#80 | The Future of Coffee: Building Long-Distance Relationships in Emerging Origins | Expo Lectures 2019

#80 | The Future of Coffee: Building Long-Distance Relationships in Emerging Origins | Expo Lectures 2019

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World Coffee Research predicts that within the next 30 years, the demand for coffee will double while viable land in current coffee growing countries will diminish by half. How can we combat this?  Through an engaging panel discussion, learn about the future of coffee production in emerging origins such as Myanmar and Nepal and the role consumers, roasters, and importers can play in building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships across culture and distance.

Today’s panel is moderated by Craig Holt, founder and CEO of Atlas Coffee Importers, and features Marceline Budza of Rebuild Women’s Hope Cooperative; Su Su Aung, Managing Director of Ywangan Amayar Company Ltd; April Su Yin Nwet, Senior Private Sector Liaison Advisor at Winrock International; Al Liu, Vice President of Coffee at Colectivo Coffee Roasters; and Mario Fernandez, Technical Director at the Coffee Quality Institute. 

Special Thanks to Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP 

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed specifically to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

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Episode Table of Contents

0:00 Introduction
1:50 CraigHolt on the importance of supporting new origins access the specialty coffee market
12:10 April Su Yin Nwet and Su Su Aung on the challenges and opportunities of specialty coffee in Myanmar
21:00 Marcelline Buzda on the challenges and opportunities of specialty coffee in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
28:35 Mario Fernandez on CQI’s work with emerging origins, including Timor-Leste and Nepal
35:20 Al Liu on the retail opportunity of buying coffees from emerging origins 
41:35 Audience questions

Full Episode Transcript

0:00 Introduction

Heather Ward: Hello everyone! I’m Heather Ward, the SCA’s Senior Director of Content Strategy, and you’re listening to the SCA Podcast. Today’s episode is part of our Expo Lecture Series, dedicated to showcasing a curated selection of the extensive live lectures offered at our Specialty Coffee Expo. Check out the show notes for relevant links and a full transcript of today’s lecture.

This episode of the Expo 2019 Lectures podcast is supported by Softengine Coffee One, Powered by SAP.  Built upon SAP’s business-leading Enterprise Resource Planning solution, Softengine Coffee One is designed to quickly and easily take your small-to-medium coffee company working at any point along the coffee chain to the next level of success. Learn more about Softengine Coffee One at softengine.com, with special pricing available for SCA Members. Softengine: the most intelligent way to grow your business.

The episode you’re about to hear was recorded live at the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. Don’t miss next year’s lecture series in Portland – find us on social media or sign up for our monthly newsletter to keep up-to-date with all our announcements, including ways to get involved in next year’s Expo and early-bird ticket release!

World Coffee Research predicts that within the next 30 years, the demand for coffee will double while viable land in current coffee growing countries will diminish by half. How can we combat this? Through an engaging panel discussion, learn about the future of coffee production in emerging origins such as Myanmar and Nepal and the role consumers, roasters, and importers can play in building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships across culture and distance.

Today’s panel is moderated by Craig Holt.

1:50 Craig Holt on the importance of supporting new origins access the specialty coffee market

Room Host: We’re going to be listening to “The Future of Coffee: Building Long Distance Relationships in Emerging Origins.” Today’s moderator is Craig Holt. Craig Holt is the founder and CEO of Atlas Coffee Importers, a specialty coffee importing company focused on partnering with Origin to develop specialty coffee and connecting growers to buyers and the North American specialty market. Today’s presenters are Marcelline Buzda working with Rebuild Women’s Hope Cooperative with women to produce specialty coffee.

Al Liu, Vice President of Coffee Colectivo Coffee Roasters. As VP of coffee, Al Liu overseas green sourcing all coffee-related operations and new product development for Colectivo Coffee Roasters a specialty coffee roaster retailer with 20 cafes in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago. He has worked in the specialty industry for over 18 years and has extensive experience in building and strengthening supply chains in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia as well as marketing and branding of both green and roasted coffee.

Mario Fernandez, Technical Director Coffee Quality Institute. As CQIs Technical Director, Mario oversees the technical services and the project’s taking place in different coffee-producing countries to ensure that they have technical coherence and are adequately implemented. Su Su Aung, Managing Director, Ywangan Amayar Company Ltd is from an Amayar woman coffee producer group in Amayar. She is working with 500 households of women coffee farmers in Ywangan.

April Su Yin Nwet, Senior Private Sector Liaison Advisor Winrock International. She’s part of Winrock International US-based NGO implementing USAID’s funded Value Chain for Rural Development Project in Myanmar that includes coffee as one of the value chains. She has also become the first woman Q Arabica grader for the country.

Craig Holt: All right, so, in the specialty coffee trade we tend to demand a lot more than just consistency and coffee. We claim the value, uniqueness, and variety, and a lot of us talk about the importance of sustainable business. Now if those things are really important to us, we’re going to need to invest in what we’re calling for simplicity’s sake today, emerging origins. In fact, most of the origins we think of is emerging and producing Arabica coffee for a long time. Many of them have been overlooked by the specialty market because their productions may be low or they’re not quite up to specialty standard at this time. Maybe their cost of production is high or they’re seen as being a bit risky on the transactional side. Roasters and retailers are trying to stay profitable. They, a lot of times will tell me they don’t see enough value in these new origins to justify the risks associated with trying to do business with them. So, today we’ve assembled a pretty amazing panel to talk about why the rewards of investing in emerging origins far outweigh any potential risks.

Before I turn things over to these fine folks and also to you to ask us any questions you have, I want to spend a little bit of time just about five minutes, sort of framing the conversation with a few key reasons that I think emerging origins matter. So, coffee is very highly susceptible to climate change. Rising temperatures, increasingly erratic rainfall are already exposing trees to more pests and diseases and decreasing both the quantity and quality of the crop according to the Climate Institute’s research, published in 2016. These changes of forcing a radical production to higher and higher elevations near the equator, meaning that we have less and less viable land as coffee’s kind of pushed to the summits of these peaks. Overall, the Climate Institute found that climate pressure could reduce the area suitable for worldwide coffee production by 50% by 2050, which is a very sobering thought. In that context, I think it kind of behooves us to support some new origins.

So, at the same time, coffee consumption is going up. World Coffee Research predicts that within the next 30 years the demand for coffee will double. So sooner rather later we might have half the amount of land available to produce coffee. We’ll have twice as much demand for this stuff to get our fix and it’s not just growing in the places that we’ve historically thought of as consuming countries. More and more coffee-producing origins like Colombia, India, and China are building demand for specialty coffee. China is a particularly interesting case. It’s kind of a big country, and if even a tiny percent of their population starts jonesing for the good stuff, the supply/demand balance for specialty coffee could fall dramatically out of balance.

That means we need coffee from new origins and as a lot of you already know the bulk of the world’s coffee is produced in three countries. Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam. This has been the case for a long time, but what’s changing is the percentages. Right now, those three countries account for about 74% of the production of coffee in the World, and just a few years ago they were at 56%. So, the rate of change is pretty striking and pretty sobering when you think about what that means for these other origins and as specialty buyers, we depend on having a range of profiles, a variety of stories to tell about our coffees. So, if we are going to create points of differentiation in a noisy market, we’re going to want to sustain these origins that benefit our business so much. We need to invest in ensuring our own future as specialty coffee purveyors.

So, what are the traditional origins? When we think about those were talking about Brazil, Ethiopia, Sumatra. A lot of times, we’re talking about bestsellers and coffees that the general public considers to be classic from South and Central America, East Africa, Indonesia. So, what are emerging origins? Well, they’re not all in the same state at this point. Each presents different challenges and opportunities so some of the examples are the Democratic Republic of Congo where they produce coffee for generations but given the infrastructure challenges and consistency issues, the Origin has until recently, it’s lost a certain amount of its presence in specialty. Myanmar, which is very much an emerging origin, very new to the specialty market here in North America and then there are places like Uganda, where coffee’s been produced historically at really high volumes but again, didn’t have a strong presence in our market.

So, there are challenges in working with emerging origins. You’re talking about in a lot of cases, some variable, maybe even substandard processing infrastructure limitations, fractured, inefficient supply chains. Sometimes really convoluted supply chains where a lot of people are dipping in and taking a bit of margin for sometimes dubious support brought to the trade. You have people who are invested in the status quo, people who are comfortable doing what they’ve been doing, the way they’ve been doing it because that’s what their parents and their grandparents did. Sometimes you don’t have a shared culture or language of quality with the origin that you’re trying to talk to and that you’re trying to inspire to produce specialty coffee.

A quick story about that. When I first went into some groups in western Uganda, we were at first trying to talk to them about, you know, we want coffees which have notes of red, apple and blueberry, a little floral character and somebody came up to me at the end of one of the sessions and admitted that they were under the impression a lot of them that coffee was used to make bullets. So, here I am saying, I want blueberries and flowers and they don’t even really think of it as something that they would want to drink and so, there’s a huge gap between what we’re asking for and what their expectation is of the product, and that gap has to be bridged. A big challenge for importers could be that in a lot of cases, there’s no existing consumer demand. When I think about when we started with the Myanmar Project and I would talk to roasters and friends and family about these exciting coffees in Myanmar, they didn’t know where I was talking about much less that it produced coffee and so, there’s a lot of work to be done in there context when you want to build demand for the coffee.

A lot of times you know there’s a huge risk for a roaster in that context if they’re thinking about trying to create consumer demand for that. There’s a lot of legwork that they have to do to create the pole at the consumer level for those coffees and I don’t think these risk factors are going to eliminate themselves. I think the market needs to partner with these origins and make an investment in their future. To me, an investment in origin is an investment in our business going forward 5, 10, 20 years. So, so having talked about this at kind of the 10,000 foot level quickly, I do want to turn it over to the panel to talk about the roaster perspective on this, the development perspective on this and very importantly, we have representatives from a couple of emerging origins to talk about what they’re going through and what they’re trying to achieve as they enter or, as the case may be, reenter the specialty market. So, with that, I will step out of the way and in terms of who’s going first, I think I’d like to start with the Origin side. So, if April and Su Su Aung from Myanmar can start.

 

12:10 April Su Yin Nwet and Su Su Aung on the challenges and opportunities of specialty coffee in Myanmar

April Su Yin Nwet: Hi. I’m April from Myanmar. So, I’m with the NGO work implemented US funded projects in Myanmar, including coffee. So today I’ll be sharing my perspective on development perspective as well as individuals involving as cross-cutting roles. So firstly, I would like to give you some background, why we choose coffee in the first place as one of the value chain. So, when I reflect back actually the story started with Rick Peyser. Those of you might have heard about him. So, he was, at the time a part of Green Mounting Keurig. So, he came out as a very first volunteer in 2013 to Farmer to Farmer Volunteer Program, which is part of Feed the Future Initiative by USAID and he wrote influential articles, articles expressing the potential of Burmese coffee which then got attention from our previous chief of parties of the projects when he was giving talks to prepare a proposal for our current VCRD program. He may also have the best experience in coffee developing in areas like Africa, successfully created a trade association like Africa. But, of course, that’s not the only reasons but from the development point of view, we have to see how the project could benefit the livelihood of the smallholders, as many as possible through productive and profitability.

So, Steve being the expert in coffee he saw there was a potential for specialty markets, which could give high premiums for the smallholders to improve their livelihoods. So, after that in late 2014 we started the project to change the confidence in a way of supply change off what’s being done in Myanmar to become a value chain that gives producers a chance to add value and enjoy the premium. So, we implemented this in collaboration with CQI as our international partner, as well as private sector in-country and also abroad, as well as various in-country associations like Myanmar Coffee Association with market system approach. So, starting from technical assistance to improving the post-harvest processing technology and also linking with the world markets, we first hosted Origin Tour where we had the honor of Craig being on board, and that made a history for Myanmar coffee as a new specialty origin. So, I think this kind of project is essential for emerging origin is new to the industry like in Myanmar’s case being disconnected from the world for some reason for so many years. So, the producers, their eyes were closed, outdated on technical know-how, and they have no idea off quality or market. So, actually, in fact, just by improvements simple things like picking the ripe cherries makes a huge difference, which they had no idea of before. So also, I think, for the buyer side, even though there might be those who are adventurous or daring to try it but having an NGO on the ground to help them facilitate and monitor. So, it’s actually they kind of give them less risky and lower the barrier for them to jump in and then explode the hidden jewels. So that’s all I wanted to share.

