Cultivating the next generation of coffee roasters

The story of Costa Rica’s grano de oro – or golden bean – began in the late 18th century when arabica was first introduced to its rich volcanic soils and favourable climatic conditions in the central Meseta region. Coffee production has since flourished and is now a vitally important cash crop for the national economy. Although the country produces a small percentage of the world’s overall coffee production, it is highly regarded for the diversity of its varietals and award-winning cup profiles which has led some Costa Rican producers to enjoy their fair share of Cup of Excellence accolades in recent years.

image

 

While other Central American coffee producing countries opted for a more centralized coffee-plantation owner model, Costa Rica took a different path. Today, it still represents one of the most democratic models of coffee production in the world. This has been characterized by the ‘micro-mill revolution’ that has taken the country by storm in the past decade. In a country where 90 percent of all coffee producers cultivate less than 12 acres (five hectares) of land, the number of micro-mill facilities where producers grow, harvest, depulp and process their coffees on the farm has grown dramatically. Without this reliance on third-party millers, producers have been able to retain more of the the value of their coffee by cutting down on production costs. They also benefit from more freedom to experiment with innovative new processing methods before the coffee leaves the farm gate.

image

 

Representing the fifth generation of producers at Chumeca, based in the renowned Tarrazu region, Emilio José Urena Jimenez, talks about his shared sense of pride on the family-run farm: “Generations have passed but the good habits stay. My great grandfather’s sowed large quantities of coffee in this region. Then my grandparents took over and now my parents and brother are adopting the same love and care”. On the 8.4 hectare farm, a wide range of varietals are being cultivated for production including Red and Yellow Catuai, Caturra, Villa Sarchi, while other varietals such as Geisha, Pacamara, Sarchimor and Kenya are being experimented. The coffee is 100% sun-dried and Emilio says they have been introducing natural anaerobic process into the drying phase.

But producing specialty-grade coffee for export is not without its challenges, adds Emilio: “Maintaining quality is the hardest thing. It is very important that we focus on quality and not on quantity. We want people to know that in Chumeca, and Costa Rica, there is great coffee, and we work with dedication to produce a cup that will be enjoyed by people who admire our product”.

However, the 22 year-old who is studying to be a mathematics teacher highlights a trend that he seeing amongst his own generation: “A large number of our generation are identifying themselves more with what happens after the harvest such as being a barista, roaster, or cupper. They are also interested in the mill or the drying process. But what worries me is that fewer people are interested in the work at the farm. This includes maintaining the plantation, experimenting with different varieties, altitudes and everything that our fathers are doing with a lot of knowledge – and that is all part of the work to create the best cup of coffee”.

image

 

In a bid to incentivise the next generation of producers by sharing knowledge at the farm level, Rebeca Moya of 100 Libras has been supporting producers to increase their yields without sacrificing quality. “We collaborate with smallholder producers to add value and increase the quality of production”, she says. “At first, we wanted to export specialty coffee which is not without its risks. Two years ago, we started an alliance with Coop-Agri to help producers provide the correct documentation. We gather all the information so it is presented in the right way before consolidating the coffee ready for embarkation on the ship”.

Rebecca explains how the jute bag is a form of documentation in its own right and great care is taken to ensure that it meets the high standards set by Costa Rica’s coffee institute, eCafe. Even the bag print designs, which are a source of great pride for Costa Rican producers, help to differentiate from others and ensure a marketable visual identity that adds value whilst reinforcing traceability back to the farm. Since a great deal of regulatory procedures are involved in order to ready the coffee for shipping, 100 Libras is working with farms like Emilio to build-in efficiencies that help to improve the sustainability of the coffee sector in Costa Rica for future generations.

