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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.


Ethiopia 2023 Grade 1 Offers

INTRODUCTION

Before Covid, we would invite buyers to Brooklyn every winter to taste through offer samples from Ethiopia. We’d present 30 or 40 coffees across tables at the Wythe Hotel or some other venue, hoping we planned enough water and coffee and time to get through them all and provide a meaningful glimpse at the coming year’s imports.

Our aim for these cupping events was to build community around the coffees and thus help build volume toward our import. Inevitably, though, as well thought-out and planned as they were, cupping in that context—with that many coffees, and with that many buyers present, and a limited amount of time—is challenging. And with limited sample material of each coffee available, even if you were interested in contracting a coffee and wanted to re-cup it in your own lab, there wouldn’t be enough PSS to go around.

During our most recent visit to Ethiopia, in the midst of harvest in December, we reflected on the lessons we’d learned from previous imports and some of the lingering problems we hoped to solve—and dreamed of a better way to present our partners’ coffees. So we put together a tasting kit—a complete picture of the coffees from Ethiopia we’ve already approved, sent to milling in Addis, and booked for shipping—our way to do that.

There may still be tasting kits available—reach out to your trader for more information.

Ethiopia’s 2022-2023 harvest was one defined by economic pressures: inflation, a shortage of foreign currency, and cherry prices that exceeded last year’s already high prices by more than 200%. A paradox of coffee production is that higher prices tend to lead to lower qualities, the effects of which have been observed by some buyers who have noted that quality from Ethiopia has apparently not lived up to expectations over the last few years.

It’s our ambition and our belief that the coffees on our offer sheet will change your mind—and that you’ll think about coffees from Ethiopia differently as we head into the 2023 import. We hope you enjoy tasting through these samples. If you like any of them, you can book them immediately—first come, first served—by reaching out to your trader (note that for many, only extremely limited quantities are available).

These coffees are already on their way—we expect to receive the first landed lots by the end of May.

Tag us on Instagram (@croptocup) during your cupping or drop us a line afterward to let us know what you thought of this tasting experience.

If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup. Many of these coffees are available in very limited quantities and will be contracted first come, first served.

COUNTRY CONTEXT

Few places in the world offer the quality and diversity of flavor profiles of Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Coffee is Ethiopia’s main export commodity and critically important to the country’s economy, with approximately 4 million smallholders growing more than 95% of the country’s coffee. Despite its importance, lack of financing opportunities, the liquidity of other cash crops such as khat, and economic disruption are pressuring growers to abandon coffee cultivation, creating an opportunity for specialty actors to work at community-level.

Over our nine years 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.

Our earlier relationships were with unions and cooperatives within those unions as well as larger single-farmer estates in the West, who, thanks to a government program started to protect remaining forestlands through commercial coffee agroforestry, were able to hold export licenses. The ECX system, while intended to provide a standardized minimum price for coffee across the country, made traceability and transparency challenging if not impossible through its system of aggregation and auctions. By purchasing through these two channels we were able to develop relationships directly with producers and producer groups with traceability and transparency.

In 2018, after the government relaxed its export regulations and once again allowed private washing stations to export the coffee they processed and also allowed smaller growers to self-export, we expanded our work, establishing relationships with both private washing stations and individual smallholders.

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 are 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.

Basha Bekele and his father—both smallholders who began exporting directly—at their adjoining farms and drying stations in Bombe, Bensa

SOURCING PHILOSOPHY

Sourcing Philosophy & 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 Ethiopia we work to build transparent and traceable supply chains formed around relationships and community impact. Prior to the export laws changing in 2017 it was not possible for smallholders to export directly; after the market liberalization, we were able to engage a broader network of suppliers—so while you’ll see many names on this offer sheet that are returning from previous years, there are a number of new partners, too.

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 RH390). 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 send them to kebele offices in Ethiopia for use by smallholders in those communities;
    hired a full-time auditor and technician to train producers on best practices and provide spot-checking using a moisture meter;
  • distributed a Drying Best Practices Handbook to our producer partners; and
  • provided ongoing feedback to producers throughout the harvest from our export lab in Addis.

