Tag Archive for: Africa

by Rocky Rhodes

Roasters Rock

Categories: 2015, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

airport lounge at the first lights of the dayGetting on a plane to go to a for­eign coun­try where you have never been before can be intim­i­dat­ing. This arti­cle will con­tain impor­tant tips for con­ve­nience, safety, and get­ting the most out of your trip.

First: Decide WHERE you are going.
A roaster should go to any coun­try from which they source cof­fee. Start with a grow­ing region – Africa, Central America, South America or Asia. Then start to take coun­tries off the table. Sadly, unless you are a thrill seeker with a death wish, you may want to stay away from coun­tries in upheaval like Yemen. If you need excel­lent hotel accom­mo­da­tions with hand­i­cap access you may want to take a large part of the third world off the list as well.

Second: Decide WHY you are going.
To help you decide where to go, it is use­ful to decide why you are mak­ing a trip. There are many pos­si­ble answers, all of which might steer you to one par­tic­u­lar ori­gin or another. Here are some pop­u­lar rea­sons to go:
1)    Just to touch the earth where cof­fee is grown and learn about it. This is totally a legit­i­mate rea­son. You will prob­a­bly want to go to an area from which you source cof­fee, but it is not manda­tory.
2)    I want to visit a farm I work with and really get to know the farmer. This is a great way to sell more cof­fee. If you can tell the story of your trip and your per­sonal rela­tion­ship with a pro­ducer, you will sell more cof­fee from that pro­ducer.
3)    To get an edu­ca­tion about the entire sup­ply chain from farm­ing to export­ing. This will require a bit more on-the-ground sup­port, but is a great goal! (See the fifth step below.)

Third: Plan Ahead
So you picked a place. Now there are some impor­tant, time-sensitive items you will need to deal with before you can leave.

1)    You must find out what, if any, VISAs you will need to travel to the coun­try. If you are going as a tourist, many coun­tries have a visa on arrival. If you are going to work (and get paid in any way) you may have to obtain a work visa which should be started about 60 days ahead of time. It will involve work­ing with your in-country part­ner to write let­ters and per­haps visit the embassy on your behalf. Information about Visas can be found at:
2)    Medical con­sid­er­a­tions for dif­fer­ent coun­tries need to be defined early on as well. Some coun­tries, and even our own, require cer­tain vac­cines for dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It can some­times take a while to get an appoint­ment and some need to be taken well in advance of going. You  can find out more at:
3)    Have an up to date pass­port with sev­eral blank pages. If you go and look and find out your pass­port is or is about to expire and / or you only have 1 blank page and you are on your way to the air­port, you might be turned away at immi­gra­tion. You can find pass­port require­ments for dif­fer­ent coun­tries at the same site for visa requirements.

Fourth: Make a safety plan
Whether it is fire, flood, polit­i­cal unrest or some other event, you need to have a safety plan. The first best way is to have a cell phone that will work in the coun­try where you are going. Many of the cel­lu­lar car­ri­ers offer an inter­na­tional roam­ing option. You can always turn off voice and / or data roam­ing while you are trav­el­ling and just turn it on in case of emer­gen­cies. Have a detailed itin­er­ary with some­one back home so they can find you when they need to. Also enroll in STEP to get safety updates wher­ever you are going:

Fifth: Utilize part­ners and plan your trip
Most cof­fee ori­gins have a cof­fee asso­ci­a­tion or two. Contact them to help with some logis­tics of get­ting around and meet­ing some local folks. If you are trav­el­ling to a place you source from, trace your cof­fee back to the mill, coöper­a­tive or farm and set appoint­ments that way. You will find that you will be wel­comed every­where. Also con­tact the US con­sulate there to get some tips on where to go (and not go) as well as an hon­est assess­ment of con­di­tions in the country.

Stuff to take with you and stuff to leave behind
Money is nec­es­sary every­where. Try to travel with an inter­na­tional credit card with no for­eign trans­ac­tion fees. Those add up pretty fast.  Also bring some new, crisp, $100 bills. You get the best exchange rates that way. You can always exchange money when you get there and it is always help­ful to have local cur­rency in your pocket.

Attire is impor­tant for being func­tional for what you will be doing as well as blend­ing in. Jeans are uni­ver­sal. Jewelry should prob­a­bly be left at home. Shorts and a Hawaiian shirt are a big sign that says rob me! Cover up, blend in.

Drugs are a no-no with the excep­tion of OTC or antibi­otics and such. Your med­ical mar­i­juana card does not work wher­ever you are going and you DO NOT want to end up in jail out­side the U.S.

General eti­quette is so sim­ple and yet often for­got­ten when trav­el­ling. Familiarize your­self with local cus­toms, tra­di­tions and reli­gions so you don’t put your foot in it. Most locals like it when you put an effort to blend in.

So go have fun. Learn a lot. Make some friends and busi­ness con­nec­tions. Once you shake somebody’s hand, you have a higher level of bond­ing. SAFE TRAVELS TO YOU!

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year cof­fee vet­eran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mis­sion now is to trans­form the cof­fee sup­ply chain and make sweep­ing dif­fer­ences in the lives of those that pro­duce the green cof­fee. Rocky can be reached at

Keeping Up in a Competitive Global Market Means Better Life for Coffee Farmers in Indonesia

Categories: 2015, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Project Description
Because of its abun­dant rain­fall and fer­tile soil, the Gayo region of Indonesia is glob­ally rec­og­nized for the mar­ket poten­tial of its high-quality Arabica cof­fee. But many farm­ers lack the skills and knowl­edge to grow the quan­tity and qual­ity of cof­fee that would help them keep up in a com­pet­i­tive global market.

While cof­fee coop­er­a­tives are expand­ing to meet the global demand for cof­fee from Gayo, not all are suc­ceed­ing in the inter­na­tional mar­ket­place. Despite increased inter­est, many coop­er­a­tives strug­gle to take full advan­tage of the inter­na­tional mar­ket. Many lack man­age­ment and gov­er­nance skills and have lim­ited capac­ity to pro­vide ser­vices that improve the qual­ity and yield of mem­bers’ coffee.

That’s why Lutheran World Relief (LWR), in part­ner­ship with Fair Trade USA, Progreso, and Rabobank Foundation began work­ing with four cof­fee coop­er­a­tives in the Gayo region. Through this project, LWR is bring­ing our nearly 30 years of expe­ri­ence work­ing with cof­fee pro­duc­ers to Gayo by help­ing farm­ers improve cof­fee qual­ity, increase pro­duc­tiv­ity, improve access to cap­i­tal and become stronger busi­ness part­ners, all lead­ing to a bet­ter life for farm­ing families.

Sulastri is a mother of three who sup­ports her fam­ily by grow­ing cof­fee on about 2.5 acres of land in the Gayo region. She’s also a mem­ber of Permata Gayo coöperative.

