Demystifying the value chain

Hondouras’ coffee producers bridge the digital divide

Hondouras’ coffee producers bridge the digital divide

For a relatively small country, Honduras’ reputation as a producer of high quality Arabica coffee is a big success story. It is estimated that more than a quarter of the Central American country’s population – or approximately two million people – are engaged at some point in the seasonal coffee harvest between November and March each year. And since the turn of the late 20th century, production has steadily grown to the point that the country now ranks in the top ten of exporters of coffee globally.

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However, the Honduran coffee sector has also faced its fair share of setbacks and challenges. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated 80% of the country’s agriculture and a period of economic instability and political tension following a coup in 2009 affected the country’s exports to international markets. A few years later, an epidemic of Coffee Leaf Rust, or La Roya in Spanish, wreaked havoc on the cultivation of classical coffee varieties such as Typica, Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai.

However, given that 95% of growers are smallholder farmers with plots less than three hectares, producers are well positioned to help control the spread of the fungal disease with the introduction of more disease-resistant varieties and selective breeding.

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One such cooperative that is supporting its growers to improve productivity, access new markets and combat the threat of La Roya is Café Organico Marcala (COMSA). Located in the mountainous La Paz region of western Honduras, one of the poorest areas of the country, the cooperative comprises of 1600 members who are highly dependent on coffee cultivation and agriculture. Since the last epidemic of La Roya in 2012, which affected more than a third of COMSAproducers, the cooperative’s forward-thinking strategy is empowering growers to fight back.

Suita Manuela, COMSA’s Business Developer, joined the cooperative one year-ago and is motivated to help generate a sustainable income for farmers. She says: “I want to add value for coffee farmers which in turn helps to support the development of our country. COMSA is a community that is very open and I see a lot of talent”.

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COMSA was founded in 2001 by a group of community-minded growers who joined forces to form their own organisation, which would look after their interests. One of the main goals of COMSA was, and still is, to directly access markets in o access directly to markets Europe, North America and Asia. At the time, the international coffee price had crashed and many producers were forced to abandon their small-holdings to search for work in the city.

The cooperative has since been working to help growers rebuild their livelihoods through the diversification of their income and education provision. Another important advantage of co-operative membership is that producer family members can now attend COMSA’s very own international school with a wide range of curricular activities such language classes in French, German and English.

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Suita adds: “Alongside education, our members don’t just get a benefit from receiving higher prices for their coffee through premiums such as Fairtrade, and certification schemes including Bird Friendly, organic and Small Producers Product (SPP), but we also provide technical assistance. Some of the farmers bring their coffee in cherry state so we have a wet mill for processing while others bring their coffee in dry parchment. We also do honey and natural processing. Trading as a group benefits our members because we set a higher price than our competitors and expect a certain level of quality”.

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Raising the bar on coffee quality and price has also benefited the wider community as traders have been forced to offer higher prices to local farmers. COMSA’s training in organic practices – Pata de Chucho – is rooted in a technical diploma course in sustainable agriculture that is funded through the Fairtrade Premium. Balancing the needs of the community and the environment, initiatives such as the promotion of organic composting supports farmers to apply the minerals and nutrients needed to improve production yields.

For example, coffee waste such as the pulp is recycled to make organic fertiliser that is then distributed to farmers for free, helping to reduce input costs by a factor of 50 compared to the more conventional, chemical-reliant, means of production. Meanwhile, farmer exchanges and training in the use of shade trees, sustainable water management and inter-cropping, producers are taught the agricultural techniques that have a direct result in the quality of the cup.

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Suita says that last year, 500 containers of specialty-grade green coffee were bound for international markets – and trade is now steadily growing through the algrano platform. Two buyers that she met on a recent sales trip to Europe – Kiez Rösterei from Berlin, and Rast Kaffee, based near Lucerne, Switzerland – have been impressed with the quality and are keen to continue their relationship with COMSA this year.

She adds: “Algrano opens up the channels and makes it possible to sell microlots to roasters with higher quality beans. Being able to connect helps our producers because we can hear directly from the people who buy our coffee. The feedback we receive and higher price returns for a higher quality product means that we have higher levels of satisfaction amongst roasters and drinkers. It’s a dual-benefit for the coffee supply chain and coffee industry as a whole. The more exposure we have, the more profitable our growers become – it’s all about communication”.

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

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Demystifying the value chain

One family’s gift to the coffee world

Still recovering from a brutal civil war in the 1980’s, the eventful story of coffee production in El Salvador stretches back to the early 19th century. It starts when Bourbon, a classic cultivar, was introduced to the Central American country in the early 1800s and first grown for domestic consumption. But the favourable climate, mountainous topography and volcanic-rich soils offered the perfect conditions and coffee production went on to become one the most important permanent cash crops for the countries’ economy.

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Bound to the history of El Salvador’s coffee production is the celebrated Pacas variety, a natural mutation of Bourbon that has established a reputation for being high yielding, of excellent cup quality and can stand up to the elements. Maria Pacas Martinez is now the fifth generation of the Pacas family who have been growing coffee in the pacific-facing western highlands. It was her great-grandfather, José Rosa Pacas, who took up the challenge and acquired a strip of land on the Apaneca Lamatepec mountain range from the government to grow coffee more than a century ago.

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“As coffee is a permanent crop, it made sense that people were able to acquire and purchase land from the government when coffee was first introduced. My great-grandfather, also a lawyer by profession, was one of those people. Since then, my family have been involved in coffee – for five generations”, she says.

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It was José’s observant son, Alberto Pacas-Figueroa, who made the discovery that was to tie the family name to the history of coffee taxonomy forever.

Maria adds: “I don’t think it was a coincidence that Alberto, who was a painter and saw the world through an artists’ perspective, recognised that a different variety was growing in the garden at Finca San Rafael. He observed that the trees were shorter, and more compact. It was recommended to him by a very knowledgeable coffee expert and friend, Francisco De Sola, that they should contact scientists at the University of Florida to investigate his new finding”.

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After a field visit of botanists from the university who took some samples back to the lab, it was confirmed that the different looking coffee shrub was in fact a new varietal that had naturally mutated from its genetic Bourbon heritage – and was named Pacas in honour of Alberto’s discovery. Further studies have shown that because of the Pacas’ shorter and more compact growth, it can be planted more densely to increase yield potential. It is also more resistant to pests such as nematodes – microscopic worms that attack the roots of the tree – and requires less intensive pruning. Maria’s grandfather, Alfredo Pacas-Trujillo, continued to share the new variety with producers across the rest of the region and today, Pacas can now be found cultivated across Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Colombia.

However, coffee production across the entire country was devastated by the fighting and terror of a tragic civil war that lasted more than a decade. It was only in 1992, when the UN Peace Accord was signed in Mexico City, that stability slowly returned to the country and along with it, coffee growing families who had fled the violence to neighbouring countries started to return too.

“We came back to El Salvador in 1991 and my father decided he wanted to start processing the coffees at the farm,” comments Maria. “He established Café Pacas and a mill with the idea of developing different processing methods. At the time, there were only three grades based on volume production – central standard, high grown, and strictly high grown – but it was his forward-thinking experiments with different microlots and traceability that he began to enhance the quality of the coffee. He transmitted this passion for coffee to his children and was smart enough to get advice from people who knew about processing methods, and its effect on the cup profile”.

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Her father’s reputation for growing traceable, quality coffee became increasingly in demand when consumer preferences for ‘gourmet’ coffee grew in markets such as Japan and across North America. In 2004, Maria put her background in economics to good effect when she joined the family team to help with sales, market research and to assist buyers on field trips. Café Pacas’ reputation for specialty has been cemented over the years after becoming an acclaimed Cup of Excellence finalist in 2005, 2006, and 2010.

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Today, the Pacas family remain dedicated to growing, processing, and exporting specialty coffee to clients worldwide, and their love for coffee continues to shine though like it is one of their own. The gift of coffee has, with tireless curiosity and dedication for five generations, become one family’s gift back to the world. But Maria insists that there is no time for complacency:

“Things are changing very rapidly”, she counsels, “we have to be on our toes, to make decisions as quickly as possible, and to produce one of the world’s most beloved coffee in a super competitive consumer market. Platforms such as algrano, where they facilitate transparent information for the roaster, are important tools for coffee producers like us. We have to take advantage of this in order to reach people we would not otherwise be able to, and establish long-term relationships. To me, algrano is the Facebook of coffee and we want to contribute to the community in any way that we can, so that future generations can continue to enjoy our coffee”.

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

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Demystifying the value chain

Opening the black box for a sustainable coffee future

Supplying more than a third of the world’s coffee production each year, developments in Brazil have the potential to affect coffee markets worldwide. And due to its sheer size as a coffee producing powerhouse, the country has earned – rightly or wrongly – a reputation for quantity over quality. But the reality on the ground is a different picture as producers respond to market pressures by setting their sights on specialty, rather than a race to the bottom.

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Henrique Dias Cambraia, the current generation of a century-old family tradition and Head of Fazenda Samambaia is one of the early pioneers of specialty coffee in Brazil. In 1999, he established San Coffee with a focus on scaling up quality to add value for members of Santo Antônio Estates by expanding and upgrading its production and processing facilities.

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Today, San Coffee represents twenty co-operative members who collectively produce more than 200,000 bags of coffee each year. Utilising these economies of scale, San Coffee now has a state-of-the-art milling and warehouse facility in the heart of the coffee producing region of Minas Gerais. Many of its members have earned a reputation for achieving national and international recognition in the Cup of Excellence competitions amongst other categories.

General Manager of San Coffee, Fabrício Andrade, says that as the global market reaches an inflection point where demand begins to outstrip supply, a focus on sustainability will help to drive future trends in the coffee industry: “Although knowledge is our biggest asset it is widely spread and easily accessible. Using advances in science and technology to become more sustainable will play the most important role in the shift from the third to a fourth wave movement in coffee”, he predicts.

In response to the challenges of a changing climate, tighter operating margins and rising expectations around quality each year, San Coffee have now shifted their strategic direction to working towards achieving greater sustainability in their business and production practices.

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“Improved farming techniques, research into varietals, processing methods, logistics and more effective and efficient management systems; our principle is to keep ourselves in a state of progress so that we can continue to reduce costs and provide a great service,” he adds. “We believe that good business relies on sustainability and transparency. That’s why we need to look at how the value is distributed along the supply chain. If we are able to convince the consumer to purchase a coffee at a higher value, then we need to offer the consumer a coffee that is higher quality through good farming, harvest and post harvest techniques – while traceability individualizes the coffee lot that gives recognition to the producer”.

Fabrício goes on to highlight another challenge in specialty markets: “Certification is a good thing but consumers want to go beyond that. Even if you want to trade directly there is too much paperwork and many roasters don’t have the time to handle the logistics. That is why our partnership with algrano is a perfect fit as transparent trade will be the backbone of a sustainable value chain of the future”.

Although it may be uncomfortable for many intermediaries along the supply chain, Fabrício insists that opening this ‘black box’ on special interests in the coffee trade is necessary for this change to happen. “Everybody is talking about it,” he says, “we can’t escape the downward pressure that the big coffee companies are pushing on growers to improve yields, but we are reaching the biological and physical limits. Change is happening so fast, and we need to adapt if we are to continue to add value to our growers.”

One way that San Coffee is doing this is through their Beyond Borders project that aims to offer the same model it offers its members to other like-minded growers in neighbouring regions. The initiative provides training to help support producers with the practical knowledge to improve quality and productivity, while providing a service during and post-harvest. This can range from the milling, drying, and quality control, to other crucial aspects of the supply chain such as documentation, warehousing, container loading and providing finance to producers.

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João Marcos, a producer from the Small Growers Association (AFASA) in Santo Antonio do Amparo, who participated in this project, says: “The new opportunities provided through this business platform allow for a direct transfer of added value to the producer. This has real impact on our capacity to reinvest in the farm and therefore stay in coffee growing for the long-term”.

Fabrício concludes by adding that algrano is the first service provider to open the ‘black box’ for buyers: “We approach, motivate and empower growers to produce quality consistently as a single origin, helping to tell their stories to specialty buyers through platforms like algrano. Through a mindful connection and different approach to business through transparent relationships, we can help to open the black box for them. That’s how we convince the consumer why transparent trade helps to distribute value more evenly throughout the supply chain – and ensure this extra value reaches the growers”.

 

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

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Demystifying the value chain

Reinventing the coffee menu for restaurateurs

The disconnect between the attention to detail in the kitchen and the coffee on the restaurant menu can be a bone of contention for many coffee professionals. After all, the disappointment of a bitter-tasting espresso rather than the sensory climax to conclude a gastronomic experience can be all too common. Considered by many in the hospitality industry as an afterthought, this disconnect is what drove Olga Sabristova of Die Kaffee Privatrösterei to make a difference.

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“For a lot of restaurateurs, coffee is still a stepchild. It is prepared without love or passion and where nobody attaches great importance”, says Olga.

Her fightback came after more than a decade’s worth of experience working in restaurants where she saw how coffee was brewed as a caffeinated distraction to the main culinary event. At the time, she was working at a company canteen, in Düsseldorf, that sported its own integrated coffee bar which she described was ‘great fun’. It was, however, her own appreciation of gastronomy after taking up an apprenticeship as a chef that brought Olga into the sphere of specialty coffee. She soon realised that beyond the more simplistic descriptions of either Arabica or Robusta, there was a whole world of origins, varietals and cultivars offering different cup profiles to explore. It was during this apprenticeship and attendance at a number of coffee courses and seminars, that Olga was encouraged to experiment further.

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“I didn’t have a classic education about coffee such as how to make cappuccino, espresso or macchiato. It’s always about the coffee, but it was about taste. Which milk is matching best? What is the flavour like? You have to be able to smell and taste. This is crucial as a roaster but also as a barista. You’re not only doing Latte Art and nice pictures, you’re a cook”.

Olga was introduced to roasting for the first time during a short internship at Mondo del Caffe in Luxembourg seven years-ago. It was this opportunity that opened the door to the production processes involved in the roastery after first trying her hand at the helm of a Dutch-made Giesen. Although she already knew that she wanted to start her own coffee bar, she had discovered another major piece in the puzzle, and decided that coffee roasting would become a central feature in her future plans.

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Today, Olga is the proud owner of not one, but two Giesen’s – a W6 and W15 – which serve her popular coffee shop in the heart of Düsseldorf, as well as a larger production facility outside the city that supplies a wide range of wholesale and online retail clients. Ironically, she now caters for the restaurants she used to work for where Die Kaffee Privatrösterei is featured proudly on the menu. As with any experienced chef, the 42-year-old is passionate about the ingredients that she sources: “You open the bag and it feels like going on a trip around the world, and suddenly you’re back in Ethiopia yourself! I love the whole process. Learning everything about the coffee; the plant, the soil where the plant has been – all these nuances and flavours, which are developing in the roast”.

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But roasting for restaurants also has its challenges and over time, she has learnt that restaurants often prefer a blend that meets their needs. “Not everyone is interested in specialty coffee”, she adds. “Sometimes they just want to be able to press a button and a good coffee has to come out of the machine. Others say they would like to have a coffee with a light acidity, chocolate taste or dark berries. Then I look for the coffees and develop a roasting profile before the client tastes it. In most cases, this works well”.

Olga intends to travel to India next year – not only because she enjoys the flavour profile of Indian coffees but the country has a special place reserved in her heart as it was the very first coffee that she ever roasted. Although she has a great deal of experience as a master roaster, Olga is committed to learning more from the people in the origins that she buys from. That is when algrano, as a new way to source coffees directly from origin, first appealed to her. She says the Brazilian Sitio Arroza coffee that she bought through the platform was an instant hit with her customers: “It was not for gastronomes because for them it was too expensive but this coffee was very special and my customers loved it. Direct trade is nice, but what really matters is transparency”, she says. “I like having the possibility to contact the growers directly rather than choose from an anonymous list”.

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Olga’s mission to reinvent the coffee offer on the restaurant menu is now bearing fruit as local restaurateurs are paying more attention to their coffee selection: “After all, it’s the last cup and taste which their guests have in their restaurant”, she concludes. “Coffee is a great product, which you can develop and process with different preparation methods. They are starting to realize this – which is nice”.

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

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

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