Demystifying the value chain

Tim Tim makes a direct comeback

When Dutch traders introduced the Typica cultivar to Indonesia in the 17th century, coffee production underwent a rapid expansion. This was aided by a particularly favourable microclimate near the equator and mountainous regions across its many islands. But in the late 1880s, disaster struck when coffee leaf rust swept through large swathes of the country; virtually wiping out the varietal with the exception of the higher slopes of Sumatra. In response, the hardier Robusta coffee plant species was cultivated in much of the low-lying regions and the species flourished to account for nearly three-quarters of the Indonesia’s total coffee total coffee production today.

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However, standing tall amongst the twenty or so varieties that have been introduced over the centuries and are still grown commercially in the country, there is one varietal that can be described as uniquely tied to Indonesia’s rich coffee heritage. Discovered on the island of Timor in the 1940s, Hibrido de Timor – or more affectionately known as TimTim – is a natural interspecies cross between c.arabica and c.canephora (Robusta).

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Known for its resilience to coffee leaf rust and characteristic bold cup profile that makes an excellent complement to high acidity coffees, TimTim has become a preferred ‘parent’ plant for many other hybrids. It’s genetic resistance to disease is widely acclaimed by scientists, botanists and producers who regard it as a hardy and a high yielding crop.

Geologist and Founder of Pinesia coffee estate, Gary Sjafwan, began cultivating Hibrido de Timor himself when he was researching the geological features of Java nine-years ago: “I love nature”, he says. “I like to experience the forest, go hiking, and see how growing coffee is also making a better life for the earth. I started planting coffee in Java and Sumatra and was interested in not just the coffee itself; but how the culture in every region is different, just as the character of the people and the way farmers grow it is also different”.

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The estate now comprises of more that 800 smallholder farmers across Sumatra, Aceh and West Java who have joined forces to achieve greater economies of scale as they seek to access specialty coffee markets worldwide under the umbrella of Pinesia Family Estates.

As demand for Hybrido de Timor outside Indonesia increases, their production of 700 tons in Sumatra is now dedicated to the sole cultivation of TimTim for both commercial and specialty customers. Although the bulk of their shade grown coffee is washed, fermented for ten hours and double soaked, they also have the facility to offer natural process sun-dried coffee in small quantities.

This stable supply of coffee cherry has provided a bedrock for the estate to branch out into further research and development into other varietals such as the Dutch-introduced ancestral Typica, Maragogype, including the addition of a nursery dedicated to the production of Geisha. Gary says that their research facility on the 100-hectare farm in Flores is a planned effort to meet demand in the specialty coffee segment across Indonesia and further afield.

“The specialty market in Indonesia is increasing but our main target is to sell coffee outside of the country. For commercial markets, we want to keep our our quality stable as we expand the farm into specialty areas,” Gary adds.

A chance meeting with algrano at World of Coffee in Budapest earlier this year has already born fruit and a promising partnership now means that the Estate’s Typica and TimTim, amongst other varietals, is now directly available to specialty coffee roasters in Europe. It is also the first offering of coffee from Indonesia on the transparent trade platform.

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This new offering – a quality product of hundreds of smallholder growers represented by Pinesia Family Estate – is yet another opportunity for producers to command a fair price for their coffee that is helping to support their families and communities: “We are not just growing the coffee itself, we are growing the community in the coffee farms – it is the farmer and his family that is our biggest asset”, insists Gary before confidently adding: “Indonesia is a big country and we have a lot of different flavours depending on the character of each region. There is no good or bad coffee, mistakes only happen in the process after harvest. That is why we are taking steps to be consistent in our processing to bring out the unique character of our coffee in every cup”.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Demystifying the value chain

Digital dialogue in transparent trade gathers steam

To catch a glimpse into the coffee value chain of the future, let’s take a quick look at some of the pioneering developments that are dramatically reshaping the landscape today. In a digital age of big data, powerful algorithms, just-in-time logistics and more interconnected communities globally than ever before, a revolution in coffee is taking place – and it is gathering a powerful head of steam.

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In a climate of consolidation where eight major trading houses now control more than half (60%) of the world’s coffee bought and sold on the global market, there has been a tectonic shift in the supply chain that now seems unstoppable. Driven by the power of digital technologies fuelled by increased consumer demand, a new era of transparency and traceability is changing the conversation about coffee.

In the eighties, there were lots of agencies in the supply chain so roasters had very little idea of coffee production at origin. The traders offered coffee on a delivery basis to the factories from the warehouse, not necessarily from the farm gate. The internet changed all that and opened the door to establish direct contacts at origin built on trust; and above all, coffee is about trust.

Behind the macro-trend of consolidation in bulk markets, specialty coffee has been confidently moving in the direction of craft beer. A new generation of customers want to know the story behind the single origins and they demand greater sustainability which means fair prices at the farmer level. They want to participate at a deeper level and have confidence that their coffee is traceable and traded transparently.

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No one can dispute that digitization is laying new tracks in the way physical coffee is being traded; particularly in specialty markets where price is largely disconnected from the world market and provenance is highly prized.

This shift that we are seeing in the supply chain will change the role of traders. As growing transparency in price and pressure on margins increases, traders will become more like data analysts as roaster’s search for the most cost efficient and transparent system to buy and market their product. Service providers such as algrano with digital platforms that connect the buyer and seller directly are challenging the way coffee has been traditionally traded.

And as the third wave in speciality coffee roasteries and independent coffee shops continues to gather pace, the mainstream market is now paying more attention to the journey from the crop to cup. Through its award-winning platform, algrano is responding to this need by helping to bridge the gap between growers and roasters. The platform also helps to overcome the enormous logistical challenges and risks of moving large volumes from one continent to another.

Whether it is a micro-lot or a full container’s worth of green coffee, growers want access to an open digital market space where they can sell their coffee online to the world. They want to tell their story and show their varieties or processing methods to potential buyers. This awareness is empowering greater knowledge sharing as producers can now compare directly with their neighbours – or even other countries. Technology is underpinning these new capabilities as people at both ends of the value chain have the tools to access more information and become more informed.

The head of steam in the engine room of the coffee trade is building, and story is moving. It’s about access to quality, transparency and traceability for roasters and new markets for producers. For a fairer and more sustainable value chain, this is definitely the direction that coffee needs to go. Since algrano was launched at World of Coffee in Gothenburg in 2015 – when we scooped an award for tech innovation – the online community has now grown to represent more than 400 growers and cooperatives from across ten coffee producing countries in central, south America. Over 500 roasters have joined to source coffee that is directly delivered to their door.

Next stop is East Africa and Asia as producers from Ethiopia and Indonesia plan to get on board later this year.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Demystifying the value chain

Bridging the gap between grower and roaster

As demand for transparently traded green coffee increases, algrano have developed a producer-led initiative that empowers growers to reach specialty coffee roasters more effectively through its award-winning platform.

The new ‘Spot Europe’ feature means that producers can now ship their coffee to Bremen before selling to specialty coffee markets. It guarantees significantly lower waiting times for coffee samples, nano lots, micro lots and larger orders to be delivered directly to the roastery door.

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Co-founder of algrano, Gilles Brunner, explains that the new initiative was developed in response to producer-need: “Growers told us that they want to be closer to the roaster by having their coffee warehoused in Europe”, he comments. “Our mission is always to bridge the gap between growers and roasters so the ‘Spot Europe’ tool is another step towards fulfilling our goal. It is a great opportunity for growers to take control of developing their own brand, while having much greater visibility in specialty coffee markets”.

Markus Fischer of Finca La Bastilla is a single estate coffee grower based in Nicaragua who is one of the first producers to take advantage of the ‘Spot Europe’ mechanism: “There are several advantages for us as growers. Not only do we have direct contact with the final buyer or roaster but it gives us the opportunity to offer specific qualities in small lots, allowing for total transparency in the supply chain,” he says.

Currently, Finca Las Bastilla produces around 250 specialty micro-lots in parchment or green bean each year. Situated between 1100 – 1450m in Jinotega, the 165-hectare coffee estate benefits from microclimates that contribute to the diversity in cup profile of the coffees grown across the region. Varietals such as Red and Yellow Catuai, Caturra, Catimor, Geisha are all cultivated alongside other hybrids as part of a recent varietal trial programme.

He adds that they have the facility to fully wash, honey process or naturally sun-dry their coffee. A dry mill on the farm also gives them full control in preparing the coffee for specialty markets before it leaves the farm gate for the port, and finally shipped to the warehouse in Bremen.

