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INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jake Elster & Taylor Mork
Cofounders, Crop to Cup

Our Work in Focus

In the coffeelands

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

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

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

Staffing and agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cupping lab support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the U.S.

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

Staffing

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

Internal Calibration

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

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

A focus on roasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imports

2023 IMPORTS

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

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

in 2023, we imported coffee from 12 countries.

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

CUP SCORES

PRICING

COUNTRY UPDATES

Brazil

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

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

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

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

Colombia

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

Ethiopia

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

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

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

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

Honduras

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

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

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

Kenya

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

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

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

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

Mexico

We’ve been working in Mexico since 2013. Based on its proximity, it would be easy to assume that of everywhere we work, Mexico should be the easiest. Yet, despite sharing a border and deep connections to the U.S., Mexico remains one of the most complex places we work. To overcome our greatest challenges working in Mexico—aggregation of coffee into lots of exportable size and qualities—Crop to Cup is committed to working through communities, allowing us to build mutual relationships and networks of trust. In our Mexico Pre-Harvest Plan, we outlined our strategy for this year’s import, reflecting on lessons learned from previous imports. For 2023, we introduced a new program—Good Coffee Program (GCP)—a quality-incentive and transparent pricing program built to provide:

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

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

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

For coffees scoring higher than 86 points at our lab in Puebla, we offered progressively increasing premiums, beginning 10% above and capping out at 150% above base price for coffees scoring 89+. This progressive premium model was designed to ensure that coffees were kept separated to maximize their value as export coffee as well as to incentivize smallholders to deliver samples to us rather than testing the price offer elsewhere. Because we communicated the price expectations transparently, offered quality feedback, and paid quickly, we hoped to receive coffee from the smallholders returning over multiple rounds of submissions. Crop to Cup brought on staff two local agents, Israel Paz and his wife Joz Cortes—both of whom are skilled, calibrated cuppers with deep connections to producer communities in Mexico—to oversee GCP.

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

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

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

Papua New Guinea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rwanda

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

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

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

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

Tanzania

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

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

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

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

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

we’ll see you in the future 🚀

In 2016 a handful of successful smallholder cooperatives from the Jimma region broke off from the Oromia Union to form Ethiopia’s first new coffee farmers’ cooperative in generations – The Keta Maduga Cooperative Union. They thought they could do a better job marketing member coffees, run a more efficient organization and return more to members.

In 2018 we used average export numbers to develop a Profit and Loss style breakdown of how this has worked out. It’s a good example of how complicated it can be to trace export prices back to the farm – even in this case, when the coop itself acted as the exporter, lots were collected all at one price (as opposed to being assembled across multiple daily prices), and minimal middle-men were involved.

The chart below starts with revenues on top (green), then variable costs (red) to show Gross Profit at the cooperative level (black). From there, expenses – including payments and premiums to member farmers are shown on an average basis by pound, bag and container (blue).

2018 Keta Maduga Income, Cost and Profit Distribution (an example)
 Pound Bag Container
Keta Maduga Income  $3.47 $458.73  $146,795
Export Green (FOB Export @ 3.40 / lb)  $3.40 $449.75  $143,921
Local sales (7% undergrades, broken, chipped @ 97c /lb)  $0.97 $128.31  $2,874
Keta Maduga Costs  $2.40 $316.96  $101,427
Red Cherry Purchases (price paid to farmer)  $1.45 $191.81  $61,378
Cherry – Parchment Loss (20%)  $0.29  $38.36  $12,276
Wet Mill Processing (fuel, transport, workers)  $0.22  $29.10  $9,313
Parchment – Green Loss (2.5%)  $0.04  $5.52  $1,767
Export Expenses (jute bags, grain pro, transport, forwarding, insurance)  $0.17  $22.49  $7,196
Union Commission (5% of export sales)  $0.17  $22.49  $7,196
Working capital loan (15% against red cherry purchases at 1.38 over 4 months)  $0.05  $7.19  $2,302
Keta Maduga Profit  $1.07 $141.77  $45,368
Keta Maduga Profit-Distribution
Reserve Fund (30% of remainder)  $0.32 $42.53  $13,610
Member bonus by share (10% of remainder)  $0.11 $14.18  $4,537
Member bonus by cherry delivered (55% of remainder)  $0.59 $77.98  $24,952
Social Project (5% of remainder)  $0.05 $7.09  $2,268
Total Farmer Payment (w/ shares)  $2.15 $283.96  $90,867
% of FOB Export Price 63%
Total KM Benefit (Reserve + Commission)  $0.49 $65.02  $20,806
% of FOB Export Price 14%
Total Capture of Export Value  $2.64 $348.98  $111,673
78%