The description of visiting origin sounds romantic. It almost seems like a safari experience, where you are taken around coffee farms and witness the coffee cherry at its inception.
Yet, often overlooked in this perception is the difficulty of sourcing quality coffee and the challenges that emerge each year within the coffee ecosystem.
These changes and challenges are curve balls, and visiting origin gives you first hand insight on the people, the culture and the coffee.
From two previous interviews, I ask Melbourne based roasters, Market Lane and Small Batch Roasting Co, about their visits to origin. Market Lane’s Jenni Bryant visits Rwanda annually and I spoke to Andrew Kelly of Small Batch Roasting Co about his three origins trips to Honduras, to establish his relationships with Honduran producers. This is the second of eight introductory blog posts about specialty coffee. This blog post is on “relationship coffee” with an emphasis on visiting origin.
Establishing relationships, three trips to origin and laying down the foundations
To source coffee from the Santa Barbara region of Honduras, Andrew Kelly said he took three trips (read the detailed interview here).
The first trip was to visit the producing regions. It was during this trip that he started assessing which millers/exporters he may wish to work with.
The second trip was early in the harvest season, where he was able to re-connect with the producers on the first trip, that might have some unsold production. This timing of this trip gave him the chance to try the coffees on the table and secure some coffees before the harvest season finished.
The final trip, allowed him to cup these later pickings and find out what was available to purchase and make offers.
The above descriptions show the details and work in developing a direct trade relationship between roaster and producer. Andrew mentions that making
“Three trips to secure one purchase of coffee may seem like a lot, but it demonstrates the value of being on the ground, and how important details and relationships are in securing great coffee. The producer needs to know the buyer will be there when they say they will, and will pay for the extra efforts in producing high-grade specialty coffee that the buyer demands.”
Established relationships, successes and challenges from the current harvest
With an established relationship, during Jenni Bryant’s annual visits to the Dukunde Kawa cooperative in Rwanda, she wakes up early to travel (by car) from the capital, Kigali to the Northern province of Rwanda. She mentions that
“these drives are always quite special and insightful as they are valuable times to talk to the directors of the cooperatives.”
It is here that she hears about the successes and challenges from the current harvest, and has the opportunity to give feedback about the previous years coffee.
Jenni mentions that these direct visits are important as it gives first hand insight about the “health of the cooperative, the culture, and the people.” In being on the ground, she is able to touch base with the management team and see how she can add value. Since the beginning of their relationship (read the interview here), there has been increased income for producers, as well as investment in machinery and infrastructure for higher quality coffee.
Because coffee is seasonal produce, there has also been the installation of a milk pasteurisation plant to assist coffee farmers during non-harvest seasons.
Developing relationship, coffee
In establishing long-term relationships between roasters and producers, this gives producers the support and feedback, in knowing that “the roaster will be there when they say they will” (Andrew Kelly) it is not a “one-off transaction” where the producers are not certain whether they will have interested buyers for the next harvest. Such feedback and continued support then allows such communities to grow, continue to develop, improve and learn year after year.
By: Karyan Ng
Author’s note:This is the second in an eight-part introductory blog series about Specialty Coffee. Read the other posts here. Sign up to the newsletter for more on coffee, its origins and stories. This post was not sponsored in anyway.