Through this project, Sulastri and her hus­band have learned to bet­ter care for their cof­fee trees and to use improved agri­cul­tural meth­ods that help them grow a greater yield of higher qual­ity cof­fee. “I learned about prun­ing the trees and cut­ting the branches so sun­light can go inside [and reach more of the plant],” Sulastri says.

LWR facil­i­tated the instal­la­tion of eight wet mill pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties and organic fer­til­izer facil­i­ties and trained about 200 farm­ers to pro­duce their own organic fer­til­izer using over­ripe fruit that is read­ily avail­able on their own farms a much-improved prac­tice com­pared to their tra­di­tional prac­tice of sim­ply using cof­fee pulp and dried leaves as fertilizer.

They’ve learned to reuse the water from cof­fee wash­ing, mix­ing it with palm sugar to speed up the com­post­ing process. Each week the group pro­duces 200–400 kg of organic fertilizer.

To strengthen the orga­ni­za­tional capac­ity of the coop­er­a­tives, LWR pro­vided gov­er­nance and man­age­ment train­ing so coop­er­a­tives can pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices to mem­bers and form stronger rela­tion­ships with lend­ing insti­tu­tions and buyers.

For farm­ers like Sulastri, this work means a great deal. She says, “If we have a good har­vest, cof­fee ful­fills our daily needs.”

Readers can help by
Lutheran World Relief believes that sat­is­fy­ing grow­ing global demand for cof­fee and cocoa and improv­ing the lives of farm­ers can – and should – go hand in hand. Through our Ground Up Initiative, we are actively apply­ing suc­cess­ful project method­olo­gies to improve the lives of small­holder cof­fee and cocoa farm­ers around the world. You can sup­port this work with a dona­tion to LWR at, or by fol­low­ing us on Facebook ( or Twitter (

For com­pa­nies inter­ested in learn­ing more about cof­fee from the Gayo region, we invite you to take part in Temu Kopi — now in its third year — where rep­re­sen­ta­tives from across the Indonesian cof­fee value chain come together for dis­cus­sions on issues of impor­tance to the cof­fee com­mu­nity. For more infor­ma­tion on Temu Kopi, please email

Lutheran World Relief works to improve the lives of small­holder farm­ers and peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America, both in times of emer­gen­cies and for the long term. With the finan­cial sup­port of U.S. Lutherans and other donors, LWR strength­ens com­mu­ni­ties through pro­grams in agri­cul­ture, cli­mate and emer­gency oper­a­tions. LWR works with part­ners, sup­port­ers and tech­ni­cal assis­tance providers to achieve last­ing results.

Project Contact:
Rick Peyser



Project URL:

Location:Indonesia, Gayo region of Indonesia

Project Impact:
This project works with 5,270 small-scale cof­fee pro­duc­ers and del­e­gates and will reach 26,350 people.

Healthy Women Play a Pivotal Role in the Future of Coffee

Categories: 2015, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Project Description
Women have always played a crit­i­cal role in the cof­fee­lands. Shouldering nearly 70% of the labor bur­den at ori­gin, they are also instru­men­tal in shap­ing the social and eco­nomic fab­ric of coffee-farming com­mu­ni­ties. And as pro­grams to sup­port gen­der equity take hold, women are primed to play an even more influ­en­tial role in the future of the world’s sup­ply of cof­fee and the sus­tain­abil­ity of the sup­ply chain.

In order for these women to reach their full poten­tial as farm­ers, accoun­tants, man­agers and com­mu­nity and busi­ness lead­ers, they must be healthy.

Grounds for Health is com­mit­ted to help­ing women in the cof­fee­lands max­i­mize their poten­tial by pro­vid­ing life-saving health ser­vices at ori­gin. Specifically, we deliver much-needed screen­ing and treat­ment for cer­vi­cal can­cer, an eas­ily pre­vented dis­ease that kills more women in most devel­op­ing coun­tries than mater­nal causes.

In November 2014, we expanded our geo­graphic reach to Ethiopia. In early 2015, we launched the Roasters Challenge cam­paign, our first fundrais­ing cam­paign backed by the U.S. Government.

With gen­er­ous seed funds from Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans and Bob Fulmer of Royal Coffee, Inc. and fur­ther sup­port by cof­fee com­pa­nies from across the United States, we were able to raise more than $200K by our dead­line, Mother’s Day 2015. A match­ing con­tri­bu­tion from the U.S. Government’s PEPFAR pro­gram, a public-private part­ner­ship focused on reduc­ing deaths from cer­vi­cal and breast can­cer in Latin America and Africa, trans­lated to a total of $400K to help us expand our impact on Ethiopia’s coffee-growing communities.

Grounds for Health addresses a crit­i­cal gap in women’s health ser­vices in Ethiopia, where there are approx­i­mately 20 mil­lion women at risk for devel­op­ing cer­vi­cal can­cer and 5,000 pre­ventable deaths expected in 2015. The pro­gram is the first of its kind in the country’s coffee-growing regions and aims to reach women between the ages of 30–49 with screen­ing and treat­ment services.

In part­ner­ship with the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon ini­tia­tive, Grounds for Health is expand­ing cer­vi­cal can­cer screen­ing and pre­ven­tive ther­apy ser­vices to 19 dis­tricts in Sidama zone as well as other zones in Western Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). The orga­ni­za­tion works closely with the Sidama Coffee Farmers Coöperative Union (SCFCU) as well as the Sidama Zone Health Department and Regional Health Bureau of the SNNPR. The col­lab­o­ra­tive nature of the work is crit­i­cal to ensur­ing ade­quate train­ing of health providers and com­mu­nity health pro­mot­ers and cre­at­ing aware­ness for the pro­gram in order to max­i­mize the num­ber of women screened and treated.

Through this ini­tia­tive, nearly 1,400 women have ben­e­fited from Grounds for Health’s ser­vices in Ethiopia. The pro­gram is well on its way to screen thou­sands more this year and expand to mul­ti­ple dis­trict health cen­ters in the near future.

Readers can help by
There are sev­eral ways to con­tribute to Grounds for Health’s pro­grams in Latin America and Africa.
1. Individuals.
Individuals can donate to Grounds for Health: For those inter­ested in sup­port­ing a spe­cific project, check the box next to “I would like to des­ig­nate this dona­tion to a spe­cific fund” and select the project of choice.

2. Corporate Supporters and/or employ­ees.
We offer many ways to sup­port our pro­grams through work­place giv­ing, cause-marketing and other ini­tia­tives that help com­pa­nies rein­force busi­ness and CSR objec­tives. Please con­tact Pam Kahl, for more information.

Follow Grounds for Health:

Project Contact:
Pam Kahl


(802) 876‑7835

Project URL:

Ethiopia, Sidama Zone, Southern Nation and Nationalities Region (SNNPR)

Project Impact:
Delivering life-saving health ser­vices to women liv­ing in rural coffee-growing regions of Ethiopia.