All of the samples on our offer sheet met this standard.

Every coffee on this Ethiopia Grade 1 offer sheet has been evaluated at least twice by our team in Addis Ababa led by Q-graders Moata Raya and Ansha Yassin. We calibrated with the Addis lab at the start of and throughout the harvest—as well as prior to final contracting.

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Moata Raya, our Ethiopia sourcing lead, jokes with the farm manager and Mujahahid Hisman, the industry manager for Kefyalew Deressa’s Gera Genji washing station.

SOURCING TEAM

Ethiopia Sourcing Team

MAYA BLUESTONE rose through Crop to Cup having seen all sides of the company. Maya is more than just a Q-grader: she’s the beating heart of the team, ensuring that we always center our values and mission in our sourcing work, even as we work with our partners to continually increase quality.

CHRISTOPHER FERAN is the newest member of the Crop to Cup team, a “lapsed Q-grader” who comes with a decade of sourcing and buying experience as well as deep knowledge of roasting. He previously operated a multi-unit roaster-retailer and also works as an independent consultant.

BEN HEINS is a Q-grader with deep experience in Ethiopia dating back to Crop to Cup’s first Ethiopian import, Ben’s experience in coffee emerged from his background in sales. Ben leads the sales team at Crop to Cup and is uniquely positioned to push the sourcing team to “meet the moment” with roaster needs and industry bellwethers.

TAYLOR MORK is Crop to Cup’s co-founder whose roots in coffee date back to his time living in Uganda, where he and C2C co-founder Jake saw the potential of specialty coffee to transform the local economy. Fourteen years later, Taylor runs sourcing operations for Ethiopia from our Brooklyn HQ and quality lab, where he also oversees logistics.

MOATA RAYA is a trained agronomist and Q-grader who runs our in-country sourcing operations out of his lab in Addis. Before joining the Crop to Cup team, Moata worked as a technician for Technoserve, helping to establish and train some of the most well known cooperatives and washing stations in Agaro.

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Our Director of Operations, Dan Shafer, heads up our quality lab in Brooklyn. Here, he’s screening through grade 2 offers.

CUPPING STANDARDS

Roasting & Cupping Standards

We roast on an Arc S sample roaster and approach the roast hoping to avoid both underdeveloped or roasty character to present the coffees as transparently and cleanly as possible. Our roasts fall into standard roast durations, approximately 8 minutes per batch with 1:10 of development and a final roast color targeting a ground Agtron score of 73.

Our tasting kit was presented randomized and blinded. By presenting coffees agnostic of region, process and producer type, the diversity of Ethiopian coffees is properly contextualized and allowed to shine without any projections, preconceived notions, or bias. Blinding the samples is the only way to truly give every coffee a fair shake.

We also included two packets of Third Wave Water classic for this tasting; we prefer to use it at half strength to provide the best balance of total hardness and buffer.

For cupping, we use and recommend a 1:17 ratio and pour with water at 99ºC. We look for a strength of 1.3% TDS by 12:00 into the extraction; you may need to adjust your grind accordingly. Using a Compak PK1 Lab, our burrs are set to 390um spacing from burr touch.

PRODUCER MAP

BOOKING INSTRUCTIONS

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

PRODUCER PROFILES

Producer Profiles

Rashad Ababulgu, Mustefa Abasadi and Abo Hussein
On our way back to Jimma from visiting producers in Gera, Moata’s phones were ringing constantly. A few of those calls came in from Rashad Ababulgu and Mustefa Abasadi, two coffee farmers located near to the Biftu Gudina Cooperative who had, for years, been selling cherry to Duromina. It was starting to get dark and we had a way left to go, so instead of taking a detour, we arranged to meet them on the side of the road a few kilometers from their farms. Both had received drying materials and support through USAID, gotten export licenses and in the last year had sold coffee for export destined for Korea—and had friends in their community, other smallholders like Abo Hussein, who were similarly positioned to begin direct export. As the direct export market continues to develop in Ethiopia, we’re eager to seek out and deepen relationships with all-star producers who, for years, have contributed coffee to some of the cooperatives best known for quality. With their own export licenses, they’re able to capture higher prices and market their coffee and brand year-over-year to returning buyers like Crop to Cup.

Musa Abalulesa and Mustefa Abalulesa
Musa Abulelessa and his brother Mustefa operate two farms together outside of Beshasha in Agaro, called Koye and Chanko. Before the undergrowth was cleared for coffee, Musa and Mustefa’s jungle parcel at 2,100 meters elevation was a hideout for their father, Abalulesa, a guerilla fighting the oppressive military government of the time called The Derg. Failing to capture him and having lost soldiers in their attempts, the government offered the local community a bounty for Abalulesa’s capture. With his health deteriorating and near death, Abalulessa turned to an old friend and, as thanks for nursing him through his final months, told him to tell the government he had killed him, thus benefiting from the bounty. Abalulessa died in 1977—when Musa was just two years old—and as part of a subsequent amnesty and reconciliation program, the government gave land to the brothers and their mother, which Abalulesa’s sons now farm.

Crop to Cup was Musa’s first direct sale customer in 2016—and Mustefa’s the following year. With the premiums they’ve earned, Musa and Mustefa have begun to renovate their farms using seedlings from their nursery; built new drying beds; purchased shade cloth; and built a larger warehouse. Mustefa has built a dry mill in Agaro aimed at providing feedback to smallholders to help them understand the potential value of their coffee and assist in faster export—and thus, faster payment. Musa and Mustefa also operate a seed production business, selling seeds to the local government seed banks. Musa’s own production is supplemented by his purchase of cherry from 21 outgrowers—all of whom, like his own farm, are certified organic.

Tagel Alemayehu
After visiting with smallholders and single farmers around Yirgacheffe, we got picked up in a truck driven by Tagel Alemayehu, the owner of Olkai coffee—a former race circuit driver, whose efficiency as a driver is only matched by his humility and warmth. Over dinner at Aragesh Lodge, (in addition to teasing him about his car’s sound system—which sounded as awful as his reflexes were quick), we got to know Tagel better. For Tagel, coffee runs deep: He’d grown up in Bule Hora, the son of a local coffee trader who built the first washing station there and installed the first Pinhalense dry huller in Ethiopia. Starting in 2004, he worked as washing station manager at one of first specialty natural stations in Guji, and founded Olkai in 2018 as the government export regulations opened. Olkai is a family business; his wife works as the export manager. Tagel and Olkai operate a half dozen washing stations in the south dotting many of the most sought-after regions for quality in Guji, Bule Hora and Sidama. Tagel’s ties to the community were forged over 20 years of collecting cherry from these regions. Community members later sold land to make space for him to operate a washing station in their community, and many stopped us along our journey out of Hambella to say hello to Tagel and chat.

Bekele Balacho
The de-facto leader and organizer of a collective of independent smallholder farmer-exporters around Bensa, we’ve been buying Bekele Balacho since 2019—Crop to Cup was his first direct export customer. A family man—he has 11 children with his two wives—Bekele operates his farms and drying stations with the help of his family. His son, Beleteno, who graduated this year from Hawassa University with an economics degree, manages his Hora Ganet farm (which means “Spring Paradise”). Between his farm in Bombe and a smaller, 5 hectare farm in Kokose (with its own drying station), Bekele purchases cherry from more than 100 smallholders, producing a total of 1.5 containers of coffee. Like many collectors in Ethiopia, his bottleneck, with cherry prices as high as they are, is financing. Bekele is a connector and a consummate professional—an ideal partner, willing to engage with every idea for improving his coffee and helping his community. During our visit, Bekele expanded his shaded drying area to cover nearly his entire station, protecting the natural process coffees—traditional, anaerobic and lactic styles—he produced there, and verifying their final moisture content with a moisture meter.

Basha Bekele
We stopped by Basha’s Bombe drying station on our second day in Bensa in December. Basha’s father—also a community man who with Basha built a church for the community at their site in Bombe—was once a manager for a co-op in Bombe that supplied coffee to the Sidama Union. Before the government made it possible for smallholders to obtain export licenses, both he and his father sold their cherry to the cooperative. Basha now has his own export license and grows coffee (primarily 74158, known locally as “Walega”) in semi-forested plots on 12 hectares in addition to operating collection sites in Bombe, Shantawane, and Kokose—collecting cherry from producers growing coffee as high as 2300 masl. While cherry prices were high this year, Basha maintained a practice we didn’t see everywhere: delivering a second payment to the 126 producers he bought cherry from once the coffee sold. Like most smallholders around Bensa, Basha exclusively produces dry processes—which includes experiments with anaerobic styles of fermentation—and practices cherry flotation before drying his coffee slowly on raised beds (with some preparations drying under shade). This is our first import from Basha.

Kefyalew Deressa
Just minutes from the gates of the famous Nano Challa cooperative, Kefyalew Deressa’s Genji washing station sits tucked at the edge of the Belete-Gera forest. Kefyalew’s start in coffee came somewhat unexpectedly. While working as a server at Central Jimma Hotel (our hotel of choice while traveling in the West), a representative for Penagos took an interest in him and, toward the end of their conversation, offered him a job as a Penagos technician. He took the job and worked for Technoserve, helping them install and service Penagos ecopulpers across the country and, over time, began to communicate directly with Penagos—eventually becoming the company’s exclusive distributor in Ethiopia. Kefyalew continues to distribute Penagos equipment as well as Draminsky moisture meters and plastic material used for covering raised beds. He bought his washing station in Gera three years ago, installed a Penagos ecopulper, and began production by purchasing cherry from some 250 smallholders. His outgrower program continues even as his own farm, planted with variety 74110, has begun to produce. At Gera Genji, Kefyalew produces washed coffee and naturals, and is experimenting with anaerobic style coffees. This is our second import from Gera Genji.

Neja Fadil
A former footballer for the local district team, Neja Fadil built his washing station in Uraga in 2017 after working for several years as a coffee collector on commission for other washing stations. The Neja Fadil wet mill has registered about 250 farmers who are located in the villages surrounding the wet mill (in Tobitu Tuta kebele). Growing at altitudes above 2,000 meters, coffee from this region—and in particular, directly surrounding the washing station—is young, only recently having been planted and quickly developing a reputation for quality. As is becoming increasingly common at private washing stations in Ethiopia, Neja’s station is currently expanding registration of farmer suppliers and launching agronomy trainings to expand quality control to the farm level. While we’ve been buying coffee from Neja since 2019, we didn’t have his coffee as part of our 2022 import from Ethiopia; with domestic prices as high as they were, Neja chose to sell coffee to the local market, reinvesting his profits in starting a tire importing business and securing financing to build his own dry mill at a second drying station, which will exclusively produce naturals. We’re thrilled to have his coffee back on our offer sheet for 2023.

Wandamu Feleke
The former secretary of the Nano Challa cooperative, Wandamu (whose name means “brother”) now exports coffee from his 11 hectare farm in Gera under his father’s export license. Like many of the higher-quality producers in the West, Wandamu grows variety 74110 under the canopy of Gera’s montane forests. Wandamu, who has four children, comes from an agricultural family—he and his father began to grow coffee 10 years ago after previously growing teff and sorghum. Wandamu is a driven and motivated producers, actively soliciting support and training from local experts—including Moata—and investing in his farm by purchasing USAID-style shade for all of his raised beds and material for performing anaerobic fermentation. All of his coffee is floated, sorted and dried in cherry under shade for 20-22 days.

Gemedech Fulasa
Last year, we imported coffee from Gemedech Fulasa for the first time. In the Gedeo culture, land inheritance typically passes to male children. But Mrs. Gemedech is an only child, so when her father passed away in 2011, she inherited his 4.5 hectare coffee farm, which sits at a wildly high elevation of 2050 meters. These days, Gemedech shines as one of the few woman coffee farmers—and one of the farmers producing the highest quality—in Yirgacheffe. A mix of Wolisho, Dega and Kurume landraces grow in a regenerative agroforestry at Mrs. Gemedech’s farm under the canopy of fruit and food staples. Fallen leaves and coffee pulp hauled from local mills are the main source of compost. Enset trees across the farm collect water from the rainy season inside their trunks and release it to the ground during the dry season. This helps the soils retain moisture all year round. According to Gemedech, she does not use inorganic fertilizers or pesticides, and, since she processes her harvest using the natural/sundried process, her environmental waste and impact are minimal. By exporting directly through her own export license, Mrs. Gemedech is able to receive 88% of the FOB export price, resulting in substantially increased income compared to the conventional model of selling cherry through the Ethiopia commodity exchange or private washing stations. During our visit in December, she shared with us that she’s expanded her cherry collection efforts to increase her exports—and has separated the coffee from her neighbors from her own into different lots.

Tariku Kare
The story of Tariku Kare is one of the success that sometimes follows when hard work and perseverance collide with opportunity. Tariku was born in Bombe and, at 15 years old, began working as a cherry sorter for a local cooperative. He worked his way up—first receiving a promotion to wash coffee in the channels, and then when a man from Awassa opened a washing station in Nansebo, Tariku was tapped to manage. Market disruptions led that owner to bankruptcy, so Tariku and 17 other workers at the washing station formed a company and took it over—with Tariku managing. Later, he opened a new washing station by himself—this one, in Arsi—to supply coffee to the international market. Once the mill in Nansebo was stabilized and had enough producers contributing cherry reliably, Tariku returned to his hometown of Bombe and built a washing station there. At his sites, Tariku pays a premium over local prices for ripe red cherry and works hard to incentivize farmers to deliver cherry to his washing stations each year.

Fikadu Legge
Once renowned for its quality, coffee from Adado has fallen out of favor with buyers in recent years due to the emergence of higher elevation farms with newer plantings in other parts of Yirgacheffe and Guji. On our way back from Uraga to Urgalem, we stopped in Bule to meet a friend of one of the producers we’d visited earlier in the week. Walking along a road cut into the side of the mountains, through dense tropical plantings, we arrived at the drying station of Fikadu Legge, a smallholder who just this harvest received his export license. Fikadu was raised in the nearby town of Dilla and after moving to Adado, began bringing bread from Dilla to sell locally. Eventually, he was able to buy land to grow coffee—he has been producing coffee for 3 years—and works with his wife and children through the harvest. Most of the coffee he produces comes from his own small farm which he processes and separates from cherry he collects from just 5-10 of his neighbors. He told us, “I focus on the coffee. I know the farmers who focus on quality and fertilize well and buy it in a traceable way.” After receiving quality training from the government, Fikadu uses best-practices for natural processing, such as floating cherry and drying slowly—over 15-20 days—on raised beds.

Nguisse Nare
Sitting atop a ridge at 2300 MASL in Bombe, Nguisse Nare’s 10 hectare farm “Setame” is planted with variety 74158 intercropped with taro and sweet potato. With his two other farms—one in Kokose, one in Tiburo—he produces natural and anaerobic coffees using his own cherry as well as cherry collected from around 60 of his neighbors. When we visited in December, we spoke with Thomas Tosha, the farm manager at Setame, as well as Demisse Turuma, the Industry Manager (the term of choice for the resident postharvest processing expert) while touring Nguisse’s drying station and farm. Over a traditional meal of enset, we learned that Nguisse bought the farm four years ago, with a strict focus on quality. He floats his cherry before drying them slowly on raised beds over 20 days.

Abdulwahid Sherif
Crop to Cup has been the exclusive U.S. importer of coffee from Kossa Geshe since Abdulwahid Sherif’s first export in 2016. His farm, in the highlands of the Kebena Forest in Limu and established in 2009 as part of a government program to protect Ethiopia’s remaining forests—of which just 2% remained at the time—is known for producing clean, fruit-forward naturals. Abdu’s rise was meteoric: just two years after he took over the farm, his coffee which won a Good Food Award and placed in the AFCA Taste of Harvest. It goes without saying that quality is continually on his mind. Crop to Cup doesn’t normally work with estates, but Abdul has been an exception, especially because of the support he provides to his outgrower neighbors. Abdu is a man of action and a man of his word, which also makes him a great partner—and when he says he will make a change, investment or improvement, it’s not uncommon to find that he’s already begun to implement it by the time our time visiting with him has ended. During our visit, we saw Abdu’s relentless spirit push forward ahead of our 2023 import as he undertook new initiatives to ensure proper ripeness selection and sorting of cherry—including for the outgrowers he buys from—and expanded his raised bed capacity, built shade netting over some of the drying space, universally used tarps for patio-dried cherry, and oversaw organic certification for all of the outgrowers he buys from. All the while, Abdu demonstrated his commitment to social progress, continuing his investments in his community—building access to potable water, dormitories and toilets for farm workers, a school on the farm for children younger than the first grade, and a transparent ledger system for employee wages.

Bekele Utute
Bekele Utute’s brother-in-law manages his farm in Kokose, which was the 5th place winner in the Cup of Excellence in 2021—a lot named after his nephew, Samuel, who manages Bekele’s Kokose drying station. At his farm, he grows primarily 74158, common to the quality-focused farms around Bensa. Like at his other drying station near Dembe—where he was born into a family of coffee growers—Bekele produces dry processed coffee at his Kokose site, which he purchased in 2019. He used to sell coffee to local suppliers before obtaining his export license in 2021, exclusively producing dry processed coffees (traditional naturals and anaerobics) for export to the U.S. and Korean specialty markets. This is our first import from Bekele Utute.

Melese Wolde
Melese Wolde’s farm in Shantawane developed a reputation for quality after winning a competition through one of the major specialty importers twice—an importer who never, in the end, showed up to buy the coffee. Melese is a farmer through and through, he told us, as we stood in his warehouse to avoid the rain, his coffee sleeping protected under plastic tarpaulins on his raised beds. He said would have happily continued to sell his farm’s cherry to private washing stations if the government had not given him the ability to get his own export license—which he did, in 2018. His son, the oldest of his six children, helps him and runs the harvest.

Kenissa Cooperative
One of the newer cooperatives within the Kata Meduga union, Kenissa was founded in 2018 and processes and markets coffee for its 305-310 members who grow coffee in Agaro. We visited Kenissa with Asnake, the Kata Meduga Union boss, in December. As we walked down from the top of the Technoserve-funded mill—at over 2,100 masl—the cooperative’s attention to detail was immediately evident: a worker scrubbed the tank used to hold water for washing to ensure cleanliness, and just a few meters away, raised beds held parchment draped with shade cloth, individually labeled with the collection and processing, ensuring traceability from cherry through final milling. The details matter, and at Kenissa, they show up in coffee. Most of Kenissa’s members grow variety 74110, with some still having a small amount of 74177. The young cooperative’s leadership is unusually committed to its success: former members who have secured their own export licenses to market their coffee directly continue to serve on its board or in management roles to help their community, understanding the cooperative’s value for improving the incomes and livelihoods of its members. This is our first import from Kenissa.

Geta Bore Cooperative
The most remote of the Kata Meduga cooperatives, Geta Bore is also the smallest, with 232 members who grow Metu Bishari Selection varieties (primarily 74110 but also 74112, 74140, 74148, and 74165) at the highest elevations in Gomma woreda, up to 2200 meters above sea level. Sitting 8km south of the well-known Biftu Gudina cooperative, members of the Geta Bore cooperative used to deliver their cherry to Biftu Gudina or other nearby washing stations but in 2018 formed their own cooperative to reduce the difficulty and cost of transporting fresh cherry as well as to have a stronger role in the cooperative governance structure. Now, Geta Bore farmers can now more easily access training services from Kata Muduga, and through the Union’s model they receive both a cash payment upon cherry delivery plus a 2nd payment after coffee export. This is our third year importing coffee from Geta Bore.


If you’d like to book any of these coffees, reach out to your trader at Crop to Cup. Many of these coffees are available in very limited quantities and will be contracted first come, first served.