Roaster’s Table: Sustainability, Transparency, and Relationships

We will be holding out next event at the future home of the Foundery Coffee Pub, located on the corner of Habersham and Anderson. We’ll be tasting three coffees which we sourced through two companies; Thrive Farmer’s Coffe and Finca Coffees, companies that seek to connect small roasters directly with the farmer.

We’ll talk about coffee pricing and take one of our coffees and lead you through the process from farmer to consumer and how we price our coffees based on what we pay. We’ll talk about sustainabil

ity in coffee farms as well as developing relationships with farmers and cooperatives and how small roasters in the US can make that happen in a meaningful way.

Adam Wilson with Thrive Farmers Coffee will be speaking about Thrive, what they are doing and how they work with farmers to bring them further up in the supply chain and connect them with the roasters buying their coffee.

You’ll also have a chance to hear from Kevin Veitinger, owner of the Foundery about the shop, what it will look like, and how they plan to integrate into the community. We are very excited about this tasting and hope you can come and participate in it with us!

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Farmer’s Markets: Questions Asked, Part II

Here we go. Hope you enjoy.

Is this coffee organic? Fair Trade? Shade Grown?  

    Certifications are great … sometimes. The idea behind certifications is that some kind of consistency and accountability are present to ensure that what the farmer/producer is providing you is actually what they tell you it is. We’re afraid that what certifications have become is an excuse for consumers not to think. 

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     Many consumers see a shiny sticker and think “Whew! It’s safe to buy”. What we’ve found is the average consumer doesn’t even know what the certification is certifying. We have as many customers asking if our coffee is “Free Trade” as much as they ask if it’s “Fair Trade”, thinking it’s an interchangeable phrase. 

      This is not a Fair Trade bash. We think Fair Trade is doing some things very well, and some things not so well. We carry Fair Trade certification and occasionally have FT coffees available for purchase. What we’re trying to say is that Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Certified Shade Grown and all the like are simply not an end all be all of ethical purchasing. We have purchased and carry coffees that meet and exceed standards of these certifications, but the farms choose not to carry them due to cost or restrictions on who can be certified. 

 Here is an interaction we had at a market last week: 

 “Are these coffees all Fair Trade?” 

“Fair Trade and better!”

“Better? What could possibly be better than Fair Trade?”

(insert above explanation)

“Really. But how am I supposed to know that?”

      How indeed? All the customer has is our word as a roaster. We know what we’re doing, but the consumer has to have faith in us that we are telling the truth. It takes time building trust and faith and consistency in your community for your weekly consumer to realize you actually do know what you’re talking about. And if the consumer is a visitor coming in for the weekend, we have one opportunity to share and get our message across in an clear, concise, and passionate way. It’s a challenge to be sure. It stretches us and tests us. It also makes us better and forces us to step up and be that base of knowledge for the consumer.

 Is this all you have?

     Farmer’s markets are reintroducing people to the idea of seasonality. It’s a beautiful thing, and also frustrating. We are just as guilty as any of wanting a product out of season, not finding it from local farmers, so going to the store to satisfy our craving. The world is getting smaller; we don’t have to wait till summer for figs anymore, we can just buy some from where figs are in season and have been shipped across the world to the local grocery store to get some.

     Perhaps we speak out of turn, being that we sell a product that is not produced in any state in the US except Hawaii. But we are selling the dried form of the coffee seed, not the fruit itself so we feel there is a little leeway for us to make an argument. 

     Still, coffee is a seasonal fruit. Fresh shipments of the most recent harvest of Brazilian coffees are making their way to our ports right now. We are currently out of our Brazil Bob-o-Link waiting for that shipment to come in. We have been waiting in anticipation for the newest crop of our El Salvador Malacara B to come in. We have been without it since February. People are getting antsy. 

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Yellow, orange, and red coffee varietals from the Malacara B Farm

 

     Green coffee is a sturdy product. The shelf life is fairly long provided it is kept in climate controlled condition. But there is a loss of quality as time goes by. We try to be very conscious of providing coffees from only the most recent crop of. Sometimes that means we go without. Sometimes we only have five coffees spanning three continents. The horror of it all.

This isn’t all you do, is it?

     We try not to burst a blood vessel at this one.  Again this can be a misleading question, so there is grace. Sometimes the questioner means, “Is this one farmer’s market all you do for a living?” We have been asked on more that one occasion if this market, the one blocking the entire street so no traffic can pass, happens everyday all year round. It’s a fanciful idea. For sure, the idea of a seven day a week market where to can go anytime during the day and get fresh produce picked by the farmer (who also mans the booth) and freshly roasted coffee (sold by the roaster) sounds absolutely delightful. We would by all our groceries at such a market. Alas, time and space do not permit such a thing. One day. 

Sometimes the question pertains to the occupation in general. “There’s no way you can provide for yourself just selling coffee”. We’d like to think that there is, as it is what we do. But the consumer sees the lone individual standing behind a table selling one cup at a time. They don’t see the wholesale side of the operation, the online sales, the other markets. The fifteen hour workday that makes all those things happen … plus one cup of coffee at a time. 

How have we failed in coffee (indeed in many occupations) to share with people exactly what goes on to provide this service to the public? Who’s fault is it, ours? Theirs? Both? 

The above may sound to you as a rant. This is not a rant, but a serious reflection on how we communicate, where our communication has succeeded, where it has failed, and what we can do to bridge the gap of knowledge in an atmosphere of understanding, compassion, and love. Peace.

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Interview With a Farmer: San Rafael Urias Estate

We are very proud to be supplying in conjunction with Thrive Coffee Farmers coffee from the San Rafael Urias Estate in Antigua Guatemala. This coffee is a phenomenal addition to our coffees and we are very proud to be carrying it. Thrive works not only to create a system where coffee farmers see a larger percentage of final coffee sale, but a relationship to the farmer as well. We were thrilled to get in contact with farmer Raul Arturo Valdez Castillo and ask him some question about his farm, Thrive, and other coffee related questions. Note: our conversation is through a translation program. We have cleaned up the conversation grammatically while maintaining original intent.

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Tell us about your history in coffee
My name is Raul Valdes Arturo Castillo, I am the fourth generation of coffee farmers in my family. My father currently manages the estate and appears in the photos of San Rafael Urias Estate. I did it this way to pay tribute to the person who for 40 years has taught me to work in such a wonderful art to produce a high quality coffee to the U.S. and Europe.
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Tell us about the San Rafael Urias Farm and its practices
The farm is operated with high production standards. We do not use herbicides or chemicals that degrade the land, but practice sustainable management starting from seedlings, utilizing quality agricultural practices, good milling processing using 100% pure water and drying yards as a natural process. This has been rewarded in our achievements in the Cup of Excellence in Guatemala, receiving national awards.
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As a farmer, what is your option of certification programs such as Fair Trade? How does Thrive differ?
On fair trade, I think we’ve been hurt by large buyers of coffee in Guatemala, and we are paid very low prices while people  at the end of the value chain get high prices. The gain remains in intermediaries in Guatemala, a situation that made me look for new alternatives in selling coffee.
 Thrive Farmers appeared in late October of last year. Michael Jones, Ken Lander and Alejandro Garcia have generated hope for many coffee producers in Guatemala. We as producers we see what they are doing and stand ready to work with them.  Producers now can come to you to try and have an interaction with people who are really in contact with the end consumer and together we can discover new trends and tastes.
Is there any information you would like to know from our side, do you have any questions for us?
I would love to know more information about consumers on your end who drink coffee. What do they think about coffee in Guatemala?. And let them know that with each cup of coffee they drink, there are many familes and communities that are being benefited and are generating employment, and many people who get up very early in the morning  every day to participate in the production of a good cup of coffee.
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Farmer’s Markets: Questions Asked Part 1

                           

The first blog in our Farmer’s Market series will revolve around the questions we are asked by customers. 

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Let’s be very clear. We love farmer’s markets. We love going to them and being a part of them and almost all of the customers at them. While we will be including frustrations that we experience, this is NOT intended to be a rant in any way, but sharing what we experience and what we can learn from it. That being said, let’s dig right into the questions, what we learn from them, and how we have learned to respond.

 

Where does the coffee come from?

When someone asks this question, they want to know one of three things: 

1. Where was the coffee roasted

 2. How did the roaster procure the coffee 

3. They actually want to know where the coffee labeled “Colombia” came from. 

 

One can never tell which question is being asked. No form of profiling or stereotyping can accurately predict the desired information the questioner is seeking. 

 

   Savannah and surrounding cities are big tourist destinations. Often consumers want to bring back something with them that was made in the city. Quite often a shopper will pick up a bag and study very seriously before brightening up and saying with a sigh of relief, “Oh, it’s from Savannah.” A purchase usually follows. People want local. They may not want local for the same reasons, but they want local. We think this is a good thing. And while our coffee is not locally grown in Savannah (yes we get asked that question too) it is roasted locally and that hits a warm and fuzzy spot for local shoppers and people shopping for local. Local.

   The more savvy coffee buyer wants to know more about how coffee makes its way to the roaster. They want to know if importers, brokers or other third parties were utilized. Basically, they want to know how the coffee was sourced. Sometimes they want to know this out of curiosity, being interested in how coffee makes it all the way to the farmer’s market. Sometimes they want to know because of a recent NPR piece they heard.

 

   When we inform a customer that yes, the Brazil Peaberry actually came from the country of Brazil and they are surprised, we are a little happy and a little sad. Happy that we were able to impart a new fact to someone, open the door to sharing what we love. Sad because . . . how did they not know where coffee comes from? Is this our fault? Perhaps.

