Question from Chris of Orland Park, IL: “Should the choice we make in picking a coffee drink daily be greatly influenced by whether or not it is organic?”
OK, the simplest question ever, right? But the answer is not simple. Let me explain: from the point of view of an old hippie activist (me), the answer is a resounding, “YES”. However, not everyone has a hippie activist background, so depending on who you are, the answer is variable.
Organic coffees generally cost more, so a person watching their budget would be greatly influenced by price. But often times the price versus ideology presents an inner conflict for someone who wants to “do the right thing”, but is balancing a budget each month. So we all bring the full impact of our past and present to bare on the way we think about coffee choice.
I prefer to promote certified organic coffees because I believe that oil-based chemical fertilizers don’t belong in our agriculture. Here are the facts on each agricultural chemical:
Fertilizers, based on petrol oil are absorbed by the coffee tree roots rapidly. One would think this is a good thing, but the consequences of chemical fertilizers is a short-lived coffee tree (fifteen years). With organic cultivation, a coffee tree can last for 80 years.
Pesticides are needed for some bugs but they kill the worms and all the beneficial bacteria and insects in the soil. When the rains come, the chemicals wash into the streams and rivers as well as seeping into the groundwater. The poison is spread around to kill more than we can see.
Herbicides are the chemicals used to kill weeds that steal the nutrients from the soil that the coffee trees need. These chemicals are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mayhem in the ecosystem. Agent Orange was the herbicide used in the Vietnam war. It is banned, as is Roundup in the USA, but Monsanto (now Bayer) and Dupont chemical sell it outside of the USA where environmental laws are lax.
Think about these three chemicals as a chemical stew. I promote Organic because it tells me that I am not adding to my toxic load and also not supporting agricultural practices that use poisons to grow food. Those are my values.
We each have to create our own buying criteria. The planet is a toxic mess. Ou buying decisions may determine how long it will remain hospitable.
Paul Katzeff CEO and ‘Old hippie Environmental Activist’
There are countless variables that contribute to the complex flavors of your favorite coffee before it even reaches your cup. Many people know that the country of origin, coffee tree varietal, and roast color have an immediate impact, but fewer people know about the on-the-farm processing methods that also play a huge role in the flavor profile of the finished product.
The ripe cherries are picked and immediately put on the drying patio in the sun to dry. The skin and pulp remain attached. The skin shrinks, locking the fruit sugars in. The cherry raisins up and drys hard around the seeds. The mass, when hard and dry, is milled (like white rice) to remove the hardened pulp and skin.
The taste produced is sort of like blueberries or strawberries as the fruity flavors penetrate the porous seeds within. A mix of sweet and sour fruit. The acidity is softer and mellower.
When the cherries are ripe they are picked, the skins and pulp removed mechanically, and the seeds are wet and slippery, gooey with a honey-like outer taste. They are allowed to sit, slightly fermenting in the heat of a day/night rest in contact with each other. They are then soaked for 12-36 hours in a water bath, washed, and removed to drying patios where they will dry down to about 11-12% moisture over a 2-4 day period.
The wet process produces a citric-like acidity or brightness with a slightly lemony flavor. In the extremes like coffees from Guatemala and Ethiopia and Kenya, the brightness is palatable. However, wet process coffees produce a softer plum-like acidity as well. Wet process coffees are more forward on the palate than their brothers and sisters of the Dry Process.
We produce two blends that combine these processes into one flavor profile: Mocha Java Blend and Paul’s Blend. However, these Ethiopian coffees presented to you today are the most clarifying examples of two on-the-farm processes. These distinctive flavor profiles are not caused by varietal differences, country of origin or agricultural practices.
In this offering, we give you the opportunity to actually taste the words on this page. Try them straight at first and then see how they taste as a 50/50 blend or any combination. I prefer my coffee a bit on the fruity/ jammy side so I use a 70/30 blend with the Dry Process in the majority. But the reverse will do quite well for those who prefer a bright and lively acidity on the citric side but want a bit more body and fruit. Enjoy!
We would like to acknowledge Hasbean Coffee in the UK for their excellent videos about coffee processing.
How to Store your coffee to keep it fresh and as tasty as the day it was received
Staling is caused, in order of most harmful to least harmful
Exposure to air (Oxidization)
Exposure to heat
Exposure to moisture
Exposure to light
Roasted Coffee beans are composed of approximately 800 organic chemical compounds. Many of these organic compounds create the flavor you love.
There are sugars, alcohols, acids, Ketones, Aldehydes, minerals and all sorts of volatile flavonoids and antioxidants. When these organic compounds are exposed to air, many of them will combine with the Oxygen, forming new organic compounds that don’t taste good. The coffee becomes flat, losing its brightness and personality. This doesn’t happen immediately– it begins when you open a vacuum packed bag and the process continues on for about a month. The great flavor of high-quality coffee lasts longer at first but their fall over the cliff is more dramatic then lesser coffees. This is because the taste of lesser coffees when fresh often resembles stale coffee.
1. Don’t open the vacuum bag until you are ready to use its contents.
2. Close the bag and within the first three days, transfer the coffee into an airtight container. No need to purchase an expensive kitchen accessory. Just use a quart mason jar and seal it with a lid.
All chemical reactions are speeded up by heat, so we want to keep the coffee at a low temperature. That will go a long way in saving the flavor.
Oxidation can be slowed down or speeded up. Temperature is the factor and since Staling is caused, essentially, by oxygen combining with other compounds, we want to keep the beans cool but not frozen.
1. Store your sealed container in a cool dark pantry or in the refrigerator. If you have ordered a five-pound bag, you will need five quart-sized jars and lids.
2. Cool is better than room temperature. Since warm air rises, store your sealed containers on your lowest shelves.
Your coffee beans are pretty devoid of moisture. When we put green raw beans into the roaster they are about 11% moisture. When they exit the roaster after being at high heat (400-465 degrees) they are really dry. But like a dry sponge, they will attract moisture from the air. This is Osmosis. Moisture softens the beans and further enables organic compounds to combine and change, reducing flavor and speeding up the oxidization process.
1. Do not store the beans in the original vacuum packed bag for more than a few days unless you have a heat sealer. Moisture creeps into the bag easily, and even more when it is in the freezer or refrigerator.
2. A sealed container is the answer to moisture.
It takes an awful lot of light to make coffee stale; if you address the air, heat, and moisture issues, then the light will become a small factor. On it’s own, in my experience, light alone will take a long long time to damage coffee beans. However, if coffee beans are exposed to prolonged sunlight, then heat becomes the primary culprit.
If you address the problems of Air, Heat, and Moisture correctly, then Light will have little effect on your coffee.
Shade Coffee looks like this: grown under the canopy of indigenous trees. The white barked taller trees are commonly known in Central America as “Inga”. They are great for coffee because they not only provide shade for the trees, but also habitat for biodiversity and leaf litter for soil nutrients. Leaves decaying on the forest floor is natural fertilizer. An additional benefit comes from the tree being “leguminous”, meaning its roots deliver nitrogen to the soil, further reducing the need for oil based fertilizers.
This environment is perfect for the cultivation of organic coffee. This site is located in Northern Nicaragua and is typical of the Mesoamarican Rainforest that stretches from Panama thru Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, all the way up to the Yucatan Peninsula. These forests are the home of Black Panthers and the National bird of Guatemala, the famous Quetzal. The trees are full of birds and Howler Monkeys and hundreds of species of orchards. At the higher elevations, coffee trees reflect the quality of this forest in the flavor of their fruit, and finally, in your cup.
When you taste coffee from regions like this, you are experiencing a message from the forest spirits. The expression, “There is magic in this package, only you can let it out” is derived from a walk through this place that I took with my good friend Byron Coralles long ago.
My name is John Elijah, and I am excited to introduce myself and my project to the Thanksgiving Coffee community. I have dreamt of creating a video production company here in Uganda for the past several years, and Paul Katzeff is helping me bring that dream to life. I have known Paul for over three years now, and with his blessing, I would like to introduce my story to you.
Over the past several weeks, I have held three different video shoots, and have put in over a hundred hours worth of editing. I believe that my country has something truly spectacular to offer to the world, but I need your help in making this a reality.
This coming Tuesday, look for an email and video with the details of my campaign, and how you can help build a thriving industry in Uganda!
When you receive this email in your inbox, I ask that you share it with your family and friends. Forward it onto your relatives, share the campaign on your social media pages, and help us create something remarkable.
