What is the story behind the first coffee farm you partnered with?
We do not have partnerships, strictly speaking. We have relationships; A few are short-lived and others evolve into relationships that are more deeply rooted. They are always based on quality. Many years ago we decided our first commitment was to our customers: we promise them top quality coffees and that is what we will deliver. Sometimes we will get an outstanding sample from an importer, farmer, or from a competition like The Cup of Excellence and buy the coffee. We then hope to purchase that coffee again, but only if the sample is really good. We will visit that farm during its next harvest and assess the quality. If we are still buying from that farm three years later, we are clearly forming a relationship based on trust that each is committed to quality.
Some relationships end because the farmer has retired and no one younger follows in her footsteps. This was the case with one farmer in Colombia; She produced a Caturra that was extraordinary in its sweetness and complexity. She retired, her kids switched away from Caturra, and the quality we sought was gone. Another farmer who won the Cup of Excellence produced very high quality for several years, but as he grew, he moved from focusing on the traditional Caturra variety towards more productive, disease resistant hybrids. The Caturras became more generic. When we asked that the lots, which we were not in love with but definitely interested in, be separated by variety so we could assess each, the family refused. End of relationship.
Other relationships have become very solid. La Minita is a large farm I have been buying from since 1988 when I had The Coffee Connection. We are still quite a small roaster and are one of its many buyers. La Soledad, in Guatemala, a medium-sized farm, is another prime example. We have 100% trust based on many years of purchasing. We bring staff members there each year for them to learn and see for themselves. This is a prime example of the next generation enthusiastically leading the family farm tradition to new heights. Raul and Jose, the two sons of Henio and Mercedes Perez, have built a cupping room and analyze every lot they produce. In both cases we are still assiduous in cupping individual lots to find the gems.
The closest we have come to a partnership, but with no strings attached, is with Mamuto in Kenya. If ever a coffee farm deserved the name “Grand Cru” this is the one. For four years we have been contributing to their infrastructure. In 2017, owners Walter and Abishagi, announced their retirement. They passed the farm onto their three sons: Jason, Patrick, and Peter Mathagu. The past two harvests have been disastrous; Two years ago a fungal disease called “Coffee Berry Disease” struck twice in two weeks, followed by a very rare night of freezing temperatures. Their volume went down to 20%. What was left, at least, was very good quality. This past harvest was worse. Rains were unrelenting during a time that was supposed to be dry, drastically affecting the maturation of the coffee and, even more so, the drying of the beans. Once again, the crop was reduced to near nothing. The shipment is currently on its way to us. We continue to contribute, even with our cafes closed.
As we grow our relationships will continue to expand and evolve. We believe in putting farms front and center and that will continue to be our mission. That is why we only have one blend, Alchemy. But here we are at another topic – for future discussion!