Tropiq High quality, traceable and ethically sourced coffee Tue, 16 Apr 2019 12:22:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The harvest part 3: Ready for Export Tue, 19 Mar 2019 09:00:50 +0000 After the coffee has been grown, picked, washed (or not), dried and sorted it is now almost ready for export! When the coffee leaves the washing stations – if it is heading to the Ethiopian Commodity (ECX) it will be the ECX who grade the coffee prior to accepting the coffee for storage before auctioning. The grading system used by the ECX splits Ethiopian coffees into grades 5 main grades – 1-5 and Under Grade which is sold to the huge domestic market here in Ethiopia.  Many larger producers and co-operatives now export their own coffees and will sometimes give the coffee a different grade to what the ECX has given. This is because the ECX and its graders – although the one of the main authorities of coffee within Ethiopia – are sometimes considered not correct or inexperienced in their grading by private exporters – especially in terms of Specialty Coffee and so the producers may sell the coffee as they think fair depending on the quality of the coffee in question. But we will talk more about the ECX another time.

Smiles all around whilst searching for defected coffees at Kanketi’s Haru Washing Station in Yirgacheffe

Once Graded the coffee is ready for cupping by buyers, sourcing companies and exporters so decisions can be made on where it should end up. We, here at Tropiq Ethiopia will receive many samples from different producers, exporters and Co-operatives by which we will make an assessment and decide which coffees best suit our clients needs at the time. After approval from the Tropiq team we will offer our buyers samples of coffees we that we think would work well for them and their needs. This involves many coffees being sent abroad for people to cup as well as many buyers travelling to the Tropiq HQ in Addis Ababa to cup the coffees with us and make decisions on what they want to buy this season.

Cupping samples at our lab in Addis with customers

Once a coffee has been chosen it is then contracted with the exporter and usually paid for by by  a letter of credit (LC) or by a prepayment against contract. In most cases – all with us at Tropiq-  the coffee will be shipped on a free on board (FOB) contract meaning that the buyer is responsible for organizing shipping and insurance etc once the coffee has arrived at the port – Djibouti. The lesser used contractional option is costs, insurance, freight (CIF) whereby the seller will cover all of the costs to get the coffee to the destination but this method of sale is less often used now.

The final step before the coffee is shipped is processing and bagging. The washed coffees will first be hulled and then, along with the naturals, will be ‘cleaned’ at a dry mill in Addis Ababa. Coffee sorters are still largely employed in Ethiopia although many producers/ exporters are now using Dry Mills with computerised colour sorters which will remove defected coffee. This modernising change is not so much due to cost rather than speed and accuracy. Depending on the contract the coffee will be sorted to a particular level of defects (0-2 defects per 300g for example).

Natural coffee being hulled in Jimma – before it departs for Addis

FINALLY – after the months of growing, picking, processing, drying, resting, cupping, hulling and cleaning the coffee is now ready for bagging and shipping. The coffee is loaded into food grade jute bags which carry 60kg of coffee each and have the correct import/ export customs details printed on each bag – in the specialty market however sealed plastic Grain Pro bags are more often used. They also hold 60kg and are placed inside the Jute Bags as a safer way to to transport the coffee as the Jute bags are not very good at stopping alien liquids, smells and insects getting into the coffee. The final step is to load the bags of coffee into a lined shipping container that will hold 300 bags over all. After that, the coffee leaves the mill and heads to a roaster near you!

Full coffee warehouse – coffee resting until it is ready for export
The Harvest Part 2 Thu, 14 Mar 2019 15:02:16 +0000 Once the coffees have been delivered to the washing station, they are then sorted to be used as natural or washed coffees – or even honeys as discussed in part 1. After they have been sorted and processed in their respective ways they are then laid out to dry on the beds. After the coffees have completed their drying it is then time for their ‘resting period’.

Washing coffee
The parchment is constantly moved and sorted, here at a washing station in Uraga in Guji.

The resting period will usually last anything up to 4 months but in some cases it can be longer. The coffee is taken from the washing stations to a (hopefully) well ventilated warehouse, washed coffees in and around Addis Ababa, and Naturals stay resting in their respective growing areas – this is due to certain regulations of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). It is a period of time which allows the coffee to mature and develop its flavours – If you are a green coffee buyer you will no doubt be aware of how the flavour of coffees can change from the first cupping to the end result, indeed many green coffee buyers have to learn to appreciate where a coffees flavour will grow and what they can hope to expect in the coming months as the coffee matures. Just before the coffee starts to rest, the first samples will be sent out to exporters and importers buying coffees in Ethiopia – these are known as Type Samples and although they can give a good idea of a coffees potential they are not seen as a 100% accurate sample of the coffee and buyers will not commit to a sale on a type sample alone although this can lead to people pre-contracting coffees.

Once the coffee has finished its resting period it is then time for it to be shipped. Whilst it has been sitting in the warehouse, exporters and buyers will have drawn samples directly from the Jute bags that the coffee is resting in, usually in specific lots or groups to help the buyers identify specific batches. These samples are called Stock Lots and will give potential buyers a better idea of what to expect from a coffee – this then leads to Purchase Orders and sales of the coffees. Once a coffee has been purchased it will then be hulled by a dry milling machine which rips off the dried skin and parchment covering the coffees.

This leaves coffee in its green bean state, the green beans then need to be sorted for defects – Each individual purchase order will dictate the level of defects expected in the coffee. The coffee can then be be put through a computer powered colour sorting machine which will remove defects such as insect damage, broken beans, foreign matter, sometimes peaberries and beans that have rotted. This is also often done by hand and eye, usually by a team of women – often their husbands will also work at the same mill and the seasonal work can be a good source of extra income. The coffee is now ready to be graded, sold and exported – or not! A Whopping 50% of coffee produced in Ethiopia is consumed internally!

Anarsora Washing Station Tue, 26 Feb 2019 10:19:45 +0000 Having been under construction for the past five months and nearing completion Israel Degfa’s new washing station is just needing those few finishing touches that will make it a great example to other washing stations and the largest in the surrounding area.

The back of the washing house is almost complete, it is only waiting for the roof

Mezgebu Mokonen who is the accountant for the washing station and has been for the past three years, is showing me some of the new features at Anasora. He explains that they have recently put down 100 new drying beds with green shade netting to allow better ventilation as well as protection from the sun, they will be adding extra beds throughout the harvest.

Mezgebu Mokonen – The station accountant and my guide for the day

The station employs 70 regular staff all year round although in December and January they can have up to 300 workers helping with the harvest. The extra staff will help with the running of the wet mill and washing as well as the quality control of the coffee. Traditionally in Ethiopia, the picking out of bad, over or under ripe cherries and defected washed coffee is largely done by hand and so requires a large seasonal workforce, this greatly increases employment in the surrounding area.

Picking out some of the over and under ripe cherries from a natural lot, the cherries picked out here will likely head to the local market – Astonishingly Ethiopia consumes around 50% of its coffee produce domestically

Housing for the new pulping machine and the new fermentation tanks are just about finished. There is a large generator close by to keep power going through electricity cuts as well as to increase production at night time. This maximises the time available in a busy harvest as well as allowing more workers the opportunity to work night shifts.

Many of the farmers delivering coffee, some having travelled a number of miles, will only reach the washing station in the evening. This means that the sorting and pulping of the cherries at night time while still fresh is a crucial part of the quality control for the production of this and most stations.

They have recently installed large concrete drying patios which have been put down to experiment with the difference in profile from using the shade netting that they have traditionally used in recent times.

The new concrete drying patio gets its finishing touches. You can even see some early experimentation with a small batch of Natural and washed coffee to the left

Yohanis Harga and Tesfane Bunte proudly showed me some of the drying coffee they are working on, covered slightly by the shade netting to keep the hot sun off. As the production assistants for the washing station, it is their business to know the current status of all the coffees on the station, whether they are drying, in the tanks or ready to be washed. They tell me that good forward planning helps increase the quality and yield for the station.

From left to right: Mezgebu alongside production assistants Tesfane Bunte and Yohanis Harga

It is looking to be a large albeit late harvest at Anasora this year and we are very excited to cup some samples in January to see what sort of profiles they are producing this year. Watch this space.

A specialty natural lot that Tesfane and Yohanis have been keeping a close eye on.

