Last week, I reflected on a conversation with a coffee buyer who told me flatly: “The quality approach has been tried. It failed.” The next day I met with a plucky exporter that has had success attracting farmers to a very different vision: “Quality of coffee means quality of life.”
Last week, in a span of less than 24 hours, I met with two coffee industry leaders with diametrically opposed opinions on the issue of coffee quality and its impact on smallholder livelihoods. In the first conversation, a coffee buyer told me unambiguously: “The quality approach has been tried. It failed.”
A Q-grader cupper recently offered me his perspective on where quality comes from. Later that day, I had dinner with another Q-grader cupper and asked her the same question. Their answers were identical, but neither included ANYTHING that happens between the selection of the varietal and harvest – the space in which where farmers spend most of their time and energy.
A few weeks after I published a post on Nariño’s domination of the 2010 Colombia Cup of Excellence, the coffee website Sprudge ran an excellent, in-depth piece on the controversy around the varietal of the lot that won the COE.
An important part of our approach to agro-enterprise involves making the chain that links farmers to markets more transparent. The idea is that the more farmers understand the market end of the chain — consumer preferences, market trends, quality standards, product presentation, etc. — the more effectively they can meet the demands of the market. […]
The Colombia Cup of Excellence competition held earlier this month may have marked the coronation of Nariño as the source of the country’s finest coffee. Farmers from Nariño claimed the first six spots and eight of the top ten. Such dominance leaves little doubt that the center of Colombian coffee has shifted definitively to Nariño.
There have been discussions here recently of the market for the $3 cup of single-serve coffee, the challenges of sourcing distinctive coffees and the current high market. I realized during a conversation last week with a veteran coffee importer that although these three discussions here were separate, they are related.
I have posted references here to some of the great coffee-drinking experiences I have had in the coffeelands over the past year. Beyond their travelogue value, those posts point to an underlying market trend that may make tight markets for quality coffee even tighter — the growing number of quality-focused coffeeshops in producing countries paying premiums for exceptional coffees.
Jaime Molina — a member of the 5 de junio cooperative that participates in the CRS CAFE Livelihoods project — took 2d place in last month’s Nicaragua Cup of Excellence competition. We can’t take credit for Jaime’s coffee, but we sure will work to figure out what exactly he is doing right and try to share it with other farmers in the project. Congratulations, Jaime, and good luck at auction!
The Fair Trade v. Direct Trade debate — to the extent that people are still having it — is fueled by caricatures of each approach that may reflect some grain of truth but ultimately misrepresent the realities of both.