Stumptown’s Producer Panel

Thursday, October 8 – Leftbank Project

Stumptown had flown in several coffee growers and exporters for an open panel discussion. The panel consisted of 2 Kenyans, 3 Columbians, and 2 Costa Ricans.

There was an exporter and co-op manager from Kenya, they grew the Gaturiri which Stumptown has been selling. Due to the economic conditions there they can only afford the most traditional methods of processing coffees. The parchment is removed by fermentation; the whole processing method is fairly “natural” using little water. Due to the risk of coffee berry disease they cannot afford to produce any organic coffees. They must also be careful of their use of shade trees because an overabundance increases the risk of the disease affecting their crop. Kenya is also working its way out of a commodity market for coffee and into one which allows differentiation between farms and beans. This allows the growers to be paid more for better quality, as opposed to simply by weight.

The growers and exporter from Columbia are in a similar place as the Kenyans as in they are working towards a market which recognizes and pays for quality coffees. In Columbia they have access to more technologically advanced processing methods, using more water to more quickly remove the fruit and parchment. Because of the higher humidity in the region, and greater use of water, the protein for citric acids can more readily form. The harvest will take place while they are still receiving rains. This means their drying beds need to be covered and have increased air circulation to allow the beans to dry. In order to achieve increases in quality, Stumptown and companies like Viramax (sp?) are on a mission to educate farmers. Once they know the good verse the bad, they are able to recognize if they are being paid appropriately for their crops.

The Costa Rican exporter and grower seemed to have the best access to “high-tech” processing equipment, using only 1000 liters of water to process over 2000 kilo of beans per day. The laws there require they use no more than 1000 liters per 100 kilo, which they come nowhere near. Similar in climate to the Columbians, the terrain of Costa Rica is much more forgiving. In Columbia, because of the limited space the drying beds are stacked where in Costa Rica they are one layer. Because of the humidity though, the beans are stirred and stirred while drying to prevent any fermentation simply from the moisture in the air.

The methods used to encourage farmers to only pick the cherries in their prime or ripeness each region has their own methods. Kenya will pay differing amounts for ripe verses unripe cherries, requiring the farmers to sort the two themselves. This is a huge inconvenience for the farmers and means they are paid less, encouraging them to be more selective and only bring the perfectly ripe fruit to the mill. In Costa Rica and Columbia family run farms do help with this problem to start with, but some will pay pickers by the day as opposed to volume picked. Essentially saying “Take your time and a smaller quantity of the high quality fruit rather than a lot of the mediocre”

Other issues raised were the drought in Kenya, and Ethiopia’s conversion to a commodity market. The Kenyans don’t believe they will be hit hard by the drought, as thanks to Stumptown they have already doubled their production and expect it to double again. There was not much to say about Ethiopia except that we all must wait and see what affects it has.

One over-arching theme heard again and again from all on the panel was education. Educating everyone through the whole chain will only lead to better quality, conditions, everything. Teach the farmer how to tell that their coffee is good/bad and what to do to improve it. Teach the millers and exporters that it is worth paying up for quality as it leads to more loyalty among their growers and clients. Teach the consumer to recognize and appreciate the quality so they will be willing to pay the increased prices necessary to “pass the buck” all the way down the chain.

It will require global changes to really alter the way the industry works. Personally, I think it deserves as much respect as wine and could easily go the same direction. Who knows, within a few years people could be clamoring to go on trips through Columbia or Kenya stopping at a dozen farms and visiting their posh cupping labs. They will buy memberships for exclusive early access to beans which they will put in their living-room “coffee coolers.” There is a lot of potential here; people just need to realize it.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.