cycle continues, with the harvest in Central America about to hit full swing. Many exciting opportunities to expand our community and deepen our friendships at home and away await us in 2018.