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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.


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.


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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.



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

 

PNG Producing Partners

PNG Forward Offers

Selling Strategy Overhaul Benefits Producers

Drying bed full of naturals

AAK Cooperative producers sell their milled coffee to the Exporter’s warehouse directly. This radically new strategy has resulted in increased volumes (with higher quality) and producers get paid quicker.

HARVEST OUTLOOK

Overview

Late summer always brings the lab incredibly unique cups from our partners in Papua New Guinea. More importantly, this is a season of increased communications and ever-deepening relationships with producer groups like AAK, a cooperative with operations across Western, Central and Eastern Highlands, as well as Roteps Washing Station, a wet mill near Hagen in the Western Highlands. This year brings us exciting improvements of a new farmer-empowered selling system and many more beautiful lots to choose from on the cupping table.

A System Overhaul Pays Off

The overall coffee-growing industry in PNG has once again struggled with increasing volume similar to the last few years. During these years of low production, the AAK Cooperative has struggled to convince its members to deliver their coffee to the coop instead of selling to local traders who offer a quicker transaction, but for less cash.

But this year AAK adopted a radical selling strategy that proved to be effective in collecting volume. Here’s how it works: Cluster groups deliver their coffee to a local dry mill where it is milled down into green bean form. The clusters then sell the green beans directly to our exporter’s final mill where we cup and clean/sort the coffees for export. With this change, producers are able to get paid much quicker, addressing the primary complaint of the members. Additionally, this change reduces their need to sell cherry or parchment to cash-ready middlemen that previously impacted AAK’s collection volume.

You’ve likely heard us mention AAK leaders Brian Kuglame and Regina Lusaro in the past. Their expertise and charismatic leadership will always play a role in driving the success of this wide-reaching farmer group, but the change in their selling structure is the main factor leading to increased qualities and volumes this year.

Quality Corner

If you’re wondering how this earlier milling down to green bean form may affect long-term quality, we’ve been testing these lots next to others that have sat longer in parchment. We cup, measure moisture content and water activity and have found no reduction or movement outside of our strict quality specs.

In a normal year, AAK might have one or two lots (20-80 bags each) reaching into the 86-87 point range with the majority of lots falling between 83-84 points. This year, our cupping table has exploded with dozens of PNG options in the 85-87 range. Lots are in the milling/bagging stage right now. We expect these coffees to arrive just before the end of the year.

Timing

Peak Harvest Lot Selection On the Water Arrival
June-July

Aug-Sept

Oct-Nov

Dec-Jan

PNG FORWARD OFFERS

PRODUCER HIGHLIGHTS

AAK Cooperative

In a country that is highly decentralized and culturally separated from valley to valley with different languages, networks and customs, the new selling approach is genius. There are several hundred small cluster groups within the AAK Coop. For each cluster, the new strategy fosters greater ownership over the supply chain and selling decisions. This, in theory, leads to a greater pride in the product and the improved quality that comes with it. AAK is now growing its member base (after a few years of declines). It and is a resource to advise member clusters in subjects like transportation and pricing guidance. Having the clusters in the driver’s seat has already proven to be a success. Crop to Cup is proud to be AAK’s principal buyer since 2014.

AAK Cooperative | 84.5 – 86.5 Cherry, pomegranate, lemon, cocoa, cola, cilantro, apricot, squash

Training with an AAK cluster group.

Hand sorting at a dry mill.

One of the 64 cluster groups that comprises AAK gathered at a collection point.

Roteps Washing Station

Another favorite supplier of ours is back—Roteps Washing Station! Last year, super low volumes meant we couldn’t get our hands on lots from this washing station. Volumes are up and the coffees we are tasting have shown up with head-turning quality. We are excited to be bringing in several lots including a PB lot from Roteps, not only to broaden our offers from this washing station but also to pick back up on last year’s super tasty PNG peaberry. Last year’s PB success was from a larger regional blend, so it’s nice to see the improvement over the year prior as we drill down to more traceable peaberries. Paul, pictured below, owns the washing station which is located in Kuli, not far from Hagen in the Western Highlands.

Paul, owner of Roteps, with producers weighing cherry

Roteps WS 2021 | 85.5 Green apple, tarragon, caramel, lemon, milk chocolate, green pepper

Roteps Peaberry 2021 | 87 Chocolate ganache, malt cocoa break, pomegranate lemon nougat, juicy finish

How to Book:

It’s been an exciting sourcing season, and we’re thrilled to share this year’s spot offers with you. We’ve also been busy booking custom lots for roasters that won’t be hitting our spot list. For these, we’ve been looking to AAK’s commercial-quality volumes, lesser-known coffee provinces like Morobe, and some nice organic-certified lots.

