Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Women-owned Coffee Supply Chain Continues

Feb. 19, 2018
Second year in-a-row, micro-roaster Espresso Elevado of Plymouth, Michigan offers single-origin Rwanda Ejo Heza beans, roasted to perfection! In last year's post, click here, business owner and trainer Teresa Pilarz shared roasting notes for the Ejo Heza.

This year the package sports a new label showing not only two officers of the Rwandan Ejo Heza sub-cooperative, Olive and Therese UWIMANA, but also Ruth Ann Church, the owner of the importing business, Artisan Coffee Imports.
As with other female-owned businesses, the focus at Espresso Elevado is on quality, customer service and meeting their mission "to craft and share coffee in a way that elevates the entire coffee experience.We strive to be Connected, Artistic, Unconventional, Sustainable, and Elevated." You may or may not notice the business and some of its products, like the Rwanda Ejo Heza, have a gender-balanced story to tell. In this case, it's the entire supply chain! It's just another reason, on top of many, to love your cup of coffee!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Ethiopia Coffee Linkages Tour - Forest Coffee at METAD Hambela Estate

Feb. 1-3, 2018 we completed a three day trek, including 24 hours riding in two jeeps, seven people, from Addis Ababa to a remote area of Oromia called Guji and back. We would travel most of the time through the region called "Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples" but the destination, METAD Hambela Estate, is technically in the Oromia region, and the Guji zone. The bottom line, it was far away from the capital on relatively flat and straight, but very bumpy, unpaved roads.

Riding in jeeps with skilled drivers is honestly not too bad. Ruth Ann was so grateful to not be doing the driving as would normally be the case in Rwanda. The hours were just long, but so worth it! METAD estate is a shang-ri-la of a coffee estate, with relatively new (4 year old) healthy coffee shrubs, growing under a cathedral-like canopy of old growth forest. The farm is at 2,200m. The operation also buys 2,500,000 Kg of cherry annually from neighboring farmers in a what they call an "outgrowers" program. They have three washing stations. We visited the one at Hambela, which is a Penagos UCBE 5000 with two depulpers and a demucilager, capable of processing 5 MT cherry/hour.

We arrived at just the right moment to watch workers loading bags of washed parchment into trucks to be taken to the ECX in Addis. We also were impressed by the 250 drying tables, most of which were laden with dark, red delicious looking cherry, and workers were carefully turning them in the sun. Apparently METAD had the machinery to mill natural coffee on premisis, but we didn't see it.

The estate has 400,000 of its own trees on 200 hectares. As we walked through the forest, each "block" was neatly labeled with details like the variety and the planting date. They have produced a "small" crop and Dilnesa Ayalneh, the operations manager, is looking forward to the first main crop in 2018. The tree nursery is equally impressive, stretching as far as the eye can see with 300,000 seedlings. The varieties grown there are 7140, 74148, 74110, 74112, and 75227. We learned that the first two digits indicate the year the variety was introduced. So obviously the 70's were a "boom time" for Ethiopian coffee breeders.

Our 3.5 hour stay (yes - 24 hours of driving for a 3.5 hour visit) included a lovely simple lunch in one of the charming traditional huts the estate has built to house and host visitors. They were even kind enough to turn on the generator so that cell phones and cameras could be re-charged. And, of course, the meal ended with traditional Ethiopian coffee served in the small, bowl-like cups.

The Oromo people, the managers and the workers, seem kind and quiet in demeanor. We learned that Dilnesa has a substantial background in coffee, having worked in Jimma before being hired by the founders of METAD. He seemed almost oblivious to many things that were impressive innovations and "smart" coffee processing to Ruth Ann's eyes. He has obviously adopted a strong continuous improvement attitude, constantly striving for quality.

Innovations and Best Practices
Quality Control
·         Takarik – is one of 5 QC managers at reception. ‘Quality Control’ is their title (as opposed to other CWSs that call them ‘reception staff’) and that in and of itself is significant. On ‘busy days’, all 5 will be present to control quality on in-coming cherry.
·         Farmers must deliver before 6pm. The processing starts at 6 and sometimes continues through midnight. They are strict about not accepting further deliveries after 6pm.

