Tag Archive for: Sustainable Harvest

by Pam Kahl

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

Are you “Q” yet?

Categories: 2011, AugustTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The lat­est craze in cof­fee is not a new fancy drink, sin­gle serve tech­nique, or a newly dis­cov­ered ori­gin. It is a com­mit­ment to qual­ity in cof­fee by get­ting cer– tified as a Q-Grader. So does this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion add value to you and the cof­fee indus­try or is it just the lat­est fad?

The Q-Grader pro­gram is designed to give a com­mon lan­guage to describe qual­ity in cof­fee and is used from the farmer to the con­sumer. It quan­ti­fies cof­fee attrib­utes and gets all par­tic­i­pants to iden­tify taste char­ac­ter­is­tics in the same way. The true pur­pose there­fore is to be able to com­mu­ni­cate qual­ity up and down the sup­ply chain and raise the over­all qual­ity of cof­fee in the process.

Jeremy Raths of The Roastery in Minneapolis, and a Q-Grader Instructor, describes the Q-Certification of cof­fee this way, “For the cof­fee indus­try it is the only cer­ti­fica– tion based on Quality. It is totally blind, inde­pen­dent and adher­ing to a strict pro­to­col. It is all about the cof­fee. No guilt, no shame, just cof­fee qual­ity. It is a way that the whole chain can objec­tively look at a cof­fee using quantification.”

When cof­fee is quan­ti­fied it means that it has been rated on a numeric scale from 1–100. Each of ten attrib­utes of a sin­gle sam­ple of cof­fee is rated from 1–10. Since there are ten attrib­utes they add up to the total score. Grading is done using the SCAA cup– ping form and it looks like this:

It takes an immense amount of train­ing and dis­ci­pline to be able to con­sis­tently give scores that are cal­i­brated with oth­ers. When you can prove that you have the skill to iden­tify both the attrib­utes and defects of cof­fee sam­ples con­sis­tently, then you can become a Q-Grader.

In order to prove your skills, the Coffee Quality Institute devel­oped the Q-Grader Certification Program that con­sists of 22 tests that must be passed. These tests are usu­ally given with lec­tures over an intense five-day period. The classes must take place in labs that have been cer­ti­fied by the SCAA and taught by cer­ti­fied instruc­tors. If you suc­ceed in pass­ing the tests and get cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader, you have joined an élite group of cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als that have all cal­i­brated in the same way. You now have a com­mon ‘Q-Language’ that you can use to dis­cuss cof­fee quality.

Students come from all facets of the cof­fee sup­ply chain. Farmers and exporters from pro­duc­ing coun­tries get cer­ti­fied because they under­stand first-hand how qual­ity can affect price. They are com­mit­ted to learn­ing all they can to not only improve qual­ity but to com­mu­ni­cate with importers and roast­ers in a mean­ing­ful way.

The importers and roast­ers are get­ting cer­ti­fied for the rec­i­p­ro­cal rea­son as farm­ers and exporters. Roasters will use this skill set to start being more spe­cific on their orders to their importers. A small roaster can describe with con­fi­dence their desired fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics and over­all scores. Importers with Q-Graders on staff are apt to see more busi­ness because “they speak” the com­mon lan­guage with their Q-Grader clients. They also add value and cred­i­bil­ity to their cus­tomers, the retail­ers, by being able to describe with con­fi­dence the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the cof­fee which can then be used to mar­ket the end products.

David Griswald, President of Sustainable Harvest shared this suc­cess story of the Q-Coffee sys­tem. “Sustainable Harvest adopted the Q pro­gram to stan­dard­ize our qual­ity con­trol teams not only between our offices in the US, Colombia, Tanzania, Mexico, and Peru, but also with pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions in 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries
that sup­ply us spe­cialty cof­fee. Sustainable Harvest made a great com­mit­ment to the Q-grader pro­gram by fund­ing train­ing pro­grams for Q cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for our sup­pli­ers, and nearly half of the staff is cer­ti­fied. Currently we have 15 cer­ti­fied Q-graders and one Q instruc­tor among our staff world­wide. The Chirinos Coöperative sent their cup­per, Eber Tocto, to par­tic­i­pate in a Q Grader course and he passed with fly­ing col­ors. In 2010, Chirinos sold its dif­fer­en­ti­ated qual­ity lots to Sustainable Harvest who paid Chirinos $2.30 a pound for a stan­dard qual­ity lot, while Chirinos’ top qual­ity lot pulled in $2.80 a pound. This addi­tional qual­ity bonus is a direct result of an edu­cated cup­per who is trained to pro­vide his cus­tomers the high qual­ity cof­fee they want at the price it deserves.”

Retailers and even baris­tas are see­ing the value in get­ting cer­ti­fied. It makes it eas­ier to talk to your roaster about their next cus­tom espresso blend and the desired charac– ter­is­tics they are look­ing for to win the WBC. For a barista it also gives ‘street cred’as they stand apart from their peers. Other retail­ers are going one step fur­ther and get­ting the cof­fee Q-Graded.

Q-Grading a cof­fee is done by sub­mit­ting cof­fee to an agency of CQI. They are called In Country Partners, (ICP) and they act as an inde­pen­dent third party to orga­nize a grad­ing of a sin­gle lot of green cof­fee. One of the roles of being cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader is to grade cof­fee. The process goes like this:

  1. A cof­fee is sub­mit­ted to an ICP.
  2. Three Q-Graders (That have no finan­cial inter­est in the cof­fee) are cho­sen by the ICP to grade the coffee.
  3. One of the Q-Graders grades both the green cof­fee for defects and the roasted cof­fee for cup qual­ity. The other two graders just focus on cup quality.
  4. The three scores are com­bined to get an over­all score. Anything above a score of 80 is con­sid­ered specialty.
  5. A full report is issued to the per­son that sub­mit­ted the coffee.

With that report a retailer can adver­tise the score and high­light taste attrib­utes for their mar­ket­ing pur­poses. There is a ton of cred­i­bil­ity in say­ing the cof­fee was CERTIFIED by a third party. There is also more money in it.

So should you get your Q-Certification? Most cer­tainly! Why? Here are some reasons:

  • By tak­ing the course and the tests you will learn more in a week than you know from your entire career so far.
  • You will improve your stand­ing in the indus­try and in your com­pany as some­one who doesn’t just claim exper­tise but has been cer­ti­fied as an expert.
  • Your abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other mem­bers of the sup­ply chain increases and your abil­ity to influ­ence qual­ity from those you are deal­ing with gets easier.
  • Ego (Well that could just be me…)
  • Raths says, “Personally, the Q-Certification is a state­ment of abil­i­ties. It is an eas­ily rec­og­nized affir­ma­tion of a high skill set. It is a badge of honor with in the cof­fee industry.

Griswald adds, “A fre­quent com­ment I hear from cup­pers at ori­gin is that hav­ing this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion helps them make a case for earn­ing a higher salary.”

The entire cof­fee indus­try is well served when the peo­ple who make it up com­mit to learn­ing. Wine has som­me­liers, trades­men have mas­ters, food has chefs. The cof­fee indus­try has Q-Graders.

Rocky can be reached at