Fair Trade Retail Pricing
Posted: 06 May 2009 02:11 PM PDT
I recently received this question from a coffee lover in Oakland California.
â€œA friend recently commented that â€œfair tradeâ€ growers are still underpaid, with growers paid less than a dollar a pound for a product that retails for $12. of course there are many cost involved in getting product to people, but can you confirm or comment on the compensation for Fair trade coffee? â€œ
My reply :
Dear Nancy, Your friend is correct if you want to compare coffee farmers in Peru with a coffee farmer in Hawaii(USA) . Hawiian coffee costs $14.00 a pound green in 100 lb sacks. Why ? Because the Hawaii farmer is paid at least minimum wage ($ 7.50/hour.) So you , the consumer will pay $24.00 per pound in the grocery. The Fair Trade Peruvian Farmer sells his coffee to a his producer cooperative of which he is a member with one vote. The coop gets about $2.00 per pound for its certified organic coffee from roasters in the USA . The coop keeps about .50 cents (it varies from co-op to co-op) so the farmer is getting $1.50 per pound. That is hard to translate into wages per hour but it is allot less then the Hawiian coffee farmer. You can tell because one is poor and the other is middle class. One has electricity and a life in the fast lane, the other has a horse and a quiet village with only a small school and a church. However, Fair Trade farmers are not as vulnerable as their brothers and sisters who are not co-op members. There is strength in numbers and there is commeraderie as well. Coops build their communities socially and economically so they are a further benefit to people and communities. Only cooperatives can be certified to be Fair Trade sellers. Individuals and Plantations are not eligable for the Fair Trade Certification.
As for the economics of coffee. Here is how it works on a per pound basis :.
.50 â€¦â€¦..20% shrinkage in roasting
.50â€¦â€¦â€¦ roasting costs for gas and labor
1.00â€¦â€¦â€¦Packaging materials and production labor
3.50 â€¦â€¦.operating expenses (for the coffee roaster/distributor)
.50 â€¦â€¦gross profit to roaster before taxes
$7.50 wholesale price
3.50 retailers gross profit
$ 10.99 shelf price.
The Fair Trade price is set at $1.51 per pound FOB country of origin. This is the lowest price one can offer for Organic Fair Trade coffee. Most often, a premium above the FT minimum is paid for quality so the price is often about $2.00 per pound. The price is paid to the cooperative , not the individual farmer. The farmer gets a percentage of that price depending on how well the cooperative is run, what social benefit programs they sponsor, and how good their financial situation is. In reality, this persntage averages around 70 % . The cooperatives organizational structure and their financial records are monitored yearly by The Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO) and cooperatives that do not meet open and transparent standards are â€œdecertifiedâ€ . This is obviously a major simplification so for a greater ,in depth look at Fair Trade you can check out www.FairTradeCertified.org.
One of my favorite Fair Trade Coffees comes from our partner in Rwanda , the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative. Their coffee has been described as â€œdeliciousâ€ by some and having hints of dark cherry and chocolate by others. I enjoy it because it makes my mouth water, and has a beautifully round acidity that is mellow and soft .
SALT SELLERS IN THE MARKET ; RWANDA 2007
Behind the Ship the San Juan, built in 1931 is the Oldest building on the Noyo Harbor. Built before the great earthquake of 1906, it is what remains of the two story building that it once was. When the earthquake hit, it created a landslide knocking the first story right out from under the second story. Creative lumbermen jacked up what was left , mounted it on the dock and in 1974 Thanksgiving Coffee Company moved in to the eastern corner , occupying an area 30 feet by 20 feet. The building is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide. It is constructed 100 % old growth Redwood and Douglas Fir. Half of the building is on land with the other half on the dock over the water. The photo above was taken in 1975. Note the puff of smoke and the Thanksgiving Coffee sign atop the structure. The company operated out of those digs from 1974 until 1987, going from just Joan and Paul to 26 employees after we purchased the entire building in 1977. The San Juan was owned by Albert Reynolds and Bruce Abernathy at the time and was actively used to drag cable across the Pacific when the communications cable was laid from Point Arena, California to Japan in 1975. It is 71 feel long and as of 2009 is the last remaining ship of its type still afloat. It is still moored at our dock but has not been out of the water in 30 years and I am afraid it is no longer seaworthy. Here is the same scene as it appeared to my camera last month . We purchased the building in 1975 and still the company still owns it . We use it for storage and keep it to remind us of our humble beginnings, and of all the amazing old salts, cranky fishermen, and drunken parties that were a frequent part of our friends lives on the water when the Noyo Harbor was just another “Cannery Row” along the Pacific Coast, complete with “fish houses” where local woman filleted fifty pound King Salmon, iced three pound crabs and packed Black Cod fillets for shippment to Eastern markets to be smoked and sold as” smoked sablefish” to the Jewish Delis in Chicago and New YorK City. All that is gone now(2009) but the memory still remains. I guess you can say , those were “the good old days”.
Pulp to Protein
This is a story about a couple of people who had the impossible good fortune to meet one another while living on the planet at the same time. There is Gunter Pauli , President of the ZERI Foundation, born in Belgium. Chido Govero , born, raised and orphaned in Zimbabwe, and Carmenza Jaramillo from Colombia, both pioneers in a new kind of sustainable agriculture, and myself, a California guy from The Bronx. How I got into this mix is a lesson in both Providence and karmic serendipity. But at this moment I am just facilitator.
The Project Basis
*Coffee pulp is 80 % of the coffee harvest by weight but has no use other then as a mulch if it is hauled back onto the fields. As such , it is a low grade fertilizer. If it is left in piles and not recycled to the fields, when the rains come, it becomes a deadly pollutant , killing rivers and poisoning groundwater Cattle and other ruminants will not eat coffee pulp but the pulp contains nutrients and is an ideal substrate for farming healthy protein rich mushrooms.
MUSHROOMS GROWING ON COFFEE PULP
* The waste substrate (after it grows mushrooms)is ideal as animal feed .
* In terms of nutrition, protein deficiency is a major issue in the poor countries of Africa and Central and South America.
* Mushrooms are between 40 -60 % protein.
*So the equations read as follows:
A) waste coffee pulp + mushroom spores + 3 weeks time = edible mushrooms
B) animal feed substrate + Goat + digestion time = Manure for fertilizer + dairy products
* In many coffee growing regions in Africa there is not enough biomass to support goats and cows. There is always therefore, not enough manure to grow organically. Animal manure has a much higher value as a fertilizer then does pulp used as mulch. The ability to feed a cow means milk and cheese for the family along with the mushrooms.
*Every coffee growing community has enough pulp after the coffee harvest to grow all the mushrooms they would need for the entire year, storing dried, those that are for later use or selling them for added income.(a different project)
* This project will receive the Specialty Coffee Association of America 2009 Sustainability Award Friday, April 17th at the associations annual Trade Show where 8000 coffee traders are expected to be in attendance. Will these attendees see the enormous potential to eliminate malnutrition , provide food security, better health, jobs, and further our quest to make the coffee industry more sustainable ? I’m betting they will, and that this new use of coffee pulp waste will become a part of our industry and inseparable from it within a decade.
Here are some photos that show the process and the people in a Zimbabwe who are actually doing this as you read this blog. This is a peek at the future .
Thanksgiving Coffee Company will help bring this new agricultural technology to the cooperatives we now work with and if a critical mass of coffee companies join in as well, this enormous coffee resource that is now so underutilized will become a food and feed stock for millions of people who sure can use a good ride on something that improves their quality of life , tastes great, and helps the planet as well.
The four people who â€œwere impossibly lucky enough to be on the planet at the same time and actually meet to bring this to the Coffee Industry , will present a one hour Panel Session on Friday , April 17th, at 9 am at the Specialty Coffee Convention in Atlanta . Come meet Chido, Carmenza, and Gunter and join the conversationâ€¦perhaps even, become a part of this certainly evolving story.
How I wound up helping Gunter bring this to the industry’s Trade Show is the lesser narrative that will emerge as this adventure unfolds. Certainly there are more pebbles to follow on this golden path.
I received this complex letter last week. It had many contradictions but the writer was obviously a coffee lover , so I took the opportunity to arm her with the basic principles of coffee selection that applied to her request. What follows is first her letter, then my response, and then my recommendation .
We have enjoyed finding your website.
We would like a recommendation for a blend:
Not acidy. Don’t like a painful stomach by the second cup.
Full bodied coffee. Tastes like it smells.
No flavors (except coffee flavor) (It’s difficult to tell from your descriptions whether the flavor is added to the mix (like vanilla or hazelnut), or whether the flavor “tones” are just a means of describing the coffee au naturel.
On your website, we only saw 12 oz bags. Do you have 5 lbs. bags? How much do they cost?
Thanks for your help
THERE IS ALLOT TO YOUR REQUEST FOR A RECOMMENDATION SO LET’S TAKE MY RESPONSES ONE AT A TIME:
WHEN YOU ASK FOR A COFFEE WITH NO ACIDITY BUT WITH LOTS OF FLAVOR, YOU ARE ALMOST ASKING FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE…ALMOST. A GOOD “MEDIUM” ROAST OF COFFEES FROM PLACES LIKE INDONESIA AND BRAZIL WHOSE COFFEES ARE NATURALLY LOW IN ACIDITY WILL GET YOU A LOWER ACIDITY, BUT ALSO, LESS BRIGHTNESS AND LIVELINESS IN THE CUP. COFFEES GROWN AT ALTITUDES LOWER THEN 800 METERS ALSO HAVE LESS ACIDITY. ACIDITY IS HIGHEST IN COFFEE IN THE LIGHTER ROASTS. THE DARKER THE ROAST , THE LOWER THE ACIDITY, IS A GENERAL RULE . YOUR PAINFUL STOMACH MAY NOT BE COMING FROM THE ACIDITY IN COFFEE . THE PH LEVELS OF LOW ACID COFFEES AND HIGH ACID COFFEES ARE NOT THAT FAR APART TO MAKE IDENTIFYING YOUR “PROBLEM” AS THE ACIDITY. IT COULD ALSO BE THE CAFFEINE BECAUSE THE HIGHER THE CAFFEINE, THE POORER THE COFFEE QUALITY IN GENERAL . IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM THE POSSIBLE IMPACT OF POORER QUALITY COFFEE GOING INTO YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM, AND OR, POOR ROASTING CRAFTSMANSHIP. COFFEE HAS OVER 1600 CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS BEFORE IT IS ROASTED AND ABOUT 800 AFTER ROASTING. LOTS OF CHEMICAL REACTIONS TAKE PLACE IN THE 14 MINUTES IT TAKES TO ROAST COFFEE , SO THE CRAFTSMANSHIP APPLIED DURING THAT SHORT PERIOD OF ADDING HEAT TO THE GREEN BEANS REQUIRES SOME DEGREE OF CRAFTSMANSHIP TO CONTROL THOSE CHEMICAL REACTIONS SO AS TO GET THE BEST OUT OF THE COFFEE THAT IS BEING ROASTED. ACIDITY IS MORE A MOUTHFEEL OR TASTE SENSATION(bright and lively) THEN LITMUS TEST NUMBERS.
