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In our 2023 Tanzania Pre-Harvest Plan, we wrote about what we’d learned from our partners in Mwika North, and the resulting strategy to shift support towards coffee processed at a cooperatives’ Central Processing Units rather than the more traditional, and widely common method of processing coffee at home, then delivering parchment to the cooperative.
In Mwika, we observed cherry collections came in with higher premiums paid to members, predictably higher uniformity, quality and shelf stability as compared to corresponding HP coffee. We found that other investments made more of an impact as well; interventions such as shade cloth go further in a CPU where they can impact all of the community’s coffee in aggregate.
On average, we’ve seen cup scores come in 1-1.5 points higher from CPU versus HP coffee, but more, that CPU coffee has better water activity readings, and less of a tendency to fade. This gets to the root of the drying issues which have come to characterize some of Tanzania’s coffees over the past decade, and gives us more confidence to buy more qualities, which we are expecting them to retain for more time.
With this in mind, we’ve been looking for other Kilimanjaro cooperatives who might be willing to dust-off an old pulper or invest in a new central processing unit. The best new opportunity to present itself came through the Kilimanjaro Smallholder Revival Project (KSRP).
Originally subsidized by a European company and supported by our partners at Taylor Winch, KSRP aimed to reverse a trend that began with the collapse of the strength of the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU) following the nationalization and subsequent re-independence of the Union and liberalization of of the coffee industry in the 1990s. Without the support of a strong union, cooperatives collapsed as private exporters worked to secure coffee by buying it directly from cooperative members.
Smallholder coffee from Kilimanjaro—where coffee had grown since 1835—used to account for over half of Tanzania’s Arabica; by 2020 it was less than one-fifth. Old trees, aging farmers, and low premiums contributed to this decline—as did regulations supporting the growth of estates. In response, a European company funded, with the support of the local coffee community, a revitalization effort—the Kilimanjaro Smallholder Revival Project—aimed at engaging the next generation of smallholders on Kilimanjaro, and in doing so, preserving the practices, cultivars and profiles that first made Tanzanian coffee renowned.
The project and its German partners identified 9 AMCOSs to solicit for participation in the project then worked with them to secure organic certification and guaranteed premiums to promote quality and re-engage farmers; provided SL-28 seedlings, which were the cultivar that made coffee from Kilimanjaro famous; and established a youth corps to train the next generation of coffee producers.
We signed up to back cherry premiums for KSRP member groups who had the capacity and interest to collect and process cherries; specifically Marangu West, Lukani Lossa and Mrimbo Uuwo. Most of the volume would come from the six other cooperatives, and overall, come in as HP parchment—and therefore likely below the 85pt quality standard for Crop to Cup purchases. But the broader KRSP network and its backers lined-up a buyer in Europe for the coffee who, at the last minute, backed out—creating an opportunity for Crop to Cup to get involved in the project with the help of Taylor Winch.
For 2023, we were able to separate these coffees, which were collected in full container loads, by AMCOS. We hope, over the next few years, to work with partners to improve qualities and separations coming from their CPUs.
Our 2023 Mexico Pre-Harvest Plan builds on last year’s explorations into lesser-known producing regions of Mexico while doubling down on our historical work with supply chains in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz. For the first time, we are introducing a quality-incentivized transparent pricing program across the country to encourage early and repeat delivery of parchment from top producers and break out of traditional aggregation models which restrict many producers’ access to the specialty export market.
We first started working in Mexico back in 2013, focusing our efforts in lower-lying areas in Central Mexico along the Pacific coast like Colima and Guerrero—places relatively unknown to specialty buyers in the U.S. Back then, we brought in beautiful dry processed coffees (uncommon in Mexico) from a cooperative called Leyva Mancilla in Guerrero and washed coffees in one of the first lots ever exported from Colima. From there, we began exploring the upper ranges and outer environs of Oaxaca, where the ties of community and operational complexity are as palpable as the potential for quality.
Based on its proximity, it would be easy to assume that of everywhere we work, Mexico should be the easiest. Yet, despite sharing a border and deep connections to the U.S., Mexico remains one of the most complex places we work.
First introduced by Spanish colonizers in the 18th century, coffee in Mexico initially grew on large plantations owned by Europeans and worked by Mexican laborers. Following Mexican independence, wealthy landowners wielded “modernization” as a rationale to abolish communal and corporate land rights, stripping indigenous communities of their lands to form large estates. Agrarian land reforms following the Mexican Revolution began a process of redistribution of land from those larger private estates back to smallholders through the ejido system, which established communal land areas dedicated to agricultural production.
In 1973, to promote coffee production on these newly created lands, the Mexican government established The Mexican Coffee Institute (Instituto Mexicano del Café, or INMECAFE), providing technical assistance, equipment, transportation and credit so that coffee producers could deliver their coffee to the international market. By the end of INMECAFE’s first decade, coffee was the largest agricultural export in Mexico, accounting for 35% of all agricultural exports.
As part of his neoliberal policies, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari abolished INMECAFE in 1989, the same year that the International Coffee Agreement collapsed—exposing smallholders to price volatility and leaving them without access to credit or government assistance—and in 1991 ended ejido land reform policies, again forcing smallholders to abandon lands they’d farmed, dispersing many into remote or mountainous areas.
After the ICA collapsed, so too did prices for coffee; the Coordination of Coffee Grower Organizations estimates that as a result of the ensuing coffee crisis, Mexican coffee growers would have lost 65% of their potential revenues since the start of the crisis. As a result, 71% of coffee growers stopped using fertilizers, 40% reduced pruning, and 75% stopped investing in control of pests, leading to lower qualities, yields and resiliency ahead of the coffee leaf rust outbreak in Latin America in 2012.
In response, many of the coffee growers in Mexico—who today number more than 500,000, 85% of whom are indigenous and with 95% growing coffee on fewer than 3 hectares of land—organized into informal cooperatives or otherwise collaborated to mitigate their risk and attempt to access the best price for their coffee.
Mexico offers unique opportunities for quality with many of its farms planted with decades-old root stock of lower-yielding traditional varieties like Bourbon and Typica and an increased interest domestically in specialty coffee, leading to experimentation and innovation in coffee processing and the planting of exotic cultivars. Today, Mexico is the seventh largest coffee exporter in the world—and the largest exporter of organic coffee.
We don’t operate like coffee hunters or coyotes, picking through warehouses, or buying the best cups that come up on coyote-curated blinded tables in Oaxaca City. To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—we remain committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust. This is only possible by overcoming communications challenges—linguistic and topographic—returning year after year to re-engage communities, addressing logistics within and between communities, and cultivating quality through training, idea sharing, proactive communication, and incentive programs.
For the 2023 harvest and import from Mexico, we anticipate that:
Cold and wet conditions across Mexico have delayed harvest and drying by as much as a month compared to previous years, also leading to lower than expected production. However, we have implemented stricter purchasing deadlines to ensure lots are milled and exported earlier in 2023, which will result in earlier and on-time arrivals to the U.S. We will be traveling to Mexico three times prior to the end of harvest and anticipate that booking will be wrapped up by early May.
We introduced a new program that we’re calling Good Coffee Program, designed to create access to and and a pipeline for top lots by appealing to farmers and their communities directly through transparent pricing, immediate payment, and long-term contracts. This farmer-facing program is overseen by our new support team in Mexico, and will deliver higher quality separations and smaller microlots than in previous years.
Domestic prices in Mexico remain high; pricing indicators, particularly across Oaxaca, remain inflated from last year’s peak even though market prices have begun to fall due to competition from commercial buyers. We are maintaining a pricing calculator that we will update every two weeks to transparently translate offer prices from export-ready ‘oro’ in USD / LB, FOB export, to Mexican Pesos / KG in ‘pergamino’ to the farmer. This tool will assist with education and accountability, but most of all, in engaging farmers in a conversation about prices and quality. At the start of harvest, the U.S. Dollar is the weakest it’s been since 2017 against the Mexican Peso, which will buffer export prices even as the market softens; this, along with incentives paid for quality and smaller lot sizes will result in landed prices that are approximately the same or somewhat higher than previous years.
We received the final landings of our 2022 imports late into the year, giving them less time to shine before the next crop comes in. These late arrivals resulted from disruptions within Mexico’s export market related to quality, price, and lot aggregation.
Historically, aggregation of coffees has been our greatest challenge in Mexico, with quality and high prices—or more specifically, a mismatch between quality and price—coming close behind.
Over our time working in Mexico, we’ve developed year-over-year supply chains by working with strong, engaged collaborators who have their own relationship and connection to communities of coffee growers. By working through them, we’re able to gain access to communities—most often indigenous, and always of smallholders—who otherwise would not have access to the specialty market. One challenge, however, is that these informal cooperatives are traditional in their structure and outlook; a central collection point for parchment services the entire community with pricing negotiated on an ongoing basis based on market conditions, and without training or support for agronomy or processing, quality is highly variable.
Without collectors and a way to make inroads with these communities of smallholders, the coffee they grow would likely be destined for sale in the domestic or commercial markets by coyotes, or bought by “Coyote Qs” who buy coffee at low prices from farmers by grading it down at the farm and up at the lab in Oaxaca. Domestic prices in Mexico for specialty quality lots are higher than in other producing countries, and with yields also substantially lower, supply pressures force FOB costs higher and logistical challenges increase.
Last year, for our 2022 import, we hired a partner from our early work in Guerrero as a producer-in-residence to motivate producers to engage in the specialty market by providing processing training and experimentation support. Our short-term aim was to create diversified products through existing partnerships and by paying a premium for these lots, ensure they’d make it to export. In conjunction, we established a “diploma” program inclusive of cupping feedback rewarding producers for going through this training. The coffees were produced, but in the end, they never made it to market: with market prices as high as they were, and with the slow payment cycle of exported coffee—up to 6 weeks from delivery of parchment—many producers ended up selling the coffee they’d produced through the Barista in Residence program to the local market, using the diploma we’d given, for faster payment.
OAXACA: La Canada, Mazoteca C2C Agent is making frequent visits to check on training / lot separation. Communities are invited to participate in GCP microlot program for 3rd party feedback. OAXACA: OAXACA: Support smaller lot separation through Joaquin’s house (which acts as the group’s bodega) through to the mill in Oaxaca. Special processing experimentation. Mazoteca (Puebla, Sierra Negra)
Strategy or Qualities
La Refleja y Red 5 de Diciembre
Utilize the agronomy extension team (Red 5) to train community partners on quality control and lot separation upon initial collections. Explore separations from other high-altitude, hard to reach member groups in Sierra Norte.
La Reflecja (cooperative) hired a new cupper.
Terra Coffeas Mexico
Mixteca (Caballo Rucio)
Mazoteca (San Mateo Yoloxochitlan)
La Pluma (Juquila)
Build small 20-family community groups within indigenous communities who can focus on producing for specialty. Pair these groups with field workers to provide support through the harvest, a top of the line mill / cupping team to recreate the cooperative model from the ground up.
‘22 was the start of this project, ‘23 is building on that success with more individual farmer separations and overall improvements on community-level processing made possible by good prices and advance contracts.
Ramon Ruiz / Joaquin Santana
La Pluma (Chateno)
Support community leaders (in this case, Joaquin Santana) who devote their houses, hearts and time to hold together informal cooperatives composed of indigenous (mostly non-spanish speaking) households who have delivered their coffee to Joaquin for generations.
Continue to reinvest a portion of premiums into supplies (shade nets, drying beds).
Pride of Puebla
Participate in a grassroots-organized quality auction (‘22) to identify the most motivated producers in an off-the-path part of Puebla so that they can have more access to specialty markets in ‘23.
Send a C2C agent to work between NGOS (like Heifer Intl), local agronomists, and community leaders to communicate a clear plan for pricing, quality premiums, and quick cupping feedback through the Good Coffee Program (GCP).
La Canada, Mazoteca
C2C Agent is making frequent visits to check on training / lot separation.
Communities are invited to participate in GCP microlot program for 3rd party feedback.
Support smaller lot separation through Joaquin’s house (which acts as the group’s bodega) through to the mill in Oaxaca.
Special processing experimentation.
Mazoteca (Puebla, Sierra Negra)
For 2023, we’re taking a different approach to our Mexico sourcing strategy based on the lessons we learned from our work over the last few harvests. This year’s strategy focuses on quality discovery, and appeals directly to producers by providing an impartial lab to provide quick feedback while educating producers on their cup score. This exists on top of our normal purchasing strategy, which aims at economic stability through long-term contracts, and building trust and accountability through adoption of a transparent, widely-communicated pricing model for all of our buying in Mexico.
We brought on staff two local agents, Israel Paz and his wife Joz Cortes, both of whom are skilled, calibrated cuppers with deep connections to producer communities in Mexico. Israel and Joz will work together not only to evaluate quality and turn around feedback more rapidly at their own Arc roaster outfitted lab in Puebla, but also help with discovery of new producer relationships through their networks. Israel will oversee our new quality incentive and transparent pricing program, which we’re calling, aptly, Good Coffee Program (GCP). Good Coffee Program runs during harvest, from March 1st to April 26, 2023.