Ethiopia’s Coffee Regions Tue, 19 Feb 2019 09:15:50 +0000
As many of you will know, Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and is currently ranked fifth in the world order of coffee production. Ethiopia also has a number of very distinct growing regions which each produce appealingly different tasting coffees.

It can be a complex topic to break down the different regions so we will start at the top. The vast majority of Ethiopia’s coffee regions are divided into two political regions: Oromia and SNNPR (Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region).

These political regions are then split into Woredas (districts) which are usually where the coffee names you are familiar with come from, for instance Hunkute & Bokasso are in the Woreda of Sidama which is in the SNNPR.

To start off here is a basic run through of the political  and larger regions:

On the hill of Bale Mountain overlooking the vast green field dotted with traditional buildings.


  • Bale (incl. Bale Mountain, West Arsi, Gibe Woreka, Harena)
  • Guji (incl. Uraaga, Anasora, Adola, Bule Hora, Mokonisa, Shakiso)
  • Harar (incl. Arsi, West Harage, East Harage)
  • Limu / Jimma (incl. Limu Genet, Yebu, Yayu, Illubador)


  • Bench Maji (incl. Gesha, Bebeka)
  • Kaffa (incl. Bonga, Anderacha)
  • Sidamo (incl. Bokasso, Hunkute)
  • Yirgacheffe (incl. Kercha, Kore, Boji, Kochere, Haru)
Hand sorting on raised drying beds in Bokasso.

Interestingly in 2006 the Ethiopian government attempted to trademark three of its most famous coffee zones to help the Ethiopian coffee industry get more recognition in the world market: Sidama, Yirgacheffe and Harar. This was initially opposed by Starbucks and the NCA, you can read more on this here.

Check out our Cropster portal for more information on some of our current Ethiopian coffees. This information includes more intricate details such as altitudes and tasting notes as well as information on some of the suppliers we work with.

In out previous articles we talked about how important animals are in transporting coffee.
Ethiopian Organic Tue, 12 Feb 2019 10:40:09 +0000 Organic certification is and has been for some time, a concern for health conscious consumers wanting to purchase a higher quality ‘natural’ product as well as wanting to do their part for the environment. A question that often arises is that of Ethiopian organic coffee. It is true that organic certification is something of a rarity in Ethiopia compared with other coffee producing countries, but this does not mean it is not organic or natural coffee by definition.

Animals like donkeys are very common means of transportation in Ethiopia.

First we must understand that the coffee farming system in Ethiopia differs to many other countries with the vast majority of farmers being smallholders with 1 – 3 Hectares of land instead of sprawling irrigated estates. The coffee is then bought by a washing station and it is mixed up with the coffee of other farmers in the area before processing.

This presents two main problems. Firstly, no average individual farmer is going to be organically certified – least of all because of the time it would take and cost to them, but because even if they are certified, they will get no premium from the local washing station where their coffee is lost in tons of uncertified coffees. Some washing stations and cooperatives however do get organic certification and work with the local member farmers so that they are also certified as a whole.

Statistics of farmers and their growing areas of Biftu Gudina Coop, Ethiopia.

This does not however mean that Ethiopian coffees are not almost always organic by nature. Because of the size of most farms it will cost farmers more than it is worth to purchase fertilizers. Instead, many washing stations produce an organic fertilizer from the discarded coffee pulp (you can read our article on that here) – this is then distributed locally. Coffee in Ethiopia has historically been wild and left to grow without being pruned and this is still the case on most smallholder farms. It is the size of the farms and the difficulty of traceability in Ethiopia that halts organic certification.

Interestingly, Organic certification as a health issue (not wanting to eat vegetables and fruits covered in poisonous fertilizer and pesticides) is not overly relevant for coffee as the fruit is stripped off the coffee (at the very beginning of honey and washed processes) before it is then roasted and then brewed! Food for thought.

Drying beds at Bale Mountain Farm.

Sustainability at Washing Stations Tue, 05 Feb 2019 10:35:07 +0000 Cherries to Compost

Sustainability at washing stations is always on the minds of our producers here in Ethiopia. This is not only due to the environmental impact that a great sustainability programme can have on the surrounding area but also on the local farming community. A great example of this is the compost that is created out of the used cherries after the coffee has been de-pulped.

