Source Trips

Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-PLACE: GEDEO DISTRICT OF ETHIOPIA
COFFEE: ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFE CHELBESSA

There are very few places in the world that have struck us like the road to Chelbessa.

As coffee buyers and tasters, Ethiopia Chelbessa is a mecca for us. It’s a washing station in the middle of the lush jungle, and it takes four days to get there, but it’s always well worth the journey.

More than almost anywhere else, the taste of Ethiopian coffee is related to where it comes from – the heirloom varieties specific to the region here date back centuries if not millennia, and taste like nothing else. This is the birthplace of coffee, after all.Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized-7Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized-11

Yirgacheffe is a town and a type of coffee. It comes from the Gedeo zone. Once you cross into Gedeo, the landscape becomes lush. It feels mystical – the air is thick with the smell of eucalyptus and people roasting coffee and burning frankincense in a daily coffee ritual, that shows how much coffee is deeply ingrained in the culture here. The closest town is called Worka, which means “golden” in the Gedeo dialect, and this coffee is most-deserving of such a signifier.

To get to Chelbessa, we travel along the bumpy, partially-paved, potholed road (and yes, there is only one road) the air heavy with copper red dust. Along the way, we always stay at the Aregesh Lodge, and from there it takes us about 6 hours to go 60 miles.Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized

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People are milling about everywhere, walking alongside the road. We stop often for cattle or goat crossing. We bump, and careen and swerve, we get flat tires. The locals always come out to help when this happens, or in one case, invite us to join in a game of pick-up soccer.

When you arrive at the gates of Chelbessa, which sits in a bowl-shaped valley, surrounded by lush coffee farms and jungle, there’s always a feeling of stumbling upon something secret. It feels like you’ve gone way back or way forward in time. Like people have been living this exact way for hundreds of years.

There’s always a coffee ceremony when we arrive, adding to the frankincense smell in the air, which they burn during the ceremony. The coffee is roasted on the spot, ground in a mortar and pestle, then boiled in water, poured back and forth to settle the grounds, and served strong in a small ceramic cup. (We’ve learned the hard way not to drink it after 3pm to avoid psychedelic dreams.)Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized-9Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized-10Blog-Source-Ethiopia-Chelbessa-Resized-8

Every house in this region is unique: the inhabitants paint the shutters and doors with singular bright and geometric patterns, speaking to the expressive nature of the people that live here. There is a bright spirit among them. And it seems that like the terroir, the ancient heirloom varieties, and the careful processing, that this, too, shines through in the cup.

SHOP ETHIOPIA YIRGACHEFFE CHELBESSA >>>

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Late night coffee just got a serious upgrade.

We’re very pleased to present our all-new Trapper Creek Decaf. Thanks to new updates to the decaffeination process at Swiss Water Process, we are now able to get unparalleled flavor and cup quality in this decaf coffee.SWP-25

We recently visited Swiss Water Process, a chemical-free decaffeination facility in Vancouver, Canada to check out their processing facility. SWP has undergone huge quality improvements recently and our new Trapper Creek Decaf maintains flavor and origin characteristics in a way we’ve never been able to before. The main changes involve gentler processing, lower temperatures and a more rigorous quality analysis process after the coffee has been decaffeinated.SWP-11-blogSWP-22-blog

These new developments allow the integrity of the coffee to shine through. This involved decaffeination process was patented in Switzerland and essentially uses water and a decaffeinated Green Coffee Extract poured over green coffee beans until caffeine is transferred over and out of the coffee through osmosis.

The folks at Swiss Water Process have similar Quality Analysis labs to ours that ensure that the quality of the coffee is maintained throughout the decaffeination process. This is hands-down the best decaf we’ve ever tasted and we’re very excited to share it with you.

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SHOP TRAPPER CREEK DECAF HERE >>> 

 

IMG_9090-blogThe Borderlands project is one of the most groundbreaking Direct Trade projects we’ve been a part of at Stumptown. What started as a way make the coffee trade more profitable and more sustainable for smallholder growers in Nariño, Colombia has since strengthened local economies and galvanized entire communities.

Adam McClellan of our Green Coffee Sourcing Team was invited to be a part of the Borderlands Advisory Council in 2013, which is a group of folks from the specialty coffee market invited to develop a buying strategy that initiates a long term commercial relationship with the growers there. Nariño is one of the most geographically remote, yet interesting and physically stunning landscapes producing coffee in all of the Americas.

Adam sat down to talk to the Borderlands project director Michael Sheridan from his home base in Quito, Ecuador to give us some insight and updates on the project.IMG_9084-blog

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be working with coffee farmers.

Like most other people working in coffee, I fell into it by dumb luck.  I earned an undergraduate degree in International Politics, and went back for a Master’s in International Development, and I have been living in Latin American on and off for nearly 20 years, but I don’t think any of that particularly qualifies me to lead coffee projects.  

On the other hand, I feel like everything I have ever done has helped prepare me for this work. The point where it all started to come together was when I volunteered in the coffeelands of Nicaragua after college. I knew then that I wanted to work in international development and gradually worked my way into a job with CRS [Catholic Relief Services, the organization who heads up the Borderlands project.] In 2004, I led the creation of our Fair Trade Coffee Project in our headquarters, and I have been working on coffee ever since.   IMG_9034-blogIMG_3443-blog

Who started the Borderlands project and what are the project’s main objectives? How does it work?

We developed the Borderlands concept together with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a key partner in our work in the coffeelands around the world. The main idea was to find ways to make the coffee trade more profitable and more sustainable for smallholder growers in Nariño, Colombia. We didn’t know exactly how we could do that until we got our boots dirty in the field and started to understand the region’s coffee sector better.

Now it is very clear: help growers effectively separate their coffees for different segments of the market and help them connect with buyers in each of those segments. When we started working in Nariño, some of the growers in the project were producing coffees scoring 87, 88, 89 points. But the value they were creating with their commitment to quality evaporated the moment they sold it in the plaza to be bulked.

Growers failed to capture the value they created: quality-obsessed roasters lost out on sourcing opportunities, and consumers never got to taste these amazing coffees. This project is trying to change that.IMG_9029-blogIMG_9023-blog

In its third year of the project, what types of responses are you seeing from farmers at this stage?

Sheer excitement. I can’t begin to convey the degree to which this project is generating excitement in Nariño. The growers have been unbelievably motivated by the contact with Stumptown and other members of the Advisory Council and the new opportunities they are seeing in the marketplace, but they’re not the only ones. The Governor of Nariño has gotten personally involved in the project. Mayors have donated land for washing stations.  Non-profits have contributed their time and insights.

The University of Nariño has created a degree program in specialty coffee for the children of coffee growers. Students from local universities have been showing up to do free internships. It is really gratifying to be associated with something that has been so embraced by so many different local actors.IMG_3483-blog

Why did you decide to begin working in Nariño and take on the Borderlands project? What about the region was inspiring regarding specialty coffee opportunities?

Nariño stands out in a few ways.

Nariño’s coffee has extraordinary potential, of course. The conditions for coffee production in Nariño are just about perfect, and there is plenty of room for expanding coffee production if growers can make coffee more profitable. But growers haven’t been able to cash in on the region’s potential as effectively as they might because they have lacked access to some important segments of the market, including markets for quality-differentiated and certified coffees.

We did an intensive baseline study when we started the project that generated some pretty remarkable findings. Only 4 percent of growers reported ever having earned premiums for quality. Only 2 percent had ever marketed their coffee collectively. And only 2 percent of the region’s coffee goes into Stumptown’s segment of the market. I have never worked before in a region with so much potential and so much room for improvement.

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How are roasters like Stumptown engaging in the project and its advisory council?

Um…awesomely?

The Advisory Council has been, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of the project. It creates a platform for ongoing communications between roasters, exporters, project staff, partners and growers so we can align our vision and our actions for the benefit of everyone. That is the essence of our value chain approach.

What I like most about the Advisory Council is that Stumptown, Counter Culture and Intelligentsia compete in the marketplace but everyone collaborates in this space. Why? Because if the project succeeds, everyone wins.  

Growers have higher incomes, stable organizations and more options in the marketplace. Roasters have access to traceable, differentiated lots from an exceptional origin.

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What other social benefits are the most impactful in the coffee communities as a result of the Borderlands project work?

For eight years running, Nariño has been the leading coca producing department in the leading coca producing country in the world. The areas where Stumptown’s coffees were grown are coca producing communities. And where there is coca, there is violence. That creates a challenging operating environment in some of the communities where we are working, but it also means that if we can make coffee farming profitable for these families we may be able to help them avoid the temptation of the coca trade.

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What can we look forward to with the Borderlands project? 

Over each of the past two harvests, we have helped make commercial connections between growers in Nariño and four members of the Advisory Council, including Stumptown. This year will be the third harvest for the project, and we are planning to continue to grow the volumes and increase the quality.  

But the really important stuff comes in 2016, when the washing stations we are building start operations. Building them is easy, of course. Building farmer-owned enterprises strong enough to manage them after the project ends is harder. These businesses are central to what we hope to achieve with the project — the thing that has me most excited and the thing that keeps me up at night.

We have enlisted the help of the experts at Root Capital who know a thing or two about how to run coffee enterprises. We have found support for our vision from some unlikely investors: we just got funding from the Government of Nariño to help make these businesses hum. And we are talking with other investors about potentially expanding this approach.IMG_3395-blog

Talk a little about costs of production and what it takes to get to the level of quality the high end specialty market demands?  How are smallholder farmers able to make it work?

Well, I don’t think it’s entirely clear that smallholder farmers are making it work. The economics of smallholder coffee farming are tenuous at best. The Colombian Coffee Commission just released a report recommending reforms to the coffee sector that included some good analysis. It said coffee gives smallholder growers  “enough income to survive, although not to overcome poverty.” That is a depressing observation, but in our experience it is often true.

We are working with researchers at CIAT (the International Center for Tropical Agriculture) to study costs of production in Nariño and get a better grasp on smallholder profitability. The preliminary results suggest that given the low yields in the region, the only segment of the market that is currently profitable is the high-end specialty segment. My colleague Mark Lundy will be presenting these results during The SCAA Event later this week during a panel on costs of production.

This year, we are offering a micro-lot from Piedra Blanca in Samaniego, led by producer  Nelcy Villota’s fantastic quality. Can you talk a little about her leadership in that community and some of the dynamics and challenges in Samaniego?

Nelcy is a force of nature. The first time I met her, I was struck by how passionately she talked about her farm and her coffee, and how desperate she was to learn. She was getting technical assistance from the project, but was practically begging for more—for any kinds of resources that could help her improve her yields or her quality. She is a leader in her coffee association—she runs a roasting project—and in her community, where she leads a community savings group. She sets a powerful example for others.

Samaniego is complicated. Coca, guerrillas, illegal armed actors. There are some pretty significant challenges there, but they haven’t stopped Nelcy and her neighbors from organizing. This year they will market their coffee collectively for the third straight year. Before the project started, they had never sold coffee collectively.

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Also, I couldn’t be more stoked to have been able to select, purchase, and share the incredible Yellow Maragogype coffee from producer Corona Zambrano. You posted a blog about this curious case. Seeing as how it has now come full circle and we are offering this tiny micro-lot coffee in our Seattle cafes right now, what are you most excited about it?

This is an amazing story and I am so delighted that this particular chapter had a happy ending. If you will recall, Corona was going to tear out her Maragogype and replace it with Castillo when we took you to visit her farm. You helped save that coffee when you offered her a premium to separate it, and you created incentives for Corona and her neighbors to pursue this opportunity further.  

We have helped Corona select Maragogype seed from her farm and students in the local public school are propagating it. Soon Corona will renovate her Maragogype grove, and her neighbors will begin planting it on their farms. With any luck, this tiny lot you are releasing today will blossom into something much bigger—a community-level Yellow Maragogype lot to start, but perhaps more.  A community-wide commitment to quality. A process for continuous innovation.  And an entrepreneurial brand of coffee farming that reads the signals the market is sending.

Thank you Michael! Learn more about the Colombia Nariño Borderlands coffee HERE.

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Bolivia Buenavista is our featured coffee this month. Completely unique compared to other South American profiles, it is elegant and distinguished and worthy of a close taste. It’s elusive, yet rewarding, and as comforting as the day is long.

Andrew and Steve from our Coffee Sourcing & Roasting team recently visited some of our producer partners in Caranavi and came home with some incredible coffee, bundles of coffee flower tea to share and some interesting takeaways.

Caranavi, Bolivia
Late August 2014

To get to Buenavista in Caranavi, Bolivia, you take a 9-hour flight to Peru from Los Angeles, get up at dawn the following day and hop another 2-hour flight from Lima, Peru to El Alto, Bolivia, flying over Lake Titicaca, the largest lake in South America.  El Alto lies just above the very dense city of La Paz. The climate is cool and humid to semi-arid; just right for growing potatoes, which are a staple crop here.

By the time you land in El Alto, you might be struck with altitude sickness–you are 13,325 feet above sea level, after all. It’s basically like being dropped out of plane on top of a mountain. Couple that with the quick transition to speaking Spanish, and navigating work visa logistics can be tricky.Source_Bolivia_Aug14_SK-1Source_Bolivia_Aug14_SK-12Source_Bolivia_Aug14_SK-4

After arriving in El Alto, we met Pedro Rodriguez and his daughter Daniela, who along with his son, operate five coffee farms and the Buenavista wet mill in Caranavi. They also own and run Agricafe and Agrinuts, exporting coffee and peanuts.

After our hellos, we began the long, treacherous drive down to Caranavi, which is the main source for coffee production in Bolivia. To get there you must drive a formidable road, wide enough for only one car to pass at a time.

It took us five hours to go about 100 miles.

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The Altiplano looks harsh and barren. As you descend slowly the landscape begins to change. It starts with small ferns, which gives way to larger ferns and azalea-look-alikes growing out from the rocky walls. When you start to get closer to the Yungas valley, the vegetation bursts into lush greenery.

It was dark by the time we reached the Buenavista Mill in Caranavi. We sat down for a classic Bolivian dinner with Pedro and his family, which was a spicy chicken dish called Sajta y pollo con aji and chuno. Chuno is a dried potato from the Altiplano, with a rich earthy flavor.

We stayed in rooms in the “villa” behind the mill. As we drifted off, we could hear the sound of the slow, cyclical churning of the drying coffee in the drum dryers called gaurdiolas.

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We woke up to a beautiful breakfast spread of crepes with caramel and scrambled eggs with cheese and went straight to work.

Pedro runs a tight team. He told us we’d start at 9am, and he was ready. We cupped through three tables of coffee that day.

The cupping lab is perched above the valley looking over Caranavi – a beautiful place to spend the day tasting coffees. After each cupping, we’d break, eat some fruit, adjourn to a separate room and we’d all view our scores and notes on a screen.

There was a constant bustle of taxis bringing cherry to the mill – the farmers hire taxis to deliver the cherry. Pedro pays for the taxis, and the farmer usually stays, has a cup of coffee and watches his lot being cleaned.

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Pedro has created a mini-school here, where farmers can cup, learn about best practices, enjoy lunch, and even brew coffee, all within the mill.

The next day, we arrived at Pedro’s farm, and he showed us his unconventional method of growing coffee. The forest has been mostly cleared except for some tall canopy of shade, which is counter to the tangles of wild growth in the jungle that we usually see.

Despite our surprise at his approach, what he was doing was working.

We saw some Caturra varieties planted 7 months ago at a year old, that were already producing flower. Usually it takes two to three years.  The flowers of the Caturra plants smell (and taste) like jasmine and the sweet smell hung heavy in the air around us.

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We sipped cups of French Press coffee from the farm in the chilly, misty morning, which is the way most of the coffee was brewed while we were there.

Pedro and Daniela laid out coffee cherry for us to taste. It was an unusual treat for us to taste each of the different varieties produced at Buenavista separated out.

The SL28 was sweet but simple and pulpy. The Bourbon cherry was less complex with a candied sweetness, while the Yellow Caturra was floral. The Java variety and the Caturra were our favorites: the Java was juicy and very tropical and the Caturra intensely sweet and complex.

The Bolivian Buenavista now on our menu is made up of Caturra, Typica and Catuai varieties. The profile that we are getting from this season is incredibly delicate and nuanced. It is not a heavy coffee. It is elegant, with lots of champagne grape, lime, cocoa nibs, clove, honey and a buttery mouthfeel. The sweetness is like a sprinkling of white cane sugar.

Sourcing great coffee from this region is getting harder and harder because of competition with Coca, which is easier to pick and often more profitable. Change in climate is proving to be problematic, too – rainfall patterns are changing, which is complicating harvest and delaying coffee shipments.

We’ve also seen poor infrastructure and training, with most producers relying on old trees and a prevalence of Roya (coffee rust) destroying established coffee trees.

Pedro and his team at the Buenavista mill are helping us to remain hopeful, though, with impeccable processing and extensive education.

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“If you love coffee, you have to watch this film. If you want to understand what makes coffee freaks so passionate about their brew, you have to watch this film. If you want to understand the global coffee economy, watch this film.” -Boston Globe Review, A Film About Coffee

 

Get 30% off the film with the code : STUMPTOWN.

Our Rwanda Huye Mountain coffee has just landed back on our menu this week, coinciding with the On Demand release of a beautiful film we’re very proud to be featured in called, coincidentally, A Film About Coffee. The film is an informative deep dive and a love letter to our favorite thing. Director Brandon Loper traveled the globe offering a peek behind the curtain of the specialty coffee industry, revealing how and why we go so very far and wide to source, process, roast, brew and drink it.AFAC_6AFAC_12AFAC_5AFAC_13

The specifics of the global coffee economy and the complexities of how we source coffee are often difficult to explain on the back of a bag card or in a source post. But here Loper and his team get it right: The filmmakers caught up with our green team traveling in Rwanda and filmed the coffee harvest and the Huye Mountain washing station, where coffee is grown in the surrounding mountain highlands.AFAC_7AFAC_4

The Huye Mountain company works towards economic, social and environmental sustainability, and with help from Stumptown premiums, they also reinvest in the community through social payments. A Film About Coffee shows the effect of one such payment – a water station which provides fresh water to the community and a flush supply of for washing coffee, too. Before this station was built, folks in the community had to walk two kilometers to collect fresh drinking water. This year’s social payment was a food security payment through a distribution of cows.AFAC_8AFAC_3

The film successfully and thoughtfully captures how many hands and hours of work go into that pristine bean before it ever even reaches the roastery, let alone your Americano.

If you love coffee, watch this movie.

Watch it here. For more information on Rwanda Huye Mountain, click here.

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We have big love for Guatemala Finca El Injerto – perhaps made obvious by the fact that we have been partners with this six-time Cup of Excellence winning farm for 11 years. (The Cup of Excellence is a competition which brings top quality coffee and producers to the forefront of the global coffee community, and this farm is the cream of the crop.)

Finca El Injerto is tucked away in Huehuetenango at the top of the mountain in a deep, lush canyon looking out over Chiapas in the distance. It represents best in practice and is an incredible business model for “vertical integration” in coffee; in other words, they control everything, and they do it to the highest of standards. It’s also worth noting, that they opened a successful roastery and cafe in Guatemala City called El Injerto Cafe Coffeeshop that has produced a national barista champion.injerto-(8)pacamara-9

The Pacamara variety entered the broader coffee scene with fanfare in 2008 when Injerto placed 1st at Cup of Excellence with a mind boggling cupping score of 93.68, and a record auction price of $80.20/LB green. Of the last 9 COE auctions, Injerto placed 1st six times.

Three years ago, a hail storm swept through Huehuetenango and devastated half of the Aguirre’s Pacamara plants. These plants can take years to recover from such a thing. That year, Stumptown increased the price per pound we pay to Injerto to help compensate for the storm damage. Happily, this year, their production finally reached full volume.pacamara-4injerto-(1)

After three long years, we celebrate the return of Injerto’s Pacamara to our menu. This year, the Aguirre family sold this lot of Pacamara directly to Stumptown, rather than auctioning it all off on their private auction and we’re honored to serve it again.

Pacamara, a hybrid seed variety of the Pacas and Maragogype seed strains, retains the large size of Maragogype and presents an intricate, lush cup. Flavor wise, the Pacamara consistently displays intricate, transparent and nuanced flavors spanning from sweet to savory.

Guatemala Finca El Injerto Pacamara’s intensity of flavor, complexity and acidity would balance well with the rich and diverse flavors on a holiday table. It offers enough weight and body to act as a counterpoint to sweetness. And it tastes great with savory dishes, too. We hope you’ll enjoy this variety as much as we do.  Learn more about Guatemala Finca El Injerto Pacamara here.injerto