La Chumeca Micromill
We purchased our 5th place auction lot at Carmo Best Cup, with all of the increased price going directly to the Hervaz family. The following is a translation of a conversation between Randy Evans and Alessandro Alves Hervaz......
Hello Alessandro! We are very excited to finally have your coffee arrive at our roastery in Sandpoint, Idaho! It is some of the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life. I had no idea that Brazilian coffee could taste like this. I can’t wait to share it with our customers!
I am very happy you enjoy and speak so well about our coffee, this shows we are doing a good job in the quality and managing to show our work to the world, at the same time changing the way people think about Brazilian coffee.
During the cupping competition in Brazil, I kept coming back to your coffee on the table. Of course, all of the coffees in the competition were delicious, but there was something about yours…it had such complexity, layered fruits, and sweetness. We tasted notes of sugarcane, caramel, apple, lemonade, and sherbet. I knew that your coffee would score very high in the competition and I was worried that I would get outbid in the auction. But I was determined. It’s the highest price we’ve ever paid in a competition before. It is worth every penny and I’m happy to know that you receive all of the money paid.
Our coffee is very good, we have a very large country so we can produce different types of coffee, what the Brazilian producer lacked was the financial incentive to produce a better coffee, in the past this did not happen, thank God this has been changing. Today we have buyers and contests that pay for quality, this motivates us to want to improve more every day.
Can you tell me a little about your family business? How long have you been growing coffee?
I have been in the coffee industry since 1993, when my father bought a property in São Gonçalo do Sapucaí, since then I have been learning to produce coffee, now I own two small properties, the Sítio Esperança Sítio Diogo, and I rent three more: Sítio Grotão, Sitio Boa Vista e Fazenda Fortaleza, where I live, amounting to a total of 19 ha of coffee, we work in a family farming regime, I am part of the APAS (Alto da Serra Producers' Association), where we work together with other producers and are focused on producing high quality coffee, especially the natural ones, from 2013 we began to peel the coffee, dry the coffee in a paved terrace, suspended and greenhouse, we are in a region where is been the spotlight in the production of specialty coffee.
Last year we started selective harvesting in partnership with a Texas client Joel Shuler of Casa Brasil, at first seemed impossible, everyone was said. Thanks again to God the quality of the coffee that was selectively harvested surprised us reaching notes and flavors that we did not even imagine, like this lot of BEST CUP, the selective harvesting elevated the quality of our coffee very much, we are always trying to improve our quality. We are in testing with some organic coffee farms, still in transition, we are learning, hopefully right. We also work with beekeeping, so we created the brand Honey & Coffee that represents all our work in beekeeping and coffee properties, always seeking to improve the quality and variety of our products.
How does this balance out? Do the honey bees also pollinate the coffee flowers?
Bees do not compete with the coffee but help the pollination, increasing production.
What kinds of changes have you seen in Specialty Coffee over the past ten years? And how has your relationship with Carmo Coffees impacted your business?
From 2010 we started to have access to the specialty market through a contest and also by Carmo Coffees who bought the coffee in the region and paid for the quality, it was a new thing, the first time we took a sample at Carmo Coffees they asked us how much we wanted for our coffee, we could not answer because usually we were the ones to ask how much they would pay for our coffee.
In the last years this market has been growing and we have been growing with it, learning each year how to increase our quality. We can do this today because we can invest in the quality knowing someone will pay for it.
What does winning a competition like the Carmo Best Cup mean for you and other farmers?
My dream has always been to win prizes in competitions, thank God in recent years we’ve achieved good results, the biggest prizes were this year, being awarded in the Best Cup and Cup Of Excellence. It is great to be awarded, not for the financial value, but the recognition, this is the best part.
One thing that keeps me motivated as a roaster, is seeing first-hand the hard work and passion that farmers like yourself put into this product. I want to honor that through careful roasting and preparation. And I feel strongly that it’s important to celebrate and acknowledge the producer on our labels. You do the hardest part.
Receiving this feed-back is very good, knowing my coffee is running the world and taking my name and my work with it, and pleasing people, it is wonderful.
I really hope we can continue purchasing your coffee in the years to come. I would love to come back to Brazil and visit your farms next time!
We are sure to work together for many years and it will be a pleasure to receive you in Brazil.
Thank you for your hard work and outstanding coffee!
Thank you, Alessandro.
Having cupped all the coffees and put the top 15 in order, we were ready for the live auction. This took place in the main downtown plaza of Pitalito, Huila. When we got off our Chiva bus, we felt like celebrities; a large crowd was cheering, music was blaring, and cameras were flashing. It seemed the entire town was here for the auction, and it started to hit home how important our purchases were to the financial well-being of this economy.
The 30 Best of Huila producers were all seated along one side on an elevated platform, with us buyers (roasters and importers) seated opposite them on another platform.. The middle seats and area surrounding the stage were overflowing with producers’ families and apparently everyone else in town. The producers did not yet know who would make it to the Top 15, or what order they would be in. The excitement was palpable as we listened to speeches (en Espanol) by the Mayor of Pitalito, the President of Banexport, Café Imports, etc. Beautiful Colombian dance performances were interspersed throughout the evening, and loud Colombian dance music was pumping continuously.
Daniel and I had our cupping notes and had selected 3 or 4 coffees that we wanted to bid on, out of the top 15. The bidding would start at $3.50 per pound for each lot, with 10 cent increments, working from 15th place to 1st. This was where the fun really got going! We went after the 13th place and then 10th place lot, but really had our sites set on number 9 or 6.
It turned out that the 9th place lot was rather popular, with four or five roasters starting a bidding war. Each time one of us would raise our paddle, the crowd would erupt in exciting dancing and cheering. I must admit I got caught up in the euphoria and paid a bit more than budgeted. Finally the board showed $6.20/lb, “Going once, twice, sold to Evans Brothers Coffee from Sandpoint, Idaho”!
The place went crazy. Producer Jose Ancizar Lanza and his family were overjoyed with emotion. We met the farmer and his family (seemed like an entire village) on stage to huge applause. (This had been the highest priced coffee sold so far). The wife and sisters, children, brothers, you name it came on stage to greet and thank us. The language barrier was apparent, however the emotion was clear. They could not thank us enough! It was overwhelming to see the appreciation and relief on the faces of the men, women, and children. Coffee is their livelihood and they work SO hard at what they do. This moment of jubilation, taking pictures, high fives, and hugging onstage, was the peak experience of my coffee career so far!
We stayed long after the auction visiting with Jose and his family. We gave them all Evans Brothers hats and shirts, and they gave Daniel and I home-made ponchos. There was also a large banner that they had been waving during the auction, which they proceeded to give as a gift to us. We took a million pictures, and did our best to communicate our mutual respect and gratitude. Eventually we had Jairo come over to translate. I was able to share how much of an impact their gratitude had on me, how overwhelming it was, and our motivation to do good with their coffee.
The $6.20 per pound goes directly to the Lanza family. An additional flat $1 is added on to cover all the expenses of exporting and importing. After experiencing what we experienced with this family, we would have paid twice that amount and felt good about it. It’s obviously a life changing amount of money for them. What’s more it will encourage others to elevate the quality of their production so they too can share in the wealth. We estimated that Huila Best Cup generates an additional $500,000 in cash to the farmers in Huila, above and beyond what they were previously receiving for their coffee.
Daniel and I realized that this is why we do what we do, and why we are motivated to share stories like this with you.
(The following blog posts are the firsthand perspective of one of our Lead Baristas, Nicole Burrato. We were pleased to bring her to origin for the first time this year, along with Desi Freeman, our wholesale partner with Big Blue Coffee in Coeur D'Alene. Rick Evans)
Four weeks ago, I arrived home from a 3-day trip to beautiful, sunny, delicious coffee-producing El Salvador. On this trip we were hosted by the wonderful Menendez Family, and guided each day by Miguel Sr, Miguel Jr, and Guillermo Menendez throughout their family farms. The thing that strikes me most about this family (immediately after all the delicious coffee we could ever want to try!) was the sense of pride they had in the production of a quality product.
Our group was a rowdy one. With the Evans Crew, Randy and I partnered with Desi from Big Blue in Coeur D' Alene. Dave from Back Porch Coffee in Bend, OR came with a couple of friends and clients. We had two boys, Edwin and Logan, along with their buddy Rick, from Black Rifle Coffee Co., and Christian and Daniel from . Everybody was surprised at the size of the group, and we eyed each other with suspicion and distrust. Not really. Everybody got along quite famously.
On the first day we visited Piedra Grande, the mill that abuts thousands of acres of coffee farms, and through which all of the family's coffee in the area is processed. The drive to the mill takes about 30 minutes from the Menendez Family home in Ahuachapan, and as we bumped our way up the small dirt roads that lead up to the coffee mill, we passed dozens and dozens of families who made their homes on the foothills of the mountain.
Most of them work on the farm during harvest season, Guillermo told us. During that season we employ anywhere from 300-800 pickers, many of whom, if our farm was not here, would have to leave the area for factory jobs in the city. Factory jobs means long stints of time away from family, 16-18 hour days, and meager pay.
The road is rutted from rain of the wet season, and in the heat of the day is choked with dust. They walk to work and school in the morning, and in the evening they walk to church, Miguel Jr points out to the groups of people smiling and chatting as they head down the mountain.
As we reach the mill, both Miguel Sr and Jr are talking about how they brought in 8 km of electrical wire to provide the mill with the energy is needs to run. Years ago, we thought about moving the mill down to the road, but the people asked us not to, it would mean less work. So we stayed, and now the electrical lines we brought up also provides access to electricity to the homes along the way.
We pass several levels of farms, some of which belong to the Menendez Family, some belong to others, and some are abandoned. Coffee leaf rust ravaged the area several years ago, a disease which eats at the leaves of a coffee tree and decimates its ability to produce cherries, and many were not able to recover. Miguel Sr explains how they lost 70% productivity during the worst of it, and just now are growing back upward to 80% of what was previous produced.
On the first day, we tour the mill. There had been a stint of rain the previous week which put a temporary halt in the harvesting process; the trees slow down the ripening of the cherries the presence of rain. The brothers and Miguel Sr are disappointed to not have full drying patios to share with us. There is a small batch of beans being turned in one of the corners, however, and Pacamara is being dried on a stretch of African-style raised beds.
We are given a tour of the sorting and packing facility; Miguel Jr explains how the beans are sorted by weight and size. Each has it's quality standard and is selected for different clients. Miguel Sr shows us the scope of their sustainability; we see how the coffee parchment is burned for fuel and the silt left over from the fermentation process is used as fertilizer for the trees.
Behind the raised beds, we come across a nursery of baby Geisha varietals. The delicate baby plants hide under the leaves of orange and lime trees that grow wild on the mountain. Miguel Sr explains how they are always bringing in new varietals of coffee and experimenting with their cohesiveness to El Salvadoran weather and seasons.
After the initial tour we have lunch as we wait for our first round of cupping. Day one is several round of 10-15 coffees, each rated 80-85. We're going to build you up, Miguel Sr says, develop your palate. Each coffee is delicious, notes of chocolate and berry, and stone fruit. I can tell there's a lack of clarity, a missing acidity that makes these coffees really pop.
But no complaints from me; I'm tasting outstanding El Salvadoran coffees in El Salvador.
‘Best of Huila’ received green bean samples from over 600 producers in the region this year. Banexport and Café Imports had scored all of these coffees through a fair and detailed cupping process. In this manner, the submissions had been vetted and ultimately narrowed down to the top 30. Each of the 30 producers are Finalists of Huila Best Cup, and are guaranteed to receive a minimum of $3.50 per pound for their entire lot! To put this in perspective, the farmers would have previously received in the range of $1-1.50 by selling through the FNC. (Colombian Coffee Growers Federation)
After the Top 30 Finalists had been selected, we arrived in Colombia. Our group consisted of around 25 coffee professionals from all over the United States, as well as Canada, Italy, Russia, Taiwan, and Colombia – a very impressive group! Our task was to narrow this field to the top 10 or 15 that would participate in the Live Auction.
We drove each morning to a fantastic venue called SENA (National Learning Service), a public institution that offers a free education to Colombian students that want to pursue careers in coffee or culinary arts. This school grows their own coffee, raises livestock, produces biofuel, and has the best cupping lab and facilities I’ve ever seen. It is educating the youth of Colombia to be successful in the coffee world, or anything else they choose to do. SENA donates their space to the Best of Huila competition each year.
So for four days we would do two rounds of blind cuppings. Each of us scored every coffee, and then we would adjourn into a room and read out our scores and tasting notes. Scores were averaged in order to select the top 15 winning lots, in order from 15 to 1st place. With so many close scores, we determined that 15 of these would go to the live auction at the end of the week.
There was a secondary purpose to these cuppings, which was grading and selecting another category of coffees called Regional Select. These were the Best Cup submissions that did not quite make it into the Top 30, but that were still producing very high quality coffee. Café Imports takes 10 or so small lots from a specific village or town, with coffee that meets high standards and shares a similar microclimate and processing method. This is blended together to create a Regional Select category that is marketed under the town name, and typically scores in the 85-88 point range of specialty coffee.
We also cupped these Regional Select offerings, and had the opportunity to purchase these larger lots on a first come basis. On this trip, we secured a lot from Montanita Timana (town of Timana) which was the highest scored Regional Select of all! This is an affordable, very tasty coffee that will be in our lineup for about 6 months, beginning in March.
Of course in addition to all this coffee analysis, we also visited a different producer and his farm each day. These were some of the most beautiful farms I've ever seen, with such friendly people opening their homes to us. And it is always so interesting to see the different methodologies in place with each producer, and how Banexport has helped them improve their processes.
For the second year in a row, our company was part of a very special coffee buying experience in Colombia, called ‘Huila Best Cup’. PART 1 discusses how the export team works with producers.
I just got back (well, a week ago) from visiting the Menendez Family farms in El Salvador! We have been buying coffee from their farms for the past five years, and they just keep getting better. The amount of detail and care they put into their operation continues to amaze me
The origin trip to Brazil was at the end of September for 10 days. The trip was organized by one of our importing partners that we purchase some of our coffee through, Atlas Coffee Importers, and included three other roasting companies, Broadcast Coffee from Seattle, Cafe Grumpy from New York, and Hunter Bay from Montana. We flew to Sao Paulo, and toured the heart of Brazils coffee growing region in Minas Gerais.