Now is the time to book SAS NANS contracts and request PSS of lots from AAK & Roteps. Coffees will be arriving around the New Year—perfect timing to bring in something fresh.

– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team

PNG FORWARD OFFERS

 

 

 

Hold on a Little Longer, Mexico Coffees are Coming

Sometimes coffee is a dance. Other times, it’s more like a rodeo. This year’s coffee season in Mexico was a bit of both – two steps forward with some cooperatives, one step back with other associations, and then a whole lot of holding on through to export.

This is a preview of Mexico’s 2021 harvest, with a focus on Oaxaca. It’s a top-level overview of what we’re bringing in, when to expect it, who we work with, how we work with them, and why we approach sourcing in this way. But, of course, coffee is more fun as a conversation – so contact your rep to learn more.

HARVEST OUTLOOK

Overview

The 2021 Mexico coffee season ran long, from January to July. On their way to port, coffees had to overcome quarantine and get through a bloody election on June 6th, the run-up to which saw 90 politicians murdered. Some of our friends in Oaxaca spent most of the harvest in the hospital, while others in Guerrero had to flee their farms as new gangs moved to the mountain.

On the other hand, quarantine meant fewer buyers in more remote places, which prompted many farmers to drink their own coffee; the past two years have seen the start of many rural cafes and roasteries. Interest in specialty is at an all-time high. At the same time, stronger markets and qualities continue to drive up farm-gate prices. And in response to recent stresses, indigenous farmer organizations are getting even more political.

Changes & Industry Challenges

In the 90s smallholder coffee from Mexico came through cooperatives. Then came coffee rust, where farmers lost more than their crops. They lost their customers, their contracts, and the business that bound them together as a group.

Most cooperatives in Oaxaca today are shells of the organizations they once were. Without cash they can’t buy. Without a reason to meet, they don’t meet. Others have pared operations down to a single warehouse. Others exist in name only. In their place grew informal networks to connect farmers to local markets and local markets to the export market in Oaxaca City.

It is through these networks, now, that coffee gets to Oaxaca City where one can find the mills, cupping labs, cuppers, warehouses, and financing needed to separate specialty for export. But these are farmers who live hours away from the closest local market – and for this, only deliver their coffee once a year.

It’s expensive to bring coffee down mountain. Even more expensive is trucking it Oaxaca for storage at a third-party warehouse and having it cupped. It’s nearly impossible for an average farmer to know what is specialty, and what that’s worth. It can take months to turn parchment into payment. This is where middle-men or coyotes come in. They take advantage of farmers by obscuring their sources and prices. They can also withhold full payments or information.

Specialty is on the rise throughout rural Mexico and farmers are more and more aware they can get premiums for selective picking. Also on the rise, however, is the term ‘Coyote-Q’, referring to Q-cuppers who use their knowledge to buy low at the farm and sell high in Oaxaca.

In this context, trust is difficult. Neighbors are watching one another to see what prices they can get. It becomes more of a competition than a cooperative.

In general, the chief challenge to sourcing specialty in Mexico is aggregation and in especially in Oaxaca. This is the process by which coffees get bulked at the bodega level or for transport to Oaxaca City. It’s a process that requires lots of trust, coordination, communication, and planning within a community and throughout the network that connects them to export.

And when it comes to how we work together, to building capacity, and building trust, we get to an area where Crop to Cup can truly contribute.

Our Approach

The easiest way to find quality is to cup across lots in warehouse in Oaxaca. This means buying from the network, agent, or more often the coyote who brought the coffee there.

Instead, we look for ways to aggregate at the community level. In some areas, this is through an agent whose house turns into a makeshift bodega during the harvest season.

Households like those of Guzman Feria in La Cañada, Joaquin Santana in Sierra Sur, and Jose Vasquez in Sierra Mixteca have inherited the trust of families further up the mountain. Many of these families do not speak Spanish and most of them only deliver coffee once per year.

Where we can, we look to work through existing cooperatives even if they are not active or no longer active in coffee. This is especially important in the region of La Cañada where cooperatives play a larger role in the community, but not through coffee as of yet.