Imagine a Coffee Industry Without Women

Categories: 2013, AprilTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

8-11 3_BBefore you start typ­ing the angry emails, the premise is only used to prove the power and impor­tance of women in this indus­try. It is also a way to start a con­ver­sa­tion about the dif­fer­ences of the roles of women in con­sum­ing vs. pro­duc­ing countries.

Let’s start this exper­i­ment of the the­o­ret­i­cal with the fol­low­ing para­me­ters:
1.    Women still exist, but do not work in cof­fee.
2.    Women remain a pri­mary con­sum­ing group to be tar­geted with mar­ket­ing.
3.    The roles of women in other indus­tries do not change; they are just excluded from coffee.

To explore the changes to the indus­try this new real­ity would have, it is impor­tant to know what the roles of women are now.

Women at Origin
‘At Origin’ is really too big of a gen­er­al­iza­tion when look­ing at the sta­tus of women in their roles in cof­fee all over the world. Some coun­tries are still hold­ing to older, estab­lished roles of women being sub­servient to men and are actively barred from decision-making, own­er­ship, or pro­gres­sion in life sta­tus. Other coun­tries are see­ing the ben­e­fit of pro­mot­ing women but just get­ting started, while oth­ers are fully embrac­ing the role of women as essen­tial and ben­e­fi­cial to all concerned.

International Trade Center (ITC, a unit of the United Nations), and the East African Fine Coffee Association, EAFCA (now AFCA), spon­sored some research into the roles of women in cof­fee. There were a cou­ple of coun­tries that stood out as being out­side the norm, but for the most part, the chart below describes the cur­rent role of women in cof­fee pro­duc­ing countries:

Women-Workforce(The researcher for this data, Mbula Musau, is a Keyan woman on the rise in the cof­fee indus­try. She now runs a suc­cess­ful con­sult­ing com­pany and has just tested to be Africa’s first Q-Grader Instructor.)

The chart shows rather clearly that once you leave the farm or the hand sort­ing rooms, the roles that are occu­pied by women are few and far between.

So let’s imag­ine the world with­out women in their roles in cof­fee at ori­gin. If you really con­sider the con­se­quences, it is quite shock­ing. The effect on cof­fee itself would prob­a­bly be twofold:

First, prices for cof­fee would sky­rocket and the qual­ity in cof­fee would suf­fer greatly. Men would want to be paid much more for the work than they are will­ing to pay the women. The increase in cost has to be passed to the buyer, which in turn cre­ates an increase in the cup price. The price increase would be annoy­ing to the con­sumer, but bear­able. Prices would, how­ever, rise even fur­ther as a result of lower sup­ply because it would be dif­fi­cult to find men to do the work at all thus requir­ing farm­ers to move into other crops where women would still do the work. Farms would rip out cof­fee and prob­a­bly plant tea, bananas, or another agri­cul­tural crops. One could even spec­u­late that other ‘ille­gal’ cash crops might take coffee’s place. Coffee plan­ta­tions that did adapt to this new real­ity would prob­a­bly be lower on the moun­tain where machines could do a lot of the work now done by women.

Without women work­ing the fields between har­vests, trees would not be main­tained unless a man did it. This would result in crop yields dimin­ish­ing and push­ing prices even higher.

Machines would now be replac­ing women. Machines are expen­sive so only the largest farms or mills would get them. Small hold­ers that seg­ment qual­ity lots go away as the reward is too dif­fi­cult to real­ize. If the farm is kept in cof­fee, the farmer would just pro­vide cher­ries to the large mills where it would be mixed with the cher­ries from both the other small hold­ers and the mech­a­nized large farms. Sorting of cof­fee would also be left to machines. Color sorters and den­sity tables would do their best to pro­vide the same level of care that the women do, but defects would be get­ting through and prob­a­bly make ‘spe­cialty’ cof­fee lots harder to achieve. The indus­try would forego the finan­cial ben­e­fit of qual­ity cof­fee and hope to make it up in vol­ume. Even though the price of cof­fee has risen dra­mat­i­cally, this is only cov­er­ing the increases in cost of the farms and mills. Demand for cof­fee would go down as a result of qual­ity going away. Consumers that are con­scious about fla­vor would move to another beverage.

Second, the fam­ily units would be put under tremen­dous strain. Women will now need to seek work out­side the farm. Some will find work locally but oth­ers will need to travel to the city to look for work. Urban cen­ters would be over­run by the influx of peo­ple mak­ing ser­vices strained. Unemployment would rise and the demand for for­eign aid would rise. Countries like the US would be asked to con­tribute more to help solve the poverty issues at an ever-increasing pace. Children would now be forced into sit­u­a­tions where a few of the Women remain­ing in the vil­lages would look after the chil­dren while the other moth­ers were away in the city. The fam­ily unit changes and even­tu­ally fails.

Women in Consuming Countries
More women are find­ing inde­pen­dence by open­ing cof­fee houses, start­ing busi­nesses, and being employed in exec­u­tive posi­tions. Women are out­pac­ing men in their par­tic­i­pa­tion in train­ings as baris­tas and QA cup­pers. Opportunities abound.

So let’s imag­ine the world with­out women in their roles in cof­fee in Consuming Countries.

There would be men to fill those posi­tions. Men, how­ever would have a fairly two-dimensional approach to the indus­try and lack the over­all cre­ativ­ity that is brought to the indus­try by women. The local cof­fee shop would be less inter­est­ing with only men behind the counter and only male influ­ences on the shops. Women would prob­a­bly not even go to shops that would exclude women from work­ing there. They might make cof­fee at home, but would likely find another bev­er­age that was more socially con­scious. With half the cus­tomer base leav­ing, cof­fee shops would close and a bunch of men would be out of work.

Now Let’s Imagine the Opposite – Women are fairly treated and respected through­out the sup­ply chain.

It is easy to imag­ine a world where women were prop­erly rec­og­nized for their con­tri­bu­tions and sup­ported in their efforts. It would be pros­per­ous. It would improve lives. Coffee would be bet­ter in qual­ity and avail­able in ways not yet imag­ined. Prices might even go down as inno­va­tion increases.

Organizations Promoting Women in Coffee
To get to this vision, we need to sup­port orga­ni­za­tions that help in this effort. Please visit the fol­low­ing sites (and there are many oth­ers), and find a way you can help bring some change. After all, our cof­fee depends on it!
International Women’s Coffee Alliance, IWCA,
Café Femenino Foundation,
Coffee Quality Institute – Women in Coffee,

Rocky can be reached at

What’s Your Legacy in Coffee Going to Be?

Categories: 2013, FebruaryTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Rocky RhodesOné of the early adopters of the idea to view  “Specialty Coffee” as a sep­a­rate seg­ment of the cof­fee indus­try was Ted Lingle. It could be argued that he was one of the most influ­en­tial peo­ple in dri­ving the indus­try for­ward. He has cre­ated a legacy of chang­ing the cof­fee indus­try for the bet­ter. Ted is retir­ing and it seems appro­pri­ate to exam­ine his legacy and how he has influ­enced all of us that still have a few years before our own retirement.

