Day 3- March 24, 2015
Hi all, lets switch gears to Direct Trade Classic talk! Direct Trade Verified Sustainable talk is at the top of my mind, especially as I have spent the last three days geeking out with some data nerds about sustainability measurement. But it is also important to remember the roots of our Direct Trade philosophy and the core principles behind it. Our Direct Trade Nicaragua Las Mercedes coffee is one of Farmer Brother’s longest relationships. The Aldea Global cooperative has been a trusted partner of ours, ever since 1999 when a pony-tailed Warren Armstrong made a visit to a pony-tailed and mustachioed Paul Thornton, lead roaster for CBI in Portland. Warren saw Paul in a hairnet dumping coffee into a roaster on the 4th floor, and the rest was history! I jest, of course, but Warren and Aldea Global have been an important part of the Farmer Brothers supply chain for many years.
We started our direct trade program with 6 small farmers from a sub region called Las Mercedes of the Aldea Global cooperative in 2010. Now our program has grown to over twenty farmers who supply us with over 50,000 pounds of direct trade coffee per year. As our program has grown, Aldea Global as a cooperative has grown right alongside us. They are now the 9th largest exporter out of Nicaragua, and have over 1800 members. Of those members, 912 are coffee farmers, and this year Aldea Global exported 28,050 bags of green coffee. One of the biggest benefits that Aldea Global provides to its member is access to credit and short term loans. This year their credit portfolio totaled over $2.6 million in cash to loan to small farmers, and next year they expect to surpass $3.8 million!
I am really excited as well to have a Farmer Brothers companion on this trip, Pieter Theron. It is great to be able to share our exciting origin programs with as many members of the Farmer Brothers family as possible. I truly believe that the more we can integrate sustainable practices into our normal modes of operation as a company, the more secure and stable our supply chain will be. Pieter brings great travel experience, a new-found love for cupping coffee, and an acute organizational mind that is helping me put our direct trade programs in perspective of the company’s larger strategic mission. What more could a coffee buyer ask for!
Pieter made his way to Jinotega on his own this morning. Having never met him and not knowing his travel skills, I was a little nervous that he wasn’t going to make it. But, lo and behold, he did not drive all the way to Honduras or end up in Costa Rica! We met right on time at the perfect-as-always Hotel Café and acquainted ourselves with the goals of this trip and our schedule for the next two days. Our first objective for today was to introduce Pieter to Aldea Global and to overview the difference between our Direct Trade Classic and our Direct Trade Verified Sustainable programs. Ivania was a welcome host and took Pieter through the classic Aldea Global PowerPoint presentation, and Pieter was a captive listener! I think that the more impressive aspects of Aldea Global for Pieter were their commitment to practical goals and their financial management of the credit portfolio afforded to farmers. It is always really great for me to be able to see known partners through new eyes. It always impresses me how advanced Aldea Global is as a cooperative!
After lunch Pieter, Ivania, Javier and I set off for the Soppexcca mill to cup through the Direct Trade Las Mercedes coffees for this year. These coffees are each cupped as individual lots and are assigned a price premium based on cup score. The work of cupping through each lot is intensive, but it is always worth the effort to see how each of our individual farmers is
progressing. This year there were a total of 18 producers who qualified for our lot. Our first table had 12 samples and WOW what an incredible table it was! There were two coffees that through consensus cupped at 86, and the average for the table was above an 83. This is a big departure from the qualities that we have been seeing from Aldea Global in the past. This coffee has always been a solid profile, very clean and sweet, but without intense flavor characteristics that stood out as extraordinary. Over the past 2 years we have really started to see a departure from these generic Jinotega profile coffees and into something much more special. The most notable aroma characteristic was citrus, chocolate, and dark fruits. The coffees cupped with very juicy, creamy body, notes of citrus and dark fruit, and chocolate notes.
We took a quick tour of the Soppexcca dry mill between cupping tables. This was Pieter’s first visit to an operational dry mill, so he was excited to see each step of the coffee milling process. Much to his delight as well, there were three lines of women working separating out defects from green coffee. The manual defect sorting process is becoming less and less common these days with the expansion of the use of electronic sorting machines, so this was something that Pieter had only ever seen in photographs. I tried not to stay in the tour for too long, mostly because I am becoming extremely allergic to coffee parchment. Five minutes in that mill and I was already having trouble breathing and watery eyes. Not ideal for an afternoon of cupping! We were, however, able to pass by where our DT coffees are being stored. They are still grouped in individual lots and separated by farmers until each of the lots is cupped an approved. Eventually, all of the coffee with the exception of the organics will be milled together.
Our second table was much smaller than the first, but still quite as impressive. These coffees had less rest than the first round, but they were heavy with body, thick chocolate notes, and herbal tea like delicate flavors. There were not any micro-lot quality stand outs like the first table, but the table as a whole was solid, cupping between 81.5 and 84.75 as average scores. Body was dominant in these coffees as well as an intense liquoring characteristic in the chocolate notes.
I think Pieter and I were very satisfied by a day full of Aldea talk and coffee cupping. Tomorrow we will be visiting the farms of some of our well known Las Mercedes producers, as well as to the home of the two women whose coffee scored 86 points (fun fact, they are mother and daughter and have neighboring farms! They also share labor, wet mill, and storage…go figure!)
And hey, Public Domain readers, I am bringing back some green samples of our two rock-star coffees to see if they are something that you would want to serve in the shop!
Until then, loyal readers! Buenas Noches!