This morning, thanks to the magic of Youtube, I shared my coffee with a family that produces coffee on a certified organic farm in Peru. There's not a lot in this video that I didn't already know about coffee production, but it's very different to hear about it from a coffee farmer who gets up early with his wife and spends his day picking, sorting and pulping coffee cherries.
Update: The video has been removed at the request of someone I had no intention of offending. Since it was set to allow embedding and I removed none of the branding from it, I made an error in judgment. For those who want to view it, you can do so at Youtube.
The video showed up in my mailbox this morning, and after I watched it I couldn't help but click on another, and then another and another -- Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico -- each of them a short video with a coffee producer on a small organic farm, nearly all of them family-owned and family-run. What struck me the most in these is the pride in the faces and the voices as they talk about how they pick and sort and ferment the coffee. That, and the sheer amount of physical labor that goes into the process. From the young boy hoisting a 50-lb bag of coffee beans onto his bare shoulders -- shielded only by a banana leaf he'd torn in half with his teeth -- to the women sitting on the ground and picking through the beans one by one to sort them into grades. This isn't done by machine, the way that much of the mass-market coffee is picked and sorted and graded -- it's hand labor, intensive and concentrated. And I guess, when you put that much work into producing something, you have a right to be proud.
Other things that struck me in the videos this morning -- a Mexican coffee farmer crouching next to a small stream on his farm, explaining why it's important to do things organically -- because the water must stay clean, because the humans and the bees use the water, and if it's contaminated with the coffee pulp, it ruins the honey from the bees. For that reason, all the coffee pulp goes to the composter. A common thread -- the farmer in Peru also drains off the cherry pulp and trundles it -- by shovel and wheelbarrow -- to the composter, then proudly shows the fertilizer ready to make more good coffee.
I know this is a rambling post. It's all tumbled up with my thoughts about market fairness and artisanal coffee and why, whenever I can, I buy from coffee roasters who have a personal connection with the farmers who grow the coffees they sell. I wonder sometimes if buying coffee beans in neat, pretty packages is sort of like buying meat in cryo-wrapped packages from your grocer's freezer. It's sanitized and disconnected from the actual source and work that produces it. I don't think it makes coffee any less or more enjoyable -- but it makes me feel good to know that I'm enjoying a cup of coffee made from beans in which someone, somewhere, took pride.
One of the reasons I appreciate ROASTe is the number of small roasters represented here who also feel the same way, and who run their businesses that way. I love the fact that I can read about the roasters, and that many of them post about the coffees they're roasting, the farms they visit and the farmers with whom they work. Here are just a few of roasters who are on my short list of people who work with and buy coffee directly from the growers whose coffee they buy.
- Ceremony Coffee
- Dean's Beans
- Higher Ground
- Hobo Ed's
- Iron Brew Coffee
- Isla Bonita
- Jim's Organic Coffee
- Klatch Coffee
- Olympia Coffee Roasting
That's just from a quick run-through the listing of roasters represented here at ROASTe-- do you think it's a coincidence that the list includes some of the most popular and highest rated coffees on ROASTe?
update: Thanks to jbviau, who pointed out that there are also other coffee roasters here on ROASTe and beyond, who do trade directly and source their coffees ethically, but don't necessarily post it in BIG BOLD LETTERS in their profiels -- he notes Vivace as one. And there are also many smaller artisanal roasters who buy their beans exclusively from roasters who take great care with their sourcing, but are too small to hop a plane and hike through the mountains to visit farms themselves. It's one of the things that makes the whole specialty coffee business so special to me -- so many of the people involved in it go above and beyond to do well by doing good.