Coffee is rich in his­tory. Since its dis­cov­ery in Africa, it has appealed to us on many lev­els. To some it is just a morn­ing fix, nec­es­sary to start the day. To oth­ers it is a mov­ing expe­ri­ence with roots in exotic lands that cre­ates a link to our own lives. Hundreds of years of cul­ti­va­tion, research and con­sump­tion vari­a­tions make it an impor­tant part of almost every culture.

Specialty cof­fee is new. It has been just a few decades since Erna Knutsen coined the term ‘Specialty Coffee’ and a small group of folks started to change our focus on the prod­uct. They told us that cof­fee does not have to be just a con­sump­tion prod­uct. It can also be a qual­ity prod­uct. In just a few short years, an indus­try was born and we oper­ate in that world now. It is an indus­try view that has a firm belief that if you improve the qual­ity of a prod­uct there will be a mar­ket pre­pared to pay more for it. If the mar­ket pays more, then the entire sup­ply chain will benefit.

Ted’s path to qual­ity cof­fee started in the fam­ily busi­ness. Lingle Brothers, started by his grand­fa­ther in 1920, saw Ted work­ing in it for 20 years. His promi­nence in the indus­try car­ried him to senior lev­els of indus­try orga­ni­za­tions. This made him a nat­ural choice to be the found­ing co-chair of the SCAA. In his role at SCAA, he drove tech­ni­cal research to help quan­tify and iden­tify qual­ity in cof­fee. He wrote ‘The Coffee Cuppers Handbook’ and fol­lowed it with ‘The Coffee Brewing Handbook’. He drove inno­va­tions in eval­u­a­tion sci­ence all in pur­suit of enhanc­ing the sup­ply chain from grower to roaster to retailer.

The body of research required addi­tion resources to move for­ward includ­ing staff, vol­un­teers and grant money. Coffee Quality Institute was formed under his watch as Executive Director at SCAA. Ted would later leave his post at SCAA to become the Executive Director of CQI. Many that know Ted thought this was a ter­rific move for him as he truly enjoys the nuts and bolts of cof­fee sci­ence and he saw a poten­tial to really start chang­ing the cof­fee world.

At CQI Ted cre­ated the Q cof­fee sys­tem whereby well trained and cal­i­brated cup­pers could accu­rately iden­tify, and quan­tify, the attrib­utes of cof­fee. By train­ing cup­pers from farms to retail stores a com­mon lan­guage of qual­ity arose. This less­ened the ambi­gu­ity and frus­tra­tion of dis­cus­sions in the sup­ply chain. A for­mal sys­tem of cal­i­brat­ing cup­pers was devel­oped. A per­son could be taught this sys­tem and if they passed a series of 22 tests became a cer­ti­fied Q-Grader.

The set of ser­vices offered by CQI were all designed to increase qual­ity in the sup­ply chain and be able to quan­tify that improve­ment objec­tively. Over and over it has been proven now that qual­ity improves sales prices for each mem­ber of the sup­ply chain. Much of the improve­ments were taught by CQI and ver­i­fied by Q-Graders in the cup. The num­ber of Q-Graders in the mar­ket now num­bers over 2000!

The Q-program was so suc­cess­ful that it is being given a makeover for Robusta cof­fee. Sales of Robusta tend to be a bulk blend of cof­fee where qual­ity is more of an acci­dent than on pur­pose. Some farm­ers how­ever choose to patio dry their cof­fee and hold them as small lots. Some of this cof­fee is quite won­der­ful and deserves more study. It has already been proven at spe­cialty cof­fee auc­tions that qual­ity in Robusta gar­ners a super-premium. Ted has been putting a ton of energy into this and it will keep him busy in his retire­ment con­tin­u­ing to improve this new offering.

Q 4.0
The lat­est step to improve the Q pro­gram at CQI is by cre­at­ing ver­sion 4.0 of the course. This is another project that has Ted work­ing in his retire­ment to fin­ish the remain­ing details. It is a vastly improved rewrite of the Q-Grader cer­ti­fi­ca­tion class in that it focuses on teach­ing stu­dents crit­i­cal con­trol points of qual­ity and how to improve them. This ver­sion should be out in April before the SCAA Conference in Boston. It really pushes the train­ing to the next level by uti­liz­ing best prac­tices cre­ated by Q-Instructors in the field. The train­ing mod­ules are get­ting more sophis­ti­cated and the tests are being revamped to bet­ter reflect the skills needed in the marketplace.

His Legacy
Ted was asked, “When you look back at your career in cof­fee, is there one thing that stands out as being the thing you were most proud of?” His answer was, “I think it would have to be the cre­ation of the cof­fee fla­vor wheel.” He explained that the body of work that went into that poster that most of us have hang­ing in our busi­nesses some­where set the devel­op­ment stage for a great deal of the Q-Grader pro­gram. It ana­lyzes tastes, aro­mas, and defects and puts them into cat­e­gories that help dis­cover their ori­gins. It is even color coded to show how aro­mas, tastes, and defects inter­sect each other and gives names to them. Many peo­ple have seen it but few have any abil­ity to artic­u­late its sig­nif­i­cance. It is good to see that SCAA is cre­at­ing a class spe­cific to the wheel so us mere cof­fee mor­tals can under­stand its com­plex­ity. When you are done with this arti­cle, go look at that poster on the wall and see if you can find deeper mean­ing. (Then go take the class!)

Ted will be remem­bered for a vast num­ber of con­tri­bu­tions to the indus­try includ­ing some he is still work­ing on com­plet­ing. He has left a mark on the world and has indeed changed the lives of those in the cof­fee indus­try for the better.

Your Legacy
So, what are you going to do today, this year, and the rest of your career until you retire to improve the cof­fee world? Like Ted, you should not be doing it to become famous, but by fol­low­ing your pas­sion you may become infa­mous. Strive today to become a great cof­fee cit­i­zen and make your mark.

Ted, we raise our glass to you! We owe you a full con­tainer load of 90+ grat­i­tude. May you have great cof­fee wher­ever retire­ment leads you! Cheers!

Rocky can be reached at

2012 Editor’s Prologue

Categories: 2012, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

First a lit­tle house­keep­ing, the arti­cles in this issue are the ideas and opin­ions of the writ­ers and do no NECESSARILY rep­re­sent the opin­ions of CoffeeTalk and the Daily Dose or its employee – includ­ing me! I would have thought that this was pretty obvi­ous but appar­ently not. Maybe we all have become so jaded to the way news is pre­sented and manip­u­lated that the idea that we might print an opin­ion from some­one that dis­agrees with our own edi­to­r­ial view just doesn’t seem pos­si­ble to some. We at CoffeeTalk take the idea of fair and bal­anced seri­ously and so we print oppos­ing ideas to our own – weird, huh?