In all cases, we look to build coalitions between communities, collectors, and cuppers. We work with Root Capital and other local banks to provide financing. We move between export mills like UNTAO and Galguera Gomez in Oaxaca based on what’s best for warehousing, milling, and export services. Prices are always transparent, as are the costs between farm and export. Farmers must sign off on these numbers while delivering their coffee, and again when receiving a second payment after export.

The ideal next step is to start a radio program that broadcasts coffee information in indigenous languages. In every form, the idea is to push information to farming families so that they can help in verification.

Timing

Harvests generally move from the south and east to the north, meaning that Chiapas and Veracruz can start collections a full month before farms in Sierra Sur, Oaxaca, and two months from higher altitudes in La Cañada Oaxaca. Overall, however, we start to see quality samples come in starting in March and continuing through June.

Exports have historically ranged from June – August. This is a little late and a little longer of a period than we’d like, but every year there seems to be a new and valid reason for delay. This year, for example, a few exports were about a month late due to the difficulty of operating during Covid-19 and because of tense elections in June.

Peak Harvest Lot Planning Shipments / Arrivals
March – May

June – August

July – Septemeber

We travel to Mexico before the harvest between October – November and again in early harvest between March-April. We rely on our in-country staff to execute on the plan set at each of our visits.

Producing Partner Highlights

Our dedicated facilitator in Oaxaca is Ramon Ruiz. He comes with decades of experience and relationships built on trust throughout specific stretches of Sierra Sur, Sierra Mixteca, and La Cañada. This year, in addition to achieving financing, Ramon is going to receive the assistance of a younger cupping team to speed up the lot separation process. This will also speed up the feedback loop with farmers. One of these cuppers will be dedicated to the lot separation; the other will focus on farmer feedback.

The three main supply chains that Ramon manages for us include:

Jose Vasquez – Huerta del Rio, Sierra Mixteca. Jose fell ill this year, and so missed most of the harvest. Without his leadership collection standards slipped. They had decent coffee and they’ve worked hard to build their brand. We decided to wait a year to bring up qualities.

Joaquin Santana – Lachao, Sierra Sur

Of our partners, Joaquin is the most proactive. Once the head of the now defunct UNECAFE cooperative, Joaquin now collects coffee in his house, which serves as both the bodega and meeting center for this now informal association of farmers. He also travels 4-8 hours at a stretch to visit some of the further out farmers, and an equal distance to Oaxaca as he follows their coffee through to export.

Guzman Feria – Sochiapam, La Cañada.

Sr. Feria had another excellent year, scaling up quality collections way up from last year’s 40 bags. He has proven to distribute premiums throughout his network, which has voted to reinvest a portion towards drying beds and shade nets.

In addition, we work with the cupping and logistics team at Ensembles de Cafe to support relationships with cooperatives:

Red 5 de Diciembre – Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, La Cañada.

An agricultural extension arm of the Oaxaca-based CORO Cooperative, Red 5 de Diciembre is a group of 7 agronomists who provide services to communities who agree to share storage. One region they serve is deep in the mountains of La Cañada, centered around a town called Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón.

This is a beautiful area and a tight-knit community. They are far off the highway and rely on the Red 5 network to access information, transportation, and storage in Oaxaca. The challenge here is not engagement or access, but to separate micro lots for higher premiums, as opposed to blending premiums across container-sized lots, in a culture based more on equality than equity.

CAFECO – La Concordia, Chiapas

Outside of Oaxaca- especially in Chiapas- we find formidable cooperatives who effectively purchase and market coffees on their members’ behalf. The challenges here are similar; container-loads are easy, but anything like a micro-lot runs into a few challenges. The first being that of ethos, as mentioned above, many cooperatives are incentivized to provide equal payment to all members over more performance-based systems of payment. Next, these groups don’t have the cupping capacity, or space, to separate lots. And lastly, customers are few and far between – most roasters go a few kilometers south to Guatemala for these qualities.

LOOKING FORWARD

These coffees were booked when NY was between 130 – 150c. We practice flat-pricing, meaning that these coffees are at least 25c below their replacement costs. For this, and their qualities, we expect them to move quickly. If you are interested contact your trader about samples and consider putting in a SAS-NANS contract (subject to arrival sample, no approval, no sale) to ensure first right of refusal.

2021 MEXICO OFFERS

– The Crop to Cup Sourcing Team

 

Micro-lots make it through an uncertain harvest

“If a producer goes after quality coffee they will always go after quality coffees – no matter – it’s a mindset.” – Yuki Minami, Aequitas.

