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Source Trips

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

 

vincente-(4)March 2013, Santa Barbara, Honduras
Adam McClellan, Green Coffee Buyer

I left San Pedro Sula invigorated by the great visit with Moises and Marysabel and excited for the next stop on this trip: a swing into Peña Blanca in Santa Barbara to check in with our friends at Beneficio San Vicente. While the harvest is just finishing up in Marcala, it was interesting to see it just beginning in Santa Barbara, due to the more tropical microclimate in the high altitude communities of Las Flores, El Cielito and El Cedral. This region is pretty unique in that it houses a lot of very small farms (1-2 hectares each, on average) in close proximity, yet the farmers have never formally organized into a co-op, but rather have individually chosen to focus on purely producing high quality coffee. The notoriety of countless Cup of Excellence top finishers from this area in recent years has helped to spur added interest in buying more land (now also more expensive) and continued the culture of quality that keeps prices and demand high for these scarce lots.vincente-(6)

vincente-(3)The efforts and work of Beneficio San Vicente remain fundamental to the ability of these smallholder farmers to participate in the global market and have direct relationships with roasters like Stumptown. While the mill, started by Don Fidel Paz Sabillon, has been around for some time exporting more volume oriented, conventional coffees, it has been the youthful, energized and entrepreneurial spirits of Benjamin, Arturo, and the rest of the new generation of the Paz family who have motivated the producers. They provided technical assistance for clean, sound processing techniques and encouraged planting of good quality varieties, such as Bourbon, Caturra, and Pacas. They also built the market bridge and fostered relationships with importers and roasters to create a needed commercial and logistical link.

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vincente-(2)Out of everything produced, we chose to purchase coffee from three top quality focused  smallholder growers from two specific regions:  Pompilio Ramos and David Muñoz from El Cielito, and Pedro Moreno from El Cedral. These producers sold all of their top notch lots exclusively to Stumptown. We spent a couple of days hiking around farms and seeing what is being planted and built up there. It was really positive. The views at the top overlooking Lake Yojoa are stunning. The cherry selection I observed after both days’ picking was nothing short of superb. One of our producers, Pompilio, in El Cielito community built solar dryer raised beds for this year’s harvest and added lovely ceramic tiles to his wet mill where he uses a motor operated depulper (powered by a motor the size of a small lawn mower or weed wacker). And David, from a neighboring farm, added to his raised bed infrastructure and purchased more land in order to plant additional coffee. After visits and tours of the sun drenched farms for a full day, we were thirsty and stopped in the local brew pub (D&D) for some really tasty homemade cerveza.

vincente-(5)Next day at the cupping lab, the mill began to see lots of delivery from all kinds of farmers in the area, which is a cool energy to watch while cupping through some extremely delicious coffee. High prices in these parts go a long way, and it’s great to see that being reinvested in quality and good production. Positive results definitely showed in the early cupping we did at San Vicente. We are stoked to bring you these coffees this coming summer to showcase the best of what this special little region has to offer.

lab

Cenicafe Visit, March 2013
Darrin Daniel, Green Coffee Buyer

I’m in Pereira, Colombia (a one hour flight west from Bogota) for the 2013 Cup of Excellence. This northern region of Colombia is home to thousands of coffee growers, as well as one of the most prestigious coffee research organizations around the world: Cenicafe. Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to tour their research facility, participate in a variety cupping of two new experimental varieties along with their Tabi (a cross between Typica, Bourbon and Timor Hybrid) and the well known Castillo variety (a cross of Caturra and Timor Hybrid). After the cupping we went to Naranjal Central Station located in Chinchiná Caldas, which has a large variety garden focusing primarily on research of Castillo.

As luck would have it, heavy lightning and rain did not allow us out to head into the field, but we enjoyed an excellent presentation about the work done on Castillo. For those who don’t know, the Castillo variety was developed out of research dating back to 1968 and was originally known as Colombia. In 2005, it was renamed in honor of the head researcher, Dr. Jaime Castillo, after he spent many years on trials and progenies to find the right size, production, resistance to leaf rust, volume and cup quality.

