It’s the biggest event in coffee, sponsored by the biggest names in coffee, held in what is probably America’s most coffee-obsessed city. It’s every coffee nerd’s dream, and seven of our team from Thanksgiving Coffee Company had the opportunity to attend this year. The Global Coffee Expo is a three day event with all the players in the coffee industry, put on by the Specialty Coffee Association. Roasting, importing, producing, farming, equipment, ideas, publications – there is so much to see and do at this convention.
Above: The SCA logo on cupping mugs at the Global Coffee Expo
Stepping into the launch party on night one was an experience all in itself. At the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle, thousands of coffee professionals from all over the world flooded the floors. There was a virtual reality farm tour, a video from the board of the SCA, cold brew samples from Starbucks, a latte art throwdown, and networking with some of the most prominent people in coffee. It was overwhelming and spectacular — and a great way to kick off an exciting weekend.
Above: The Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle hosts the SCA Global Coffee Expo launch party
The Specialty Coffee Association turns 35 this year. The years that have gone by have changed the association in many ways, but it remains at its core, a place for people to come together and fight for the greater good of everyone involved in the coffee industry. Thanksgiving Coffee’s Co-Founder and CEO Paul Katzeff was part of the team that founded the SCAA back in 1982, and has been an integral part of the association (and its president twice) through the decades.
Above: Paul Katzeff at the Global Coffee Expo launch party
The weekend was of course a whirlwind, full of lectures, meetings, walking the Expo floor, and naturally, lots of coffee breaks! We tasted coffee from Kenya, Colombia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nicaragua, India, and many more origins. We met old friends and new, listened to lectures from coffee professionals, and visited our Fairtrade certification.
We were also able to take a peek into the newest publications that have featured Thanksgiving Coffee recently: Fresh Cup Magazine’s article on coffee bag packaging, and Stir Magazine’s feature on our Congo Coffee, benefiting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
One of the main highlights of these conventions is the opportunity to meet with our producers – the human beings behind the coffee farms. Throughout the year, we speak with these folks over email and telephone, but at rare moments like these, we’re able to spend time with them face to face. We get to catch up on life and family and learn how their farms and co-ops are doing. We got some fun shots with a few of our friends:
Above: the SOPACDI co-op team from the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Thanksgiving Coffee team from Fort Bragg, California
Above: Sara Corrales of the Los Pinos Farm in Nicaragua, and Joan Katzeff, co-founder of Thanksgiving Coffee
Above: Jacob Long, Roastmaster and Director of Coffee at Thanksgiving Coffee, and Lucas Silvestre of the Guayab Co-op in Guatemala
Above: Fatima Ismael of SOPPEXCCA in Nicaragua, Joan Katzeff of Thanksgiving Coffee and Nicholas Hoskyns of Etico in Nicaragua
We here at Thanksgiving Coffee want to give a HUGE thank you to the volunteer team that worked so hard at the Global Coffee Expo. Conventions like these simply cannot happen without the help of volunteers, and we are all indebted to you!
Take a peek below at some of the fun we had while in Seattle at the Specialty Coffee Association convention. After the Roasters Guild mixers, morning presentations, photo booth fun, and walking tens of thousands of steps across the show floor, we are going to need the rest of the week to rest and catch up.
The Thanksgiving Coffee team at Global Coffee Expo, with Nicholas of Nicaragua, and Isak of Rwanda
Joshua Long, Jacob Long, Paul Katzeff, Joan Katzeff and Jen Lewis outside the Washington State Convention Center
The Seattle skyline from our Airbnb in Queen Anne
Marchelo Bresciani at the Fairtrade America booth
Jacob, Josh and Nathan inspecting new roasting equipment
Joan and Paul Katzeff, co-founders of Thanksgiving Coffee Company
Jen Lewis with Jennifer Pawlik of Amavida Coffee Roasters, a fellow B Corporation
At the International Women in Coffee Association (IWCA) breakfast
Thank you, volunteers
Jacob Long and Joshua Long with Kenyan dancers at the Global Coffee Expo launch party
Attending the Fairtrade America cupping
We’ll see you in 2018, Seattle!
Stay tuned for some individual posts from our team that attended the show!
Two months ago, we helped to connect Molly Gore of the Bay Area Coffee Community with some of our partners at origin in Nicaragua. On her way back from coffee country, Molly wrote a beautiful letter back to our co-founder. We felt the post encapsulated many of the feelings that we have when we travel to origin, and so we asked if we could share her letter on our blog. Here it is, courtesy of Molly. Hope you enjoy!
Jan 28, 2013
Byron & Molly
photo courtesy Molly Gore, 2013
I’m writing you on my way out of Managua, lamenting leaving, and basking in an upwelling of inspiration. Rachel was a wonderful guide through coffee country. We carved our way into the mountains to Matagalpa, where I met Byron. Where I left my soul to steep. His vision is enrapturing, and kindred to a sensibility deep in my own heart. There is something about his farm that wraps you up, that feels important and prophetic. I’m still daydreaming of surrendering myself onto his land to work through the seasons. And then on to Jinotega. And Fatima! SOPPEXCCA! I’m so honored to have had the chance to speak with her. The more I ask about the mechanics of community development, about the roots of all these remarkable projects, the more it seems that she is at the bottom of the things I saw.
Before I came, I really had no idea how far SOPPEXCCA’s impact reached into the community, or even what a cooperative’s impact looked like.
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I’ve seen and heard about cooperative efforts failing when ideas come from the outside. And to see something different, SOPPEXCCA’s model, that is so solidly and effectively empowering, makes me want to yell and preach. It swells my faith to see success this way, to see the kind of culture born from a model like this. I learned so much about what has to be done to make impact last. And what struck me, unexpected, was the positive impact that rippled into lives of those who were not even members. The entire community. The co-op holds up so much more than just itself, I was amazed. Oh! And! A gender committee! To see its effect trickle so readily into projects and relationships, that was amazing.
We stayed with Antonio and Norma at Los Alpes on their farm for a night. They took us to the school, the store, we traipsed through their land, the wet mill, the gravity pump. Saw the cherries at the end of harvest, the rust. I heard their stories. And ate a hell of a lot of plantains. Visited the SOPPEXCCA cafe, was led through a cupping, and toured the beneficio and heard stories from the women’s workers’ cooperative.
It’s magic to see so much push behind their ideas, especially when machismo still runs so thick. They tell me how much they’ve changed, and their lives have changed, through capacitaciones and their own empowered movement.
Coffee Cherries in Nicaragua
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I’m so moved by the integrity here. It runs deep. I’m not sure what I expected, and I know I only saw a fraction of this world, and a highly positive side, but feeling that the culture of a place can actually shift, that a population can be lifted, sustainably supported when you get it right, and feeling the visions of poets who are the guardians of the earth, reminds me of what’s possible. The story is so abstract until you go. I told you I wanted to understand this relationship, between quality and empowerment. It’s still incredible to me that I have the opportunity to learn this way. And, at the same time, I realize there’s no other way.
I’ve seen the shape of the difference made on the ground, and I want to help. I’m working on the best way to proliferate all the information and heartchange that I’ve gleaned from this trip into the coffee community up here. Planning quite a bit of writing on it. I’m still working out my role in the scheme of things, I feel called as some kind of liaison, but I suppose this will take shape organically if it is supposed to as time goes on.
If anything, my responsibilities as a human are making themselves clearer, taking more concrete shape in a way.
Nicaraguan Coffee Country
photo by Mischa Hedges, 2013
I apologize if this was lengthy, but I wanted to extend a grand thank you for introducing me to all this. If anything, my responsibilities as a human are making themselves clearer, taking more concrete shape in a way. And the amount of things I don’t know seems to grow larger the more I explore. But I suppose that’s a good thing. Please let me know what more I can do to support these projects, and the work that’s being done.
Thank you, from my heart. It’s a beautiful thing to see the kind of world that Thanksgiving Coffee nurtures. Whenever it is I see you next, I hope it’s soon. And always, thank you for the encouragement.
Cherry pulp and monkeys,
A guest post by Molly Gore, Bay Area Coffee Community
Molly handles PR + Marketing for the Bay Area Coffee Community and writes for the SFWeekly food blog.
Although it could be argued that coffee (unlike money) actually grows on trees, the truth is that many hands and much hard work is required to produce and sell coffee. Understanding the importance of this work is one of the cornerstones of our relationship-based business model: by respecting the farmer’s craft, offering premium prices for quality, and building long-term commitments to each other, we create a win-win business for ourselves, and for our partners at origin.
Natividad Lopez Garcia, Reina Isabel Quintero, and Flor Rodriguez, founding members of SOPPEXCCA’s women’s cooperative.
One of the hands that touched your coffee this morning belonged to the farmer who planted, pruned, and harvested your coffee. When we picture fair trade, we mostly picture this person—and for good reason. In many respects, our efforts to build a more just and sustainable coffee trade have focused on empowering these farmers. There are, however, other hands that care for your coffee, and for years, these workers have been left on the margins. We’re working to change that, starting with our partners at the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative in Nicaragua. There, on the sunny foothills of Jinotega’s mountains, a cooperative of 42 women has come together in search of a sustainable future.
These women are coffee sorters. During the harvest, they spend 8-10 hours each day drying, sorting, and bagging coffee SOPPEXCCA has bought from its member farmers. Day after day, from October through March, these women ensure that coffee is evenly dried on large cement patios, hand-sorted to select out any imperfections, and stored by lot, farm, and farmer in a complex but completely traceable system. The work of these women is critical—it’s equivalent to the work of a cellar master in a winery, carefully tending to the slowly maturing product and sorting out imperfections.
According to Fatima Ismael, SOPPEXCCA’s General Manager, these women were organized in a cooperative so that they could overcome their history of poverty and marginalization. “The world of coffee, from producer organizations, to industry, to various certifications has analyized from a human perspective the equity and justice of coffee supply chains. There is an ongoing struggle towards conditions that enable sustainability of producers and a chance to overcome poverty and marginalization. One forgotten sector is the workers—predominantly women—who sort farmer’s coffee once it has reached the cooperative’s dry mill. These women have been an invisible part of the chain, in essence, they are harvest the harvest, improving quality through sorting and care, but their work has been marginalized.”
Since 2010, the 42 employees of SOPPEXCCA’s coffee mill have been organized in a cooperative to help overcome his history of poverty and marginalization. This women’s cooperative has created a matched-savings program to help its members begin their own business once the harvest season ends, it has built and supplied a member-owned grocery store that offers basic stables at cost, it has offered cervical cancer screening and treatment to its members, and it has created an initiative to transition cookstoves from wood to clean-burning stoves that can use chaff produced by coffee milling for fuel. Funded by a $10,000 loan comprised of contributions from SOPPEXCCA and Thanksgiving Coffee, this cooperative and its members are pushing our business model forward, improving quality, and ensuring that everyone behind the production of a great cup of coffee benefits from our business.
When asked what the cooperative means to her, Sayda Rios explains the savings she and her fellow members see when they shop at their grocery store. “We buy in quantity at the wholesale market in Matagalpa, direct from the distributors. We go there, with a list of the items members want to buy, and compare prices from the various sellers, then we negotiate, and get the best possible prices. By the time we’ve come home, we’re saving 30-40 percent on groceries, compared to the prices we use to have to pay at the local store.” She concludes by pointing out the change that these women have made in their lives. “By joining together we’ve managed to make our lives better.”
Adolfo Talavera, 2004.
Adolfo Talavera is a tall man with a scraggly beard and a deep, raspy voice. Listening to him talk about his gracefully choreographed organic coffee farm—the way he turns left-over coffee cherry pulp into rich organic fertilizer, sequences the planting of shade and coffee trees, or protects the source of a mountainside spring—you marvel at the joy he takes from his work, and the twinkle that it sparks in his eyes. You might also think that this joy is his dream, or the purpose of his work. But it’s not—in fact it’s just the beginning.
Talavera is the proud father of a new school in Los Alpes, Nicaragua. This school, overlooking a grassy meadow, the town, and ridge after ridge of mountainous coffee farms, is the reason Talavera does what he does. For him, and the other farmers of Cooperativa 16 de Julio, growing organic coffee is a means to an end: the health and happiness of their community.At times the dream of the new school in Los Alpes must have seemed distant, if not almost impossible. The members of 16 de Julio farm land that was redistributed in the Sandanista revolution of 1979. Through their struggle to defend themselves and their land against Contra raids, the community of Los Alpes was able to maintain their new land, and to coalesce as a cooperative.
Students at the Los Alpes School, 2004.
United by this struggle, the cooperative soon faced new challenges. Formed in the early 90’s HYPROCOOP was a second-level cooperative in the department of Jinotega. HYPROCOOP coordinated the marketing and selling of its members coffee to the Fair Trade market in Europe, guaranteeing stable earnings in a time of widely fluctuating prices. But in 1995, the executive director fled the country with the cooperative’s savings, leaving the individual cooperatives and their members responsible for $720,000 in debt. “We were devastated and shamed.” remembers Talavera.The farmers regrouped and formed SOPPEXXCA in 1997. SOPPEXXCA is a second-level cooperative with over 450 members. It was created to maintain HYPROCOOP’s links to the Fair Trade market, to repay the farmer’s debt, and to facilitate the transition to organic farming. Since then, the 450 families that comprise SOPPEXCA have paid off $400,000 of their debt. But while this has meant foregoing individual earnings for the sake of financing the cooperative, it hasn’t meant foregoing Talavera’s dream of a school in Los Alpes.With SOPPEXXCA’s help, 16 de Julio coordinated grants from international donors, and with this financing, plus contributions from the cooperative, the community built a school.
Back on his farm, Talavera stands proudly in the dirt floored kitchen of his two room house. For eight years, this is where the children came to school. “Now do you want to see my farm?” he asks. Yes. To see Adolfo Talavera’s farm is to see the life’s work of a gifted farmer. It’s a chance to see how organic coffee farmers and their cooperatives are caring for the future health of their land, their communities, and their children. These are the people and places that we – AND YOU – support when we buy and sell Fair Trade and Organic coffee.
Los Alpes is one of six primary communities who together form the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative. You can taste their coffee in our Flor de Jinotega, Nicaragua coffee line.
This story was written in 2004.
Flor de Jinotega, Nicaragua
November 2010-January 2011 Harvest
Guadalupe Jesus Picado, SOPPEXCCA Cooperative, Jinotega Nicaragua. 2010.
Nestled in the mountains above the regional capital Jinotega, the farmers of SOPPEXCCA grow coffee under the protective shade of bananas, mangos, and mahogany, and alongside dense forests providing home to dozens of rare orchids and winter habitat for hundreds of migratory songbirds. Jinotega is the heartland of Nicaragua’s coffee producing zone and many of the country’s finest coffees come from the thousands of small-scale family farms arrayed throughout the department’s lush mountain landscape.
This landscape wasn’t always organized this way. Before the revolution of the 1980s many of these small family farms were actually consolidated in expansive haciendas owned by foreigners and the country’s elite and farmed with the intensive use of agrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. The farmers themselves were hired labor, invariably poorly paid. In fact, the genesis of the revolution itself traces directly to these large farms, and the thousands of farmers without access to land. One of the central demands and outcomes of the revolution was a process of land redistribution whereby farmers gained access to the land they had worked for generations. Cooperatives arose out of the need to organize these small farms in larger economic unions that could market coffee, facilitate much needed financing, and serve the community’s broad social, economic, and environmental needs.
Though relatively small in membership, SOPPEXCCA has emerged as Jinotega’s leading cooperative. The cooperative represents 654 families and is recognized around the world as a leader in the movement to empower small-scale farmers, especially women and youth. SOPPEXCCA has built primary schools in its member communities, alongside pharmacies, cooperative grocery stores, and technical assistance centers. Extensive micro-credit programs offer members access to financing at a discount of 75% compared to locally available commercial finance. Long-term work to develop sustainable coffee production has resulted in a cooperatively-owned organic fertilizer production facility, innovative climate change adaptation efforts, and of course, ongoing coffee quality improvement programs.
During the harvest, coffee is carefully picked, then depulped and fermented overnight before it is washed and sun-dried. Careful attention to the subtleties of processing and the farmer’s pride produce sweetly floral coffee, with notes of brown sugar and cacao, summer stone fruit, and lingering taste of milk chocolate.
Cooperative SOPPEXCCA · Altitude 1,200 meters ·Region Jinotega •Processing wet/washed · Varietals bourbon, typica, caturra · Cooperative membership 654
This business requires patience. From the time we taste a coffee sample to the time that coffee arrives at our door ready to be roasted can take several months. It’s especially difficult to be patient when the samples are really really really good.
This past Thursday was a big day for us here at Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Just after 8:00am a truck backed up to our loading dock full of sacks of new crop Nicaraguan coffee. These coffees are particularly special for us because our relationships in Nicaragua go back so many years. We don’t just buy from one cooperative there, we buy from three: Solidaridad de Aranjuez (our Joya de Aranjuez coffees), SOPPEXCCA (our Flor de Jinotega), PRODOCOOP (Dipilto coffee which serves as a backbone to many of our favorite blends and will be featured this year as a special single origin). We also buy from one small scale family farm owned by the Corrales family (Byron’s Maracaturra – a perennial favorite). The arrival of these coffees is thrilling because coffee, like many crops, is seasonal. We buy limited quantities of the highest quality each year and when these coffees run out, we have to wait for the next year’s harvest to arrive. We were all eagerly anticipating this delivery; especially our roasting team who was chomping at the bit to get these beans fired up and out the door to our loyal customers who, like us, know that the exceptional quality, complexity, and character of these distinct coffees are worth waiting for.
Towards the end of July, we’ll be celebrating the arrival of these Nicaraguan coffees as well as the balance of our Northern Hemisphere coffees (like Musasa, Rwanda) that are also recent arrivals to our dock. Keep an eye out for your invitation to party with us here at the warehouse.
Here are some pictures of how the day went: the arrival, unloading, sample roasting, staff cupping, and finally the beginning of production roasts.
It was our third day on the road and we were feeling good. The simple diet of rice, beans, eggs, chicken and beef, plus mangoes and papayas was beginning to provide native energy. We were not in conflict with the food we were eating, we were in harmony with it. And we all had lots of sleep last night. So after breakfast we took a stroll in the central square where these photos were taken. Just a slice of life in a dreamy coffee town in the most important coffee growing region in Nicaragua and the home of SOPPEXCCA, a small scale producer cooperative we have been purchasing coffee from for over a decade. Flor de Jinotega: sweet, caramelly with cashew notes in the finish – just great stuff. A really progressive cooperative also. Here are six photos that will tell you what you need to know about Jinotega (if you examine them closely)…
A garbage can on a street corner. Could be Manhattan or your home town, lots of plastic… because it is the can for recycling plastic! They are soooo hip. Look at how attractive, festive, these cans look. Makes you want to throw away things just to see if music comes out .
This fruit stand was selling mangoes that tasted like sorbet (mango sorbet) for five cents each. The cart was “hecho a mano” (handmade) the tire is illegal and there is no running water or ice, but the health department is not shutting down the economy today. It is known that about 80% of the world’s commerce is “unofficial” and unreported. It is a problem worth many more words as the implications of not being able to get credit go way beyond mortgages and car loans.
This church was and is magnificent. I’m not Catholic, but it felt Holy in there just the same.
And the revolution shall not be forgotten. A monument is on the rise and it will overlook the town square for the next 100 years.
You can tell, the mood was up. Left to right Ben, Jenais, Nick, and Jody. And that’s how we started our day.
Aranjuez, Nicaragua 1992
There were five of us under the forest canopy and each of us knew our search was over. Let me explain. Jan Eno (blue shirt on left), and I (behind the camera), were looking for the fabled great Nicaraguan coffee that had been denied U.S. coffee roasters due to the Reagan Embargo (1985-1991). Jan was Thanksgiving Coffee’s Roastmaster at the time. On the far right in the black T shirt was Roberto Vargas, a Nicaraguan who had fought in the Sandinista Revolution, came to the United States and lived in the Mission District of San Francisco, and was the creative force behind the creation of The Mission Cultural Center. I don’t exactly remember how we met, but it was he who brought me and Jan face to face with Byron Corrales and his father Arnolfo. This photo was taken on their farm. We had just completed an agreement. Byron and family would sell Thanksgiving Coffee 37,500 lbs of their family’s certified organic coffee and a similar amount of the Cooperative’s non-organic coffee. Thanksgiving Coffee would pay 50 cents over the then current world price. It was a historic moment. It would be the first Nicaraguan coffee directly imported into the United States since 1979 when the Sandinistas gained control from the Dictator Somoza. This was the picture I wanted to mark the moment.
The picture has many details that I would like to point out; we are kneeling in filtered sunlight, under coffee trees shaded by an over story of banana trees (the broad, bright green leaves behind Byron). The coffee cherries are full size but still green. It is still two months to harvest so this is September. Some of the coffee tree leaves have white spots on them, an indication of a kind of rust or mold that will need attention. Byron’s hat clearly shows the icon of the cooperative movement and in fact, at the time this photo was taken, Byron was Vice President of his cooperative, Solidaridad.
Where are these people now? Jan works as Roastmaster for the Urth Cafes of Southern California of which there are four. They are our largest “account”. Jan still lives on the Mendocino Coast and operates out of our cupping lab here in Ft Bragg. We see him every day and he is an integral part of our quality mission. Byron is a full time coffee farmer on his family farm but has become Nicaragua’s premier biodynamic and organic coffee farmer and now also heads up the Nicaraguan Government’s Organic Farming Extension Service for small and medium size farms. His father Arnolfo is still on the family farm, working as he has done for 8 decades. Roberto Vargas lives in San Antonio, Texas and is The Director of Venezuela President Hugo Chaves’ ” Heating Oil for the Poor” project. He is also one of Nicaragua’s honored poets, and I? , Well, I’m a historian waiting for the next great moment in coffee to be a part of.
(Side note: Byron grows one of the best coffees in the world. Try his exceptional Maracaturra varietal for yourself)