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264. Overheard at SCAA 2012

2012-04-24 Comments Off on 264. Overheard at SCAA 2012

As usual, this year’s SCAA was a blur, with great coffee from the country’s best roasters and baristas fueling long days and late nights punctuated by lots of thought-provoking discussions.  It always takes me a few weeks to really digest all the discussions from SCAA and understand their implications for my work here in the coffeelands.  In the meantime, here are some of the conversational fragments that were notable enough for me to jot down.

Sustainability — at origin.

“Producing more in less area is the surest path to sustainability.”

“Sustainability is price differential and productivity.”

–Carlos Brando, P&A International Marketing


Sustainability — in the marketplace.

“It has to be in the grower’s best financial interest to sell to you.  THAT is sustainability.”

–Craig Holt, Atlas Coffee Importers


“Does sustainability sell?”

–Wendy DeJong, Single Origin Coffee Roasters


“What do you want from me?”

–James Hoffman, Square Mile Roasters — asking NGOs working on sustainability issues at origin to help him understand his role


Coffee trading — relationships.

“Get closer to origin, closer to producers.  Build those direct relationships.”

–Juan Luis Barrios, Anacafé


“Investing in relationships is an innovation that has low costs, low risks and high impacts.”

–Tony Salas, ACM


“A good relationship is a natural hedge.”

–Craig Holt, Atlas Coffee


Coffee trading — “first principles”

for growers:

  1. Be conservative.  Don’t insist on buyers committing to five lots when you may collect only three.
  2. Know your costs.  “What will it take to make you whole?”

for buyers:

  1. Pay more than other buyers.
  2. Commit early.
  3. Be transparent.
  4. Keep pricing flexible.
  5. Be there.  “If we are going to talk about relationships, we have to commit ourselves to building them.”

–Craig Holt, Atlas Coffee


Coffee trading — microlots

“We have been doing microlots for 10 years.  We thought it was time to ask producers what they think about them.”

“Microlots are not mercenary.”

“If you are going to do microlots you have a moral imperative to buy coffee you are not microlotting.”

“Only buying microlots and not buying the regular coffee growers produce is like wanting to have a relationship with another person only on good hair days.”

–Peter Giuliano, Counter Culture Coffee


The Market.

“Volatility is here to stay.”

Price volatility costs growers more than financial products that can help them hedge risk.




“The Boma Plateau in South Sudan is the splinter origin of coffee.  It is home to wild coffee forests that hadn’t been visited since 1936.”

–Tim Schilling, World Coffee Research, on his quest for heirloom coffee germplasm



“We need to be pathologically collaborative.”

–Liam Brody, Root Capital


“We have to broaden the circle to find solutions.”

–David Griswold, Sustainable Harvest