GCP is built on a few foundational principles:
By improving the speed of payment and incentivizing quality, we hope to build collections of high-quality coffees. Taking a page out of our strategy from last year, we will run radio broadcasts to communicate pricing in order to overcome the communication challenges posted by Mexico’s topography. The pricing model is fully transparent with premiums assessed based on quality—and a base price that is recalculated every two weeks corresponding to movement in the local market.
While the coffee trade in Mexico operates with a lack of national structure and is often opaque due to difficulty accessing communities of producers directly, GCP aims to create an environment where smallholders are able to receive feedback on their coffee, receive a transparent offer above the local market, and get paid quickly.
GCP will be utilized across all of our supply chains in Mexico; we anticipate that this will result in smaller, high quality lots and don’t anticipate any lots larger than 50 bags.
One of our longest-standing supply chain partners in Mexico, Ramon Ruiz, and the networks of producers he helps us access through Joaquin Santana in Sierre del Sur and Lachao are one area of focus. The lot separation strategies we’ve implemented in the past have shown some success, and our initial trials of using radio broadcasts to promulgate pricing helped to expedite delivery of coffees from these remote regions. In neighboring La Cañada and Eloxochitlán, we’re eager to engage Coro Cooperative and Red 5 de Diciembre and solicit their participation in GCP. The Red 5 de Diciembre network has been a partner of Crop to Cup since 2020 and is the largest organization of producers in the La Cañada—itself made up by 13 first-level organizations to represent 1,300 small indigenous producers. Over the past six years this group has been working to improve selective harvesting, specialty processing, and marketing of these higher value lots while growing membership.
We will be expanding our work with one of our newer supply-chains in Oaxaca—Terra Coffeas—with whom we worked in 2022. The team at Terra Coffeas includes engineers, agronomists, biologists, chemists, cuppers, artists, and coffee lovers united for the common cause of “agroecológico”—loosely translated to mean “the intentional purposing of international standards for quality, productivity and traceability, towards the advancement of local cultural practices, environmental resources, and economic outcomes”. The field team at Terra Coffeas is young, ethics- and quality-calibrated with Crop to Cup. Rather than relying on conventional cooperatives, Terra Coffeas operates by organizing smallholder coffee producers into informal cooperatives of 25-30 families to aggregate lots into exportable volumes, create market access, cultivate quality, and deliver premiums based on that quality.
In Puebla, where Israel Paz and Joz have their lab, we’ll be returning for 2023 after being the only international buyer to participate in 2022’s Pride of Puebla competition and auction. The coffees from this region remain relatively unknown to specialty buyers outside, and we believe that Puebla holds massive potential for quality as well as producers who will be motivated and positioned well to take advantage of the GCP program.
We we will be actively cupping throughout the season and expect to have samples available by May. To get involved or for more information, contact your trader.
We we will be actively cupping throughout the season and expect to have samples available by May.
Conditions in Brazil set the pace for pricing the world over, but nowhere more than in Brazil itself. Variables such as currency exchange rates and weather forecasts impact both the C-market—against which coffee around the world is traded—as well as our partners in Brazil who experience frosts and devaluations directly. Even within specialty, producers contract a portion of their crop in large futures contracts against the C-market, hedging with an aim of guaranteeing income and economic security for the year. Then, with some certainty that they can cover their costs, they set aside a smaller portion of higher scoring lots to sell through specialty channels.
The market volatility of the last year coupled with lower production this year, though, mean that many producers are left with little coffee to sell as specialty: in order to fulfill their existing futures contracts, they delivered more of their total harvest than expected. Those contracts may have been established when the Brazilian real was high, the C-market was low, and forecasts were strong; the reality left producers exposed. With such volatility, and such low volumes to work with, producers are understandably inclined to “wait and see”, rather than contracting too far in advance of export.
As a result, we entered the harvest aggressively, knowing we’d have to compete for the qualities and volumes that we’d hoped to put together with our partners at Aequitas. Ultimately, this meant that Yuki and the team at Aequitas had to grow their network to build volume for export; thanks to investments she made such as opening an Aequitas cupping lab locally to provide faster feedback to producers and evaluate quality and strengthening communication and relationship with the producers in the Aequitas network, we were able to allay concerns that we initially held about quality potential ahead of the harvest. Here, again, Yuki Minami’s strength as a collaborator helped to navigate the Aequitas family of farmers through this time of market disruption.