NO COFFEE TASTES LIKE IT SMELLS. YOU CAN LOOK FOREVER. THE AROMATIC VOLATILES ARE NOT TASTE FACTORS. Ninety-five % OF COFFEE AROMA IS LOST BEFORE IT GETS TO THE CUP. LOST IN ROASTING, GRINDING , AND BREWING NO MATTER HOW FRESH IT IS WHEN YOU GET YOUR COFFEE HOME AND INTO YOUR REFRIGERATOR . SO DREAM ON BUT DONT EXPECT OUR COFFEES TO GET YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO WHEN IT COMES TO THE AROMA/TASTE RELATIONSHIP.
DARK ROAST ?????? THIS IS THE ANTI CHRIST OF COFFEE FLAVOR AND AROMA. IN DARK ROASTS 2/3 OF THE FLAVOR IS A REFLECTION OF THE DARKER COFFEE COLOR . THE NUANCES OF THE COFFEE’S FLAVOR ARE “BURNED OUT” OF THE COFFEE VIA COMPLEX CHEMICAL REACTIONS THAT TAKE PLACE AT THE HIGH TEMPERATURES COFFEE IS ROASTED AT.
THE DISCRIPTORS (TONES AND NOTES ),ARE HINTS . DOES A BOTTLE OF ZINFANDEL HAVE BLACK CURRANT ADDED TO THE WINE ? NO , IT IS JUST A WAY THE WINE MASTER HELPS YOU OUT IN YOUR SEARCH FOR THE NUANCES PROFESSIONAL TASTERS CAN IDENTIFY EASILY BECAUSE THEY “TASTE ” EVERY DAY .
WE SELL CONSUMER SIZE PACKAGES BUT IF YOU CALL OUR MAIL ORDER DIVISION AND ASK FOR SUSAN SHE WILL TELL YOU HOW TO ORDER FIVE POUNDERS ( MINIMUM IS 20 POUNDS PER ORDER. ) .
Now for my recommendation :
I recommend you try a medium roast Nicaraguan Maracaturra grown by our friend Byron Coralles, and our Guatamalan Vienna Roast. The two coffees are fabulous individually, but you can blend them (The Medium roast Nicaraguan for flavor and the Guatemalan Vienna roast for strength and complexity to create additional complexity ). No stomach aches here , guaranteed !
I love to hear from people who have coffee on their mind. I get wonderful communiques and sometimes , real good leads on a great coffee that always has a story attached. The coffee traveler is open to the spirits. This has its merits . The road has many stories . Every road does. Which ones you carry home with you are not random accidents of fate, they are manifestations of your priorities, your focus and you might say, that a bit of your unconscious is in play as well. So here is one story that came to me and my reply.
I recently visited Guatemala on a birding tour. One of our destinations was the beautiful Los Andes Private Nature Reserve. There, I spoke with the president, James E. Hazard, and learned of his family coffee and tea estate. I thought of Thanksgiving when he discussed the earth friendly and worker friendly practices implemented at the plantation. When I asked if he had extra capacity for additional customers, he assured me that he did. One of his customers is Starbucks(boo). If you would like to see more about the organization, the website is www.andescloudforest.org. And most importantly, the coffee is very good. If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me at work.
Thanks for the thought James. We have been working with the same Guatemalan cooperative of 1600 Mayan producers since 1998. I think it is best to not dilute my purchases as then they would have to go looking for another buyer and have poor access to the world market. , I tend to shy away from buying from plantation owners in general, not because they are bad people as much as that they are the stewards of a bad system. Remember the slave owners in the South 150 years ago were “plantation” owners too. They were not as benevolent as some current coffee plantation owners, but you can bet that most who work on plantations as laborers dont send their children to university.
Plantations that house their laborers create an indentured slave situation where the home is attached to the job. This is frightening to families because it is a way that owners and managers control behavior. Fear is the general rule on plantations even when it looks like the workers are happy in a benevolent environment. .
Certainly, with todays problematic climate , farmers are promoting how environmental friendly they are , and how their shade trees are great for the planet and they are right in that regard, but the human factor is often masked by this environmental promotion.. For example, Farmers who join together to form producer cooperatives are empowered by their numbers and the social benefits that they can persue as a community that could not be achieved otherwise . There is hope in the cooperative Fair Trade movement . Plantation workers by contrast , may earn $2.00-$3.00 dollars per day at best and they never get out of their poverty.
That is not to say that this particular plantation you just visited is a bad place with evil overlords. If it was , you would have seen it and not considered communicating with me. Their website attests to my earlier comment that “good people can be sustaining a bad system ” The plantation you visited has come a long way from how it must have been just 20 years ago when few cared or even knew about the plight of the people who grow the coffees we love. The Hazard Family is to be congratulated for progressive approach they are preparing for.
So thanks for the thoughts. I hope this e mail finds you in good spirits after your overseas trip, and that you are happy to be home again
I took this photo on my first trip to Guatemala in 1990. I was in search of certified organic coffee. Wandering around the countryside one afternoon near the city of Antigua a man with his sack of stuff came walking toward me on the dusty path we both shared for the moment.
I pulled out my camera to catch the man as he approached but I discovered that I had run out of film. I hurried to reload the camera as the man passed by. We greeted each other with smiles and then he was past me. I think he was Don Juan but I didn’t ask him if he would be my Shaman because I was afraid he would say , “yes son, come with me. We will talk to the Jaguars tonight and you will disappear into the stars”, or something like that. I felt I was not ready so a smile sufficed as he passed.
I loaded my camera and shot the photo. It has become one of my favorites.
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The coffee tree is an evergreen. It does not shed its leaves. They are on the tree year round. That makes them good for indoor beautification. You can get them to grow into a tree that is 5-8 feet tall or you can train them to be a bush 3-4 feet tall. They are pretty flexible.
Where to find coffee tree seedlings:
I have found them most consistently in places like Safeway, Longs, Rite Aid and Whole Foods flower Departments. These places carry mostly impulse items when it comes to plants. I think they all have the same supplier, or it seems that way. Your local florist may have them too and if they don’t carry them in stock, they will order a pot or two for you.
What to look for:
Seedlings in the stores are no more then 3-4 inches tall and are about 3 months old . They were grown from seed. Usually, they will come in a 2-4 inch pot, and there will be four to six little starts bunched together in the center to make it look substantial. Price is usually between $4.95 – $8.95.
What to do when you get the pot of seedlings home;
You have purchased one pot but you have acquired six trees. You don’t want them to grow up together so you need to separate them and repot each seedling in a 4 inch diameter pot. Here’s how you do it: Submerge the pot of seedlings in a bowl of warm water that is on the cool side of warm. Leave overnight . This does two things. It allows the seedlings to load up on water and it softens the potting soil . Get your potting soil and 4 inch pots together for your replanting . Now remove the loose ball of soil with the seedlings from their pot and lay on some newspaper . Slowly and softly pull the seedlings apart. Don’t be afraid of killing the trees ,they are very hardy and strong. Now repot each individual seedling in its own 4 inch pot. Six trees for the price of one !
Lets talk soil and repotting;
For the four inch pot and your initial repotting, you should use an organic potting soil. It is rich enough in nutrients to feed the plant until it is eight inches tall. You won’t need to add fertilizer to get the trees to 8 inches. Now things begin to change because at eight inches tall, the tree has spread out it’s root system throughout the small pot and unless you repot to a larger vessel, the tree will not grow much more. So, move the tree into a 12 -18 inch pot . This â€œhomeâ€ is large enough to add soil amendments. At this stage of the plants growing history it needs lots of Nitrogen so keep that in mind . We are helping the tree grow trunk, branches and leaves. That requires lots of nitrogen. This pot stage should take your tree up to the 24-36 inch size. (this should take 12 to 18 months) .