Markus highlights why having his coffee physically based closer to his customers will help him to realize to his aspirations as a producer: “Roasters will benefit due to the immediate availability of our coffee. This will allow for an intense exchange of information and opinion on quality, production, and other feedback from buyers – which is crucial to us. We are aware of the risks of having coffee consigned to a single destination port but this is important for the expansion of our customer base. For roasters interested in a continuous and dependable supply of a coffee they like, even in small deliveries, this new way of doing business should be interesting. We hope that the algrano platform will change our business from a simple commodity to a branded product for La Bastilla”.

Once the container of microlots from Nicaragua arrives in Bremen this September, algrano plan to roll out the ‘Spot Europe’ feature to other coffee producing countries so that fresh crop from Honduras and Peru will soon be available for roasters to request samples later this year.

Find the spot offer from La Bastilla here. 

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Demystifying the value chain

Cultivating the next generation of coffee roasters

The story of Costa Rica’s grano de oro – or golden bean – began in the late 18th century when arabica was first introduced to its rich volcanic soils and favourable climatic conditions in the central Meseta region. Coffee production has since flourished and is now a vitally important cash crop for the national economy. Although the country produces a small percentage of the world’s overall coffee production, it is highly regarded for the diversity of its varietals and award-winning cup profiles which has led some Costa Rican producers to enjoy their fair share of Cup of Excellence accolades in recent years.

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While other Central American coffee producing countries opted for a more centralized coffee-plantation owner model, Costa Rica took a different path. Today, it still represents one of the most democratic models of coffee production in the world. This has been characterized by the ‘micro-mill revolution’ that has taken the country by storm in the past decade. In a country where 90 percent of all coffee producers cultivate less than 12 acres (five hectares) of land, the number of micro-mill facilities where producers grow, harvest, depulp and process their coffees on the farm has grown dramatically. Without this reliance on third-party millers, producers have been able to retain more of the the value of their coffee by cutting down on production costs. They also benefit from more freedom to experiment with innovative new processing methods before the coffee leaves the farm gate.

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Representing the fifth generation of producers at Chumeca, based in the renowned Tarrazu region, Emilio José Urena Jimenez, talks about his shared sense of pride on the family-run farm: “Generations have passed but the good habits stay. My great grandfather’s sowed large quantities of coffee in this region. Then my grandparents took over and now my parents and brother are adopting the same love and care”. On the 8.4 hectare farm, a wide range of varietals are being cultivated for production including Red and Yellow Catuai, Caturra, Villa Sarchi, while other varietals such as Geisha, Pacamara, Sarchimor and Kenya are being experimented. The coffee is 100% sun-dried and Emilio says they have been introducing natural anaerobic process into the drying phase.

But producing specialty-grade coffee for export is not without its challenges, adds Emilio: “Maintaining quality is the hardest thing. It is very important that we focus on quality and not on quantity. We want people to know that in Chumeca, and Costa Rica, there is great coffee, and we work with dedication to produce a cup that will be enjoyed by people who admire our product”.

However, the 22 year-old who is studying to be a mathematics teacher highlights a trend that he seeing amongst his own generation: “A large number of our generation are identifying themselves more with what happens after the harvest such as being a barista, roaster, or cupper. They are also interested in the mill or the drying process. But what worries me is that fewer people are interested in the work at the farm. This includes maintaining the plantation, experimenting with different varieties, altitudes and everything that our fathers are doing with a lot of knowledge – and that is all part of the work to create the best cup of coffee”.

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In a bid to incentivise the next generation of producers by sharing knowledge at the farm level, Rebeca Moya of 100 Libras has been supporting producers to increase their yields without sacrificing quality. “We collaborate with smallholder producers to add value and increase the quality of production”, she says. “At first, we wanted to export specialty coffee which is not without its risks. Two years ago, we started an alliance with Coop-Agri to help producers provide the correct documentation. We gather all the information so it is presented in the right way before consolidating the coffee ready for embarkation on the ship”.

Rebecca explains how the jute bag is a form of documentation in its own right and great care is taken to ensure that it meets the high standards set by Costa Rica’s coffee institute, eCafe. Even the bag print designs, which are a source of great pride for Costa Rican producers, help to differentiate from others and ensure a marketable visual identity that adds value whilst reinforcing traceability back to the farm. Since a great deal of regulatory procedures are involved in order to ready the coffee for shipping, 100 Libras is working with farms like Emilio to build-in efficiencies that help to improve the sustainability of the coffee sector in Costa Rica for future generations.

