Green Coffee Buying and Transparency.

Alex Piasecki

Food and Portlandia 

Over the last several years we, particularly in the West where food has become mass produced, have grown to care more about our food’s origins and producers. I recall an all-too-real episode on the show Portlandia when Fred and Carrie are in a restaurant. Before deciding on an order they ask their waiter, “did the chicken have a nice life?” and visit the farm to “meet their meat” so to speak. I think we all feel a desire to be more connected to our food and drinks after a season when our food and beverage industry commodified and mass-produced ridding us of knowing or having relationships with real people in the supply chain, producing the delicious products we get to enjoy and receive as nourishment.

Coffee and the Supply Chain 101

At Stoble we are passionate about being transparent with where our coffee comes from and what we pay for it partly because we hope it draws awareness to how exploitative coffee business can be and to help everyone along the supply chain see how important it is that we pay more for our coffees! In all this, we hope to be humbly learning and understand that the world is a complicated place. 

A lot of the reason coffee is exploitative, beyond the fact that the labor is intensive and often the hard work of coffee picking falls on refugees and the poorest laborers in the growing region, is what is called the C Price, or the commodity market price for coffee. This price is set partly by the stock market and by countries producing larger yields (countries like Brazil or Vietnam who sell more commodity coffees). 

The C Price fluctuates depending on the supply and demand paired with market speculation. It is not determined by actual sales or quality. The last time the C Price dipped below $1/pound it led to severe malnutrition and poverty among coffee growing families. Right now we’re reaching another breaking point with younger generations leaving the farm to pursue better education and pay in bigger cities. When farmers and producers are not making enough money to keep up healthy and beneficial farming practices, their coffee trees have more potential to be infected with disease, which exacerbates their problems with poverty and lack of quality coffee yield. The bottom line is that a low C Price creates an unsustainable work environment for producers and coffee farmers. Throw a pandemic into the fray, we’ve got a lot going on in the global coffee community.

Coffee, Kaffe, Caffe, Kava 

The elixir of our morning! Whether we walk to the kitchen and press a button, pour water over some grounds, or head over to our favorite cafe to order, that first smell and sip of coffee in the morning is a powerful ritual! As I write this, I am delighting in the flavors and yumminess of a Kenyan and Rwandan blend I made this morning. It’s like raspberry jam in my face. 

Coffee for some of us bears even greater significance beyond its tastiness or energizing magic. For some of us, it brings up memories and meaningfulness from generations of coffee lovers in our families or friendships. Shared memory and experience is significant for all of us as humans, as communal creatures. I think that is part of the reason that not only coffee means so much to us, but it is also part of the reason we care more about where our coffee comes from! 

The coffee growing world is a complex one. Specialty coffee farmers are met with many challenges including but not limited to our current pandemic, political unrest, food insecurity, and climate change. Yet, so many farmers we buy coffee from are actively growing incredible coffees, building schools for their local communities, and developing accessible healthcare plans and resources for their employees. It is truly humbling and inspiring to learn of the sustainable ways different coffee growing communities are not only focusing on making ends meet and survival for themselves but also caring for their neighbors. 

Buying Green Coffee

At Stoble we do our best to respect and pay attention to detail along the coffee purchasing process. From establishing trusting relationships with importers and producers, to meticulously sample roasting and tasting fresh lots from multiple coffee growing regions, we source our coffee carefully. 

Photo from Tanzania Washed Peaberry Mbozi District, a supplier for half of our Flagship Coffee.

Coffees, like all agricultural products, are seasonal. Coffee “beans”, as we lovingly call them, are actually the seeds of fruit, a coffee “cherry”. Some regions of the world produce and harvest coffee year-round like in some parts of Colombia. Most parts of the world have distinct months or seasons when coffee is harvested. We do our best to schedule out our coffee offerings to be as fresh as possible for you to enjoy! This is our first year getting to serve newly harvested coffees from the METAD producers in Gedeb, Ethiopia and Katia Duke in Copan, Honduras. The Gedeb, Ethiopian coffee is naturally processed and Katia’s coffee is a washed process coffee. Coffees are milled, processed, and fermented after being picked, and just like there are numerous varietals and fermenting strategies and techniques in wine-making, so it is with coffee. Natural processing is allowing the coffee seed to shed its outer layers drying in the sun for a designated amount of time depending on what the goals of the coffee producer are. Washed processing is just like it sounds, using water to wash off the outer layers and mucilage of the coffee seed. Naturally processed coffees when roasted well can evoke bright acidity, and sometimes a wine-like tannic body. Washed processed coffees can be more viscous and balanced in their texture and flavors. 

Each of our Stoble coffees provide a small lens into a wide variety of coffee flavors. When looking for new coffees to create our double origins such as Flagship or Dark, we look for coffees that have a medium to heavier body, something with more viscosity and syrupy texture that will hold up when brewed either as espresso or drip. We will also look for a coffee that brings some pop, some acidity and brightness to the blend. For our single origin coffees, (coffees that come from one lot at one farm), we do our best to showcase coffees that span various flavor spectrums from bright, floral, juicy coffees to rich, nutty, and candied tasting coffees. The world of coffee growing is an exciting one, and we’re only beginning to be acquainted with it! 

Moving Forward… 

Transparency alone does not solve the problem of exploitation in the coffee business. What we hope it can do is help keep us accountable to paying more for good quality coffee! We hope that transparency can expand the conversation and help us understand what producers and millers need to live well and sustainably in their respective communities. More humility and knowledge across the supply chain and between coffee roasters and coffee enjoyers will bring us all into deeper connection and sustainability. 

Some goals we are hoping to achieve are:

  • To continue learning the complexities of the coffee market and work to address systemic imbalances 
  • To locate and work with producers who share our values of paying sustainable wages to their workers 
  • To promote producers and co-operatives we work with

For more insight into the production world of the coffee industry we highly recommend the documentary: A Film About Coffee.

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