As we express gratitude for our families and friends during this season, you are at the top of my list. Thanksgiving Coffee’s supporters are some of the most forward-thinking and philanthropic people I have ever met, with great ideas and great heart. It’s an attitude that invigorates all of us here, and inspires us to grow and to give.
In the spirit of this season, I want to share a story and an opportunity with you. Back in 2015, I traveled to Africa to visit a coffee farm in Uganda. On my way off the mountain, riding in the back of an old Toyota pickup, my driver and I passed a party in progress. It was spilling out onto the dirt patio alongside the road. We slowed down to listen to the drummers banging out some rhythms that made you want to get up and dance. In the crowd was a young man with an old and bulky video camera, recording the chaos. He saw the pickup and rushed over to offer me a DVD he had filmed and edited. His name was Elijah.
This started a three year relationship between me and Elijah, via email from 10,000 miles across the globe. I’ve referred this young man to other business owners needing footage in Uganda, and have watched his skills grow and improve as he continues to work in his passion.
We have an opportunity here to showcase what Uganda can offer to the world at large, and support a young man who has the skills and is ready and willing to work.
I believe in Elijah, and I am excited to introduce him to my friends and family and supporters of Thanksgiving Coffee. In the spirit of giving this year, I am asking you to invest in the future of Uganda, by giving the gift of a charitable donation. Follow this link to back the campaign!
In 1998, I was in Nepal. I was there because USAID offered me a free trip, provided I completed their mission.
The mission: to assess the coffee world in Nepal, from the farm to the cup. Nepal had some history in coffee production but it was in the distant past. Not much was known about Nepal’s coffee experience in 1998 – so they sent me to find out.
I was set down in a small city called Tenzen. I was housed in a small hotel in the foothills at about 5,000 feet above sea level. From my window I could see five 20,000 foot mountain peaks all lined up, covered in snow, and glowing golden in the late afternoon sun.
Nepalese Coffee Roasters
I soon found out how this trip came about; A local Nepalese coffee store owner who roasted his own coffee (selling to tourists and mountain climbers) had requested coffee information from the U.S. Government.
The question foremost on the mind of that local coffee roaster in Nepal was not how to build an industry that would benefit coffee farmers, but how to market his coffee to tourists. He was interested in helping himself, not growing the benefits of coffee for the many farmers who had coffee trees on their land. These farmers did not drink coffee, and had no ready market to sell into. I immediately re-organized my time and the people I needed to meet. I visited the farms and spoke with the coffee farmers. I soon discovered that my host, the Nepalese coffee roaster, was not liked by the farmers, because he paid very low prices for the coffee he purchased from them.
I got back to my USAID sponsors in the U.S. and told them they had been sold a bill of goods by a self-serving local businessman, and that I could not narrow my study to “How to develop a coffee roasting industry in Nepal” in good conscience. The potential was minimal, and very few would be helped with this mission. Those helped would be the educated middle class, not the poorer coffee farmers, who numbered in the thousands.
Word got back to my host and he was furious. This is not a good thing to happen to someone in a foreign country in the 90’s, where anyone could disappear in some back alley in Kathmandu, or under twenty feet of snow on some nearby mountainside. But I persevered. I decided (since I was already there) to teach the coffee farmers how to prepare coffee cherries for home roasting in a wok. I figured once they knew how to prepare coffee for consumption, they would have the basis for growing coffee for flavor. The idea was that knowledge would open up doors to export coffee, and bring in more money for their families in the future.
Nepalese Coffee Farmers
When I travel to a country to teach coffee to coffee farmers, I always bring green coffee samples from five or six countries to show farmers how the final product looks. It is important to know what green coffee looks like after the seeds are removed from the cherry, perfectly sorted, graded, and then processed for export. I want them to see what they are aiming toward. I also bring a small popcorn popper (110V) to roast the coffee samples if there is electricity available. In this mountain village there was none, so we rested a wok on three round stones over a bamboo wood fire.
This was a great teachable moment. In an open wok, you can see the changes as they come about. We sat around the fire, stirring the beans with a long stick. The heat from a bamboo fire is hot, very hot. As the coffee turned from tan to a dark oily black, I took small portions from the wok and allowed them to cool in a cool metal pie tin. After 15 minutes of wok-stirred coffee beans, we had all seen the changes and we had four separate samples to taste: Light Roast, Medium Roast, Dark and Very Dark (French Roast).
So we began by harvesting five pounds of their local coffee cherries. In the process of harvesting I taught the importance of “Red Ripe.” We de-pulped the cherries by hand (squeezing each cherry until the wet and slimy seeds popped out. Then we set the seeds out to dry on newspaper in the shade. It took five days to get the coffee beans to dry. They start out at about 50% moisture to about 25% moisture, and they need to be at around 11% to begin to roast. The weather was not cooperating, so I finished the drying in a wok over a low flame for a few hours. Then we let the seeds rest overnight.
Now we had Nepal samples and the roasted samples I brought from Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Comparison tasting is a good way for novices to get an idea of their own coffee as it might fare in the export market against the quality of other coffees. In addition, we had the four different roast colors which I wanted to use to show them how they could get different flavors from the same beans.
My next week was spent teaching the principles of coffee roasting and coffee tasting . “If you don’t know what you are aiming at, you can’t hit the target,” I told them. So we spent time tasting and identifying flavors.
It should be noted that the Nepalese are tea drinkers, and chai is their drink of choice. So when I was asked how coffee was prepared in other countries, I told them it was a medium for carrying flavors. In the U.S. we used primarily milk and sugar, but in other countries coffee drinkers added other spices. I encouraged them to prepare coffee however they would enjoy it, and that is what they did. Coffee/Chai formulas were the order of the day, for the next week. Every family made their own version of coffee, and they were all different and delightful. Nothing I have tasted since has come close.
I wrote my report for USAID and sent it in (this was the 90’s, pre-email) and left Nepal via Kathmandu to Bangkok, and then to San Francisco. I left behind 200 farmers who had gained knowledge in roasting and tasting, but had no infrastructure to organize anything. My mandate was to assess the situation and my report gave a clear assessment: build the coffee agriculture in Nepal, and let the roasting trade find its own way. Help the farmers was my message.
It has been two decades since my report was sent off to USAID. I believed I had failed to create what the farmers needed, but I was wrong!
Life goes on and you can’t discount the power of knowledge and education.
2017: Thanksgiving Coffee and Nepal
On Apr 5, 2017, almost twenty years later, I received this e mail from Mike at HimalayanArabica Nepal Coffee:
Hi Thanksgiving Coffee,
I found your company through Greenpages Org as we are also going through the application process and I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to you to again.
HimalayanArabica believes in organic and ethical way of doing business and everyone along the supply chain from crop to cup can all benefit from doing business the right way.
Please give our coffee a try and you can get a free sample by simply emailing me your address and a phone number for the DHL packet.
I hope to hear from you soon and thank you for your time.
Below is a shot of our Roastmaster Jacob Long on the left, posting with the same sack of Nepal Coffee as Michael Bowen, from HimalayanArabica on the right.
I replied on Tue, Apr 11, 2017
This e mail was very nice to receive,
In 2001 I was sent to Nepal by USAID to evaluate the Nepalese Coffee situation.
I was part of a team of two. We were asked to come by a man who wanted to develop the tourist trade for roasted coffee in Nepal. My report stated my opposition to this plan as it would not have created a coffee industry , but only one or two farms to provide him with coffee to roast and to sell in Katmandu. I recommended the development of the cultivation of coffee so that many could benefit.
I am happy to see and know that my vision was clear and that in fact, aid and market forces (and Nepalese common sense) made the right situation happen and now 16 years later someone is offering me coffee from Nepal that I can roast and market.
For starters, who in the US is your importer that will handle the coffee ?
What is the availability and shipping date?
How many sacks are available?
What quality do you have ?
Has the coffee been cupped and scored by Q graders or would you venture a guess as to its quality?
Who is roasting coffee from Nepal now?
Send samples to Thanksgiving Coffee Company:
PO Box 1918
19100 South Harbor Drive
Ft. Bragg, CA 95437
Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I am very interested and that is an understatement.
Thank you so much for your reply, it was very educational and got to understand a little piece of history of coffee here in Nepal. My name is Michael Bowen and I am a Korean-American grew up in Wisconsin. I spent some time in Korea and realized I wanted to do something else and somehow, almost magically, I came to live and work in Nepal and was given this fantastic opportunity to work with a company that has the same vision as I do, which is organic, ethical, sustainable and quality.
Raj, the owner, has been working tirelessly for more than 10 years to develop the farms in order for them to move towards the specialty market. Nothing is all set nor perfect here, but we are moving in the right direction.
Even though I have only come into the scene for a little more than a year, I can see that there is a lot of potential here which you undoubtedly saw 16 years ago.
Regarding your questions:
We do not have a dedicated US importer, at the moment.
There is about 8 tons available for shipment as soon as money is received and another 8-16 tons can be made available of the same quality from a different region after some weeks after the order is made.
We only have AAA specialty quality available for export.
Raj is a Q-grader himself and tastes the every batch that comes in. The samples we are sending out now have been sent out to various other graders from US, Europe and Australia and have scored between 83-86. Raj has scored this lot 85.5 SCAA standard.
There are several ‘roasters’ here in Nepal, but we also do our own roasts. Raj was the first to bring in equipment from abroad, from pulping machines to a roaster from Italy, but now there are several places where roasting is done. Raj, I believe, has the most experience roasting and you can check out our website at the ‘home’ section for testimonials for more reviews of our coffee and you can check out some roasted beans we offer.
We will send out samples this week and I will notify you the tracking number.
That’s the story in a nutshell.
Time + Knowledge = Evolution.
We received the samples from Mike at HimalayanArabica, and I was surprised at the flavors and the cup quality. But I was more surprised at how good I felt about what I did twenty years ago in the hills of Nepal. I believed that I had failed to make change happen for those isolated coffee farmers, and that there was no hope for Nepalese Coffee.
I was born in The Bronx. I played stick ball. I hung out at the corner candy store. I bought two pretzels for 3¢.
We read comic books, which cost a dime. Once they were read, we traded them for 2¢. You could take your old comics out on the street, set them up on a wooden box, and collect your money for pretzels or an egg cream (8¢). The 50’s were pretty good for a kid. You could go anywhere in the city for a nickle subway ride, and you never thought it was dangerous.
I could tell you a million stories about growing up in the Bronx, including the time I went back in 1975, five years after I had left for California. I discovered that “my” candy store had become a Korean market. The soda fountain, comic books and telephone booths were all gone. (telephone booths were for the local bookies to take their bets and call in their bets they wanted to “lay off.”
I bought a t-shirt that stated The Bronx: Only the Strong Survive.
By the time I was 13 in 1951, I was traveling to Harlem to see the NY Giants play baseball at the Polo Grounds. One night, I remember sneaking into the Polo Grounds to see the Giants play the Cubs. I don’t remember the game at all, but I do remember what happened after the game…
It was about 11:30pm. I was waiting in the parking lot with my program for the ball players to come out of the locker rooms. Autographs were my goal. A reward for successfully sneaking into the game. It was dark, it was Harlem, it was late at night. All the cars were gone. There were no overhead street lamps to light up the parking area. But it was safe… or was it?
Where were the players? I had waited. Paid my dues, but nothing was happening as I watched the last few cars abandon me to being totally alone on a three acre unlit parking lot at midnight in Harlem. Then, a door opened and out came four players. The encounter went something like this:
#1: Hey kid, what are you doing here in the dark?
Kid: Waiting to get autographs.
#2: Where you live kid?
Kid: Palham Parkway.
#3: How you getting home?
Kid: I will walk over that bridge (138th st) to the subway and take the train home.
#4: Get in the car, we’ll take you to the subway station.
I got in the car and have no recollection of anything else. Thirty-four years later, while showing my six-year-old son my baseball card collection (the one most mothers are reputed to throw away), out popped the Giants’ 1951 program. I had not looked at it for over thirty years. Much to my surprise, it had three autographs on the cover and one inside. Who were these players who saw fit to rescue a 13 year old white boy from the long dark walk to the subway?
Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Hawk Thompson. All Hall of Famers. Inside was Don Mueller, the 1951 national league batting champion. They’re the first four guys from the left on the bottom row of the photo below.
There is a lot of the Bronx still left in me. I had my first cup of coffee in the Bronx. They said it was mountain grown and good to the last drop.
Today, 65 years later, I want you to taste a Bronx-influenced blend of coffee I proudly named for myself (THAT’S Bronx Moxie!) I am proud of this blend. It took a lot of personal coffee experience to understand, as I eventually did, how to get the flavor profile I wanted. It’s a Bronx kind of coffee! Intense, heavy, with blueberry/strawberry notes and a long finish. The coffees are from Ethiopia and Nicaragua. Two countries where only the strong survive.
Paul Katzeff, co-founder and CEO of Thanksgiving Coffee Company
I was trailing off to sleep, it was a cool summer night in Mendocino. Joan’s voice came into my consciousness and broke my reverie. She was not yet ready to say good night to the day.
“Paul, I was listening to NPR today and there was this story about the poverty and the general plight on the African Continent. I think we need to begin focusing on buying coffee and supporting cooperatives in Africa like we do in Central and South America.”
Of course I agreed, and dozed off to spend some unconscious time thinking about the idea and all the effort it would take to be as bold an activist in Africa as we were then (and now) in Central America. I hoped that when I awoke in the morning my mind would have used the eight or so hours sleeping to clarify. I had no intention of just jumping into more work.
What Joan was asking was not simple but as President of Thanksgiving Coffee she did have a big voice in things such as this. We would have to pick the countries we wanted to work in, we would need to take sixteen hour flights, we would have to find communities we could work with, we would need to buy coffee in container loads to be effective. A container load is 37,500 pounds. We would have to build a demand for these new coffees or we were going to have to buy less of other coffees, which hurts the farmers we are already working with.
That morning at work, an amazing thing happened.
I received a phone call from a professor at Michigan State University. She had recently received a USAID grant to help the Rwandan Coffee industry create a market plan for their reentry into the Specialty Coffee market, specifically aiming at the United States craft coffee trade. Yes, the entire country’s coffee industry!
How serendipitous is that? One moment we are lying in bed thinking, and the next day the answer and the challenge arrives on the phone.
They asked Thanksgiving Coffee to be part of a small group of coffee experts. We would fly to Rwanda in three weeks to help a country only ten years from its genocide in 1994. A genocide that saw 900,000 Rwandans murdered by their fellow countrymen, and their entire coffee infrastructure destroyed in the process. I wanted us to be there to help, but I said to Joan after the phone conversation: “Joan, you started this last night, and your answer and opportunity came this morning so I think it is YOU who will have to fly to Rwanda in three weeks.”
And that was the beginning of our now fourteen year odyssey with the Rwandan coffee farmers.
Trips to Rwanda
On that first trip to Rwanda, I remained in Mendocino. It was a first for us; me staying home and Joan going to do the exploring and experience the adventure.
On her first day in Rwanda, she met with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Executive Director, who was interested in linking the Rwandan coffee industry with saving the last 400 Mountain Gorillas, something Dian Fossey was murdered for trying to do. Joan saw the opportunity, and said that Thanksgiving Coffee would create a marketing plan for linking Rwandan coffee to Mountain Gorillas. That is how – on DAY ONE of Joan’s first trip to Africa – Gorilla Fund Coffee was born.
When things are supposed to happen, they do.
But usually, not so fast.
Joan went to tour the gorilla habitat, trekking for hours into the Virunga National Forest and was gifted by coming upon a family of Mountain Gorillas, led by a 500 pound Silverback. In her words:
“The rain is soft, the trail slippery and muddy. We’re moving quickly, breathing hard in the thin high-altitude air. Intent young trackers radio one another, ‘We are close.’ Suddenly the Amahoro Gorilla family crosses our path. Wow! What a sight. Two young gorillas grasp the pant legs of a couple in our group before bounding off to join the adults – which included a 500 pound Silverback. I am transfixed and transformed in the presence of these gentle giants. I still can not believe I was there and it really happened.”
My own experience with the gorillas in Rwanda came a year later. I got a chance to hang out with a different family of gorillas. I sat cross-legged, facing the Silverback leader for 45 minutes exchanging grunts every so often but never allowing our eyes to meet. He had a very intriguing aroma about him. Musty, earthy, very Sumatra coffee-like. It was clean and powerful. I would recognize it anywhere. And yes, I did read the novel Ishmael about the Silverback Guru teaching a journalist about life’s questions. I sat with my Silverback thinking he might just know a lot more than me about the meaning of life. He had big Brown eyes.
I took his portrait picture and it adorned our Gorilla Fund Package until 2016 when it was removed in favor of a younger gorilla image.
On my second trip in 2005, I met with the Director of the USAID project and we mapped out a quality improvement plan to make Rwanda coffee the best it could be. We wrote a proposal which was funded the following year. It was a plan to put a tasting laboratory at every coffee cooperative so the farmers could separate their coffees and evaluate each lot individually.
This was a great advance at the time, and it put Rwanda in the running to be one of the most advanced coffee regions in all of Africa. This project gave me the opportunity to travel the countryside and visit many growing regions and finally find the Dukunde Kawa Coffee Cooperative in Mussasa. It is the coffee we have purchased for the past 12 years and has won the reputation of being the best of Rwandan coffee for the past five years in the Cup of Excellence competitions held yearly. We use that coffee to help save the gorillas.
Gorilla Fund Coffee has raised over $100,000 for DFGFI, since we began this program in 2005. Joan and I have attended many DFGFI celebrity fundraisers given in big city venues as honored guests for Thanksgiving Coffee’s work educating coffee lovers about the Mountain Gorillas. At one event I met and had a conversation with Gloria Steinem, at another I spoke with Sigourney Weaver who played Dian Fossey in the movie Gorillas in the Mist.
Now we are partnering with DFGFI to inform the American Coffee drinkers about the plight of the Grauer’s Gorilla who is Critically Endangered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In my youth, this area was known as “deepest, darkest Africa.” Using the same idea, we went after finding a good coffee from the Congo to represent the Grauer Gorilla, that we would create a dark roast from.
Congo coffee is new to the pantheon of craft coffees. It is a country rife with political instability and crazed rebels who wreak havoc on villages. In 2013, I turned down an invitation to visit the Congo by my long time friend Richard Hyde of Cafe Direct who was working with a group of coffee cooperatives there. He knew I could be a buyer, but I had enough coffee and the Grauer’s Gorillas that make their home in the Congo had not yet come upon the DFGFI’s radar.
Three years later, the DFGFI began to work in the Congo, and I called my friend Richard to find out where I could get the coffee that comes from the mountains where the Grauer’s Gorillas reside.
In the beginning of this journey, we realized that it was the gorillas that could help the Rwandan people. Not many Americans will go out of their way to help the Rwandan people but all Americans want to support the Mountain Gorillas. So we focused on the gorillas to build the value and demand by consumers for this coffee.
We used the Fairtrade model and certification to give money back to the Dukunde Kawo Coffee Cooperative. We created a climate change mitigation program and financed shade tree planting. We even funded a milk cow project to supply each family with whole milk and cheese for family use and for added income. Every sale of the Gorilla Fund coffee benefited not only the gorillas, but also the members of this Rwandan Coffee Cooperative called “Dukunde Kawa”, which means “Great Coffee”. We intend to follow that same model to inform the public of the Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla, and support industry in the Congo.
It isn’t easy to do this kind of work in coffee. Lot’s of collaboration needs to be built into the process. There is always the risk that too much coffee will be purchased and sales will not match up. But we do this work for other reasons. Coffee is the medium, but it is not the message. This is how we work now with the American Birding Association, to save Migratory Song Birds, with Friends of the Earth to save Pollinators, with Defenders of wildlife to save our Wolves and soon, with more partners to save our wild animals.
So join us in our efforts and purchase these coffees and together we will make a difference.
The world is lush with coffee growing regions, and inside those regions are thousands of small-scale coffee farmers, growing coffee in hundreds of different micro-climates and soil types. This is where we find the “micro-lot.”
Together with dozens of varietals (air, shade, wind, sun, rain, soil type, etc.), the coffee flavor is created in all its possibilities.
We have been in the coffee game for over forty years, and know the territory well, from Papua New Guinea to Nicaragua.
We know the farmers and they know us. Together we find these small, exceptional “micro-lots” produced by individual farms in quantities of no more than 10-20 sacks (1500-3000 pounds).
We pay the farmer a premium, and everyone involved is happy that a rare and quality coffee did not get lost in the crowd of good and quality coffee.
When the coffee finally arrives at Thanksgiving Coffee Company, our Roastmaster Jacob Long roasts the coffee 3-5 pounds at a time, using his knowledge to bring out the magic from each bean.