When the tree gets to the 24-36 inch size it is time for it’s final repotting into a half wine barrel or the equivalent. Now your tree is ready to kick into high gear because it senses that it can grow a root system that can support full production. Within one year from this last repotting your tree will have grown to four feet and it will begin to create beautiful white flowers that will fill your home with the scent of Jasmine and orange blossoms.Nitrogen is no longer needed in growth level amounts . Now it is the flower and fruit supporting supplements that are needed. Rose food is my favorite coffee food but try to stay as organic as you can. It effects the flavor of the coffee you will be getting and you don’t need to support companies that manufacture oil based chemical fertilizers.
Flowering Phase: It lasts about a month. The sweet aroma will blow you away, but that will come to an end just about the time you are tired of coming home to paradisiacal aromatics. Coffee is self pollinating so do not worry about pollination. The flowers form at the nodes on each branch, just behind the leaves. Each flower will become a fruit (coffee cherry). The flowers will turn brown and fall off the branch. Not to worry. Left behind is the carpel, a small round ball that over the next six months will grow into a fruit with one or two seeds. The seeds are known as “coffee beans.”
Jungle Jasmine : Coffee Flowers
The Fruiting Phase:
This phase lasts about six months. Coffee cherries ripen slowly. For the first 5 months they will be green and rock hard. Then they will begin to lighten and turn pink and then cherry red, then dark red to purple. Dark red is when you pick the cherries.
Watering; Coffee trees like water and need enough to feed the leaves and support the fruit. But they don’t like to sit in water so water from the top, like rain waters forests. Water until the water comes out the bottom of the Pot. Use warm water. That is what the tree would get in the tropics. Why shock the tree as if it was jumping into an ice cold lake? Warm water feels good to the tree just as it does to our face when we wash. And if you live where the air is cold at night , you can bet the soil is cold too. So warm up the soil and you have better growing conditions, conditions that the tree will recognize and be thankful for.
Where to place tour growing and mature tree;
Coffee is a shade loving tree that grows under the canopy of the forest . It needs little direct sunlight . Direct sunlight after noon time will fry the leaves and kill the tree. Yo need to position your tree so it gets morning direct sun. This is perfect light . East facing windows do the trick. As the sun goes to the west , the light coming into your home from an easterly window is soft , yet still bright enough to provide the equivalent of shaded sun. If you bring your tree outside, remember, a 10 minute frost will kill it and so will 3 hours of direct afternoon sunlight between May and November.
Cherry Picking and Roasting:
When the cherries are ripe, and they will all ripen over a 2 month ripening period, you have to take them from the tree. With a simple twist and pull they will come off easily.
Pick once a week , only the true red all over ripe cherries. Squeeze the seeds out of the cherries and drop them into a bowl of water for 24 hours. This softens the remaining pulp stuck to the beans and makes it easy to remove after the beans are dried. Place the beans onto some newspaper ( it is important that the stories on the page are positive and uplifting) and allow them to dry slowly. Sun drying is good but watch out you do not bake them. They should take about a week to dry to a stable condition. Repeat the process until all your cherries are picked and put to dry. Don’t forget to taste the pulp!
Roasting is the next step in this cycle. That is for another time and another blog entry.
Part III: Caring For Your Coffee Tree
When I was growing up in the Bronx in the 50’s my mom would stick three toothpicks into an avocado pit, balance the pit on the rim of a water filled glass, submerging the bottom half in the water. In a few weeks up would pop a plant with iridescent green leaves.
Today, 60 years later, I follow in my moms footsteps and plant coffee seeds in a 2 inch wide flower pot, wait 3 months for the seeds (beans) to pop up, and then nurture the seedling through three successive repottings into larger containers until the tree is 7 feet tall and producing thousands of beautiful red cherries.
Me with a three year old coffee tree. Note the small amount of the deep red cherries of the trees first crop sprinkled throughout the tree.
Last month I received a letter from Woody Hastings . I gave a him seedling coffee tree back in the summer of 2006 . He took the gift seriously.
He wrote to me last month and sent along these photos by way of a “tree progress report . His letter inspires this blog entry.
