Friday, December 7, 2018

What Transparent Trade Looks Like

Dec. 7, 2018
The new wave of roasters want more cost transparency to complement their relationships to the farmers who grow their coffee. That's what we offer at Artisan Coffee Imports in a way that other importers cannot. We offer a closer connection, a deeper relationship through cost transparency, to the coffees we source. (Click here for the last blog describing some of that connection at Kopakama.) Currently we focus on Rwanda, but soon we'll include other origins. As we expand, we plan to replicate the model we've developed in Rwanda:
  • Receipts tracking how the money got to the farmers. Artisan sent $7,290 in mid-November to pay the $.30/KG green second payment to Ejo Heza farmers. Kopakama sends to Artisan the receipts showing conversion of the $7,290 to RWF at a Forex office and the bank receipt confirming the funds are deposited in Ejo Heza's local (Mushubati) SACCO account.
  • Signatures of the farmers themselves on lists with their names. Kopkama also sends the lists, broken out by sub-groups, of the women who received their share of the $7,290 mentioned above, in their hands, on November 30, 2018, during their general assembly. Click here to see the previous blog with photos and video!
Pay day!

Farmer Compensation Revisited:
This works for the second-payment. The other, more important piece of a farmer's compensation is the first payment -- the payment received for cherry as it's delivered. For example in Rwanda, this base cherry price can range from 150 - 400 Rwf/Kg cherry. A second payment typically ranges from 10 - 35 RWF/Kg cherry. In percentages:
  • base cherry price = 90 - 100% of farmer's compensation for coffee (many farmers receive no 2nd payment)
  • second payment = 5 - 10% of farmer's compensation for coffee
Obviously, the most important piece of a farmer's compensation in Rwanda (and many E. African countries) is the base cherry price. How that cherry price is set is a critical question. Is it based on pure competition for cherry in the market? No, it's usually a mix of government regulations and competitive forces. In cultures with low tolerance and understanding of competition and market economics, the former, (government regulations), tends to be the more dominant determinant of the farmer's cherry price (see paper referenced below). Unfortunately, two major hurdles are frequently encountered in origin countries:
  1. Lack of market data
  2. Overly heavy influence of a few, oligarchic players
These two factors can both, independently, weaken the government's ability to design and implement effective regulations, even when the government's intentions towards the farming community are positive. A recent paper in the Journal of Rural Studies delves deep into this topic in Rwanda. 
Bette, one of Ejo Heza's leaders, meets Ritual's buyer, Aaron.

The New Wave Roasters: Junior's Roasted Coffee (JRC), Portland, OR, is an example of the trend we anticipate will continue. Daily Coffee News recently wrote about Mike Nelson's multi-year effort to bring deeper understanding of cost transparency to his coffee supply chain.

The picture that became clear to Nelson was that in order for JRC to purchase a grower's coffee at a price that allowed the farm to break even, a significant premium would have to be added to the going market price. "Given the longstanding relationship between the roaster and the producer, and that the coffee consistently cups up to Junior’s stringent standards, JRC was happy to pay more for the benefit of all involved, today and into the future."
“We were able to come up with a premium,” said Nelson. Nelson's importer was paying $3.25/lb. green to the farmer, and Nelson added an additional $.75 per pound green, to ensure break even on his coffee purchase." Thus, the producer in this case is receiving $4 per pound on this coffee. With the premium, the price JRC paid to the importer was $5.62 a pound. "Adding shipping, roast loss, labor, packaging, and everything else, this worked out to be an $8.10 per pound coffee [for Junior’s].” 

JRC's roasted coffee (consumer-facing) label says: 
"Coffee is traded as a commodity, trading for as low as $1.00/lb during the 2017/2018 season. This season, it cost the [producer name] $2.87/lb [green] to produce this coffee. We paid $4.00 /lb [green] directly to the [producer name] family to cover production costs and to help ensure future production."
JRC is making their support for covering cost of production not only a clear priority of the company, it's seems to be a value. It's a little like telling airline customers exactly how much you, as the airline operator, have included as a carbon credit in the price of the ticket. You're making sure you cover the real costs of production, and you're ensuring sustainability of your industry. [Story credit to Howard Bryman, 10/1/2018, Daily Coffee News, published by Roast Magazine.]

Charlotte (Kopa), Ruth Ann (Artisan) and Dominique (Kopa)
Importer's Role: a final note here about the role of JRC's importer. One might ask why JRC had to go to all this trouble to find out the producer's cost of production? And more trouble to arrange a way to make the producer whole? It appears JRC's importer pays the producer a price that is either at or below the farmer's cost of production. In this happy case, a roaster came along to ensure not only costs are covered, but there is profit for the farmer to reinvest. At Artisan Coffee Imports, we assure all our roaster customers that farmers who grew the coffee we sell are paid a price that covers cost of production and a profit margin. For the base price, (before any second-payment), our minimum is 300 RWF/Kg cherry, well above the average cost of production in Rwanda of 177 RWF/Kg cherry. Not surprisingly, we check the cooperative's records to ensure this price was paid, and 'spot check' with farmers, too.
Welcome to transparently traded coffee!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Ejo Heza Women Celebrate and say "Thank you!"

Ejo Heza General Assembly at KOPAKAMA Mushubati station, Nov. 30, 2018
Nov. 30 was the one of the best days of the year for 320 coffee farmers and their families in Mushubati cell, Rutsiro district, Western Province, Rwanda. Yesterday was the date of the annual general assembly for the Ejo Heza group of women, which is a sub-group of the well-established Kopakama cooperative. Perched on top of a mountain, in the building that doubles as meeting room and coffee warehouse, (depending on the season), the members of Ejo Heza gathered. Three of their officers led the proceedings: chairperson Therese UWIMANA, vice-chair Beatrice TUYISABE, and secretary Olive NYIRAGAHIGIRWA.

Each woman received $.136/lb green coffee sold by Artisan Coffee Imports. They receive cash in their hand, calculated based on two factors:
1. the KG of cherry they delivered from their "own trees" from near their home, and
2. their share, according to the days of work they contributed to the Ejo Heza cooperative plots of land.

This 'second payment' comes on top of the $1.078/lb green they receive as the 'first payment' or base price for their cherry. In other words, roasters who buy Ejo Heza helped those farmers have 13% bonus, a total of  $1.214/lb green. For this, they are grateful, as you can see in this video of them dancing and singing!

The 'first payment' the farmer receives is the larger of the two and an important signal to the farmers of how much the washing station is willing to pay to attract the farmer's loyalty, and also a signal of what quality level the washing station requires. Washing stations that expect more selective sorting prior to delivering cherry will pay more than those stations that don't care and buy everything.
Farmers bring cherry to the washing station to sell - usually transporting by foot.
Weighing cherry - preferably within 6 hours of it being picked from the tree.

A farmer watches as her Kgs of cherry and the corresponding price are recorded.

For Ejo Heza farmers, the process of bringing cherry to the washing station is part of what solidifies their unity and strengthens the sense of belonging for each woman. Ejo Heza cherry is only collected on one, sometimes two, specified days of the week. This allows the washing station to keep the "women's coffee" separate from the rest and sell it as women's coffee. So the women know when they bring their cherry that they are contributing to this specially selected batch, and this brings a sense of honor and duty. Their coffee won 8th place in Rwanda's Cup of Excellence in 2018!
Ejo Heza members sort cherry harvested from their community field on a Tuesday - the day for women's coffee.

The second payment from a cooperative is solidifies the loyalty of the farmers, and is the way the cooperatives shares it's 'profits' after costs and revenues for the year have been finalized. The timing of the payments can be a benefit to farming households as they come 6 months after the season has ended, when cash may be low.
Proceedings at the Ejo Heza general assembly, 2018.
We don't have the lists and other details from last week's meeting yet, but in August 2018, Artisan's Ruth Ann Church visited one of the farmer field schools (FFSs) with 24 Ejo Heza members (and 6 of the cooperative's male members). Church asked and a few of the women were willing to share what they did with the premium they received the year before. There among the coffee trees, they quietly stood and shared these short stories, firmly and with pride. (Names have been changed.)

Received 53,000 Frw (~ $60) premium from Artisan. "I was able to buy three bags of cement and put pavement in the floor of one room - the dining room of my home. ...I want to improve the taste of our coffee so that we can continue to develop.”

Received premium of 12,400 Frw (~ $14). "I bought chickens and hired a person to help me weed the coffee (and the beans?). I got the money when it was a ‘bad situation’ (poverty and hunger) in our community. It helped my family very much."

Received premium of 55,000 Frw (~$62). "It helped me to buy another cow from which I can use the manure to fertilize coffee."

These amounts of cash mentioned above can be verified in the list of 320 names showing that each woman signed for their premium on October 31, 2017. (Click here to request the list.) The premium from every roaster is impacting these women’s lives. They are motivated to work with us as we explain new tasks and efforts we’d like them to try to improve quality and consistency...and avoid potato-taste defect.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Baristas at Starbucks Reserve Engage With Their Supply Chain

Kylie, Carina, Alex and Shawn -

a few of the engaged SBUX baristas.
written by Kaitlin Higgins, guest blogger

Starbucks recently introduced its newest venture touting increased quality and “the rarest, most extraordinary coffees Starbucks has to offer” through its Reserve roasteries and coffee bars. At the Starbucks Reserve bar in Wrigleyville (Chicago), Ill., baristas have taken a special interest in learning more about where their favorite coffee comes from.  

According to Shawn Gancarz, the store’s manager, the team of baristas have done significant research on the important roles that women play in the production of coffee. Their internet searches had brought them to the website of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), and the “Research Alliance” page specifically. Through the contact info there, Shawn got in touch with Artisan Coffee Imports (@ArtisanCoffeeMI and @artisancoffeegroup) and IWCA (@IWCAGlobal) board member Ruth Ann Church, who happened to know that Starbucks Reserve serves a Rwandan coffee from the Abakundekawa Cooperative in the Gakenke region, and that cooperative is represented by Misozi Coffee (@MisoziCoffee), the same marketing group from which Artisan sources Rwandan women-grown coffee. Thanks to Gancarz’s email to Church in support of his baristas’ thirst for knowledge, the Starbucks Reserve staff got more than they expected in terms of connection with producers, stories to tell about coffee, women in coffee, and the challenges faced by farmers in Rwanda.

Ruth and Kevin were in Kigali during Skype with SBUX.
While in Kigali at the end of August, Ruth Ann Church hosted a Skype discussion between some of the staff of the Wrigleyville Reserve Bar and Kevin Nkunzimana, Managing Director of Misozi Coffee, who represents Abakundekawa and other cooperatives, including the cooperative from which Artisan sources.

Out of their curiosity came new perspectives for the Starbucks staff to consider, from climate change to the economics of coffee. During the trans-Atlantic call, Gancarz, along with Ash Kolodziej (education, leadership, and training) and baristas Kate, Brian, and Tray, learned from Kevin that unexpected rainfall or droughts caused by climate change are a major challenge, as is engaging young people in coffee farming and finding ways to make it a marketable and desirable career.  

Just about a month after this initial connection, on Sept. 24, Church and three of her IWCA board colleagues visited the Wrigleyville store in person, thanks to serendipitous timing with their in-person board meeting taking place in Chicago this year. 

L to R: Carina, Kellem, Sharon, Maria, Ruth, Shawn, Alex -- wearing Rwandan aprons!
Shawn completes the siphon brewing.
During a 9 PM tasting of Starbucks’ (decaffeinated) Costa Rican roast, Church finally met Gancarz in person, and spoke with shift supervisor Carina and barista Alex, who’s been at the store for about four years. Expanding on some of the information Nkunzimana had previously divulged, Maria Botto, the IWCA board member representing IWCA’s 20 chapters in producing countries, explained some of the challenges that she faces as a coffee producer in El Salvador. She explained how the “roya” or coffee leaf rust, is a pest that gets into the roots of the coffee trees, causing all the leaves to fall. [Click here to learn about the leaf rust crisis in coffee.] Her farm was devastated in 2012 and left with only 10% of their pre-roya production level. Now, six years later, they are back to 25% of their earlier production levels. “The road to recovery is hard and long,” was basically Botto’s message.

Carina and Alex serve up the pour-overs.
Carina and Alex expressed that the opportunity to share with IWCA leaders and volunteers was particularly inspiring for them because of their educational background in women’s studies. Between their dedication to empowering coffee producers--particularly women--and the knowledge that has come from their own research and new connections, the Starbucks staff is energized to continue collaborating, and already have a few ideas brewing.

Nkunzimana had told the staff on the Skype call about Hingekawa, a group of women within the Abakundekawa cooperative, and given the success of the Abakundekawa coffee at Starbucks, there may be opportunity to encourage Starbucks buyers to support these women coffee producers in Rwanda, as well. Ruth Ann noted that throughout her interactions with the staff in Wrigleyville, they were constantly focused on how they could articulate the story of their coffee to others, and perhaps they will be able to do so throughout the corporation with their growing knowledge and network. Gancarz in particular would like to see if there is interest at the Starbucks headquarters in Chicago to host another skype call with producers at origin, this time including more staff at various levels. 

As Mr. Nkunzimana had emphasized to the staff on that first skype call with Rwanda, “you are our ambassadors. Thank you!”
Maria Botto shares how her farm in El Salvador is still recovering from "roya".

IWCA board members happy for great coffee connections, great coffee people!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Ejo Heza Women Dancing During Field School

June 29, 2018
During my field visit yesterday to Sure, where the Ejo Heza women were preparing the land for the next season, they gathered at the end for a short field school lesson on pruning. Agronomist Justin gave a short talk, demonstrating proper pruning technique, then asked Ruth Ann to stand and share some comments. She briefly shared her appreciation for all their work, and announced the number of bags Artisan would be purchasing in the coming year. The women, all 40 - 50 of them, reciprocated with a chant, expressing their dignity and purpose as a group of female coffee farmers. Then they celebrated with several dances and songs! It was loud, joyous and beautiful!

 CLICK HERE to hear the women's mantra (or click photo below).

CLICK HERE for the very short video (technical difficulties) or click one of the photos below.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

What Bette UWIMANA would like to tell you...

Bette Uwimana, one of the leaders of Ejo Heza.
Yesterday I had the honor to visit Kopakama with green coffee buyer, Aaron Van der Groen from Ritual Coffee in San Francisco, CA. We were both glad that Bette UWIMANA, a leader of the Ejo Heza women's cooperative, happened to be at the washing station that afternoon.  Bette, 28 years old, recently joined the cooperative with the objective to improve the production from her coffee trees. She's accepted a leadership role as manager of credit and loans for the group's microcredit program.

Aaron asked, "what would you like to tell our customers who drink your coffee?"

CLICK HERE to open a Youtube video and listen to Uwimana's answer in her own words (translated from Kinyarwanda to English by Gervais Kayitare).

Brief summary: "what I can say to our clients is that we hope they continue to build their relationships with our farmers so that we can increase our production. Another thing, we will continue to receive their advice related to the quality of our coffee." 

L: Kayitare, R: Uwimana

L: Uwimana, R: Van der Groen
L: Church, R: Uwimana

Monday, June 11, 2018

Roaster of the week: Blueprint - Telescopes and Microscopes

Blueprint team meeting - front of store!
Blueprint Logo
In 2013 four co-workers at a different St. Louis coffee roaster, left and founded a new coffee roasting company with a new vision: Blueprint Coffee. The tag line, "beauty in precision" speaks to the passion the owners have for "honing every aspect of the coffee producing, importing, roasting and brewing process," states Andrew Timko, one of the five total owners today. His "co-members" as they call themselves, are Mazi Razani, Kevin Reddy, Mike Marquard, and Brian Levine.
Blueprint's overall Green Buying Partnership Vision is to promote shared risk and improved data sharing between the producers and Blueprint Coffee, creating a kind of "telescope" from the cafe counter in St. Louis, Missouri, to six inches into the soil of every farm growing their coffee! It's not every day that you meet people who are so into coffee, that soil is as interesting as outer space! But that is the case with Timko, Razani, Reddy and Marquard. And it actually makes a lot of sense when you hear someone like Timko explain it. "Coffee quality doesn't start with the bean, it starts with the soil the coffee plant is growing in."

Timko describes his vision of having digital tools that allow him as a roaster in St. Louis, to get regular readings on soil moisture and soil micro-organism counts on the farms that grow the coffee they buy half a globe away - year 'round. They may be a few years away from that being a reality, but they are definitely working towards it step by step.

The focus on brewed cup quality and a chill space to relax and enjoy coffee is equally strong. They've won awards from Good Food Awards for one of their single-origin coffees and from Architectural Digest for their space.

Blueprint's search for authenticity in everything they do is literally what led them to Artisan Coffee as their importer for Rwandan coffee. Timko was trying to understand the history of specialty coffee in Rwanda and stumbled onto the story of the PEARL project, which launched Rwanda's rise in the coffee world in 2003. This led him to Michigan State University websites, which eventually led him to get in touch with Ruth Ann Church, who was studying under the director of the PEARL project (Dan Clay) recently. Her "student profile" mentioned she is a coffee importer.

So five years after the fabled start of Blueprint, amazing projects are gearing up. One involves a microscope. It seems a microscope would be more beneficial than a telescope for the women of Ejo Heza, the sub-group at Kopakama cooperative that grows the coffee Blueprint buys. Watch this space, as the concept of a great cup of coffee may include helping coffee farmers monitor their soil with microscopes!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Zeke's Coffee in Baltimore

May 14, 2018
Zeke's Coffee Roasters opened in Baltimore in 2005. It's a family-owned, family-run business with three cafes now, (Baltimore, the "original", DC and Pittsburgh). The retail operation also services seven farmers markets every week! They have a growing wholesale segment, which today is even larger than the retail business in terms of volume.

Brett's selfie
Zeke's was the pioneer roaster in their market, ahead of the others in serving up fresh-roasted, great-tasting, specialty coffee in Baltimore, according to Brett Rhodes, Sales and Special Events Manager. They were sourcing quality coffee and paying attention to roast profiles and freshness before it became a "hot" thing to do in 2009. Brett says their roasters, Dennis Doxy and Nick Hedinger, are the center of their operation. Consumers have grown to appreciate the lighter roast that Zeke's offers, so Dennis and Nick must be sure their fans aren't disappointed.

With their first-mover advantage, Zeke's has built a strong brand identity in the market. They offer several blends with special names that have loyal customers like 1812 Espresso, Tell Tale Dark, Charm City and Armistead's Blend. Brett says people may not know it, but they taste the fact that Zeke's turns over their entire roasted inventory every week. They only sell fresh coffee.

"Another one of the keys to growth," says Brett, "is our customer service. We're small enough that customers feel like we're approachable. We have great employees who go the extra mile to help customers." Brett says they are rolling out new programs this year to help their customers have an even better experience with Zeke's: mobile-ordering for consumers and "blue cart" for the restaurant industry.

Brett is excited to bring the Rwanda Ejo Heza women-grown coffee, imported by Artisan Coffee Imports, into their offerings of high quality, single origin coffees. He expects customers in all three cafes to be intrigued by its newness, and then to come back for more of its fruity, citrus with chocolate and spicy notes. The story of the women this coffee benefits is a draw also. Especially in this month where we celebrate mothers, consumers want to pay tribute to the women farmers whose lives depend on a fair deal from the high-quality coffee they sell.
Women of Ejo Heza during a picking day at their community plot.
President of Ejo Heza, Therese, with importer, Ruth Ann

Monday, April 30, 2018

Roaster of the week: Kristina Madh - Cloudland Coffee

Roaster Kristina Madh and I connected on several levels when we met at CoffeeFest Baltimore.
Serving and showing Rwandan beans.

I was amazed with her story of opening her micro-roaster company, Cloudland, in Atlanta, Georgia on pure guts, passion and inspiration! She found a space in a shared kitchen where the other entrepreneurs, bakers and other culinary folks, don't mind the aroma of roasted coffee in the air. Then she found customers at the farmers market, on the web, and elsewhere in town. Her customers are people who seek out great-tasting coffee and appreciate businesses like Cloudland, which source their coffee with care for social consciousness and positive impact for the producers who grow the coffee. "Fair trade and beyond" is one way to put it.
Kristina puts it this way on Clouldland's website: We strive to responsibly source our coffee from importers who engage with coffee farmers through programs including Fair Trade, Sustainable Farming Practices (including organic farming), the Women Coffee Producers program and more. Our coffee comes from smaller lots and is seasonal, so you will see a rotation of our coffee throughout the year.

The fact that the producers of this Rwandan coffee are the women of the Ejo Heza cooperative adds an extra "sweet note" for Kristina to this coffee's fruity, berry-like flavors. As a female roaster, she has experienced how the male-dominated coffee industry can ignore women's skills and contributions, but she has also seen how the industry as a whole is moving fast to embrace and empower female professionals in the supply chain. Kristina and I are both proud that this coffee is an example of this good direction, given the traceability to females at the farm, and at the importing, roasting and brewing stages. Way to go, Cloudland!

As Kristina serves up this aromatic coffee at the Farmer's Market in Atlanta, her customers tell her they love the cup! Many also love the story and the satisfaction that Kristina can assure them that the coffee producers received their premium payment. (Click here for a throwback post on that topic.)
Rwanda packaged - who wouldn't want to buy some heaven?!

Farmers' market display.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Roaster of the Week: Master Roaster Tom Isaia

Tom Isaia, owner and founder of wholesale roasting company, Coffee Express, is like the "village
elder" of coffee in southeast Michigan. Since 1982 he has been roasting specialty coffees and supplying cafes across the region with a wide variety of roasted coffee and excellent customer care. He's the one everyone in this corner of the state talks to when they are first thinking of starting a coffee business. You name 'em: Zingerman's, Mighty Good, Espresso Royale, Espresso Elevado, yours truly (Artisan Coffee Imports) and at least half a dozen more -- we all got some of our first learning and encouragement from Tom Isaia. 

Tom loves community. First, he has built a community with his dedicated staff at the Coffee Express roasting plant in Plymouth, MI. Genevieve, Sue, Walt, Doug and Scott are the friendly people I get to see when I visit. In addition to fostering the coffee community in southeast Michigan with his ad hoc advising, Tom was the key organizer of a Michigan Coffee Conference (the "MICoffeeCon") back around 2011 and 2012. This was a well-organized coffee conference held on University of Michigan's campus, attracting professionals from three states and Ontario.

His proudest moment as a roaster? I'm guessing Tom would tell you it was when he was part of the 1st place winning team at the  2015 Roaster's Guild Retreat in Lake Delavan, WI. I had the opportunity to be there, also, coincidentally, and I was not on the winning team. Tom will tell you how there was some great chemistry between his style of roasting and the other roasters. They were able to blend their skills perfectly to achieve the "best roast" -- and they had a lot of fun doing it. The fact that this retreat is a community-building event, also, is one reason Tom enjoyed it so much.

A further tribute to Tom's dedication to the craft is the fact that he established the first SCA-certified lab in the state. He has the Agtron reader, the moisture readers, stellar brewing equipment, and my favorite - a wall-size map of the world, but only the latitudes between Capricorn and Cancer! In this lab he is able to host a variety of SCA courses and instructor-led workshops on-site at the roastery.

So needless to say, Artisan Coffee Imports is proud to have Coffee Express as a customer. Take a glimpse of the video below where Tom is roasting up 1 pound of the Rwanda Ejo Heza on his latest toy - a Giesen W1A, 1 kg roaster.

Despite Tom's long history and success in the coffee industry, he is far from "done" with innovating and trying new things. His next venture - gelato! As in the truly Italian type! He was in Italy last year training to create an authentic product and the samples I got to taste were delicious!
RGR 2015 - Winning team!

Getting the profile just right - a team effort.

MI Coffee Con 2012

Trevor Corlett at MI Coffee Con