There, that is out of the way!

Editor’s Prologue

December 21, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I would like to just say that I for one am extremely grate­ful that a giant fire­ball thrown off by the sun did not cre­mate the entire earth. I see that as a huge pos­i­tive – just saying.

During this past year, sev­eral fes­ter­ing issues have finally bro­ken through into the lime­light. The fore­most of these are, in my opin­ion and in no spe­cial order…

• The accep­tance of the real­ity of Climate Change
• Emerging Latin con­sumer power in the US mar­ket
• Market accep­tance of the OMG fac­tor regard­ing the health ben­e­fits of coffee

Others of course will have their own lists, but these are my favorites. During this com­ing year, I see these items expand­ing and redefin­ing our approach to so many fac­tors of the cof­fee busi­ness includ­ing; sup­ply, mar­ket­ing, fla­vor pro­files, new prod­uct devel­op­ment, store design, and other essen­tial busi­ness elements.

Climate change has been one of those sub­jects that have lin­gered in the issue bag for years. I know that we at CoffeeTalk have been shout­ing about it for well over seven years. Finally, the impact on cof­fee and the sup­ply chain has become so obvi­ous that even those who think that the idea of cli­mate change being dan­ger­ous to our well being is so much bologna have come to believe that there is some­thing going on. I think that the accu­mu­la­tion of dev­as­tat­ing nat­ural weather dis­as­ters cou­pled with crop fail­ures in Colombia, Central America, and Africa as well as drought and polit­i­cal insta­bil­ity caused by food inequity, finally woke deci­sion mak­ers up. Unfortunately in the sci­en­tific cof­fee com­mu­nity, the gen­eral opin­ion is that it is too late to fix the cli­mate and instead we must hurry to mit­i­gate the dis­as­trous effects of cli­mate change.

At ASIC (Association for Science and Information on Coffee) this year, Climate Change and Sustainability were the pri­mary sub­ject lines through­out the entire con­fer­ence. The wide con­sen­sus was that talk of avoid­ance is long past; the industry’s only choice now is to respond to the effects. Wide pest and dis­ease infes­ta­tion, drought or, equally bad, exces­sive mois­ture, nature’s impact on infra­struc­ture, tem­per­a­ture changes, loss of opti­mum farm­lands and other impacts can no longer be halted by behav­ioral and indus­trial changes, we can only mit­i­gate the effects.

Emerging Latin Consumer power in the US mar­ket. If there is one take-away from the recent elec­tions in the US, it is that the power is no longer held exclu­sively by old white males. The same is true for con­sumerism. Rapidly expand­ing mid­dle class pop­u­la­tions that have not been tra­di­tional con­sumers of spe­cialty cof­fee are rapidly emerg­ing as impor­tant demo­graphic lead­ers – key to this is the Latin Community. How can we as an indus­try con­tinue to ignore Latin con­sumers when we know they embrace the spe­cialty cof­fee cul­ture, just look at Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil for exam­ples? Look no fur­ther than the Latin con­sumer in America if you are hop­ing to expand mar­ket share!

Second on the list of major changes this year has to be the extra­or­di­nary story of the emer­gence of cof­fee as a healthy bev­er­age. After spend­ing the bet­ter part of the last cen­tury jus­ti­fy­ing the con­sump­tion of cof­fee as a kind of sin­ful plea­sure, what a sur­prise it is to be able to hon­estly talk about the remark­able pre­ven­ta­tive health ben­e­fits of brewed cof­fee. We are pur­vey­ors of the elixir of life, the cure for can­cer, and the keys to the Land of OZ. Coffee as a healthy alter­na­tive to caf­feinated sodas is so for­eign a con­cept that many in cof­fee are skep­ti­cal of our own facts. Taken in mod­er­a­tion, less than 5 cups per day, cof­fee reduces the risk of Type 2 dia­betes, can­cer of the pan­creas, colon, pros­trate, liver, and other organs, onset and deep­en­ing of Alzheimer’s, onset of Parkinson’s dis­ease, and so many other mal­adies. It is the golden age of cof­fee and health. Hurrah!

In the com­ing year, we expect that nutraceu­ti­cal prod­ucts derived from green cof­fee will flood the mar­ket with expan­sion into beauty prod­ucts, nutri­tion sup­ple­ments, and pre­ven­ta­tive medicines.

These are just some of our takes on the past, and the com­ing year. In this issue, you will read the ideas and thoughts of over 35 other con­trib­u­tors from a wide rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our indus­try. These rep­re­sent some of the most impor­tant lead­ers of both pri­vate and non-profit orga­ni­za­tions weigh­ing in on the impor­tant issues of our busi­ness. We hope that you enjoy this year’s port­fo­lio of writ­ers and they pro­voke thoughts about your own busi­ness and your role in our wider global community.

Thank you for your ongo­ing loy­alty, con­stant read­ers, and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to bring you closer to the issues that mat­ter to you most dur­ing the com­ing year. And thank you to our writ­ers and con­trib­u­tors who braved the pos­si­bil­ity of the destruc­tion of the world and still made our dead­lines to bring you these stories.

Coffee Outlook for 2013 from Rabobank

Categories: 2012, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

12_12 11-ACoffee prices are expected to increase in 2013 find­ing sup­port from increas­ing global demand and tight­en­ing stock lev­els. Arabica prices are down over 52% from the 2011 high. However, a poten­tial deficit in the 2013–14 sea­son, as well as an already large short spec­u­la­tor posi­tion, will tem­per fur­ther down­side. Robusta mar­ket prices are con­tin­gent on the Vietnamese crop, and as the cur­rent out­look is pos­i­tive, major ral­lies are not antic­i­pated, but expect mod­er­ately higher prices in 2013. The price dif­fer­ence between cof­fee vari­eties has set­tled to a level of sta­bil­ity in the com­ing year. The range-bound out­look for the spread between Arabica and Robusta prices in 2013 is a fore­cast for less volatile price action in the Arabica mar­ket. Coffee con­sump­tion has not decreased, but demand has largely moved away from washed Arabica to Brazilian-natural Arabica or Robusta, which has shifted dif­fer­en­tials closer. This dynamic is a focal point in our fore­casts for mostly lat­eral but pos­i­tive move­ment in 2013.

Arabica fun­da­men­tals are fore­cast to be in sur­plus for 2012 and 2013, which will be a bear­ish aspect weigh­ing on prices in late 2012 and early 2013 due to investor short­ing and hand-to-mouth roaster buy­ing. Market prices may hit a bot­tom in 2012, with a pos­i­tive out­look in 2013 based on new sea­son fun­da­men­tals and increased buy­ing. The fun­da­men­tal fore­cast for Arabica beans in 2012–2013 is for a 4.1 million-bag sur­plus, while early pro­jec­tions for 2013 and 2014 sug­gest a likely deficit. The Arabica price out­look in 2013 is pos­i­tive due to this poten­tial deficit, antic­i­pated roaster buy­ing and Brazilian farm­ers hold­ing sup­ply off the market.

Farmers in Brazil still have a sig­nif­i­cant amount of 2012 Arabica har­vest to sell on the mar­ket, but given their well-capitalized posi­tion and gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for stor­age, we antic­i­pate the sup­ply from Brazil will arrive only if prices are attrac­tive. The spec­u­la­tor gross short position—near his­toric highs—is expected to be pared back in 2013 as the deficit sea­son looms. The gross short posi­tion is equiv­a­lent to 14 mil­lion bags of cof­fee, and a reduc­tion in 2013 will likely sup­port futures prices. With the Arabica mar­ket in sur­plus, buy­ers have dis­ci­plined roast­ers in 2012, likely based on the assump­tion that the over­sup­ply will result in a fur­ther reduc­tion in prices. The out­look for 2013 calls for end users to increase buy­ing to build stocks, which will sup­port a retrac­ing in the market.

Market expec­ta­tions for the 2013 Brazilian Arabica crop will drive roaster buy­ing and spec­u­la­tor posi­tion­ing in the com­ing year. While early devel­op­ment is pos­i­tive, it will be an off-season crop, poten­tially shift­ing the Arabica fun­da­men­tal bal­ance into deficit. The scale of the season-to-season pro­duc­tion shift has fallen in the past decade due to agro­nomic prac­tices. The dif­fer­ence between on– and off-season crops is antic­i­pated to con­tinue to shrink in the com­ing years, but given the scale of Brazilian pro­duc­tion rel­a­tive to global Arabica output—forecasted at 46% in 2012 and 2013—the off-season har­vest will still likely bring about a global deficit in the com­ing sea­sons. Also impact­ing the sup­ply of Arabica in 2013 will be lower incen­tives from prices. Multi-year pro­duc­tion highs of Arabica in Central America, Asia and Africa in 2012 and 2013 were in part a reac­tion to the high­est nom­i­nal sea­son aver­age New York price ever. In 2013, antic­i­pate lower New York val­ues and lower washed dif­fer­en­tials will reduce incen­tives to use inputs and thus mod­er­ate yield poten­tial in the short term. With reduced yields and an off-season Brazilian har­vest, a high prob­a­bil­ity of an expected Arabica deficit sup­port­ing New York prices in 2013 is predicted.

The shift­ing demand pro­file in the cof­fee mar­ket will keep washed Arabica prices and dif­fer­en­tials under pres­sure and sup­port Brazilian Naturals and Robusta mar­kets in 2013. Coffee-demand growth in 2013 is likely to be con­cen­trated in emerg­ing and non­tra­di­tional mar­kets as it has been for the past cou­ple of sea­sons. Given the price con­scious con­sumers in these grow­ing mar­kets, roast­ers are expected to focus on lower-priced beans, there­fore max­i­miz­ing Robusta use. The 2010–2011 price rally in New York sup­ported washed Arabica pro­duc­tion. This, cou­pled with demand mov­ing towards Brazilian Naturals, is pro­jected to result in an over­sup­ply of washed Arabica. In the short term, over­sup­ply is illus­trated by the New York exchange inven­to­ries grow­ing 52% in the sec­ond half of 2012 as ori­gins sell to the board due to mod­est phys­i­cal buy­ing inter­est. The post-boom Arabica mar­ket leaves Brazilian sup­ply in demand while higher cost washed sup­ply exceeds demand. In 2013, the mar­ket will have to pay Brazilian farm­ers higher prices to draw out sup­ply while pro­duc­ers of washed Arabica will find the mar­ket over­sup­plied. This has resulted in dif­fer­en­tials mov­ing closer together, a sit­u­a­tion that is likely to remain in 2013.

The Robusta mar­ket has been bal­anced with strong demand growth and large Vietnamese har­vests, and in 2013 we see this dynamic con­tin­u­ing. Expect the mar­ket to be sup­ported by increased con­sump­tion, espe­cially at ori­gin and in Asia. In our view, the sub­sti­tu­tion of Arabica for Robusta in 2010 and 2011, which esti­mated at between 3 mil­lion and 5 mil­lion bags glob­ally, was a dynamic not expected to occur again. If the Robusta/Arabica price spread remains near cur­rent lev­els, we do not expect con­sump­tion to shift back to Arabica, and we do not expect fur­ther sub­sti­tu­tion. Robusta demand is fore­cast to increase 3.8% in 2012 and 2013, down from 11% the pre­vi­ous year, and will likely grow at a sim­i­lar pace in the fol­low­ing sea­son if prices are near our fore­casts. Robusta mar­ket fun­da­men­tals are fore­cast to be in a mod­est deficit of 204,000 bags in 2012–2013. The con­tin­ued growth in demand is expected to be coun­tered by a large Vietnamese crop of 27 mil­lion bags in the new season.

The spec­u­la­tor gross long posi­tion in the Robusta mar­ket has been pared back sig­nif­i­cantly since its peak in July 2012 as the sup­ply out­look improved. If Vietnamese and Indonesian crops meet expec­ta­tions, investors will likely keep reduc­ing long posi­tions. A sharp rever­sal in the fund posi­tion­ing is prob­a­ble if bull­ish sup­ply news arrives, and con­se­quently our sense for price spike risks in Robusta are ele­vated. With our base case Robusta sup­ply sce­nario for 2012 and 2013, we do not antic­i­pate investors increas­ing the net long lev­els, but we expect com­mer­cial buy­ing and the need to encour­age Robusta pro­duc­tion to be sup­port­ive fac­tors, result­ing in increas­ing prices in 2013. Early sea­son har­vest pres­sure cou­pled with fund liq­ui­da­tion is fore­cast to give way to com­mer­cial buy­ing sup­port­ing futures prices.

12_12 11-BKeith Flury, Senior Analyst Soft Commodities for Rabobank

12_12 11-C

Arabica dif­fer­en­tials have shifted closer together as demand has moved from washed to naturals

12_12 11-D

Robusta is fore­cast to move to deficit in 2012/13 while Arabica will be in surplus

12_12 11-E

International Food and the Café

Categories: 2012, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

This month, I attended the inter­na­tional Expoalimentaria in Lima, Peru. This expo brought together food prod­uct and equip­ment pro­duc­ers from all cor­ners of the South American con­ti­nent to show­case their com­pa­nies to the world. Attended by inter­na­tional buy­ers from not only Latin America, but also North America and the world, the dis­plays were strik­ing in their famil­iar­ity to American con­sumers. Tropical fruits of course, and exotic veg­eta­bles known only to Latin chefs but also every prod­uct found in a tra­di­tional gro­cery or restaurant.

South America is of enor­mous impor­tance to North American food­ser­vice and gro­cery com­pa­nies. It is the mir­ror image grow­ing sea­son from North America that makes so much of what we take for granted in fresh food seem com­mon­place. And, unlike Europe to Africa, South America has vast areas of sim­i­lar grow­ing con­di­tions and sup­port infra­struc­ture. As a result, American con­sumers – North, Central, and South – are able to enjoy fresh agri­cul­tural prod­ucts year round. Because of this syn­chronic­ity of sea­sons and grow­ing con­di­tions, all the ingre­di­ents required to pre­pare a fresh mari­nara sauce are eas­ily avail­able year round, whether you are in Chicago or Santiago.

This rela­tion­ship is even more enhanced by the recently final­ized Free Trade Agreements between the US and Canadian gov­ern­ments and indi­vid­ual nations through­out Latin America and the regional trade alliances through­out South America. South America is the United States’ fastest grow­ing regional trade part­ner. Between 1998 and 2009, total U.S. mer­chan­dise trade (exports plus imports) with Latin America grew by 82% com­pared to 72% for Asia (dri­ven largely by China), 51% for the European Union, 221% for Africa, and 64% for the world.

The United States has imple­mented com­pre­hen­sive bilat­eral or multi-lateral rec­i­p­ro­cal trade agree­ments with most of its impor­tant trade part­ners in Latin America. These include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), and bilat­eral FTAs with Chile and Peru. FTAs with Panama and Colombia have been signed but not imple­mented, pend­ing con­gres­sional action.

The Expoalimentaria in Lima ini­ti­ates a new moment in South America agri­cul­tural inter­na­tional trade out­side of Latin America. Since 1991, with the Treaty of Asuncion, the orga­ni­za­tion know as Mercosur, a trad­ing alliance between Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay – as well as recently Venezuela – has been emerg­ing to form the “Common Market of the South.” It is an eco­nomic and polit­i­cal agree­ment to pro­mote the free move­ment of goods, ser­vices, and peo­ple among mem­ber states. Mercosur’s pri­mary inter­est has been elim­i­nat­ing obsta­cles to regional trade, such as high tar­iffs and income inequal­i­ties. Mercosur is the fourth largest trad­ing bloc in the world with 260 mil­lion peo­ple and over $2.9 tril­lion col­lec­tive GDP.

Additionally, Mercosur has five asso­ciate mem­ber coun­tries, the CAN (Andean Community of Nations) coun­tries – Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. These addi­tions in essence form a uni­fied trad­ing bloc of nations with stan­dard­ized tar­iff and trade requirements.

In the café

Although some in the cof­fee world would hotly debate this truth, a cof­fee­house is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a food­ser­vice retail oper­a­tion with an empha­sis on the prepa­ra­tion of cof­fee: very sim­i­lar to an Irish bar being a food­ser­vice estab­lish­ment that spe­cial­izes in Irish beer and whisky. Besides the weather, the big rea­son that all those cof­fee carts moved indoors was to remove the lim­i­ta­tions of space and sales poten­tial. The carts found that by lim­it­ing their oper­a­tion to only the prepa­ra­tion of cof­fee, the abil­ity to make a liv­ing was thin at best. The sav­ior was food and asso­ci­ated prod­ucts. Food sales typ­i­cally rep­re­sent 16% of the total sales in a café, but an oper­a­tor can­not ignore the bounce hav­ing food present gives to over­all sales and traf­fic. If only one per­son on a four-drink ticket orders food in your café, that is actu­ally four drinks that oth­er­wise may not have hap­pened if you didn’t serve at least some food.
Café own­ers gen­er­ally source their food prod­ucts one of two ways – either locally sourced and pro­duced or through gen­eral food prod­uct ven­dors. If you source your food prod­ucts through tra­di­tional venues such as whole­sale clubs, food­ser­vice dis­trib­u­tors, allied prod­uct dis­trib­u­tors, and the like, you likely are buy­ing prod­ucts from South America for at least part of the year.

Consider your spe­cialty juices, fresh fruits, bananas, avo­ca­dos, and sal­ads: even processed meats, flour, cheese, and nut items. These may have found their way to you from the same coun­tries that also send you your cof­fee. (At least if it is win­ter in North America)
As an indus­try, spe­cialty cof­fee has been sen­si­tive to the way it sources cof­fee since well before the SCAA was founded. However, how much atten­tion do we give to the other prod­ucts we sell? Social respon­si­bil­ity is not just about the cof­fee, and if that is where it stops for you then per­haps you might give this some thought. Much of the fresh and frozen food prod­ucts we import from South America start out in sim­i­lar places as cof­fee – small farms, orchards, dairies, and ranches. Poor and exploited farm­ers are as sig­nif­i­cant a part of the food we eat as they are in the cof­fee we drink.

Take a moment to review your total prod­uct pre­sen­ta­tion and reassess your prac­tices to ensure that you are eth­i­cally well grounded in all you sell.

The View

Categories: 2012, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Welcome again to our annual “Making a Difference” issue. It is our chance to rec­og­nize some of the great work many of us are doing in the cof­fee world that improves lives and futures. Remember that this year CoffeeTalk is once again donat­ing $1000 to the non-profit that receives the most click-through to their web­site. So please, take a lit­tle time to read about these groups and if some­thing is inter­est­ing, CLICK on it! You will be help­ing the non-profit and while you are there, you might con­sider a dona­tion to help them along.

The world today is much dif­fer­ent than it was last year at this time. The price of cof­fee has dropped 47% from its peak, the finan­cial cri­sis in Europe has taken its toll on con­sumer con­fi­dence and investor opti­mism, the much antic­i­pated rise of China has not mate­ri­al­ized as China strug­gles eco­nom­i­cally – both inter­nally and glob­ally. All of these fac­tors are affect­ing the wel­fare of cof­fee grow­ers worldwide.

Global cli­mate change is dra­mat­i­cally reduc­ing crop yields through­out Latin America and Africa as chang­ing weather pat­terns fos­ter crop pests and dis­eases that are leav­ing whole farms bar­ren. In Peru this month, we vis­ited a farm where dis­ease and rust (Roya) had not only destroyed this year’s crop, but also the ten­der new growth that will bear next years crop.

These are hard times for grow­ers on small­hold­ings, yields are going down, and pric­ing is as well. Often reli­able buy­ers of high qual­ity cof­fees are look­ing for lower grade prod­uct in order to reduce costs in con­sum­ing coun­tries, and the entire indus­try is poten­tially poised on the edge of another cri­sis. For years, the mar­kets have placed demands on qual­ity with the promise of future reward. Though higher qual­ity is a focus, the mar­ket is, so far, not keep­ing its promise.

Are small farms a real­is­tic and sus­tain­able busi­ness model? Are small­hold­ers too vul­ner­a­ble to changes in micro­cli­mates that larger farms are more capa­ble of weath­er­ing? Are buy­ers in con­sum­ing coun­tries roman­ti­ciz­ing the idea of small farms with­out actu­ally con­sid­er­ing the human and social costs? Possibly, but these ques­tions are too broad for today, for now.

Today, right now, peo­ple need help and resources in order to carry on, and within these pages are intre­pid folks within non-profits who set out each day to make a dif­fer­ence for oth­ers with­out con­sid­er­a­tion of per­sonal gain or com­fort. Today, now, please read their sto­ries and if you find mean­ing there, sup­port them with dona­tions of time, money, and needed resources.

And, remem­ber to CLICK!

Kerri & Miles

I found my “Roots” to coffee in Africa

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

This is not a story of an epic jour­ney like Alex Haley’s to find his ances­try, but I did dis­cover a pretty cool tie to my present sit­u­a­tion in the cof­fee world and to a shrubby lit­tle cof­fee plant in Kenya.

If you were to really do the in-depth research, like Mr. Haley did in his book, ‘Roots’, the cof­fee per­son would find them­selves embrac­ing their ances­try in Ethiopia where cof­fee began. That is assum­ing of course your fam­ily his­tory included the Arabica ances­try. If you were of the Robusta lin­eage, your genealog­i­cal jour­ney would end in Uganda. My rev­e­la­tion only dates back about one gen­er­a­tion and lands me in a lit­tle town called Ruiru about an hour out­side of Nairobi, Kenya.

In the SPECIALTY cof­fee fam­ily, specif­i­cally the Coffee Quality Institute clan, there is a key fig­ure in the fam­ily. Let me intro­duce you to Ruiru 11. This scrubby lit­tle guy is about 4 feet tall. Don’t let its small size fool you. It was built to be resistent to CBD (cof­fee berry dis­ease), which is a big prob­lem for Kenya Coffee Farmers. It is the cre­ation of the Coffee Research Fondation located in Ruiru. The prob­lem was the mixed reviews it was get­ting for cup qual­ity. It was at this moment that MY roots in cof­fee begin.

The Coffee Reasearch Foundation needed some objec­tive help to define the fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics of Kenyan Coffee so they could com­pare the Ruiru 11 to those norms. Then they could say once and for all if the taste char­ac­ter­is­tics were bet­ter / same / worse.

They found an upstart orga­ni­za­tion, a com­mit­tee really, under the SCAA called the Specialty Coffee Institute. It was co-founded by Ted Lingle who was then the Executive Director of SCAA. The one employee they had, Joseph Rivera, was charged with doing research for the group. He was put on this project as well.

Joseph used sev­eral cof­fees from Kenya. This included a lot that just gar­nered a supe­rior price at auc­tion, some SL28 and Ruiru11. The goal was to do an analy­sis of the organic acid makeup of this cof­fee and to try and com­pare it to other cof­fees. Thereby an under­stand­ing of the fla­vor dif­fer­ences in the cof­fee cre­ated by the var­i­ous organic acids might be achieved. This research became one of the cor­ner­stones to under­stand­ing qual­ity in cof­fee and led to addi­tional research as to how to develop cer­tain acids in coffee.

Some Science & Coffee

Here are some things that we know as a result of the research and sub­se­quent stud­ies. The acids that cre­ated the biggest pos­i­tive changes in the Kenyan cof­fee were Phosphoric and Malic acids. Let’s look at each one, how they are cre­ated, and there effect on cof­fee flavor.

Malic Acid is the “apple acid” as it can con­tribute to the per­cep­tion of green apple tart­ness and sweet­ness in the fla­vor of cof­fee. It is pro­duced when the cof­fee matures more slowly. Higher alti­tudes and shady con­di­tions will allow a cof­fee to mature at a reduced pace due to lower tem­per­a­tures. If the cof­fee has time to ripen slowly, the acidic devel­op­ment is greatly enhanced as the ‘cit­ric acid cycle’ is allowed to con­tinue and the plant will pro­duce more acids.

Phosphoric acid is devel­oped when cof­fee absorbs phos­phates in the soil. These can be nat­u­rally occur­ring or added to the soil through fer­til­iz­ers. The most notable fea­ture of phos­phoric acid is that is does not have a taste per se, but it adds to the bright­ness or the per­cep­tion of acid­ity in the taste. Phosphates also make the bub­bles in sodas. This adds to the ‘excite­ment’ of the soda but does not affect the fla­vor. (If you let a soda go flat, it still tastes the same, but its taste is bor­ing or stale.) The inter­est­ing thing about these two acids is that they each have very small amounts in cof­fee com­pared to other acids. They are the small­est acids hav­ing the best impact on flavor.

So why was the Kenyan Coffee so dif­fer­ent? The study con­cluded that the Kenyan cof­fees had more phoshoric and malic acid than a washed Colombian used in the study. You can imag­ine that this had a dra­matic impact on the cof­fee. WARNING: It would be fool­ish to assume that ALL Kenyan cof­fees have this trait any­more than you can say that ALL Indonesians have lower body. Some gen­er­al­iza­tions are help­ful but it all comes down to the indi­vid­ual lots. As we just demon­strated, dif­fer­ent grow­ing con­di­tions and dif­fer­ent soil make up can cause a cof­fee to have a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent pro­file than other cof­fees of the same coun­try. Joseph Rivera sum­ma­rized, “The study really shed the light on the role of acids and how they inter­act to effect cof­fee fla­vor. It’s amaz­ing how rel­a­tively small changes in cof­fee brew com­po­si­tions can bring about entirely new fla­vor pro­files, even within the same coffee.”

So how does this relate to MY cof­fee roots? Rivera shared this with me, “I think the study played a huge role in ini­tially bring­ing about a greater level of aware­ness to the whole issue of cof­fee chem­istry. Since then, we have seen the devel­op­ment of the Q-Program, sen­sory tests, as well as sev­eral tools in an effort to objec­tively assess cof­fee qual­ity. Prior to this, I think the indus­try was more of an ‘art’ with lit­tle to any ‘science’.”

Specialty Coffee Institute soon became CQI. CQI had a new mis­sion: The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion work­ing inter­na­tion­ally to improve the qual­ity of cof­fee and the lives of the peo­ple who pro­duce it. The Q-Coffee sys­tem, the Q-Grader course, and the sci­ence that sup­ports it man­i­fested from this orig­i­nal research.

I became a Q-Grader instruc­tor in 2010 and I now travel the world shar­ing this infor­ma­tion. And only coin­ci­dently I ended up teach­ing at the Coffee Research Foundation in Ruiru, Kenya, the very lab in which Ruiru 11 was cre­ated. I was back to my cof­fee roots.

I would like to per­son­ally thank the Coffee Research Foundation and Coffee Quality Institute for their research and desire to improve qual­ity in the sup­ply chain. Because of them, I get to do what I do! Oh and just to beat the ‘Roots’ theme to death: “I FOUND you! Ruiru11 I FOUND you.”

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