“This is important because it gives small producers an incentive to stay in coffee production. Many young people will go away to study but we want to see them return back to their family-owned farms. It gives a boost because they bring back new ideas about business and agronomy”, she adds. 100 Libras has now established its own laboratory farm to experiment with cultivating different varieties that are high yielding, disease resistant and offer good quality in the cup. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has come to define Costa Rican coffee as producers develop new ways and approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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Yet in spite of the many challenges, Emilio and his family at Chumeca are optimistic when finding new buyers through transparent trading platforms such as algrano. Their first ever printed bag design this year is a clear indication that high quality Costa Rican coffee continues to be in high demand internationally. He concludes: “It is touching to remember that they visited us one day and called the next day to buy our coffee. Above all, to know that the fruits of our labour is being enjoyed on the other side of the world. This is important for us and makes us feel proud about our work which motivates us to get better”.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Coffee, Demystifying the value chain

Technology-driven transparency at the mill

Nicaragua is a highly-regarded coffee producing country that enjoys huge farming potential and has recently undergone a step change in the mechanization of its agricultural sector. Already, the results of this public and private investment has helped to increase quality, while at the same time reducing the cost of production of its highly sought-after specialty coffee.

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Aided by the advance of technology, one area that has seen a revolution in its production potential is the dry milling process. At this critical juncture in the value chain is the final stage of the preparation of parchment green coffee before it is sorted, graded, bagged to preserve freshness and exported. One such dry mill with a difference is using technology to push the boundaries of this highly mechanised process to increase quality and traceability.
Leinad Jesus Nazco Gonzales, General Manager of Benefico La Providencia, is responsible for its high-tech milling operation in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua. After the coffee is de-pulped at the farm, the facility accepts the pergamino, with the coffee seed still in it’s protective layer, and will complete the sun-drying process if required by the customer.
PRODUCER FACING
“At La Providencia, it’s a very customized because we are producer-facing”, he says, “we listen to them, we always try to give the client the good service that they deserve.” From human resources, systems and quality control, budgeting and customer relations, the 35 year-old computer systems engineer supervises all aspects of the milling operation.
“The last crop we received was through a new client who did not have the capacity to process all the coffee they had. We increased our volume by almost three times. Because they needed the service we rented a coffee mill in another location so I am now in charge of two mills”.
Even with this increased demand for processing and milling for export, one of Leinad’s key responsibilities is to maintain quality and transparency throughout each stage of the process. To achieve this, La Providencia have a dedicated Q-grader in the coffee lab who identifies and classifies each sample provided by the producer for quality.
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Once they receive the pergamino, the sun-drying process is started immediately on vast patio which can last more than a week until the parchment moisture content reaches a target value of between 12-13 percent. Anything higher and he runs the catastrophic risk of mold spreading in the warehouse while further drying will affect the stability of the coffee. Each lot is then tested and separated out into different grades of quality.
PROCESSING AND DRY MILLING
Leinad says: “In our warehouse we have strict controls in order not to blend different lot qualities so that we can guarantee the integrity of the lot for the grower. Then we only mill the coffee when our farmers ask for it. Once we receive the order, we take samples to give the buyer the quality they require. The same lot could have so many different qualities and range of defects. That is why we take samples every 30 minutes when we are processing the coffee so that we can take action to guarantee that the defects are in range. When the whole lot is processed we cup another sample just to guarantee that it is correct for the buyer – we call this ‘liberacion del lote”.
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Each mill has the capacity to process nearly one quarter of a million tons of parchment to produce 4000 tons of green beans each harvest . Yet behind the astonishing high volumes involved, it is cutting-edge technology that now does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to hulling the coffee. Once the parchment is removed by sophisticated hullers that gently abrade the coffee, the green coffee is sorted by size, density and colour to remove the vast majority of foreign matter, chipped, broken or defective seeds.
The colour sorter uses highly sensitive cameras to analyse each individual bean as it passes through the machine at speed and rejects any bean that is outside a predetermined colour range. Before, this process was done by the keen skill of the human eye and hand. To put this into perspective, it takes eight hours to manually sort just over 200 kilos in eight hours per person. That’s no mean feat. The machine on the other hand can sort 80 quintals, or 8000 kilos per hour.
REAL TIME REPORTING
But the genius of the technology deployed in the mill is the online reporting that is made available to producers at each stage of the process. Growers can access the system to track the progress of their lot with information provided on quality evaluation, defect counts, and status reports. This level of transparency allows them to make minor adjustments or changes to their own harvesting and post-harvesting practices to improve the quality of their coffee, even during peak picking season which usually occurs in December.
“We try to motivate our farmers to use the information system. We send them weekly reports with all the information about their coffee and process – so they can use it as a tool to make decisions”, adds Leinad.
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One beneficiary of this technology-driven effort to put the power back into the hands of the producer is Santa Rita, a women-owned estate based in Jinotega. Established in 1988, the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance-certified estate represents four generations of women coffee producers and relies on La Providencia to guarantee them the level of traceability demanded by their buyers. Although the 65 permanent members strong estate fully washes their specialty-grade coffee on the farm, they have been taking advantage of this level of transparency at the dry mill stage for two years.
CONFIDENCE TO ACCESS SPECIALTY MARKETS
Importantly, the processes and systems in place gives the estate the confidence they need to access specialty coffee markets around the world. This can be directly with green bean buyers or through pioneering direct trade platforms like algrano that puts producers directly in touch with coffee roasters.
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Eva Guerrero Lopez, Marketing and Sales Manager at Santa Rita, says that when the mill receives the coffee, they are sent information at each stage so they can forward plan and forecast their own sales and shipping commitments: “When the parchment is ready, they add the humidity measurements and we get a cupping score for every lot when the dry milled coffee enters the warehouse for storage. We can then sell and ship the coffee anytime between 60 or 90 days afterwards. Growers don’t always have access to what’s happening. That’s why transparency is so important because we have a person in the dry mill checking the coffee,” before adding, “at La Providencia we know it’s in good hands”.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Coffee, Demystifying the value chain

Where two worlds meet

It was a long but revelatory wait for a bus that nudged Lukas Zugar into first discovering specialty coffee during a spell of travelling across China. The 30 year-old founder of Dos Mundos – meaning ‘two worlds’ – decided to kill some time by heading into a local coffee shop offering a range of single origins on the brew bar. “They had many ways of preparing coffee from different origins”, he remembers, “it was the first time that I realised how coffee could be so delicious on its own. Coming back to the Czech Republic, I looked for the same experience”.
Lukas’ interest in coffee was fired up even further when he bought a Behmore sample roaster to experiment with when he returned back to Prague. His thirst for trying out different roasting styles and coffees soon meant that his front living room was quickly filling up with coffee sacks. Wondering how he was going to find enough space to accommodate his growing stocks of green coffee, Lukas decided that he should start roasting professionally – beginning with the purchase of a Giesen W6 just three years-ago.
“We have so many ways to play with the coffee. Our Giesen is a great machine and I can play with the drum speed and airflow. Sometimes the ‘sweet spot’ is very small. Even when I’m roasting a coffee for six months, I’m still trying to improve the coffee. It usually takes four to five batches to reveal its character. For some coffees, I can do it in one to two batches. Ethiopian coffees are especially challenging, because they are multi-varietal”.
Noting that his favourite coffee is Kenyan for it’s high sweetness and cleanness, Lukas particularly favours washed-process coffees that offers up good acidity. “It’s very difficult to buy very good natural-processed coffees”, he adds, “it’s demanding on the sorting of the beans which makes it quite challenging. There are so many ways of post-harvest processing, sometimes it’s unclear what the producer does with the coffee. Even with washed coffees, Kenyans are doing it differently than in Ecuador or Nicaragua”.
But despite the roasting challenges presented by different processing methods, overall cup quality guides the sourcing and buying decisions at Dos Mundos. This is demonstrated by virtue of the fact that their current lowest scoring coffee in the roaster – Burundi Kibuye – based on SCAA protocol is 87 points: “For us, it’s mainly about quality; we want the best coffee possible with nice sweetness and balance. When we receive samples of the green coffee, if it’s better than good, we then take a second round with a V60”, he says.
For Lukas, his wife Adela and their team of four baristas, offering consistently good service and upholding the highest standards of quality has earned Dos Mundos a stellar reputation in the flourishing Czech coffee culture community. The playful visual language of their coffee shop – or ‘kavárna’ in Czech – suggests a sense of the two worlds of the producer and customer coming together into a welcoming setting that celebrates the seasonality of the specialty product that is being served up.
“We try to share the story of the farmers”, says Lukas when addressing questions around the sustainability of coffee in the future, “it’s important to give all the information to the consumer. For the majority of coffee producers, the price is not sustainable for them. Even getting seven or eight euros a kilo is on the edge. In many producing countries inflation is also rising and we need to convince the final consumer to pay more for quality coffee”.
This effort to ensure that their coffees are sustainably traded and as traceable as possible is also in response to the growing interest in direct trade amongst Czech coffee drinkers. As awareness and demand amongst consumers increases with each year, roasteries such as Dos Mundos are now turning to alternative approaches to sourcing their coffee.
And for Lukas, algrano helps to bring these two worlds closer together: “Algrano is a great platform for a third-wave roaster like us. We are sourcing top quality, traceable coffees from around the world and with algrano we are also able to get in touch with farmers. The ability to share with our customers the stories of farmers and their coffee is key for us and we believe it is also a way how to help good farmers to receive more money and credit for what they do. We are looking forward to sharing their story and I am sure that our customers are going to love this new approach”.
FOLLOW DOS MUNDOS AT:

