[S3:E3] Weekly Coffee Report

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This week I discuss three coffee news stories that all tie into farmer self-sustainability and market access.

Show notes

Article 1

ACE gives buyers direct access to Ethiopian micro-lots - Global Coffee Report

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) has launched a direct-to-roaster marketplace for Ethiopian coffees.

…roasters will have the opportunity to directly purchase micro-lots evaluated by the Cup of Excellence (CoE) Ethiopia National Jury but did not move forward to the International Jury in the CoE Ethiopia 2022 competition.

Article 2

Understanding the co-operative model in Kenya’s coffee sector - Perfect Daily Grind

Participation in co-ops has been declining since the 80’s.

Co-ops assist with post-harvest operations, namely; market access. Can also help significantly with fertilizer cost, which can directly impact plant health and productivity.

However, corruption among co-op leadership is the primary complaint.

One suggested way co-ops can add value is through roasting and selling locally. (New market)

…sometimes direct trade can actually be more economically risky in the long run if farmers are not adequately prepared.

Article 3

Researchers in Ethiopia Determine What Has Biggest Impact on Coffee Quality, from Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine

Open access study linked in the original article

Contributing factors considered:

  1. location (Gimbo, Gawata, and Decha districts)
  2. coffee production system (forest, semiforest, and garden)
  3. processing method (wet, semiwet, and dry)

Proper coffee sample collection sites were selected inside Boginda and Bonga forests based on their elevation gradients (1,600–1,900 m asl), and the points were georeferenced (GPS Garmin Etrex 30) by recording latitude and longitude.

Concerning the studied factors, the processing method effect was relatively more responsive than location and production system effects on physical, raw, and cup coffee quality variables.

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This is the weekly coffee report from oil slick coffee. Each week, I find a few coffee stories that pique my interest and discuss how I make sense of the story. The first story comes to us from the Global Coffee Report and the title of the article is "ACE gives buyers direct access to Ethiopian micro lots." And ACE stands for the Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

Now what’s interesting about this story is ACE has launched a direct-to-roaster marketplace for Ethiopian coffees. Now, if you’ve never read about or heard the work that ACE does. It’s pretty interesting. ACE is a couple of things. It’s first a coffee competition, and it’s a competition of the absolute best a country can offer.

And the way they find that to me is, is quite an interesting process. So they use two different types of juries. They use a national jury. which is comprised of coffee judges that are from the country in which the coffee is produced. And once that national jury has defined basically the coffee that they find represents their country and they.

They rank the coffees that they have so far, they work with the international jury to further, uh, process through or grade those coffees. And then the second portion of what a couple of excellence does is they do an, an auction and an auction is a pretty, how would I say it? It’s a pretty good way for a market to determine a fair price.

You get a bunch of buyers in a room and they bid against each other to determine the highest value of a coffee. Now it’s not perfect. Right? You’re gonna have some selection-bias in that the buyers who are on site are the buyers who are gonna be willing to pay a high price for a coffee. And so there is some, some bias in the system there, but.

In general, it’s a pretty good system. What the, what this program in Ethiopia is going to do is coffees that were entered into the competition but didn’t pass that first national jury are going to be offered up in kind of a separate market. But it’s a market that’s related to the cup of excellence. So there’s kind of already a market there for these coffee.

So what this does for these Ethiopian farmers is if they’ve had the gumption to put up their coffee, into the cup of excellence competition, and for whatever reason, it didn’t pass the national jury. And, um, didn’t move on to the international jury, and didn’t obviously, um, win the, the competition. It’s still, that farmer still has access to a market that may have the disposable income available to pay a higher price for his coffee or her coffee then had they taken it to a different marketplace.

And this is one of the things that I try and talk about in my various articles and videos. And that is access to market for small holders is a big deal. A farmer may be growing with the utmost thought and care, and they may be processing with equal care and thought, but if, if they don’t have access to buyers, which is a market, if they don’t have access to buyers who are willing to pay for their coffee, it’s all for naught. They they’ve wasted all of that time.

So market access is a big deal. And so I have, um, pretty high hopes for this new, this new program from ACE.

The second story comes from the Perfect Daily Grind. And the title of the article is Understanding The Cooperative Model In Kenya’s Coffee Sector.

I find this article pretty interesting because my work in Indonesia started with a, a village that previously worked in a co-op and then some things happened and the co-op dissolved. And so I, I became very interested in what a co-op does, what a co-op doesn’t do and what all of that means to smallholder farmers.

This article talks about co-ops in Kenya. And, uh, it starts by going through the history of co-ops in that area. And they talk about the fact that since the eighties participation in co-ops has been declining, a lot of the farmers have, have had pretty bad experience with the co-ops for a number of reasons. And, uh, the end result of that is declining co-op participation by these farmers. And what that means typically is the individual farmers will have reduced access to inputs, reduced access to markets, uh, reduced bargaining power, everything that comes along with what a functioning, a well- functioning, efficient co-op can, can bring to the table. And the article does a pretty good job of defining what co-ops do. They talk about um, co-ops assisting with post- harvest ops, um, namely market access. And that’s something that I touched on in the previous segment. Again, I think market access is incredibly important for small holders, but going back to the co-ops, they can also help significantly with fertilizer cost. And for farmers, the cost of fertilizer can be very important because that can directly impact plant health and productivity. And it’s an un-, inconvenient truth that agrochemicals namely nitrogen fertilizer can greatly increase the productivity of a plant.

The problem is over-application leads to problems. You have nitrogen leach-off. It’s very easy to number one over fertilize with nitrogen, and then number two, the nitrogen flows easily into the, um, water table. So farmers have to be very careful with nitrogen application, but it’s also very important because they can get increased production from it.

You increased plant health as well. If you’re in an area that has problems with rust, if your plants are healthy and well cared for. They’re going to be able to resist that disease much better. And now going back to the article and co-ops, uh, one of the key factors they talk about is corruption among co-op leadership.

And that’s exactly what I saw in my experience in, um, Bali working with a village that had previously, before I arrived, they had dissolved their local co-op because in that case, what happened was the co-op leadership convinced all the village, villagers to pool their money, to improve the proc-, the wet mill processing machines.

And once they got all of the villagers to pool their money, the leadership, then in turn went out and just bought new cars for themselves. And the, um, the villagers lost that money and they also, um, dissolved the co-op as a result. And there are, um, there were similar stories or hints of those stories in this article from the Perfect Daily Grind.

One of the things that was suggested in the article, is also something that I advocate and that’s self sustainable farmers. And, uh, the article goes through a number of different ways that farmers can help themselves become self sustainable. And one of those ways is direct-trade. So they could find new markets where they are dealing directly with local roasters, or even roasters who are, um, willing to export the coffee, but deal directly with them so that you capture more of those profits. And you’re not dealing with so many middle men now, as I’ve previously said, in articles and videos, that’s a difficult thing to do because you have to… somebody in that direct-trade— either party —needs to have the ability and the understanding to go through all of the, the customs, the transportation, all of the logistics that are required to get that coffee from the farm to wherever it’s going. And, and especially if it’s out of country, that becomes complicated. So it’s not, um, not something that’s just easily jumped into.

Same with farmers roasting their own coffee and selling it locally. It’s a very good way for farmers to capture an awful lot of that money, um, that the, the chain normally absorbs. But the problem is it’s its own unique skill set. Roasting coffee is completely different from processing or producing; growing coffee.

And so a farmer can’t just go and buy a roaster and brown some coffee beans, and expect to make more money with that roasted coffee. They’re gonna have to find buyers for it. Those buyers are probably gonna want consistency. And in order to, to consistently roast a coffee, you’re gonna have to have some skills in the roasting domain.

And that takes training and practice. So. I think this article from, um, Perfect Daily Grind does a really good job of looking into the nuance of, um, the question ‘to join a co-op or not to join a co-op’ and looking at some of the value in a co-op, but also some of the potential problems in a co-op and anytime you’re dealing with a group of people who are receiving a lot of ma- uh, money and getting a lot of power. You have to watch for corruption. And in this article, they talk about the corruption of the co-ops.

The third and final article I’ll cover comes from Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine. The title of the article is "Researchers In Ethiopia Determine What Has Biggest Impact On Coffee Quality."

The study uh, looked at three contributing factors to coffee quality. The first factor is location. The second factor is coffee production system. And the third factor is processing method. So basically they looked at the location of the coffee plants, the type of cropping system that the producer used and the processing method that was used. And the three different processing methods they looked at were wet, semi-wet, and dry.

And what the study found was, and this is a quote; "Concerning the studied factors, the processing method effect was relatively more responsive than location and production system effects on physical raw, and cup coffee quality variables." So it, it wasn’t just better quality in the cup. It was also better physical properties, such as bean size number of defects, as well as how the coffee cupped. So it was kind of a cool thing to look at.

But as the article and the study both mentioned, the study does not make a broad generalization of what determines cup quality in all coffees. They admit that this is a relatively small sample. It’s a, a small region within Ethiopia. Uh, it’s it’s even a small region within the small region, right?

It’s, it’s three different, um, districts within the Kafa zone and the. The elevation range that was involved was pretty small. It was 1600 to 1900 meters above sea level. So it’s a very broad range. Um, and also a very specific range when it comes to where we generally find specialty coffee, because we generally find specialty coffee grown at those higher elevations above 1200 meters.

So these were all coffees that likely had a high potential for good quality already. And we didn’t, they didn’t compare those to any lower grade or lower elevation coffee and they acknowledged that in the study. So there, there is that understanding that, that it’s it’s limited in scope. But I think it’s pretty interesting, uh, on one hand to see this, and then on the other hand, when you think about it, it’s kind of obvious that the, the, um, the processing method is really what determines how many defects make it to the roaster. It determines it determines the moisture content before it hits the roaster. And that’s a critical component of coffee-staling, coffee-freshness. If you have too much moisture, you’re at risk of getting other defects, such as mold. If it’s too dry, you’re going to stale sooner, it’s not gonna have a longer as long of a shelf life.

So the processing method that, that gets us the optimal moisture content of between 10 and 12% the easiest way, is probably gonna be the winner. And I say the "easiest way," because for a lot of small holder farmers, in fact for, um, the vast majority of small holder farmers, we’re talking about, uh, ‘how can they produce the coffee with the highest quality, with the least amount of work and expense?’.

And so what the study found was the dry method accomplished that. It, it is the easiest method. Um, it’s, it’s one of the oldest methods that we know that coffee has been produced. We just take cherries, you might do some prep-washing —in the study they did 48 hours of fermentation— and then an additional wash. And then you put those cherries out to dry. And then later you come back and you strip off that dried shell and husk and expose the, the coffee bean, which will ultimately become a coffee seed. I’m sorry, you exposed the coffee seed, which will eventually become the coffee bean.

And so this study could be seen as the beginning of better, more research in different areas about what are the factors that contribute most to the quality coffee in that region. And using that information, NGOs, government entities, and private industry can come into an area and say, "okay, we know that processing is incredibly important for the quality of your coffee. And we know that the quality of your coffee is incredibly important for its marketability and its price potential. Therefore, what we need to do is work together to improve your processing techniques." And these are the kinds of things that I’ve been talking about in articles and videos, where I’ve interviewed other coffee professionals, and that is; educating processors and producers and giving them the ability to be self-sustainable like we talked about in the previous article. And giving them the, the business intelligence as well as the production or processing intelligence and putting that all together so that they have a, a much better chance of standing on their own two feet and surviving a tough market.

And that’s, that is unfortunately the existence of a lot of small holders. It’s a tough market’s. It’s a tough industry. And you’ve gotta be sharp and on your toes to survive, let alone thrive.

So that was the first iteration of the Weekly Coffee Report. If you find something like this useful, let me know, ‘cause I’m experimenting with different types of podcast content and trying to find what um, people want to hear and what to listen to.

So if you liked it, let me know if you didn’t like it. Let me know. Um, help me provide content for you that you want to hear. Thanks for listening.