Craig Holt: Great, and Su Su Aung?

Su Su Aung: Nice to meet you all, yes. In Myanmar, have 80/85 have started growing coffee. In Myanmar, Arabica 80% and Robusta and I am a third-generation from a coffee business family, but I don’t know how to produce high-quality coffee and I don’t know the market in the last five years. But in 2015 there was a USAID Project and Winrock International helped in Shan State Myanmar region and I start learning how to produce high-quality coffee, how to produce the specialty coffee. My teacher is Mario and we started learning in 2015 to produce coffee and they produced many types of coffee, high quality, specialty quality and how to taste the coffee and cupping and we can communicate in the market language. So, Myanmar coffee is a very new origin. So, now we know we can produce a coffee, specialty coffee. We can produce a coffee, but we don’t have many buyers, we don’t have many markets. So, with very hard work in quality and how to search the market we work very hard. Why? We are worried and this year NY Price is very low. So, the buyer is thinking quality and price. On the producer side, the cost operation to produce specialty coffee is high. So, buyer thinking and producer thinking is not the same, but we have the opportunity and because coffee consumers are more and more and more, year by year. We need more coffee buyers; we need more long-term relationships. We need adventurous coffee buyer, for example Craig Holt. Yes, the first year we produced quality and he bought and promoted Myanmar coffee. So, thank you.

So, if don’t have more buyers, producers cannot make specialty coffee and coffee farmers have low income. So, on the producer side, the important point is coffee buyers and long-term relationships. Thank you very much.

Craig Holt: Thank you. I have to point out that four years ago when Su Su Aung and I met, she didn’t speak really any English and in that time, she is now able to give presentations to you in English and I have, like, two words in Burmese. So, it’s kind of humbling.

 

21:00 Marcelline Buzda on the challenges and opportunities of specialty coffee in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Craig Holt: All right, and we’ll hand it over to Marcelline Buzda from the DR Congo another person is doing amazing work on the producer side and Mario has been kind enough to offer to translate from the French. Marceline also speaks English very well, but I would like to do this in French now.

Marcelline Buzda (Mario translating): Thank you for having me here. My name is Marcelline, and I come from Congo DRC. I represent Women Cooperative and we produce specialty coffee. My experience in coffee starts by realizing that in Congo coffee is a perennial culture and it’s a culture that allows families to earn a livelihood. However, we have several challenges. One of them is that there are not enough buyers that are interested in Congolese specialty coffee. That’s why I really thank Greg. He has looked at Congo, and he has realized the potential that there is in Congo for specialty coffee. Another big challenge that we have is that we still don’t achieve really high quality. We don’t have experience achieving high quality. Another big challenge, of course, is the big inequality between men and women in the Congolese coffee sector. In Congo we usually say that coffee is not women’s task, it’s a man’s task and yet it’s women who carry out all the production and all the processing activities and men are merely in charge of trading the household coffee and this is why women are not empowered in the Congolese coffee value chain. They often think that it would be so, since coffee doesn’t have a role in coffee trading, they would rather forget about coffee and do other crops in which they are more involved in marketing. That’s why we are deeply involved in finding equity, but between women and men so that there can be a balance along the value chain. Another big challenge that we have in Congo is deforestation which produces climate change locally and also the population growth. So, the coffee farms are being brought down to build houses which is why we believe that we really need tight collaboration between producers, roasters and consumers. We would like for everybody to know the challenges faced by our producers right now but also to work together in solutions to arrive to a good result for the region. Congo is a very, very large, beautiful country and with a huge coffee potential. We invite you all to come to Congo and explore and we believe that you are going to be surprised by its wonders. Thank you.

Craig Holt: Thank you, Marcelline. I can attest to the beauty of the DR Congo. If you ever get a chance to go, definitely take the chance. It’s a fantastic, amazing place. Complicated place, but amazing. Mario, Let’s have you, go ahead. Thank you.

 

28:35 Mario Fernandez on CQI’s work with emerging origins, including Timor-Leste and Nepal

Mario Fernandez: I hope I don’t speak in French to you. Well, I’m here on behalf of CQI. You may know CQI as the certification body for coffee professional skills but as a matter of fact, one of the main things that we do is international development at coffee origins and one of our preferred challenges is working with emerging origins. As Su Su Aung kindly mentioned, we’re there in Myanmar and I would like to speak a little bit about what methodology we use in general when we face a new origin that has potential on the needs to be developed. So, in general, we do three main things and we do them all together pretty much at the same time. One of them is knowing the origin. In most cases, these emerging origins are completely unknown in terms of their potential and their vocation as an origin. The second thing is empowering the national coffee sectors since these origins usually lack cohesive association, exporting infrastructure or commercial practices and the third thing that we do all together with the other two is linking the country to the market from the start. We really don’t wait until there is a strong coffee sector and the beautiful coffee coming out of there because we want to bring the buyers as true partners from the start, and we want them to bet or to invest in this development work.

So, in order to know the origin, of course we do your regular FODA study but we also try to profile each region to get to know the profile of each region in terms of flavor and geography and what is the quality gap of the country altogether and of each region and by quality gap I mean what is the distance between the potential quality that coffee can achieve in that country and the actual quality that they are producing. In some cases, the potential quality may be very high, but people are following those practices, So that’s actually good news because it’s only a matter of education. But in other cases, the potential quality for coffee because of the geographical conditions it’s not so high, and then we must reinforce other aspects.

We also identify local partners like Su Su Aung, for example, with whom we can work and spearhead the effort. As to empowering the national coffee sector, of course, we bring our education products to the country, our Q Grader courses.  Q Processing courses are turning out to be really key to improve quality in emerging countries and we work with local associations. We help them do strategic planning and bring everybody to the table because we want the whole sector in the country to evolve organically. Finally we bring people like Craig, which, probably I always say that the best asset of CQI is a great network of friends that share our vision and that are willing to join in our efforts and so, we bring people like Craig who invest and bring their faith and knowledge to the country and are able to start linking these efforts to the market. Well, just look at what happened with Myanmar.

We’re currently working with two other emerging origins. I have no idea if they will finally emerge or not, but I was recently working in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is one of those countries with huge potential which is little known outside of its small region and it also has a bad reputation because Timor rhymes with Catimor and people don’t like that. They don’t realize that there’s very little relationship actually in terms of flavor and also in Nepal. Nepal is one other country where, in this case, I think it was Craig who brought CQI, not the other way around. Nepal is this other emerging country which could become another interesting agent, yet they have very little production and one of the problems, if I may say that, is that they have a very high farm gate price which, of course, is the best way to forget about quality efforts.

Craig Holt: Another point about Nepal is that Nepal has some interesting challenges in terms of scalability. It’s the only country I’ve worked in, in coffee where when I said, how many hectares of coffee do you produce and growers would say things like, I have 15 trees. So, when you’re talking on a tree by tree basis, it’s tough to generate sort of a critical mass of a very high-quality coffee. So, we’re talking nano-lots over there. So, let’s wrap up presentation part with Al Liu from Colectivo.

 

35:45 Al Liu on the retail opportunity of buying coffees from emerging origins

Al Liu: All right, thank you. I think as a representative of the buying community from roasters. We’re roaster, wholesaler, and retailer. This is all really exciting because it’s like Christmas. There’s just all these new emerging origins wrapped up nicely with interesting, exciting stories and beautiful pictures, and we, as buyers, just get to discover one after the other. The one point that I think is really worth making is that these emerging origins aren’t new to coffee in the sense that it’s not like coffee has just been planted over the past couple of years, and all of a sudden there’s coffee to offer the market. The coffee has been in these origins for many years as you’ve heard. It’s just the quality wasn’t there and it’s through the work of many, many people with a lot of guidance and encouragement and technical assistance that the quality of these coffees is really gotten to the point where it is viable in the specialty market and not just viable, it’s really interesting, unique profiles, things that you just haven’t perhaps tasted before. So, I think from the perspective of a roaster/buyer this is an opportunity for us to show the diversity of the coffee-producing world.

I think there are a lot of coffee consumers, even sophisticated ones, and also a lot of people who work in the specialty industry who aren’t aware of the extent to which coffee is produced in this world. So, I think emerging origins, investing in them and actually buying the coffee roasting and selling it gives everyone in the industry opportunity to see how diverse this world really is and to taste something new and to taste something from a place you may not even have heard off. So, I think from where I sit it’s been really fun discovering these new origins and putting them out there. I think there’s also a lot of potential to change consumers kind of impressions or opinions of some of these places. I think at least here in the US we get a lot of negative news whenever there’s something bad happening. Whether it’s strife or disease we hear about it and it comes from these places, and it is very easy for people to form these very negative opinions of these different places.

So, when something like specialty coffee comes out from these origins and it can actually be used as a vehicle to change the impression or the opinion off these origins. Here’s something really tasty, oh, and it comes from that place where there’s a lot of war. It’s like, well, yes, there is conflict but there are also many positive things happening including specialty coffee production and if you have an hour I’ll sit here and talk to you about it. But I think just giving someone a cup of really good coffee from these places can make them think, oh wow, I had no idea or wow, they’re actually doing really positive things there. It’s not just all bad. So, I think it kind of behooves us as buyers to really try to push that the envelope and get consumers to think about not just what they’re tasting but where these coffees are coming from and to think about the world that we live in and how what we hear, especially through the media and see and read doesn’t fully always represent what’s going on. There’s just a lot of really good work.

A lot of people involved in improving coffee quality and obviously helping he livelihoods of these farmers, of these producers in all these emerging origins who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to sell their product to the export market and especially to the specialty market. So, it’s just kind of this opportunity that we all have to showcase these coffees to showcase all the work that’s being done, that has been done and to share these amazing stories that are happening and  it’s been exciting for me to do that, and there are challenges as well which I think we’ll get into a little bit later. But I think again, just from the buyer perspective, it’s been nothing but exciting and fun and it’s like this adventure that we’re on and that just keeps going and going where all these new origins are popping up and having the opportunity to even go to some of them has been amazing. Thank you.

Craig Holt: Thank you Al. I want to strongly support Al’s perspective on the idea of creating a different narrative for, not these countries but these communities in which we work. I’ve had a lot of people say, well, this government over here where you’re buying country coffee from is doing terrible things and my feedback is always the people that I’m working with are not perpetrating any crimes against anybody else. Why would I punish them for something being done by a government? And the other thing that I often point out is, “find me an innocent government where we can work.” Find me a fully innocent country. It’s difficult to do. So, we try to focus on people and communities and we have been richly rewarded for that all over the world for investing in these human relationships that bring us these great coffees that allows us to tell a different, a better, a more hopeful story. So again, I want to thank the panel for their insights and all the great work that all of them are doing in origin, to support origin and to bring great coffee to the market.

 

41:35 Audience questions

Craig Holt: With that said does any anybody have..? I have questions for the panel, but yeah, if you have questions.

Audience 1: So, I’m curious to know from the roaster perspective what’s being done to, or what do you see being done to help curtail emerging origins becoming just another flavor of the month for roosters and actually trying to incorporate them in more long-stay capacity? Are you seeing anything? Is there any education being done on the consumer side, the roaster side?

Al Liu: Well, I can obviously only speak from my perspective, from our company and we have a couple different product lines and there are two especially that fit nicely with emerging origins because the volumes a little bit smaller and so, we have a seasonal special program. The volume is about 45 to 55 bags. We run it for up to three months and then we have a featured farm program which is kind of our top of the line reserve program, and that’s only about 24/25 bags. Those coffees air just one week only in our cafes. They’re not available to wholesale. So, just kind of by the nature of how those programs are structured, these coffees are presented as being very unique, as being higher quality than even sort of our mainstay, year-round or single origins. I think just the way that’s sort of built, it already gives it some cache that these are really unique and different, and it allows us to kind of test the waters to see how this is going to go. We’ve had some mixed experiences. We did DR Congo twice. The first time it was not super successful and of course, you have to know your market and where we’re based, this is before we got into the Chicago market.

There isn’t a lot of great geographic literacy in the upper Midwest, shall we say and so, a lot of consumers just don’t know where these places are, and they just have these very negative impressions of some of these origins. So, it kind of was a bit of a buzzkill for me. It really burst my bubble because I was like, “Oh, this coffee is so good and then I looked at the sales numbers and I was like, no one bought it. But, I’ve also been surprised. We put out a coffee from Malawi and it flew off the shelves and I was really nervous, and I’d actually bought less of it than I normally would have and then I had to scramble and buy more, and I was asking some of our cafe employees why did this sell really well. They’re like, everyone loves the name Malawi and I’m like, is it that easy or that hard?  You never know what’s going to catch or what’s going to stick. So, I think you just kind of have to keep testing. We’ve done Burundi a couple times. The first time it was washed, that was so-so. We did a Burundi natural earlier this year. Just a couple months ago. Huge success and we’ve discovered that natural processed coffees are actually very popular in our market, and our own employees in the cafes get really excited about them. So, when they’re excited about something in the cup, if it’s from Colombia or Burundi or Myanmar, wherever then they’re going to promote it. So, I think that’s one lesson I personally learned is that you know, I have my own agenda of putting these emerging origins out there for the sake of, of doing it and helping these projects. But, really, you got to give people what they want and what they’re going to talk about and natural coffees, at least for us, tend to be that.

Craig Holt: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point and just quickly to build on that from the importer side. One of the things that I’m always talking to my friends at Origin about is the fact that people will buy because of exoticism once. They’ll buy sometimes out of guilt once but in the end, this is a product we put in our mouths and so, if we want to ensure that we have on ongoing market for the coffees. We really have to come to the market with something great. There’s a question sometimes, are people tired of stories in coffee, the story of the grower. What they’re tired of is empty language that’s not backed up by a product that’s worth drinking. But if we give them a great coffee, then they say, Wow, this is great! Where’s this from? Then you get to talk about Myanmar, you get to talk about Shan State, you get to talk about Yangon and the people who work there. So that’s an important thing and I think for Atlas we feel like there’s a burden on us to offer a feeling for the place. Information, of course, but also a feeling for the place, and to support our roasters and to connect our roasters to the origin as much as possible so they, like Al was saying, have some passion for the project and what’s going on. If you care about it. You sell it like crazy. So, thank you. There was a question there.

Audience 2: My name is Kambale from DR Congo, which produces both Arabica and Robusta and my question is for Mario of Coffee Quality Institute. I remember 3-4 years ago, CQI developed protocols for cupping fine Robusta and I was wondering what has been your experience with Uganda, and how can that be applied to DRC as an emerging Origin?

Mario Fernandez: Thank you that a very good question, Kambale. So, at CQI we have the Q Robusta program. It involves the standard for certifying high-quality Robusta, which we call fine Robusta and it also involves the certification of a Q Robusta graders similarly to Q Arabica graders. As a matter of fact, I think that fine Robusta has a great future. At CQI, we are committed to working harder on bringing the Q Robusta program to more locations and that might include Congo DRC. I think, of course, Western Africa, including Congo here in Western Africa has great potential for Robusta. It’s also the region where I believe that they need more work in practices, in good practices leading to higher quality but this is where it ties to how we exploit the potential and realize that potential in a region that is currently following not so good practices. I hope I answered.

Audience 3: Thank you. This has been really interesting. My name is Leah from Equal Exchange and one of the things that we’re interested in supporting smallholder farmers who are organized democratically to build equity and get support through their business. I’m just curious across the different emerging origins that you’re all speaking to, to what extent their structures where cooperatives or associations of farmers exist as a part of the development of the market.

April Su Yin Nwet: So, I can share with you my experience with Myanmar. So, this current project is a five year projects and we’re in the last year. So, since last year we focused a lot on the sustainability. So, we do this value chain program. From the start, we did the buildings of the local association like Myanmar Coffee Association with the support of CQI volunteers and consultants. In terms of their vision mission so that they could continue to take the leading roles to build the country’s coffee industry. So, on the ground, at the field, at the village level, like smallholders level, the producer’s level, we also did some programs of empowering the farmer organizations. So currently in Myanmar, the current model is that mostly I’m speaking for the smallholders, the smallholders they organize at the village level. They create a working group and then they process this specialty high sun-dried naturals as a micro-lot and again after two harvest seasons they see that they suddenly have more interest from the farmers and they also start worrying about the sustainability, what if, after the project’s finished. So, they have with their own enthusiasm, they start this idea of getting together. So, currently in Myanmar, Yangon area there’s 18 villages. So, they send a representative from each village and they form second level farmer organization which is great. It happened like in the mid-term of the project, which is a great thing that happened and of course, we’re also continuously finding the international partner who would like to continue support that. So, currently there’s an add-on program with Progresso, which is funded by Rabo Foundations to strengthen the farmer organization and also keep training them on the financial literacy, capacity building, all sorts of training for them and here we have a representative from that farmer organization – Su Aung – and I am currently coaching her also in terms off night, dealing with the international buyer, communication and promoting Myanmar coffee. So, I hope I answered.

Craig Holt: You had a question. Thank you for waiting.

Audience 4: Thank you for this opportunity. Klodobami, I’m from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m an importer of Congo coffee, I just got in the industry not a long time ago because of what I saw. What Marcelline had expressed earlier in the selling or the trade of the Congo industry. I’m trained as an accountant here in the US, but I was seeing that the Congo coffee is not so known in the international markets. So, my question would be first to Marcelline herself. I don’t know if I will ask the question in French or in English.

Craig Holt: Give it to us in both so everybody can understand what the question is, and she can answer.

Audience 4: In English, I would summarize it like this. As you talk about the challenges both at the production level and at the trade level of the Congolese coffee and myself, I know it. So, my question to her is what is she expecting from the international community? Roasters and buyers from them so that the Congolese coffee be accepted. What is she expecting from them? What would be done in partnership so that that coffee would be loved in the international community, both at the production level and the trade level. My second question would be to Allen and Mario which is…

Craig Holt: Is it a quick one?

Audience 4: Yes, a very quick one. The Congolese coffee as I asked of her, is a challenge in the international community, both on the trade level. What are you, at your end, expecting from that product so that it can be loved and exposed bot at the international level?

Craig Holt: We have two minutes. Go!

Marcelline Buzda / (Mario translating): So, to answer his first question about how to raise awareness about Congo. First of all, to really promote the name of Congo like Craig does. It’s not that I’m making publicity for Craig, but he really knows how to promote the name of Congo in the US. Frankly, we would need for all roasters and retailers to take a bit more interest in Congolese coffee as we have spoken here and of course, we know that us, as producers, our homework is to improve coffee quality and we really do to work hard to improve coffee quality because now that we know that quality is the best way to improve Congo’s name internationally

Craig Holt: Great. That’s all the time we have for questions. Just quickly, before you go, I do want to make a point that when I talk about the importance of investing in emerging origins and new coffees and these amazing communities that are doing incredible work, I want you to remember that there is self-interest at stake for us, too. We build our brands on their hard work. The points of differentiation that we’re able to achieve through their coffees are important to us. Much as I love Brazil and Vietnam, I do not in 21 years want to only be drinking coffee from those two countries. So, with that in mind, I really think it’s important just a final thought that we need to change the paradigm as specialty buyers. We need to stop asking how cheaply we can get the coffee we need and start asking what is the right price to reward you for doing the hard work required to give me the coffee that I need. So, with that, I want to quickly say we do have some handouts up here just small things and I really appreciate you all coming out today. Thank you.

 

58:20 Outro

Heather Ward: That was Craig Holt, Marcelline Budza, Su Su Ang, April Su Yin Nwet, Al Liu, and Mario Fernandez at the Specialty Coffee Expo in April 2019. Remember to check our show notes for a full episode transcript of this lecture and a link to coffeeexpo.org for more information about this year’s event.

This has been an episode of the SCA Podcast’s Expo Lecture Series, brought to you by the members of the Specialty Coffee Association, and supported by SAP’s Softengine Coffee One. Thanks for listening!

 

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