My Conversation With Mary Halbrooks

The full audio and transcript are available.

Mary: Because we define specialty coffee as anything that scores on an SCA cupping or evaluation of eighty and above, why are we talking about a C-price of a dollar, which has just dropped to a dollar, for producers who are distinguishing themselves as always scoring eighty and above and the C-market was designed for coffee seen as a commodity, which is like talking about a grain, or corn, or other agronomic crops. Clearly this is a specialty, horticultural crop. You offer much more per-pound for lettuce or grapes than you do for grain. And yet in coffee, here we are in this antiquated system, in my opinion, and I think a lot of other people who are already saying this, not just me; here we have a C-price for generic, agronomic, bulk commodity crops, and we’re applying it to the price we’re paying growers, and at the same time we want them to produce specialty coffee that scores eighty and above.

Michael: And we can’t tell them what that’s, what the value of that is for us.

Mary: No! Unless they are lucky enough to win a Cup of Excellence auction, or if they are able to establish, for example, a relationship with some buyers that have made a commitment to not go under, there are a few buyers who are signing-on to a commitment ‘we will pay no less than 2.35 an hour, I mean a pound, green. Things like that, like Kickapoo coffee in Wisconsin has made a commitment; they never offer less than a certain price. So that’s the kind of change that is incremental and I think its going have to happen because they also tell me that in Costa Rica the young folks don’t want to take on the coffee farming. They’ve seen their parents struggle, so they’re leaving the farm.


Mary: So there is some of that going on in Costa Rica and there are some very modern agronomists who are doing really good work there. And they’re trying to bring up, you know the level of technology on the farm. For example; one of the farms we visited, that is Hacienda Tabosi, they have thermocouples throughout their farm. They are constantly managing the farm and seeing where they’re having problems with heat and that’s why they’re doing a lot of work with shade. They want to see how much quality improvement in the fruit they can get from shade. And one way to measure shade is temperature. And so they’re looking all throughout their farm and seeing where they have shade and where they don’t and what the temperature differences are and then they follow that all the way to the cup.

And of course, here is the video:

The links below will take you directly to the chapter in YouTube:

0:00 Intro
1:04 Interview begins
3:07 Origin trips to Costa Rica
5:37 Coffee education trips to Costa Rica
7:29 What coffee farming looks like in Costa Rica
11:40 Floor price for specialty coffee (Cafe Con Amor and Buckman Coffee Factory)
14:44 Generational take-over of coffee farms
16:12 Gaia demo farm
17:27 Hacienda Tobosi (with an annoying train passing by)

Michael C. Wright

Michael is a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in horticultural business management. He has over ten years experience in the coffee industry operating on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain.