Monday, December 4, 2023

Forward Contracting - Easy and Profitable!

Forward booking can be a practice that lets every member of the supply chain,
including the producer, be proactive rather than reactive, thus creating resiliency that is a core value at Artisan.  
Most of Artisan's coffee is sold via fixed price, forward contracts with roasters.This means the rosater signs a contract with Artisan before the coffee has shipped. 

Advantages to the roaster include: securing good coffee and being able to plan ahead for its physical arrival and the impact of the payment on the green coffee budget. But there are some disadvantages. Making a projection about needed volume can be difficult. We've created the following Pros and Cons table. What would you add to this?

Table: PROS and CONS of Forward Contacts

The contract has quality terms that must be achieved at the pre-ship sample stage and on arrival. Price and terms for payment are also defined. We typically start signing contracts for Ethiopoia in January and go through Mardh. For Rwandan coffee, we contract February - April for coffee that arrives October - November.

Our minimum is one bag or 132LBs.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Dehab's Ultra Sustainable Farm in Kaffa, Ethiopia

I was impressed with the emphasis on sustaining community and mother

Dehab on her farm.

 that Dehab has invested in her large coffee farm in the Kaffa zone of Ethiopia. In this blog, I'll share few things, as I suspect most readers share a love of our mother earth and things that are healthy and life-giving. 

The coffee trees on Dehab's farm are growing under giant, old-growth rainforest trees in way that can only be described as magical to foreigners like us arriving from urban, agro-chemical territories. Her land is in the buffer zone of the UNESCO protected Kaffa Biosphere. Walking through the farm you feel like you're in the movie Avatar, only all the low-growth is coffee! 
Coffee growing under old growth trees.
Dehab has developed a modern honey/ bee-keeping farm which has multiple objectives: bees help the organic growth of the coffee trees. Honey is a good second income-earner for Dehab's business. She uses the honey-farm to teach bee-keeping to men and women, because she knows that the women will be allowed to do the bee-keeping business by themselves, because it is something they can do close to the home. Earning money from honey will mean that the woman has to spend less time cutting down trees to make charcoal to sell for money, which will help save the forest. Regenerative agriculture at its best, I think!

While we were walking through the farm, one of Dehab's friends, Dr. Mitzi, who

is a remarkable, well-educated, well-traveled woman with long experience with the United Nations. Dr. Mitzi is also an herbologist, and she was showing us the herbs that are growing among the groundcover plants and telling us the medicinal properties. 

Then, when the entire group (about 30-35 people) was together in the center of the farm (approximately), Dr. Mitzi had us all be still for 2 minutes of silence to listen to the earth and the sounds of the forest. For those who wanted to join, she demonstrated some yoga poses. We were silent and hear the sounds of the forest.

Pause to hear the forest.

After that, we hiked to the top of a nearby hill and Dehab pointed out an area of about 30 ha. that she does not farm so that the animals and plants are all natural there. It's like a forest reserve within the reserve. You could hear the moisture dripping, see the moss hanging from ancient branches and we happened to be there on a beautiful sunny day. Magical!

To top it off, at the end of the hiking, we enjoyed the entire Ethiopian coffee ceremony, (starting with roasting the green beans), live and close-up, while we ate lunch at the offices of the farm.

In the midst of a rainforest.

Molesh Demisse lead the coffee ceremony.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Courier Delivers Coffee and Suprises in Portland Oregon

Courier Coffee in Portland, Oregon is one of those cafes that seems to be steeped in the culture of the city where it "lives". The cafe today is downtown at 923 SW Oak Street, just steps away from the famous Powell's Bookstore. The roastery is in a separate building in another famous Portland neighborhood: SE Hawthorne St. 

The cafe is ecletic, unpretentious and "granola" and at the same time surprisingly wholesome and classy. The sign for the cafe is a hand-painted board leaning against the sidewalk window, but the french pastries are baked fresh, in the cafe, every morning from scratch by the owner. He even makes his own condensed milk!

The cafe space is shared with a Japanese ex-patriot who is an expert in a sumptuous ice treat called Kagigori, known in English as Japanese shaved ice. She has the authentic machine for transforming the condensed, sweetened milk into a beautiful dish of cream, cold sweetness drizzled with fresh fruit and hand-made fruit sauce.

Joel Domreis, Couriers founder, owner, roaster and baker, rides his bike about 4 miles every day to bring fresh milk to the store. You often see his sturdy, blue cargo bike parked right outside. 

There is a record-player playing Ethiopian jazz music for the clients as they file in throughout the morning, many of them regulars. One gentleman with many piercings has a trusty bulldog in tow. A father with 6 year-old child enjoy the baked treats.

We can't forget to mention the great coffee! Courier is one of the loyal buyers of our Agasaro, women-grown coffee from Rusizi district, Rwanda. Joel roasts it to a perfect medium-light roast. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Paying Women's Premiums - A Little Goes A Long Way

We'd like to share how Artisan’s women's premium program works in Rwanda. 

Basics of how the program operates

·        Cooperative agrees to pay $0.136/lb of the green coffee price to the women’s group. The president of the women’s group signs the green contract. We believe we may be the only importer where every contract at origin is signed by a woman representing the women’s group, (along with the signature of the president of the cooperative, who is typically male, but not always).

·        Artisan wires the women’s premium to the cooperative’s USD account separate from other coffee payments. The cooperative’s leader is required contractually to send Artisan a receipt showing the deposit to the local currency account of the women’s group.  

·        The leaders of the women’s group agree on the amount, timing and process for distribution of the cash to its members. This is approved at an assembly of all group members. If the amount is small (< $1,000) they may decide to use the funds for a community project instead of direct cash distribution to each member. Documentation of the distribution of funds is sent to Artisan and always available to roasters.

 2017 General Assembly Celebration: Click here to view the YouTube video

2018 General Assembly Celebration: Click here to view the YouTube video

Click here to read our 2018 blogpost about the day the premium is distributed.


Symbolic check given to Ejo Heza - $7,920 premium for the 2018 season.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Artisan Talent Partnership: Meet Angelique MUTUYIMANA

Sep. 2023

Jobs in rural communities which grow coffee are often for low paying field and mill labor with little opportunity for advancement - especially for women.

To support the growth of professional opportunities for women in coffee and at the same time close the talent gap observed in cooperative management teams, Artisan Coffee Imports has developed a Talent Partnership with our producing cooperatives. Now in its third cycle, Artisan is supporting Angelique MUTUYIMANA, 25 years old, who is working with the Co-operative des CafĂ©icultureurs de Gishoma (COCAGI) in Rwanda’s south. Each month, she travels 4 hours by bus (one way) from her home in Nyamagabe two times! The coopertive's location borders with DR Congo and Burundi. Before starting her internship, Angelique had never been to this region of Rwanda.

Meeting of Agasaro leaders

As part of her work to support the COCAGI’s women’s group, which is called Agasaro, Angelique is involved in all parts of the coffee growing and processing process. She is as comfortable in the greenhouse, tending young coffee plants, as she is practicing agobiado tree-bending in the field.

You’ll also find her at COGAGI’s wet mills or the cupping lab, where she participates in regular cuppings to ensure that the Agasaro green is meeting our quality standards.

“I’m learning a lot at COCAGI. It’s exciting for me to be supporting a coffee cooperative and especially the women of Agasaro,” Angelique said. “I enjoyed learning about advanced methods to improve productivity like pruning and the agobiado technique. In the lab, I enjoy roasting and cupping with the COCAGI staff and our customers.”

Angelique practicing agobiado

When Angelique finalizes her year-long internship in December 2023, she’ll have some exceptional real-world coffee experience to complement the classroom training she received back in January/February at Ikawa House. At this coffee training center in Kigali, Angelique and other students were taught by veteran, world-class cuppers Laetitia MUKANDIHIRO and Uzziel HABIMANA. They cover much more than cupping, though. Students learn production techniques of coffee, and go through processing techniques, roasting and brewing skills.

Angelique earned her bachelor's in Crop Production from the University of Technology and Arts of Byumba in 2022. (Byumba is a northern city in Rwanda). Her skills like speaking Kinyarwanda and English, as well as her experience with government agriculture extension offices and the "Green Gicumbi Project" are what helped her be selected by Artisan from a field of other candidates back in December 2022.

With Ikawa House instructors
Since March 2023, Angelique has helped with many aspects of agronomy for the cooperative. Patricie UWIZEYIMANA is the interim Executive Secretary (leading staff person) of the cooperative, but this is a new position for her. She had been the cooperative's head agromomist until December 2022. "Angelique's help is very welcome," explains UWIZEYIMANA. "With her help we are better able to support our farmer members and accomplish the many tasks of cooperative agronomists. As interim Executive Secretary I have very little time to go to the field, but I can send Angelique." 

The arrangement financially is what Artisan considers "tri-funded", meaning three parties contribute to make the internship work. Artisan funds Angelique's expenses for transportation and living while she is at the cooperative. The cooperative agrees to supervise Angelique and involve her in valuable work and this is formalized with an MOU between the cooperative and Artisan Coffee Imports. Angelique volunteers, or rather "invests" her time. 

Angelique's internship is the third one Artisan has created and sponsored. So far we've had excellent results. Intern Grace IZERWE, 2020 - 2021, worked with Kopakama Cooperative in Rutsiro district, which included some support to their women's group, Ejo Hez. Now Grace is the Kopakama chief of production and dry mill manager. 

Alice - now the Biz Intelligence
intern for Dukundekawa
Intern Alice NSHUTI, 2022 intern, worked with Dukundekawa and their women's group Rambagirakawa. She is now the Business Intelligence intern for the coopertive located in Rwanda's Gakenke district. This is an important position as it is supporting the cooperative's effort to join a tranparency data project of Root Capital.

Intern Grace IZERWE, 2020-2021 intern, worked with Kopakama cooperative and their women's group Ejo Heza. She is now Chief of Production and Dry Mill Manager for Kopakama, in other words, employed by the coop with as permanent staff.

Grace gives a tour at
Kopakama's dry mill.

"At Artisan, we believe these internships are concrete ways to support advancement of gender equity in the coffee supply chain," says Ruth Ann Church, Artisan's president, "and at the same time, we're supporting cooperatives to upgrade their management capacity. We firmly believe all management teams are better when they are more diverse. We see talented young women working hard to get through secondary school and earn a degree, and they want secure, professional jobs. Some of them, like Grace, Alice and Angelique, express a great desire to help their fellow Rwandans in rural areas and they have that strange, strong attraction to the coffee industry that many of us experience!"

Ruth with Grace at Kopakama

"When I travel to the processing centers and cooperatives in the rural areas I also see how desparately the education, communication skills and passion of these young professionals are needed. Every cooperative I've visited has a deficit of skilled, university educated workers. The Artisan internship is an attempt to match the demand for talent at cooperatives with the eager, younger generation of women who face many barriers to entry to the coffee sector."

Note: many women do work at the "lowest" levels of labor with the lowest wages and the least job security. Their work needs to be recognized and uplifted. We also have learned that these jobs are valued opportunities for these women. Many women in rural areas need day labor employment opportunities to help make ends meet. Day jobs in coffee, like sorting green coffee at the dry mill or turning coffee on the raised tables at the washing station, can support livelihoods and families in important ways. 

We hope that the contributions of women at these important day jobs will be valued, not invisible. And we believe that the advancement of women into decision-making positions in the coffee industry will help the global coffee industry address the challenges of creating more equitable supply chains.

Grace (L) met Alice (center) and Artisan colleague, Theoneste (R), in Oct. 2021
Incoming intern Angelique (L) met intern "alumna" Alice (R), Jan. 2023. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

IKAWA lands at Artisan lab!

IKAWA Lands at Artisan Lab!

Back in May we bought our first Ikawa Sample roaster and we couldn’t be happier! We’re so grateful to roaster/customer Gooseneck Coffee in Plymouth, Michigan, for staying in touch with us as they were transitioning out of this Ikawa and into a new Kafelogic sample roaster. Ikawa roasters are high grade, professional quality roasters, so being able to purchase one used seemed to have the best of both worlds to us: 1. Steep upgrade in sample roasting capacity and quality, and 2. Moderate price due to not paying for a brand-new machine. 

Added bonus - I got to know our roaster/customers Noah Salter and Bill Streicher better during the purchase and testing process! It was a great learning experience! Noah showed me how to use the profiles that can be downloaded onto the Ikawa app. We tested a few roasts while the machine was still at Gooseneck, and I saw how he moved through the sequence of adding beans, letting the machine warm up (~ 1 min), dropping the beans into the chamber and watching while the machine runs the selected profile. It’s fun to watch the intake temp and outtake temp curves rising and falling as the roast progresses. It’s impressive how you can drop a mark when first crack happens and how the machine follows the profile precisely. I also love how we can easily adjust the profile’s temp and time with small finger movements on the screen.

With Ikawa power in our lab, we are moving through our recent mountain of fresh crop arrivals at turbo speed! The capacity to roast 6+ samples per hour has vastly increased productivity in our sample lab over the 2/hour roasts we could do on our Behmore 1600. We have Marie Hucal, Logistics Manager, on our team who is also an experienced production and sample roaster. She has dialed in profiles that work great for our:

  • Rwanda Carbonic maceration

  • Rwanda Natural

  • Rwanda Fully Washed

  • Ethiopia Natural

Let us know if you have an Ikawa and you’d like us to share any of these profiles! Another advantage of the Ikawa is that we can easily send a profile to you as an email attachment.

What will happen to our Behmore? Not retirement! It’s a bit used, but we hope to bring it to Kopakaki Cooperative in Rwanda, which is building a new lab and so far, they don’t have a sample roaster. We hope our trusty Behmore can help them along until they are also able to buy an Ikawa!

Our Behmore will be donated to a new lab in Rwanda.

Noah Salter - roaster at Gooseneck Coffee, Plymouth, MI

Top view of the Ikawa roaster

Handy, hardshell Ikawa carrying case.

Master sample roaster Marie!

Finished roast.

Ikawa, ready to go.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Defining Defects: Article in Roast Magazine

The Mar/Apr. 2023 issue of Roast Magazine is now on virtual newstands everywhere! We're excited to share a summary of a feature article in this beloved industry magazine authored by Ruth Ann Church, Artisan's founder. 

Titled "Defining Defects" Ruth Ann reports on a variety of perspectives around the troubling fact that the word "defect" can mean so many different things. Q instructor Drew Billups of Drew Billups Consulting in Seattle, WA is quoted: 

“Our definitions of defects in coffee can be messy. A physical green defect doesn’t necessarily mean a taste defect, and a taste defect doesn’t necessarily mean there is a visible green defect. Ideally, we would develop an improved vocabulary, so that we can be clearer in our communication about the different types.”

Perspectives from origin are included. For example, Laetitia Mukandihiro, a cupping instructor in Kigali, Rwanda, shares that she teaches her students that the terms of a green coffee contract are the true standards they need to know.

Standards like the SCA's green coffee grading standard are sometimes the basis on which contract terms may be written, but "it's the contract that counts."

Comments from an experienced Ethiopian exporter, Heleanna Georgalis, reveal that at origin, it's often a national coffee board standard that is a reference point, not the SCA green grading standard. In Ethiopia, the national Coffee Liquering Unit has a "defect points counting system" by which coffees are graded into the famous grades 1, 2, 3 and so on.

The article highlights that there is quite a learning curve about quality and defects for coffee professionals everywhere, especially those with green coffee buying power. Paul Ahn, head roaster at Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan, shares that he has become more concious over the years of the impact he has when he evaluates each cup.  

“During each cupping where we evaluate a coffee for purchase, we have to be careful. Calling a defect is not the same as calling a fruit flavor. ‘Strawberry’ or ‘peach’ are not likely to negatively impact a farmer, but once you mark a defect, there’s a domino effect and an impact at origin. You might have no idea what that mark on the cupping form meant to them.”

Cupper at BJCU in Uganda.
Credit: D. Billups

The article shares Billups' story of coming up the learning curve during his effort to bring cupping traning to a cooperative in Uganda, Bukonzo Joint Coffee Union. Billups was the instructor helping the cooperative to better evaluate the value of their coffee. Billups found that deep experiences at origin forever shaped the way he thinks about quality and quality standards. Being close with producers at BJCU for one to two weeks at a time over a span of seven years, he gained new understanding of the level of difficulty involved in cultivating high quality coffee.

We will each travel our own path of discerning and learning about what "quality" means and what "defects" are in coffee. That path may be long -- perhaps, seven years, ten years or neverending. Hopefully, this article gives  encouragement and inspiration to everyone to keep going on that journey!

Paul Ahn cupping. Photo credit: Erik Lauchie, Carbon stories.