Category Archives: From the Road

Coffee and Conservation

| September 26, 2014

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending the United Nations Equator Prize Award Ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City. Every two years, this prestigious award is given to projects that have successfully protected biodiversity while reducing poverty within indigenous communities and as Caffe Vita’s Green Coffee Buyer, I felt honored to be among groundbreaking conservationists from around the world.

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Of the 1,234 nominations this year, Caffe Vita’s friends and partners at the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP) in Papua New Guinea were one of the few that received this prestigious award.  A key reason that they were chosen was due to Caffe Vita’s involvement with the coffee program over the past 4 years.  Revenues generated by our purchases have supported community health, education, and conservation projects for the people living in this region.

 

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The awards ceremony featured celebrity guests and conservation leadership from around the globe.  Al Gore gave a riveting speech on climate change and how grass roots projects such as TKCP are at the forefront of the war against climate change.  Jane Goodall also spoke, saying that ‘a healthy well managed forest can lead to economic improvement.’ The ceremony also featured musical performances from Jackson Browne, Bon Iver, and Feist.

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By working with indigenous communities in Papua New Guinea, TKCP has established a conservation area of more than 180,000 acres, including the pristine cloud forests that are home to the endangered tree kangaroo.  With deforestation being one of the leading causes of global warming, this project received special recognition for sustainable forest management.

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Coffee is unique in that it is a cash crop that can and should be cultivated under native shade trees in diverse, living ecosystems.  Part of our mission here at Caffe Vita is to have direct involvement with the farmers that grow our coffee.  Next week I will be returning to Papua New Guinea to help conduct training workshops near the Yopno River, a new area for the coffee project.  I look forward to working hand in hand with the indigenous people and local agronomists to teach proper pruning, garden management and processing techniques.

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We are honored to be involved in a project that has had a positive and measurable impact on the environment while also improving the livelihoods of the communities vital to maintaining the health of the planet.

 

 

Mexico, March 2014

| March 20, 2014
The view from Guadalupe Victoria, looking into Guatemala

The view from Guadalupe Victoria, looking into Guatemala

Greetings from Chiapas, our last stop on this harvest visit to Mexico’s coffee states.  Starting in Veracruz, we’ve woven our way south through Oaxaca and witnessed the tail end of what has been a trying harvest.  Estimates of production are at forty percent reduction due to poor weather and roya, the leaf destroying fungus I wrote about in our visit to Guatemala last year.  It’s been a whirlwind of a trip, with long days on windy mountain roads, numerous cupping sessions, and meetings with farmers. Here are some of the highlights:

Visiting Finca Fatima, near Xalapa

Visiting Finca Fatima, near Xalapa

Meeting Ranulfo Lara in Teoselo (he let us try his homemade orange liquor!)

Meeting Ranulfo Lara in Teoselo (he let us try his homemade orange liquor!)

Germinating Marsellesa, a rust resistant variety with good cup quality

Germinating Marsellesa, a rust resistant variety with good cup quality

Cupping at the Ixhuatlan wet mill

Cupping at the Ixhuatlan wet mill

Visiting La Lagunilla, an organic cooperative in Oaxaca

Visiting La Lagunilla, an organic cooperative in Oaxaca

In Oaxaca, Claudia preparing a delicious breakfast of chile de huevos, tlayudas, and café de olla

In Oaxaca, Claudia preparing a delicious breakfast of chile de huevos, tlayudas, and café de olla

The stunning mountains outside of Chico Musela, Chiapas

The stunning mountains outside of Chico Musela, Chiapas

Checking out Mario Lopez's farm near Pantelho, Chiapas

Checking out Mario Lopez’s farm near Pantelho, Chiapas

An amazing sculpture, in memory of the victims of the Acteal Massacre.

An amazing sculpture, in memory of the victims of the Acteal Massacre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Producer Spotlight : Kundi Gagi

| January 25, 2014

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The Kundi Gagi cooperative was formed in 1979 (1971 by the Ethiopian Calendar) near the towns of Metu and Gore in the far western province of Illubabor.  The name Kundi Gagi refers to the two villages of its members, Kundi in the mist and mountains, Gagi near the river. The area is spectacularly beautiful and lush with dense forests, the natural habitat of coffee Arabica.  For most of their history, