By Mischa Hedges, Director of Communications
At Thanksgiving Coffee Company, we’re always talking about how to connect our coffee community. We strive to create a space for dialogue between coffee drinkers and coffee farmers – space that allows for gratitude, appreciation and knowledge about coffee to be shared. With social media and increased global connectivity, it’s becoming much easier than it used to be to do that. For instance, check out this new feature on our website:
If you’ve enjoyed one of our single origin coffees recently, you can visit our “Farmers” page and write a message to the coffee farmer or cooperative who grew it.
Traveling to your coffee’s country of origin and meeting your coffee farmer in person is the richest way to connect, but that’s not an option for most people. We’re hoping this new feature on our website will enable you to deepen your relationship with your coffee.
Some of the farmers and cooperatives we partner with are Facebook users, and can respond directly to your messages! In other cases, we’ll gather and send your messages to the farmers and cooperatives we work with so they can see your appreciation.
Let us know what you think of this new feature…
About a week ago I got an email from my friend Shayna Harris, introducing her new blog and a really exciting adventure she was getting ready to embark upon. I know Shayna from her time leading Oxfam America’s grassroots fair trade movement building campaign. There, Shayna spearheaded a dynamic and inspired movement that I believe significantly shaped the public’s awareness of fair trade and catalyzed the strong growth we’ve seen year after year in sales and market growth.
Well now Shayna’s in Brazil with a group of her classmates from MIT’s Sloan MBA program.
What is Shayna doing in Brazil with a bunch of the (soon) to be most qualified MBA’s in the world?
This spring, a group of MIT Sloan students will investigate the challenges of rural development in the emerging markets of Brazil and India and explore how innovation can address some of the world’s most pressing issues regarding food security, climate change mitigation, and rural livelihoods. The students will meet with for-profit companies in major financial centers and with family farmers in rural regions. They will also look at examples of top-down and bottom-up social innovation, all with the aim of comparing notes on what is happening in each of these growing markets.
Here you’ll learn of the value of these trips from the travelers, while they’re traveling; how they face challenges to their thinking and develop new approaches. Follow along and get a glimpse of the kind of hands-on intellectual adventures that make the MIT Sloan experience extraordinary.
What’s exciting to me is that this trip will expose tomorrow’s business leaders to the realities that farmers (especially small-scale family farmers) face, and also the exciting possibilities that exist for creating new and creative market structures that bring them and their higher quality, more sustainably produced food to consumers.
The challenges facing our partners—farmers in Brazil, and farmers around the world—is how to diversify their production and create lasting and profitable market linkages. In many cases, coffee becomes the last option on the table after farmers have lost their markets for grains, fruits, and vegetables. The challenge of the future will be to continue to develop fair trade models for export crops (like coffee) that add value and shorten the supply chain, but also the growth and development of local fair trade models that link these same farmers with markets for a diversity of crops and products. As they say, it’s not good to have all your eggs in one basket.
Kudos to Shayna and her program for putting together this great project. It’s good news that one of the leading business schools in the world is putting aside the coats and ties and getting into something a little more comfortable for a trip into the world where healthy topsoil matters as much as mergers and where a simple meal in a farmer’s home brings as much joy as a fancy dinner out on the town.
Check out the MIT Sloan Brazil Blog
I got an email from Mr. Luis Aduato de Oliveira yesterday afternoon. He had some good news and some bad news: the good news was that he was ready to send me some pre-shipment samples. The bad news was that he’d lost my address. No biggie, I told him, that’s some damn fine news. I sent him my address, now he’s sending me samples.
I’m just happy that somewhere between my spanish, his portuguese, and our shared love of great coffee we’ve been able to spend a week together hiking around the mountains of Sul de Minas, Brazil, meeting a handful of the members of his cooperative, COOPFAM, and getting to know a little bit more about the reality of life as a family farmer in the town of Poço Fundo, Brazil.
And sourcing some great coffee too, of course.
Finally, though the wait is not quite over, I’ve got samples from the recent harvest on their way. Thank you DHL, UPS, FedEx, whoever you are. Please hurry up.
I generally consider myself a pretty patient person, and I am mostly. I’m usually pretty good at allowing for the 4-6 months between harvest and arrival of a coffee, the once a year chance to experiment with a quality improvement idea, and the often slow-pace that’s part of the deal when working with coffee farmers. But we all have our moments. I’ll be honest, I’m having one right now.