“This is important because it gives small producers an incentive to stay in coffee production. Many young people will go away to study but we want to see them return back to their family-owned farms. It gives a boost because they bring back new ideas about business and agronomy”, she adds. 100 Libras has now established its own laboratory farm to experiment with cultivating different varieties that are high yielding, disease resistant and offer good quality in the cup. It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has come to define Costa Rican coffee as producers develop new ways and approaches to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

image

 

Yet in spite of the many challenges, Emilio and his family at Chumeca are optimistic when finding new buyers through transparent trading platforms such as algrano. Their first ever printed bag design this year is a clear indication that high quality Costa Rican coffee continues to be in high demand internationally. He concludes: “It is touching to remember that they visited us one day and called the next day to buy our coffee. Above all, to know that the fruits of our labour is being enjoyed on the other side of the world. This is important for us and makes us feel proud about our work which motivates us to get better”.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

On the road from commercial coffee to specialty

For more than a decade, Ancis Romanovskis was a successful entrepreneur before he turned his hand to roasting. The 38 year-old had sharpened his business acumen in the cosmetics, pharmacy, and beer industries before he went on to build one of Latvia’s leading coffee equipment with his partners, service and supply companies from the ground up.

image

The switch from commodity coffee to specialty began when King Coffee became the official distributor for La Marzocco across the Baltics. While the partnership helped to fuel the company’s growth, the route into specialty coffee roasting still seemed an arm’s length away from supplying and maintaining coffee equipment.

Although business was quickly expanding, Ancis took a break away from the company to gain more experience in running the roastery at Coffee Planet – a decision that paved his way towards Dubai. It was a time when interest in specialty coffee in the Middle East was emerging and and his role evolved from international sales to managing the roasting operation. After four years, he returned back to Latvia. With his partners, they kick started Rocket Bean with the deployment of a 35kg Loring Smart Roast Kestrel in 2015.

image

Working as a white label supplier to King Coffee, Rocket Bean has a network of clients and customers that many start-up roasteries would dream for. Yet Ancis soon realized that that he needed to understand the complexity of his roasted product better: “While traveling abroad, I saw that coffee was something big. I understood the business side but needed to understand the product more,” he says. “Coffee is very exciting, you keep learning and it is always evolving. In specialty we have this aim to bring perfection, something that is unique”.

As well as supplying roasted coffee to countries as far as Saudi Arabia, Rocket Bean has found its home in an old sock factory in Riga which dates back to the time of Latvian independence. Following a period of renovation, the space now serves as a coffee house, roastery and purveyor of healthy and quality food for its caffeinated customers under the culinary stewardship of chef, Artūrs Taškāns, who gained experience in a Michelin-star restaurant in London.

The latest algrano coffee sourced by Rocket Bean is produced by Augusto Borges Ferreira, a representative of the fourth generation of his coffee growing the family. The grower was among the finalists in the Cup of Excellence category for naturals in 2014 and 2015. Grown between 1000-1300m, the red catuai has notes of toffee, brazil nuts, peach marmalade, and pears. “It’s Brazilian coffee but doesn’t taste like a Brazilian, it’s really interesting,” adds Ancis.

image

Since Latvian-born Martinš Drungils recently joined the team to help progress their roasting style further, Ancis says that Rocket Bean’s quest for quality is more cup profile orientated. And his relentless search for new fields has brought him to a more direct trade approach though algrano: “I can see my previous trades through on the platform, I like that”, before adding that in-depth information provided about the coffee is crucially important for him and his clients. He says this is especially crucial for his team as they reach out to restaurateurs who demand more of a story behind the coffee as they brew in front of their dining guests. “They brew chemex in front of the client and we want to give them a guide, like a wine description, in order to give a good feeling to the end customer”, he comments as he eyes up the next business opportunity.

FOLLOW ROCKET BEAN AT:

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

Technology-driven transparency at the mill

Nicaragua is a highly-regarded coffee producing country that enjoys huge farming potential and has recently undergone a step change in the mechanization of its agricultural sector. Already, the results of this public and private investment has helped to increase quality, while at the same time reducing the cost of production of its highly sought-after specialty coffee.

image
Aided by the advance of technology, one area that has seen a revolution in its production potential is the dry milling process. At this critical juncture in the value chain is the final stage of the preparation of parchment green coffee before it is sorted, graded, bagged to preserve freshness and exported. One such dry mill with a difference is using technology to push the boundaries of this highly mechanised process to increase quality and traceability.
Leinad Jesus Nazco Gonzales, General Manager of Benefico La Providencia, is responsible for its high-tech milling operation in the Matagalpa region of Nicaragua. After the coffee is de-pulped at the farm, the facility accepts the pergamino, with the coffee seed still in it’s protective layer, and will complete the sun-drying process if required by the customer.

 

PRODUCER FACING
“At La Providencia, it’s a very customized because we are producer-facing”, he says, “we listen to them, we always try to give the client the good service that they deserve.” From human resources, systems and quality control, budgeting and customer relations, the 35 year-old computer systems engineer supervises all aspects of the milling operation.

