I remember the first time we got to cup with the farmers in Yepocapa. About 50 small-plot coffee farmers had come that day. For the majority of the farmers there, it was their first time actually tasting their own coffee. They cupped each one which then started vibrant conversation across the room as each one began to point out which cups they liked and why.
Something happened that day that has become a major foundation to who we are as Yepocapa Coffee but also for who we want to be as a business/people group. As the farmers tasted each coffee, they began to realize that the difference between the higher scoring cups and the lower scoring cups was dependent entirely upon their own work/efforts. Although this may not seem like much of an epiphany, this was actually great news! The farmers were beginning to realize that their work was being appreciated for each cup's performance. This however, was drastically different from what most farmers have experienced.
Traditionally speaking, when it came to coffee sales, representatives from a known exporting company would show up at their door and they'd look at the current stock market price for coffee and then they'd offer the farmers a price they'd be willing to pay that typically lands just below the going stock rate. In these conversations between the farmers and exporters, there aren't evaluations of quality, taste, or recognition of the difference a farmer can have on both. And over time, this form of trade, based on the stock market, has communicated to the farmers that their work just frankly doesn't matter. It sounds rough but let me explain!
More than 90% of the worlds coffee production is sold through the commodity stock market and although that's not a bad thing, it's placed a value on coffee based upon nothing other than the ebbs and flows of the global economy and not upon the qualitative work of coffee production and farmers. When buyers would come by each harvest, they would look at the stock market rates for coffee and offer a certain price accordingly. Since coffee was priced on a foreign stock market system, it wasn't financially worthwhile for farmers to focus on quality or even begin to search out how to make their coffees taste better especially since any financial investments for the sake of quality wouldn't reap any rewards financially. In this way of trading coffee, there's zero opportunity for farmers to find a way to seek growth, advancement, and even sustainability other than somehow manipulating the stock market system to grab an extra few pennies....
And after 50 years of selling coffee in this way, the majority of small plot coffee farmers whom are mostly dependent upon exporters have forgotten that their work has an influence on cup quality or that it matters to people like you and me because when coffee is sold, it's not a discussion or factor in pricing. Subsequently, it's the reason why large portions of coffee farmers have abandoned their lands or have decided to plant other crops.
Now, this could be a great time for me to wave the banner for Direct-Trade and show how it solves all of these issues. Sadly, it doesn't although it's one heck of a great step forward I might add! I believe sustainability and success for coffee farming is going to be found in a genuine relationship between farmers and roasters. Sacrificial and yet mutually beneficial at the same time. Let me explain.
Coffee In the US has grown a bunch over the last 5 years even. Small-Batch Locally-Owned Roasters have popped up everywhere and it has been great! People have begun to discover just how great coffee can be and how we can make it even better too. A whole new industry has erupted over the enjoyment of good coffee! (Which is awesome if I may add!) That's what we have a vision for at origin too! We want to see small plot coffee farmers find a way make coffee farming a sustainable career and yet profitable and beneficial for roasters at the same time. A win win really! The question is whether that's realistically and tangibly possible!
Something new has happened with the farmers in Yepocapa and we've gotten a chance to be a part of it. They've just recently obtained their export license which enables them to sell their coffee directly to people like you and me via local coffee roasters. Now that they've been freed from stock market driven pricing systems, quality will begin to become the avenue in which they see economic and sustainable growth for coffee farming. This means great things for roasters too. Incentivizing quality at origin means better coffees for roasters and more people flocking to the places in town that have that special appreciation for coffee both in the way it's presented, appreciated, and in how it tastes.
But how do we get there? How do we communicate this new way of trading coffee to the farming community when trading has been the same for over 50 years? That's where we come in and that's also why these cuppings have been so influential. They've been the meeting space helping to tangibly and relationally explain why their work matters so much. Here, it becomes less about money and economic growth as it does become more about the farmer realization that consumers across the world will get a chance to genuinely enjoy their coffee and with thanksgiving appreciate and recognize their work. Bridging a gap between the farming world and the consuming world.
The results have been fun! These cuppings are beginning to help farmers recognize the value and influence of their work while helping them feel appreciated again knowing that there's more enjoyment out of a good cup than a mediocre cup of coffee. It also helps farmers know where their current standing is and how to make that mediocre cup into something really spacial for the next year.
After each cupping, each farmer went back to their lands excited about making adjustments. Some decided upon planting better varietals like Caturra instead of Catimore, others committed to using more composting fertilizer, and everyone agreed that better harvesting practices would take their coffee from an 84 up into better ratings.
Additionally, we're working with the local cooperative met mill on processing their coffees better too. We're reinvesting practically all of our earnings this year into raised dry beds, smaller fermentation tanks, and more drying patio space in order to provide you with those micro-lots we all love. Also, we're hiring out our friend/cinematographer Devon Barker to create 1-min clips of each farmer and their micro-lot to allow drinkers of these lots to come and appreciate these farmers even if they can't visit them personally.
So it's this relationship that we've gotten to build over the last three years that we're inviting roasters into as well. It's a relationship where farmers have gotten to realize their worth again and that their work maters. Roasters get to taste this difference and buy coffee in a way that's ethical, life giving, and relational without having to forgo on quality standards. Lastly, we're even hoping to step out of the way as middle men and help roasters develop their own direct-trade relationships with these farmers because we're genuinely in it for the farmers and we think there's opportunity out there for us in this growing coffee industry to help small roasters develop their own direct trade relations with small plot coffee farmers that'll make coffee better for the world both in how it's sold but also in how it's enjoyed!