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.
Life goes on.
Order your own bag of Nepal Coffee now.
Rich and velvety with underlying hints of raisin.
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). Can’t do that!
At the breakfast table the following morning, I told Joan that if she wanted Thanksgiving to work in Africa she was going to have to lead the way, because my plate was full. We ate breakfast and headed in to work. My sleep time thinking had convinced me that I was not right for the job in 2003 and it enabled me to say “NO” to finding the Africa connections we needed to do business our way. Our way had always been buying from small scale, Fairtrade certified farmer cooperatives and building quality of life and quality of coffee through social and environmental benefit initiatives. That was our our mission, and if I couldn’t do that effectively, why add more work to my plate?
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.
Shop Rwandan Coffee
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.
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Building in Rwanda
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 the people of this Rwandan coffee farm. 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.
Shop Gorilla Fund Coffee
Paul Katzeff, co-founder and CEO
Shop Gorilla Fund Coffee from Rwanda
The Incredible Story of a War-Torn Region Redeemed by the Coffee Bean
The Democratic Republic of Congo is in the heart of central Africa and considered to be the most bio-diverse country in the entire continent, which is quite a distinction. Iconic African wildlife such as jungle elephants and white rhino roam throughout the four national parks, and it is one of the few places on Earth that many great ape species, such as gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo, call home. Its lush forests and equatorial climate means that the DRC is also an excellent region for growing some of the best sweet Bourbon varietals of coffee trees in the world.
But despite the country’s wealth of natural resources, decades of war, genocide, and political unrest has condemned many of the 68 million civilians to lives of poverty, disease and violence.
The lack of businesses and income-generating activity pushed the DRC into deeper turmoil and left the once=productive coffee sector neglected or abandoned. Most of the coffee farmers could no longer bring their harvest to market and fled the region, while others resorted to smuggling their beans into Rwanda in hopes to barter for food and supplies. So near, and yet so far: smuggling coffee is very dangerous and many people have lost their lives in the attempt.
Due to these circumstances, the small amount of coffee still produced in DRC was coming from small farms with old or rudimentary equipment and no access to international markets. All of that changed when Joachim Munganga founded the now-famous SOPACDI co-op.
Congo Coffee Farm
SOPACDI (Solidarité Paysanne pour la Promotion des Actions Café et Développement Intégral) was created by Joachim Munganga in 2002, as a means to bridge the ethnic strife of the region in order to tap into the international specialty coffee market. The co-op is located on the shores of Lake Kivu, which straddles the border between the DRC on the west bank and Rwanda to the east. Joachim started with his own farm and worked to rehabilitate an old, rundown estate with a central washing station for the co-op to process coffee. It wasn’t until 2008, when SOPACDI joined forces with the UK’s Twin Trading Company, that the doors to the international coffee market were opened wide. Together, they designed and obtained funding for a program to assist them with business skills and to begin rehabilitating the farms and improving the infrastructure, which included spearheading the construction of the first new central coffee washing station to be built in the country in over 40 years.
Since then, SOPACDI has grown to include over 5,200 farmers, 20% of whom are women. In a region infamous for rampant sexual violence, SOPACDI has been a leader in promoting gender equality and supporting the widows of those farmers who died trying to smuggle their beans into Rwanda. In addition to the revitalizing their lost coffee economy, SOPACDI has earned the distinction of being the first certified fair-trade co-op in the DRC and was also named 2014 Sustainability Award Recipient from the Specialty Coffee Association of America. They even hosted the DRC’s first internationally recognized coffee cupping competition, Saveur du Kivu, in 2015.
Economic stability saves lives, and not just human ones. Poor economic conditions result in the rise of eating and selling bushmeat, further endangering the sensitive wildlife of the DRC. As the animals are hunted, their numbers drop and they retreat deeper into the dense jungle. As logging companies and farmers clear away the forests at an alarming rate, they provide poachers an even greater access to hunt. That is, of course, unless the forest and the animals who live there can become a better economic resource to the people of DRC as a sustainable living ecosystem. Such is the hope of shade-grown coffee.
Coffee trees love the shade and they naturally thrive under a jungle canopy. Many coffee farmers additionally supplement their resources by growing shade-loving food crops, such as banana and avocado, along side their coffee trees, all within the natural infrastructure of the forest. By weaving the livelihood of the farmers into the success of a thriving jungle ecosystem, we are simultaneously supporting sustainable commercial goods and conservation.
Grauer’s gorillas are the world’s largest ape and only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the last two decades their population has plummeted by an estimated 80 percent, which is why the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International has set up a program to help save them based on their success working with mountain gorilla populations in Rwanda. These efforts include daily protection and monitoring, tracking the gorilla groups, scientific research, data collection, local education programs, and community engagement.
