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Source Trips

fb_mixteca (1)Summer 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico
Adam McClellan, Coffee Buyer

I’m used to being awakened by cranky roosters and dogs barking at the crack of dawn when visiting the small coffee communities across rural Latin America. There was nothing unusual about those sounds on this particular crisp morning, but the peculiar noise that rustled me awake this time was different. Once I came to I could make out a muffled, echoing human voice projecting on a loud, crackling P.A. system – the morning news and announcements for the town. The news was mostly communicated in the local indigenous Mixteca dialect, but there was enough Spanish mixed in on one featured point that I could make out some of that message. The voice was announcing a reminder to the village: “Our coffee buyer is in town today, and he wants to meet with all of the local coffee farmers at 11 AM in the town square community center.” I distinctly remember thinking nervously, oh man, this could get interesting. This sure was shaping up to be an exciting day in the remote mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico.

After driving six hours or so over hot, dusty roads from Oaxaca city, we had arrived in the darkening evening just after sunset. It’s always fun to arrive to a place you’ve never seen in the evening. The excitement builds as the light of day reveals a new landscape. I rolled out of bed while the rest of the quiet, clean, organized town was still slowly waking up to their morning routines, and walked out to see an incredible sunrise and stunning view from the town which is high enough to look out over the rugged, morning mist-shrouded Sierra Madre Mountains, all the way to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.mixtera (8)pacamaramixtera (10)

I started the day with a hearty breakfast of fresh steak, eggs, tortillas, and salsa with tomatoes from Cecilio’s garden. Then spent the morning visiting several inspiring farms with thriving, pure, heirloom Bourbon and Typica plants. I walked to the farmer meeting which started right after the local youth brass band rehearsal finished. I wanted to bring a clear message to the assembled farmers: let’s start something special here together with Stumptown and La Sierra Mixteca, a newly formed small group of 100 or so focused hard-working small holder farmers eager to access a new market that rewards quality with top price premiums.

Still buzzing from the community discussion, we walked out of town to spend the afternoon under the hot sun checking out plant nurseries, worm composting stations, and more farms. We finally sat in the shade outside the breezy storage warehouse and polished off a few crates of Corona while sharing stories with several farmers. Sometimes it just all clicks, right place, right time.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited to present the fruits (well seeds, actually) of this pilot project in its first year. This soft, mild, pleasantly citric coffee with lingering chocolate sweetness, is best served at dawn.

Get more information on Mexico La Sierra Mixteca here.

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Colombia Nariño Borderlands – A Closer Look

We casually talk about Direct Trade on a regular basis, probably since it embodies just about everything we do here at Stumptown Coffee Roasters. The one question folks ask that we’ve never really addressed is how does Direct Trade begin? Like so many things, the answer can be a bit complex since each country has nuances that affect the way we purchase coffee and each farm or washing station has unique goals, needs and challenges. And yet, each relationship rests on a few basic tenets: improving coffee quality, incentive based rewards to the farmer and transparency of the supply chain.

We’ve just embarked on a journey that marks what we hope are the first few steps for a long-lasting Direct Trade relationship and we want to share the experience. We’d like to introduce Colombia Nariño Borderlands. This is a cool opportunity to hop in and examine the relationship at the inception.borderlands-(2)

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This year’s harvest is the first from the Nariño Borderlands Coffee Project, started by Catholic Relief Services. The project began in 2013 as a way to empower local farmers, encourage quality coffee cultivation and improve livelihoods in the Nariño Department based on new relationships built upon mutual commitment to quality. CRS plans to research the impact of Direct Trade on a farming community with empirical data collected over a period of years.borderlands-(3)borderlands-(5)

CRS invited six leading US roasters and importers to work with the project. The project has begun by providing the opportunity for buyers to pay premiums for high quality coffee. The price incentives will encourage community members to take the risk to focus on quality. The participating farmers will regularly complete extensive surveys on everything from schooling and occupation of family members, to healthcare access, diet and non-coffee crops cultivated – not to mention the very detailed questions about coffee cultivation. The project seeks hard numbers on the impact of Direct Trade and price premiums on the livelihood of farmers and the surrounding community.

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The Nariño Borderlands project began by helping to establish a new farmer organization. In the next stage, the project will build the first farmer-managed washing station in Nariño. Over the next two years, they plan to install a second centralized washing station which will purchase and process cherry.

Historically, coffee from this area was sold as a bulked lot at a baseline price, which prevented any traceability to individual farmers or incentives for quality. This year, some of the more established farms in the area received premiums to begin establishing the correlation between quality and incentives. Next year, when the first washing station is built, we hope to see more participants in the wet mills. Cupping at the washing stations will encourage a greater understanding of cup quality. The project employs agronomists and technicians who will assist with education and other support in the field. They will design the washing stations and select the best spots to build them.borderlands-(7)

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Currently, farmers deliver parchment for payment. Payment for cherry is inevitably cheaper than for parchment since the cherry still needs to be processed. One of the challenges of this project will be to communicate how much time, energy and resources the farmers will save by delivering cherry for sale, rather than processing the coffee themselves. They will then be able to invest their extra time, energy and resources into cultivating high quality coffee on their farms.

Like the beginning of any relationship, this is an exciting time. We all get to know each other. We know they have the materials and passion to grow and process great coffee. They know we have years of experience working with farmers and the determination and incentive to build a lasting relationship along with the ability to pay more for great coffee. We look forward to the outcome of this exciting project.

 

fieldnotes1 Adam-Ethiopia_5193 Adam-Ethiopia_6295 Adam-Ethiopia_5238 Adam-Ethiopia_5324Adam-Ethiopia_5223Adam-Ethiopia_5338 Adam-Ethiopia_5352 Adam-Ethiopia_5471 Adam-Ethiopia_5795Adam-Ethiopia_5628Adam-Ethiopia_5880 Adam-Ethiopia_5995 Adam-Ethiopia_6093 Adam-Ethiopia_6125 Adam-Ethiopia_6275 He says this:

Ethiopia is a land of many contrasts: magical, mystical, heartwarming, heartbreaking, fertile, dry, lush, ancient, modern, fascinating, frustrating, tragic and triumphant.  One of the coolest things about it is that coffee is part of the lifeblood here, intertwined as ritual in the daily life of everyone. Driving through the towns you smell coffee being roasted everywhere.  When you arrive to a new farm or community washing station, you are greeted with a cup of freshly roasted and brewed coffee. I cupped some early harvest lots the day I left and there were some serious stunners. In short, we are really stoked for our Ethiopia offerings once again this year.  

 

Over the past month and a half, I have spent over four weeks traveling in South America checking in on the harvest there with our producing partners, and am currently on the road again for another stretch. Much of the recent travel has been focused on Colombia and I’m truly excited about what Stumptown is working on there to bring to you this year, so I wanted to share some of the best images and prime moments from some of those visits.blog-pic-01These are the hillsides of the Tolima region, near Planadas where our El Jordan coffee comes from. I’m always so amazed how steep the slopes are where coffee grows in Colombia.

blog-pic-02 Motorcycles are the primary mode of transportation around town and out to the farms. This area of Tolima is one of the most remote, isolated producing areas in the country, previously known more for the guerilla activity and conflict. Quality coffee is helping to change that.

blog-pic-04The small scale farmers here in Planadas are increasingly investing more in quality and organizing together to share ideas and knowledge.

blog-pic-06blog-pic-08High prices are really going a long way here, farmers are able to invest in more land and expanding infrastructure on the farm–though the the roads and other basic services are lacking and far behind other parts of Colombia, making moving the coffee out a huge challenge.blog-pic-09 blog-pic-10Looking out at workers picking coffee, the sound of ripe cherries hitting the buckets echoed up the valley.

blog-pic-11Controlled, meticulous drying systems are fundamental for quality here in Tolima. Changing climate patterns are bringing rain all year, so farmers must adjust and adapt, but stay focused on quality to maintain a viable business.

blog-pic-12An example of the reality of producing coffee in Colombia: on one single branch of the same plant you can see ripe cherry, green unripe cherry, and flowering that will soon become cherry.

blog-pic-50This is what we mean when we say “manual depulping” equipment. It’s very traditional, and is capable of helping to produce some of the world’s best coffee.blog-pic-15Farmers in and around Planadas are on average much younger than in other areas of the coffee producing world.

blog-pic-17 blog-pic-18 I’ll never get tired of these incredible views and landscapes in Colombia.

