There are about 750,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Central America. Imagine, the whole of Denver Metro area… farming coffee! And it’s a little sobering to realize that most of them are not earning enough to break even. And this is true across the globe. In most years. A study by the Specialty Coffee Association reported that 60% of coffee farmers in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico are experiencing food insecurity.
Uff. I know what you’re thinking - not another crisis to debbie-downer my morning cup o’ joe!
Just hear me out, there’s a somewhat easy feel good dose for this one.Let’s take a trip down the supply chain and see just how a traditional cup of coffee arrives in our cup.
Coffee is treated as a raw commodity, extracted from the hard-working hands of farmers in raw form and shipped off to the caffeine-guzzling consumers. If you had to guess, how many steps do you think there are in the typical coffee supply chain?
Twenty. It’s 20. That's 20 times the product passes through different, often corporate, hands before it reaches you. That's 20 times a few cents or dollars are added to the ultimate price tag you pay. What if farmers owned and managed more of that supply chain? Or, what if we just cut out many of those middle men and went straight to you?
“There hasn’t been a really significant change in how coffee has been transported, purchased or produced in many decades. It has always just been extracted from the country,” said Rob Terenzi, co-founder of Vega Coffee in the United States.
One problem for Central American farmers is that most of their coffee is exported in bulk as green, un-roasted beans, with the highest value-added processes happening in consuming countries. In fact, up to 90% of the value in coffee is in the roasting and retail process, which almost always happens in consuming countries, leaving the hardest-working farmers with all the risk and the least profit.
The other thing to consider here is cultural, aesthetic value. You know what I’m talking about, that aroma, that fragrance, that subtle sweetness that sings you awake to the world each morning. Farmers love that too. They want that good stuff. But often times, with how the supply chain works, farmers are forced to export all the quality stuff, and then import the instant, chemical-ridden cheap stuff from Vietnam and Brazil (ay no! - the inefficiency! the travesty of flavor!) We’ll go so far as to say that many farmers - several millions around the world - have never even seen any production aspects of specialty coffee beyond the harvesting.
Now don’t get us wrong, we love some local roasters in Denver doing an amazing job with direct trade partnerships (Kahladi’s, Queen City, and Corvus to name a few). But looking at the supply chain does beg the question: We’re honored to pay oodles (…sometimes) for the terroir and farm-crafted product of wine, often fully processed by farmers in producing European countries; yet why can’t we do the same for coffee? One of the world’s oldest, favorite concoctions that brings us together around crowded tables near and far for some of the nutty, chocolatey bliss?
Insert Farmer-Roasted model. And here’s what we think is cool about it.
Straight up, it cuts out the middlemen between farmers and consumers. It lets the farmers own more of the supply chain. Our farmer-owned partners Vega and Gento train farmers far beyond the harvest in roasting, cupping (quality tasting) and packaging.
When farmers roast, they earn up to 4x more per pound, and you get ethical, traceable, micro-lot, award-winning coffee, direct to your doorstep and local cafe :)
“Our experience shows that small-holding farmers, who have grown up producing great coffee are simply very good at identifying great coffee (cupping) and roasting it to a level that brings out the greatness in each cup.” - Rob Trenzi, Vega Coffee
In a nutshell (or coffee cherry, as it were) here are the three major things we love about the farmer-roasted model:
it diversifies farmers' incomes : When farmers can make money from more processing steps in the supply chain, they have more opportunity to earn. Also, our coffees are shade grown with marketable products (macadamia, avocado, mango, timber), and integrated with honey-producing bees.
it increases consumption in producing countries : We believe farmers should get to consume the best and most delicious fruits of their labor, and not be left with chemically-processed instant Nescafé. Further, farmers roasting at origin shares the beautiful flavor with consumers in their own country, growing more market opportunities and more cultural celebration.
it helps break down the cultural power structures between the Global South and consumers: We’re ready to move away from extractive industries that take from Latin American land and farmers. Farmers roasting in country means they are honored and paid more for the incredible product they help cultivate, and for the invaluable investment they make to caretaking Earth’s precious forests.
So, thanks for indulging in the sojourn through the supply chain. We don't judge any way you take your coffee, but we sure hope you consider take it roasted by a farmer.