By employing the local Congolese people to protect the gorillas, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is helping to foster a love for these creatures within the community while also creating an economic benefit. They now operate a permanent research and conservation field station in the core of Grauer’s gorilla range, working closely with traditional landowners and other local partners to help ensure the future of the species and countless others at risk in DRC.
Thanksgiving Coffee is proud to support the economic renewal of the DRC by partnering with SOPACDI to bring you Grauer’s Gorilla Congo Coffee. Not only does the purchase of this coffee promote the livelihoods of the SOPACDI farmers, but a percentage of all online sales benefit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and their continuing efforts to conserve and study the great apes of the DRC.
Coffee changes the world, but it is quite possible that there is nowhere on Earth more profoundly impacted by the humble coffee bean than the Democratic Republic of Congo is right now. Together, we can all do our part to help stabilize this unique ecological treasure for future generations to enjoy by simply enjoying a good cup of coffee.
Not just a cup, but a just cup.
Back in 2000 when I became the 17th president of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, I was tasked to speak at the Annual Colombian Coffee Federations Conference being held in Colombia’s capital city: Bogata.
Not wanting a lot of fanfare when I arrived at the airport (the FARC rebels targeted Americans for kidnapping and ransom), I booked my arrival time to be midnight – when I would be certain there would be no one to meet me and welcome me to Colombia.
I picked up my luggage and proceeded to the taxi stand, walking through the marble-floored lobby. To my surprise, there stood a man with a handlebar mustache, a shoulder serape, a big smile and a donkey.
The donkey was not smiling. It was having trouble standing on slippery marble.
It was Juan Valdez, the famous Colombian coffee farmer, who had for decades been the spokesperson for The Richest Coffee in the World. He was there with the president of the Colombian Coffee Federation for a “photo op” with me.
So much for my quietly slipping into Colombia!
Thanksgiving Coffee sells two Colombian coffees here on our website:
A rich coffee with flavors of toasted nut and dark chocolate followed by a smooth lasting finish, making this a clear winner for dark roast coffee enthusiasts.
Sweet, smooth, and balanced. Mellow milk chocolate and honey notes with a lively, full body
These packages of Nicaraguan coffee seem simple to understand, but the reality is decades of work behind it all.
Carlos and his brother Fausto are both Members of the Solidaridad Cooperative in Aranjuez, Nicaragua. We have worked with them for over 20 years, and are proud to bring you their coffee in this special two-bag offering (only 100 available).
The Natural coffee Carlos has produced is richly fruity with an unforgettable finish. The washed process coffee Fausto has produced is delightful, with layers of honey and apricot that are followed by a soft, pleasant sparkle.
Enjoy these two coffees separately, but be sure to experiment with blends. We found that a ratio of 60% washed and 40% natural produced a cup that is somehow better then the sum of its already delicious parts.
Carlos Lanzas Gonzales
Carlos was born in Arenal, and his father built houses – he was a carpenter and wasn’t really involved in agriculture. “Like all children I played a lot, soccer, baseball. I studied up to 3rd grade then began to work. With my brothers we rented some land in Aranjuez and began to grow vegetables. Our main conditions were good soil, and accessibility to the city. We rented for a while then got land as a part of the agrarian reform- 120 manzanas (208 acres) between 12 of us, for about 10 manzanas (17.4 acres) per person. We formed a cooperative, at that time it was the only way to get loans or inputs.”
“I love to work in the countryside. I talk to the plants, ask them how they are. When the coffee trees have flowers they are happy, when the coffee is ripening they are gleeful, and when the coffee is ready to be harvested it’s in an even better mood.”
On changes in the community: “Now we have good roads, a school, a health post, electricity, we’ve been able to improve our homes, these changes are due to coffee. With vegetables you can’t get much income. Over 70 manzanas (121 acres) of land has been reforested, we’ve been conserving the soil. We’ve put trees on the land that is not planted in coffee, in order to protect the watershed. Most of the water that goes to the rest of Aranjues and to Matagalpa comes from our lands.”
“There’s always a risk that the seeds will be bad, the inputs too expensive, or that the sale price won’t cover the costs. We win and lose, it’s the rhythm of our lives. But we’ve been able to improve our lives with the buyer that we’ve found. The small producer usually doesn’t have access to the market- we’er always in the hands of the intermediaries and they get most of our earnings.”
On the meaning of well-being: “All the best things you desire. When the work we do is compensated, we can educate our children, have good food, live a just life. With a good price we have a better life, we have the right to that, don’t we? My favorite time of year is when I sell my coffee, in April or May.
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s our source of life. The most marvelous thing about her is that she gives progress to our family. She helped us to get what we have. Agriculture in general is not very profitable. 12 years ago we got help from Norway through UNAG, they helped us to get started in coffee. It was a good program because it helped us a lot, gave us the techniques. We didn’t know anything about coffee at the time. When the prices went up to $1.70 because of the frosts in Brazil, we thought of nothing but coffee. I have 25 manzanas (43.5 acres) of land in another place for growing beans and corn, and 2 manzanas (3.5 acres) in transition to organic. I have Caturra and Catimor that I’m planning to change for maracaturra.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “The only way to have strength is through being united. The co-op gives us lots of advantages, helps us get credit, if we did;t have its it would be difficult to sell our coffee. Our successes have been building the cupping laboratory, getting credit, selling our coffee for a good price.”
Carlos’ hope for the future: “Maintain a good relationship with Paul, sell more coffee, give more work to nearby families. Have a coffee take us as far as it can. Continue to protect the environment around us. Unite and ask for more help, for housing, schools, a better life for poor people.”
“We put a lot of effort into sending the best coffee that we produce so that we can get a fair price. The harvest takes a lot of sacrifices and effort. Maybe someday the drinkers of our coffee will come and meet us to learn where coffee comes from.”
— — — — — —
Fausto Lanzas Gonzales
Family: 5 children; Karla Patricia 24 (teacher at El Quetzal, a hacienda down the road), Frank 23 (producer and member of the cooperative), Fabio 22 (producer, not a member of the cooperative), Wilmer 20 (7th grade), Sadia 17 (11th grade).
Fausto was born in Matagalpa and raised in El Arenal. 30 years ago he came to Aranjuez because the area was known for having good soil and they had to move because of all the agricultural burning where they used to live. There were very few small farmers here at the time. In 1990 he started to grow coffee.
“When I got here, there were no schools, people were poorer, life was more difficult. Now my five children have studied, they are professionals. Before, people grew vegetables on naked land, now with the coffee we have reforested and there are lots of birds. We don’t slash and burn and chemicals are used much less intensively. Agricultural chemicals used to be very risky and dangerous. The whole region has improved; the culture, the education.”
On the meaning of coffee: “It’s what I live in, the way I survive, my work. We were growing vegetables, they weren’t worth anything for a while. When the project from Norway came and gave us credit for coffee, we were looking for a different product. I like harvest time, knowing that I’m working for the good of the whole family, so we can get ahead…”
Fausto’s “I have 10.5 manzanas (18.2 acres) of land in total, 5 manzanas (8.7 acres) are planted in coffee, 2.5 (4.3 acres) of them are organic, and 4 manzanas (7 acres) are natural forest. The coffee varieties I have are Caturra, Maracaturra, and a little bit of Catimor.”
Meaning of quality: “If I have quality, I’ll get a good price and I will not have trouble selling my coffee.”
“Thinking that you have to live here and do this, that it’s an obligation. Thinking that if you don’t do it you won’t have any way to make a living. Also, the possibility of losing a harvest because of a natural disaster; the “El Nino” phenomenon, drought, or hurricane, A couple years ago I lost 30% of my coffee in a drought and I lost my wet mill during hurricane Mitch.”
On the meaning of the cooperative: “It’s very important, one of the necessities here in the in the countryside. We help each other, when we have problems we work it out between all of us. It helps us get credit, sales, we’ve learned a lot through the co-op. We’ve had good sales, made good friends, and received financing.”
On the future of the community: “The cooperative needs to support the community leaders to get the basic necessities here. We should petition the government. The cooperative should help with the school and health post when we have the resources, but we’re still small and just starting out.”
Fausto’s hopes for the future: “I want to improve my life and that of my children, help my kids build homes. By caring for the land, she will give us more.”
Fausto’s message to coffee buyers: “We try to produce the best quality for you, we’d like to be recognized for this work. We struggle a lot to achieve this quality and we’d like to be paid for it.”
In a world getting short on water, coffee lovers should begin to get their palates ready to recognize “Dry Processed” or “Naturals” when they buy coffee.
Naturals are processed from cherry to green bean without the customary water de-pulping and subsequent water bath. In the dry process, coffee cherries are dried with their skins and pulp intact.
The cherries are placed in the sun on concrete patios or raised drying beds. The skins tighten as they dry and the pulp juices move inward into the two seed in the cherry’s interior. When the mass is totally dry and crisp, and hard as a rock, they are milled like rice, cleaned and sorted and sacked.
This process produces quite a different flavor profile from wet processed “washed coffee.” The coffees take on the hints of the fruit and at their best, notes of blueberry and strawberry prevail. There is a jammy sensitivity to the brew, lots of body and fruit aromas.
Of course, these great flavors disappear in the darker roasts. We roast naturals, both light and medium, depending on the initial intensity of the fruit flavors.
This month we are featuring two “naturals.” One is from Ethiopia and received a 91 rating from Coffee Review. The other is from one of our favorite coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, and received a 94 rating.
Byron began experimenting with naturals about 6 years ago. He was the first to master the art in Nicaragua and his naturals are a tad more balanced and a bit less fruity than the Ethiopians, but the jam is there as are the sweet berry flavors.
One of my favorite blending concepts is to blend naturals with washed coffees. In fact, Paul’s Blend is just that.
– Paul Katzeff
Announcing the Expansion of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Partnership.
Lone silverback Mizero
Thanksgiving Coffee Company has just renewed our commitment to help protect the last remaining 880 mountain gorillas, support the people of Rwanda, as well as offer a great coffee.
For more than 10 years Thanksgiving Coffee Co. has supported the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund by raising over $58,000 for their gorilla conservation work, and now, we have just pledged to continue this support with a new contract dedicated to this inspiring partnership.
In 2004, Thanksgiving Coffee began to work with the Dukunde Kawa Coffee Cooperative in Rwanda, and the Fossey Fund, as a way to help strengthen community development in a post genocide country.
Together with the Fossey Fund, we offered support to the Rwandan farmers as they developed sustainable alternatives to logging and poaching, which are two of the largest threats facing mountain gorillas today.
The Fossey Fund has almost 50 years of gorilla protection and conservation history in Rwanda. They are committed to promoting continued research on the gorillas and their threatened ecosystems and to providing education about their relevance to the world. We are honored to work with them and greatly look forward to this continued work. Learn more
“The Fossey Fund believes in protecting gorillas and their habitat by creating better choices for people and supporting the development of a sustainable economy in Rwanda.” Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.-Fossey Fund President/CEO and Chief Scientific Officer
A sustainable economy is essential to the success of this program. We want the next generation to thrive. It has only been 21 years since the fabric of the Rwandan society was torn apart by civil war. The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy. One way that we have been able to offer help to the people of Rwanda is with our ongoing support of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative.
This Cooperative was formed in 2003 with help from the Rwandan government and the USAID-funded PEARL Project (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). Since then, Thanksgiving Coffee has worked with Dukunde Kawa on a variety of social, economic, and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee and strengthening the Cooperative, and the benefits it offers to its members. Thanksgiving gives a $.20 per pound Fair Trade premium directly to the Coop for development of community benefit projects, with no strings attached. Read more here
The Dukunde Kawa Cooperative is where the Gorilla Fund Coffee comes from, and they produce one of the most elegant coffees in the world. The cooperatives coffee has won the Rwanda Cup of Excellence 6 years running.) This community of farmers, collectively known as Musasa, has an average of 1 acre each. Their average yield per farm is 500 pounds of coffee, and the average family size per farm is 9 people. Each one of these two thousand small farms produces coffee, and that coffee is the economic lifeblood for their community.
With the purchase of this coffee from The Coop, Thanksgiving is able to help the farmers feed their families, offer shelter from harsh elements, and give them a livelihood that grows year after year. With every package of Gorilla Fund Coffee that is purchased online, Thanksgiving Coffee donates to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International to help their vital work. If you would like to help the mountain gorillas, help the people of Rwanda, and drink delicious coffee, you can, right here.
“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate on the preservation of the future.”
– The last entry in Dian Fossey’s journal
Sweet, with notes of dark chocolate, juicy hints of orange and plum.
MEDIUM ROAST • Fair Trade
Buy 100% Rwanda coffee
Draped like a patchwork quilt over a steep winding ridge, the two thousand farms of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative stretch over 10 kilometers of meandering hilltops and slopes. Each small farm is home to a family, and on their small plots, often an acre or less in size, the family produces beans, potatoes, plantains, and the economic lifeblood of their community, coffee. This community of farmers—collectively known as Musasa after the area’s main town—produces one of the most elegant coffees in the world.
We have worked closely with Dukunde Kawa since 2004 on a variety of social, economic, and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee and strengthening the cooperative and the benefits it offers to its members.
In 2015, we submitted this fine coffee to the team at CoffeeReview.com
. They gave our 100% Rwanda single origin coffee a respectable score of 92 points:
“Immaculately sweet; lyrical. Peach, honey, lavender and honeysuckle, fresh-cut cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet, high-toned acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel. Peach, honey and flowers carry into a crisply sweet finish.” – rating by CoffeeReview.com
Sweet, with notes of dark chocolate, juicy hints of orange and plum.
MEDIUM ROAST • Fair Trade
Buy 100% Rwanda coffee
In memoriam: Fernando Arguello Amador (1945 — 2015)
Fernando was a campesino (farmer) who became a friend over the many years we worked together. He was ever present in supporting his cooperative and community. He maintained an extremely high quality standard for his coffee.
Most of all, we will remember him as a strong diplomatic leader who stood up for the interests of the farmers he represented. Fernando had a huge heart, penetrating smile, and soft voice. He was incredibly respectful while driving a hard bargain. When he stopped being president he continued to support and use his experience to help the cooperative. He will be sadly missed on our trips up into the Aranjuez mountains, but his memory will always be with us.
– Nicholas Hoskyns
Thanksgiving Coffee Board Member & ETICO Managing Director
We’ve set aside a small amount of Fernando’s last coffee crop (2015) for a limited release. Our roastmaster, Jacob Long has created a special roast of this coffee, and we’re offering 100 bags. We’ll donate $1.00 per package sold to the Amador family in memory of Fernando.
LIMITED RELEASE: Fernando Amador
Silky-smooth, notes of milk chocolate, with a lingering navel orange sweetness.
About Fernando Amador:
Fernando Arguello Amador was born in La Libertad, Nicaragua in the region of Chontales in 1945. His father was a silicon miner, and became ill with Tuberculosis. His family learned of a TB hospital in Aranjuez, so the family moved there for his treatment. When his father died 2 years later, Fernando, being the oldest child, stayed in Aranjuez to help his mother.
Fernando – “I sold bread and food door to door. I spent 5 years working in the hospital, first cleaning, then I learned carpentry to repair shoes. Later a woman offered me credit to buy 10 manzanas of land (17.4 acres). Little by little we started with coffee, then with the help of God we got a cow.”
Fernando had a rough start to farming, losing much of his first farm because he couldn’t make the payments.
But he persisted, and eventually secured a loan to plant coffee trees on more land. In 1992, Fernando and other farmers formed a cooperative, SOLIDARIDAD, which eventually became Fair Trade Certified, guaranteeing higher prices per pound of coffee grown by its members. It was around this time when Paul Katzeff, Thanksgiving Coffee’s co-founder, met Fernando and began buying his coffee.
“Coffee means everything. “[It] is what gives us security. It pays for all of our big expenses- the house, any sicknesses, clothing. I’ve raised my kids with it, given them education, constructed this house. With the help of the Thanksgiving Coffee Company, I bought the truck and that changed our lives,” said Fernando.
The better price has helped each member of every producing family. It allows us to help out in the community, with the school, and the church,” said Fernando.
In his years of experience as a cooperative member, Fernando gained wisdom about working in the cooperative model.
“It’s a good way for a group of friends to get together to help the community. But for it to function well, you have to put aside your ego.
Don’t mix the personal with the professional, so that it is a cooperative in the true sense of the word. Virtue means that position and power don’t change you,” he said.
Over the years, Fernando saw his community, and the environment change drastically.
With development, come more challenges. There are more people than ever living in Aranjuez, which mean more roads, more traffic, and large-scale agriculture by foreign companies and investors.
“The down side is that a lot of the environment has been destroyed. There has been tremendous deforestation here. On the other hand, the small-scale producers have planted some 100,000 trees. We all have desire for the area to stay as beautiful as it is.”
Fernando and his wife, Amparo, raised five children together. He liked to say, proudly, that all of his children have graduated high school, and are pursuing their passions.
“Leonelia (33) is a nurse, Alan (30) is a photographer, Iris (30) is a member of a women’s collective, Fernando (26) is a coffee producer (26) and Ontoniel (22) is studying engineering at the university in Leon, Nicaragua,” said Fernando.
Thanksgiving Coffee has partnered with Fernando and Cooperativa Solidaridad for over 20 years, and built a strong, collaborative relationship.
Over the years we’ve worked together to increase the quality of the coffee by investing in washing stations, building cupping labs, and providing feedback to the farmers on their crops each year. It’s a relationship we’re proud of.
“The best coffee, it takes a lot of work, carefulness, and dedication. The coffee has to be picked at the right moment, de-pulped the same day with clean machinery, perfectly fermented, and rinsed with clean water.”
– Fernando Arguello Amador (1945 – 2015)
For Fernando, coffee meant everything.