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!