 

“The last crop we received was through a new client who did not have the capacity to process all the coffee they had. We increased our volume by almost three times. Because they needed the service we rented a coffee mill in another location so I am now in charge of two mills”.

 

Even with this increased demand for processing and milling for export, one of Leinad’s key responsibilities is to maintain quality and transparency throughout each stage of the process. To achieve this, La Providencia have a dedicated Q-grader in the coffee lab who identifies and classifies each sample provided by the producer for quality.

 

image
Once they receive the pergamino, the sun-drying process is started immediately on vast patio which can last more than a week until the parchment moisture content reaches a target value of between 12-13 percent. Anything higher and he runs the catastrophic risk of mold spreading in the warehouse while further drying will affect the stability of the coffee. Each lot is then tested and separated out into different grades of quality.

 

PROCESSING AND DRY MILLING

 

Leinad says: “In our warehouse we have strict controls in order not to blend different lot qualities so that we can guarantee the integrity of the lot for the grower. Then we only mill the coffee when our farmers ask for it. Once we receive the order, we take samples to give the buyer the quality they require. The same lot could have so many different qualities and range of defects. That is why we take samples every 30 minutes when we are processing the coffee so that we can take action to guarantee that the defects are in range. When the whole lot is processed we cup another sample just to guarantee that it is correct for the buyer – we call this ‘liberacion del lote”.

 

image
Each mill has the capacity to process nearly one quarter of a million tons of parchment to produce 4000 tons of green beans each harvest . Yet behind the astonishing high volumes involved, it is cutting-edge technology that now does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to hulling the coffee. Once the parchment is removed by sophisticated hullers that gently abrade the coffee, the green coffee is sorted by size, density and colour to remove the vast majority of foreign matter, chipped, broken or defective seeds.

 

The colour sorter uses highly sensitive cameras to analyse each individual bean as it passes through the machine at speed and rejects any bean that is outside a predetermined colour range. Before, this process was done by the keen skill of the human eye and hand. To put this into perspective, it takes eight hours to manually sort just over 200 kilos in eight hours per person. That’s no mean feat. The machine on the other hand can sort 80 quintals, or 8000 kilos per hour.

 

REAL TIME REPORTING

 

But the genius of the technology deployed in the mill is the online reporting that is made available to producers at each stage of the process. Growers can access the system to track the progress of their lot with information provided on quality evaluation, defect counts, and status reports. This level of transparency allows them to make minor adjustments or changes to their own harvesting and post-harvesting practices to improve the quality of their coffee, even during peak picking season which usually occurs in December. “We try to motivate our farmers to use the information system. We send them weekly reports with all the information about their coffee and process – so they can use it as a tool to make decisions”, adds Leinad.

 

image
One beneficiary of this technology-driven effort to put the power back into the hands of the producer is Santa Rita, a women-owned estate based in Jinotega. Established in 1988, the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance-certified estate represents four generations of women coffee producers and relies on La Providencia to guarantee them the level of traceability demanded by their buyers. Although the 65 permanent members strong estate fully washes their specialty-grade coffee on the farm, they have been taking advantage of this level of transparency at the dry mill stage for two years.

 

CONFIDENCE TO ACCESS SPECIALTY MARKETS

 

Importantly, the processes and systems in place gives the estate the confidence they need to access specialty coffee markets around the world. This can be directly with green bean buyers or through pioneering direct trade platforms like algrano that puts producers directly in touch with coffee roasters.

 

image
Eva Guerrero Lopez, Marketing and Sales Manager at Santa Rita, says that when the mill receives the coffee, they are sent information at each stage so they can forward plan and forecast their own sales and shipping commitments: “When the parchment is ready, they add the humidity measurements and we get a cupping score for every lot when the dry milled coffee enters the warehouse for storage. We can then sell and ship the coffee anytime between 60 or 90 days afterwards. Growers don’t always have access to what’s happening. That’s why transparency is so important because we have a person in the dry mill checking the coffee,” before adding, “at La Providencia we know it’s in good hands”.

 

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

Opening a window into coffee

Standing between the producer and the consumer in a complex supply chain can be a fine balancing act for any roaster. Quality, price and availability consistently come top as major factors when it comes to making a buying decision. But the underlying motivations that underpin these decisions can vary widely depending on a coffee roastery’s ethical or sourcing policy and needs of their end-customers.

image

 

And as the landscape of specialty roasteries continues to develop at a pace across Europe and further afield, the opportunities for sourcing high-end traceable and transparently-traded coffee has never been so great. From green bean importers to innovative tech platforms aimed at empowering producers to find buyers directly, roasteries are faced with a growing range of options for sourcing green beans as ever before.

In a bid to gain a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of routes that coffee roasters take to inform their buying decisions, algrano has commissioned a Barcelona-based design collective to gain insights into what drives a roasters’ motivation behind the decision on their next coffee contract. “We see a world in transition towards an emerging new social, economic and environmental paradigm,” says  Adrià Garcia of Holon. “For us, algrano has a clear mission to empower coffee growers so it was easy for us to collaborate with a company with a shared purpose – to open up a new window into El Salvador, or say, a door into Kenya”.

The Holon team spent time with six coffee roasteries – NømadEl MagnificoDos MundosSchneid-Kaffee, and UCC Coffee – to map out the steps that roasters take when choosing their coffee. The first ‘discovery’ phase involves a process of requesting samples from different sources and origins to find the freshest coffee available. Fran Gonzalez of Nømad explains how he takes an experimental approach to sourcing new coffees: “I spend three to four hours every week looking for new coffees – I look at offer lists from new importers and the ones that I know,” he says.  For Fran and others, it is the search for uniqueness in flavour and taste profile that guides their quest for a standout coffee.

Other roasters are more cautious in their approach and try to keep more of a sense of continuity to their stock management: “I don’t want to change coffees too much as the price fluctuates, customers don’t always understand it”, adds Sebastian Schneider of Schneid-Kaffee. Yet despite the different approaches that roasters take, the year-round effort to discover new origins, request samples, taste and choose a particular coffee is an organic and fluid process that requires a good understanding of the harvests and seasons.

image

 

Roasters explain that the next crucial phase of cupping samples involves a balancing act between what is offered or trending in the market at a specific time, and what meets their business need. At Dos Mundos, this is usually done with a number of cuppers to contrast opinions and and share views on cup quality and profile: “The three of us cup and in the morning the following day, we make a decision to buy,” says Lukáš Zugar before adding that although quality in relation to price is a principle factor, they are looking for transparency and traceability that offers a window into the story behind each coffee.

This is the moment that roasters will more-than-often seek to find out further information about the coffee’s provenance, its availability and even establish a dialogue with the producer: “Out of the most extraordinary coffees taste-wise I choose the one with the more interesting story because this helps to sell the coffee to my customers. I want to know what the farmer did with the coffee, what role the farm plays in the community and how they treat their workers,” adds Cássia Martinez of El Magnifico.

image

 

Harnessing new technologies designed to help facilitate more dialogue, exchange of ideas and direct peer-to-peer trade between both sides of the value chain is helping to bridge this gap. The results of these interactions are the seeds of a paradigm-shift in the way that specialty coffee is being discovered, sourced and finally presented to the marketplace. Since 2013, algrano has been pioneering a millennial approach that empowers growers to access specialty coffee markets through a platform that connects them directly with roasters globally.

Johannes Just of Geyst, a Swiss-based branding company who is working with algrano to help evolve the trading relationship with roasters and growers in the digital space, comments: “It wasn’t just about the business idea for us, algrano has the disruptive potential to change the way specialty coffee is traded, and we found this value proposition very interesting. The relationship between transparency and specialty is something that is really growing at the moment – it is a trend in the market that puts more power into the hands of producers while strengthening the link with roasters.”

Christian Burri of algrano, says: “We are continuously looking at ways to improving the experience, offline and online, based on the feedback we receive. This includes a more streamlined website platform that shows the right information at the right time for roasters and growers. Our logo also gets a fresher look with a new color palette as we strive to make sourcing coffee from origin more simple”.

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

Roasting on the wild side

For the professional ice hockey player turned roast master, Leonard Wild’s journey into coffee was never straight forward. Shortly after hanging up his blades from a career playing for the German Ice Hockey League, he decided to open a popular build-your-own sandwich store near Munich, Germany. His quest to serve the best coffee in the area propelled his fast food enterprise to become the highest coffee-income generating shop in the Subway franchise worldwide, he proudly claims.
image
When Leonard decided to sell his shop in 2008, he had already been keeping the flame of an old 12kg Probat alive during his spare time for more than two-years. This innate curiosity and competitive desire to roast the best coffee he could was not without its early mishaps: “I started to experiment, which was quite difficult and I burnt a lot of coffee!” he laughs, “there were no workshops offered at this time but by experimenting I got more and more professional. I started to do origin trips to learn more about coffee, especially cupping, and asked for lots of information. I had to inform myself as there weren’t many specialty coffee roasteries in and around Munich at the time”.
At first, Lenoard experimented continuously and cupped mostly alone until he met Goran Huber, a coffee consultant at Kaffee Institut: “I had the good luck to meet Goran in Hamburg who became a good friend of mine. We started to experiment and to cup together. It was great to finally have another opinion and not just to rely on my own.”
image

Following a serious injury that his ski-pro wife, Stefanie, sustained whilst she was competing on the slopes; they both decided to focus on establishing Wild Kaffee in 2010 – and Leonard’s years’ of trial and error began to pay off. Together, they have pitched in hard to scale up their specialty coffee roasting operation and coffee shop in Garmisch-Patenkirchen which now employs ten people. The roastery boasts two Dutch-manufactured Giesen and a Genio roaster made in South Africa: “We now have three roasting machines at the moment,” he says, “a one kilo Giesen where the cylinder speed and airflow can be chosen. This is how we do all the test roasting as well profiling new coffee arrivals – it’s perfect to see how the coffee reacts. We also have a 6kg Genio which we use to roast all our specialty coffee.” As a complement to the 45kg Giesen which handles much of the production volume roasting for larger clients, a Probat UG22 will soon be added to the stellar line up early next year.

image
Leonard is finely attuned to the ‘personality’ of each of his roasters and develops his profiles according to the coffee and roast degree required by a wide variety of his wholesale clients and local customers. He explains, “we are roasting many different styles, for example from classic to very light coffees. With the Giesen we do the classic roasts, and with the Genio we do the light and fruity coffees. It’s perfect to have different roasting machines – the Genio reacts better than the Giesen because he’s built lighter. But the Giesen is much more energy-efficient. Changes of temperature or air are more immediate on the Genio, which fascinates me the most”.
He still likes to roast on a Saturday alongside his fellow roaster, Josef Staltmayr, when it is quiet in the roastery and they can both fully concentrate on the batch in hand. A big fan of Kenyan coffees, the 37 Year-old also likes to roast naturally-processed coffee because they are more of a challenge to develop.
image
In addition to the time that he spends profiling new coffees, Leonard places a great deal of emphasis on traceability. Wild Kaffee’s Long Miles project in collaboration with growers in Burundi is a good example of the value his team place on working more directly with producers. It’s an aspect of coffee sourcing which initially attracted him to sourcing coffee through algrano. In fact, Leonard was the first to source coffee through the tech-platform in 2015 and Wild Kaffee have continued to be an active member of the community ever since: “We always want to want to know where it comes from and have standards of quality for each coffee” he says, “before we buy, we always cup to see if it fits into our menu or not. It’s our philosophy to know the farmer and tell the client about him. They value this a lot more than just the label on the package, and to pay a higher price for good coffee – it has to be a fair deal”.
image
Like many specialty coffee roasters, he still faces the challenge of communicating to his customers how greater acidity can carry much of the complexity in the aroma – whilst at the same time balancing this with the preferences of his end-consumers. It’s a fine line that he continually treads in his search for good coffees to complement Wild Kaffee’s diverse offering of single origins and espresso blends. But unlike many, the strong reputation that Wild Kaffee have carefully built over the years means he can be more selective with the clients that he now supplies. It may seem like a luxury in an increasingly competitive market but Leonard takes the long-term view to growing the business: “At Wild Kaffee we are looking for sustainable partnerships – not only customers”, he says.
image
In a nod to his earlier days on the ice as a professional sportsman, this pioneering approach relies on a desire to be the best in the field but also on raw gut instinct. He adds confidently, “there are no concrete plans over the next few years except to buy good coffee and become better and better. There will always be a lot to learn with coffee. If you work in an authentic and honest way, partners and customers will follow”.
FOLLOW WILD KAFFEE AT:

This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain