Coffee comes from beautifully organized ‘vineyard-like’ estates, doesn’t it? Many people believe that when they buy a bag of coffee, it comes from a single farm or estate. This may be the case, but not necessarily.
Cooperatives, farmers do what they do best
Co-operatives (co-ops) are setup to help groups of small-scale farmers that may not have the capability to sell their coffee through the export market. This could be because they do not have enough coffee to make a saleable amount, or they do not have access to high quality equipment that is required to produce ‘export-quality’ coffee.
The majority of coffee production in poorer countries is from smallholder farmers who group together as members of a co-operative. Co-operatives deal with the administration and sales side of the operation, while farmers do what they do best.
Often, the co-ops will build milling and processing facilities for their members. This not only provides more local jobs, but gives the farmers access to equipment they could never afford on their own.
Estate grown coffee, a streamlined process
Estate grown coffee allows a more streamlined process than smallholder farmer groups, as all of the processing can often be done on-site. Some regions in Brazil, for example, are quite affluent and extremely well equipped. Whether there is the expertise within the Estate to complete all parts of the process efficiently and effectively, is the difference between good and bad coffee.
Any step in the long chain of coffee production can ruin good coffee.
What about the poor family in Sumatra who have coffee trees growing wild, in and around their property? Is their coffee worse than that grown on a farm? With a cooperative setup, different groups with relevant expertise run each individual part of the process.
The farmers farm, the mill operators mill and the coffee is then exported by the co-operative. Any step in the long chain of coffee production can ruin good coffee. The fear with the smallholder/co-operative system is that coffees grown with different methods are mixed together to make a saleable quantity.
The reality is that both smallholders and estates can produce extremely good and extremely bad coffee. I guess the point of this article is to highlight the misunderstanding that estate grown coffee is always better than co-operative coffee.
The way we see it, all coffee has potential, no matter how it is produced. Whether it’s estate coffee or co-operative coffee, good coffee doesn’t happen by accident.
Written by Andy Gelman of Omar & The Coffee Bird, Gardenvale, Melbourne, Australia. This is the third of eight blog posts on an introduction to Specialty Coffee. Connect with Andy Gelman on social media @omarcoffeebird. This post series is not sponsored in anyway.