Coffee just tastes like Coffee

Originally Posted by our partner association, Joint Marketing Initiative.

In Western Uganda a fired-up farmer raised his hand and asked, “Why is it that when I drink coffee, it just tastes like coffee, but when you [buyers] drink coffee you think some of it tastes different?”

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It reminded me of trying to buy cloth in Burkina Faso. The women in Karfiguela explained to me that there were three different qualities of cloth: low quality for 3,500 CFA/3 meters, medium quality for 5,500 CFA/3 meters and high quality for 7,500 CFA/3 meters. They would show me examples and explain the differences, but I spent two years dressed in the lowest quality fabric and paying 5,500 CFA for it. The day I left, I still couldn’t tell the difference between the low and the mid quality fabric.

When people surround themselves with something, subtle differences eventually become obvious. When buyers are tasting 8 to 800 different cups of coffee per day, the obvious differences become valuable.

In specialty coffee, the seller is at a disadvantage if they can’t recognize the intrinsic value of their product — both from the perspective of knowing how to improve as well as recognizing quality. In specialty coffee, the buyer is also at a disadvantage if they can’t communicate what they value to their farmers.

Let’s face it, specialty coffee will not realize its full potential until the people pondering what it means for a cup to be mild vs delicate and the people putting the seeds in the ground can see eye to eye. Specialty coffee will never be as great as it could be until we recognize each other’s values. Today, I value a berry-like aroma and Lucia Chisi values a bag of cement purchased with coffee money so she can plaster her house, minimize dust and prevent respiratory problems.

But things are changing. Social Justice advocates are committed to farmer empowerment and leveling the playing field. Quality-seekers are committed to “improving the quality of life for farmers in order to improve the quality in the cup”. Innovative, eager and curious coffee people are engaging in all kinds of Direct Trade, Fairtrade, Fair Trade, Women’s Coffee, Gender Equality Coffee, RFA certification, Highly Traceable Micro Lots, Mini Nano Lots, Relationship Coffee and a whole slew of other ideas that help minimize the cultural and communication gap between farmers and drinkers.

Innovative, eager and curious producers are equally as committed to minimizing the gap by promoting coffee culture at origin.

At Mzuzu Coffee, the quality control executive, Christopher Gondwe, cups each day lot produced from each washing station. He averages the SCAA scores for the entire season and awards certificates to the top performers at the end of the year. This internal competition is impacting and motivating farmers and station managers. It’s also using the same language that buyers use when they talk about coffee. Mzuzu is also rolling out Coffee Dens across Malawi to promote coffee culture in their country and is very engaged in the locally roasted coffee business in Malawi. Chief Executive, Harrison Kalua, has been in the industry for 33 years. He loves the coffee industry and can be found cupping privately in his office to stay in tune with how his farmers’ coffee is tasting and the feedback he’s getting from his buyers.

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At Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative, Paineto promotes coffee drinking amongst his farmers with BJC roasted coffee. Afternoon coffee breaks are a must for all the BJC visitors and staff. They are holding a coffee tasting seminar for the managers from their washing stations on June 28th & 29th. Twin/Twin Trading and Atlas Coffee also help out BJC by cupping lots from each washing station and passing the feedback to their fieldworkers and managers, who pass back the SCAA scores to each washing station. BJC does not yet have a cupping lab, but after hearing so much about how each washing station produced a different quality coffee, the farmers are eager to taste the differences. The lack of a cupping lab won’t stop them from pan-roasting the coffee and grinding it using the “traditional method”.

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Lydia, a talented cupper and quality control manager at Gumutindo Coffee Cooperative in Uganda, recently assisted in administering a Coffee Tasting Seminar facilitated by Twin with generous funding from WEFT and led by Atlas Coffee Importers. The Tasting Seminar was promoting an understanding of how processing methods impact cup quality. She was enthusiastic to assist in the promotion of coffee culture in Western Uganda.

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