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Cup for Education

Scholarships in Nicaragua

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

Project Description
Three year stu­dent schol­ar­ship in Nicaragua at La Bastille Technical Agricultural School in Jinotega, Nicaragua

Cup for Education pro­vides edu­ca­tional infra­struc­tures, mate­ri­als, and resources to cof­fee grow­ing com­mu­ni­ties. Through var­i­ous part­ner­ships with local lead­ers, edu­ca­tors, and orga­ni­za­tions, Cup for Education seeks to improve the over­all well-being of cof­fee farm­ers and their chil­dren through edu­ca­tion. We believe edu­ca­tion is the foun­da­tion for a bet­ter and brighter future for all the chil­dren in cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

Local, well-supplied, edu­ca­tional facil­i­ties are absolutely cru­cial to rural cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties. The time and money needed to travel to nearby towns and larger cities in order to learn are sim­ply unavail­able, and poor infra­struc­ture in many of these remote areas make it very dif­fi­cult to do so. When edu­ca­tion is not eas­ily accessed, it leads to frus­tra­tion and a con­tin­ued cycle of illit­er­acy. When edu­ca­tion is close to home, both farm­ers and their chil­dren ben­e­fit eco­nom­i­cally and socially. Since 2003, Cup for Education has com­pleted a series of diverse projects that tar­get each community’s spe­cific needs. Whether it is build­ing latrines in Kenya, sup­port­ing women’s lit­er­acy projects in Papua New Guinea, pro­vid­ing new desks for chil­dren in Nicaragua, or pro­vid­ing mate­ri­als and fund­ing for library sup­port in var­i­ous parts of Guatemala to pro­mote read­ing and lit­er­acy; Cup for Education val­ues all aspects of the edu­ca­tional expe­ri­ence and aims to improve what­ever the com­mu­nity feels is most urgent or necessary.

One of our most recent suc­cess sto­ries is Juana Rosa, from Nicaragua. Juana was cho­sen to receive a three-year long schol­ar­ship to attend the La Bastille Technical Agricultural School in Jinotega, Nicaragua. This school is based on a cof­fee estate, in an area where only 20% of young peo­ple cur­rently attend sec­ondary school. Along with pro­vid­ing an aca­d­e­mic edu­ca­tion, the school also teaches a tech­ni­cal diploma in agro-business and runs seven school busi­nesses. The busi­nesses include chicken and egg pro­duc­tion, as well as a dairy plant, pigs, a veg­etable gar­den, and an Ecolodge & restau­rant where it is pos­si­ble to hike and bird­watch. Graduates from the school leave with an edu­ca­tion, job offers, and finan­cial skills to sup­port their fam­i­lies. The schol­ar­ship money paid for her tuition, books, and dor­mi­tory expenses. We are proud to say that Juana was one of the top stu­dents in her class, mak­ing a speech at the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony. Upon grad­u­a­tion this past December 2014, Juana received a job work­ing in Costa Rica for Coffee Source, renown cof­fee grow­ers and now importers/exporters for the past 15 years. One of her first respon­si­bil­i­ties was work­ing as a cup­ping assis­tant at the Costa Rican Cup of Excellence.

Furthermore, Cup has already selected another wor­thy stu­dent from the region to receive a schol­ar­ship to the school for the next three years. The stu­dent was selected from among a list of many wor­thy can­di­dates from the cof­fee area in Jinotega, and it is our hope to be able to sup­port more than one stu­dent some­day. The school is one of the best oppor­tu­ni­ties for these chil­dren in the cof­fee regions of Nicaragua to achieve skills and edu­ca­tion that will allow them to break the cycle of poverty that is so preva­lent among cof­fee farmers.

Ultimately, Cup for Education strives to aug­ment the qual­ity of life and edu­ca­tion in coffee-growing regions. This begins with edu­ca­tion. Literate and well-educated chil­dren will improve their lives, those of their fam­i­lies, and ulti­mately, their coffees.

What You Can Do to Help
One of the best ways to help Cup for Education is to sign up for e-mail updates, “like” us on face book for the most up-to-date pic­tures from projects, and share our mis­sion with friends and fam­ily.  Of course, we wel­come dona­tions in the form of money or mate­ri­als.  Most of us involved with Cup for Education work in cof­fee and travel to these com­mu­ni­ties quite fre­quently through­out the year on busi­ness.  Often we bring books and school sup­plies for schools located in and around these com­mu­ni­ties.  We rec­om­mend these books be in Spanish, or bi-lingual.

Cup for Education

Project Contact:
Karen Gordon


3475 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, NY 10314

Project URL:

Earth’s Choice Women of Coffee Micro Finance

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

Project Description
Fostering eco­nomic growth while ensur­ing nat­ural resource sta­bil­ity is our long-range goal.   Increasing women’s skills and mar­ket access can sta­bi­lize women’s income in cof­fee coun­tries that are neg­a­tively impacted by fluc­tu­at­ing world cof­fee prices, cli­mate change phe­nom­ena (floods, drought, etc.)  and pop­u­la­tion pres­sures.  Building women’s busi­nesses and pro­tect­ing their valu­able cof­fee forests ensures they do not have to aban­don their cof­fee farms for urban areas in search of low-paying work.

Based on the suc­cess­ful Grameen Bank “group loan” model, Earth’s Choice clients have turned their lives around. Group loans are 4 – 5 women of $200 to $1,000.  Earth’s Choice began fundrais­ing in 2012 and cre­ated its first two loan port­fo­lios in Guatemala & Mexico. In Guatemala, the women estab­lished prof­itable small busi­nesses includ­ing a gro­cery store, cloth­ing design shop, bak­ery, phar­macy, pig & poul­try farms, and a butcher shop. In Mexico they expanded their tex­tile fac­tory out­put to increase their exports. The default rate is a low 98%  and each port­fo­lio has grown from between 5 – 8%.  Currently there are pro­grams oper­at­ing in Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Colombia.

Earth’s Choice began its part­ner­ship with Rotary in 2012 and in 2014 signed an MOU with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance’s (IWCA) to begin loan pro­grams with their mem­ber chap­ters to develop micro­fi­nance pro­grams with IWCA’s 18 coun­try chapters.

Earth’s Choice’s trans­for­ma­tive solu­tion is to pro­vide:  afford­able loans, skill build­ing, and equi­table access to tech­nolo­gies and health ser­vices.  Understanding “cof­fee cup­ping” can be highly ben­e­fi­cial eco­nom­i­cally. Women typ­i­cally can­not afford “cup­ping” equip­ment or water fil­tra­tion devices to know about the true qual­ity of their cof­fee beans. By under­stand­ing their coffee’s qual­ity, they can price it real­is­ti­cally and this can pos­i­tively impact their income. Earth’s Choice has begun in-country part­ner­ships with local Rotary clubs and clin­ics to extend some vital health care ser­vices like mam­mo­grams and pap smears.

Women in the pro­gram have reported these spe­cific ben­e­fits:
•    Increased incomes,
•    Increased busi­ness skills & finan­cial lit­er­acy,
•    Access to and train­ing with new afford­able tech­nolo­gies: “cup­ping”  equip­ment,   water fil­ters, etc.
•    Access to vital health care ser­vices,
•    Increased under­stand­ing of the value of their cof­fee,
•    Better mar­ket access, prices for their cof­fee,
•    More income to buy food, clothes, and edu­cate their children.

Readers can help by
There are three ways you can help:
1)    Make indi­vid­ual or busi­ness dona­tions on  Paypal link:  www.earthschoice.org/Make-A-Donation/make-a-donation.html
2)    Donate pro­fes­sional ser­vices: writ­ing, edit­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy, videog­ra­phy, ITC ser­vices etc.
3)    Donate afford­able, low energy tech­nolo­gies: roaster ovens, water fil­tra­tion, solar bat­ter­ies, etc.

Project Contact:
Roberta Lauretti-Bernhard



Project URL:

Project Name:
Earth’s Choice Women of Coffee Microfinance

Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico

Project Impact:
800 direct stake­hold­ers (women plus their families).


Categories: 2014, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

In early October CoffeeTalk Media, along with other guests and jour­nal­ists from around the world, was invited to Colombia to attend ExpoEspecials Café de Colombia in Medellin and to wit­ness first­hand the suc­cess behind the col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) and the gov­ern­ment of Antioquia. Now going on its third year, the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program is con­tribut­ing to a social trans­for­ma­tion.  This unique pro­gram offers tech­ni­cal assis­tance, edu­ca­tion in sci­ence and inno­va­tion, and the pro­mo­tion of spe­cialty cof­fees. The goal of the pro­gram is to invest in the edu­ca­tion of cof­fee grow­ing fam­i­lies and encour­age younger gen­er­a­tions to develop a love of cof­fee. Of course, the pro­gram must adhere to the FNC sus­tain­abil­ity poli­cies that impact the cof­fee grow­ers, focus­ing mainly in the areas of pro­duc­tiv­ity, and impacts to social and envi­ron­men­tal concerns.

Antioquia is only one of 32 depart­ments in Colombia and its slo­gan is “Antioquia La mas edu­cada” (Antioquia the most edu­cated). It is com­prised of 125 munic­i­pal­i­ties of which 94 grow cof­fee with an esti­mated 83,300 cof­fee grow­ing fam­i­lies.  Thirty per­cent of these are women farm­ers. The aver­age age of a grower is 55. Faced with dwin­dling inter­est among young peo­ple for farm­ing and lit­tle his­tory of local con­sump­tion, the FNC and the gov­ern­ment of Antioquia joined hands to devise a rev­o­lu­tion­ary edu­ca­tional pro­gram to ben­e­fit the peo­ple and to posi­tion Café de Colombia as the rich­est cof­fee in the world.

ExpoEspeciales Café de Colombia is the most impor­tant spe­cialty cof­fee fair in Colombia and dis­plays the cof­fee industry’s trends and inno­va­tion in the domes­tic and inter­na­tional arena.

The FNC is a non-profit busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion, pop­u­larly known for its “Juan Valdez” mar­ket­ing cam­paign and is prob­a­bly the largest rural NGO in the world. It is a non-profit orga­ni­za­tion and is not affil­i­ated with any polit­i­cal party, instead invest­ing in sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices and the edu­ca­tion and pro­mo­tion of coffee-growing families.

CoffeeTalk was priv­i­leged to tour sev­eral farms, wet and dry mill facil­i­ties, eco mills, the FNC Training & Experimental farm, an edu­ca­tional park and a cof­fee camp as well as attend press con­fer­ences with the gov­er­nor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo; the President of the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, Luis Genaro Munoz; and of course Carlos Castañeda, the real Juan Valdez.

As much as the breath­tak­ing beauty of the region and the warmth and hos­pi­tal­ity of the farm­ers and the FNC mes­mer­ized us, we were most impressed by the empha­sis on know­ing your cof­fee from seed to cup and the depth of edu­ca­tion the Coffee Camp pro­gram offers. While striv­ing to retain pride in the rich cul­ture of Colombia and focus­ing on the sci­ence behind grow­ing cof­fee, the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program is empow­er­ing both the exist­ing and the new gen­er­a­tions of cof­fee growers.

Antioquia Colombia is rich in his­tory and cul­ture where old meets new and much of life cen­ters on the Town Square and cof­fee. We were for­tu­nate enough to view and explore the beau­ti­ful towns of Venecia and Titiribi, and a few of the out­ly­ing farms where we saw sim­ple grow­ing tech­niques as well as inno­va­tion like the slid­ing roof that allows the beans to shade dry, but can quickly cover them should it begin to rain. While old meth­ods still exist, we learned that 80 per­cent of all Colombians have cell phones and the farm­ers are being trained on how to use that tech­nol­ogy to track their crops. The gov­ern­ment and FNC are also work­ing to train them on and pro­vide farm­ers with tablets. We expe­ri­enced the ded­i­ca­tion and dis­tance it requires to get the har­vested cof­fee from field to mills and pur­chase points.  We stood on –and some­times fell on– the steep fields where the cof­fee grows.  We met the icon for Colombia and cof­fee in gen­eral. Much thanks to the hos­pi­tal­ity of Carlos Castañeda from Andes for allow­ing us to visit his farm and taste his cof­fee. Viva Juan Valdez.
By work­ing together the Colombian gov­ern­ment and the FNC are set­ting a prime exam­ple of how to sup­port sus­tain­abil­ity, indus­try, and edu­ca­tion to con­tinue improv­ing the lives of cof­fee grow­ers and the qual­ity and integrity of Colombian cof­fee. All while encour­ag­ing the “in coun­try” con­sump­tion of and pride in their own product.

We began our jour­ney in Medellin and headed south, escorted by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the FNC and were able to wit­ness how the joint efforts between the Antioquian gov­ern­ment and the Colombian Coffee Federation are improv­ing the lives of cof­fee farm­ers and the qual­ity and value of their cof­fee. Representatives of the FNC and the mayor of Titiribi greeted us and proudly show­cased the Educational Park built there; a group effort of the FNC, the gov­ern­ment of Antioquia and the cit­i­zens and grow­ers of the sur­round­ing region. We toured the Esteban Jaramillo FNC Training & Experimental farm, where we learned about the work being done to grow Arabica vari­eties that are high in pro­duc­tion yields yet resis­tant to rust, as well as view a state of the art weather sta­tion for early warn­ings regard­ing cli­mate change. The auto­mated weather sys­tem sends out data every 5 sec­onds and works with 104 other auto­mated sys­tems through­out Colombia to con­stantly track changes and vari­ables. We were priv­i­leged to wit­ness the his­tor­i­cal pact where David Roche, Executive Director of the Coffee Quality Institute and Luis G. Munoz, CEO, FNC signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Govenor Sergio Fajardo gave per­sonal inter­view time to vis­it­ing jour­nal­ists detail­ing how he has worked with the FNC to improve the lives of Colombians. Besides CoffeeTalk, jour­nal­ists from Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and New York attended.  Colombia is a land of diver­sity and the four-day ExpoEspecial, with more than 70 exhibitors from dif­fer­ent coun­tries around the world, pro­vided a space where the aca­d­e­mic, com­mer­cial, and cul­tural aspects could all con­verge to net­work and share their knowl­edge to strengthen Colombia’s national and inter­na­tional cof­fee industry.

In Antioquia, an alliance was made between the FNC and the gov­ern­ment called the Antioquia Specialty Coffee Program. Working together they are build­ing 80 parks, which are com­mu­nity cen­ters where the cit­i­zens must work together and sub­mit a pro­posal. Each park is unique and designed to rep­re­sent the com­mu­nity.  Each park assigns a local youth to doc­u­ment the his­tory of the town; a posi­tion that requires an intense inter­view process and requires much ded­i­ca­tion. The entire com­mu­nity can use the space, but much is ded­i­cated to train­ing in grad­ing, roast­ing, cup­ping, and barista skills. This pro­gram pro­vides the nec­es­sary skills to pro­duce dif­fer­en­ti­ated spe­cialty cof­fees and pro­mote Antioquia’s spe­cialty ori­gin. Antioquia also spon­sors a cof­fee camp where 1000 youth ages 14–28 are brought in from 94 munic­i­pal­i­ties for 4 days at no expense to them to learn about the cof­fees from the seed up. The stu­dents inter­act and learn the value of the cof­fee they already have and how to improve upon it. They gain the nec­es­sary skills to grow, roast, and be a barista. They gain an under­stand­ing that they can be impor­tant in the cof­fee world and then take this knowl­edge home to their fam­i­lies. They are also offered con­tin­ued edu­ca­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties. All were impressed with the stu­dents’ enthu­si­asm, ded­i­ca­tion, and desire to learn about cof­fee. We met two such youths, one a grad­u­ate of a prior Coffee Camp and the other attend­ing, both named Alejandro. One’s ambi­tion is to be a great roaster: the other, to be the best barista in the world.

The part­ner­ship between the FNC and the gov­ern­ment of Antioquia is a model for sus­tain­abil­ity, and through sus­tain­abil­ity comes empow­er­ment.  Empowerment comes for the cof­fee grow­ers through deeper under­stand­ing of cli­mate change and soil sci­ence. The new skills they accrue allow them to grow a spe­cial prod­uct that they can be con­fi­dent will return a fair price; with this, they can con­tinue pro­duc­tively farm­ing their land.

Empowerment for the youth, who can choose to train and learn of the crops and income their lands can pro­duce; that tra­di­tion and inno­va­tion can sus­tain them and their future fam­i­lies. Empowerment for women, whose cul­ture has hin­dered their finan­cial inde­pen­dence and free­dom in the past. Empowerment for par­ents, from acces­si­ble edu­ca­tional pro­grams and activ­i­ties; help­ing keep their chil­dren from turn­ing to the gangs and vio­lence that pull them away from their fam­i­lies and liveli­hood.
The FNC under­stands the orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple behind sus­tain­abil­ity from four domains: ecol­ogy, eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics and cul­ture. Coffeetalk wishes con­tin­ued progress and suc­cess to Antioquia’s and the FNC’s endeavor.

In 1927 the Colombian cof­fee grow­ers joined in order to cre­ate an orga­ni­za­tion that rep­re­sented them nation­ally and inter­na­tion­ally, and ensured their wel­fare and improve­ment of their qual­ity of life.
The Colombian Coffee Growers Federation is a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion work­ing for the wel­fare of more than 560,000 Colombian coffee-growing fam­i­lies. Since its found­ing it has been the main guild in Colombia, with a pres­ence in all rural areas where cof­fee is grown in the coun­try. Its pri­or­ity is strength­en­ing the fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties of cof­fee farm­ers, and sus­tain­ing their busi­ness, so the tra­di­tion and qual­ity of Colombian cof­fee con­tin­ues to be con­sid­ered the best in the world.

The scope of the joint efforts of the FNC and the gov­ern­ment of Antioquia is too grand to fit into a short syn­op­sis, so we encour­age you to visit the web­sites below to learn more. And see page 10 of this issue and help us cel­e­brate Ms. Carmen C. Montoya, win­ner of the Colombian Cup of Excellence Competition 2014 orga­nized by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence and the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), who sold her cof­fee at a record price.


Roaster/Retailer Profiles

Categories: 2014, NovemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

It all started in 1992 when Paul Odom took a dif­fer­ent direc­tion from his family’s bev­er­age busi­ness and founded Fonté Coffee Roaster just as the cof­fee boom was about to explode in Seattle, Washington. While spe­cialty cof­fee was just becom­ing more pop­u­lar with con­sumers, Odom saw a void in the hos­pi­tal­ity mar­ket for a high-end prod­uct, notic­ing a lag in excep­tional qual­ity and ser­vice to chefs, restau­ra­teurs and hoteliers.

At age 22, just out of col­lege, Odom made it his mis­sion to cre­ate the finest cof­fee and espresso blends in the world by set­ting the strictest stan­dards in prod­uct devel­op­ment and deliv­ery. He pro­cured the best roast­ing and pro­cess­ing equip­ment, part­nered with arguably the most tal­ented mas­ter roaster in the indus­try, built a sales team with expe­ri­ence in pre­mium cof­fee and estab­lished a busi­ness to ser­vice this untapped market.

Today, Odom over­sees a rig­or­ous daily roast­ing sched­ule, a sales force on both coasts and a qual­ity con­trol pro­gram that main­tains the high­est stan­dards of ser­vice to its top-tier clien­tele. Odom also launched Fonté’s online busi­ness and down­town café to ser­vice a ris­ing demand for its cof­fee prod­ucts in the con­sumer market.

Odom’s right hand man, Steve Smith, has a dis­tin­guished career in roast­ing cof­fee span­ning over three decades. He is an indus­try vet­eran and con­sid­ered an expert by many in the cof­fee trade. Beginning in 1979, Smith worked for Starbucks and was one of the first roast­ers ever trained under the three orig­i­nal own­ers of the com­pany. He was the first roaster to earn the title of Master Roaster and was respon­si­ble for all aspects of the roast­ing process. In 1992 Smith dis­cov­ered a like-minded enthu­si­ast for small batch, arti­san cof­fee in Fonté Coffee Roaster founder Paul Odom and joined forces as the company’s mas­ter roaster.

Smith’s pro­duc­tion phi­los­o­phy is that of a cof­fee purist – his tech­niques adhere to the strictest stan­dards and work to main­tain the integrity of the cof­fee fla­vor dur­ing the roast­ing process. Smith is respon­si­ble for every aspect of cof­fee production.

He hand-selects each season’s best green cof­fee from all over the globe, and reviews farms’ har­vest­ing prac­tices, from Papua New Guinea to Ethiopia to Guatemala (he notes, his col­lege Spanish degree did come in handy). He feels single-origin cof­fees are lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a more mature appre­ci­a­tion of refined cof­fee fla­vor profiles.

At Fonté, he holds reg­u­lar cup­pings with owner Paul Odom to study fla­vor pro­files from var­i­ous regions and to cre­ate a plan for the devel­op­ment of Fonté’s pro­pri­etary blends. He also over­sees a rig­or­ous pro­duc­tion sched­ule based on a daily roast-to-order sys­tem, ship­ping out cof­fee to clients within 24 hours of roast­ing, always mak­ing sure that Fonté deliv­ers the fresh­est prod­uct pos­si­ble. He also man­ages the tea pro­gram, which includes import­ing a vari­ety of exotic teas, super­vis­ing blend­ing and devel­op­ing new exclu­sive blends.

I had a brief inter­view with mas­ter roaster Steve, who was kind enough to answer some questions:

V. How did you get involved with Fonté?
S. My involve­ment with Fonté began when I met Paul, the founder, at a small short-lived cof­fee com­pany where I ran the cof­fee pro­gram. Paul was inter­ested in buy­ing some of that company’s pro­duc­tion equip­ment to sup­port a set of retail stores he had begun open­ing and he hap­pened into our office at a time when I was cup­ping sev­eral sam­ples. I invited him to join me in the cup­ping, and as we talked I began to appre­ci­ate the scope and depth of Paul’s plans such that I was very pleased when he offered me an oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in what became Fonté Coffee Roaster.

V. Please describe Fonté’s phi­los­o­phy and unique­ness in just a few words, and elab­o­rate on each?
S. Ours is a phi­los­o­phy of excel­lence within con­text. Fonté is look­ing to share a very per­sonal expe­ri­ence of appre­ci­a­tion for vivid and fleet­ing cof­fee fla­vors in vir­tu­ally any con­text in which cof­fee is taken. And this under­scores the unique­ness of Fonté: we are capa­ble of pro­vid­ing an excel­lent cof­fee in any con­text, whether it be an exotic sin­gle ori­gin espresso, a 6 gal­lon urn at a ban­quet or a cold brew martini.

V. You have been in busi­ness for a really long time now (how long exactly?) what has changed over the past sev­eral years (in the indus­try over­all and the men­tal­ity of the con­sumer)?
S. We started in 1992. During the years we’ve been in busi­ness, growth has been the over-arching big deal, and the result has been that there is more of every­thing: more top qual­ity cof­fee, more peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in the busi­ness, more inter­est and venues for spe­cialty cof­fee. There is also more silli­ness, more mis­un­der­stand­ing and dog­ma­tism, and more pre­tenses. It’s a pretty col­or­ful business.

V. Being both a suc­cess­ful roaster and a retailer, how do you man­age not to com­pete with your cus­tomers? I guess mainly the ques­tion con­cerns Seattle, or other cities as well?
S. Our retail pres­ence is so small as to not threaten our whole­sale cus­tomers. I think they appre­ci­ate the fact that we share an inti­mate under­stand­ing of what being a suc­cess­ful retailer entails.

V. What makes you one of the lead­ers in the indus­try as of today?
S. Our deter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue to put cof­fee fla­vor above trendy lifestyle expressions.

Fonté Coffee Company

Seattle, Washington

Maxim Vershinin has been a colum­nist for CoffeeTalk for the last few years high­light­ing var­i­ous roast­ers and retail­ers in the indus­try. He has lived in Peru for the last few years and is now fur­ther­ing his edu­ca­tion at Columbia University seek­ing a B.A. in economics.

Roasters Rock

Categories: 2014, FebruaryTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

In the SCAA/CQI cup­ping pro­to­col there is an attribute that is per­haps under­val­ued and over­looked. What is inter­est­ing is that in life we often over­look this attribute as well.

Balance in Coffee
In cof­fee, when learn­ing how to score this attribute, we are told to assess how well the other attrib­utes of fla­vor, after­taste, acid­ity, and bal­ance work together. If one of those attrib­utes is overly dom­i­nant or unnec­es­sar­ily draws your atten­tion the cof­fee falls out of bal­ance. The big­ger the dis­trac­tion, the lower the score.

Imagine it this way; there are four kids on the play­ground and there are no adults around to prompt them. They decide to play together. There is a young kid and an older kid, a fat kid and a skinny kid, a dark haired kid and a blonde, a short kid and a tall kid. As they work out what game they will play or what activ­ity they will under­take, a dynamic starts to occur.

Often, the older, stronger, taller kid dic­tates what they will do and the oth­ers just go along because they don’t feel that they have a say. This group is dom­i­nated by one, but at least the other kids have decided to play. This would be slightly out of balance.

Another exam­ple might be that the skinny kid teases the fat kid and makes him cry. The tall kid decides to take his ball and go home. This would be WAY out of balance!

But what if all of the kids decided together that they would play soc­cer and they divided teams evenly and then went and had a great time. As an observer you watched  “the group” play, rather than indi­vid­ual kids play­ing alone.  THAT is balance.

It is the same way with cof­fee. If you find your­self NOT pay­ing atten­tion to any one attribute and enjoy­ing the cof­fee as a whole, the cof­fee is in bal­ance. If it is bal­anced from hot to cool, score the attribute high!

When look­ing at some­thing out­side of your­self, like cof­fee, it is easy to be objec­tive about bal­ance. It is even an attribute that can be cal­i­brated and agreed upon amongst many cup­pers. Making judg­ments about other things is some­thing we do all the time.

So why is it so hard to look inside our­selves or at our own lives and observe bal­ance? Others will look at us and make judg­ments like, “That woman is a worka­holic.” or “He only cares about money.”

Balance in Life
An obser­va­tion was made that, “People in the cof­fee indus­try tend to be very bal­anced.” Let’s test that the­ory! First, we will have to define what bal­ance is for a per­son in cof­fee. After con­sult­ing some self-help books and moti­va­tional speak­ers’ thoughts, the fol­low­ing are the areas of life to observe and find balance:

1)    Body/Health – Spending time to exer­cise, proper diet, and enough rest.
2)    Mind/Education – Always be learn­ing some­thing new.
3)    Soul/Faith – Doing some­thing big­ger than your­self that is a self­less act, bet­ter­ing the world.
4)    Relationships – Being an active builder of bonds with fam­ily, asso­ciates, and friends.
5)    Finance/Wealth – Planning and exe­cut­ing on finan­cial goals, retire­ment prepa­ra­tion.
6)    Profession/Trade – Working at ‘your job’ and plan­ning where that will lead you.

Coffee peo­ple, like all peo­ple, tend to be good at cer­tain areas of life and need work in oth­ers. (That is about as insight­ful as a for­tune cookie.) But here is one obser­va­tion of the peo­ple in our indus­try. In general:

Body: On a scale of 1 to 10, cof­fee peo­ple are a 7.5. On the whole, we are health­ier than aver­age but those darned mochas, cook­ies, and muffins are too hard to resist. We are also fairly active and more apt to be run­ning around than in front of a com­puter all day.

Mind: Here we excel. Average is prob­a­bly an 8.25. This is not so much the amount of higher edu­ca­tion, but the energy that is put into learn­ing about the world, social issues, busi­ness, and prod­uct devel­op­ment. It is also seen in spe­cial­ized edu­ca­tion such as barista cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, roaster cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, and Q-grader certification.

Soul/Faith: Again, high marks for the indus­try at about an 8.  Perhaps more than most other indus­tries, cof­fee peo­ple are acutely aware of the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of the sup­ply chain and how actions can rip­ple. We drive inno­va­tions in recy­cling, com­post­ing, respon­si­ble land man­age­ment, and com­mu­nity out­reach. Regardless of reli­gious beliefs, there is an under­stand­ing that by help­ing oth­ers we help ourselves.

Relationships: Good, but not great, about a 7. Often cof­fee peo­ple are so dri­ven and pas­sion­ate about what they are doing that they for­get to slow down and include oth­ers in their lives. While spread­ing the net wider in the com­mu­ni­ties and the world, it is easy to neglect fam­ily, and close friends. As an indus­try, we would be well served to spend more time here.

Finance/Wealth: This area NEEDS improve­ment! The score is at a 6.5.  Because we see the indus­try as favor­ing the con­sum­ing coun­tries over the pro­duc­ing coun­tries, we are often bat­tling the feel­ings of guilt that we might ‘become wealthy’ in the indus­try. If every­one can get over this feel­ing of guilt and get to a place where we decide EVERYONE deserves to get what he or she want, then we will find a way to change the model. We deal in the sec­ond most con­sumed com­mod­ity in the world; there is wealth to go around.

Profession/Trade: Excellent! 8.75. As an indus­try we also get the fol­low­ing con­cept: Quality changes every­thing! We strive to get bet­ter at our craft. We know we get to charge more for cof­fee that tastes bet­ter. It is this thing that often takes SO MUCH of our focus that we let the other areas slide.

So, are we as an indus­try bal­anced? Yeah… pretty well.  We would get a solid 8. If we were being Q-Graded, we would prob­a­bly get an 85.75. That’s def­i­nitely above spe­cialty grade, but we could be improved with a lit­tle more atten­tion paid to the details.

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 rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com as well as

& Science of Specialty Coffee">The Art & Science of Specialty Coffee

Categories: 2013, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Coffee, like Culinary or Mixology, has his­tor­i­cally been con­sid­ered an art rather than a sci­ence.  The skills required for roast­ing spe­cialty cof­fees, coax­ing the sub­tle nuance of taste and aro­mas char­ac­ter­is­tics, and the expe­ri­ence required by élite barista to manip­u­late the grind-dose-tamp extrac­tion process to pro­duce a truly amaz­ing sen­so­r­ial expe­ri­ence, have been com­pared to those of a painter, chef, or musi­cian: artists, not scientists.

The ques­tion of art vs. sci­ence in spe­cialty cof­fee has been a steady topic of con­ver­sa­tion for the past gen­er­a­tion.  Most debates have two dis­tinct camps. However, most spe­cialty cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als will align them­selves as artists, not scientists.

Artists have long been opposed to con­for­mity, struc­ture, and the sta­tus quo and express their cre­ativ­ity and indi­vid­u­al­ity in their work.  Writers, singer/songwriters, painters, sculp­tors, poets, etc., all have mys­te­ri­ous, intan­gi­ble exper­tise that allows them to arrange words, sounds, and col­ors in ways that are pleas­ing and thought pro­vok­ing.  Scientists fol­low strict pro­to­cols using quan­ti­ta­tive analy­sis and pre­cise mea­sur­ing tools to col­lect data and reach con­clu­sions.  Specialty cof­fee roast­ers and elites baris­tas aspire to reach artist sta­tus, and to be rec­og­nized for their mys­te­ri­ous skills and exper­tise to pro­duce amaz­ing cof­fee.  Imagine the con­ver­sa­tion in your local cof­fee­house between a con­sumer and their barista, “This cof­fee is amaz­ing, I can taste all the char­ac­ters and aro­matic nuances that you described – you are a true artist!”  This is the reac­tion to which we aspire, not: “This cof­fee is amaz­ing, I can taste all the char­ac­ters and aro­matic nuances that you described – you are a true cof­fee scientist.”

Before the use of PID con­trols and ther­mo­cou­ples in roast­ers, brew­ers, and espresso machines; before the indus­try embraced con­trolled time and tem­per­a­ture pro­file roast­ing tech­niques; and before we under­stood pre-infusion, tur­bu­lence, brew solids and rates of extrac­tion, we used the time-honored process of trial and error as best pre­sented by the school of hard knocks.  Before the SCAA and the Guilds, there was lim­ited access to cof­fee edu­ca­tion.  Knowledge was gained mainly through pri­vate research or The International Coffee Development Group and The Coffee Brewing Center who were clear­ing­houses for sci­en­tific cof­fee infor­ma­tion.  These were the days where artistry pre­vailed and sci­ence was not a topic of con­ver­sa­tion in our industry.

Today the skills nec­es­sary for prod­uct devel­op­ment are still in the realm of artistry; using one’s expe­ri­ences and exper­tise to build and cre­ate taste and aro­mas through green cof­fee selec­tion, roast­ing, brew­ing, or extract­ing.  Having expert level knowl­edge of how sen­sory attrib­utes and tastes will com­pli­ment or con­tra­dict each other is still a rec­og­nized art, sim­i­lar to food and bev­er­age pair­ings.  Knowing how col­ors can com­bine to make new col­ors, being able to read music, know­ing how medi­ums com­bine in sculp­ture, this is all nec­es­sary sci­ence that is the build­ing blocks for cre­ativ­ity.  Knowing the fla­vor changes that occur when chang­ing green cof­fee, manip­u­lat­ing the roast pro­file or adjust­ing the drink prepa­ra­tion, is sim­i­lar to artist who com­bines col­ors on can­vas or notes in a song, it may be appeal­ing and deli­cious or not. Either way artistry is at work

Coffee mar­ket­ing is best described as pre­sent­ing your prod­uct supe­rior to your com­peti­tors.  One valu­able tool mar­keters use is to evoke the sense of artistry and mys­te­ri­ous intan­gi­ble skills to explain why their prod­uct should be pur­chased, using the con­sumer recog­ni­tion of culi­nary and mixol­ogy as an art form. Chefs, vint­ners in the wine indus­try, and dis­tillers in the spir­its indus­try, are also artists, using many of the same tech­niques as cof­fee roast­ers and baris­tas to cre­ate inno­v­a­tive and dis­tinc­tive fla­vor char­ac­ters in their prod­ucts.  The too often heard “We roast with love” or “We are guided by our pas­sion” should remain in the realm of roman­tic movies and not in cof­fee marketing.

However, in all food pro­duc­tion there is sci­ence.  How we embrace the sci­ence, mean­ing our level of under­stand­ing and uti­liza­tion of the sci­en­tific method, mea­sur­ing tools and test­ing pro­to­cols is what will sep­a­rate a sin­gu­lar spe­cialty expe­ri­ence never to be repeated from a sus­tained and con­sis­tent spe­cialty cof­fee prod­uct that can be enjoyed over time and at mul­ti­ple café’s.  The artistry in spe­cialty cof­fee is the cre­ation of cof­fee prod­ucts which will dis­tin­guish a com­pany from their com­peti­tors.  The sci­ence required to re-create the cof­fee prod­uct for con­sis­tency is the def­i­n­i­tion of quality.

Beginning with prod­uct devel­op­ment in roast­ing, quan­ti­ta­tive mea­sur­ing tools must be in place to mea­sure the attrib­utes of the green cof­fee, the devel­op­ment of the roast, the attrib­utes of the roasted cof­fee, and the oper­a­tion of the roast­ing equip­ment.  The data col­lected dur­ing the artis­tic process will be used to blend art and sci­ence together in the form of a prod­uct spec­i­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ment.  This doc­u­ment is a tool used by spe­cialty cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als to re-create the cof­fee char­ac­ter­is­tics and fla­vors for the next batch, for the next week, and pos­si­bly until some­thing fun­da­men­tal changes in the green cof­fee sup­ply and the cof­fee char­ac­ter is not able to be re-created.

The tools required to col­lect the process and qual­ity data are not spe­cific to the spe­cialty cof­fee trade or the com­mer­cial cof­fee mar­ket. These tools are basic food sci­ence and process con­trol tools used through­out the cof­fee indus­try and food man­u­fac­tur­ers.  For exam­ple, data col­lec­tion may include ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture and humid­ity, green cof­fee tem­per­a­ture, mois­ture con­tent, and den­sity.  Other impor­tant mea­sure­ments include charge weight, drum air tem­per­a­ture, bean tem­per­a­ture at spe­cific time incre­ments, gas pres­sure, flame inten­sity, and cool­ing time.  Finished prod­uct mea­sure­ment may include any of the fol­low­ing: roast devel­op­ment scale (Agtron), color devel­op­ment, or three-dimensional L.a.b. color scale.  Other qual­ity data col­lec­tions includ­ing mois­ture con­tent, water activ­ity, grind par­ti­cle size (if applic­a­ble), count­ing roasted cof­fee defects, and head­space mea­sure­ments in a stored pack­age are for the man­age­ment and con­trol of the man­u­fac­tur­ing process to pro­duce a uni­form and con­sis­tent recre­ation of the devel­op­ment sam­ples using sci­en­tific tools and quan­ti­ta­tive data col­lec­tion. The spe­cialty cof­fee pro­fes­sional will use sci­ence to re-create the prod­uct devel­op­ment which was a result of artistry.

The barista has many tools avail­able to help mea­sure the para­me­ters of brew­ing or extrac­tion.  The artis­tic process of blend­ing roasted cof­fee for a par­tic­u­lar desired pro­file or from a sin­gle lot cof­fee to develop a high-quality bev­er­age has not changed.  The exper­tise that is derived from expe­ri­ence with cof­fee and cof­fee prepa­ra­tion tech­niques will drive the artis­tic process.  Developing the fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tic, accen­tu­at­ing the acid­ity or body, main­tain­ing the sweet­ness, and aro­mat­ics can all be manip­u­lated within cof­fee, sim­i­lar to blend­ing col­ors and tex­tures on a paint­ing, or devel­op­ing the melody and har­mony in music.   Culinary Artists con­sider acid­ity (per­ceived organic acids), tem­per­a­ture, tex­ture, fats/oils, pri­mary spices and herbs, accent or fin­ish­ing ingre­di­ents, as well as color and plate com­po­si­tion when devel­op­ing recipes and menu items.

Chefs, artists, and baris­tas are all fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar artis­tic process of bring­ing together com­pli­men­tary and con­tra­dic­tory char­ac­ters and attrib­utes to cre­ate some­thing that is greater than the sum of the parts. The barista may col­lect process con­trol or qual­ity con­trol data when devel­op­ing prepa­ra­tion for­mu­las or drink recipes that include all the col­lected infor­ma­tion from the roaster/manufacturer plus addi­tional infor­ma­tion includ­ing:  time from roast­ing, water qual­ity (taste, aroma, pH, hard­ness, TDS), brew water tem­per­a­ture, time of brewing/extraction cycle.  The bed depth, includ­ing size and shape of the portafil­ter or brew bas­ket (for French press, Hario or Clever cone, etc.), will also pro­vide valu­able infor­ma­tion that must be con­trolled for the bev­er­age to be re-created.  Beverage tem­per­a­ture, water pres­sure or flow rates, extrac­tion per­cent­age, brew solids, brix, and pH will all pro­vide infor­ma­tion to help cre­ate a prepa­ra­tion spec­i­fi­ca­tion or bev­er­age recipe to be used to re-create and the bev­er­age mul­ti­ple times and at mul­ti­ple locations.

Baristas, roast­ers, cof­fee tasters, and other cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als use sci­ence when con­duct­ing cup­pings.  A cup­ping is a sen­sory analy­sis of cof­fee prod­ucts that use sci­ence to con­trol the vari­ables that will change the pro­file or fla­vor attrib­utes of the cof­fee being tested.  Managing the roast devel­op­ment, grind par­ti­cle size, dosage, water qual­ity, water vol­ume, water tem­per­a­ture, tim­ing of the test, etc. will all insure a proper and appro­pri­ate cof­fee analy­sis is conducted.

The goal of the spe­cialty cof­fee artist is to cre­ate an amaz­ing cof­fee or cof­fee bev­er­age that will be rec­og­nized for its qual­ity and appre­ci­ated for its taste, sweet­ness, and aroma char­ac­ter­is­tics.  The goal of the spe­cialty cof­fee sci­en­tist is to mea­sure the cof­fee and bev­er­age devel­op­ment to cre­ate a spec­i­fi­ca­tion used to re-create the cof­fee bev­er­age.  Science should not only be looked at as a cold and ster­ile ana­lyt­i­cal per­spec­tive, but also a food safety or good man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices pro­gram. If cof­fee is man­u­fac­tured improp­erly there may be a con­sumer health issue or prod­uct qual­ity issue. Science in spe­cialty cof­fee should be con­sid­ered an ally, not the enemy of art.

Retail oper­a­tions thrive on uni­for­mity and con­sis­tency, the con­sumer wishes to receive prod­ucts with sim­i­lar look, aroma, and fla­vor at each visit.  Specialty cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als who rec­og­nize and embrace the coex­is­tence of art and sci­ence will be able to pro­duce and pre­pare spe­cialty cof­fee prod­ucts that can be dupli­cated over time and between roaster or café loca­tions.  There are too few cof­fee sci­en­tists and instead of being uti­lized in the cre­ative, devel­op­ment phase of new prod­ucts they are usu­ally called upon to solve problems.

The con­clu­sion: both art and sci­ence should co-exist as cof­fee equivalents.

Spencer Turer grad­u­ated from Johnson & Wales University with degrees in culi­nary arts and food­ser­vice man­age­ment, and began his cof­fee adven­ture in 1994 as a barista. After work­ing in qual­ity con­trol, green cof­fee buy­ing, retail mar­ket­ing and import­ing, Spencer is now the Vice President at Coffee Analysts in Burlington, VT.  He is a Co-Founder of The Roasters Guild, a Licensed Q Grader and has earned many cer­ti­fi­ca­tions from the SCAA. Spencer can be con­tacted at spencer@coffeeanalysts.com

IT Supported Quality Management Systems">Game Changer: IT Supported Quality Management Systems

Categories: 2013, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Simply put, cof­fee is com­plex. A count­less num­ber of processes involv­ing tem­per­a­tures, humid­ity, air­flows, pres­sures, speeds, dura­tions, color val­ues, and more, need to be taken care of at the right time, any­time. For endur­ing suc­cess in the spe­cialty cof­fee busi­ness, it is a must to under­stand these processes and where qual­ity hap­pens or lacks and how it can be upheld.

That is where up-and-coming cof­fee spe­cific Quality Management (QM) sys­tems come into play. They cap­ture, dis­play, and orga­nize this vast jun­gle of infor­ma­tion that con­tains the secret to out­stand­ing and con­sis­tent cof­fee quality.

Any cof­fee roaster can tell his/her story about how tough it is to fully con­trol cof­fee in its meta­mor­pho­sis from a bag of green to becom­ing a delight­ing cup of cof­fee, rich of fla­vors and aro­mas. Let’s take the exam­ple of “Perfect Roasters,” a spe­cialty cof­fee roast­ery. Perfect Roasters gets their green cof­fee through an importer, stores it at the rather humid har­bors or in the roast­ery; batches of cof­fee are then roasted on demand on a small drum roaster that con­trols gas pres­sure, drum speed, and air­flow. A dig­i­tal temp dis­play reads the bean tem­per­a­ture dur­ing roast­ing and the val­ues are tracked in a spread­sheet. The roast­ery sells every­thing from light sin­gle ori­gin fil­ter roasts to darker blended espres­sos with very vary­ing tastes and fla­vors. Every cof­fee is treated dif­fer­ently, but any cof­fee should even­tu­ally reach the same high qual­ity stan­dards in the cup.

Specialty cof­fee, in par­tic­u­lar, demands for out­stand­ing and con­sis­tent qual­ity. By the very nature of cof­fee, raw mate­ri­als change rapidly and fre­quently, and processes need to adjust quickly to keep up with these qual­ity stan­dards. The many dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants in cof­fee sup­ply chains don’t really make this easier.

Only struc­tured, real-time infor­ma­tion that is respon­sive to all these vari­ables can help to under­stand the qual­ity crit­i­cal processes at every stage. But that infor­ma­tion would get lost imme­di­ately if it isn’t cap­tured right where and when it occurs. A key point is to have rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion in the right res­o­lu­tion at the time; timely enough to still influ­ence the result. However, the load of infor­ma­tion cap­tured can even make things more com­plex, rather than eas­ier, if it isn’t orga­nized from the beginning.

The spe­cialty cof­fee com­mu­nity is increas­ingly aware of this dynamic. That is why IT sup­ported cof­fee qual­ity man­age­ment (QM) sys­tems have been com­ing up on the hori­zon over the few years. These rather new tech­nolo­gies are specif­i­cally respon­sive to coffee’s pecu­liar processes and sys­tem­at­i­cally reveal where qual­ity can be improved. Basic solu­tions help to cap­ture and struc­ture this infor­ma­tion and feed it back to the user. Some data is logged auto­mat­i­cally such as roast tem­per­a­ture, while oth­ers are man­u­ally eval­u­ated such as cup­ping results.
More inte­grated solu­tions go a step fur­ther. They bring the user into the next level of activ­ity man­age­ment. Beyond sim­ply pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion, they pin­point to where action has to be taken, and it helps users make bet­ter deci­sions more quickly based on new, real-time insights.

Supported by an inte­grated QM sys­tem, Perfect Roasters roast­ery inte­grates the roast­ing oper­a­tion with green inven­tory, which can be kept either on site in a green room or in larger ware­houses. Roast tem­per­a­ture, dura­tion, roast­ing machine con­trol adjust­ments (like gas or air flow), and bean color val­ues can be mea­sured auto­mat­i­cally and tied back to the roast batch for later com­par­i­son and analy­sis. Added cup­ping scores and com­ments bring another vital dimen­sion into play and com­plete the eval­u­a­tion and learn­ing cycle.

These vari­ables sup­port Perfect Roasters when decid­ing on how to roast which green cof­fee on which pro­file, how quickly to heat up dur­ing the roast­ing, which cof­fee to buy from where and how often, how to store it, how a cer­tain sup­plier has devel­oped over time, etc.
Everything is nar­rowed down to the most cru­cial bits and pieces. Real-time infor­ma­tion allows Perfect Roasters to take imme­di­ate action where it is needed. Other data is for­mat­ted in the back­ground for later analy­sis. Auto-consistency checks high­light out­liers and decrease risk of hav­ing defected pro­duc­tion going out for sales.

In the end, the roast­ery will be rewarded with a more con­sis­tent prod­uct qual­ity and a bet­ter under­stand­ing of where qual­ity hap­pens or lacks. Processes can be linked to qual­i­ties at every stage, work­flows are designed more effi­ciently, and busi­ness deci­sions are put on a solid infor­ma­tion base. However, that is not the end of the story.

As in many other sup­ply chains, many will agree, that also the future of spe­cialty cof­fee lies within fast, real-time inter­ac­tion between sup­ply and pro­cess­ing. That is why some cof­fee QM sys­tems offer to effi­ciently share qual­ity, quan­tity, or trace­abil­ity infor­ma­tion with part­ners to cre­ate improved trade relationships.

With a fully inte­grated QM sys­tem, a pro­ducer or exporter will assess the qual­ity of a cof­fee sam­ple and can share it vir­tu­ally with their poten­tial buy­ers. On the buy­ers’ end, they receive the sam­ple along with the sam­ple qual­ity assess­ment. The buyer runs a qual­ity check in his lab to see if the sup­plier can deliver what is promised. If there is a match, per­fect. With a mis­match, the buyer will feed back his opin­ion to the sup­plier. The full trace­abil­ity pro­vided by well-integrated QM sys­tems through­out the sup­ply chain, allows both par­ties to dig in and see what caused the prob­lem; whether or not the mis­match came from dif­fer­ent per­cep­tions, dif­fer­ent sam­ple roast­ing, green cof­fee trans­port, stor­age, or any other poten­tial error source. This cre­ates com­mon grounds for suc­cess­ful and endur­ing busi­ness rela­tion­ships. The involved par­ties estab­lish a trans­par­ent and com­plete infor­ma­tion base for bet­ter deci­sion mak­ing, will grow as they exchange this infor­ma­tion with part­ners, and gain com­pet­i­tive­ness in the more effi­cient sup­ply chain.

To be fair, IT sup­ported QM sys­tems don’t make cof­fee less com­plex, but they pro­vide solid tools to cap­ture, orga­nize, and ana­lyze infor­ma­tion. They also allowed Perfect Roasters to make the right deci­sions, at the right time, all for the sake of con­sis­tent cof­fee qual­ity. Integrating the entire work­flow, includ­ing roast mon­i­tor­ing, QC, inven­tory man­age­ment, infor­ma­tion shar­ing, etc. into an IT sys­tem may have the poten­tial to over­whelm indi­vid­u­als, espe­cially smaller, up-and-coming roast­ers. However, the ben­e­fits of QM sys­tems greatly out­weigh the tem­po­rary dis­com­fort of change. Many IT sys­tems pro­vide entry-level ser­vices, and offer a mod­u­lar struc­ture for growth that responds to the need of both small and large busi­nesses. Either will ben­e­fit from trace­able and con­sis­tent cof­fee qual­ity that makes the dif­fer­ence between a reg­u­lar cup of cof­fee and an out­stand­ing cof­fee that delights the cus­tomers’ senses over and over again.

Direct Trade: Relationships

Categories: 2013, SeptemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Why get into the cof­fee busi­ness?  Relationships.  Seeking out like-minded peo­ple all over the cof­fee grow­ing world and return­ing home with their hard work to share is what sep­a­rates cof­fee as a busi­ness from cof­fee as a lifestyle. My col­league Brandon Bir and I were for­tu­nate to find our­selves in Guatemala ear­lier this year amongst the finest of cof­fee and people.

We drop out of the sky and into the land of eter­nal spring. The weather in Guatemala, as adver­tised, is going to make our search that more enjoy­able. Brandon and I are here in search of that moment – hard to define but easy to spot once it hap­pens – when we dis­cover a cof­fee we just have to have. After cup­ping cof­fee together daily, Brandon and I know what we’re look­ing for.

At the air­port gate, we’re met by a friend who has set aside a few days to guide us. He is no stranger to this jour­ney; in fact, he has ded­i­cated his life to it. Once the youngest Q-grader in the world, Jorge Ovalle now spends most of his time look­ing for great cof­fee. We have arrived with the same purpose.

We quickly escape the air­port and embark on our quest. We are headed to Antigua, a grow­ing region of great tra­di­tion and renown. Some of the world’s most elo­quent cups of cof­fee are born in Antigua every year, but this year’s har­vest has come under attack. The region, like much of Central America, has fallen prey to Roya, or cof­fee rust, caused by the fun­gus hemileia vas­ta­trix. Even at drive-by speeds the effect is obvi­ous. The once-lush green foliage usu­ally adorn­ing the hill­sides has been replaced by spindly twigs, mere skele­tons of their for­mer grandeur. Some hold on to their dig­nity despite the plague and bravely man­age clus­ters of bright crim­son berries. The extent of the dam­age varies from one farm to another, as each uti­lizes its own prac­tices. Of course, the most vul­ner­a­ble farmer is the organic farmer, who can­not use chem­i­cal fungi­cides to com­bat the plague.

Jorge takes us to Maria del Pintado, the only Antigua cof­fee farm that is cer­ti­fied organic. Standing in the shad­ows of a majes­tic 400-year-old hacienda, which once housed Mother Teresa for a visit, we are wit­ness to a near-apocalyptic scene of denuded cof­fee trees. While Mad Max may have looked around, dusted him­self off and moved on, the owner and man­agers here have shown more back­bone. Within a few weeks, they must decide whether or not they are going to pull up all the plants and start over. If they do, there will be no yields for years to come. The other option is the use of non-organic fer­til­iz­ers. After meet­ing Belarmino, the man­ager, I don’t believe that this was ever a con­sid­er­a­tion. While tour­ing the grounds we learn of his fierce ded­i­ca­tion to this land and the cof­fee on it. Every aspect of pro­cess­ing El Pintado cof­fee takes place on the farm and under Belamino’s over­sight. “This was to be the year,” Belarmino told us, “But for the rust.”  The yield for this year’s har­vest can’t be ignored. Only 60 bags.

When the meet­ing of minds takes place and the fate of El Pintado is deter­mined, a key fig­ure in the deci­sion will be Jorge’s father, Jorge De Leon, Sr. He started in cof­fee in 1981 at age 17. He got a job clean­ing the cup­ping labs and orga­niz­ing the results. He would blind cup the sam­ples him­self and com­pare his notes with cup­pers’ records while no one was watch­ing. Jorge cleaned for years before he was offered the addi­tional duties of roast­ing the sam­ples. After work, he would go to the library and learn what he could about grow­ing and pro­cess­ing cof­fee. He has since worked as a cup­per for farms and labs through­out Guatemala, advis­ing on all aspects of qual­ity con­trol: farm­ing, milling, and cup­ping. In 2011 he won Guatemala’s national cup­ping com­pe­ti­tion and rep­re­sented Guatemala in Amsterdam at the world cup­ping com­pe­ti­tion where he was a final­ist. His work ethic remains unchanged 30 years later. Next to his house is his roast­ing and cup­ping lab. After vis­it­ing farms all day with Jorge Jr. we join Jorge Sr. at his house each night. We start cup­ping again between 8 and 9 p.m. Sometime after mid­night Brandon and I have to call it a night. Our nerves are on over­drive from a steady diet of caf­feine and we have new farms to see and new cof­fees to try first thing in the morn­ing. You just can’t out-cup the De Leons.

It was in the De Leons’ pri­vate cof­fee lab where we had that moment for the first time in Guatemala. Brandon and I both know this is what we are look­ing for. It was a blend that Jorge Jr. had put together using beans from local small-lot farms. We dubbed this blend “Jorge’s Pick.” Jorge had already taken us to visit many of the farms where the cof­fee was grown. Unfortunately, none of them would be able to help export the unusual blend, and the De Leons don’t have an export license. Still, we had to have this coffee.

The next day we cupped some good cof­fees and a few that stood out when that moment hit us again. It was the quin­tes­sen­tial Antigua, bal­anced and soft, rich with choco­late notes but still no real spikes. It is exactly what I want in an Antigua, and we have to have some of this too. As it turns out, this cof­fee is the prod­uct of El Pintado. But with such a small yield this year and reg­u­lar cus­tomers in Korea, would there be any left for us?  Obtaining the cof­fee would involve call­ing the owner, who was out of the coun­try at the time. She made her­self avail­able for us and agreed to set aside some bags of cof­fee. We also were for­tu­nate to make arrange­ments for export­ing the two types of cof­fee.  We have recently learned that the cof­fee trees of El Pintado will be spared.  I hope we are able to join them next har­vest, see their progress and shake hands again.

Coffee is a busi­ness of rela­tion­ships. The trick, when it comes down to it, is do you trust who you’re doing busi­ness with?  We trav­eled to Guatemala to find great cof­fee but more impor­tantly, strengthen the rela­tion­ships with the peo­ple behind the coffee.

Roya Coming to a Café Near You

Categories: 2013, SeptemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

IMG_8486Over the last six months, news of the Latin American Roya cri­sis has slowly made its way through the cof­fee sup­ply chain. The closer you are to ori­gin, the more famil­iar the story: Governments declar­ing states of emer­gency; crop dam­age of up to 30–70% with par­tic­u­larly heavy losses in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; Casualty of more than 500,000 cof­fee related jobs lead­ing to con­cerns regard­ing social unrest. The lat­ter was demon­strated just last week when inde­pen­dent cof­fee farm­ers in Peru orga­nized a strike demand­ing for­give­ness of debts and government-funded ren­o­va­tion to address the impact of Roya. Although short-lived (the strike lasted two days) the result­ing road block­age had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on travel and move­ment of goods, includ­ing cof­fee headed to market.

But the story is not just about the impact at ori­gin. This year’s Roya cri­sis will have a last­ing impact on every­one involved in the cof­fee sup­ply chain. As we saw in Peru, gov­ern­ments are under pres­sure to sup­port relief efforts via financ­ing for ren­o­va­tion, debt reduc­tion, or strength­en­ing social safety nets. NGOs are seek­ing ways to scale food secu­rity and income diver­sity pro­grams. Banks and other financiers are look­ing at new risk man­age­ment strate­gies. For roast­ers and retail­ers, qual­ity is as much an issue as sup­ply – both of which have sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on prod­uct devel­op­ment, pack­ag­ing, and pricing.

In early April, Sustainable Harvest launched the Roya Recovery Project with the goal of get­ting the most cred­i­ble and use­ful infor­ma­tion in the hands of Roya-affected farm­ers and co-op lead­ers to enable them to make edu­cated deci­sions on how to best mit­i­gate the longterm impact of the dis­ease. The infor­ma­tion is intended to be applic­a­ble to all pro­duc­ers, but places a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on solu­tions for organic farm­ers who can­not adopt con­ven­tional, chemical-based treat­ment solutions.

The first deliv­er­able under the Roya Recovery Project was the Roya Recovery Toolkit – a man­ual and DVD that aggre­gates insight and rec­om­men­da­tions from the most cred­i­ble sources in the Central American cof­fee indus­try. Our goal is to work with indus­try part­ners to get the con­tent in the hands of as many farm­ers as pos­si­ble. Already, we’ve received tremen­dous sup­port from Birdrock, Café Moto, Café Mystique, Dillanos, and Green Mountain who either helped fund the devel­op­ment of the toolkit or who have pur­chased copies for distribution.

But work­ing with farm­ers only helps address half the prob­lem. As the Relationship Coffee Model demon­strates, the power is in con­nect­ing farm­ers with those on the other end of the sup­ply chain to estab­lish trans­parency and com­mon understanding.

This what we are seek­ing to accom­plish at Let’s Talk Roya– an open event for every­one across the global cof­fee sup­ply chain with an inter­est in address­ing the short– and long– term impli­ca­tions of Roya. Held November 3–6 at the Royal Decameron in El Salvador, the event will lever­age the Let’s Talk Coffee® model of bring­ing cof­fee sup­ply chain stake­hold­ers together for direct con­ver­sa­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tive problem-solving.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to roast­ers and retail­ers will be a unique oppor­tu­nity to join oth­ers to detect and dis­cuss Roya’s impact on taste and qual­ity through a series of cup­ping ses­sions. We see this expectation-setting as crit­i­cal in the con­ver­sa­tions between sup­pli­ers, cer­ti­fiers and roast­ers rel­a­tive to mar­ket oppor­tu­nity over the next two to three years. The event will also fea­ture farm trips where par­tic­i­pants can wit­ness the impacts of cli­mate change on cof­fee farms firsthand.

Here at Sustainable Harvest, we believe Let’s Talk Roya will bridge the infor­ma­tion gap between pro­duc­ers and roast­ers and cre­ate the foun­da­tion for col­lab­o­ra­tive prob­lem solv­ing around the Roya chal­lenge. With this mutual under­stand­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion can flour­ish, ideas can spark, and a uni­fied recov­ery canbe a real­ity. With Let’s Talk Roya, the ongo­ing Roya Recovery Project, Sustainable Harvest, and our part­ners aim to over­come the chal­lenges of Roya and cli­mate change in the long-term, strength­en­ing the resiliency of the sup­ply chain that Relationship Coffee is founded on. From there, we can con­tinue to inno­vate, trans­form­ing the stan­dard for respon­si­ble, qual­ity sourcing.

Join us at Let’s Talk Roya. November 3–6, 3013 in El Salvador. More infor­ma­tion about the event, includ­ing reg­is­tra­tion can be found at

What Exactly do You do Here?

Categories: 2013, SeptemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Fresh eyes on a prob­lem is always going to net some inter­est­ing feed­back. If the new eyes under­stand what they are look­ing at, they can give insights as to the cause of the prob­lem and sug­gest how to fix it. New eyes can be a con­sul­tant, a trusted friend, or even bet­ter, some­one who has dealt with your prob­lem before. The new eyes can also be you. You just need a new prism to change the angle of how you are looking.

Semi-Hypothetical Case Study
A cof­fee shop owner had a prob­lem. Let’s call him ‘David’ and his shop ‘Roasting Co’. The busi­ness is a cof­fee roast­ing com­pany with 3 retail out­lets and a whole­sale roast­ing facil­ity. Business is good and it is expand­ing. Employees are loyal and are being pro­moted as the com­pany grows. So far, this is a com­pany with­out a prob­lem. David is proud of his growth and has dealt with the expected pains of expan­sion well.

Brian reached out to a trusted con­sul­tant friend and said, “Something is wrong inside my com­pany and I can’t put my fin­ger on it. I am fully engaged with my employ­ees. They say this is a great place to work. I have lower than aver­age turnover. But I can feel the dis­cord in both my employ­ees and myself. Could you please spend a cou­ple of days in my com­pany and poke around? You have com­plete access to any­one and any­thing you want.”

On the first day, the con­sul­tant went as a secret shop­per to the dif­fer­ent retail out­lets. It was inter­est­ing to see that the cul­ture of cel­e­brat­ing the cof­fee was a top-of-list pri­or­ity for almost all of the employ­ees. Later in the day the con­sul­tant observed the oper­a­tions of the roast­ing plant. In 24 hours the con­sul­tant was able to make a pretty strong con­clu­sion as to why there was dis­cord in the com­pany. Now the task was to get the owner to see the solution.

The sec­ond day started with inter­views of key per­son­nel. The key ques­tion was, “What exactly do YOU do here?” The answers were very telling.

Barista 1: “I am respon­si­ble for the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. We make espresso and hand drip cof­fees.” He then went on to explain step by step how he com­pleted his tasks.

Manager 1: “I do all of the sched­ul­ing of shifts, ini­ti­ate train­ing, man­age con­sum­able inven­to­ries, and mon­i­tor the qual­ity of our drink mak­ing and cus­tomer ser­vice.” She then went on to tell the con­sul­tant, “There are a lot of other things that seem to be get­ting piled on but my team han­dles it ok.”

Roaster / Production Staff 1: “I get the roast sched­ule for the day and then weigh, roast, weigh again and do an inven­tory check to make sure we don’t run out of stock on anything.”

Operations and QC Manager: “It seems like I do every­thing around here. I over­see the retail mangers, the roast­ing staff, equip­ment main­te­nance, staff train­ings and run the cup­ping room to ensure the con­sis­tency and qual­ity of our cof­fee. I cre­ate roast­ing pro­files and blends. I never seem to get every­thing done though because pri­or­i­ties keep chang­ing on me.”

Owner: “I try to move the com­pany for­ward in both sales and qual­ity by del­e­gat­ing respon­si­bil­ity to the man­age­ment team and then fol­low­ing up. I don’t get good report­ing so I often don’t know about sim­ple prob­lems until they are big prob­lems. I am try­ing to con­cen­trate my time on grow­ing whole­sale so we can con­tinue to grow. That seems to be going ok. Retail, though, grabs my atten­tion all the time because as an owner I will walk through the shop and see trash on the floor and dirty coun­ters. It dri­ves me crazy so I tell the ops man­ager to fig­ure it out with the retail man­ager. That never hap­pens so I just go take care of it.”

Does any or all of this sound like where you work? Well it should because most small busi­nesses, as well as depart­ments of large busi­nesses suf­fer from employ­ees not know­ing the answer to, “What exactly do you do here?” So what is the prob­lem with this com­pany? Why are they frus­trated? EASY!

Only the low­est rank­ing employ­ees know what they are sup­posed to be doing because there job is well doc­u­mented. They have check­lists, forms and struc­ture. Expectations have been set and they strive to exceed them. Upper man­age­ment does not hold them­selves to the same rigor of pur­pose and trans­parency of job tasks. They don’t know exactly what they do in the company.

On the last half of day 2, the con­sul­tant called in the Owner and the Ops Manager and said, “Congrats! The top two most expe­ri­enced, loyal and ded­i­cated peo­ple in the com­pany are the cause of the prob­lem. You have over the years cre­ated check­lists for your stores and roast­ing oper­a­tions, and noth­ing for the new and more com­plex man­age­ment tasks you are fac­ing. You have no idea what to do, when to do, it or pri­or­i­ties. You work on what’s in front of you. The good news is, you are empow­ered to be the ones to fix it. Now role up your sleeves because this is going to be a 30 day job and you will have changed everything.

Step 1: Document what you do down to the gran­u­lar level. Everything must be reduced to tasks with a begin­ning, mid­dle and end. Also write the actual time per week in min­utes or hours it takes to accom­plish each task. No task is triv­ial; noth­ing done dur­ing your work week should be ignored.

Step 2: Arrange these tasks into log­i­cal groups like Meetings, Roast Production, Retail Store etc. Now add up how much time you are spend­ing on each group for which you are responsible.

Step 3: For each group you need to make a check­list that you will actu­ally check off each day and week. On the check­list will be the name of the activ­ity, when it must be exe­cuted and a check­box where it can be marked done.

Step 4: Review each week the tasks that got done and those that didn’t. Try to place the undone tasks in next week’s sched­ule such that they are likely to get done. Redo your check­list to bet­ter match your cur­rent priorities.

What hap­pened to David and Roaster Co.?

The Ops Manager fig­ured out that by being pro­moted, he didn’t really have a job. The Owner never gave clear job func­tions to the Ops man­ager with­out the tools to orga­nize the chaos. When his task list was com­plete he dis­cov­ered he did not actu­ally have many real respon­si­bil­i­ties. He merely over man­aged oth­ers to fill time. David dis­cov­ered that his actual day to day tasks only accounted for about 55 hours per week. When he put them in an orga­nized, time acti­vated check­list he was able to give about 30 hours to his Ops man­ager in an orga­nized way with expected results. He was then able to focus efforts where he wanted to grow. And the com­pany did.

For more detailed sug­ges­tions for fix­ing your busi­ness; sug­gested read­ing is ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ by Gerber.

Rocky can be reached at rocky@INTLcoffeeConsulting.com

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