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Coffee, Demystifying the value chain

Quality and transparency is the new black

Neues Schwarz is a striking-looking coffee shop where a harmonious balance of form and function meet. Nestled in the town of Dortmund-Mitte, in the eastern Ruhr region of Germany, the coffee shop’s understated central espresso and brew bar helps to put the spotlight on the real star of the show. A Probat P12 roaster also takes pride of place to one side of the coffee shop which complements the practical two tone surroundings. The open-plan interior communicates a strong ethos at the heart of the coffee enterprise. From the meticulous design aesthetic to the roasting operation and regular cupping sessions – the enjoyment and appreciation of specialty coffee is clearly designed to take centre stage.
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Founder of Neues Schwarz, Benedikt Heitmann, says that his background in urban planning helped him to start his coffee business in 2014. “You look at the complete system and you try to optimize things – which means that you go to parts of the city where there is a lot of empty space. You try to connect to the landlords, understand the dynamic, and try to push to use the space for galleries or social projects”, he muses.
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A keen eye for good design combined with two-and-a-half years of experience learning his craft as a roaster at Nuremburg-based Machhörndl Kaffee exudes from every detail at Neues Schwarz; meaning New Black. The carefully thought-through space and select single origins on offer is testament to Benedikt’s obsession with quality: “I really like the fact that with green coffee, you have normally less or no idea how it is going to taste. Once you have roasted it, you reveal all the complexity and the flavour that people are looking for”, he says. “As some of our customers normally drink coffee that is darkly roasted, it’s a lot of work for us to educate them. We roast light but not too light. They often think it’s flavoured with syrups – they’re surprised that coffee can be so complex and there are so many flavours you can taste. We have a lot of people going out of the shop asking themselves; ‘what was that?’ Once they get it, they turn into a regular customer”.
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The 33 year-old is proud of his expanding team of seven coffee professionals. He sees their role as pioneers who are helping their customers to understand the wider story behind coffee – particularly at origin where he takes a principled stand towards greater transparency. “We try to trade coffee as directly as possible”, he comments, “but we are not yet in the position to do it completely direct, our team is too small and we don’t have the capacity to travel a lot. We are still looking for producers which we can establish a long-term relationship with. There are a couple of coffee producers where we bought from two years in a row now and that’s the way we want to go”.
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Benedikt’s appreciation of the work of the coffee grower is coupled with concern when he thinks about the impact of climate change is having at origin. “Most traders and scientists say that global warming brings less production of arabica coffee. Specialty coffee is climbing up the hills, but there is a point where it can’t climb any higher. Roya is still a big concern in central America – we will have to see what happens in the coming years”.
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For the customers at Neues Schwarz, a low-acidity Brazilian coffee roasted for espresso and brew is a consistent house favourite: “That’s the coffee we sell most. It’s less complex, but easy to brew and extract. Lots of people are asking for lower acidic coffee”. But his commitment to quality and transparency is also rewarded by some of his more curious regulars who are happy to pay a premium for different sensory experiences offered by more expensive coffees.
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Benedikt feels strongly that the role of the farmer is often absent from the conversation about transparency in specialty coffee and that’s why he wants to buy as directly as possible. It is this knowledge that plays a crucial part developing a relationship, he says, with his customers, adding: “The way to make the value chain more sustainable is by communicating to customers. That’s why I like doing trade through algrano – there is an indication on what’s going to the producer. I really like the idea of connecting farmers and roasters direct via the platform. Sustainability is this direct relationship from roaster to a producer – and that’s what we would like to do more of in the future”.
FOLLOW NEUES SCHWARZ KAFFEE AT:

 

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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Coffee, Demystifying the value chain

Keeping it in the family

The Rast Kaffee roastery lies next to a train line in an industrial area on the outskirts of Ebikon, a small village near Lucerne in central Switzerland. Housed in a large warehouse, the imposing exterior conceals the passion that takes place inside. Neither is there any obvious front door to the roastery, rather an industrial-sized elevator that whisks you to the first floor that opens out into a vast production area framed by palettes stacked with sacks of green beans. The air is full of the rich aroma of freshly roasted coffee.
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 With a beaming smile, the fourth generation in the family-run business, Beatrice Rast, introduces herself and starts to talk animatedly about her roots in coffee: “I grew up in the coffee industry. In the backyard from the shop, we had the roastery so coffee was always a product that was around us. I’m used to the smell, the fire, it was part of our life,” she recalls.
What began as a colonial-style grocery store nearly a century-ago selling bananas, kiwis, cheese, wine and teas under the stewardship of her great-grandparents, Xaver and Anna Rast-Abt, the family business has evolved into a successful high-volume coffee roasting enterprise that now caters for high street chains, restaurants, bakeries, hospitals, schools, offices and retail customers.
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The 34 year-old credits her grandfather as a pioneer who was always interested in the provenance of high quality coffee and, in 1945, decided to take up the craft of roasting himself – long before the term ‘specialty’ was first ever coined. The move into coffee roasting steadily became the backbone of the business and her parents Markus and Trudy Rast continued the tradition in 1978 to become the third generation of coffee roasters. Eleven years ago, the family decided to sell their grocery stores and concentrate their efforts exclusively on the roasting business. Beatrice says that moving into specialty coffee with her sister Evelyne was a natural progression for both of them: “Our philosophy is not just to sell coffee – we want to sell the perfect coffee. It’s a product filled with passion, it’s natural for us, as we live and breathe coffee. Of course, the advantage for us is that we are a family with a long tradition as a family business. It’s authentic and people believe in us, they trust us. We are really close to our customers, we know a lot of our customers personally and many of them come to cup coffees with us”.
The range of coffees that Rast roast daily on their seasoned lineage of 90kg, 45kg and 5kg capacity Probat’s is an extensive offering of single estates and carefully crafted blends. Every coffee that is used in a blend is also available to purchase as a single origin. From south American to centrals, a good selection of east Africans to more punchy-tasting coffees from Asia; cleanness and quality takes precedence over price for the team at Rast. The notion that people want coffee that is both organic and fairly traded, but don’t want to pay a premium is something that they also want to challenge over time: “The farmer has more work because he takes care of the coffee better than others, they invest more in harvesting, and it comes with a price,” she adds before commenting that one of the ways to reinforce this message is through further investment in customer training and education.
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In their effort to buy more directly traded coffee, Rast are attracted to sourcing coffee through algrano because of the direct trade link with the producer and information provided on the web platform. Beatrice comments that although the coffee bought through algrano costs a little more, the coffee consistently comes out top in blind cupping sessions. As head of green bean buying at Rast, the sociology degree-graduate laments that she doesn’t have the time to travel to origin as much as she would like. “For the company it’s more important that I’m here”, she says, “I have contact with people like algrano and they go hunting for us. With the size that we currently have, it’s not possible that I always can go everywhere myself”.
Currently, Rast Kaffee employees 20 people, managed by the fourth family generation. Beatrice says that she is also seeing a trend in the market towards more adventurous coffees. The sensory attributes of a naturally processed Ethiopian coffees is something that she enjoys but, “the balance of fruitiness and over fermented is sometimes a bit borderline, I like it but not all in our company does”. Nevertheless, when Rast have profiled and ready to release a new coffee, her customers are always eager to try it. This increased curiosity comes with higher expectations and she says many people are not prepared to pay for bad quality coffee any more. She notes that the market for lighter roasts in the specialty coffee scene, however small, is also growing.
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For Beatrice, this helps them to achieve their goal as specialty coffee roasters: “We want to find the best green beans we can, roast them to a good level, and sell it fresh.” As Rast Kaffee prepares to celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2018, this successful formula has stood the family-run business in good stead so far and looks set to continue for future generations to come.
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[This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain]

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