Community Farmer program – also called “out-grower” program:
·         Cherry last year purchased from farmers: 2,500,000 kg cherry
·         Farmers are required to sort on raised tables before weighing cherry. Farmers must take home the bad cherry sorted out.  METAD does not buy it.
·         Cherry is paid in CASH at the weigh station
·         Not clear if collection sites are used or whether all farmers deliver directly to the washing stations.

Pricing in 3 parts
  • Farmers are paid a high price to deliver quality, 18-20 Birr / kg cherry, when 11 bir is the national floor price.
  • If the farmer also delivers high volume, 1000 kg +, they receive 50 cent (.5 Bir) more per KG.
  • Management of METAD decides, after green coffee is sold, an amount to be paid as second payment to farmers. “Out-grower” farmers received 2 bir second payment last year in July – August time frame.
Sun- Drying Tables:
·         250 drying tables, each is 25m x 1.8m and holds 800 kg wet cherry.
·         Innovative wood stands at the end of each drying table to hold the yellow plastic sheets (when not in use).
·         Strings are attached about every 1 meter on the tables which are pulled taut across to hold the plastic sheet above the cherry.
·         Bamboo instead of metal mesh (what is maintenance cost, $ and labor?) Tables with metal screens receive the freshly wet, depulped beans.
·         Numbered tables, blocks have signs

More photos from METAD, Hambela Estate:

Forest coffee.

Dilnesar with our traveling team (l to r: Ruth, Alex, Aaron, Alice).
Kickapoo Kirete coffee - comes back home! (Dilnesar and Alex)
Nursery under shade with 300,000 seedlings.

Drying natural coffee.

Dried cherry, bagged and waiting in the warehouse for de-pulping.
METAD has two products - natural (left) and fully-washed (right).
Truck loaded - going to ECX in Addis.
Loading the truck for Addis with bags of fully-washed parchment.
Photos from the journey (sometimes it's not about the destination):
Getting there.

Make a new friend. (Etsehiywot and Alice.)

Eat local food.

Delicious hot chai served road-side.

Our 2 vehicles and the buses were often the only ones on these roads.

Kids being kids.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kenya Coffee Linkages Tour with TradeHub Team - Focus on Nairobi

Judging Taste of Harvest competition coffees
In three short days, Jan. 29 - 31, 2018, the USAID Trade Hub/Africa Fine Coffee Association (AFCA) buyer trip to Kenya packed in amazing trade-linkage opportunities in coffee. We started with cupping through 18 Kenyan coffees at the Nairobi Coffee Directorate, the coffees were the finalists in the Taste of Harvest competition held annually by AFCA in seven countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC and Zambia). The finalists from Kenya will go on to compete in the international Taste of Harvest competition in Kampala, Uganda, 14 - 16 February.
One of the highlights of the half-day we spent at the Directorate was the visit we had from Benson Apuoyo, Interim Manger, Market Research & Product Development and David Kandagar, a senior officer of the Technical and Advisory Services of the Kenyan government's Agriculture and Food Authority. It was exciting to hear Mr. Apuoyo describe the success Kenya had as the portrait country of the Special Coffee Association Expo show in Seattle in 2017. I appreciated so much when Mr. Kandagar described their goal to double Kenya's Arabica production in the near term.

Our team of four American cuppers from Michigan (this blog author, Ruth Ann Church), Wisconsin (Alex Stoffregen), Texas (Aaron Brown), and California (Alice Hineline), were like the back-up team to the professional Kenyan team of 5 cuppers led by Regina Mwangi. I had arrived one day late, which meant my colleagues had already cupped 32 coffees the day before, and we were down to the 18 best. The rounds of 5 cups per coffee narrowed from these 18 to 12, and we gave each coffee a score on the SCAA 100 point scale. Then we cupped 2 cups of a unique natural, sun-dried coffee from producer, Simon Kaniaru Gakinya of Mount Kenya Specialty Tea & Coffee. We enjoyed meeting him and learning about the innovations he is pursuing at his farm. All together, we cupped 160 cups of Kenyan coffee ((18+12+2)*5 cups ea. =160 cups)!

Led by our able guide, Wambui Waiganjo, AFCA's Chapter Coordinator in Kenya, our team also visited logistics company Bollore, meeting the head of freight and forwarding and the operations manager for coffee. We met with the USAID-Trade Hub staff at their offices in the Westlands, and also Thika Coffee Mills management team, including the chairman, Pius Ngugi and Benard Sitati, the General Manager. The "finale" of our days in Kenya was the Nairobi Coffee Exchange, where we observed coffee trading in action and the CEO, Daniel Mbithi, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the amazing samples room. Probably 1000 bags of coffee samples were neatly lining long tables set in rows, running the entire length of the room which was probably 50m long! Mr. Mbithi described how the labels on the samples have a code that critically links them to listings in the catalogue that is created for each week's coffee auction. It is an intricate and well-thought-out system. We came away admiring how Kenya has built a process that achieves price discovery in a consistent, fair and market-oriented manner.

Other linkages that were made by our team came from the individual backgrounds and networks of the team members themselves. Aaron from Texas linked us up with Nairobi friends at a restaurant one evening. This enabled a small coffee producer Ruth Ann knew from the Meru district to join the group, creating an exchange of insights on coffee production on the Kenya side, and logistics and sales realities on the US side. At the Nairobi Coffee Exchange Alex introduced us to a long-time trading veteran who has served her company well in Nairobi.

I will never forget these experiences. I plan to use them to re-ignite excitement about Kenyan coffee among my roaster customers. I expect to be following up with my new network of contacts in Nairobi soon. So rich, So Kenyan!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Coffee Savvy University of California Davis

Dec. 4, 2017
Last week I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the University of California at Davis with other board members of the International Women's Coffee Alliance. Six board members were hosted by Dr. Bill Ristenpart, Director of the UC Davis Coffee Center and an endowed professor of chemical engineering, and Sarah Hodge, assistant director of development for the college of engineering.

We started at the large, modern and impressive Robert Mondavi Institute (RMI) for Wine and Food Science. The RMI was designed primarily to support crops and foods grown in California, thus coffee was always left out -- until now. It started in 2013 with 18 undergrad students who signed up for Prof. Bill's first chemical engineering lab called "Design of Coffee." One textbook, one large donation from Chevron and four years later, there are 1,500 undergraduates who go through one of the three sessions of this course every year.  Along the way, Dr. Ristenpart and his colleague, Dr. Tonya Kuhl, have found much enthusiasm throughout California's coffee industry as well as unmet research needs.

Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science

Cavernous high-bay filled with digitally monitored equipment for wine-making tests.

Students learning wine-making at RMI
Coffee lab signs in the chem engineering lab windows.

Undergrads learning chemistry through coffee.
For example, a filter company has hired the UC Davis "coffee team" to do a scientific study of the taste differences between coffee brewed using conical vs. flat-bottomed filters. Actually controlling all of the variables to isolate changes in taste due to the filter shape is an incredible job, we found out! A post-doc is spending his days training the recruited tasting volunteers, practicing how he will serve the volunteers the same coffee at the same temperature, brewed in equipment the same in almost every way except the filter.
Special lighting for the booths where trained coffee tasters will sit.

Pass-thru holes in the wall to put fresh-brewed coffee before the tasters.
Post-doc explains the rigors of scientifically testing coffee taste differences.
We were also taken to what will one day be a stand-alone building for the UC Davis coffee center, just as there is a wine and food science building. The coffee building is smaller, but is a beautiful location just the same. Already, there are rooms sponsored by Peet's, Curtis and the Nicaraguan Coffee group. There are large roasters still in crates donated by Probat.
Donated Probat roasters in crates.

6 IWCA board members and Dr. Bill Ristenpart. I'm 2nd from the right.

Having just completed my master's degree in coffee value chains at Michigan State University (MSU), I quizzed the chemical engineering professor pretty hard about how well UC Davis could address the socio-economic research issues related to coffee. He indicated they would attempt to fill that part of the research agenda also, but it's pretty clear that is not the strong-point of UC Davis. They are well-suited to provide tasting/sensory, brewing and roasting research. Most likely, Texas A&M will remain the go-to university for coffee bio-agronomy, and most likely, MSU will remain the premier institution for studying agricultural extension and agricultural economics of the coffee value chain. Sustainable livelihoods, equity and food security are all areas of excellence at MSU with dozen of faculty working in developing countries across the globe. Given MSU's Center for Gender in the Global Context and its ranking as the #1 packaging school, it would be an easy link to include gender studies and coffee packaging science in some future "Coffee Research Center" in East Lansing! Hmm, have to keep these ideas brewing.

Meanwhile, hats off to UC Davis for showing the way and leading the charge to better coffee science!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sacramento Super Star Coffee

Dec. 1, 2017
Natural and peaceful holiday decor at The Mill.
One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to visit cafes and roasting plants across the country. Today was the culmination of two days in Sacramento, CA. I have not really visited Sacramento before, but it is a cool town with a "chill" vibe. The tree-lined streets, majestic old homes with porches and gates reminds me of the old south, except Sacramento in late November has lower temperatures. It was a pleasant 55-60 degrees. In a cafe, I overheard two owners of yoga studios discussing business. Even the Uber drivers are relaxed and cheerful, telling stories in foreign accents of how they arrived in Sacramento from the UK or New York City over 10 years ago -- and never left. It's that kind of place.

They have good coffee, too! I stumbled into "The Mill" one morning which typified the sweet, peaceful atmosphere of the city. They were serving up Heart coffee roasted in Portland, OR.
The Mill in downtown Sacramento
Next morning I was able to check out the "Weatherspoon Cafe", which has the look and feel of a hobbit-hole, for those who know and love the J.R.R. Tolkein stories. The fact that they serve coffee here from Sacramento's "Old Soul" coffee roasters seems so perfectly fitting.
Weatherspoon Coffee on 21st St.
A "destination" cafe for me was Chocolate Fish on Folsom. I think I first heard this crazy name for a coffee shop five years ago and I've been wanting to visit ever since. The owners, Edie and Andrew Baker, decided on the name because of their affinity for all things from New Zealand - including the "lucky" chocolate fish candy that is popular there. The store offers a beautiful setting for their Dietrich roaster and large wrap-around espresso bar. Everything speaks of excellence and quality.
Luke and Edward brewing and serving -- when not roasting.
Namesake for the company (from New Zealand)

Beautiful wood accents throughout the cafe.

The Dietrich gets the glitter and glow of a Christmas tree!

A second destination cafe for me was Temple Coffee. I was able to visit two locations. The cafe at 21st and K and the roasting plant and cafe on S Street. The roasting plant is amply out-fitted with a training room and warehouse for some of their coffee. Eton Tsuno, Director of Coffee, tells me they store much of their green coffee in a different location outside of the high-rent downtown area. There is a 60kg roaster in a wooden crate, waiting to make it's debut. Meanwhile, the company runs it's smaller roaster, located in the back of the cafe on S street, six days a week to keep up with demand.

Since I was in town for the International Women's Coffee Alliance board meeting, I was especially impressed to see Temple sells water bottles that support IWCA and for the occasion of our visit, small packets of Panama geisha from Finca Hartman with special IWCA labels.
Temple on K St.

Temple warehouse and training center on S St.

Training center
Temple cafe on S St.
Eton Tsuno, Director of Coffee, Temple Coffee Roasters
Thank you Temple Coffee for your support of the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA).
Panama Geisha - Finca Hartman, fabulous take-home gift for IWCA board members!

Water purchase at Temple supports IWCA!

5 IWCA board members got a tour (L to R: Ruth Ann Church, Mansi Choksi, Mery Santos, Eton Tsuno, Grace Mena, Blanca Castro)