Every month, our Roastmaster Jacob Long chooses a coffee in our warehouse to spotlight for the month. Our Latest Arrival is the coffee that has been delivered most recently to the Thanksgiving Coffee Roastery, and you’ll find that these coffees astound every time.
The latest arrival for August is our Kenya Nyeri Peaberry, and tasting this coffee at its freshest is not something to be missed. This light roast from Africa has a unique mouthfeel with hints of milk chocolate, ripe peach, and caramel. We’re especially fond of this single origin, because it helped solidify our title as 2017 Roaster of the Year, from Roast Magazine. Along with our Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Paul’s Blend, the Kenya Nyeri Peaberry was judged during a blind tasting alongside a variety of other entrants – and came out on top.
This year’s crop continues to perform well, and now that we’ve established this relationship with the Othaya group, we hope to see many more years of great tasting Kenyan Coffee. We had the opportunity to meet with Jim and Phyllis, representing the Othaya Cooperative, at the Global Coffee Expo back in April, and snagged this photo of them with our Roastmaster, Jacob Long.
A week later, we received this note:
It was so nice to meet you at SCA and learn that the coffee we produce helped you win Roaster of the Year. I am so glad our Othaya Peaberry performed so well. That is really a tribute to your ability to find the sweet spot of that coffee.
I hope you are just as happy with the coffees that come this year. As I mentioned Royal did a special project with us this year with red ripe cherries. If I recall correctly I gave you a few samples to cup. It will be good to hear what you think of them.
What made this project unique is that Othaya selected their best farmers to participate in the project and they agreed to wait from 10 to 14 days to pick only their best ripe cherries on the same day so they could be processed as a separate outturn (lot). Once the parchment completed the drying process it was immediately placed in grainpro and delivered to their dry mill. After dry milling it was immediately put back into grainpro and delivered to our warehouse and queued for hand picking improvement. The coffee will be hand picked in the next two weeks and shipped. You can expect this coffee to arrive around the end of July.
We’re looking forward to many more years of providing you with some of Africa’s best coffee. Order our Kenya Nyeri Peaberry Light Roast today, and try some of this truly fantastic, award-winning Kenyan Coffee now.
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.
How poor quality coffee becomes great: the time it takes
A continuation of My Laos Experience: Part II
On December 6, 2016 I got this text message from Laos,
“Hey Paul, I want to tell you about this Reward Program we started with the coffee farmers. We had an interesting development happen since I first e-mailed you. A village has split off, and is not sending any coffee to Japan, electing to only send coffee to America. Last year they cupped at 87 without picking fully red ripe cherries and without adding any compost to the soil. This year we have had them picking only red, eight compost bins were created in each farm this summer, organic fertilizer tea is being sprayed on every tree, and the micro lot will be about 14,000 pounds(54 sacks). Plus the processing area is impeccable now! And we have created a pick team so that the ten families rotate between farms ensuring they pick only soft ripe cherries and no over ripe beans. This system is so different from the traditional way that they do it in Laos where it is traditional to only pick your own farms trees. Last year, they only picked about 70% ripe . This year it will be 95%.
We spray painted the harvest baskets red so they have a constant reminder to pick ripe cherries.”
98% ripe cherries from last weeks picking.. Luscious looking and a hard days work!
“Michael(shown below) , being the coffee expert here with me, believes we could hit 89 or 90 points with this lot. The harvest is late(usually it starts in October) so we don’t have mid pick samples yet but will soon.”
This is a unique way to help pickers see the results of their picking. The paddle has 50 holes. Each hole represents 2% of the picking. Fifty random cherries are pulled from the basket and placed in the wholes. The number of green and over-ripe beans are counted and the calculation for percent of red ripe is made. For every not ripe cherry, a percent of money is lost as the flavor is corrupted by these beans. This is the best system I have seen for improving the motivation of coffee pickers in forty years.
John (pictured below right, Lao Farmer) with Michael (below left) with his compost in his hands. John has the cleanest washing tank ever. He even keeps plastic cover over it when he is not using it to keep the dust out.
The red baskets and Mr Sam Sung and his puppy. Note compost bin in background:
Note coffee trees in background. They are the dark green trees that rim the patio:
In the lower portion of this picture you can see one over-ripe cherry:
Here is Tyson Adams with a village friend who must be half his size and three times his age. I bet she cooks up some great Lao Cuisine!
Fifteen years ago I wanted to help Veterans For Peace make their peace with their Laos experience. They dropped bombs on the people of Laos and had deep feelings of guilt; they needed to do something positive for their souls.
Now in 2016, a different person from a different generation, (Lee Thorn was 65 in 2014, Tyson is 31 now) is picking up where we left off but he brings different and more pertinent skills to Laos. Both wound up working with the same Jhai Coffee cooperative and now, after fifteen years, we have reconnected with that coffee coop and look forward to being able to roast it so you can taste it.
The way coffee becomes great is with time and hard work in the fields.
There is one other aspect that is needed and that is love. If the trees provide enough income to pay for a family’s food, clothing, shelter, health care and education, then a farmer will love his trees. It is the love that the plant feels that creates the best flavors the tree knows how to produce. But it is as much the love as it is the soil, weather and variety that makes good coffee become great coffee.
My Laos Experience: Part I || My Laos Experience: Part II
How poor quality coffee becomes great: the time it takes
A continuation from My Laos Experience: Part I
Between 2004 and 2014, Tyson was in and out of my sights as he ferried back and forth between Laos and the United States. He was a very internet-savvy millennial and did a few fundraising events with Kickstarter to finance his now-evolving water well, sanitation and personal hygiene projects in his newly adopted mountain village in Laos. He was building water systems and evolving a Lao-centric life. We spent many hours talking about Laos coffee – the income source for the Lao people on the Plateau. To raise more funds, Tyson created a coffee program (this was in 2011, when he was just 24 years old).
Between 2011 and 2014, Tyson spent many hours at Thanksgiving Coffee in Fort Bragg – learning how to cup coffee and learning how to roast as well. He had this idea: he wanted to teach the Lao coffee farmers how to taste their coffee and bring it up to specialty quality. The Japanese buyers were not interested in flavor – they just wanted the volume. Tyson used his Kickstarter funds to build a coffee house in Laos, in the village he was living in. He called this coffee house The World’s First Philanthropic Coffee Roaster & Cafe. He spread the word digitally that a good cup of coffee could be had in Laos, and tourists, ex pats and the curious came to partake of a fresh-roasted and well-brewed cup of coffee… and they could meet the coffee farmers too. Customers also got to know that their purchases would go toward drilling more water wells in Laos.
By 2014, Tyson was hard at work helping the Jhai Coffee Cooperative get out from under the Japanese hold on their coffee. Having only one buyer (albeit their traditional buyer for three decades) was Tyson’s challenge. In order to get any coffee (and there was only 500 sacks), the Lao coffee co-op had to decide to short the Japanese. I had to bid up the price to make it attractive to the cooperative management.
Here is what the communication was like on February 7, 2014
On Feb 7, 2014, at 8:09 PM, Tyson Adams wrote:
Still in Thailand. Needed to get passport pages because I ran out. In two days I will be back in Laos with better Internet access. I do apologize for the lack of communication. There were some technology challenges via not having access to Internet on my phone.
Thanks for the emails as of late! Cool project in the US and very similar to ours. Only difference is that we are located at the source and our doing the work with our own farmers.
Spoke with Nick yesterday and it looks like there will be a container load of ATJ coffee available for Thanksgiving. They didn’t want to pay more than 38,000 kip so they are only taking one. You guys are offering 39,250. About $1.25 / kilo more.
We still have to discuss all this with the JCFC and of course ATJ (Japan) wants to know about other buyers (thanksgiving) but we are crossing our fingers that their expressed desire to only take one container instead of two is a positive thing for us. Plus that the JCFC and all the farmers will reserve this coffee for Thanksgiving.
At the very moment we get back we will call a meeting with the JCFC to discuss and get back to you. ATJ will be in Laos shortly to pick up their container so the sooner we figure this put the better.
TYSON ADAMS I Founder
Jhai Coffee House
The World’s First Philanthropic Coffee Roaster & Cafe Located At The Source
On Feb 8, 2014, at 12:07 PM, Paul Katzeff <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
It was not my intention to out bid the Japanese by 62 cents a pound. I followed your math and used 37 cents as the export costs which I deducted from what you said was the Japanese offer. I have actually distorted the price/value proposition for future dealings. This is not good, As Jacob said, $160-$2.00 was the value I came in higher to meet what you said the farmers would sell at. It is not good to piss off buyers by raising their price after they put up 70 % for pre finance. I would settle for half a container . Do not burn bridges. The Japanese are the historical loyal buyers and their efforts need to be respected .