The presentation addressed the specifics of trials, results from different research stations and even the hybridization process of taking pollen from the male Timor Hybrid and supplanting it onto the Caturra female flower in order to get the next generation. After the progenies F3, F4 and F5 began to show their effectiveness in 2005, it was renamed. Many questions followed about why Caturra was chosen, how can cup quality be improved and is Cenicafe trying other varieties to pair with the Timor Hybrid. It was clear there are many research projects that are in the works and once conclusive data is defined, Cenicafe will most likely be introducing new disease resistant strains that hopefully will have even better cup qualities than what we know today of Castillo. Though many buyers feel Castillo to be inferior to Bourbon and Typica, even my own tasting of Tabi proved to be pretty bright and sweet. On our way back in a thunderous storm we stopped to briefly look at some of their Ethiopian heirloom varieties in the experimental gardens (which we know to be resistant to leaf rust).

plant

Cenicafe is one of the most celebrated coffee experimental labs in the world and in many ways the future of coffee belongs to their bright and talented scientists and researchers. I’d put a bet down that those Ethiopia varieties will birth something we can all talk about and hopefully embrace as the future of specialty coffee.

March 2013, Marcala, Honduras
Adam McClellan, Green Coffee Buyer

Heading out to San Pedro Sula on the red eye from PDX, I was slightly weary and sleep deprived, but running on the adrenaline and excitement of my first source trip as a green coffee buyer on behalf of Stumptown. Let’s just say these are big shoes to fill and high expectations to meet. I couldn’t imagine a better farm and producer partner to start with, given that the relationship between Moises Herrera and Marysabel Caballero of Finca El Puente and Stumptown goes way back and both have been able to successfully grow together over the years. Also, the Marcala region is one of my favorite places to travel as the genuine warmth and hospitality from folks here is some of the best I’ve encountered on the coffee trail.

el_puente-(6)Moises and Marysabel picked me up at noon and after lunch we headed straight out to Marcala to catch the tail end of the day’s cherry processing. On the three hour drive out, we passed a mountainous landscape which changed to hot desert, then to higher altitude pine forest, which is where you start to see coffee growing. We had a great discussion on ‘La Roya’ – the current looming, gloomy news topic of the coffee world – which is the leaf rust epidemic spreading through Central America and its potential impact on this and next year’s crop. Thankfully, their farms are largely unaffected due to their diligent farming practices and proactive approach to addressing the plants’ needs to defend against the Roya. However, many of the neighboring farms are totally devastated with mere skeletons of coffee plants remaining. Upon entering the outskirts of Marcala, we picked up a few friendly faces for a lift into town, and then headed up to Chinacla where the wet mill and drying patios are located.

At the beneficio in Chinacla, they just finished rearranging and refurbishing the depulping/fermenting tank station to use gravity flow better and drastically cut down the amount of water used.  A new elevator turbine carries the cherry pulp up and away to the compost area so it doesn’t have to be moved by hand. They also enclosed the ceramic tiled tanks area to better control the temperature and added more efficient lighting. At the moment we arrived, a part of the demucilaging equipment had a slight malfunction so Moises dove straight into it and dug out the problem right away – pretty awesome to see these guys operate with such attention. The days picking looked so solid with pure red ripeness in the hopper. Then we drove back down into Marcala town and enjoyed some delicious pupusas at the ever-popular Pupuseria del Campo spot before hitting the sack after a long day.

el_puente-(5)The next morning after some delicious El Puente French pressed coffee (it will never get old to have a farmer serve you his or her own coffee) and baleadas to power up, we headed back up to Chinacla to see the coffee being washed. Several lots this year are going through an additional 24 hour soaking step after the initial dry fermentation and wash. Initial cup quality results are quite encouraging. The biggest highlight of the Chinacla mill is seeing all of the raised bed drying – most of it shaded by covered and ventilated beds. We’re very happy to see this added investment to this incredibly important step and look forward to more and more of our coffee being dried this way to continue to see positive improvements in the cup. (more…)

Late December 2012

Honduras faces some pretty daunting issues: it has the number one murder rate in the world and is also one of the most impoverished countries in Latin America. This, combined with drug trafficking from Colombia up through Central America, has made it a hot spot for illicit trade and gang violence. The situation became so serious that the government had to ask its police to step down so the military could properly police the country.

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Corruption and impoverishment have plagued this wonderful country for too long, yet there is hope that the coffee sector might be one industry that could help to change the image and future of Honduras. With market prices soaring about two years ago, Honduras leapt to the number one spot for coffee production in Central America. Recently, C Market prices fell. Hopefully, it will give producers the impetus to strive for the highest quality they can produce to band-aid the recent lows.

Luckily, our work in Honduras has led us to relationships like that of the Caballeros family. I flew down to meet with them (more…)