The pulp constitutes around 40% of the wet weight of the coffee cherry. For washed coffee where the cherry is de-pulped at the beginning of the process, a huge amount of cherry pulp is left over. Imagine a washing station where currently only washed coffees are produced, such as Israel Degfa’s Mokonisa Rare, is processing up to 4 Million Kg of cherries per season, that leaves around 1.6M Kg of coffee pulp as a bi-product. So what to do with it?

Cherry compost is loaded into a truck at Mokonesa Kercha washing station. This will drop off piles of compost for the local farmers to use.

Compost is the answer. Not only is this a great way to make use of the pulp, it also protects the environment. As the cherries are very acidic, if not processed correctly or dumped in water or landfill they can leak harmful toxins into the water supply affecting the local flora and all manner of creatures, the local villagers to say the least!

The pulp is therefore treated to make compost in a special area of the washing station. It is usually a process lasting six to eight months and involves the compost being churned, usually by hand to increase air ventilation and release some of the gases that build up. Worms are often employed, they help with the decomposition process of the cherries and the excrement of the worms also acts as a natural biological fertilizer.

Two workers pile up the new cherry pulp for compost at Israel Degfa’s Uraga Washing station.

Once the compost is ready it is distributed to the farmers. Different stations and cooperatives do this in different ways. Some washing stations will deliver large piles of the compost at drop off points in the surrounding area where any farmers can come to help themselves. Others, such as Sidama Farmers Union will distribute the compost to their member farmers which is seen as an added bonus of being a member with the union.

The compost is a great way to make use of such a large bi-product of coffee production and acts as a great organic fertilizer. Through this process the stations and farmers are able to ensure and maintain that almost all Ethiopian coffee is organically grown, even if not certified. But that is a topic for another day.

Bokasso co-operative, Ethiopia.

The Harvest Part 1: Cherry to Pulp Tue, 29 Jan 2019 09:33:17 +0000 The harvest in Ethiopia usually starts around mid October time and continues into late January of the following year. The coffee then goes through many journeys, processes and stages to get into your cup, we will now look at the first stage!

Coffee cherries harvesting guide on Bale Mountain farm.

Coffee in Ethiopia is almost always hand-picked which can be very labour intensive, as well as that, not all the coffee on a singular tree will be ripe at the same time and the pickers will often have to return to each tree a number of times throughout the season. They look for the ideal mid red coloured cherries and pick them from the trees, the over ripe cherries are a sort of dark red/ purple and can bring a sour taste to the end product whereas the under ripe green cherries, also known as Quakers, can give a grassy vegetative flavour. The cherries are loaded into bags which are then taken to the local washing station or coffee market, by Horse in higher altitudes and donkeys in lower, to be weighed and sold accordingly. Some washing stations will pay premiums to farmers who arrive with bags of only ripe cherries. It is also important that the cherries must arrive for processing within 24 Hrs of being picked.

Bale Mountain Farm and its horses.

Once at the washing station, the cherries are sorted by hand as well as in water (floatation) tanks where the unripe cherries will float and are removed. An estimated 75% of coffee in Ethiopia is dry processed (Natural). Where after sorting, the cherries will be laid out on concrete drying patios or African drying beds (usually tables with a metal or plastic gauze/ shade netting raised about 1m from the ground) to dry for up to 4 weeks. whilst drying the coffee will be turned every few hours to stop mould and help ventilation.

Washed (Wet) coffee requires a lot more water availability than the dry process and is therefore less common in some more remote or higher altitude areas. Once the coffee has been sorted it is put through a de-pulping machine, also known as a wet mill, which strips the majority of the fruit from the cherry leaving only a small amount of mucilage on what is called the parchment – a strong paper like protective layer of film around the bean. The wet mill grades the coffee on its density and it is then sent to the appropriate water tanks for fermentation. The parchment can be left in the tanks for up to 72 Hrs after which microbial action through the fermentation process makes the mucilage fall off. The water is then drained from the tank and the coffee is then washed and at the same time graded again on density, to relieve it of the remaining fruit and mucilage. After the washing process, the graded parchment is spread out onto the drying beds and dried for up to two weeks.

Hand sorting green coffee on drying beds.

Honey Process coffee is sort of a mix of both of the above. The cherry is put through the de-pulping machine but then the sticky, mucilage covered parchment is put out to dry rather than fermented. As with the natural process both washed and honey coffees must be often turned to ventilate and covered when too cold or hot when put on the drying tables.

PRODUCTS AND OFFERS FOR PRE-BOOKINGS JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2019 Thu, 17 Jan 2019 10:45:02 +0000 The list below is updated based on this years pricing.

If you know what you are looking for in terms of volumes, processing methods and/or specific washing stations let us know and pre-book those coffees. If you buy 100 bags or more it can make sense to buy direct on FOB terms directly from Tropiq Ethiopia. You can buy a mix of different coffees, preferably minimum 50 bag lots.

If you are looking for smaller quantities please ask us at Nordic Approach for deals on shipping and financing etc.  

88+ ultimate selection, special prep etc washed grade 1/naturals grade 1/Honey Gr 1

For pre-booking of 50 bags or more spot, ask us for deals on shipping and finance to Europe. Spot sales UK, any volume: Starting at 12,00 USD/kg before volume discounts.
Direct shipments FOB 100 + bags: Starting at 9 USD/kg

87+ traceable and/or certified, washed grade 1/naturals grade 1

You will probably be able to find amazing coffees in this range and 87+ is conservative. For pre-booking of 50 bags or more spot, ask us for deals on shipping and finance to Europe. Spot sales UK, any volume: Starting at 10,35 USD/kg before volume discounts.
Direct shipments FOB 100 + bags: Starting at 6,95 USD/kg

86+ traceable and/or certified, washed grade 2/naturals grade 2/3

These coffees can be as great as anything, but our guarantee is 86+. For pre-booking of 50 bags or more spot, ask us for deals on shipping and finance to Europe. Spot sales UK, any volume: Starting at 8,45 USD/kg before volume discounts.
Direct shipments FOB 100 + bags: Starting at 5,20 USD/kg

86 + ecx non traceable washed grade 2/naturals grade 3. (Only on request)

These coffees can be as great as anything, but our guarantee is 85+.
Direct shipments FOB 100 + bags: Starting at 5,00 USD/kg


Besides Alexander Lenouvel Hansen and myself that are handling the Ethiopian sourcing and sales out of Oslo you can always contact our team in Addis

Marco Barra – Managing Director – he has previously been working some 6 years out of Tanzania with an exporter called Tembo Coffee.

+251 94 015 5181

Semeon Abay – Product & Quality manager – he has experience from processing special prep, sourcing and running Ninetyplus’ operations in Ethiopia 91 261 7580

Ted Maberly – Client relations and lab

+251 95 399 2896

My self, Alexander and all three above will be handling clients throughout the season but your first point of contact in Ethiopia should be Marco if you want to travel to Ethiopia to visit us outside of Nordics scheduled trips. Feel free to keep me on cc, and I am happy to assist on anything.

If you want to go to Ethiopia to travel and see farms and washing stations please let us know and we will make a schedule for you. If you just want to come and cup with us in Addis we will for sure host you there.

Regards – Morten Wennersgaard

Click to view coffees

Managing a Lab at Origin Wed, 21 Nov 2018 17:57:11 +0000 I’m sure coffee companies around the world have their own way of working and managing their Labs. Our lab at origin started pretty simple back in 2016. We didn’t have the best tools like a Probat sample roaster, an EK-43 or Aw meter (water activity meter). We started with a very humble gas system sample roaster, a bad grinder and a moisture meter that I never trusted. To be honest the first year we started the lab in Costa Rica, I didn’t feel very confident with the cuppings in general. Kaya Carretta,  the lab manager at Nordic Approach, came to help me set up the Lab in Tarrazu. It was an interesting experience, all I had as a system to collect data was an Excel sheet. We created a system like what we use in the lab in Norway and adapted it to origin. I learnt so much the first year. All samples we thought had potential we shipped to our lab in Oslo, where the buying team made purchasing decisions.

As we developed and grow our sourcing project in Costa Rica, we continue to create better systems and invest in better equipment. Last harvest we improved how we organised our quality control systems. This harvest we have continued working on improving the trace ability and quality control of each sample we received.

Let me explain how it works to manage a Lab at origin in detail.

  • First we go around the farms and collect samples from the micro mills. It is very important that we get representative samples, which is a sample that represents the whole lot, not part of it but actually the entire finished lot. We tried as much as possible to take the samples ourselves, this has been one of the most challenging parts. Farmers usually take and prepare the samples themselves, because of this most of the time they will have the parchment or green samples ready for us to take to our lab. We want to change this practice, and next harvest we will be more strict on taking the samples ourselves, this is because we want to make sure that all the samples we are offering to our clients are actual offer samples.
  • Then we separate the samples in 3 different kinds:

TYP (type sample): Type Samples are all kind of samples that are not necessary representative of a lot. Often we try coffees, without them actually being available for buying. We are always interested in trying new coffees and giving feedback.

OFS (offer sample): These samples represent a finished lot. They can be in parchment or green. When in parchment the coffee still needs milling, sorting and grading.

We DO NOT accept OFS that are not representative of the lot. NA buyers and some of our clients take decisions based on representative OFS.

PSS (pre shipment sample): These samples represent a finished lot that’s milled and ready for export. The reason why it is named Preshipment sample, is because is a sample to approve the shipment. We depend a lot on these samples to be able to find a market for each coffee and thus to sell the lots. When NA/ Tropiq approves this sample, the lot is being export and the producers get paid for their coffee.

  • After we collect samples and classify them by TYP, OFS, PSS, we register them with our code, e.g 180001, by experience from our lab in Norway it works for us to have a 6 digit code.

Learning by experience.

This past harvest we improve our systems and now we are using Cropster Lab in Costa Rica as well as an Excel sheet that we run every day to save other information that we can’t add in Cropster. These two tools, together, have been of huge help. A lab can get pretty messy without efficient systems!

Nowadays we are able to be more organized, we have more information of all samples compared with the years before. To give you an idea, last harvest we registered in our CR Lab around 400 offer samples from more than 30 producers and coops. We know that traceability and information is crucial. We collect as much information as possible about each lot.

  • We hull the samples and then screen and sort them, next step is to measure the moisture content and Aw.
  • Once we have the most important information about each lot, we weight out samples and roast them in an Ikawa. Most of the time we are roasting the day before we cup them. We use Cropster lab to score them and the ones cupping above 86 we send out to the Lab in Norway.

Sometimes, customers can ask us for specific coffees that are lower in price, higher in volume and not scoring as high as 86, we will then do our best to find a coffee for their need.

  • Afterwards we pack and ship green samples to our customers. If they want us to send roasted samples we can also do it, but most of our clients prefer to roast the samples themselves. Shipping samples from our lab to clients shouldn’t take longer than one week, max 2 weeks. Usually they’re delivered to our customers within a week.

We also have roasters and buyers coming during the harvest to cup coffees with us. Some of them like to take decisions at origin while some of them take decisions in their own labs.


I tried to have each lot volume and price information from the producer before I ship samples, but in some cases producers take time to have this information ready. Some farmers are good at having prices and information prepared and some don’t! I’ve been having to educate them to provide at least the volume when they give me an OFS. After we send samples to customers, they tell us what coffees are of their interest.

By the time clients get back to us with their preferences, I try to have a price offer. In some cases it takes a couple days for us to get back with prices because we depend on the producers to have this information. Like mentioned above, it takes time for them to give me an offer price. Once I send an offer to clients they take a decision and usually they accept the offer or give me a counter offer. In general the negotiation process shouldn’t take too long.

As we establish long term relationships with our buyers and farmers, the negotiation process should be faster. It’s about trust.

One of the challenges I experience in CR is to not have a set price from all the producers as soon as they offer me a lot. This makes me think, that some farmers don’t know their cost of production or what margins they must have to have a sustainable business. The farmers are also affected by the grape vine, hearing what their neighbor got for their coffee.

Once the client takes buying decisions we send them a contract and at the same time we contract the coffee with our farmers. We schedule the shipping date, according to this date we tell farmers to dry mill and prepare the coffee for export.

Quality issues

As you might know coffee is a product that is changing all the time and that’s also why sometimes we have quality claims. Over the years, we have experienced that is very important to keep records and data about all the coffees we offer to our clients.

It’s crucial to always keep a reference sample or archive sample for every PSS and OFS we ship to clients in case we get a QC claim from a client.

In the past we’ve had issues due to change of flavor in the cup, e.g a natural coffee that was super funky losses some of the fruity notes and taste less funky. We don’t consider change of flavor a real quality issue.

A quality issue can happen when there are physical and sensorial defects. Like phenol, mold, black beans, deformed beans. If a client has a quality claim we will always take the dialogue with NA team and the Oslo lab.

We will research about the problem to avoid future claims, also we will ask for feedback through out the year from our clients to communicate to our farmers.

Importers and exporters play an important role in the quality control. They also take risks like quality issues  and that’s part of the responsibility of being an exporter and importer.

How do we add value to our partners?

Part of the work we do at origin, is that we are in constant communication and dialogue with our farmers as well as with our customers. We are also doing events at origin to promote what we are doing, e.g Origin Approach. Origin Approach, is an event where we invite roasters and coffee enthusiast to come to origin and we connect them with our producers. There, they can learn about the coffee activity in Costa Rica. Through dynamic lectures, activities, cuppings and workshops, while visiting mills and Coops to learn from them.

If you don’t know what Origin Approach is, make sure to check it out here:

Farmers have enjoyed these kind of events as well, we are also doing educational events with our producers every year. After the harvest we discuss important topics for farmers and ourselves, and update our farmers and partners on the latest market trends. We provide feedback every year with a report of tasting notes, scores, what kind of roasteries bought their coffee. This gives the farmers a great insight, and follow up to their product.

We want to support producers as much as we can, we are always inviting them to weekly cuppings.

We had a part time agronomist to help farmers in the field. And we want them to learn about sustainable practices, varieties, how to control diseases in the plantations. Some of the farmers have not adapted their practices to climate change and we believe it’s a very important  to guide them in these areas.

We’re excited about our sourcing project in Costa Rica. And we know we can improve our lab operation every harvest. Nowadays there are so many things you can do at origin, but we have to go one step at a time.

The potential and opportunities are out there we have to look for them and make the most out of them.

Creating Sustainable Trade Models in Costa Rica Thu, 06 Sep 2018 06:33:07 +0000 We talk about direct trade all the time and we know customers like when they know the coffee they are buying was sourced under direct trade practices. That’s why it is important to understand what is direct trade, in my opinion direct trade happens when the supply chain works in a way where nobody is taking advantage of anyone else, when we as an industry are doing things in an efficient way, justifying the costs, making the business transparent and making a traceable product. Before I started working in coffee in Costa Rica, back in 2015, I interviewed different farmers and coffee professionals. During my conversations with farmers I realized that they were looking for new ways and fresh opportunities to sell their coffees. I found out that there was a need to find different trade models that could benefit the industry in general.

During the years I’ve been in coffee I keep hearing from clients how they want to work closer with producers and do direct trade in different origins. I met buyers and roasters that had suggested that farmers export their coffees and sell to them directly. In my opinion we as an industry have to be careful on what we as buyers ask a producer to do. I’m always thinking about all the details that go into exporting specialty coffee and the preparation before we export. It might sound rude but I know from experience that some producers have difficulties  filling in documents correctly, I’m not telling you that farmers don’t have the ability to do all the export process, because they do, they can learn, but in the process to export if you do something wrong there can be bad consequences, simply the producer can be in a very uncomfortable position, to the point to lose all the business. I know some micro mills like Hacienda Sonora in Costa Rica that have exported their own coffee and shown that it’s possible, but my question is: Is it safe? Is it worth it? Even for Sonora where volume wise could make sense to export themselves they’ve concluded that the income is not compensated with all the work and time they need to export.

Here is where I ask myself is this kind of trade model achievable, is it sustainable, is it what we call direct trade?

I’m not going to tell you what is the best trade model. Each of you can answer this question and can come to your own conclusions and each producer is different so what I think works for “x” doesn’t mean that, that works for all the producers. I’m going to give you my perspective and opinion from my experience working with more than 30 producing families in Costa Rica. Also I’m not saying that roasters and buyers shouldn’t give their suggestions, feedback and perspectives about this topic to producers. Of course they can but when doing so it’s important  that they take it seriously and remember that many families depend on the income made through selling coffee.

There are a number of details that we don’t take into consideration when trying to reduce the number of players in the supply chain. One of them is the economy of scale, which is the cost advantage that arises with increased output of a product. For example, I like to make this analogy, in practice does it make sense for a farmer that only produces 50 bags a year to invest and build his/her own wet-mill or does it make more sense for this farmer to take his/her coffee to process at a neighboring wet-mill? In Costa Rica when the micro-mill revolution happened a good amount of farmers decided to build wet-mills. Many producers made big investments and didn’t succeed in their wet mill operation for different reasons:

  • Low or no access to the market
  • Bad negotiations and therefore bad coffee prices
  • Bad quality control.
  • Lack of information and knowledge about processing and about the specialty coffee market.

The main reason being lack of information and knowledge about the specialty coffee market. They processed the coffee with the hope that they would find a buyer for it, next thing they knew was that it was late in the year and they still had their coffee in the warehouse or they experienced fraud from the buying companies therefore some of them had to close their operations and went bankrupt. The same can happen if you decide as a micro-mill producer to export your coffee. I can tell you examples of micro-mill producers who started selling directly to roasters and importers and they went bankrupt because of different reasons. One of them was that they took the risk to send the coffee before getting paid, and then they didn’t get paid.

Other factors to take into consideration when exporting/importing are:

¥ Financing: money is very important when buying any good and coffee is not an exception. If you want to earn a good reputation among the producers and the industry in general you have to pay on time. We are not just talking about paying but paying on time is very important. And believe me it happens that farmers don’t get paid what they were told but also they don’t get paid on time.It’s obvious that a business won’t last long and won’t be sustainable if finance is an issue. In Costa Rica in the past we had companies who didn’t have the payment capacity to purchase coffee and because of this producers nowadays don’t trust any buyer coming to the farms. The reality is that the small traders tend to not have enough cash flow and their payment capacity is limited, so the risk for producers to not get paid is higher.

¥ Risk: this is one of the traders (Importers/exporters) biggest responsibility. Usually the exporters and importers take the risk when transporting the coffee. In specialty coffee quality is very important, so if there are quality issues the trader usually is responsible for the roaster. A producer shouldn’t take this risk, the producer is already taking enough risks at the farm level.

¥ Quality:  in specialty coffee quality is key,the trader should guarantee that the customer gets a good quality coffee and that the client pays a fair price to the producer for the quality the producer is giving. One of the biggest jobs for specialty coffee traders and the reason why they are so important is the quality control.

¥ Expertise: each player in the supply chain should specialized  in what they are best at. The farmer should focus on the farm, they are the experts in their field which is farming, the trader(Importer-exporter) should focus on the logistics and quality control, the roaster should focus on the roasting, the Barista should focus  on preparing the coffee as well as possible. The expertise will allow us to be efficient.

¥ Efficiency: we all know that in specialty coffee roasters want fresh coffees and that we all (from the farmer to the roaster) want to ship these beautiful coffees as soon as we can. I don’t think efficiency would be as good if the producers are trying to  do the exporters/importers job, instead each one should specialize to make the whole process from farm to cup easier and sustainable.

Coming back to my chat with Diego from Hacienda Sonora, he feels that part of doing direct trade is being able create a relationship with buyers, there should be a mutual understanding of the costs and risks that go along the supply chain. Creating a relationship to a personal level helps the farmer and the roaster have a better understanding on each other needs and strengths, this will help create a better financial and personal situation for both sides. Having a buyer/ farmer visit each others operations is powerful and mind opening, this can also help strengthen that relationship. Diego also mentioned, that maintaining a good relationship over time is the best thing that can happen for everyone along the supply chain as one time deals can end up being shortsighted. 

We all play an important role in the supply chain, that’s why the producer, the exporter/importer, the roaster, and the Barista exist to make each others life better and easier. In the way that the business can be less risky and can flow in a better way for everybody. The best way to make this happen is when we all are transparent and are creating a traceable product, regardless of the exporter/importer roasters can develop long term relationships with producers.