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MEXICO
HARVEST
PLAN

Introduction

In 2023, Crop to Cup introduced a new direct export channel for smallholders in Mexico called Good Coffee Program in partnership with the State of Puebla and Denso Café. Our goal for GCP was to open specialty market access to producers from lesser-known regions of Mexico like Puebla as well as to smallholders positioned in more remote regions who may otherwise only have the ability to sell to coyotes. Through a structure of fast, transparent payments with incentives based on quality coupled with technical support, cupping feedback and direct connection with buyers, we designed an environment where smallholders are incentivized to participate in specialty export and have the opportunity to earn more for their harvest through quality practices.

In our pilot year of GCP during the 2023 harvest, we evaluated 193 samples representing lots from 137 smallholder participants hailing from Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla, ultimately purchasing and exporting a full container of coffee through the program. Expressed as exportable green, the average premium smallholders received through GCP 2023 was $0.64 per pound, with coffees ranging from 84 to 87.88 points in quality with an average score of 85.91. But at the farm-gate level, quality premiums represented a 55%–122% improvement over local prices due to the absence of intermediaries and the suppression of parchment prices in Puebla.

For most of the producers who participated in GCP 2023, it was their first direct export and first sale to the United States market.

For 2024, we’re expanding and enhancing GCP to include more producers from our networks and more producing regions, further improve speed of payment and speed of shipping, and establish partnerships to enable scalable and regionalized milling and export.

Through GCP, we will offer traceable and price transparent coffees as single producer microlot separations as well as larger-volume regional blends created from GCP lots.
In 2023, Crop to Cup introduced a new direct export channel for smallholders in Mexico called Good Coffee Program in partnership with the State of Puebla and Denso Café. Our goal for GCP was to open specialty market access to producers from lesser-known regions of Mexico like Puebla as well as to smallholders positioned in more remote regions who may otherwise only have the ability to sell to coyotes. Through a structure of fast, transparent payments with incentives based on quality coupled with technical support, cupping feedback and direct connection with buyers, we designed an environment where smallholders are incentivized to participate in specialty export and have the opportunity to earn more for their harvest through quality practices.

In our pilot year of GCP during the 2023 harvest, we evaluated 193 samples representing lots from 137 smallholder participants hailing from Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla, ultimately purchasing and exporting a full container of coffee through the program. Expressed as exportable green, the average premium smallholders received through GCP 2023 was $0.64 per pound, with coffees ranging from 84 to 87.88 points in quality with an average score of 85.91. But at the farm-gate level, quality premiums represented a 55%–122% improvement over local prices due to the absence of intermediaries and the suppression of parchment prices in Puebla.

For most of the producers who participated in GCP 2023, it was their first direct export and first sale to the United States market.

For 2024, we’re expanding and enhancing GCP to include more producers from our networks and more producing regions, further improve speed of payment and speed of shipping, and establish partnerships to enable scalable and regionalized milling and export.

Through GCP, we will offer traceable and price transparent coffees as single producer microlot separations as well as larger-volume regional blends created from GCP lots.

We expect offer samples from GCP to begin arriving mid-March with contracts to follow in April.
To contract coffees forward on a SAS-PSS basis, contact your trader at Crop to Cup.


Country Context

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. Our work there dates back to 2013—but the history of coffee in Mexico goes back centuries.

A straight line connects colonialism to modern coffee production in Mexico, and the legacy of that history creates challenges unique to Mexico.

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. Today, Mexico is the seventh largest coffee exporter in the world—and the largest exporter of organic coffee.

To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—Crop to Cup is committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust. We first introduced Good Coffee Program—our implementation of a smallholder direct export channel in Mexico—in 2023 in an effort to create a new model of direct export built on price transparency, rapid payment, quality incentives and open market access through direct connection with committed buyers.


Good Coffee Program

GCP works to invite producers to earn more for their coffee through mechanisms within their control: quality processing and drying practices. Participating producers are clustered into Escuelas de Campo under guidance of a technician, where each smallholder has access to agronomic support, technical training on fermentation and drying and cup feedback. Producers in the State of Puebla receive additional support through the government: transportation of coffee to bodegas and milling, material support in the form of GrainPro bags for storage of dried cherry or parchment as well as equipment support. GCP’s Escuelas de Campo are organized under the expertise of nearly 30 agronomists including 17 agronomists dedicated to work within the state of Puebla and 6 agronomists in Oaxaca from our longtime partners at Coro.
Participation in Good Coffee Program is free for both producers and roasters; the only cost for smallholders is in covering the cost of shipping an 800 gram representative sample of their lot to Coatepec. All specialty lots greater than 300kg (as parchment) regardless of cultivar or process are eligible for the program.

To solicit participation in the program ahead of harvest, we leveraged contacts throughout producing regions in which we’ve sourced in our 12-year history working in Mexico and, as in years past, used radio and WhatsApp broadcasts to promote the GCP and communicate daily prices to smallholders living in difficult-to-reach and remote regions. Partner groups for 2024 include the State of Puebla, CORO/Red 5 in Oaxaca, CAFECO in Chiapas, and participants from GCP 2023 including winners of the Pride of Puebla cup quality competition.

For the 2024 program, we distributed a poster in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz and Puebla to further generate interest in the program:

For 2024, Crop to Cup once again retained two local agents, Israel Paz and Joz Cortes of Denso Café—both skilled, calibrated cuppers with deep connections to producer communities in Mexico—to oversee GCP. Israel and Joz work together not only to evaluate quality at their lab in Puebla, but also in discovery of new producer relationships through their networks. As producers submit samples and complete an information-gathering survey, the coffees are milled, graded and cupped by Israel and Joz.

Through the harvest, producers are invited to submit samples to GCP on a rolling basis. Within a week of submission, they receive cupping feedback from Denso Café with an opportunity to learn more about how they could improve their coffee’s quality—and thus improve their potential price offer. Within a week of this initial evaluation, samples that meet the program requirements will be forwarded to Crop to Cup’s lab in Brooklyn and evaluated. Following this second evaluation, smallholders receive a second round of feedback delivered with a transparent price offer inclusive of a quality premium based on a published price calculator. Toward the end of harvest, lots will be aggregated in regional bodegas—with transportation subsidized by the government—and sent for milling with our partners.

While in 2023, we worked with a single miller and exporter based in Puebla for GCP (APG), to expedite consolidating, shipping, and export, for 2024 we have engaged regional dry mills and exporters as service providers for GCP: Cafeco in Veracruz, APG in Puebla, and longtime supply chain partners Coro in Oaxaca:

In GCP’s first year, we bundled payments to producers into a single transaction inclusive of both the base price for the lot as well as any associated quality premium, which was delivered ahead of export. However, requirements of financing institutions to know the exact weight of a final lot delayed the release of funds to growers until milling and cleaning of each lot had been completed; this slowed both payment to producers as well as shipping. To overcome this, for 2024, we are offering two price structures based on whether or not a producer wishes to receive payment immediately or at export. For fastest payment, the base price will be paid immediately upon delivery of a lot with a second payment for the quality premium to follow at export, giving smallholders greater cash flow through the harvest via faster payments while still ensuring a higher price based on the qualities of coffee submitted.

Over time, we hope to move more of our purchasing through programs like this, which we believe has the potential to be transformational: producers whose access to specialty markets was previously restricted due to geography or finances can now compete for the business of long-term, relationship-motivated buyers who pay far above local prices. As an opt-in program built foremost around education and engagement, GCP functions as a sustainable mechanism for the discovery and development of top talent.

As a program of formal knowledge-sharing, agronomic and technical assistance, and cupping feedback coupled with a network of millers, exporters, financiers and buyers, GCP provides a means of aggregating specialty lots from lesser-explored producing regions within Mexico, fulfilling Crop to Cup’s mission of growing smallholder equity by opening access to specialty markets, facilitation of long-term buyer relationships and the support of quality improvement practices that generate value for communities of smallholders.

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Sourcing Philosophy and Green Quality Standards

We use a relationship and impact model of purchasing. This means we aim to: work as closely and directly with suppliers as possible; buy from those same producers each year; and provide support, financing or other resources to those partners based on the year’s commitments, toward improving both financial security and coffee quality. Like everywhere Crop to Cup operates, in Mexico we work to build transparent and traceable supply chains formed around relationships and community impact. Across Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Veracruz and Puebla, we work with teams of skilled cuppers, agronomists and logistics professionals who have the local knowledge, relationships, and experience to guide us toward impactful, scalable and sustainable projects designed to create more equitable economic conditions for coffee growers and their communities.

Over our last few years of imports, we’ve collected physical data from each coffee to best understand how to mitigate the risk of coffee fading prior to arrival. Based on that data, we now require coffees to have a moisture content of 10.0-11.0% (measured on a calibrated Draminsky moisture meter) and water activity of less than 0.55 (measured using an Extech). This way, when coffees arrive—even if they do arrive late—they will still taste fresh and vibrant. Through training and continual feedback through the harvest, it is our goal that no producer submitting coffee for consideration to GCP have their coffee rejected due to moisture and water activity standards.

Every coffee purchased through GCP will be evaluated at least twice—first by our team in Puebla led by Israel Paz and Joz Cortes—and then by our quality team in Brooklyn. We calibrate with the Puebla lab at the start of and throughout the harvest—as well as prior to final contracting and pre-ship sample approval.

We expect offer samples from GCP to begin arriving mid-March with contracts to follow in April. To contract coffees forward on a SAS-PSS basis, contact your trader at Crop to Cup.

HARVEST UPDATE: ETHIOPIA

In December, our U.S.-based sourcing team flew to Ethiopia ahead of our 2024 import. We split into two groups, with one led by Asnake Nigat (senior field officer and newest member of the C2C Ethiopia team) visiting Jimma, Agaro, Illubabor and Wush Wush and the other going south to Bensa, Bona Zuria, Worka, Idido, and Gerba with sourcing lead Moata Raya. Our agenda for the trip was to continue our exploration of smallholder coffee across both the South and West, identifying opportunities for Crop to Cup to provide training or material support to producers we hoped to buy from this year.

Harvest had just begun in the South, but in the West, picking was complete or more than halfway.

As we prepare for offer and then PSS samples over the coming weeks, we have a few updates to share both about the process of booking this year as well as to illuminate this year’s sourcing plan and the work our team undertook in support of that plan.

With new regulations in Ethiopia this year prohibiting producers from moving coffees to Addis ahead of contracting and requiring that they be exported within 30 days of arriving, and with coffees still being dried in the highlands, coffees are moving slowly toward export; we expect PSS to arrive at the end of January for most of the producers in the West and mid- to late February for producers in the Southern Highlands whose harvest is still under way.

We’re excited to share our work from Ethiopia over the coming weeks. If you’re not in touch with your trader or signed up for our email list, this is your reminder to get in touch.


BOOKING AND OFFER PROCESS; TASTING KIT SIGNUP

We expect to sell out of many of our offers ahead of arrival. All coffees are available to contract on a forward basis. We anticipate that prices from Ethiopia will be the same or slightly lower compared with last year, depending on quality, producer size, and region.

Our 2024 bookings fall under three categories:

  • Scalable coffees (washed and natural processed coffees from larger stations, 50+ bag contracts) will be available as Offer samples beginning late January with PSS to follow for contract approval. Contact your trader for pricing, availability, contracting and sampling information.
  • Smallholder coffees, microlots and bespoke processes are available for forward contracting and will be presented in a tasting kit again this year. You will need to sign up to receive a tasting kit (100 kits available; limited green PSS may be available for larger forward contracts).
  • Grade 2-4 coffees and additional bookings from smallholders, which will be available on a rolling basis through the export season.

We have begun to submit contracts to suppliers; we are looking for arrival beginning in late April this year.

To sign up to receive a Smallholder and Microlot tasting kit, please fill out this form.


SMALLHOLDER SUPPORT

Last year, we began a small pilot program of providing material support to smallholders as well as pre-contracting bespoke lots as a way to get materials like shade cloth and fermentation tanks into the hands of producers more broadly. We also adopted standards for moisture content and water activity as a way to improve shelf life and the stability of coffee delivered.

For 2024, in order to give our partners the best possible opportunity for success, we:

  • purchased moisture meters, shade cloth, and infrared thermometers and provided a Drying Best Practices Handbook as well as Processing Recipe Book (both translated into Amharic);
  • added a full-time Senior Field Officer (Asnake Nigat) to the C2C Ethiopia team to oversee harvest activities in the West;
  • provided ongoing feedback to producers throughout the harvest from our export lab in Addis and our processing specialist in the U.S.;
  • financed the purchase of hand pulpers for smallholders;
  • offered a second payment for lots that cup 87+ and present without quakers as PSS; and
  • provided producers with training before, during and after harvest to support on beset practices for cherry selection, processing, drying and storage of their coffee.

Training a smallholder in Worka, Chelbesa on the use of an IR thermometer to monitor and control drying temperatures

CHERRY SORTING AND SELECTION


One of the fundamental rules
for producing the best quality is also one of the most challenging to execute under all circumstances: “start with red, ripe cherry.” High cherry prices resulting from the foreign currency shortage have over the last couple of years led to decreased cherry sorting and an increase in quakers in coffee from Ethiopia.

To address this ahead of our 2024 import, Moata and Asnake spent two weeks traveling in the West and South, training our partners on specialty standards for cherry sorting and selection, employing their years of experience and background as former Technoserve technicians.⁠ ⁠ By ensuring optimal cherry development prior to picking, producers can maximize their yields and profitability—while also maximizing quality.⁠ ⁠

During our visit in December and in messages received on WhatsApp and Telegram from producers, we’ve witnessed the result of this effort on drying beds across Ethiopia.


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Asnake conducting a training on cherry sorting and selection in Bensa

SAMPLE COLLECTION


In Ethiopia,
coffee remains in producer’s warehouses until a contract is delivered, at which time it’s moved to a mill either in Addis (for washed coffees) or regionally (for naturals). This sometimes creates scenarios where samples presented as PSS don’t match the arrival lot. In other countries, where coffee is consolidated in dried parchment or cherry at regional warehouses, sampling and separations are easier to manage. As smallholders have begun to grow their exports over the last year, the importance of ensuring that pre-ship samples are representative of larger lots—and that larger lots have been properly sampled—has grown. This prevents rejections upon arrival by allowing us to correctly assess a coffee’s quality and physical attributes.

For 2024, we implemented new protocols to ensure sampling integrity so that when our lab or roasters taste a sample they can have confidence that it is representative of its larger lot. Through the harvest, our team visited producers’ warehouses and personally collected samples, tagging the bags they represented with markings to distinguish them from offers that had not been sampled. This ensured sample integrity; when lots were delivered for milling, they were only accepted if they matched the tagging system. Any unmarked coffee was treated as a new lot, requiring separate contract and evaluation.

In addition to executing sample collection, CoQua will once again play a critical role in evaluating offer samples ahead of contracting. Milled PSS will be approved in the U.S.; each coffee will independently pass through evaluation at our labs in New York, Chicago and Cleveland prior to approval.



BESPOKE LOTS AND ADVANCED PROCESSING

Some of our most successful lots in 2023 were lots processed for Crop to Cup using the Processing Recipes Book written by Christopher Feran. This year, we’ve expanded that program to include a number of new processes including, for the first time, washed and honey coffees from smallholders in Keramo, Kokose and Bombe.

To facilitate this, Crop to Cup financed the purchase of hand pulpers built by the machine company owned by our friend and longtime supplier, Girma Eshetu (above: Basha Bekele and Bekele Belacho next to a GEM hand pulper).

We’ve contracted a number of processes from smallholders and smaller scale washing stations including:

    Yeast-inoculated washed lots (including a sequential inoculation with an experimental non-Saccharomyces strain);
  • Yeast-inoculated anaerobic washed lots;
  • Black honeys;
  • White honeys;
  • Anaerobic naturals;
  • Kenyan washed coffees; and
  • Variety separations from the same farm.

A number of producers we’ve bought from for many years—including Musa Abalulesa and Abdulwahid Sherif of Kossa Geshe—surprised us with new lots processed using the Recipe book this year. The enterprising group of smallholders in Bensa including Basha Bekele and Bekele Belacho (plus a few more smallholders new to Crop to Cup) will return for 2024 with processes we haven’t ever seen from smallholders in Ethiopia, and others like Nguisse Nare, Melese Wolde and Bekele Utute have expanded their processes for this year’s import.


INTRODUCTION

We rode the long tail of 2022 and Covid-19 into 2023, with coffee prices at highs not seen in decades and spot positions growing long for importers and roasters alike. For many, revenues never returned to pre-Covid levels; costs increased across the board, straining decades-old relationships between producers and roasters, producers and importers, importers and roasters. Common challenges made us enter 2023 even more committed to build on those connections—and through conversation, collaboration and cooperation, navigate a difficult year together.

Coffee is personal; what it means to different people differs depending on their vantage in the value chain. In that context “quality” often has more to do with preference and perspective than provenance. Calibration, then, is finding a common language in quality that extends to both ends, connecting supply chains back into the circle they were meant to be. We’re in the business of personal: from match-making to relationship-building and bespoke imports, “personal” is the foundation of how we work at Crop to Cup.

We connect people through coffee because, to us, coffee is personal. That means face to face meetings, side by side cuppings, and extensive travel. Or it did, but since Covid we’ve needed to adapt and find other ways we cultivate connections through coffee.

Since 2006, before our first import, we’ve relied on extensive travel—between farms and points of export and roasteries—and gatherings of people at cuppings and events to connect over coffees and build community around them. In the age of Covid, travel is down, and events aren’t happening like they were before; in their place we have WhatsApp, Slack, DHL and new ways of staying connected. It’s a reality in 2023 that we simply get less in person time with our community than before.

But even before the world closed its borders and locked down, we were undertaking the effort of building local teams and systems to facilitate more direct and continuous connections. This started with setting up and calibrating with a decentralized network of community quality labs which we use as part of our normal sourcing now in Brazil, Mexico, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Indonesia.

When dealing with information-rich coffees, getting the right information to the right people at the right time is more of a logistical challenge than the physical movement of coffee. In order for us—all of us—to remain in touch with our suppliers, roasters and coffees—we implemented a new information management system built over two years of investment and development. Information about each coffee submitted by producers and evaluated by Crop to Cup-affiliated quality labs—from cupping sessions to green grading, moisture content, water activity and density—now lives in a new back-end database with the ability to manage, link, and, in some cases, automate the transfer of information from the farm to the cupping lab to our logistics partners and roasters. In the place of—and to complement—the physical presence of agents, our sourcing team and roasters, our new system uses technology to shorten the distance of time and space through cyberspace, offering traceability and transparency about every coffee.

These cupping labs and improved information systems have supported our overall strategy of a more granular approach to sourcing, resulting in an increase in farmer-facing promotions and farmer-specific lots from Mexico, Ethiopia and Kenya. Faster feedback, improved quality-essential capacities closer to the farm, more spoons in more coffees and more boots on the ground all helped make our sourcing efforts more supportive—and competitive.

As we head into 2024, we look to make progress on the work left undone and the work that never ends—creating equity in communities that produce coffees through collaboration, community, calibration and value generation.

Jake Elster & Taylor Mork
Cofounders, Crop to Cup

Our Work in Focus

In the coffeelands

We use a relationship and impact model of purchasing. This means we aim to: work as closely and directly with suppliers as possible; buy from those same producers each year; and provide support, financing or other resources to those partners based on the year’s commitments, toward improving both financial security and coffee quality.

Everywhere we work, we collaborate with teams of skilled cuppers, agronomists and logistics professionals who have the local knowledge, relationships, and experience to guide us toward impactful, scalable and sustainable projects designed to create more equitable economic conditions for coffee growers and their communities.

While you might need to travel to where the coffee grows to see the efforts outside of this report, we hope that the impacts of those efforts are tangible to the communities with whom we work.

Staffing and agents

While our workforce is dispersed across the U.S. with our warehouse and quality lab in Brooklyn, a second trading office and cupping lab in Chicago, and most of our team working remotely, some of the most important work we do happens outside of the U.S.: where the coffee grows. To maintain our work on the ground both in terms of producer and community support but also traceability, auditing and growing our network, we hired in-country agents to join our team.

Before Covid, we traveled when we could to visit our partners, typically during the harvest or toward the end of harvest. We’d use our time in-country to calibrate and interface with our partners in the coffeelands—growers, processors, millers, exporters and agents—and would invite roasters to participate in these trips. Covid forced us to pivot; as travel restrictions and pandemic safety concerns grew, we looked to a different approach to maintain our presence with our partners and as we endeavored to continue our work in coffee growing communities.

By hiring local staff in the countries where we source, we’re able to travel less and rely more on the skill and talents of our in-country staff; maintain a constant presence through the calendar year; increase the speed and reliability of our bookings and contract confirmations; find another way to send money back to producing countries; and gain local insight and experience.

Our in-country staff is critical to the success of Crop to Cup’s work and provides on-the-ground support before, during and after each harvest. Their various responsibilities include:

  • Sourcing strategy;
  • Liaising with coffee producers and exporters to pursue opportunities for new relationships and coordinate sampling;
  • Local calibration and cupping of offer and pre-ship samples;
  • Oversee contracting, milling and export processes;
  • Providing agronomic and technical support; and
  • Distributing and allocating project funds and materials toward improvements for farmers.

In 2023, Crop to Cup’s agents included Moata Raya, Asnake Nigat and CoQua in Ethiopia; Raphael Prime and the East African School of Coffee in Kenya; Israel Paz and Joz Cortes of Denso Cafe in Mexico; and Septiani Trijayanti in Indonesia.

Cupping lab support

To overcome latency in feedback associated with shipping samples from producing countries to our lab in Brooklyn for evaluation, we rely both on agents on the ground as well as calibrated partner labs. In 2023, we expanded our support of labs in key supply chains and outfitted them with equipment to position them at the center of our sourcing efforts. Calibrated labs within producing communities—or as close as possible to them—improves the reliability and speed of feedback. This enables: better-informed purchasing; lot separation by quality; faster payment to producers; processing advice; and reduced rates of rejections.

In addition to calibration and training during our travels, we provided material support in the form of Arc S and Kaffelogic sample roasters, moisture meters, water activity meters, IR thermometers, funds for staffing, and best practices handbooks for drying and processing.

As of 2023, the labs we’ve provided material support to include:

  • Aequitas, Brazil;
  • CoQua, Ethiopia: funding for 1 staff, material support (moisture meters, water activity meters), 2 Kaffelogic roasters;
    Mustefa Abalulesa, Agaro, Ethiopia: training support and 1 Kaffelogic sample roaster;
  • Denso Cafe, Mexico;
  • Kinini Coffee, Rwanda

These labs are an asset not only to us as a buyer but to the communities in which they operate; our hope and expectation is that these labs will support not only quality improvements by providing rapid feedback through the harvest and informing lot separations but also serve as a way to calibrate producers with buyers’ expectations and improve their ability to market their coffees to prospective buyers.

Working Groups
In 2023, we introduced Working Groups—collaborations between stakeholders across the value stream including roasters, exporters, producers as well as Crop to Cup staff who volunteer their time to develop, fund and implement projects to impact producers and their communities. The groups meet quarterly to discuss the progress of projects being explored or executed across each supply chain. The primary funds for these projects came from money earmarked from our purchases; for each pound of green coffee we buy from a country, the project funds available for that supply chain increase. In addition to their time and expertise, roasters and exporters are invited to contribute financially in support of work important to them as well.

Our initial working group efforts focused on interventions with drying and processing as well as support of cupping labs within the producing communities of Agaro, Ethiopia. Through working groups, we found guaranteed homes for experimental lots such as anaerobic-style naturals that created safety for producers to experiment with advanced processing techniques without risk of rejections.

While our pilot in 2023 focused on Ethiopia and included just a handful of roasters, we expect to open participation to partners across all other supply chains in the years to come. Thank you to our pilot working group program participants: One Line Coffee, Crimson Cup Coffee, True Coffee Roasters and CoQua.

In the U.S.

Our H.Q., internal quality lab, offices and the majority of our staff are in the U.S.—as are the majority of our customers. As an importer based in the U.S., the U.S. is our primary market and area of focus, and thus the majority of our operating budget is incurred here. In 2023, we sought opportunities to bolster our team, infrastructure and capabilities and invested in creating a more dynamic company capable of executing our ambitions for sourcing in 2023 and the years to come.

Staffing

In 2023, we invested in our team, adding two additional positions to the payroll: a full-time sales position based out of our Chicago lab, and a part-time QC position at our Brooklyn HQ tasked with physical analysis of incoming green coffees.

Internal Calibration

Part of the challenge of maintaining a distributed workforce is calibration. Before covid-19, we’d cup together frequently at our Brooklyn lab; the pandemic disrupted this. As we cupped through offer and arrival samples at our homes and remote labs, certain coffees challenged our calibration. In 2022, ahead of moving our quality lab to a new home in Brooklyn, we thought about how we engaged with quality evaluation and took the opportunity to invest heavily in equipment and infrastructure, building a modern lab equipped with tools and technology to empower us to deliver calibrated, meaningful feedback both to producers and exporters as well as to roasters.

But coffee is personal: how a sales person interacts with a coffee meaningfully impacts who they’ll present it to. Notes from a Cropster session are a poor substitute for personal experience when finding homes for coffees with roasters we know well. To create more opportunities for sharing reality around coffees we invested in complementary lab equipment in Chicago including brewing equipment, 98mm lab grinder, and reverse osmosis water treatment with equivalent remineralization, enabling our Chicago-area staff to routinely cup samples together, calibrate with the lab in Brooklyn, and host roasters for cupping sessions in the Midwest.

A focus on roasting

To optimize our ability to taste coffees similarly, speak about them from a shared experience, and present them to potential roasters in the best light, we supported our remote labs in 2023 to open feedback loops to our own lab in Brooklyn and share best practices and experiences. Part of these efforts included expanding our network of Arcs to include our Chicago office as well as staff remote labs; three Arc roasters were earmarked for the purpose of development, calibration and testing.

Additionally, we expanded the line of roasters sold through our Showroom brand by becoming the exclusive distributor of Kaffelogic roasters in the U.S. and Mexico, giving us another tool to support emergent labs both at roasteries and at origin.

Information systems
As a coffee moves through an import cycle—from type to offer to pre-ship to arrival, converted to inventory, financed and released through delivery order—the challenges of information management, quality and logistics feedback, and communication are compounded by scale and complexity. But Crop to Cup has grown substantially—in staff, imports, products and geographic distribution—since our systems for managing inventory and sample fulfillment were first built in 2014-2015, necessitating an overhaul.

To streamline communications, improve workflows and close feedback loops with both producing and logistics partners, we invested in our information management system over the last two years, engaging a developer to build the system that we deployed in 2023. This system integrates information from Cropster, Shipstation, our bookkeeping software, our website, and cloud storage and improves our ability to:

  • deliver feedback to suppliers including sensorial evaluation and green grading, with photo verification for each lot evaluated,
  • collect and share traceability and certification information as well as producer stories, photos and context,
  • track costs as coffees move through the supply chain,
  • manage inventory, contract generation, delivery orders, and inventory transfers,
  • onboard customers and assign interest in coffees ahead of booking or initial contracting,
  • request and dispatch samples to customers, suppliers and external labs, and
  • track information holistically about our imports, contract health, shipping statuses, and other KPIs.

This systems overhaul was a core strategic initiative for Crop to Cup designed as the operational back end to our cost-plus model, reducing expensive inefficiencies and protecting information and inventory integrity throughout the import and marketing cycle.

As we bring on new members of our team, rather than navigating a byzantine system of bloated spreadsheets, we can spend our time focusing on the real work: coffees and our roaster clients. By expediting feedback, we hope that our producer partners will better be able to calibrate to our needs and facilitate stronger relationships with those suppliers.

Imports

2023 IMPORTS

The timing of the previous year’s imports carried an outsized impact on our sourcing strategy for 2023. Our commitments to partner suppliers—and the persistent, slow nature of the work we do and the projects we support—requires that we show up every year. This, in turn, necessitates that we engage in decisions surrounding imports carefully, bearing long-term financial sustainability in mind. With import delays rendering spot positions late and large heading into 2023, the risk of holding financed past crop inventory into the new arrival seasons weighed heavily on our lot selection and overall import; rising interest rates and the cost of capital required that we, to manage risk responsibly, reduce our projected import volumes.

In spite of this, we pursued a strategy aimed at differentiating lots from returning and new producers to represent a diversity of qualities and cup characteristics. A focus on drying improvements and advanced processing protocols emerged from this approach to sourcing. We presented these coffees in new and novel ways to reach more cupping tables and grow the market for these producers’ coffees.

in 2023, we imported coffee from 12 countries.

Of our partner suppliers, 61.76% were returning, while 38.24% were new, a reflection of our sourcing strategies in Ethiopia, Kenya and Mexico.

CUP SCORES

PRICING

COUNTRY UPDATES

Brazil

Aequitas, our exclusive sourcing partner in Brazil since 2017, opened a quality lab during last year’s harvest in 2022 to enable them to engage producers in cupping and deliver feedback on separations and experiments more quickly; their lab was fully operational and staffed for 2023. Throughout harvest, our quality lab in Brooklyn calibrated with Aequitas’ lab, expediting the process of separation and selection of lots for booking or entry into regional competitions. With the lab, Aequitas is able to provide rapid feedback and technical recommendations for producers such as the evaluation of quality for: new cultivars; processing experiments; and microlot separations. With the lab in town fully operational for the 2023 harvest, Aequitas expanded their support of producers in their network.

At the start of harvest, Yuki solicited interest from producers throughout Cerrado (Campos Altos, Carmo do Paranaíba, São Gotardo, Ibiá, Rio Paranaíba and Patrocínio) for participation in a new program that in June began with harvest planning and then, in July, visited fourteen producers during harvest to check in on their post-harvest infrastructure, evaluate post-harvest processing practices, techniques, challenges, and experiments. Of the producers Aequitas visited, eleven had contracted post-harvest consulting services, twelve were using or had used unconventional processing (processes other than natural or pulped natural) in an effort to incrementally improve cup complexity, and all already produced some coffee for specialty markets but needed access to a calibrated cupping lab to accelerate feedback and knowledge transfer.

Aequitas organized an event, Aequitas Sharing Knowledge, to create space for knowledge exchange between buyers and producers and orient around market expectations and shifting demands. In attendance were different actors from the value chain: producers, cooperatives, a university professor, and bank institutions that finance Aequitas.

To further differentiate coffee coming through the Aequitas network from commodity specialty coffee, Aequitas developed and implemented a code of conduct and ethics for its partners, providing transparency for buyers and suppliers about Aequitas and its network. The code of conduct requires that all of its suppliers abide by Brazilian laws and includes a focus on environmental and conservation issues and serves as a checklist for postharvest practices, environmental and social issues.

Colombia

The disturbance of the local market inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic and suddenly soaring domestic prices impacted our sourcing work. Colombia was one country where we didn’t make progress in 2023; we were only able to maintain relationships with CENCOIC in Cauca and ABADES in Nariño for our import this year while working on the ground to support a restart for relationships we inherited from the Cedro Alto project. As we look to 2024, we will revisit our goals, strategy and opportunities to re-examine where Crop to Cup can add value in a market as competitive and well-established as Colombia.

Ethiopia

In 2023, we framed our sourcing plan for Ethiopia around re-energizing and rebooting our work in the country that produces what has become our largest import each year. Over a decade of working there, Ethiopia’s coffee export system has changed from a largely opaque, centralized system with nearly all coffee flowing through the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange to a more liberalized model allowing growers and private washing stations to, once again as before ECX, self-export their coffee and engage directly with buyers as a result of a 2017 proclamation from the government.

We changed the timing of our visit to Ethiopia—our first since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic—to arrive earlier, in December 2022, during the midst of harvest. We sought to proactively engage partners and potential partners ahead of contracting, early in the harvest, and provide support and technical assistance where requested. For our 2023 import, we focused on cultivating and growing relationships with individual smallholder-exporters as well as cooperatives who have taken the step to break away from unions and self-export. By eliminating layers of bureaucracy, we were able to ensure the premiums we pay impact the communities of the people producing the coffee, collaborate on processing experiments and lot separations, and grow our impact through projects executed by our roaster-supported working groups.

Elevated cherry prices and foreign currency shortage resulted in downward pressure on quality; to overcome this obstacle and expedite contract approval and milling, we shifted responsibility for final sample approval to our agents in Ethiopia. This was our first implementation of this tactic, which we would partially replicate in other countries through 2023.

On the ground, we budgeted for the creation of new staffing roles in Ethiopia in support of producers in the West and the South to provide both technical agronomic and processing support as well as milling and sampling oversight. In order to maintain the value of the coffee we imported as long as possible, we supplied moisture meters, water activity meters and a drying best practices guide to kebeles and regional offices to enable coffee producers to monitor the drying process of their coffee and ensure stability, thereby decreasing rejections. We also provided a processing recipe book to partner producers, committing to purchase the resulting lots they produced in an effort to promote experimentation and differentiation in a year when Cup of Excellence did not operate in Ethiopia.

Honduras

For 2022, we imported our first containers from Honduras through two new partners, CAFESMO and Pacayal in a late harvest import that landed to the U.S. in August 2022. Our first imports from new countries of origin are meant to be exploratory: meaningful in the project and producers we select, but framed around building context and an understanding of a country for future work.

Often, the opportunity to import from a new origin arises out of a brokerage need from a client—or in this case, from a partner with whom we do work in other countries—but we always strive to approach filling or following a container with the same intentionality and values that serves as a compass to all of our sourcing work.

Our 2022 import was slow to find a market amongst our customers, reinforcing the lesson that “growth for the sake of growth” is not any more sustainable for importers than it is for roasters or producers; we re-evaluated our motivations for the import and strategically stepped back from Honduras in 2023. Heading into 2024, we expect to engage with our partners—past and present—in Honduras, and formulate a plan for harvest that aligns with our overall company strategy.

Kenya

In our Kenya Pre-Harvest Plan, we outlined our strategy to break out of the country’s traditional supply chains and establish relationships directly with producers, leveraging a partnership with the East African School of Coffee (EASC) to build a pipeline for finding and supporting quality-motivated producers for direct export.

In years past, we worked to build equitable relationships along the value stream, a team-based approach that relied on calibrating on the cupping table with export labs, and engaging them to purchase coffees from the same cooperatives year-over-year, following those producer groups as they moved between mills and marketing agents. Since the system in Kenya made it impossible to work independently and directly, we’d work transparently and consistently; building a bench along the way of the best exporters, mills, cuppers, agronomists, washing station managers, community leaders and farmers we could find. Changes to export regulations ahead of the 2023 harvest opened direct export pathways where prices are negotiated directly with buyers instead of through mills, marketing agents, auctions and exporters. These direct export channels require that contracts first be price-tested against the auction, ensuring that the prices that producers receive are equal to or greater than they would be if sold through traditional channels.

As part of our direct-export support program, we engaged an agronomist who visited each of our partners’ farmers 3-5 times through the harvest, conducted thorough audits and training at each partner estate and farm, providing guidance on good agricultural practices, lot selection, processing, drying and storage as well as social, environmental and safety concerns. Some of these efforts—such as interventions to ensure only ripe cherry was picked, guard rails on pulpers were installed, and fermentation tanks were maintained—resulted in immediate improvements; others, like those focusing on soil fertility and tree management, will take several years to actualize.

Our import volume from Kenya was lower in 2023 as a result of the delayed arrival of our late harvest imports from 2022; this empowered us to take a risk with our 2023 import strategy through the direct export pilot program. The lessons we learned from this year will inform the work we do in 2024, when we plan to engage more fully with direct export channels and explore new producer relationships with smallholders and small estates both in Central Kenya and especially the West.

Mexico

We’ve been working in Mexico since 2013. 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. To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—Crop to Cup is committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust. In our Mexico Pre-Harvest Plan, we outlined our strategy for this year’s import, reflecting on lessons learned from previous imports. For 2023, we introduced a new program—Good Coffee Program (GCP)—a quality-incentive and transparent pricing program built to provide:

  • Transparent pricing calculated based on progressively increasing cup quality incentives on top of a price floating above market price,
  • Direct contact with farmers who are producing for specialty at a 3 bag level or higher,
  • Rapid feedback from an impartial cupping lab, provided for free over the entire harvest,
  • Timely offers, and direct payments for coffee at collection centers,
  • Long-term contracts for selected coffees, and
  • Monitoring and advice on the separation, milling and export of coffees.

The topography of Mexico and diversity of languages and cultural traditions can create obstacles for communication. Access to specialty markets often passes through intermediaries—for example, coyotes who purchase coffee from communities of smallholders, offering immediate payment though perhaps lower prices than a grower might receive in a more competitive environment. Quick payment is crucial for the financial security of coffee producers; since coffee offers only one harvest per year with a long tail of expenditure that extends beyond the timeline of harvest, with a producer making necessary investments in equipment, inputs, labor and transportation to ensure success the following year. Without rapid payment, a producer may—if it is available at all—rely on expensive financing, but with costs rising in an inflationary economy and the traditional commodity index price on the C-market stagnating for much of 2022-2023, this would expose smallholders to risk.

With GCP, we introduced a transparent pricing model with premiums over a base price calculated based on cup quality and payment turned around within two weeks of delivery of a representative sample. We updated the base price every two weeks based on local market pricing to ensure that the prices paid through GCP were always higher than prices offered by coyotes. Using radio, we broadcast pricing weekly to overcome topographical and geographic challenges quickly and maximize distribution of pricing communications.

For coffees scoring higher than 86 points at our lab in Puebla, we offered progressively increasing premiums, beginning 10% above and capping out at 150% above base price for coffees scoring 89+. This progressive premium model was designed to ensure that coffees were kept separated to maximize their value as export coffee as well as to incentivize smallholders to deliver samples to us rather than testing the price offer elsewhere. Because we communicated the price expectations transparently, offered quality feedback, and paid quickly, we hoped to receive coffee from the smallholders returning over multiple rounds of submissions. Crop to Cup 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—to oversee GCP.

In total, Israel spent nearly a month—27.5 full days—in the field in support of GCP over the three months of harvest. Joz led the cupping process in Puebla, evaluating 11 rounds of samples. Through the five periods of submissions to GCP, we cupped 193 samples from producers in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla, ultimately contracting coffees from 137 producers. Of those, 43 came from existing relationships in Lachao; only 4 coffees submitted did not meet moisture content requirements.

The highest scoring lot—from Fermin Temoxtle Rodriguez—scored an average score of 87.88 between the two evaluating labs and came from Puebla, a region not well-known or established internationally for specialty coffee. The average score of submissions was 85.91 and median was 85.88; standard deviation for score was 0.90 with a variance of 0.82. Compared with the base price—calculated weekly against the internal market reference price—Crop to Cup paid an average premium of 15 pesos per kg above local specialty reference prices through GCP. Expressed in USD per pound of green coffee, this average premium translates to $0.51 per pound over local market prices, or a difference of 20%.

While many of our imports from Puebla represent first-year relationships, we deepened relationships with returning partners like Red 5 de Diciembre and Coro in Oaxaca (partners since 2020).

Papua New Guinea

Last July, we were devastated to learn of the death of Brian Kuglame, the general manager of the AAK Cooperative. The diversity of disparate culture groups and languages across the highlands has traditionally made PNG a uniquely difficult place to organize producers into cooperative export structures, but Brian, an improbable personality, organized an improbable collective of smallholders—1698 members spread across 64 communities in the highlands—and kept them energized and motivated through his charisma, optimism and seemingly endless travel schedule. As much as he gave purpose to AAK—a group whose name stands for Apo, Angra and Kange, the word for “Unity” in the three major local languages in the Western, Central and Eastern Highlands—Brian gave our work purpose in Papua New Guinea.

As we mourned the loss of our friend, we also worried what would become of the cooperative that was his life’s work. So we did what we had the power to do as buyers: we showed up, and reaffirmed our commitment to purchasing from the group and continuing the work we’d started together. A year later, we’re nearing the end of a new harvest. The AAK Cooperative, now under the steady leadership of Regina Lusaro, carries on—propelled by the same vision for quality Brian ignited.

Now entering the twelfth year of purchasing from AAK, we expanded our support, building on the successes of previous years while working to simultaneously promote quality incentives, improve infrastructure, and further accelerate speed of payment.

For 2023, we nominated cluster groups for specific improvements depending on their needs. Waingar and Koglai clusters were selected for wet mill improvements including tubs for cherry flotation—to replace the small buckets they previously used—as well as roofing sheets for their wet mill. Like many structures in PNG, the sheds were originally constructed of bush materials; over a decade into their use, those buildings had begun to deteriorate, exposing coffee in various stages of processing to weather. The storage sheds at Kosionte, Nupgamimi, Kerefa and Keiya clusters were in similar condition, so we provided materials to replace the roofs on the storage shed where parchment coffee was held.

Like we did in Ethiopia and Mexico, to best ensure that the lots that arrived to the U.S. represented their initial qualities at export, we invested in drying practices, providing a best-practices manual for drying as well as material support in the form of Draminski moisture meters and infrared thermometers to AAK clusters.

Because of how remote many of the clusters are and the difficulty of moving coffee via truck in PNG, to expedite aggregation, milling and export (and thus, payment), many of the collections are transported to the mill via air, with airplanes carrying coffee running from remote airstrips to the mill. Almost one third of the coffee sold in 2022 was freighted from remote flying zones. To ensure that this critical infrastructure lifeline remained intact, we established a revolving fund for air freight from remote regions, providing initial funding for the first round of coffee deliveries; when that coffee was sold, the charter fund was recouped to book the next charter.

Finally, as in 2022, we offered a premium over current market pricing based on the volume of clean/specialty quality coffee delivered. This premium was meant to support properly cleaned, properly dried, and properly stored/handled coffee and to incentivize producers to dry their coffee down to 10-10.5% moisture. We accelerated this second payment for 2023 to motivate producers to pursue the best practices outlined in the materials we shared in support of processing and drying for the 2023 harvest.

Rwanda

Two weeks before we arrived in Rwanda for our visit to Kinini Village, the Agriculture Ministry suspended its 2016 regulation requiring that coffee growers sell cherry to collectors within their designated zone. The change, which allows farmers to sell their cherry anywhere in the country without restrictions, coupled with a March regulation from the National Agricultural Export Development Board requiring that cherry be sold at a fixed price of RWF 410 per kilo rather than above a minimum price, aligns with government strategic plans to enhance quality, increase production, and improve collaboration between farmers and exporters—all in the interest of growing coffee exports.

In 2022, during our first visit to Kinini since before the pandemic, we took the opportunity to dive deeper into the operations of Kinini, calibrate with their quality lab and meet cooperative groups who sell cherry to the Kinini washing station. During our time with Jackie, Malcolm and Kinini, we worked together to identify areas where Crop to Cup could continue to support Kinini—and talked about where Kinini hoped to make improvements. Some of those improvements—like sealing and waterproofing their warehouse and adding humidity monitoring; and changing from rainwater to mountain water for washing their coffee—were implemented ahead of the 2023 harvest. Others—like deeper collaboration and support of the cooperatives and exploration of lot separation by cooperative—were efforts we targeted for the 2023 harvest and beyond.

For 2023, Kinini implemented cherry flotation at all collection sites in addition to the wet mill, resulting in more uniform collections and higher quality. They successfully paid off their final bank loan—part of their 2022 goals—freeing cashflow for other work. Internally, Kinini made investments in staff, hiring a new cupper, elevating a new quality manager, promoting pickers into field workers, bringing former union cherry collectors on staff to collect cherry for Kinini, and contracting an agronomist, as well as organizing casual laborers—100% of whom are women—into a cooperative.

Collectively, this restructuring will ensure that Kinini has the workforce it needs, protect the most vulnerable members of the labor force through organization and provide farmers with support.

Tanzania

During our visit to Tanzania in December 2022, we calibrated with our export partners at Taylor Winch and provided support for implementing tracking of water activity and moisture of coffee samples. As in other countries where we operate, we began to implement standards for moisture and water activity across some of our supply chains in Tanzania in an effort to promote shelf life, reduce fade and increase quality. Based on lessons from past imports and the success of a central processing strategy at Mwika North, our strategy for 2022-2023 focused on sourcing centrally-processed cherries from smallholder groups that traditionally collected home-processed parchment from members.

During our second visit to Tanzania in 2023, we supported this strategy by calibrating with our partners on best specialty practices for washed coffee and beginning dry processing experiments in Southern Tanzania where water is more scarce. The work primarily focused on our long time partners at Iyenga AMCOS, but also brought new groups into the fold, that included a newly organized women’s group at Hezya AMCOS.

We aspire to demonstrate the quality potential of Tanzanian coffee—a place where coffee has been grown for nearly 200 years and where traditional cultivars like Bourbon grown by smallholders at high elevations forged the country’s historical reputation.

Uganda
Uganda is the country where Crop to Cup began, and its teachings remain at the heart of our sourcing philosophy. Our 2022-2023 Uganda Harvest Plan aimed at rebuilding our presence and partnerships in Uganda, both of which suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic and continued consolidation of multinational exporters.

Ahead of the harvest, we assisted our partners in securing pre-crop financing, with built-in incentives for greater separation of lots, removing the last hurdle towards this being the year we all get to taste the fruits of their labor. We continued to support a network of grass-roots organizations and independents and collaborated with partner organizations to provide pre-crop financing, understanding that financing would lead to lot separations.

we’ll see you in the future 🚀

BRAZIL
HARVEST
UPDATE

Introduction

Between our 2022 import and the 2023 harvest in Brazil, the market shifted. A year ago, in August 2022, the C-market price peaked just below 240; by the end of harvest a year later in August 2023, the index price had collapsed to just over 150—nearly a 40% decline. Higher prices allow farmers to commit a smaller portion of their farm to the commodity contracts that they need to cover monthly overhead and operating expenses; commensurately, lower prices require a larger portion of one’s harvest to secure this financing, leaving less to sell as specialty.

With this context as backdrop, a group of coffee producers in Cerrado organized under the banner of Aequitas to upend consumer expectations about the quality of coffee from Brazil and put forward a new narrative on the innovation coming from the world’s largest exporter of Arabica. In order to change minds in the market, however, this group is starting closer to home with educational campaigns aimed at showing family and neighbors the value of what they produce. Using all of the knowledge, infrastructure and enthusiasm at their disposal, these producers are banded together through their curiosity and common mission to make their community a preeminent partner for North American high specialty roasters. To do this, they must first win over family and neighbors to produce mind-changing lots. And they must contend with the commercial realities and expectations of coffee from Brazil—both in terms of price and quality. This tension between Brazil’s legacy and Aequitas members’ aspirations for the future of specialty coffee from Brazil sits at the center of Crop to Cup’s sourcing plan for 2023. To bridge the duality of needs for both producers and roasters, we have been working closely with Yuki Minami and her team at Aequitas to set new standards, share new knowledge, and bring entirely new categories of coffees to export.

Crop to Cup is actively building volume and booking for our 2023 import from Brazil; if you’d like to make a lot reservation or learn more, contact your trader.


At Bioma Café, Marcelo Assis is focused exclusively on producing specialty microlots for 2023

COUNTRY CONTEXT

Coffee came to Brazil nearly three hundred years before anyone at Crop to Cup was even born.

By 1727, coffee was growing in Brazil, but commercial production didn’t begin in earnest in Brazil until after the country’s independence in 1822. After that, Brazil built virtually its entire economy on coffee, clearing massive tracts of land and rainforest for coffee plantations. Coffee exports grew, and by 1850 Brazil was the largest coffee exporter in the world—which it remains today.

Like in Indonesia and Haiti, the coffee agro-economy of Brazil was made possible only through the enslavement of indigenous people and Africans brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonizers. By the time Brazil outlawed slavery in 1888, more than four million human beings had been captured and transported to Brazil from Africa.

To meet the labor demands of the large coffee estates across the coffee growing regions of Brazil—Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Paraná—the government encouraged immigration – specifically from East Asia.

In Japan, coffee was initially seen as a luxury import. After the trade reforms in kaizei-yakusho went into effect in 1866, tariffs on coffee reduced dramatically, but still: a decade later, the price for 1kg of coffee was equivalent to that of 75kg of rice. In 1908—twenty years after the abolition of slavery in Brazil—a ship named Kasatu Maru arrived in Brazil, carrying aboard 165 families from Japan, who, like many families from Italy and Spain, immigrated to work in the coffee fields.

The venture, organized by Ryo Mizuno in exchange for 7,125 bags of 70kg of coffee from the government of São Paulo, led to a change in Japanese law after intervention by statesman Shigenobu Okuma, who declared that “The coffee produced by Japanese emigrants in Brazil should be treated as a quasi domestic product. Because coffee obtained through the efforts of Mizuno increase consumption of sugar, this business will bring happiness to Japan in the future.”

In the first seven years of this emigration project, nearly 15,000 Japanese people arrived in Brazil to work in the coffee fields. World War I led to an acceleration and by 1940, there were 164,000 Japanese in Brazil—75% in São Paolo, the most concentrated area of coffee production in the country.

Outside Minas Gerais, in São Gotardo, a family immigrated from Japan in the 1920s to work on coffee farms. Four generations and nearly a century later, in 2017, Yuki Minami—whose great-grandparents immigrated to Cerrado to work in the coffee fields—founded Aequitas Coffee with the hopes of connecting coffee from her family and community in São Gottard to specialty roasters. Aequitas—our exclusive partner and raison d’etre in Brazil—is built on the desire for fairness and transparency in coffee through meaningful relationships. In Yuki’s words: “Aequitas is the Roman goddess of equity. But she was also a goddess that meant justice, transparency and fairness. And this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to promote a fair trade for producers.”

Though Brazil is seen by much of the world as a behemoth of commodity production, Aequitas represents a new generation of coffee producers whose focus is on quality and the opportunities opened up when one begins producing for specialty. Yuki and her contemporaries are the first generation of coffee farmers from this region to attend university then return to the farm and are assembling an array of expertise from genetics to processing to operations, cupping, roasting and everything in-between.


HARVEST BACKGROUND

Harvest in Cerrado began on time in mid-May, shortly after Yuki and a contingent of Aequitas producers returned from the U.S. for SCA Expo and a tour of the U.S. specialty industry branded as the “Aequitas Coffee Experience.” The winter in Cerrado, which coincides with harvest and the final stages of cherry maturation, was dry as usual, with hotter-than-usual temperatures and occasional light rain—uncommon during harvest but not expected to impact quality. The volume of production is greater than last year, affording a larger commensurate share of coffee of the highest quality even in spite of weather-related impacts.

In June, Aequitas producers throughout Cerrado met for harvest planning ahead of their 2023 export. Overall, Aequitas members expect around 30% of volume to be exported as specialty quality (83/84+) with a few members reducing their production to focus exclusively on 85+ quality coffee. For volume lots closer to the lower end of specialty (84 points), prices will track with the c-market, but for top lots and microlots—where initial evaluations indicate a plethora of 86-87 point cups—prices will remain stable compared to last year owing to the labor, time and selection that is required to produce these exceptional coffees.

The strength of the Brazilian Real, which impacts costs and represents another risk at time of export due to currency exchange, remains stable or slightly stronger than the same period of 2022; inflation jumped in Brazil in July 2023 ahead of export, but remained far below last year’s levels.

SUPPORT AND PARTNERSHIP

Crop to Cup has worked exclusively with Aequitas as our export and sourcing partner in Brazil since 2017. Throughout harvest, our quality lab in Brooklyn calibrated with Aequitas’ lab, expediting the process of separation and selection of lots for booking or entry into regional competitions. With the lab, Aequitas is able to provide rapid feedback and technical recommendations for producers such as the evaluation of quality for: new cultivars; processing experiments; and microlot separations. With its lab in town fully operational for the 2023 harvest, Aequitas expanded their support of producers in their network.

At the start of harvest, Yuki solicited interest from producers throughout Cerrado (Campos Altos, Carmo do Paranaíba, São Gotardo, Ibiá, Rio Paranaíba and Patrocínio) for participation in a new program that in June began with harvest planning and then, in July, visited fourteen producers during harvest to check in on their post-harvest infrastructure, evaluate post-harvest processing practices, techniques, challenges, and experiments. Of the producers Aequitas visited, eleven had contracted post-harvest consulting services, twelve were using or had used unconventional processing (processes other than natural or pulped natural) in an effort to incrementally improve cup complexity, and all already produced some coffee for specialty markets but needed access to a calibrated cupping lab to accelerate feedback and knowledge transfer.
Aequitas organized an event, Aequitas Sharing Knowledge, to create space for knowledge exchange between buyers and producers and orient around market expectations and shifting demands. In attendance were different actors from the value chain: producers, cooperatives, a university professor, and bank institutions that finance Aequitas.

To further differentiate coffee coming through the Aequitas network from commodity specialty coffee, Aequitas developed and implemented a code of conduct and ethics for its partners, providing transparency for buyers and suppliers about Aequitas and its network. The code of conduct requires that all of its suppliers abide by Brazilian laws and includes a focus on environmental and conservation issues and serves as a checklist for postharvest practices, environmental and social issues.

QUALITY EXPECTATIONS

In September,Yuki’s team received their first round of samples from members. Yuki’s reflection on Aequitas’ first cupping of the year / quality preview: In Yuki’s words, “Although those lots are quite fresh, we could taste a variety of flavor profiles: classic Cerrado and on top of it berries, stone fruits, tropical fruits, floral, and spices from natural, pulped natural and fermentation processing. We had the presence of some lots that are on the edge—some will love it, others wouldn’t choose those coffees at all. The lot that stood out the most was a Paraiso microlot from Coopadap Experimental farm that cupped an average of 87.25.”

These notes came out of Aequitas’ new cupping lab, led by a competent cupper and long-time ally named Maxwell. This is the center of outreach and education on With the investments Aequitas members have made in post-harvest processing, with and a focus on production of specialty microlots but also on helping members to convert larger tracts of their farm to specialty production , initial quality expectations for our 2023 import are high particularly for microlot separations. The goal, then, is not just to raise the ceiling but also to bring up the floor of how many coffees a farm can manage to produce at 85+ levels.

We are working with Aequitas to build a pipeline for more standard qualities from Brazil through these same supply chains so as to provide an ethically-aligned alternative to commodity specialty imports for more price-sensitive or volume-based needs.

Below are additional updates from the Aequitas lab.


VID_20220802_133150.mp4
Processing anaerobic lots at Minami Agricola

PRODUCER UPDATES

Marcelo Assis (Bioma Cafe)
A perennial partner for Aequitas and Crop to Cup since 2018, Marcelo Assis Nogueira has shifted the focus of his entire production on microlots after having made significant investments in infrastructure through last year’s harvest. “It was a record for us here ,” Marcelo reported, “not in volume, but in quality.” For 2023, nearly 88% of his entire production is scoring 85+; this is higher than the expected average of 30% scoring 84+ from most Aequitas members, which is itself an exception within the region. Marcelo hopes that by next year he will have an optical sorter at his dry mill to be able to manage all levels of processing, separation and preparation himself and ensure full traceability through his farm.

Minami Agricola
While they didn’t invest in infrastructure for this year, like many Aequitas members, the Minami family invested in training for the 2023 harvest, bringing a postharvest processing consultant to their farm to develop alternative protocols for coffee processing. They prepared two larger lots for specialty, each grown and processed with a particular profile in mind. One sample is labeled as tropical fruits and the other one as berries. There are two microlot offers coming as well – an experimental aerobic fermentation lot that aimed at tropical and stone fruits in the cup, as well as the return of the pineapple fermentation which has been scaled up using an improved process.

Sao Luiz
Sao Luiz is known for producing the best pulped naturals in the region. They are expanding on this focus, but also taking a deeper look at post-harvest processing. “This year we are very excited because we have done some microlots for the first time with fermentation,” Ana Branco told us. “We have a lot of coffee to offer.” While this year Fausto do Espirito Santo Velloso and family will sell most of their coffee through the local cooperative, the 7-year Aequitas members plan to install a washing station and de-pulper for next year and will be able to offer more pulped naturals. For 2023, Sao Luiz provided post-harvest processing services to neighbors. These samples are inbound to Crop to Cup’s offices, but the Aequitas lab reported that initial samples are “the trustworthy, consistent, clean cup and sweet coffees that we are used to receiving from Ana and her team.”

Edu Leandro (Cafe Melo)
Edu also received a post-harvest process consultant at his farm and is interested in exploring the use of native and wild microorganisms to drive fermentation. One of the new processes the team explored this year involved modifying a cylindrical sieve setup to separate a coffee by size and maturation level without using water to specify process based on the starting material. For Edu and Cafe Melo, 2023 is a learning year; 100% of their production experienced some sort of designed fermentation protocol. They executed dozens of processing styles, focusing on natural processes of overripe fruits (la pasa), which are normally processed for commodity outlets but hold high quality potential if processed using specialty production techniques. “We are so excited,” Edu reported, “it was a great crop for us.”

Coopadap Experimental farm
One of the standouts of our 2022 import from Brazil was an experimental lot from the Coopadap experimental farm. Ahead of 2023, the group—led by Diego Bernades for 15 years—built a laboratory to develop the expertise needed to recommend the best cultivars and technical knowledge to members of the cooperative. To bolster their knowledge and recommendations, the lab collaborates with different research institutions across the country, keeping Cerrado part of the exploration and development of knowledge related to coffee productivity, resistance and quality. This year, the farm had a small production in order to focus on the production of specialty microlots. The Coopadap farm employed a post-harvest processing consultant to experiment with mapping cultivars with targeted processing and drying practices to achieve predictable quality.

Eduardo Pereira
A new member of Aequitas for 2023, Eduardo’s family owns one of the biggest coffee nurseries in Brazil and is locally famous for developing cutting edge cultivars. Their sophistication with cultivars extends to processing; they perform quality mapping across processing styles, and have won regional awards for cup quality. Like other Aequitas members, Eduardo and his family have started receiving post-harvest consulting this year for their own farm. Talking about this year, Eduardo told us, “I’m proud, to be honest, because we got some coffees that are hard to find. It was a great year.”

Ernesto Yamamoto
Ernesto and his son Cassio joined Aequitas in 2022 with a negligible percentage of their production scoring above 84 points. But they were eager to make use of the education Aequitas had to offer, and invested in moving their family business into specialty. According to Yuki, this has paid off in the cup: “While in 2022, 40% of their samples were 84+ this year this percentage reached 55%. Also, postharvest defects have decreased as well. Maxwell mentioned that it became a balanced and trustworthy coffee.”


Crop to Cup is actively building volume and booking for our 2023 import from Brazil; if you’d like to make a lot reservation or learn more, contact your trader.



RWANDA
HARVEST
UPDATE

Introduction

Two weeks before we arrived for our visit to Rwanda ahead of our 2023 import, the Agriculture Ministry suspended its 2016 regulation requiring that coffee growers sell cherry to collectors within their designated zone. The change, which allows farmers to sell their cherry anywhere in the country without restrictions, coupled with a March regulation from the National Agricultural Export Development Board requiring that cherry be sold at a fixed price of RWF 410 per kilo rather than above a minimum price, aligns with government strategic plans to enhance quality, increase production, and improve collaboration between farmers and exporters—all in the interest of growing coffee exports.

The zoning change arrived too late for most of the country’s growers, who had completed harvest earlier this year due to April rains—but in Kinini Village, the elevation and unique microclimate at the edge of the Albertine Rift, peak harvest had just begun.


A women’s cooperative within Kinini Village cooperative

Kinini

Kinini is, in many ways, an outlier; quality from the village is higher than other parts of Rwanda, harvest is reliably later, and in a year when competition for cherry is increased due to lower production nationally and the change in zoning rules, Kinini’s production remained strong. The unusual relationship between Kinini and its surrounding community—one where Kinini provided seedlings and three years of pay to develop the local coffee industry in exchange for an agreement to sell cherry to Kinini once production began—results not only in mutual investment in quality but also stability. Where others face stiff competition for cherry, Kinini continues to receive cherry from the cooperatives surrounding the washing station.

In 2022, during our first visit to Kinini since before the pandemic, we took the opportunity to dive deeper into the operations of Kinini, calibrate with their quality lab and meet cooperative groups who sell cherry to the Kinini washing station. During our time with Jackie, Malcolm and Kinini, we worked together to identify areas where Crop to Cup could continue to support Kinini—and talked about where Kinini hoped to make improvements. Some of those improvements—like sealing and waterproofing their warehouse and adding humidity monitoring; and changing from rainwater to mountain water for washing their coffee—were implemented ahead of our next visit in 2023. Others—like deeper collaboration and support of the cooperatives and exploration of lot separation by cooperative—were efforts we targeted for the 2023 harvest and beyond.

The long term goal shared by Kinini and Crop to Cup is to market separations of coffee from individual groups of producers, such as the six cooperatives of women farmers we met during our visit in 2022. In order to meet this goal in a country that does not currently have a practice or system for this type of separation, we began by separating just four of the groups for the purpose of training staff to handle, sort, tag, store and cup each separation. While these separations are not marketed separately—the purpose of this exercise was to develop competencies and systems to enable more target separations by cooperatives in future harvests.

Additionally, we expanded the number of harvest period samplings from three (early-peak, peak, and late-peak harvest) to thirty; this created what were essentially day lots, enabling the quality lab at Kinini to evaluate collections individually and aggregate the best into a quality-focused blend for Crop to Cup—as well as affording Kinini the ability to discover where quality is occurring, observe the practices of that cooperative, and replicate it elsewhere. As part of our visit, we calibrated with the quality lab and spent time with Kinini’s roasting staff, providing support and instruction for optimizing the sample roasts they achieved with their Arc S sample roaster, bolstering the team’s ability to differentiate lots and identify separations of the highest qualities.

To focus more directly on agronomic improvements, Kinini is promoting two projects: vermicomposting and home planting. While the trees around the station produce high-quality coffee, yields are low. Rather than focusing on additional plantings alone in an effort to increase production and income for farmers, Kinini hopes that by planting coffee closer to where growers live, the attention given to those trees in the form of pruning and agronomic management will improve their yields; this program stems from the observation that those farmers with trees near their houses—and those trees mulched with compost and coffee husk, such as those nearest to the washing station—have greater productivity.

For 2023, Kinini implemented cherry flotation at all collection sites in addition to the wet mill, resulting in more uniform collections and higher quality. They successfully paid off their final bank loan—part of their 2022 goals—freeing cashflow for other work.

Internally, Kinini made investments in staff, hiring a new cupper, elevating a new quality manager, promoting pickers into field workers, bringing former union cherry collectors on staff to collect cherry for Kinini, and contracting an agronomist, as well as organizing casual laborers—100% of whom are women—into a cooperative. Collectively, this restructuring will: ensure that Kinini has the workforce it needs; protect the most vulnerable members of the labor force through organization; and provide farmers with support.

We anticipate that our 2023 import from Kinini will be smaller than previous years, will include both washed and natural processed lots, and will be priced slightly higher than last year.

During our visit, we drew samples from the warehouse and beds to cup in our quality lab in Brooklyn. Qualities of those samples were excellent—and with the moisture meter and water activity meters Crop to Cup provided, we expect that quality will hold up through shipping and arrival later this year.

>> Kinini Village Cooperative 2023 Washed
Cantaloupe, caramel, sparkling cola, brown sugar, chocolate fudge, lemon, vanilla, pluot, lime


Nova

Our work in Rwanda also includes yearly purchasing from Nova, a woman-led and woman farmer focused exporter established on the notion of commercialization of coffee as a mechanism to create economic opportunity and foster social improvements. For 2023, besides building out a cupping lab, Nova established a coffee school and are in the process of adding a playground for the children of the women who work at the washing station.

While there are three different cooperatives that deliver their cherries to the Nova Washing Station, we focus on coffees grown by the 80-member women’s group called Dukorere Kawa Bukure Women’s Cooperative. We target peak harvest collections and cup through intensive lot separation to choose the best natural process coffees over the course of the entire harvest season.

Qualities of naturals from Dukorere Kawa Bukere were down this year, but an anaerobic lot from Nova jumped off the table during our cupping at NAEB in Kigali. We anticipate our purchasing from Nova will be smaller; roasters interested in contracting coffee from this community should reach out to their trader.

>> Nova Lot 1 2023 Anaerobic
Black cherry, rose, jackfruit, lemon verbena, rhubarb, lingonberry


Crop to Cup is actively booking in Rwanda. We anticipate volumes will be small for 2023 from these partners; If you have interest in coffee from Kinini or Nova, please reach out to your trader.


Ahead of the 2023 harvest, we published our Mexico Pre-Harvest Plan, outlining our strategy for the coming import season and reflecting on lessons learned from previous imports.

Central to our strategy is a new program for 2023—Good Coffee Program (GCP)—a new quality-incentive and transparent pricing program built to provide:

  • Transparent pricing calculated based on progressively increasing cup quality incentives on top of a price floating above market price;
  • Timely payment for coffee at our collection centers;
  • Long-term contracts for selected coffees; and
  • Monitoring and advice on the separation, milling and export of coffees.

While the coffee trade in Mexico operates with a lack of national structure and a high level of opacity due to difficulty accessing communities of producers directly, GCP aims to create an environment where smallholders are incentivized to participate in specialty export. Through GCP, producers are able to receive feedback on their coffee; receive a transparent, progressive pricing offer higher than the local market with premiums paid for quality; and get paid quickly.

We believe that this program will be transformational: producers whose access to specialty markets was previously restricted due to geography or finances can now compete for the business of long-term, relationship-motivated buyers who pay far above local prices. We aspire to impact entire communities and build a sustainable mechanism for discovery and aggregation of specialty coffees from lesser-explored producing regions within Mexico.


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GCP participants and 2023 Pride of Puebla competition winners Mercedes Galvez Andrés and Fermin Temoxtle Rodriguez

Country Context

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. Our work there dates back to 2013—but the history of coffee in Mexico goes back centuries.

A straight line connects colonialism to modern coffee production in Mexico, and the legacy of that history creates challenges unique to Mexico.

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. Today, Mexico is the seventh largest coffee exporter in the world—and the largest exporter of organic coffee.

But we’re not coffee hunters or coyotes just buying the best lots from blinded tables in Oaxaca City. To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—Crop to Cup is committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust.


Crop to Cup’s ‘Good Coffee Program’ publishes a price to be paid for coffees by their cup quality, drawing a direct and consistent line between quality and price for all involved.

Because quality is not always assessed transparently, Denso Coffee Services was engaged as a Mexico-based impartial quality lab charged with the extra responsibility of providing context on cupping and suggestions on practices which could improve quality over an iterative six round, twelve week harvest-spanning period.

The State of Puebla organized producing communities through on-the-ground agronomists into working groups called ‘escuelas de campo’. Through this structure, feedback is put into practice; these organizations enable coffees to be mobilized for sampling and collection and communities to collaborate on storage and transportation to get their coffees the final kilometers to the mill.


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Fabian Cayetano, a GCP participant from Puebla who also collected coffees for other producers at his house, using it as a point for consolidation and sampling.

Background and Execution

Crop to Cup 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—to oversee GCP.

Israel and Joz worked together not only to evaluate quality and turn around feedback more rapidly at their own Arc roaster outfitted lab in Puebla, but also helped with discovery of new producer relationships through their networks. As producers submitted samples and completed an information-gathering survey, the coffees were milled, graded and cupped by Israel and Joz; cupping feedback was delivered to producers; contract offers were made for those coffees that met the requirements of the program; and an invitation to participate in further rounds was extended to all.

We leveraged contacts throughout Mexico and long-standing relationships with parchment collectors to solicit participation in the program and, as in years past, used radio broadcasts to promote the GCP and communicate daily prices to smallholders living in difficult-to-reach and remote regions.

Producers from relationships central to Crop to Cup’s work in Mexico—like Coro/Red 5 de Diciembre and smallholders from the informal cooperative led by Joaquin Santana in Lachao—as well as new relationships emerging from our participation as the only international buyer in last year’s Pride of Puebla competition contributed coffee to GCP. Through GCP, we also expanded our work with one of our newer supply-chains in Oaxaca—Terra Coffeas—with whom we worked in 2022. 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.

Through the harvest, we saw producer participants from early rounds deliver parchment in subsequent rounds as they took advantage of the feedback they received through GCP to refine their practices, improve the cup quality, and receive premiums upon delivery of their higher-quality coffees.


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Israel Paz of Denso Cafe in Puebla led field operations for GCP through the harvest as well as providing cupping feedback alongside Joz Cortés

Price Transparency

The topography and diversity of languages and cultural traditions in Mexico can create obstacles for communication. Access to specialty markets often passes through intermediaries—for example, coyotes who purchase coffee from communities of smallholders, offering immediate payment though perhaps lower prices than a grower might receive in a more competitive environment. Quick payment is crucial for the financial security of coffee producers; since coffee offers only one harvest per year with a long tail of expenditure that extends beyond the timeline of harvest, with a producer making necessary investments in equipment, inputs, labor and transportation to ensure success the following year. Without rapid payment, a producer may—if it is available at all—rely on expensive financing, but with costs rising in an inflationary economy and the traditional commodity index price on the C-market stagnating for much of 2022-2023, this would expose smallholders to risk.

With GCP, we introduced a transparent pricing model with premiums over a base price calculated based on cup quality and payment turned around within two weeks of delivery of a representative sample. We updated the base price every two weeks based on local market pricing to ensure that the prices paid through GCP were always higher than prices offered by coyotes or coyote Qs. Using radio, we broadcast pricing weekly to overcome topographical and geographic challenges quickly and maximize distribution of pricing communications.

For coffees scoring higher than 86 points at our lab in Puebla, we offered progressively increasing premiums, beginning 10% above and capping out at 150% above base price for coffees scoring 89+. This progressive premium model was designed to ensure that coffees were kept separated to maximize their value as export coffee as well as to incentivize smallholders to deliver samples to us rather than testing the price offer elsewhere. Because we communicated the price expectations transparently, offered quality feedback, and paid quickly, we hoped to receive coffee from the smallholders returning over multiple rounds of submissions.


Sourcing Philosophy and Green Quality Standards

We use a relationship and impact model of purchasing. This means we aim to: work as closely and directly with suppliers as possible; buy from those same producers each year; and provide support, financing or other resources to those partners based on the year’s commitments, toward improving both financial security and coffee quality. Like everywhere Crop to Cup operates, in Mexico we work to build transparent and traceable supply chains formed around relationships and community impact. Across Oaxaca, Chiapas, Guerrero, Veracruz and Puebla, we collaborate with teams of skilled cuppers, agronomists and logistics professionals who have the local knowledge, relationships, and experience to guide us toward impactful, scalable and sustainable projects designed to create more equitable economic conditions for coffee growers and their communities.

Over our last few years of imports, we’ve collected physical data from each coffee to best understand how to mitigate the risk of coffee fading prior to arrival. Based on that data, we now require coffees to have a moisture content of 10.0-11.0% (measured on a calibrated Draminsky moisture meter) and water activity of less than 0.55 (measured using an Extech). This way, when coffees arrive—even if they do arrive late—they will still taste fresh and vibrant.

At the beginning of harvest, we communicated this drying standard to our suppliers and partners. In order to give our partners the best possible opportunity for success, we:

  • purchased moisture meters and a water activity meter and send them to our remote lab in Puebla;
  • required each coffee submitted to GCP to be analyzed for water activity and moisture; and
  • provided ongoing feedback to producers throughout the harvest from our export labs in Puebla as well as Brooklyn.

All of the samples in our 2023 import from Mexico GCP met this standard.

Every coffee purchased through GCP has been evaluated at least twice—first by our team in Puebla led by Israel Paz and Joz Cortes—and then by our quality team in Brooklyn. We calibrated with the Puebla lab at the start of and throughout the harvest—as well as prior to final contracting.

Outcomes

In total, Israel spent nearly a month—27.5 full days—in the field in support of GCP over the three months of harvest. Joz led the cupping process in Puebla, evaluating 11 rounds of samples. Through the five periods of submissions to GCP, we cupped 193 samples from producers in Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla, ultimately contracting coffees from 137 producers. Of those, 43 came from existing relationships in Lachao; only 4 coffees submitted did not meet moisture content requirements.

The highest scoring lot scored an average score of 87.88 between the two evaluating labs and came from Puebla, a region not well-known or established internationally for specialty coffee. The average score of submissions was 85.91 and median was 85.88; standard deviation for score was 0.90 with a variance of 0.82. Compared with the base price—calculated weekly against the internal market reference price—Crop to Cup paid an average premium of 15 pesos per kg above local specialty reference prices through GCP. Expressed in USD per pound of green coffee, this average premium translates to $0.51 per pound over local market prices, or a difference of 20%.

Our import will be separated into collections of community lots—scoring 84-85.5 points—as well as single-farmer microlots scoring 86-87.5 points separated based on their performance in GCP cuppings and lot size.

If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup

Producer and working group Profiles

Red de Huitzmaloc Nahuatl, Puebla, Sierra Negra
Fortino Olivares
Fortino Olivares is one of the many producers who has, despite declines in production and prices, carried on the legacy of coffee farming inherited from his ancestors since he was 10 years old. His home of Huitzmaloc, a small town belonging to the Nahuatl ethnic group in the mountains of Sierra Negra, decades ago was recognized for having the best coffees in the region, with varieties such as Typica, Bourbon and Caturra brought from Veracruz.

When others lost hope during the pricing crisis of the 1990s and abandoned their farms as coffee prices plummeted below $1.00 per kg, Don Fortino’s father persisted; he expanded his plantations to teach his son Fortino the love and dedication to coffee. Now, at the age of 63, Don Fortino has 5 children to whom he has passed on his love for coffee and the dream that this profession will be passed down to his grandchildren.

Ricardo Cayetano and Fabian Cayetano
Born in a small town in the highest mountains of the Sierra Negra, Ricardo Cayetano is the son of coffee farmers. He spent his youth learning about coffee production, helping his parents with harvest and the maintenance of their farm. Unaware that Huitzmaloc was regarded as producing the best coffee in Puebla, his family sold their coffee to coyotes, receiving low prices—which Ricardo would ride 20km with a mule to exchange for groceries for his family to sell in their community to generate income.

When he got married in 1991, Ricardo moved to Mexico City, returning to his birthplace in 2000 to dedicate himself to the family’s farm. It was the midst of the coffee price crisis; to support their family while coffee prices were low, he and his wife opened a small diner. Ricardo was part of organizational movements among producers to move toward quality-driven production and in 2012 pursued organic certification to obtain a better price from export but struggled to find market access and tools to improve coffee quality and continued to sell to the local market.

In 2020, Ricardo, with his sister, brother-in-law and son Fabian—who graduated as an agronomist engineer a year earlier—formed a business called Mixtla Coffee to resume coffee cultivation as well as sell roasted coffee. With training provided by the Rural Development Secretariat, Don Ricardo participated in the first edition of the Pride of Puebla quality contest in 2020, with his coffee scoring among the best coffees in the state. In 2022, the family reinvested in their production and washing station by adding two drying tunnels.

Red de la Cumbre Nahuatl, Puebla, Sierra Negra
Ipanteptl
Ipanteptl is an organization of 15 smallholders of Nahuatl and Mazateco indigenous background in the communities of La Cumbre, Ojo de Agua and La Guacamaya in the Sierra Negra of Puebla who organized more than 20 years ago to improve their quality and income in the wake of the price crisis and losing over 80% of their production to coffee leaf rust. Until 2017, the organization grew rapidly to 80 producer families by delivering higher prices to producers through its focus on producing and marketing certified organic and fair trade coffees.

Administrative faults jeopardize the income of the group’s members and after the cooperative lost the confidence of the community it was dissolved. In 2018, the group, whose members had returned to commercializing their coffee on the local market, reintegrated with the support of older and younger generations as a small cooperative with the aim of resuming production for the export market. With many of the group having renovated their farms with the Gesha variety and receiving the training provided by the Secretariat of Rural Development, Ipanteptl is positioned well to produce exceptional coffee; in 2021, members of the group participated in the Pride of Puebla contest.

Red de Ojo de Agua Mazatec y Nahuatl, Puebla, Sierra Negra
Felix Arce
Originally from a Nahuatl community located in the Sierra Negra of Puebla, Felix Arce has been a coffee producer for more than 20 years—a trade he inherited from his grandfather and parents, who were early members of the Ipantepetl cooperative. When he was young, Felix Arce and his brothers helped their parents in the maintenance of their plot, carrying out activities related to cutting, pruning, nutrition and harvesting.

Later, Felix chose coffee growing as his main trade to support his family and established himself as one of the best producers in the area for both quality and volume. Like his parents, he was part of the Ipantpetl organization and participated in the renovation of roya-stricken coffee plantations with newer, higher-quality and resistant cultivars. Because of his previous knowledge of good practices in organic production, Felix was part of the field schools of the Secretary of Rural Development, and in 2020 was a beneficiary of drying equipment. In 2021, he participated in the Pride of Puebla cup quality contest, positioning himself among the best coffees in the region. In the 2023 contest, his Gesha honey process was among the 30 best coffees from the State of Puebla with an SCA score of 87.85.

Red de San Miguel Eloxochitlan Nahuatl, Puebla, Sierra Negra
Miguel Alva Hernández
In 2017, a group of young producers of the Nahuatl community decided to form a small group with the aim of improving their income through the renovation of coffee plantations. Before coffee, to support their families, members would migrate each year to the border to work in agriculture—staying for months at a time to work in the fields, often receiving less pay than they were owed.

By investing their savings to renovate 50-year old coffee plantations they inherited from their parents and grandparents with the rust-resistant Costa Rica 95 cultivar, these young people hoped to generate enough income to improve their quality of life and support their families without having to migrate north each year.

In 2020, the group joined the equipment program by the Rural Development Secretariat, where they were able to obtain mowers, pulpers, and drying tunnels as well as participate in the field school, where they received processing training. In 2021, they participated in the Puebla of Pride quality competition for the first time. In 2022, their coffees scored among the 30 best in the competition.

By 2023, this small group of young people who years ago had no knowledge of coffee production occupied 6 of the 10 best lots in the competition with coffees scoring as high as 90.25 points. Today, as a result of their investment in their coffee production, these young people no longer separate from their families to migrate for income.

Fermin Temoxtle Rodriguez
Fermin Temoxtle Rodriguez began growing coffee at the age of 34 as a way to create opportunity and greater income for himself and his family. Before coffee, Fermin—born to indigenous parents in San Miguel Eloxochitlan, the municipality with the highest concentration of poverty in Puebla and one of the twelve poorest in Mexico—worked in the asparagus fields of Baja California as a migrant worker, leaving home for 3-5 months each year during the harvest.

The work was grueling; most of his days were spent crouching in the fields while temperatures routinelya exceeded 110ºF. Some years, he wasn’t able to make much—but what he did earn, he saved.

Opportunity presented itself when a group of friends told him about a coffee plantation renovation project in Puebla. Fermin joined 17 other people between the ages of 20 and 40 in replanting the farm with Costa Rica 95, a cultivar they were told was resistant to coffee leaf rust and would adapt to the area. In 2017, on his then- 1 hectare plot on the farm, at 1,650 meters above sea level, he planted 3,300 trees. In 2018, he planted an additional quarter hectare with 1,100 Obatã trees—making him the only producer locally with the cultivar. Each day during the harvest, Fermin leaves home at 6am to walk an hour to his plot and returns at 9pm at night, overseeing 5 men and 5 women that he employs to collect and process cherry—generating additional jobs and income for indigenous families in his community.

In 2021, he trained in anaerobic fermentation and processing practices taught by the Secretary of Rural Development and subsequently used honey processing for coffees he submitted to the Pride of Puebla competition that year. He continued training to improve his coffee fermentation, nutrition and storage techniques and again participated in 2022.

In 2023, Fermin again participated in the Pride of Puebla competition, submitting a 72-hour anaerobic dry processed coffee which earned a score of 90.25 and placement as the best coffee in the state of Puebla.

Mercedes Galvez Andrés
The daughter of parents of Nahuatl indigenous origin from Macuiltepec in the municipality of San Miguel Eloxochitlán,, Mercedes Galvez Andrés, at the age of 27, established a 1/4 hectare coffee plot with Anacafe 14 plants. Leaving behind her job as a teacher in an indigenous school with the aim of generating more income to improve her quality of life, together with her husband, Fermin Temoxtle Rodriguez, Mercedes joined a group of 17 Nahuatl people from her community in renovating a coffee plantation. A year later, she added 1,200 Obatã plants to her plot.

In pursuit of improving the quality of her production, Mercedes joined the field school of the Rural Development Secretariat of the government of Puebla in 2021, where she trained in agricultural and processing practices. That same year, she was encouraged to participate in the Pride of Puebla competition and submitted for the first time, and in 2022 competed again, with her coffee scoring in the top 10 lots.

With an enthusiasm and passion for coffee, Mercedes continues to train in fermentation, nutrition, and storage issues, and again in the 2023 participated in the Pride of Puebla competition with honey processed Anacafe 14 and Obatã lots, again placing in the top 10 of lots participating in the auction.

Bernabé Herrera
Joining other young people in renovating a coffee plantation, Bernabé Herrera established a half-hectare plot of Costa Rica 95 variety coffee in San Miguel Eloxochitlán in 2017 as a way to improve the quality of life for himself, his wife and their 5-year old son. Before coffee, he, like many others in his community, would migrate to the north of the country for work in agriculture, being apart from his family for 3-5 months each year. In 2022, he continued renovations of the farm with Obatã trees to obtain better cup quality. Through his farm management, Bernabé has created employment for 5 women who, with him, help with selective picking, processing, and drying.

In 2022, Bernabé participated in the Pride of Puebla cup competition for the first time, achieving a score of 85 for the coffee he submitted; in 2023, he continued training and improving his processing and resubmitted to the competition, scoring in the top 10 lots submitted and achieving a score of 87.47 for his coffee.

Red de Cafeticultores 5 de Diciembre La Cañada, Oaxaca
Red 5
The Red 5 de Diciembre network is the largest organization of producers in the La Cañada, and itself made up by 13 first-level organizations to represent 1,300 small indigenous producers. They formed as an independant group on the 5th of December, 2014, after La Roya devestated crops in region and chased away international buyers. Over the past six years this group has been working to improve selective harvesting, specialty processing, and marketing of these higher value lots. They’ve succeeded in growing membership and obtaining organic certification, but it was not until 2020 that they were able to achieve and significant premiums for exporting specialty. This was the year they partnered with the cupping team at Ensembles de Café, who worked with this group to separate out their very best and set the model for years to come.

If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup. Availability is very limited; lots will be booked first come, first served.


Mexico 2023 Pre-Harvest Plan

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.

At the farm of Don Pedro in Oaxaca, a picker walks through a plot of coffee trees during picking

Background

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.

Expectations, at a glance

For the 2023 harvest and import from Mexico, we anticipate that:

  • Import volumes will be slightly higher, with more, smaller, lots, despite a low harvest;
  • Coffee will arrive June through August , with peak bookings in April and May; earlier than last year, despite a delayed harvest;
  • Quality will be higher than last year due to additional programming aimed at lot selection; and
  • Prices will be equal to or somewhat higher than last year for most lots.

Expectations

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.

Timing

Harvest Milling Export Arrival
Feb–Apr May–Jun Jun–Jul Jul–Aug
Israel Paz, our agent in Mexico and the facilitator of GCP

Challenges & Discussion

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.

Key Suppliers

Supply Chain Strategy or Qualities Updates
La Refleja y Red 5 de Diciembre

OAXACA:

La Canada, Mazoteca

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.

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.

Terra Coffeas Mexico

OAXACA:

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

OAXACA:

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).

Support smaller lot separation through Joaquin’s house (which acts as the group’s bodega) through to the mill in Oaxaca.

Special processing experimentation.

Pride of Puebla

Mazoteca (Puebla, Sierra Negra)

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).

SOURCING STRATEGY & SUPPLIER UPDATES

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:

  • Providing sample analysis and cupping feedback to every producer, as quickly as possible;
  • Transparent pricing calculated based on progressively increasing cup quality incentives on top of a price floating above market price;
  • Timely payment for coffee at our collection centers (~2 weeks);
  • Long-term contracts for selected coffees; and
  • Monitoring and advice on the separation, milling and export of coffees.

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.

Overview

For our 2022-2023 import, we worked to rebuild our presence and partnerships in Uganda, both of which suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic and continued consolidation of multinational exporters.

Uganda is the country where Crop to Cup began, and its teachings remain at the heart of our sourcing philosophy. Nearly two decades of work has centered around separating and scaling high quality lots to help grow the market for Ugandan specialty coffees. The last five years have been all about promoting young independent producers, and building the network of support they need to get their top lots through to export. Over the past two years exports were frustrated by quarantine, logistics and a lack of operating capital.

Ahead of the 2022-2023 harvest we assisted these partners to secure pre-crop financing, with built-in incentives for greater separation of lots, removing the last hurdle towards this being the year we all get to taste the fruits of their labor.

Sections:

  1. Timing
  2. Background
  3. Expectations
  4. Key Suppliers
  5. Challenges and Discussion
  6. Sourcing Strategy & Supplier Updates
  7. How to Get Involved


Uganda 2022-2023 import expectations, at a glance

We anticipate that

Import Volume will be significantly higher than the previous year;
Qualities will be higher;
Harvest will be early; and
Prices will be about the same or slightly lower than last year.

 


(more…)

Overview

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. 

Timing

Peak Harvest
Lot Selection
On the Water
Arrival
Aug – Sep Sep – Oct Nov – Dec Dec – Jan
Type samples, lot reservations Offer + PSS samples, initial bookings Contract approval + export Arrival samples + spot offers

Pricing

As with all things in 2022, prices are up over last year. A multitude of factors contributed, but the theme is ‘inflation’ and ‘volatility’.

  • Operating costs increased – from inputs to labor to finance, storage and transportation.
  • Export costs increased – including a 16-24c average increase in shipping alone. 
  • Volumes are down over last year, and over projections from earlier this year – most farms are short on the future contracts they signed to finance operations.
  • The C-market is up 15-20¢ over last year with volatility and speculation creating additional scarcity. 
  • The Brazilian Real weakened significantly against the U.S. Dollar, with even more volatility past that from inflation due to an elongated election season.

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. 

Quality

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.

Lot Availability Updates

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.

Soraia Guimarares

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.

Minami Family

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 and Bioma Café

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.

How to Book

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

Kinini processing naturals

Peak Harvest, Peak Quality

Overview

Where we primarily work in Rwanda, the high elevation mountains of the northern province, the harvest happens late compared to the western and southern provinces. Instead of compensating for this timeline by chasing early harvest volume, we wait for peak harvest samples which pushes our sample approvals & shipments to later in the year but focuses our energy on drilling down to the harvest’s best qualities. This strategy is not just ours, but shared by our partners at Kinini & Nova Coffee, who want their very best qualities differentiated and supported by roasters. Thankfully this strategy was a success this harvest and qualities are hitting their marks with big fruity naturals and incredibly chocolatey, sweet and balanced washed coffees. Volumes of this quality are slightly up over last year, but barely- as we prioritized quality over volume.

The big update for this harvest is a record hike in costs and prices for coffee producers. Both are due to government intervention. The coffee industry in Rwanda is regulated by NAEB (National Agricultural Export Development Board). This year they tripled the tax on coffee that they charge all producers per kilo (rising cost), and also increased the mandatory cherry price for the whole country by 65% (rising prices). This mandatory cherry price is often seen as a govt. “minimum” to washing station managers, and on-the-ground realities of competition are driving prices more than 200% above last year’s cherry prices. While this means prices are up for Rwandan coffee this year on the open market, our long term partnerships have allowed us to keep our prices relatively stable year over year, through these shocks, while continuing to meet their financial goals.

2022 Timing

Peak Harvest Lot Selection On the Water Shipments / Arrivals
Jun–Jul

Jul–Aug

Sep–Oct

Nov–Dec
 

Producer Partner Highlights

Kinini

We started working with Kinini in 2017 just as they were starting to have something close to an exportable volume of coffee, and we remain the sole importer of Kinini’s coffee in the U.S to this day. As in previous harvests, for 2022, Crop to Cup bought both washed and natural process coffees from Kinini village, the area immediately around the washing station itself. This year, we decided to pass on Kinini Village’s early crop as they had another international buyer interested in the fastest possible container. Instead we focused on peak harvest, calibrating with Kinini’s QC lab throughout. Once we reached a container of fully washed top quality coffee, we approved that to ship as quickly as possible and did a 100% washing station take-over to process a lot of naturals all at once- taking advantage of the changing weather conditions to prolong drying in cherry to help the naturals really shine.

While we grow every year with Kinini as partners, the international demand for their coffee has grown as well, leading to financial security for the group, allowing them to pay off almost all of their start-up loans, and enabling reinvestment in quality operations and training. This year, ahead of the harvest, we worked with Jacquie and Malcolm to pre-contract the volumes and differentiated processes of coffee we needed while calibrating between our lab and Kinini’s QC lab through the season, using their Arc S sample roaster. Here are a few more updates:

Updates:

  • Currently transitional organic, expecting to be fully organic for the 2023 harvest
  • Patrick, who was hired last year as roaster/cupper (in addition to his other contributions), calibrated with our QC lab and continued the open-door tastings with farmers that began last year to help assess quality and define parameters for separation and aggregation of coffee. These sessions also include tasting flavors found in coffee such as chocolate (which was a first for many farmers) and acidity using local reference fruits such as banana and tree tomatoes. They are also using raw potato as a sensory experience to be able to better understand potato defect.
  • Floating cherries at the cherry collection sites themselves, not just at the washing station, ensuring better incentives for better picking.
  • Continued use and distribution of red wristbands to pickers to guide cherry selection
  • New bonus structure. They raised the bonus payment to 15% per kilo for all farmers no matter what, and an additional 5% per kilo for good quality producers. For context they moved from a volume-based incentive of 5% per kilo in 2019 that only the biggest farmers qualified for, to a flat bonus of 10% per kilo across the board to all farmers in 2020. Every year is an opportunity to try and incentivize and support in the right way.
  • The vermiculture project is now thriving—allowing for soil amendment using organic methods and reducing reliance on expensive inputs from elsewhere. Vermiculture projects have grown and expanded to individual farm level.
  • Growing 30,000 seedlings at 3 different seedlings nurseries in an attempt to double volume by 2023. Instead of buying seedlings, they are developing their own seedlings selected from the most productive and healthy plants from each of the 3 areas. Each nursery will only supply their surrounding areas since the trees will be ones that have proven to be the most healthy and productive in that particular micro-climate.
  • In July, in pursuit of financial independence, paid off one of the two large bank loans they received instead of immediately building a dry mill (bank rates in Rwanda are an average of 16% interest). The second loan should be paid off next year, meaning that Kinini will be debt-free.
  • Reinvested by building staff quarters to improve ability to manage and host visitors and buyers
  • Continue to send 10% of all Kinini profits to charity.

Nova Coffee

We started working with Agnes and Nova Coffee in 2017 , and continue to be their sole importer into the US to this day. While we don’t try and exclusively buy natural process coffees from Nova, it does seem to be what shines the best every harvest. While there are three different cooperatives that deliver their cherries to the Nova Washing Station, we focus on coffees grown by the 80-member women’s group called Dukorere Kawa Bukure Women’s Cooperative. We target peak harvest collections and cup through intensive lot separation to choose the best natural process coffees over the course of the entire harvest season. We calibrate with their partner cuppers in Kigali and lot-plan together throughout the harvest, putting the very best lots together to make up the Dukorere Kawa Bukere lot, which always packs a fun fruity punch.  


Updates:

  • Certified organic for 2022
  • Over 700 Nova farmers are currently in an organic composting training program
  • As part of the 2020 govt. supported community healthcare initiative called “Mutuelle de Santé” through Babylon Health, a % of Nova’s Profits from 2020 paid for health insurance for the 100 poorest farmers in their community
  • Expanded plantings with seedlings coming from NAEB (National Agriculture Development Board)
  • Assisted in organizing a 2nd women’s farmer group in the area  

HOW TO BOOK

Rwandan lot selections are complete and slated to arrive beginning in November and we are actively booking lots. Keep an eye on our Forward Offers for arrival updates! If you’d like to learn more, or reserve a lot SAS NANS, get in touch with a trader to discuss availability and anticipated qualities/profiles.

– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team