I sat down with Ted Fischer and we talked about his book Making Better Coffee as well as many things related to value and values in the coffee industry. We had a great conversation and I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.
Ted’s book: Making Better Coffee
My review of Ted’s book: Making Better Coffee by Edward F. Fischer
My article: In Defense of Tastemakers
Michael: I recently attended both Re:co Symposium and Coffee Expo held this year in Portland, Oregon. The two events, draw a large number of coffee professionals, which enables networking and idea sharing within the community. I spent a lot of my time at the event attending lecturers workshops and also chasing down potential opportunities, such as finding a way to get a micro lot of coffee shipped from Indonesia.
Turns out that’s not an easy task, just to get a couple of bags of coffee shipped over here.
I’ve been following Ted Fisher’s ideas for a few years now. I was introduced to them through his journal article titled Quality and Inequality, creating Value Worlds With Third Wave Coffee. Ted is a professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
He serves on the board of the Maya Education Foundation. He advises the World Health Organization on behavioral and cultural insights on health and wellbeing. At Vanderbilt he also directs the Institute of Coffee Studies and the Cultural Context of Health and Wellbeing initiative. And most recently, he published the book titled Making . Better Coffee, how Maya Farmers and Third Wave Taste Makers Create Value.
I’ve reviewed this book and I’ll post a link to it in the show notes. I’ve enjoyed interacting with Ted over the years, which before this interview was solely through Twitter. I wrote an article titled In Defense of Tastemakers after reading his paper Quality and Inequality and to my delight, he connected with me as a result, and I hope we can continue the conversation long into the future.
Without further ado, here is Ted Fisher.
So we are at Coffee Expo. More, more accurately; we’re at Symposium Re:co Symposium, which comes just before Coffee Expo. And um, you gave a plenary talk yesterday. And then today you co-hosted a discussion, um, about value and this all teases off of your book, um, making Better Coffee. And you just published this in 2022, right?
That’s right, yeah. And it was, um, Developed from quality and inequality. Is that correct? Fair statement?
Ted: That’s right. Well, in academic publishing, a lot of times we will, we will preview a big project in articles that go out, and those articles all get peer reviewed and so you get some feedback as you’re writing a book.
And so that’s right. A couple of chapters here, came out earlier as articles.
Michael: And because it’s peer reviewed, it’s a very solid evaluation of your ideas, um, and, and thought processes in the paper.
Ted: That’s the idea behind peer review and when it works and, and generally it does work, uh, well that way, but it also, people think it’s not just like factual or logical errors, but people’s opinions come into it as well, right?
Like, oh, I’m not really sure if you should focus on that. Maybe you should focus on this. That may be too much on the peer review process, but it, it does. It does help you sharpen your arguments.
Michael: Yeah, so it could be a tool, but also a bludgeon.
Ted: That’s right,
Michael: because they could also be your competitors.
Ted: That’s exactly right. Uh, that’s exactly right. And the critique of the peer review process is it doesn’t produce real innovation. It’s, it’s okay at producing incremental improvements in our knowledge base because it builds on what people are already know and are comfortable with. But if you’re really doing something new, I mean, famously Einstein had a hard time getting his papers published.
If you’re really doing something outside of the box, The establishment. It, it doesn’t fit into our, our rubrics of, of quality. Yes, they’re here. That’s the reason. In recent years, I’ve stopped grading students. For the most part. I let them grade themselves or I just give everybody an A and I never use rubrics for grading papers and students find this a little disconcerting. It’s like, well, what do I need to do to write a great paper? And my response is, I can do a checklist rubric, and that can lead you to write an okay paper, but I can’t give you a checklist to write a great paper. I, I know it when I see it.
It’s like the quote about pornography. Right. I know it when I see it, but there’s not a formula for it. Yeah.
Michael: Uh, beyond the introductory paragraph three body paragraphs and conclusion. Yeah,
Ted: Exactly. Exactly.
Michael: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. Um…
Ted: and it kind of ties into this stuff. I think that we’re, we’re so hung up sometimes on what’s the model?
What’s the, what’s the answer, what’s the easy answer?
Michael: Yeah. What’s the fix?
Michael: So, we’ll, we’ll back it up a bit cuz we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Um. Making Better Coffee is about, um, how value is created, where value is created, and what the impact is of that process. So why don’t, can you give me the elevator pitch for the book?
Ted: Sure. And you’ve set me up that way. That is exactly what it’s about. At the same time, one of my central things that I’ve been, I, I focus on is, Value and values. And that adding that S makes a big difference, right? Uh, value is generally, price is generally economic value. It’s really clear cut. We can put a number on it, but when we add the S to it, we’re suddenly talking about moral values and religious beliefs and social norms and all of these other kinds of things.
And we’ve separated those two in our society, in our economy, and we’ve elevated economic value. As the, the real thing. And yeah, if we can do some social good on the side or if the moral part of it plays into it, that’s nice. But economic value is what it’s really about. But really, as I, as I argue in this book, we create economic value by translating other kinds of values into that very often.
And so that, that, and that’s what I’m trying to argue in this book, is that value in the coffee world, we often talk about, Finding quality and we’re going out and we have all these heroic narratives of going out and almost, you know, Indiana Jones, like with a machete and going through the woods and discovering quality.
Uh, but of course our definitions of quality are based up in other values, uh, and what is it that we value? Um, and so I guess the main thing that I want to communicate in this book is that it’s really important for us to think about what we value, what our values are, and how those relate to the economics.
Michael: Yeah. And I. One of the great examples that you use in the book, and you’ve talked about this in other podcasts, and you also talked about it here at Symposium, is the example of the, um, farmers, the Maya farmers in Guatemala, and the now famous map that you put up. Uh, the map depicts a large region. And within that large region are two areas broken down.
The smallest of the two areas represent a Cup of Excellence winner. Is it a single farm or is it a group of farms that together wanted
Ted: It’s two. Two farms. Uh, that’s right. And both of them, Cup of Excellence placing.
Michael: Okay. So they both participated with Cup of Excellence and placed in Cup of Excellence, which is. In many ways, the creme de la creme competition for coffee producers and then in the larger region that actually surrounds is bordered by and surrounds the smaller region are similar farmers with a similar geographic region who produce similarly evaluated coffees on a, uh, on the SCA cupping score.
But they didn’t get the price that the COE farmers did. The price difference was like a dollar 50 a pound or so, right?
Ted: Yeah. It’s like a quarter. The, the small holding farmers were getting about a dollar 25 farm gate in the COE farms were getting over $4.
Michael: Right, and the only difference, the only significant difference that you could find was participation in the Cup of Excellence.
Ted: That’s right.
Michael: The market access that they had.
Ted: That’s right. And in some ways I, I’m very attracted to the cup of excellence. I think it’s a neat idea. I think that they’ve done incredible work. I mean, they’re now in 12 different countries. They have these auctions and some of the stories that come out of them are amazing.
We, we, we talked yesterday about the, uh, the Ethiopian competition in 2022 when this small holding farmer, less than half a hectare of land, won and sold his coffee for $400 a pound. Those stories warm my heart. I, I think many of us in the coffee world, we’d love to hear those stories, but. This is what we’re getting at.
But those are generally particular kinds of farms, especially in a country like Guatemala where I work, and it, it’s, it’s very, uh, uh, unequal. Uh, Mayan people’s make up half the population, and yet they are marginalized in every way that you could imagine. Income, education level, health. Life expectancy, the list goes on and on.
And in that context, the pe. So cup of Excellence is very democratic in that anybody can enter. And that’s, again, it’s this beautiful idea. Anybody can enter their coffee, the best ones win, and we reward them hugely. But if you step back from that, so many Mayan farmers don’t speak Spanish, much less English.
Uh, many don’t have a smartphone, so I mean, it’s open to anybody to enter. And this is no, you know, the cup of excellence. People would like to have more entrants. I’m sure. So it’s, they’re not plotting against these small farmers.
Uh, but just the pragmatics of everyday life. You gotta have internet access. You gotta speak the language of the country. You gotta be able to drive to the capital city where the competition is inevitably held. Uh, and those are serious barriers for farmers who are trying to put food on the table tomorrow. Uh, I’m gonna look up some competition in six months and hold some coffee back to send them.
Yes. And so exactly to your point in that example, those cup of excellence placing farms, they’re great farms. The farmers are doing great stuff. I’m not trying to to diminish their accomplishments, uh, but both of the ones in our sample, the farmers, uh, they or their children had gone to university, at least some university.
They spoke Spanish and a little bit of English. They’re internet conversant. They have a leg up.
Michael: Yeah, that’s social capital.
Ted: Exactly. It’s that social capital, which, which doesn’t show up in the cupping score.
Michael: Right. So there are two, two routes I wanna go with that. So the one is, um, trying to, to just think out loud some possible solution.
So it’s one of the ideas I came up with is, um, COE. Doing outreach beforehand to get the word out to farmers. Um, from locals to, you know, working with co-ops, working with fertilizer providers, working with um, whoever, wherever else. The farmers typically go and say, okay, we’re gonna have this auction. This is why it’s important.
This is how it can benefit you. This is what it’s going to cost you. Cuz it’s not a free to enter. You’re gonna have to. Assume the risk of taking the very best of your best, reducing the value of the rest of your coffee because they typically blend it all. Right?
Ted: That’s right.
Michael: So you’re taking this micro lot off the top.
You reduce the value of all of your coffee and you’re going to take the risk of it even placing. And if it doesn’t place, you’ve lost that coffee. You’re gonna have to try and sell it or remix whatever’s left. Um, it’s an interesting conundrum, um, and
Ted: I like the idea of the outreach that way, and you could do it, uh, I mean doing that in 12 countries all over the country, but you could select some regions to start off with.
It’s like, boy, lots of good coffees coming from Huehuetenango in Guatemala, for example. Let’s do some outreach to those farmers. I like that idea a lot. And it wouldn’t be too costly to like ease them into entering.
Michael: No. And they may even do that. So a couple of excellence did it. Um, an Indonesian auction and I was there when they were starting to ramp it up.
And I actually took what’s called, I took training to be one of the judges, the inter one of the international judges. So you have to take this SET training, uh, which is, I think, sensory evaluation training. And it’s very interestingly different from, um, individual cupping because with SET training, they teach you that, um, we perform better as a group a, a collective.
For lack of a better word, but as a collective of coppers evaluating this. So they work to, um, calibrate an, uh, a nuanced different way, a subtly different way than we do at, uh, CQI. So, um,
Ted: That’s fascinating. And the calibration is pretty good, isn’t they? Get you on the same page.
Michael: Yeah. It’s scary. It, it is because I’ve always felt like, Uh, it’s BS you know, taste is subjective, but it is surprising when you, when you are able to communicate.
So the way a calibration works is we’ll come in as cuppers, we’ll all cup of coffee, and then we’ll talk about it. And you can say, okay, I, I tasted strawberry. You tasted blueberry, but we both tasted a berry. So then you can start to calibrate with each other intentionally that way. So there is a little bit of a, well, is it still subjective or are we gaming the system in this way?
Um, but anyway, going, going back to,
Ted: I, I like the, just a footnote on that. I, I think so. It, those numbers look objective in the end. Uh, okay. The cup of excellence winner scored a 91.22 or whatever it may be, and yet, It is getting at something in this inter intersubjective understanding. It’s not objectivity, but it’s an intersubjective.
We’ve worked it out among ourselves, how to calibrate our levels of intensity, our particular flavor descriptors.
Michael: Yeah. And that goes to your, the, the taste makers. Discussion, which we could jump into. Uh, but I, real quick, I want, I wrote this quote down. I was just in, before I came here, I was in a class where they were introducing the new coffee value, um, value assessment system, CVAS.
And, um, there was a really good question from one of the attendees who is a, um, a green buyer. And he represents, um, companies in other countries, Aus, Australia, America, and maybe, uh, some someplace in Europe. And he was saying, you know, how do I, how do I evaluate a coffee for Australia that has a different preference to the market in America?
And her response was, those coffees could all be 92’s just in different contexts.
Michael: So she said basically you could rate it as a 92 knowing that it’s not going to compete in the American market with other coffees that aren’t 92’s. Right. So it’s, it’s more along this line of what did, what did you just call it?
Ted: Yeah, intersubjective.
Michael: Intersubjective. So it’s, it’s a meta subjective, it’s, you know, where is this coffee going? And I need to know that so that I can explain to them how good it is. But I’m gonna do so in a way that changes what it really is? So that makes me wonder, should we, should we look at coffees… I know the answer to this, but I’m gonna ask it anyway.
Should we look at coffees completely blindly and just evaluate them? Yeah. As coffee A, coffee B, coffee C. This is what I think about it. This is the rating. And then I step away. I’m no longer ever involved in the valuation of that coffee. And then somebody else can come in maybe and do, um, What are they calling it?
Ted: the extrinsic,
Michael: yeah, the extrinsic stuff. But they’re calling it, um, the affective assessment. So have somebody else do the effective, affective, you know, the, the Q grader does the descriptive, somebody else does the affective. And does that reduce the bias anyway? Does that reduce the hegemony of the taste makers?
Ted: That’s interesting. Uh, and I’m not sure people are really just talking to people after these sessions, introducing the new tool. A lot of people are really committed to not knowing other information about the coffee when they’re doing the descriptive cupping. Yeah. And I see value in that. Right. I just want to taste it and let me get that.
I also think though that those same people, you wouldn’t have to bring in. Other people can layer on these other, the affective and, and then come up with a composite, but it’s gonna be a composite number in the end. And if the number means something different for people in Bali than it does for people in Berlin.
Michael: Yeah, it’s tough. And are we. This is another thought that I had in the, um, the discussion panel you had, which I want to, I want to hear what you think about the discussion panel because it was incredibly valuable. Um, one of the things I heard was concern that we are just further empowering the buyers, aka the roasters.
I don’t want to point fingers at the roasters, but if we give them more data and information when they make their, their purchase. Are we not just, we’re not really fixing the problem, are we?
Ted: That’s a good question.
Michael: We’re just adding more information for them to make that decision. But we’re not really directly, and I, this is the comment I was trying to make in the, in the discussion was; wouldn’t it be better if we focused on the, the plight of the farmer directly, rather than saying, okay, how do we.
How do we generate more money down? Is it downstream or upstream? How do we generate more money away from the, the producer, closer to the consumer, closer to the roaster, and hope that it trickles through? Why don’t we figure out how to, to fix things cl right at the producer?
Ted: That’s a great point. And. And it points at this thing of, we assume, and I think consumers consume, you were talking about roasters, but consumers assume if they’re paying 25 bucks for 12 ounces of coffee, that that is trickling down.
Ted: And in some instances it is. And in some that’s not. Yeah. It’s not clear that it has to. Yeah. And so is there something more systematic that we could do? And I, I think that’s what you’re getting at.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. So I wanted to, I wanted to hear your thoughts about the discussion. So for everybody who wasn’t there, um, yesterday in your plenary talk and in several of the other plenary talks, they teed up or they prefaced these discussions that are happening today.
And you get, um, in this case, two hosts. It was you and Jeanine. Um, Talking and you started the discussion, just the two of you, and then you handed over the mics to the attendees and there were, what do you think, 20 or 30 attendees?
Ted: At least.
Michael: It was a good number, and they represented a good, um, cross section of the industry.
Um, and everybody got a chance to either ask a question that all turned out to be rhetorical, um, just because of the way it was, and, um, Or they either asked the rhetorical question or they made a point. And a lot, a lot of the points were very good. And like you said, we don’t necessarily have to agree with the points to acknowledge that. It was a very good point and I need to consider it and, and move forward with that point in mind.
So, so what did you find about what, what did you find interesting about the discussion? Challenging. What did you think?
Ted: Well, I agree. It was a, it was a fabulous discussion and I love these contexts in which we can get, we had growers, we had producers there, we had importers, uh, we had roasters, uh, we had people who were selling to supermarkets, and it was a pretty wide range.
And when you get that together, I love those events because I always learned something. And one thing that I learned that I was fascinated by is, And I should have realized this, I guess, but, uh, the producers are selling to roasters.
When they’re selling their story. They’re selling that story to the roaster who is already primed to hear that story or to be sympathetic.
And then the hard work then is from the roaster to communicate that to the consumer. And I guess I know that there’s a big jump from production to consumption and misunderstandings of both ends of that. Uh, but I had never really thought about this relatively easy to convince a roaster of the value of something if it ha if it does indeed have value.
But then if a, a consumer’s gonna make a decision in a few seconds. How do they then train you? You, they, because so much of what was discussed today, for example, is sentiments. This women’s cooperative in Burundi who started from nothing and built a washing station, and now they’re producing 88 plus coffees.
That’s a wonderful story for those of us in the coffee world. It warms our heart. But to communicate that you need at least five minutes looking somebody in the eye. Yeah. And I, and I don’t know, I don’t have an answer to that, but it did just really crystallize for me the roasters. Many of the roasters are already on our side, those of us who are trying to improve distribution in the chain, and it’s the consumer.
But we focus so much attention on the consumer being socially conscious these days, and looking for authenticity
Michael: Because they’re the ultimate purchasers. They’re the end purchaser.
Ted: That’s right.
Michael: They have to bear the the, they have to bear the brunt of everything that happens upstream. So they have to pay the price to get that cherry into their cup of coffee, transformed the whole way, transported, customs, the whole deal. They have to bear that brunt. So I, I could see why people focus on consumers. Um,
Ted: and the, the gentleman, Joshua from dead level coffee was talking about he, a big part of his business is selling to supermarkets. And so it’s a whole nother thing if you’re selling in a specialty cafe, you can add some of that on and give, uh, consumers the sentiment. But if you’re selling to a buyer for a supermarket chain, who’s gonna put it on the shelf with 10 other kinds of coffee and, and he was saying, yeah, I would love to pay farmers more, and when the the Fair Trade premium goes up, I, I want to pay that.
But then if nobody buys it, What do
Michael: you can’t do it like that. You can’t do it like that. And that’s an interesting, that brings up another interesting point that I saw in the discussion that we were having. It was largely market-centric, right? It was 90 percent or so, a vast majority of the people who spoke there were speaking with from a market perspective, like, you know, I talking about margins, talking about, uh, it has to be profitable for me.
It has to at least cover my costs. And those were the perspectives that were coming out. Even if they were vastly different perspectives within the chain, it still had that over overlapping, um, business perspective. And
Ted: which can overwhelm everything else. It is. How many times in that session did we hear?
It all comes back to margins. On the one hand, that is true, and I agree. If people can’t make a living from it, they can’t do it and suffering ensues and, and, and all of that, but that doesn’t have to be the single conversation that we’re having. It. We can envision that as being part of other things. And I, I don’t know.
I guess I’m saying that because I feel like too often it goes back to what I said earlier. The economic card trumps all the other cards. Right? And it’s like, oh yeah, that’s really nice. But margins, yeah. That’s really nice. But, and we have this sense, I think, many of us, most of us, that that’s the real world.
Let’s get hard-nosed about this. Whenever somebody says that, they’re gonna be talking about the dollars and and cents, right? Mm-hmm. Yeah. Uh, and again, that is important. We need to pay attention to that. But I think we can envision a way of talking about coffee, about doing the coffee business that is. I hate to sound too fluffy here, but is more inclusive of other kinds of, of values.
Michael: Yeah. And I, I did hear, uh, several very good ideas around how to tackle it. So one of them was, um, and I think this came from Janine. She said, okay, as a roaster, buy all of that farmer’s coffee, the good and the, the average. And then that way you assume the risk because you can, um, you, you have a different risk tolerance than the small holder farmer.
So buy by his entire lot or her entire lot and split it up however you need to, but make sure that when you buy that entire lot, you’re doing so fairly equitably in a way that, um, helps them move up. And get a bigger piece of the pie. Uh, another one was, um, more direct trade, which is, is very difficult. Um, it is happening more and more.
I think you talk about it in the book and I, I, I think it was, um, was it Bentley who told you that? Um, in the Guatemalan experience was the more, the third wave came in and the more we had roasters starting to deal directly with producers, the better it was for the producers. Um, it’s in one of the, um, yeah.
One of the papers you used the, um, uh, a, a graph from them where it showed, uh, the, the amount of value going to export, um, versus the amount of money going to import countries and the difference there. And, um, they talked about it as well. That third wave is helping and it is making a difference. Uh, we just need to kind of turbo boost it a bit.
And that’s right. Explore those ideas that we’re exploring in specialty coffee and see how we can push it out.
Ted: I think that’s exactly right. Although we also have to always keep in mind what we talked about earlier. Who are the people able to produce third wave coffee and how can we increase the number of people who have that capacity?
Uh, but I, I do think that that’s right too often, relationship, coffee, direct trade, a lot of these terms get, get banted about these days. And I think that that is important. Very often it’s almost a, a faux direct trade for most roasters, and this is, again, I give roasters kudos from this. They want to go to origin, they want to meet.
Farmers, they want to have this relationship and that comes from a good spot and they’re trying to do the right thing. But then when you get down to the pragmatics, the image that a consumer has in mind is a roaster goes to El Salvador and kind of surveys all the producers who are there and selects the couple of ones who are really great and establishes a relationship.
In reality, the way this happens is, A roaster calls up his or her importer and says, I want to make a trip to Origin. Can you help me set this up? The, the importer talks to the exporter in that country. That exporter sets up some, some meetings. Who are they gonna set up meetings with? People who live off of a highway.
So it’s easy to get to, uh, maybe people who speak some English or English. And so again, it’s nobody’s bad intentions. It’s like, uh, let’s, let’s just try and make this work. But it ends up being an already relatively privileged group of producers who get pulled into that circle. And I think the challenge right now is what you were suggesting.
How do we enlarge that circle? How do we do it? Is it technology? Is it, I, I, I don’t have the answer, but there’s lots of cool stuff bubbling up here at the.
Michael: Yeah. And that, I’m glad you called me out on that. Um, focusing on the specialty industry so much, and this was a comment that, that, that came out of, um, your, the, the discussion that you had with the audience as well.
I think it was Josh who also said it. Commodity coffee represents 80% of what a farmer produces and. Specialty is 20 or less. And so, uh, if we’re gonna make a difference, we need to hit that 80%. It’s the paraeto distribution. So how do we in the specialty industry leak out the message, uh, so that, uh, it touches commodity as well, because commodity is the, is what I would think is the big fog where, you know, there isn’t the transparency of it’s coming from columbia.
You might get country level, uh, specificity, but you’re not gonna get farmer or producer level specificity. Um, and that’s a specialty coffee thing, but how do we get something like that, um, into the commodity space?
Ted: I think that that’s right and a lot of the discussion happening at these meetings is about how do, how does specialty take over more of that commodity space?
And I think that that’s a good discussion to have and we, we can do that. But you’re absolutely right. We’ve gotta do something in that 80% market. Jeanine’s I idea, it puts a lot of weight on roasters. The ones who can carry that weight. I think it’s wonderful to have this kind of commitment, but buying, buying all of the lots from a particular group that you’re committed to.
And so the medium line, you know, the 80 twos plus the 80 eights, uh, and then do blending or have different, uh, channels that you’re distributing those through. The, the roaster there becomes, or the importer becomes the most important person in the. In this whole thing. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah. And it’s interesting. I just thought of a, um, an anecdote and then we’ll wrap it up.
I’ll cut it back to you. Um, when I was in Indonesia, one of the, one of the ideas I was trying to execute was to work with a farmer, pay the farmer a salary to farm his farm, A plot where I brought in the breed. I, I chose the breed of tree to plant. I would pay him a salary to, to raise it. I would bring in pickers that I would train or have trained and I would develop channels, buyers for that coffee.
And then at the end of five to 10 years, turn everything over to the farmer. So during the five years he got a, he or she got a salary to take care of the plant. So it’s, it’s, Dedicated income, it’s set, it’s contracted, it, that is it. If the plants all die at the end, my, it’s my risk. Um, if it goes gang busters in those early days, the profit of of that is, is mine.
He keeps the salary, but then at the end, he gets the channel, he gets all of the, the stock, all of the trees. They’re already on his land. They’re already his or hers. Um, and nobody liked that. I went to farmers to talk to them about that and they didn’t like it.
Number one. It’s pretty foreign. It’s a foreign, it’s a novel concept. Um, number two, and I probably should have thought harder about this, I got the idea from palm oil and, um, they do a, they have a similar scheme with palm oil and it got a bad rap in Indonesia because of land right Issues, land rights issues. I didn’t, I, I had no design on land rights, no design on land ownership in the foreign country.
Um, And I don’t, and I don’t know if that impacted their negative reaction to it. But the, they always said to me, why don’t you just buy all my coffee? And so they’re already saying that message that, that we heard in there. And I just thought of that, that they’re already saying just buy it all.
Ted: And that is interesting.
Although I really like that model. I thought what you were gonna say the Farmer’s Reservation was, and I can guarantee you this would’ve been Farmer’s Reservation in Guatemala to this is. I don’t wanna work for somebody. Yeah. Yeah. I’m a farmer. I’m a farmer. Yeah. And many farmers see working for wages as almost slave labor.
Michael: Yeah. That’s interesting. I didn’t consider that either. I just thought that they would want, uh, I, I would imagine that they would want a steady, predictable, consistent income. And I thought that, okay, I’ll pay a salary for you to do what you’re already doing predictably. Day in and day out. You’re doing the hard work.
I’ll pay you a salary. We can negotiate it. It’s gonna be fair. Um, And I am going to take the risk of the, the crop being boomer bust, and I’m gonna do my best to establish it. I’m incentivized, I have skin in the game because I get the, the early profits and then I cut everything over, channel buyers, all of it, over to the farmer.
And, and during that time, the plan was to. To train them on how I marketed it, how I branded it, who I’m working with. He, you know, he or she, the farmer would be part of those conversations. In my head, I would have buyers coming in from the city and meeting at the farm and meeting the farmer and myself. Uh,
Ted: I love the model.
Michael: It, it, it’s unfortunate I didn’t get to actually execute it. Yeah. Um, but it was an interesting. Learning point to get direct feedback from a farmer on what he, he or she thought of that idea. I keep saying he, because they were all male farmers. It, it’s Indonesia, that’s the way it is. Um, N generally, not entirely, but anyway,
Ted: uh, but I really like that idea and that’s the kind of thing I often quote. Uh, Maimonides was a 12th century Talmudic scholar and he did a hierarchy of, of charity, and he said the, the next to the top level of charity was giving anonymously to your rabbi who would then give anonymously to somebody who needed it. So nobody’s in debt to anyone else. And so you get rid of all that, but his highest level of charity was partnering with people and walking that journey with them.
And that’s what you’re describing and that’s what we need to do. These farmers are, they don’t have the education that you and I do, but they’re not stupid. Right? Uh, they know their business. Uh, they know things that we don’t know. They’re willing to learn new things. And so if we can partner with them in exactly the way that you were just describing, I see that as a, as a fruitful path.
Michael: I agree. And I think that’s a good place to leave it.
Michael: because it’s positive. I think a lot of times. A lot of times it’s difficult because it looks so bad.
Ted: I know. And you hate to leave people with like, oh, the world’s burning down around us.
Michael: We can fix this. We can. And you do. You mentioned Maimonides I butchered the name.
Say it again?
Michael: Maimonides. You mention him in the book and you talk about that specific story, the stratified levels of charity. And it’s a really good point. Um, and it’s, uh, it’s a really good philosophy to consider that the greatest form of charity is partnership.
Ted: Absolutely. And we gotta put some of our skin in that game too, with partnership.
It’s not, yeah. Handing somebody a buck is relatively easy
Michael: and often relatively ineffective.
Michael: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Ted: Thank you, Michael. This was a, a ton of fun and I really enjoy the work you’re doing, so thank you for what you do.
Michael: Thank you very much.
That was me talking to Ted Fisher about his book Making Better Coffee, as well as his plenary talk at Re:co Symposium in which he talked about value and values. You can find interviews such as this and more audio content on my website at OilSlickCoffee.com slash podcasts.
There you will find interviews. You will find recorded articles that I have read, as well as a sporadic coffee news report in which I talk about some of the news in the coffee industry. You can also find videos of my interviews. And other content on my YouTube channel, and you can get there by going to Caffeinated dot TV and that will redirect you to my YouTube channel.
It’s just an easy way to remember it. Caffeinated dot TV. Thank you for listening.
This is Michael with Oil Slick Coffee.