Here, the term ‘no-matter’ actually refers to the many matters that add up to incredible uncertainty for Brazilian coffee farmers this year. Matters that include climate, politics, pandemic, warehouse shortages, as well as local currency and international commodity markets.

With so much unknown, farmers are seeking assurance from customers, and are looking to specialty for price stability. In a year where most farmers in Brazil find it hard to invest in quality, Aequitas top producers are communicating often and continuing their commitment to quality, pushing up again the limit of what is possible for premiums out of Brazil.

This is the argument for relationship-focused sourcing.  Despite the grim intro, and everything that follows, we will be bringing in more, higher scoring specialty micro-lots from Brazil than ever before. Read on to learn more.

HARVEST OUTLOOK

Timing

Brazil’s 2020 harvest came on 2-3 weeks later than last year, but it came on in force with an estimated production of 61.6 million bags, according to CONAB* (National Company of Supplying, an organization from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock). This is Brazil’s second largest harvest ever! This also means that it’s the highest production for any country ever. Uniform rains during the flowering period (September to October) and fruit formation (November to April) led to a uniform harvest and higher qualities this year.

On the export side, CECAFE* (Brazilian Coffee Exporters Council) report of August 2020 shows that there was a 3% fall in Arabica green coffee exports compared to August 2019, even though harvest yields are 25% up in relation to last year. Comparing the accrued data from January to August 2020 and 2019, the decrease of Arabica green exports is of 5.2%. From the producer perspective, this means more marketing for their specialty coffees, selling specialty at commodity prices and downgrading investment in top-end micro-lots.

In August, a bubble in prices led to a rush on commodity buying, which filled up local warehouses early so that now, in peak harvest, producers are having to agree with traders to keep their sold coffee longer in co-op and private warehouses. Traders then have a hard time finding space to store or containers for export. With these factors in motion, producers are compelled to sell quickly for less than they expected.

By the time September rolls in, temperatures reach above the average time of year and a severe drought due to La Niña occurs in most of the producing areas. This comes at a time when rains are needed to trigger flowering for next season’s harvest.

Peak Harvest Shipments Arrivals
June – August October – November December

 

Quality

Overall, quality is up within Aequitas. The producer engagement was high from last year’s harvest and the momentum continued through the off-season into high-quality deliveries so far this season. These factors make for a tight export window and a more efficient way to evaluate more high-quality samples. And this is only possible because of Aequitas’ off-season investments in planning, producer outreach, training, and QC staff. Cherries started arriving the first and second week of August through end of September.

Pre-harvest planning includes a flavor mapping exercise, which take samples from throughout the farm to establish ‘flavor zones’. These zones are used to inform harvest scheduling, processing, lot separation and processing. This, combined with improved traceability within individual farms, allow lot tracking from the farm to warehouse and through each stage of post-harvest processing. More data gives producers more options for separating lots, conducting experiments and learning. The result has been more differentiated lots from within each individual farm—not to mention sharing best practices within the Aequitas network.

For example, old friends Marcelo Assis and Maria Soraia just learned that their coffees are finalists for the Cerrado Minero regional quality competition. Both farmers focus purely on coffee – with a fully dedicated coffee team – and are planting new varietals; Marcelo is planting Paraiso, and Maria is cultivating Arara, both of which are receiving recognition for their cup quality. This has encouraged other members of Aequitas to dedicate more of their team to coffee, and more of their coffee fields to these new varietals.

We see the promise of the Aequitas network. As individuals experiment and improve upon quality their lessons are shared within the network. Every small success is leveraged for larger, more informed efforts year over year.

IN THE NEWS

Covid hit Brazil a lot later than the rest of the world. Lock-down came on March 18th , before the first death on March 24th. However, responses were localized; lock-downs impacted major cities, but those like Sao Gortardo (pop. 30,500) never saw mandatory quarantine, even though the city has logged over 1,100 Covid cases (of which over 200 are active right now).

Or so it is thought. Information is not good. Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is widely considered to be even more divisive than Trump. During the pandemic, he fired the Health Minister, and prohibited the publication of Covid cases or related deaths. Without official statistics, the country is relying on local news source and don’t know when the next lock-down will come.

From drought to market uncertainty to Covid – Yuki and hers are avoiding the news. They’ve chosen to focus, instead, on their farms. And on a few tasty experiments.

EXPERIMENTS

Many Aequitas farmers are participating in a fermentation project called Artisans, sponsored by NuCoffee, an unconventional buyer who trades coffee for agricultural inputs. Farmers sell them commercial coffees to finance their farm inputs. In addition to the coffee, NuCoffee gets data – farmers are given bonuses for submitting details on farm management. This year NuCoffee is trialing a program to encourage experimentation in anaerobic fermentation.

Farmers were supplied with 10L of yeast – the same yeast, so as to act as a control.  They were also given an overview on fermentation and training (via zoom) by a federal university. Farmers were then asked to buy the barrels and contribute 10 bags of coffee to the experiment; 9 of which they could sell themselves, 1 of which could go back to the university for evaluation. The Aequitas team heard from the Artisans technical assistant that Nucoffee cupped a dozen of these experiments from members, and found some of the lower-scoring lots (below 80) improved on score (to 83, for example) with a different profile (more, and more complex fruits). However, among Aequitas partner producers where coffees come in 83 and above normally saw little change from their controls (those which did not undergo fermentation). As with many fermentation experiments, the results were inconclusive. It tended to teach that fermentation can bring up the bottom of a bad tasting coffee but isn’t as impactful on raising the ceiling for those which are already scoring well. Over 400 producers participated and results are expected to be shared prior to next year’s harvest.

Fruit Trials

Independently, Yuki and some of her colleagues decided to have their own fun with fruity fermentation. That’s literally combining coffee cherry with macerated fruit for 48 hours of anaerobic fermentation.

Steps:

1-Flavor mapping was used to identify areas that produce higher quality coffees.

2-These areas were scheduled for hand-picking instead of mechanical harvest.

3-Cherries were floated to remove debris and lighter beans.

4-Cherries were then soaked in cold water (15C, anaerobic) for 48 hours.

5-After 48 hours, next came the fruit mixture: intensively prepared by slicing fruit, blending, and adding a little water. This they did with two different concoctions (which were in turn put next to a control).

– Citrus: 50KG of lemon-orange fruit mix put across 10 barrels (5KG per barrel, each of which contains 200L of coffee).

– Pineapple: 30 KG of pineapple pulp put across 5 barrel, (6KG per200L of coffee cherry)

– A control was established using 5 barrels of the same coffee, undergoing the same process except without the fruit mixtures.

6- After 72 hours they opened the barrels, cherries were then placed on raised beds and they washed the coffee with a water solution used in food  sanitization to stop the fermentation process.

7-Cherries were then left to dry as a natural. First round, full sun, two weeks. Second round, partial shade, 30 days.

It’s a lot of fruit, a lot of work. And it burned out a blender. But the results were fun on the tongue. The citrus batch gave off big spicy lemon-mint gingerbread aromatics which held through in the cup, and cooled tropical. The pineapple experiment tasted like, surprise, pineapple wine with watermelon / green apple schnapps on the aroma, a sweet brown bread body, and some mint on the finish.

Lot are listed on offers, but have not yet been milled – so availability for this year is uncertain. However, experiments will be replicated in the off-season so that they are ready to scale come next harvest.

LOOKING FORWARD

If last year was about information, education and experimentation – then next year is about outreach. Most coffee in Cerrado comes from larger farms. For reference, Aequitas member farms range from 40 – 250 hectares (averaging closer to 150 hectares per). Large farms are 1000+ hectares, but there are smaller farms in the area as well. These small producers don’t have information, infrastructure or technical assistance.

While most of Brazil’s coffee comes from larger farms, most of Brazil’s coffee farmers are small – an estimated 88% grown on less than 50 hectares, according to the IBGE* – Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. Without capital or storage, these farmers have to immediately sell. Their lots will likely get blended into large stock lots without them ever knowing what kind of quality they are producing.

For next year, Aequitas plans on reaching out to these small producers in Cerrado. The plan is to solicit samples and provide free feedback as an entry to trainings on post-harvest processing.

In 2021 we can expect a new lineup of micro-lots as well as a few smallholder blends.

One of which is a producer named Maria Soraia who was new to the Aequitas network in 2019. Experimentation since then led to one of the most unique collections of the harvest; one lot is described as ‘chai milk-tea with figs, ginger and cardamom’.

To us, this demonstrates the diversity that can be found even within the same region and has us looking forward to all that’s to come.

Hecho En Mexico

Every year it’s something. Volcanoes. Roya. Currency collapse. Internal politics. Corruption. Lack of financing. Lack of labor. Every year our partners in Mexico are faced with some force majeure, yet they still come through with some mind-changing examples of what is possible across the further reaches of Mexico.

Over the years, we’ve traveled deeper and deeper into Guerrero, Colima, Oaxaca, and most recently Chiapas to find partners producing exceptional coffees. Every year we find more reasons to come back. The people, the coffees, the palatable progress — it’s worth it. The challenge is also real. Building supply-chains with languages that leap from Spanish to indigenous languages like Chinateca, Mixtec, Zapotec, Mazateco, and Mixe. These are daisy-chains of trust passed down through the generation, now combined with new needs for transparency and financing and communication and sweeping improvements from picking to processing, drying and storage.

This year’s force majeure is Covid-19. As quarantine set-in across America, the United States of Mexico were operating freely. March was peak harvest, and we were approving offers from our remote cupping labs. There was more excitement than ever about what we were tasting.

Then quarantine hit Mexico, and hard. Samples got tied up en route. No labor was available at mills. Police were enforcing stay-at-home orders aggressively and still were in Oaxaca in early June.

Lots that represented years of investment and efforts across eight supply-chains, hundreds of farmers, and nearly two dozen communities got stuck mid-export.

It’s painful when you finally get what you ask for, and then don’t know what to do with it. We are left cupping jaw-dropping lots wondering what comes next.

What does come next? The coffees we approved in March, and again in June will see an arrival in late July – early August. Truly amazing coffees that come to us through truly inspiring efforts are on their way!

We took a chance on these coffees, because we believe in the communities and want these programs to be here next year. The coffees themselves are good, real good on their own merit. You’ll like what you taste.

HARVEST OUTLOOK

Timing

Good rains led to an early, even, and productive harvest across southern Mexico. Samples peaked in March, but fell off due to quarantine with PSS coming back available in late May. June shipments will lead to late July and early August arrivals.

Peak Harvest Quarantine Shipments / Arrivals
late Feb – early April mid March – early June June / July-Aug

Quality

Better Drying, Selection

Targeting 85-86 pts on SCA, Less than .55 MA, 10.5-11% MC

Efforts to expand the use of shade nets in Sierra Sur and La Mixteca paid off this year, as did incentives towards selective harvesting in La Canada. The absence of auctions and closing of domestic markets led to a greater availability of micro-lots this year. Unfortunately, many of these were blended into regional lots during quarantine. So while we only expect a few competition-grade nano-lots this year, we are also seeing higher qualities and complexities in regional blends.

IMPORT PLAN

  • Consolidate logistics and financing through 1-2 supply-chains in each of the major regions of Oaxaca.
  • Separate out micro-lots and blend the rest into traceable, organic 85-86 pt lots.
  • Seek out new microlot suppliers, particularly in La Canada Oaxaca and Chiapas.
  • Support existing relationships, advance improvement projects, and rewards efforts with premiums.

By Region:

  • Oaxaca, Sierra Sur – continue support of UNECAFE in Lachao.
  • Oaxaca, La Mixteca – continue support of Huerta del Rio in Putla
  • Oaxaca, La Canada – introduce new partner, 5 Red de Deciembre, with a regional lot and microlots.
  • Concordia, Chiapas – expand relationship with CAFECO; install cuppers in bodega
  • Explore new sources for microlots, particularly in Veracruz
  • Improve rates on local pre-crop financing

 Specific community updates & 2020 Mexico offers here

COMMUNITY UPDATES

LOOKING FORWARD

Mexico is an important partner to us at Crop to Cup. They’ve got all that it takes to produce profiles at prices that can succeed across our menus. Yet, as they learned with La Roya: when buyers disappeared along with the harvest, they need consistency to invest in specialty.

The 2019 harvests arrived in late summer, giving them only a few months to sell before quarantine. And now, just as these beans are seeing the light of day again, the 2020 crop is arriving. While we’ve been able to maintain our commitments, we were not able to expand with our partners. We were not able to purchase more decaf or top-off containers with the interesting new coffees we came across.

Looking forward, we hope that 85-86 point coffees from across Mexico’s growing regions can find a place on specialty menus across the United States. From cold brew and espresso to wholesale blends, from single-origin pour-overs to bizarre competition lots. We are bringing in a smattering of these this year to show what’s possible, and hope you will come along for the ride.

-The Crop to Cup Trading Team

Uganda is where Crop to Cup got it’s start 15 years ago. We started with washed coffees from Mt. Elgon in the East, moved to floated naturals in the western Rwenzoris, and in the past two years started supporting supply-chains on the northern border with Congo and Sudan. Year by year we come back to push the needle on quality, and have seen scores improve from 82 to 86 in all three areas. But that has been our ceiling.

Until now.

Our visit in 2020 showed us that sometimes situations can change quickly. In this case we have witnessed a fluorescence of quality-minded independents, young organizations who have set out to break the ceiling on what was previously possible.

HARVEST OVERVIEW. Record-breaking rains from September to delayed the harvest by a full month, left cherries un-ripened on the trees, caused massive mudslides and forced all coffee to move down-mountain for drying. But these rains ended with new year, and ended up giving an incredible advantage to anyone sourcing from the highest altitudes – like us.

Larger companies closed their operations by December 15th  with full warehouses; they are counting on milling to make the difference between commodity and specialty. But as the sun came out in January so did smaller buyers, and what they (we) found is an open playground full of the best coffee we have yet to see in Uganda.

Collections are still coming in, and will continue through mid-February. In Elgon, competition for cherry has pushed up prices- and standards – for cherry selection, meaning that what is coming in is being handled better than ever before.  In the west, interest in specialty naturals has pushed prices up from blender levels (-60c below market) to minimum offers of 160c over market for anything of quality. In the north, investments by multi-nationals, with funds from the international development community (namely ABI Trust) have forged a new specialty profile – best described as ‘orange creamsicle’.

WHITE NILE is new to specialty coffee. In an area known as the Alur Kingdom, inhabited by the Luo people, coffee and people flow freely across state lines. This is the North-Eastern corner of Uganda, a place where SL varietals took root nearly 100 years ago, and which have never been replaced. Initially, coffee from here was sold as a general Uganda FAQ – mostly for blenders and instant coffees. Coffee is collected as ‘sub-prime’, ‘ordinary’ and ‘super-ordinary’, roughly divided into thirds. Two years ago we zoomed in on districts we knew to have higher quality, asked for a fourth ‘super-premium’ category, and started seeing results. This year we helped to open a quality training center – a roaster, green grading and cupping lab – so that the language of quality could get pushed even closer to the farm.

RWENZORI is a mountain range further south, but also on the Uganda/Congo border. This is where we find Bukonzo Organics, one of the few surviving cooperatives, and one of the few in the region to work on washed coffees. This is also the home for Drugars – Dried Ugandan Naturals – which only recently have been treated as specialty. Investments by nonprofits (Lutheran World Relief & ABI Trust) have revolutionized the way that coffee is viewed, processed, and sold in this area. For those looking at big-bodied naturals that are more fruit-lingering than fruit forward, this is the place to look.

ELGON is the traditional home to Ugandan specialty Arabica. Separated by tribe and region into Bugisu (who occupy most of the mountain) and Sebei (who live in Kapchorwa, Sipi Falls area), one can find profiles that range from effervescent lime to deep chocolates to tropical fruits – and many combinations therein. This is also where Crop to Cup got it’s start back in 2005 by registering farmer groups, revitalizing washing stations, and separating for the region’s first specialty exports in decades. Since then the world has caught on, and Uganda’s reputation has improved dramatically as a significant source for specialty. Competition for volumes have undermined traditional cooperative structures, leaving a mountain full of individuals. But in the past two years we’ve seen local independents rise up, with their neighbors, to seek specialty markets of their own. These groups operate outside of mainstream exporters, and without the benefit of their resources. But trust, leadership, hustle, and the passionate investment of a few select individuals has brought new options to market for those who care to take a bet on the underdog.

OUR APPROACH. This is where we come in.

Our 2020 import plan looks to support these emerging groups, which we’ve come to see as the ‘heart, soul and head’ of Ugandan coffee, and the future of specialty on Mt. Elgon.

  • Dison from Mamboo Coffee – with a strong network of select farmers concentrated in the Sipi Falls region. We describe this group as the ‘heart’ due to the hustle of the group. Their main strength is in recruiting the very best farmers.
  • Kenneth from Zukuku Bora – with a grassroots development approach that’s bringing up communities from across the mountain. We describe this as the ‘soul’ due their extensive community-work in and outside of coffee.
  • Mountain View Coffee – with incredible investment in infrastructure and data collection, controlling drying, fermentation and processing. We describe this as the ‘head’ due to their data-driven approach.

Mountain View Coffee has brought in western cuppers, Colombian production managers, central drying and pulping stations, and even weather stations to monitor every aspect of their coffee. Their operation is purely organic, and built from the primary societies of the now defunct Gumutindo Coopreative.

Zukuku Bora has brought their community development work into coffee, using their network and skills in mobilization to promote the most immaculate of cherry collection. Their operation is an offshoot of a nonprofit, Jenga CDO, and run entirely by young Ugandans.

Mamboo Coffee has brought decades of experience and relationships to cherry-pick the very best farmers on the mountain, and to make them better. Their operation is centered on the passion and expertise of Dison Kareng, and held together by the decades of trust he’s built in his community.

Outisde of Elgon, we are continuing to work with Bukonzo Organics in Rwenzori – recent beneficiaries of a Luther World Relief sponsored impact investment. We are also expanding our support of the Kyagalanyi owned washing station in Erussi, who are trying to raise the bar on what’s possible from this region.

 2020 VISIT SUMMARY. Halfway through our 2020 visit we realized that it could best be described as a heist movie, one where we’re getting the gang together. We met with friends new and old, from exporters, mills, financiers, cuppers and farmers. The job – building a bench to support independents as they try to grow their operations to export scale, and get great coffees to market. The result – two new coffee shops in farmer communities – which act as headquarters for these emerging organizations. Contracts leveraged for pre-crop financing and a five-fold growth of volumes. Experiments with processing (black honey, washed naturals, and fertilizers). And plans to expand even more for next year with new washing stations.

TIMING. Those who come first (in exports) may come last (in quality). We are targeting peak collections from the highest altitude zones in every area we work. This gives us tremendous advantages in selecting the very best coffees – even within a cooperative structure where separation can become political. And, this year, it gave us advantages in terms of weather and competition from larger buyers, who largely stopped buying before the new year.

>Mt. Elgon:  February samples, April/May shipment, June/July arrivals (post-Covid correction; July – September arrivals)

>Rwenzori & White Nile: November/December samples, January/February shipments, March/April arrivals.

NEWS. Headlines in Uganda are dominated by the upcoming 2021 elections, where President Museveni is expected to take yet another term in office over upstart rapper-turned-politician Bobi Wine. Mudslides in Mt. Elgon wiped our over 1,400 homes this harvest season, displacing many, many of whom will never be able to move back. In coffee, cherry price have outpaced parchment prices; normally the ratio is 5 KG cherry = 1 KG parchment, and the price had been the same. Now cherries are priced more on a 4:1 ratio, encouraging farmers to deliver to wet-mills who have been better able to control processing – and drying times. Talent from all over the world (mainly Colombia) has come over to oversee the production o honey and natural-processed coffees. And Mountain View Coffee brought organics back to Mt. Elgon.

CURRENT CHALLENGES. Weather is the number one challenge faced by farmers this season. Prolonged rains pushed back the harvest, lead to cherries lingering on trees – many of which never turned red – and facilitated the spread of both Coffee Berry Disease and Leaf Rust. Drying was also a challenge as groups ran out of drying space and had to scramble to find secondary sites down-mountain. For independents the cost of capital remains a barrier; local interest rates hover around 28%, compared to the less than 2% rates obtained by multi-nationals. And in it all Ugandan specialty struggles to be taken seriously by the US market, meaning that those who do persevere have a hard time finding prices to reward their efforts.

OUTCOMES. Looking back, the 2020 season will be viewed as a fresh start for specialty in Uganda. New groups have risen to the challenge and, with the support of many, are getting their coffees to market for the first time. This makes it the perfect time to get involved for any roaster who is looking to get in on ground floor in what will be the future of specialty in Uganda.

For Crop to Cup, the 2020 season is all the more rewarding due to the depth of our relationships there. Not only is it satisfying to see the right people doing the right things, but we now know that the 86 point ceiling is artificial, and soon to be broken. In Mt. Elgon there’s no reason why quality can’t match that of Kenya, located just on the other side of the mountain, with the same language, trees and terroir. In the north, heirloom varietals combine with low production to give coffee the conditions it needs to succeed. Aligning incentives towards this end is what we enjoy doing most. In Rwenzori we’ve been happy to see Bukonzo Organics adopt a business mindset, expand their production and their capabilities to compete.