I’m Woody, the guy you gave?/sold? a coffee plant to at SolFest 2006. You and I have crossed paths at SolFest ever since and I think a few times at GreenFest too.
Here’s what I look like…
Or maybe you recognize my wonderful wife June who works at Global Exchange.
Anyway, I wanted to show you a couple of photos of the fantastic coffee plant you gave me. It is now fruiting with about 20 cherries and I plan to roast them per your instructions at the last SolFest and have a cup of my own home grown, home roasted, home-brewed coffee! And the plant, which is about 3 feet tall…
Really just thought you might like to receive such a good progress report, and wanted to thank you for giving me this living thing that has brought me (us) so much joy and entertainment!
Happy New Year to you.
See you at SolFest!
PS, Almost forgot to mention, Mr. Coffee, as the plant is known, was dressed up with ornaments and served as our “christmas tree” this past December. What a hoot!I wrote back…….
I wonder if I can put your letter and photo on our website so other people can learn and see your success with the coffee tree, I am proud of you. You found the magic within you. I Thank you for the photos. You will need about 30 beans (15 cherries) for a cup of coffee. about 12 -15 grams) What is your cycle ? When does it flower and when are the cherries deep red? Where do you live?
Feel free to use whatever I sent you for your website, plus the following info too if you wish. If memory serves well, I think I first noticed the flowering in mid-summer, cherries emerged in the fall, and started turning red in December. Judging by the pace at which they are all turning deep red, I will have harvested them all before the end of February.
I live in Noe Valley, in the geographic center of San Francisco, west of the Mission, east of Twin Peaks. We have a tall east-facing window in our living room and that is where Mr. Coffee spends most of his time. You had told me that they like morning sun, and he gets a lot of it there. On nice warm days we sometimes put “him” out on our deck that gets a lot of sun. Only problem with that was that one day we put him out when it was very hot and a few of the leaves “burned.” The soil I potted it in is a mix of bagged planting soil and other soils from various plantings, plus a small amount of worm castings. I’ve fed it diluted worm tea from my worm bin about once every two months. I think that helped a lot. Since I have 20 cherries, it will be one strong cup!
I think the one thing we have been mystified by is how the blossoms could have been pollinated. I was happy to see the blossoms and figured they would just drop and produce nothing. So surprised and gratified to actually get cherries, but how does that work? Self-pollinating?
Tomorrow I will continue this blog with my Tips for growing coffee trees at home successfully . Look for EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GROWING COFFEE TREES AT HOME
"Natural" drying method in Ethiopia (photo credit: Menno "the Dutchman")
About two weeks ago Ben came back from Uganda and Rwanda after visits with the coffee cooperatives we are working with . You can read his blog entry to learn what he does when he makes the long voyage to Africa twice each year, and why such visits are so central to the way Thanksgiving Coffee does business. In fact, the way we “source ” our coffees is the defining difference between Thanksgiving Coffee Company and all other specialty coffee companies in the USA. On his way home Ben stopped in Amsterdam to visit with our Ethiopian Coffee intermediary and exporter at his office which happens to be less then 500 feet from where the first coffee exchange was set up over 500 years ago. There is a great book about the way coffee and coffee tree seeds were smuggled out of Yemen in the late 1490’s by a Portuguese Jewish man( who escaped the Spanish Inquisition seeking religious freedom in Holland) and his financial partner, a Dutch woman of great stature. The name of the book is The Devils Cup . It reads like a cross between a Hunter Thompson Gonzo monolog and a John Steinbeck travelog . A thoroughly enjoyable read. But I digress… While in Amsterdam Ben received a dozen samples of various Ethiopian coffee samples to bring home for us roast up and taste. This we did yesterday and the results were just wonderful . All the samples were from the Sidama Region . It is traditional in the coffee trade here in the USA to call the region “Sidamo” but I have been told by knowledgeable people that Sidamo means monkey and is considered a racist slur in Ethiopia. Regardless, the coffees were produced using the “washed” or “wet” method as opposed to the “dry” or “natural method”. I am partial to coffees produced via the wet method and Ben is partial to coffees produced using the dry method. The difference in taste each produces from the same coffee is profound and worth noting for your reference. Dry or Natural coffees are processed by allowing the cherry pulp to dry while still surrounding the coffee seeds within the cherry. This allows the fruity/fermenty flavors in the pulp to penetrate the seeds as they dry, imparting a sweet-sour flavor that reminds one of Blueberries and strawberries . When the whole cherry is totally dry, it is taken to a mill and “dehulled” to expose the coffee beans(seeds). The best “naturals” have so much personality you almost believe they have been altered with fruit syrups . Ethiopia and Yemen do the best jobs with naturals in my opinion. The blends we created for The California Academy of Science and for the Danville Chow Restaurant are based on Ethiopian naturals that ben discovered last year while trekking through the coffee regions of Ethiopia in search for a great Natural . I believe the one he found at the Hache Cooperative is one of Ethiopia’s best.
Coffee blossems have a fine aroma
We purchased 37,500 lbs of it last year and we anticipate the coffee will be just as fruity in 2009. I, however, prefer the wet processed ethiopian coffees. The pulp is removed from the seeds within hours of picking. The seeds are soaked water for 24-36 hours depending on water temperature, and then the seeds(beans) are set out to dry on cement patios to get down to a stable 11-12 % moisture . Coffees processed this way have a distinct citric brightness or acidity , showing hints of lemon and stone fruits like apricot and peach. They are bright and lively in the cup , which I prefer over the heavy and mellow mouthfeel of the naturals. But dont get me wrong, my preference is for washed coffees but a good natural is a wonder to behold. We are now at 601 words. Enough! You all are in for some great Ethiopian washed coffees this year in addition to the great naturals we found last year. We will keep you posted as to their arrival date and availability
Paul and Joan Katzeff at our factory in Noyo Harbor, 1972
I began my work here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company in 1972. The company was quite young back then, actually , it was like being there at conception . (inception ?) . There was no specialty coffee , nobody walked around in the streets with “to go” cups. There was Nixon and funny colored busses on the highways. People listened to the Moody Blues and said “oh Wow ! Petrol was 22 cents a gallon and a cup of coffee was a dime. I fell in love with the current President of Thanksgiving Coffee Company (Joan Katzeff)during those heady years of” anything is possible”, and together we embarked on a journey that eventually turned into Thanksgiving Coffee Company We have been in business as a specialty coffee company since a time when there were less then ten coffee companies in the entire country that focussed on taste as a function of terroir and craftsmanship. There were many excellent small coffee companies that specialized in coffee for specific ethnic groups, like Bustelo that roasted for the Puerto Rican Community or Madalia D’oro That roasted for the Italian community. There were Turkish coffee stores, Armenian ones, and there also, lurking in the background, were shops like Gillies and McNulty’s and Flavor Cup in New York and Capricorn and Peets in California. The forerunners of todays 4 Billion Dollar specialty coffee industry and it’s “to go cups” .They were “Big City “companies all, and Thanksgiving Coffee slipped in to that “uncrowded field” through the portal of the Mendocino Coast of Northern California .
Me and Brownie McGee, New Guinea 2005. Many farmers in New Guinea speak english because they were colonized for 50 years by Australia. We had a long conversation about agrarian reform and revolution. He had traveled two weeks on foot hunting with a blowgun for food to bring a small sample of his cooperative's coffee to the tasting event that I attended.
The stories I tell in this blog are those of someone who found magic in the first sack of green coffee he opened (pardon the third person reference to myself) and later discovered that the magic came from the people in far off places…the farmers and campacinos that cultivated and cared for the land upon which their coffee was planted. This discovery opened up the floodgates of adventure and experience proving that passion comes in many unexpected forms as does kindness and a great cup of coffee.