blog-pic-22 blog-pic-23Tasting the local fruits with producers of our La Piramide coffee.

blog-pic-25A coffee tree trunk sprouting new life.blog-pic-29Covered, ventilated drying at San Isidro.blog-pic-30The one and only Isaias Cantillo, model coffee farmer, Finca La Esperanza, Suaza, Huila.blog-pic-32Isaias is a dedicated, hard working, farmer totally committed to proudly producing outstanding quality coffee, a great model for small scale farmers around the world.blog-pic-36The Cantillo brothers and their proud papa. The fourth generation of farmers in this great family is coming up and excited about a positive future producing coffee thanks to their model for sustainable production and focus on quality.blog-pic-37Brothers Cantillo and the mother shrub.blog-pic-38The appropriately named Cantillo variety, a genetic mutation they came across on their farms almost 20 years ago and decided to keep propagating.blog-pic-39Looking out over the valleys below from La Esperanza with the Nevado de Huila looming in the distance.blog-pic-41If it rained after you went down the hill, it might be a little sticky getting back up.  blog-pic-42A coffee farmer in Loja, Ecuador tending the seedlings with his daughters.blog-pic-46Magic moments in the Andes. Quillabamba, Ecuador.

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Bringing down the day’s cherry harvest, Vilcabamba, Ecuador.

rwanda-(1)Part I

The swing through East Africa to visit Rwanda and Burundi in May was especially rewarding. My first visit to Rwanda was in 2005, to help cup the beginnings of what was then the PEARL Project, along with seven other buyers from around the United States. The year 2005 was a turning point for Specialty Coffee in Rwanda. Eventually, PEARL turned into SPREAD with new funding and Rwanda’s coffee quality grew by leaps and bounds. To be able to witness the progress that has been made in the last eight years is mind-boggling.rwandaKigali Arrival Day 1: Sunday, May 19th

I arrived after 20+ hours of flight, passing through Houston, Amsterdam and Istanbul before I finally arrived in Kigali close to midnight. Matt Smith, Managing Director for Rwanda Trading Company, met me at baggage claim and we decided to head back to his place prior to the arrival of another group that would be filming our week at Huye. We squeezed in a single malt drink and a quick catch up on how the season was shaping up. We took a jaunt back to the airport a little later to pick up the film team and then got them into their hotel. We then headed back so I could get some much needed sleep and shake off the impending jet lag.rwanda-(2)Kigali to Huye Mountain Day 2: Monday, May 20th

Around 11am Matt and I headed back to the hotel to pick up Brandon, Dalia and David from Avocados and Coconuts, a Bay Area film group doing a documentary film on coffee (#afilmaboutcoffee). Brandon Loper, the Director of the film, is traveling with his team Dalia Burde, the Producer, and David Bourke, the lead grip and cameraman. Jean Bosco Safari (our man in Butare and former coffee roaster for Stumptown in Portland), David Rubanzangabo (owner of Huye Mountain Coffee washing station) and the rest of us caravanned on the 2.5 hour drive to Huye. The week would be filled with early wake up calls for proper light and long days that extend into the night watching coffee come into the washing station for processing. Coffee processing at the peak of harvest is a 24 hour operation. Being this close to the equator means exactly 12 hours of daylight, so you have to get the most out of the day.rwanda-(3)The road is a maze of rolling mountains coated an opaque green and filled with sorghum, corn, tea, pyrethrum, coffee and chili peppers which dot the lush hillsides. Small villages arise and disappear throughout the drive until we finally arrive on the outskirts of Butare to meet the Mayor of the town. We were a bit late, so we actually met with the Vice Mayor and proceeded to head to the station where there was to be a ribbon cutting ceremony for a water project funded by David, Rwanda Trading and Stumptown. On the way, David explained to the film crew why he chose to build this water station and how, essentially, it helped serve two distinct needs.rwanda-(5)rwanda-(6)Prior to the opening of the water station, individuals in the community had to walk almost 2 kilometers to get fresh drinking water; this new station would help make day-to-day life a lot easier. Also, David experienced difficulty in supplying enough water for his demucilaging machine, fermentation tanks and the rinsing required to achieve super clean parchment. Last year, it hampered his overall output for the season. By bringing the water down through an irrigation system he put in place, Huye now provides drinking water to hundreds of people in the nearby village. Stumptown is super proud to help fund this through our Direct Trade premium to Huye. The water station cost ten thousand dollars. Huye also installed a new generator to help keep the station going during the harvest since electricity in the area is unreliable and sporadic.

The Vice Mayor gave a speech to the community thanking Stumptown while Rwanda Trading Co. were honored for their commitment to Huye. Other projects David has supported in the past were also highlighted: goats and cows given as a premium for growers who deliver cherry to David’s station. This is an incredibly impactful way to support the community since coffee is the primary cash crop. It provides an increased degree of food security which is vital in a such rural location where most folks just consume what they farm.rwanda-(7)Huye, Gako Plantation and Nyirankoko Peak Day 3: Tuesday, May 21st

We devoted a full day to the technical details: mulching, pruning, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting. The Gako plantation, where David planted 7,000 Mbizi Bourbon (Jackson) trees, sits on the southern side of the valley from the washing station. His mulching program uses eucalyptus, corn, and rice stalks along with manure. He layers the mixture around each coffee plant which helps preserve moisture while also feeding each plant. Huye maintains an impressive pruning program where each section is rotated with selective pruning and stumping to ensure proper farm health.rwanda-(10)

After the technical presentations we began our climb to the top of Nyirankoko Peak, the alleged secret meeting place of King Nyanza during the 1820′s. It felt as though a lot of history went down on this craggy old rock way before then. We saw down to Burundi’s southern border, only an hour away by car. We also had a stunning view of Huye Mountain rising above David’s washing station at well over 2300 meters. The film crew interviewed David at the top for about an hour about his farm, the community, and his history with Stumptown. David began working in coffee in 1998 and had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to learn about farming and setting up cupping labs. While we meandered around the peak a group of young boys followed our every move and we briefly spoke in broken French. I took endless photos of them so they could look in my viewfinder and see themselves.rwanda-(8)rwanda-(9)After a quick lunch of goat brochettes, it was time to return to the action at the station and all the drying beds. We put together a cupping session with Huye’s head cupper/quality control, Rachel Rubanzangabo. Though still early in the year, the overall cup quality this year seems quite good. We feel as though this will be a year to remember as these coffees begin their journey from Africa near the end of the summer. Night fell quicker than usual and we found ourselves scurrying around with headlamps to see the pulper in action right after the pre-soaking of the cherry in a large tank at the top of the station. Yet another sign of quality processing.

rwanda-(11)Huye Mountain, Sovu subregion Day 4: Wednesday, May 22nd

After some initial meetings at the office beside the washing station, we drove a couple of miles into a rural village to meet Vestine Mukeshimana, the mother of four children and a coffee farmer who delivers her coffee cherry to Huye. Her parents gave her their land to farm and now Vestine is the leader of a women’s association of coffee farmers. Vestine explained that the women meet regularly to discuss ways to save their earnings so that they can afford to pay their children’s school fees, purchase health insurance for their whole family and have money in case of an emergency. The women also meet to exchange ideas on better farming of their beans, coffee and corn. She proudly showed me her four cows and informed us that since she has been delivering to David, she has been able to buy a new calf.

rwanda-(13)rwanda-(14)We drove another couple of miles to the base of Huye Mountain itself where we met with over 20 members. Formerly, these growers delivered to other stations in the area, but over the past two years they decided to deliver to Huye instead. Many factors contributed to this decision, but mainly members said that Huye gives them more mobility by training them on better farming practices and handing out new nursery stock. Huye also hired extension managers who help get cherry from harder to reach areas. Higher prices and closer technical assistance has been proven to pay off. In 2012, the majority of the best lots from Huye were received from this subregion. At the end of the meeting overlooking the mountain, Brandon’s team asked each farmer to be filmed up close and to state his or her name on camera. Showing up in a rural setting with a film crew can cause quite a stir and we ended our day around 4pm without a lunch to tie us over; a typical day here trying to get to as much as we can.

rwanda-(12)rwanda-(15)David and his wife hosted an evening program of Rwandan hospitality. The entire community showed up and was treated with local dancing and singing before a litany of toasts and good, cold Primus beer. The party was the perfect way to wrap up our visit with our friends in Huye. We look forward to a long and truly special future with one of our most enduring relationships in East Africa.

-dd