Poço Fundo is an exciting coffee. It’s a natural, which to me means that there’s huge potential for something that will totally stun you, my dear coffee drinker. More potential for sweetness, more potential for character, more potential for complexity. And we’re hot on the trail—the samples that Aduato is sending represent different lots produced at various altitudes and of various varietals (Mundo Novo, Yellow and Red Catui). We’ve fine-tuned our understanding of what ripeness really is using a refractometer to measure sugar brix (stealing a trick from the wine industry) and we’ve fine-tuned our understanding of the right drying times to maximize absorption of sugar by the mean without producing any of the off flavors associated with fermentation. Now there are a bunch of microlots, representing the culmination of these experiments. From these lots we’ll either pick our favorite, or our favorite few and create a blend of them. And I tell you what: we’re going to roast those coffees as soon as they get it. Well slow down then, and take a long time going through each sample. Probably until we’ve brewed every last bean. But as soon as we’re finished with that, I’m getting on the horn to Brazil. Aduato and I are going to press the button that turns the light green, to get those coffees on the water, and on their way here. Stay tuned for news about the arrival and upcoming launch of our new single origin Brazil. Here’s a photo of the cherries that are now the beans that are soon to by yours!
sweet sweet sweet!
I mostly enjoy the thrill of an uphill battle, especially when it’s for a good cause. But I have to tell you, it’s nice to have it be easy every once in awhile.
I’m just back from Brazil, after a week-long trip to firm-up our relationship with an amazing group of farmers producing (against all odds and my many preconceived notions) fantastically distinctive and organically grown Brazilian coffee. A little background: I studied the coffee trade pretty intensely as an undergrad, and the many different market-regulating schemes that were developed over the years. Brazil always featured prominently in these experiments with the gas, clutch and break pedals of the coffee economy, and I’d read a lot about the Brazilian market. Fast forward 8 years and here I am at the front line representing one of the most demanding and well-respected coffee roasting companies in the country, and I’m packing my bags for a trip toâ€¦of all places, Brazil? Really?
It started a long time ago, in early 1993, when Luis Adauto de la Oliviera and his neighbors formed an association of small scale family farmers in the hills and valleys above the town of Poço Fundo (Deep Spring) in the southern part of Minas Gerais, some 300 km north of Sao Paulo. The association, a loose alliance of farmers, was formed with an eye towards better prices for its members, and hope for an environmentally sustainable future.
Aduato and the view from his farm. Across the valley is the house where he was born, now home to his brother Jose.
8 years later, the farmers formed a cooperative, and began to push for a viable transition to organically grown coffee. They saw immediately that this meant quality, and breaking down a lot of the prejudices that kept specialty buyers away from Brazil. The list of challenges was familiar to me, they are pervasive in the literature and culture of the coffee trade: Brazil is a commodity producer, their coffee trades at a negative differential off the futures market, they produce for volume and don’t care about quality, farmers don’t have any incentive to take care of their land or their trees, and worst of allâ€¦the coffee is no good.
Well, a few years ago, I tasted a coffee that was strikingly different. It was lush, velvety, and sweet. It had body, it had flavor, and best of all it had character. Sweet dark chocolate, tangerine, and a sweet floral perfume and flavor that reminded me of our local blackberry blossom honey. This is Brazilian coffee? It’s from small-scale farmers? It’s organic? It’s from a Fair Trade Cooperative? What is going on here?
So we started buying it, and bringing it little by little into our espresso blends. And it was good. Really good.
So, fast forward to this year’s SCAA show in Atlanta, and my chance to meet Luis Adauto in person, finally. Happily, we discovered that he understood my Spanish, and I understood his Portuguese. A few months of planning by email, some logistical juggling, a 20-hour plane ride, and voila, I’m walking down the streets of Poço Fundo to meet Luis Adauto, learn more about his cooperative’s operation, visit farms, and yes, taste some coffee.
I spent the next three days doing pretty much just that. There was an occasional break for good food, jokes about the American soccer team (we beat Spain, they were totally impressed and pretty surprised) and more than a few small, hot, and very, very sweet Brazilian-style cafezhinos. By the end of the visit, I’d seen some beautiful farms, and met a handful of the cooperative’s members, and begun the process of outlining a contract for a significant amount of Poço Fundo’s coffee, differentiated by altitude, varietal, and processing technique per our needs (mostly for espresso, you don’t want to miss itâ€¦coming to a coffee shop near you—also good brewed strong through a drip-style cone filter, or your French press).
It was a remarkably easy trip, the coffee is already great, the farmers are already committed to organic farming and productively so, and the cooperative is well-managed and resting on strong foundations. Totally amazing, fun, and yes, remarkably easy.
I’m just stoked to have had a chance to meet the farmers in person, and open the door to what I hope is a long and fruitful partnership. Already I know that I can’t wait to share their coffee with you. It’s going to be October before we have the new crop in, so don’t get too excited just yet. I’m also looking forward to deepening our relationship, and pushing for even better quality, rewarding it with better prices, and engaging as partners with the cooperative on a variety of projects ranging from improving quality and organic production to confronting climate change and its looming impacts. I’m thrilled that we are a part of a new beginning for Brazilian coffee, and am looking forward to supporting the growth of a new kind of coffee market, with better quality, more sustainable farming practices, and more benefits to family farmers. So much for all those old books, eh? Stay tuned for more, and if you want to learn a little bit more, visit the cooperative’s website.
Humble thanks to those who came before me, and made this cooperative what it is. It’s an honor and a joy to walk in your footsteps…I hope I get to meet you one day.