Supplier-Side Management: With the Farm, With the Cup & With the Market

By Michael Kaiser

For coffee suppliers, a complex system is required to produce specialty coffee. From farming, to milling, to export of the coffee, as well as keeping up with the trends and demands of the industry, producers are challenged with a heavy responsibility of influencing and maintaining the overall quality of the coffee on one end of the supply chain.

Within this system, one thing that remains constant—and is what makes specialty coffee so unique—is the level of personal engagement that buyers have with the farmers who grow their coffee, who work to provide the flavor characteristics that are desired, and who continue to push the industry forward with innovations at the farm level.

Supplier-Side Engagement 2Artboard 6Carmo Coffees | Carmo de Minas | Minas Gerais, Brazil

Producing specialty coffee requires a dedication to the best agricultural practices, and a respect for the people that manage and harvest the coffee itself. Carmo Coffees is a specialty coffee exporter based in Carmo de Minas, in the Minas Gerais State of Brazil. Over the past year, they have implemented a program which they call The Coffee Professor, to help them engage the many farmers in the region with whom they work. The program seeks to share knowledge and understanding of growing techniques with all its partners.

The first element of The Coffee Professor is to invite its growers from across the region to their headquarters, where they host experts and other industry professionals to share information, ideas for how to better cultivate and process specialty coffee, and insights into what importers and roasters are looking for in coffee. They also give their growers a platform to share their own experiences, as well as to ask important questions.

“It’s important to look for information, to talk to other producers, exchange experiences, and get to know other realities. Find the one that suits your property, and ask yourself what the market is looking for,” says Ana Almeida, the director of sustainability and education for Carmo. “What makes you willing every day to give your best and produce the best coffees?”

In addition to their gatherings with producers, Carmo Coffees has sought to answer some of those questions by publishing a bi-monthly newspaper in which they feature the ideas and stories of their import and roasting partners across the world. These newspapers share feedback on the coffees themselves, as well as deepen the understanding of farmers, in terms of what the consumer end of the specialty coffee industry is looking for in their coffee experience.

“Today the production of specialty coffees is a challenge, it is more than simply producing good coffees, it is the fruit of a work with responsibility, knowledge, zeal and affection, to obtain a unique and special product,” continues Almeida. “It is a constant process of change, learning, improvement, and innovation.”

Finca and Beneficio Loma La Gloria | El Boqueron, El Salvador

Once the coffee has changed hands from the farmer to the miller, there are many elements that go into maintaining the quality of the coffee throughout processing. How a coffee is washed and sorted, how it is dried, and ultimately

how it is hulled, packed and shipped, are very important to preserving the specialty nature of coffee. Each of these steps require very close attention to detail, and hands on treatment of the coffee to make sure each step of the process is carefully executed to perfection.

Supplier-Side Engagement 2Artboard 2Anny Ruth Pimentel is a second-generation coffee producer on the San Salvador Volcano in El Salvador. She began managing her father’s plantation just over five years ago, and has steadily grown into a well-recognized and respected coffee producer and exporter. Her farm has become recognized for its multiple processing methods, featuring the traditional washed coffee process, as well as the newer, more innovative Honey and Natural methods.

“Producing specialty coffee is a constant effort to think outside the box, and to keep an open mind,” says Anny Ruth. “Thinking differently, and hands on experimentation are important to really understanding your coffee.”

Utilizing new processing methods was not something that happened overnight. Anny Ruth spent weeks, and entire harvests, experimenting with different profiles for her natural and honey process, to find the perfect drying times and methods for handling each and every batch. Each of the Loma La Gloria process methods have been perfected, from the timing that the coffees remain on the patios and/or drying beds, to the layers of thickness with which they are spread out to dry, and how frequently they are turned in the sun. They have all of these methods down to a science, learned over the course of years, and with careful monitoring and experimentation with the coffees, comparing batches, and tasting, and tasting, and tasting.

“Each producer has to find what works best for them, for their farm, and mill,” says Anny Ruth, “but the important thing is each producer is involved in the process, that they make the extra effort, and keep control at every single step. That is what makes the difference, and what makes the coffee so special.”

Volcano Coffee (MILLING) Edits-27 copy

Volcano Coffees | Poços de Caldas | Minas Gerais, Brazil

Once the coffee has been milled and prepared, the final step of the process is the exportation. Logistics and a good market understanding, are important for producers to be competitive, and to remain up to date on the expectations of their specialty coffee partners.

Volcano Coffees, is a specialty coffee exporting operation, based in Poços de Caldas – in the Minas Gerais state of Brazil. They have been working with producers in the region for just over five years, and export coffees to Australia, Europe, Asia, as well as North and South America.

Two years ago, they became aware of new and innovative coffee research coming out of Brazil’s Lavras Federal University, under the direction of Professor Flavio Borém, studying the influences of coffee packaging on coffee quality. Borem worked, along with other Brazilian companies, to develop a new type of packaging for export, smaller in size, and made up of several layers of multi-ply paper and high- barrier plastic.

“With capacity of 30 kilograms, the sack is hermetically sealed through a system that used a film that serves as a barrier and protects against light,” says Klabin—one of the developers of the packaging—on their website.1 The new packages were tested against the traditional jute bags, as well as jute with GrainPro, and were found to maintain their original cup score, after a year of storage.2

Volcano Coffees offered these bags to their partners around the world, and soon became one of the first exporting companies in Brazil to utilize the new technology for their shipments.

“Our partners were very responsive to the new packaging,” says André Sanches, founder of Volcano Coffees. “The material maintains the quality of the coffee, and the size makes the bags much more convenient to use.”

The export level of coffee production, like almost every other aspect in the specialty coffee supply chain, requires a delicate balance of engagement, with the factors that maintain the absolute best quality of the coffee, as well taking into consideration the needs and wants of the end consumer. Finding that balance can be challenging, but when it is reached, the results are a truly unique and special cup of coffee.

Michael Kaiser Linkedin PhotoMichael Kasier has managed quality and trade at every level of the coffee supply chain, from quality control and commercial relationships at Cuatro M’s Finca and Beneficio El Manzano in El Salvador, to working as a Production Roaster at Stumptown Coffee in Los Angeles. He earned his Master’s in Coffee Science and Economics at the University of Udine in Italy, and currently works as a Green Coffee Trader for Bodhi Leaf Coffee Traders in Orange, California.

1.  Klabin Formalizes Agreement for a Study of its New Paper Coffee Sack. Accessed Jan. 8, 2017

2. Bolton, Dan – STIR: Dec. 1, 2015. Accessed Jan 8, 2017