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Is this coffee strong?

    It goes like this: customer buys a cup of coffee, drinks it, “Wow, this coffee is so smooth! It’s fantastic! I don’t even need to add milk, it’s perfect just as it is.”

 

The very next customer, “Whoa, this is some strong coffee! I’ll need extra milk and 7 sugars. Wow, you brew it so strong!”

 

The very next customer, “Is this coffee smooth, or strong?”

 

This is not an exaggeration, but nearly a word for word experience of what has happened. More than once.

 

   How do you answer this? We have found that everyone’s taste preferences are so different, that use of the terms “strong”, “mild” “smooth” can all be misleading depending on the person drinking the coffee. We have bypassed this answer by saying, “Here, take a sip, see what you think and if you like it buy a cup.”

 

What does this coffee taste like?

    This is similar to the previous question, but usually relates to people interested in buying a bag of coffee to take home. The most commonly ambiguous question is, “What is your strongest coffee?” We have found that asking the question, “When you say strong, do you mean dark or very flavorful?” to be so far the most effective response. Though, again the phrase, “very flavorful” is filled with ambiguity.  It’s about 50/50 that the answer will be, “Dark, I like it very dark.” or, “Oh not dark, I just mean tastes really good.”

    If we are at a market where we are selling cups, we say, “Here, taste this and tell us what you think. That will help us guide you in picking out what you’d like.” This has been generally effective. Outside of that it requires a detailed description of each coffee with the customer picking coffee from a country they have heard of before, just to be safe. 

 

   We find the human taste bud fascinating. The same coffee can have such a wide variety of emotions attached to it depending on the individual customer. 

 

The most effective results come from return customers, trying new coffees to take home, asking the best way to brew coffee at home, trying their coffee without milk this time. Getting customers excited about what we are excited about is … exciting! But it takes time. We find it helps to love what you do and share that love in a way that causes the customer to say, “wow, I never thought of it that way before.”

 

That’s all for this post, more questions to come in the next one! Peace.

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Farmer’s Markets: An Observation

Cup to Cup has had the pleasure of attending several farmer’s markets over the past couple years. It’s a great way for us to see the retail side of coffee service and have that one on one interaction that we love.

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Interacting with customers at the markets has provided fascinating information into the mind of the consumer. Over the next few blogs we’ll be discussing interactions at the markets, what they mean to us a a producer, and how it affects and changes how we present our product to you. Buckle up, this could get bumpy.

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C and C’s Coffee

We had the opportunity to make it out last week to visit one of our newest clients, C and C’s Coffee in Glennville, Ga. Glennville is a small little town located right next to Ft Stewart. Chris Barratta was in the military himself and when he had served his time, decided to open up a cafe in his hometown.

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Chris and Crystal (C and C) have a beautiful space from one of the oldest buildings in town. They put a lot of hard work into recreating something old into something new and exciting.

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The menu board in this picture is made from one of the original windows in the building.

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We’re excited that they are serving our coffee and wish them the best in their new business!

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Huge Thanks

I am going to forgo my usual third personn writing style so that I can properly express myself on a personal level. This past week my grandmother passed away at the ripe old age of nearly 102. While that is certainly a good long life deserving of rest, it is still a loss of a phenomenal woman.
I found myself last Saturday struggling to figure out if leaving town for nearly a week was something I could do as a single person business. I roast, ship, deliver, and attend farmers markets all week. Could my business handle me being away? Would I lose clients? The final answer was family comes first, and the task at hand was not if I could, but how to get it done.

This is where the huge thanks come in. The response of volunteers to help me was overwheling. My best friend Kurt who knows nothing about coffee volunteered to drive the five hours to get here and make all deliveries and attend farmers markets for me. My friend Lauren who was in Boston watching her husband run a local marathon you may have heard of volunteered to meet other people halfway for deliveries. Others offered help in many ways I am forver grateful for. Justin, Katie, Stephanie, Bernie, and more went above and beyond to help me out.

As it turns out I had so much help I had to tell many people no! Kurt did not have to drive five hours to run my markets (which was a blessing for both of us). Lauren didn’t have to meet anybody halfway. But that the offers were there humbles me and makes me want to be a better person.

My dear friend David Hislop gets a whole paragraph to himself. David has been helping me at one of my markets and stood in for me in as many as he could, for which I am so thankful. He met me halfway to the markets with a baby in his back seat and loaded up coffee, tables, a grinder, a brewer, and more. He delivered coffee and coffee and a check and took an enormous amount of time out of his schedule to help me out.

I’d also like to thank my shops. All were understanding and placed generous orders they didn’t necessarily need at the time so I could get them roasted and delivered before I left.

Again to all, thanks so, much. I am blessed to have such friends and am afirmed that Cup to Cup is a name people care about and want to see continue.

James Spano
Cup to Cup

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