Because of inflationary pressures and costs increasing in Brazil for Aequitas and Aequitas members, pricing will be higher this year. We expect our import volumes will be lower this year.
If there are specific projects or lots you’re interested in, we recommend booking early.
On the Water
|Aug – Sep||Sep – Oct||Nov – Dec||Dec – Jan|
|Type samples, lot reservations||Offer + PSS samples, initial bookings||Contract approval + export||Arrival samples + spot offers|
As with all things in 2022, prices are up over last year. A multitude of factors contributed, but the theme is ‘inflation’ and ‘volatility’.
In total, inflationary costs will account for about 20-25 cents of increases and market differences account for 15-20 cents per pound of increases before we encounter increases stemming from the global logistics crisis and container shortage—meaning that at the end of the day, we expect that final prices will be, on average, 50-60 cents higher than last year for microlots and top lots.
Our access in Brazil, and reason for working here, is found in our relationship with Aequitas, led by Yuki Minami and founded on the notion of creating equity through coffee. We’ve bought from Aequitas since their first export in 2018.
Last year, we bought a battery of microlots that showcased a diverse range of processes and flavor profiles coming from Aequitas members that came from a “recipe book” of postharvest processes we put together with Yuki. Aequitas once again used the recipe this year, targeting processes based on the results of last year, helping to achieve consistency in quality across those unconventional lots.
These efforts in separation and diversification of processing were aided by the new cupping lab and office that Yuki opened in town. Aequitas’ cupping lab used to be on a farm—moving it into town makes it more accessible for other producers and increases the amount of cupping and speed of feedback on coffees submitted.
Yuki also expanded the Aequitas network in search of more affordable 84+ commercial-plus style lots through COOPEDAP, the local cooperative that also warehouses and mills coffee for Aequitas members. This creates an opportunity for more price-sensitive and/or larger scale roasters to buy Aequitas coffee.
Marcelo Assis and Biome Café doubled down on lessons learned from their processing experiments from last year.
Often overlooked due to its reputation as a commodity producer of Arabica coffee, Brazil’s landmass and diversity of microclimates, regions and cultures results in a remarkable diversity of cup profiles—if you know where to look.
We’ve partnered with Maria Soraia Guimarares since 2019, two years after her family received their first premium for specialty coffee. Unlike most producers in her region, Soraia’s farm is harvested by hand—a small example of the attention to detail and care Soraia takes in producing coffee, which has garnered recognition through awards from Cup of Excellence, the Minas Gerais State Coffee Quality Awards, Cerrado Mineiro Region Coffee Awards and Florada Contest.
For our 2023 import, Soraia focused purely on microlots—her favorite being Arara Anaerobic, which presents in the cup with notes of blue raspberry, cherry taffy, cotton candy, honey, lemon verbena, melon, and thyme.
Yuki Minami and the Minami Family Farms are our raison d’être in Brazil, and we’ve imported coffee from them since our first year operating in Brazil in 2017. For 2023, they’ve produced a mixture of single batch (~100 bags) and smaller (~10 bag) lots.
Included in these are iterations of the most successful of last year’s more experimental-style lots, like the Minami Anaerobic Fermentation with Pineapple, which has notes of dried peach, black cherry, hibiscus, red licorice and is on the wilder, more adventurous side of the specialty spectrum compared to classics like Fazenda Olhos D’Agua Natural, a quieter, more nuanced coffee with notes of candied orange, dark chocolate, honey, nut, persimmon, and raisin.
Marcelo Assis, a partner producer of Crop to Cup since 2018, dedicates Bioma Café, the farm he operates in partnership with Flavio Marcio Silva, to specialty production. They approached selecting the site for the farm from a technical lens, evaluating the quality potential of each parcel.
Over the years, Marcelo has proven to be an innovative and collaborative partner, and for 2023, the fruitful collaboration between Marcelo and Rosalina Zamai resulted in a unique natural processed lot with notes of pomegranate, dark plum, marigold, rose, brown sugar, and apple cider. His Paraiso MG2 Anaerobic Fermentation lot is tropical and complex with character of guava, anise, magnolia, strawberry, vermouth and floral schnapps.
We have completed our booking for this harvest. Review our Forward Offers to see upcoming availability. Available lots are limited—reach out to your trader to forward book for December/January arrivals.
– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team
Producer Partner Highlights
If you would like more than 8 samples, please contact a trader directly.