Tag Archive for: cupping

by Rocky Rhodes

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 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

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

Decoding Terroir

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

Coffee is a mag­nif­i­cent agri­cul­tural prod­uct. It’s a vehi­cle, a means of expres­sion, its one of those amaz­ing prod­ucts that nature uses to embed its mys­te­ri­ous ways. There are many fac­tors that influ­ence the cod­ing of this mes­sage, a com­bi­na­tion of geog­ra­phy, geol­ogy, cli­mate, and lat­i­tude are all imprinted into the cof­fee and this is what we’ve come to know as ter­roir. I’ve come to believe that nature is so pur­pose­ful that it doesn’t stop at the obvi­ous and goes into pur­su­ing the botan­i­cal sur­round­ing, the process, han­dling, and even the human char­ac­ters it inter­acts with in order to fully express the message.

Those of us work­ing in cof­fee are often mes­mer­ized at the amaz­ing and uncom­mon way in which we dis­cover this expres­sion of grandeur, as the mes­sage is often heav­ily coded and it takes ded­i­ca­tion in order to finally begin to grasp it. Once we believe we have taken an inter­est­ing approach and “fig­ured out” a cof­fee, there’s still a gigan­tic gap that sep­a­rates a sam­ple in a cup­ping table from its final out­come in pro­duc­tion roasting.

We’ve come a long way in the process of ter­roir decod­ing (if you will), start­ing with the wide pro­lif­er­a­tion and pop­u­lar­ity the mar­ket has demanded from dif­fer­ent ori­gins and pro­duc­ing coun­tries. Among these we have seen amaz­ing progress in nar­row­ing pro­duc­ing coun­tries into cof­fee pro­duc­ing regions, such is the case of Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador, and many other coun­tries that have decided to rec­og­nize and pro­mote their diver­sity. Slowly within this trends we’ve seen Single Estates and Micro Farms begin to sur­face as names that are syn­ony­mous with qual­ity, and we’ve seen them become very pop­u­lar because there is some­thing very spe­cial about them.

But what exactly is so spe­cial about these cof­fees? And what exactly deter­mines a remark­able cup of cof­fee on the table?” I like to see it in a very sim­ple way, along the line of ter­roir cod­ing there is a chain of per­fec­tion that was fol­lowed flaw­lessly. It means that some­where down the line, a par­tic­u­lar cof­fee received the right con­di­tions of cli­mate, nur­ture, and process, paired with exactly the right han­dling, so by the time its seat­ing in our table its shout­ing in aro­matic expres­sion the story of all that process it had to go through.

In terms of know­ing your cof­fee, the best way you can do this is at the cup­ping table. A method­i­cal, con­stant and crit­i­cal eval­u­a­tion of your cof­fee will allow you to know it bet­ter. More than this, it will allow you to dis­cover and to decode it.

When using ter­roir as the qual­ity basis for attract­ing cus­tomers, there are var­i­ous steps to follow:

1. To have knowl­edge on the trace­abil­ity of the cof­fee. Specialty Coffee can only be defined if we know where it comes from and who pro­duced it. Terroir is about the com­bi­na­tion of these two factors.

2. Are these notes or is this ter­roir? There’s a thin line that sep­a­rates this con­fu­sion, and often we make the mis­take of tak­ing notes present under a spe­cific roast pro­file and cer­tain brewing-cupping con­di­tion as the actual mean­ing and dis­cov­ery of ter­roir. A coffee’s true char­ac­ter will be that com­bi­na­tion of attrib­utes, aro­matic, struc­tural, sweet­ness, acid­ity, mouth­feel, and fla­vors, that become estab­lished within a cof­fee pro­file year after year.

3. Build Relationships. When you pur­chase a cof­fee year after year, not only are you becom­ing famil­iar with it and learn­ing how to develop it prop­erly, you are mak­ing a com­mit­ment with those who pro­duced it. By com­mit­ting to work with a spe­cific farm or region you are pro­vid­ing the nec­es­sary eco­nomic incen­tive for devel­op­ment which ulti­mately ends in bet­ter farm­ing prac­tices and the con­stant pur­suit of excel­lence that will dis­tin­guish what you are roast­ing and serving.

4. Educate. You are enthu­si­as­tic about your cof­fee and the many under­ly­ing rela­tion­ships that bring you cof­fee, share your enthu­si­asm with your cus­tomers. By com­mit­ting to fea­ture some of the same cof­fees year after year you will also gar­nish a fol­low­ing and fur­ther com­mit­ment on behalf of your cus­tomers who will con­tinue to buy these cof­fees for very much the same rea­sons they con­tinue to seek the same wines or dine at the same restau­rant: it’s personal.

In the same man­ner in which we choose or find our friends and stick with some over the years, the exact same way some cof­fees appeal or not to the peo­ple that choose them. It becomes then a mat­ter of rela­tion­ship and as in any rela­tion­ship one needs to under­stand and know one another and that takes time. Learn, engage, and chal­lenge your­self; just as a French vigneron takes pride in giv­ing its sig­na­ture to the blend­ing of his wine, develop your cof­fee so that together you may tell its story and the sig­na­ture you’re imprint­ing on its final coding.

Coffee Corps

Categories: 2013, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

IMGP0676Project Description
The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) cre­ated Coffee Corps in 2003 when it was awarded two sep­a­rate grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Coffee Corps, a volunteer-based pro­gram, pro­vides tech­ni­cal assis­tance to grow­ers, asso­ci­a­tions, and stake­hold­ers through­out the cof­fee value chain by match­ing indus­try experts to spe­cific projects. CQI’s Executive Director David Roche has a back­ground in cof­fee agron­omy and pro­duc­tion, and his exper­tise in this field has pro­vided increased clar­ity and impact at the farm level: an area that is con­sis­tently under­served in the indus­try. This pro­gram is cur­rently active in all cof­fee grow­ing regions, includ­ing East Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Indonesia.

In the last ten years, Coffee Corps has sent over 350 vol­un­teers to over twenty cof­fee pro­duc­ing coun­tries, log­ging an impres­sive more than 25,000 vol­un­teer hours. Tens of thou­sands of pro­duc­ers have been able to under­stand more about qual­ity and earn higher prices for their cof­fee through var­i­ous work­shops and train­ing pro­grams. Just as impor­tantly, many importers, retail­ers, and roast­ers have devel­oped mean­ing­ful, long-term rela­tion­ships with pro­duc­ers. For many vol­un­teers, it serves as their first con­nec­tion to origin.

Michael Phillips, 2010 World Barista Champion and Coffee Corps vol­un­teer, com­ments, “I think one of the essen­tial things that CQI does is iden­tify a need, find the right peo­ple and put them in the right places. I would cer­tainly con­sider the time and effort I spent work­ing at these [barista] events to be some of the more valu­able and well received train­ings I’ve ever done. I don’t think you can cal­cu­late the value because the rip­ple effect is enormous.”

Currently, the Coffee Corps pro­gram includes an array of spe­cific tech­ni­cal assis­tance options, expand­ing the abil­ity to pro­vide request-based sup­port more effi­ciently. Assistance and tech­ni­cal train­ing includes expert con­sul­ta­tion in many areas, includ­ing agron­omy and pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing, roast­ing, cup­per train­ing, lab­o­ra­tory devel­op­ment, mar­ket­ing, barista train­ing, and ori­gin pro­fil­ing. This “à la carte” style menu has proven to be highly effec­tive and serves as a model that can be repli­cated by CQI’s ori­gin part­ners to expand their abil­ity to pro­vide need-based assis­tance. Coffee Corps con­tin­ues to remain a vital source of tech­ni­cal assis­tance for pro­duc­ing coun­tries and rela­tion­ship build­ing within the sup­ply chain, and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing this impor­tant work around the world.

How Can I Help?
We receive many appli­ca­tions from pro­duc­ers around the world in need of tech­ni­cal assis­tance. Unfortunately due to bud­getary restric­tions, we can­not sup­port all of them. Since CQI is a 501©3, all dona­tions are tax deductible and would directly sup­port improv­ing cof­fee qual­ity through tech­ni­cal assis­tance, capac­ity build­ing, cup­ping train­ing, lab­o­ra­tory devel­op­ment, and other sim­i­lar pro­grams. To make a dona­tion, please visit us at

Contact Name:     Alexandra Katona-Carroll
Web Site:
Location:     Worldwide
Email Address:
Phone Number:     562.901.3166

A Master’s in Coffee

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

UDC1This past month has con­sisted of var­i­ous dynamic and inter­est­ing courses, as well as some tough exams. We have been learn­ing every­thing about brew­ing meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies; chem­i­cal com­pounds present in the bean; and post-harvesting meth­ods. As I men­tioned last month, our class­room is located on the premises of illy Caffè. Besides being able to eat the amaz­ing food of the company’s cafe­te­ria, we are very for­tu­nate to be sit­u­ated in their head­quar­ters as we are exposed to the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and prac­tices of a com­pany that has been run by a fam­ily of leg­endary sci­en­tists and innovators.

A few weeks ago, for our brew­ing course, we had the chance to spend an entire week receiv­ing classes at Universitá del Caffé, which is also located at the illy head­quar­ters. During this class, we were guided every step of the way by a great team of expe­ri­enced pro­fes­sors and pro­fes­sional baris­tas that taught us excel­lent brew­ing tech­niques and all the fac­tors involved in mak­ing the per­fect espresso.

I enjoyed our course at Universitá del Caffé so much that I decided to speak with the Director, Mr. Moreno Faina, to get a lit­tle more insight on this dynamic pro­gram and learn about its incep­tion. The Università del Caffè was first set up in Naples in 1999, and later moved to Trieste, to the illy Caffè head­quar­ters. With 25 branches world­wide, they strive to be “a cen­ter of excel­lence cre­ated to pro­mote, sup­port and com­mu­ni­cate the cul­ture of qual­ity cof­fee world­wide, through train­ing.” I am sure I can speak for the whole class in say­ing that we had a lot of fun prac­tic­ing our latte art and exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent bev­er­age recipes (Some class­mates, whose names I will not men­tion, had extra fun with all the recipes that involved liquor).

UDC2Moreover, while most of our pro­fes­sors come from a wide array of par­tic­i­pat­ing uni­ver­si­ties, there are also var­i­ous indus­try pro­fes­sion­als and illy Caffè employ­ees that bring real case sce­nar­ios and expe­ri­ence to the class. Additionally, many of our classes have con­sisted of learn­ing out­side the class­room. In fact, Trieste con­tains a very impor­tant port for Italy and the Mediterranean. This has given us the oppor­tu­nity to visit a cou­ple of com­pa­nies such as DEMUS, a decaf­feina­tion plant; Sandalj, a trad­ing com­pany; and Pacorini, a world­wide logis­tics com­pany, which has made our learn­ing expe­ri­ence dynamic, while giv­ing us an inside glance at pres­ti­gious com­pa­nies that oper­ate within the cof­fee industry.

This past month, we also had the honor of receiv­ing classes with Sunalini N. Menon, an amaz­ing teacher and pas­sion­ate woman from India. Sunalini is the founder of a con­sul­tancy firm based in Bangalore called Coffeelab Private Limited. She taught us about post-harvesting processes as well as sort­ing and cup­ping defects. Her class was not only infor­ma­tive, enjoy­able, and insight­ful, but with­out know­ing, Sunalini also showed me what you can achieve when you are truly pas­sion­ate about something.

The exper­tise that we are being exposed to, both from illy Caffè as well as from guest lec­tures, have def­i­nitely added tremen­dous value to our courses. I am look­ing for­ward to the remain­ing three months, as we con­tinue to learn, grow, and deepen our under­stand­ing in every­thing that is behind our daily cup of Joe.


Twitter @Ashleyprentice01

Quality Equals Money in Indonesia

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

It has been said by many in the cof­fee indus­try that if we can just improve the qual­ity of the cof­fee, the farmer can get more money and improve their lot in life. The frus­trat­ing part is that so few in the indus­try have the abil­ity to fol­low the money and really feel the impact. It leads one to won­der if it really works at all.

This ques­tion was answered defin­i­tively this week at the sec­ond spe­cialty cof­fee auc­tion of Indonesia. The results were dra­matic. But some back­ground will help put the suc­cess in perspective.

The Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia (SCAI) has been in for­ma­tion since 2009. Many orga­ni­za­tions of this age are still floun­der­ing and try­ing to find their way. SCAI is a great excep­tion as they have grown their mem­ber­ship to a self-sustaining level and receive AID money to help with qual­ity pro­grams in Indonesia as well as mar­ket­ing Indonesian cof­fees. They are a small but ener­getic and effi­cient team ded­i­cated to the improve­ment of cof­fee qual­ity and pro­ducer livelihood.

Indonesia is a pro­ducer of both Arabica and Robusta cof­fees. In fact, they are the 3rd largest pro­duc­ing coun­try when count­ing both vari­eties. To look at the improve­ment of cof­fee in this coun­try you must exam­ine what is hap­pen­ing in both types of coffee.

Robusta cof­fee is being treated like a com­mod­ity where vol­ume is the goal and qual­ity of the cof­fee has a fairly low bar. This is how Robusta is treated pretty much any­where it is grown in the world. There are a few seg­mented lots and the result is out­stand­ing. As you will see in the auc­tion results below, if the qual­ity of Robusta rises, so will the prices that roast­ers are will­ing to pay for it. Specialty is spe­cialty regard­less of the varietal.

Arabica cof­fee is incred­i­bly diverse in Indonesia for a num­ber of rea­sons. To get a feel for the sit­u­a­tion let’s exam­ine the grow­ing and pro­cess­ing con­di­tions. Indonesia is a series of Islands that stretch as wide as the United States. Each Island has micro­cli­mates, vol­canic activ­ity, and soil con­di­tions that can be very dif­fer­ent from each other. The farm­ing tech­nol­ogy varies from extremely sophis­ti­cated at the state run mega plan­ta­tions to the koteka-wearing peo­ple of Papua try­ing to oper­ate their new pulp­ing machine. Often the time and dis­tance the cof­fee has to travel from the farm to the exporter is hun­dreds of Kilometers and sev­eral days. As a result, cof­fee is par­tially dried and wet hulled along the way so it will not be a lost cause when it gets to a major city. Also, it has to travel through as many as six dif­fer­ent trans­porters from the start of its jour­ney to the end.

The ques­tion for Indonesia becomes this, How in the heck can you improve qual­ity, edu­cate the sup­ply chain and make sure the farmer gets rewarded for their efforts? The answer has to be a com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy. This is what SCAI is pro­vid­ing for their coun­try. It comes down to Education, Marketing, and Reward.

SCAI knew that in order for the qual­ity to rise, qual­ity must be under­stood. It also needs to be com­mu­ni­cated to con­sum­ing coun­tries in a way that pro­vides both mar­ket­ing and feed­back for the asso­ci­a­tion and its mem­bers. So, step one was to engage Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to pro­vide Q-Grader and R-Grader classes in coun­try. This has pro­duced a group of peo­ple that are able to com­mu­ni­cate flu­ently about the qual­ity of cof­fee both amongst them­selves and with the con­sum­ing world. In addi­tion an  ‘edu­ca­tion road­show’ was pro­vided to sev­eral very rural farm­ers to show how sim­ple improve­ments increases qual­ity and that they can be rewarded for it.

This effort has paid off for Indonesia. It paid off both in Arabica and Robusta. The auc­tion of spe­cialty lots brought record prices and val­i­dated the premise that Higher Quality = Higher Rewards. The fol­low­ing is an auc­tion recap.

Over 60 lots were sub­mit­ted to SCAI for con­sid­er­a­tion in the auc­tion. About half did not pass either the green grad­ing stan­dard and/or the cup­ping stan­dard of 82+ on the CQI grad­ing scale. A selec­tion of 24 sam­ples made it to the auc­tion in three cat­e­gories: Robusta, Arabica, and Luwak processed.

Before the auc­tion an inter­na­tional panel of judges from Indonesia, Australia, Korea, Taiwan, and The United States eval­u­ated the lots. Under the lead­er­ship of Ted Lingle as the head judge the cof­fees were scored, ranked and the top were selected to be in a final round of twelve cof­fees to be re-evaluated by the panel. The top-top cof­fees were picked and ranked. The cof­fee was now ready for auction.

SCAI did run into a prob­lem where the auc­tion­eer they were plan­ning on had to drop out at the last minute. Your hum­ble author was asked to step in. (Speaking only for myself, I thought I did a damn good job!)

On auc­tion day the C mar­ket for Arabica was $1.61/lb and the LIFFE price for Robusta was at $.94/lb.

The proof that qual­ity pays is this: The top Robusta got $3.18 per pound! The top Arabica got $20.45 per pound! The Luwak got $45.45 per pound! The over­all Arabica aver­age was $5.11 per pound for the entire auc­tion. If that is not proof that qual­ity pays, it would be hard to say what is!

Perhaps even more impres­sive and impor­tant is that of the top 5 cof­fees, all were sub­mit­ted by coop­er­a­tives. This means that the money is flow­ing back to the peo­ple that pro­duce it. It is often frus­trat­ing as a con­sumer because you do not really know if the pro­ducer is being com­pen­sated for improved qual­ity. In this auc­tion they did! Also sig­nif­i­cant is that the top Arabica and the top Robusta were pur­chased by an Indonesian roaster and the cof­fee will be con­sumed in coun­try! Indonesians have not had cof­fee this good to drink in, well, ever!

The other beau­ti­ful thing that hap­pened at the auc­tion is that the buyer and seller got to meet, shake hands, and even hug at the con­clu­sion of bid­ding for each lot.

ONGOING QUALITY IMPROVEMENT:  It is now a week after the auc­tion and there is a Q-Grader train­ing in Jakarta. One of the stu­dents is a mem­ber of the coöper­a­tive that sub­mit­ted the Arabica that gar­nered the sec­ond high­est price at the auc­tion. Another is the roaster  – retailer ‘my Kopi O!’ owned by Darma Santoso that pur­chased both the high­est priced Arabica and the high­est priced Robusta. Both are com­mit­ted to under­stand­ing how to com­mu­ni­cate about qual­ity in the sup­ply chain. With their efforts and all of the work being done by SCAI, qual­ity in Indonesia will con­tinue to improve, and the pro­duc­ers are cer­tainly get­ting the benefit!