I had copied my correspondence to Lee Thorn who originally contacted me back in 2004 about Veterans For Peace wanting to help the Laos people, and he joined in with this e mail the following day:
Dear Tyson (hi, Vorasone, Paul and everyone),
Congratulations on a great job, Tyson! This is wonderful work you are doing. Paul. I am particularly excited to see in emails that Paul Katzeff and Thanksgiving Coffee are planning to buy the co-op’s coffee and bring it to the U.S. As you may know, Paul is a leading light among coffee people and is an extremely experienced and renown coffee man. His son visited the co-op quite a few years ago. I cc Paul here.as well as some people on the Jhai side who helped start the cooperative.
I loved working on this! I had loaded bombs that in all probability landed in those fields. Many people who live in the coffee villages have told me they used to live along the Lao/Vietnam border. I know we heavily bombed that area, too. I was pleased to find out that many of the village elders and leaders were war veterans like me. They were from both sides of the Lao conflict. I know we all shared and share the hope of the coffee fields and the sorrow of the war. For me, this work was an amends and an amazing and illuminating chance to become friends with so many people who know how true community really works. It is humbling.
And, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything in Laos without the great help and comradeship of Vorasone and Ariya Dengkayaphichith as well as Bounthanh Phommasathit and her great extended family. Many people from those days have passed on, now, and I mourn their passing.
Please give my best to everyone and tell them they all are still in the hearts of Jhai Foundation (which is chaired, now, by Eli Neiburger cc-ed above), my family and myself.
Yours in Peace,
Chairman Emeritus and Senior Advisor, Jhai Foundation
That was 3 years ago (2014) and much has happened in the 1,000 days since then. The coffee house has received visitors from many countries, foundation grants have enabled Tyson and The Jhai Coffee farmers Cooperative to build a warehouse to store coffee, farmers have been given agricultural training in organic farming and compost building, children have been taught western personal and dental hygiene, and coffee was exported last year into the United States. I was encouraging but having been burned a decade before, I figured I would wait out their first export coffee and jump in in their second year… which is 2017.
So now, after thirteen years of flirting with Laos as a coffee origin, I will get a second chance to present our loyal customers with coffee from Laos.
The History of Coffee in Laos
Laos has an interesting coffee history. The French, when they Colonized Laos, planted coffee trees and began the industry which lied dormant and was destroyed during the secret war in the 70’s. Most trees died but what was left became the basis for the revival which began with the Japanese buyers in the early 90’s.
The French knew what they were doing. The Bolivan plateau is prime.
The climate and the soils are a perfect match for the great varieties the French planted 75-100 years ago. Now, with a very sophisticated coffee world, with people who are dedicated to great coffee flavor, and with a young man with on a mission to help build a new and sustainable Lao Coffee Industry that improves the lives of the people in the villages who grow the coffee, I can’t wait to taste what comes next.
This photo is of the cherries now being harvested by the JHAI Coffee Cooperative. (all ripe means the flavor will be as good as the tree can do. The key to preserving the trees effort will be in the depulping, drying and grading yet to come)
Next up, My Laos Experience: Part III
How poor quality coffee becomes great: the time it takes
Back in 2004 I received a call from Lee Thorn, the president of the San Francisco chapter of Veterans for Peace (VPAT). Lee was a Vietnam veteran who dropped bombs on Laos and destroyed the lives and villages of innocent civilians – and forty years later he was still feeling guilty for having done so.
He said that VPAT was an organization that wanted to make amends to the Laotian people, and asked if I would help him and his group do so. He explained that while on a return visit to the Highlands of Laos he had seen the farmers growing coffee. His idea was to import their coffee to the states, have Thanksgiving Coffee roast and package it in a branded package (Jhai Coffee) and then have his veterans group sell it to other VPAT chapters around the country.
That was back in 2002, almost fifteen years ago!
I was all for it if Lee could develop the sales. We began with a single container – which we imported without even tasting it for quality. The price we paid was fully 50% higher than the world market price and that extra amount went to the farmers as a bonus for selling to us instead of their long-standing Japanese buyers. Even though the farmers were happy to get the bonus, they feared losing their long-standing buyers that didn’t care about quality.
Coffee Farms in Laos
Coffee was planted in Laos by the French. They had colonized the country in the early part of the twentieth century. That part of the world was eventually known as “French Indo China” and included Vietnam and Cambodia. The French knew their coffee varieties and carefully selected the Typica variety as most suitable for the Laos climate and soil conditions.
Knowing this, I was certain that if the farmers picked fully ripe cherries and processed the pulp and seeds properly, we could get some really great coffee. We could also become the first coffee roasters in the states to offer coffee from Laos. The story would be War Veterans Giving Back to Those They Harmed.
Moving Forward with VPAT
The first container arrived and the coffee was fair. The flavor was flat, acidity was low, sugars were not developed well and it was obvious the farmers needed greater supervision in their coffee farming practices. The coffee had hints of greatness and obvious potential. But it would take training in new systems for bringing the coffee to export grade.
I decided to continue with the project although I was finding the coffee hard to sell. Lee had also over-estimated the sales potential of the other VPAT chapters. I believe this “adventure” cost Thanksgiving Coffee $50,000 in advertising, marketing, labels and brochures. By the end of that first year we had roasted the coffee into many French Roasts (irony) and had sold 50,000 Jhai Foundation Coffee Packages.
Lee hired a “Development Director” to work in Laos with the farmers to improve their agricultural practices, to harvest only red ripe cherries and to reduce imperfections to 2%. The 2003 Crop was really sweet and filled with caramel and nutty flavor tones, and I was happy!
That year my son Jonah was living in Cambodia. I asked him to make a visit to the Jhai Farmers to reinforce our commitment to the program and to the Jhai Farmers Cooperative. There he met Will Thomlinson, the VPAT Development Director that Lee had hired. Together they mapped out a plan for Thanksgiving Coffee to purchase two Containers (75,000 pounds) in the following year.
Now, with really good coffee that I knew could only get better, new and better harvesting practices, and a guarantee of sale, I and The VPAT members went into full sales and marketing mode. We sold a lot of Jhai Coffee packages. We raised a lot of money for the Laos coffee farmers. The money was given to VPAT and they transferred the money to Laos. I was more interested in the coffee side and building a new market for Laos coffee in the USA. My plan was to bring in great amounts of raw coffee as it became available over the years and to resell the coffee to other artisan roasters. It all seemed to be falling into place.
The following year, in 2005, Mr Thomlinson went rogue, selling our contracted coffee from that years crop to a Japanese company.
The project died.
The VPAT members dispersed and we at Thanksgiving Coffee got stuck holding 20,000 empty Jhai Foundation packages, 50,000 brochures, and egg on our face.
We moved on, a bit wiser and a bit poorer for the effort.
A Decade Later
Fast forward to 2014. Ten years pass and I get a call from a young man who was living in Seattle but traveling to Laos. He was so in love with the Lao people and obsessed with the fact that the children had no books in their schools. He started a program with a local coffee roaster, and called it “Coffee for Books.” One book was donated for each pound of coffee sold.
This young man wanted my advice and help to use Lao coffee beans for his project. He said he had met and made friends with coffee growers on the Bolivian Plain in Laos (The same region I had been dealing with a decade before) and was going back. Then asked if I would be his adviser, and implied that I would roast and package Lao coffee for his project, if he got the coffee exported to the USA.
I thought of the song lyric: “once burned, twice shy babe” and told him I would think about it – and get back to him before he left for Laos.
His name was Tyson Adams.
Read My Laos Experience: Part II now…
These packages of Nicaraguan coffee seem simple to understand, but the reality is decades of work behind it all.
By Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder & Director of Operations
I first visited Nicaragua in the early 1990’s. The terrible years of the Iran Contra Civil War were still dominant in the memory of the people, and its effects had taken a huge toll on coffee farmers already enduring a difficult way of life.
At one of the beneficios (where coffee is processed), I watched an assembly line of women sitting on a motley collection of chairs on either side of a moving conveyor belt. Their job was to separate defective beans from those that made the grade for sale and export. It was noisy, hot and dusty, so the women also wore masks that covered their noses and mouths while working.
I left knowing that as soon as I returned home, I would figure out a way to raise money to purchase new ergonomic chairs for those women, and I did, in a gesture of solidarity. But, I knew it was just a drop in the bucket.
Thanksgiving Coffee staff with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
On another small group trip in 2012, we visited the beneficio of Soppexcca, a cooperative composed predominantly of women.
We spent some time “helping” the women transfer coffee beans from the drying patio into sacks that were in process for export. I’m not sure how helpful we were, but it was an enjoyable cultural exchange. These women performed hard physical work on a daily basis. Many of them walked miles to and from work each day if transportation wasn’t available, preparing meals for their families before and after work at the beneficio, as well as doing the rest of the work required in the home, and child rearing responsibilities, as well.
We were invited to sit in on a Board of Directors meeting composed of some of the women we’d worked with, and others from the cooperative who had founded and were operating a small store at the beneficio that sold food and sundries, and was a source of additional income for them.
Women coffee workers of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
While there has been progress made in the recognition and fair and equal compensation for women who work in coffee, there is still a long way to go.
Women we’ve met on buying trips to Central America and Africa live in remote towns and villages without running, potable water or electricity. Homes are rustic, often with a dozen or more family members living in one or two rooms with dirt floors. Many women don’t have access to health care, marry young, and have children soon after. During the “thin months” when coffee income is low, they and their children often go hungry. They perform much of the physical labor required to grow and harvest coffee, but have almost no influence on decisions about how family income is spent. They are typically uneducated, impoverished and disconnected from resources.
Thanksgiving Coffee & ETICO staff meeting with the women of SOPPEXCCA, 2013
Thanksgiving Coffee began to address these issues in two ways.
First, by purchasing only from cooperatives that show a willingness to eradicate this kind of gender inequity. They do this through their actions in support of remedies to eliminate food insecurity, and promoting, providing and ensuring access to training and education for women. These actions will enable women to participate as equal partners in the industry.
The second way we, as a company, have supported women in coffee is through “The Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.” We began this work in 2014, in Nicaragua by adding $0.10 per pound to all coffees we purchase from the Prodecoop and Soppexcca Coopperatives. They have committed to using these funds to improve the lives of women in coffee. The next post will go into detail about what has been accomplished to date.
– Joan Katzeff
Joan Katzeff, Co-Founder, Thanksgiving Coffee and Fatima Ismail, General Manager, SOPPEXCCA, 2013
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
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.
- Maama Vanessa with original cooking fire
The Namanyonyi Cooperative
in Uganda is an interfaith community of Muslim, Christian and Jewish farmers who have put aside religious differences to produce a fine coffee called “Delicious Peace.”
The Clean Cook Stove project was born out of a climate change mitigation initiative brought to Namanyonyi Cooperative (formerly Mirembe Kawomera) in 2012. It began with planting trees. However, the trees were quickly devastated by the cooperative’s highly inefficient cooking methods.
The coop members knew that if they had more efficient ways to cook, they would lower their use of firewood. The Clean Cook Stoves were the solution. In the first phase of funding, we were able to provide Clean Cook Stoves to the most disadvantaged cooperative members. The first 44 stoves were built for the elderly, families with children, and single-parent families. This was completed by December of 2014.
Farida Wafidi with new Clean Cook Stove
The objective of Phase I was to test the ability of the coop and staff to find local materials and train local craftsmen, creating ongoing jobs with a new Clean Cook Stove trade or industry. Funds were generated by coop board using their Fair Trade premium and by Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s sales rebate of $1.00/ pkg. added to Delicious Peace coffee purchases by supporters of interfaith work.
With Phase I successfully completed, we now enter Phase II: to complete the next 50 stoves for this year. It is our goal to continue to provide guidance and funding for a “smokeless kitchen” with a clean cook stove for every member of Namanyonyi Cooperative by the end of 2016.
Clean Cook Stove Benefits
Aisa Kainza with new Clean Cook Stove
As a result of the Clean Cook Stove project, the rate of deforestation has been curbed. The newly planted trees can develop deep root systems which then allows the soil to become more fertile for food production as the trees bring up the water table. This rich soil further strengthens the coffee trees and other food crops grown for subsistence. This will improve food security for the area’s farmers by increasing the diversity of foods immediately available to farming families.
These stoves use 1/10 the fuel to produce a cooked meal, while the chimney directs smoke out of the kitchen, reducing the risks of respiratory disorders to all involved with cooking. They also reduce the risk of fire, given that the homes are made of dry banana fiber & grass-thatched roofs. This also lowers the chances of children getting burnt or even dying.
This project is designed to create a new indigenous industry. Over one million rural Ugandans use open fire kitchens in their highly flammable homes. Utilizing local materials and local craftsmen, this project will become a model for future funders. The Clean Cook Stoves are part Health Benefit, and part Climate change Mitigation, while also providing new employment opportunities. Scale will lower costs, increase the number of cook stoves builders, and form the basis of a new and healthier cultural norm.
Support this project by purchasing Delicious Peace Coffee. $0.50 per package sold will be used to fund Phase II of the Clean Cook Stove project.
Shop Delicious Peace Coffee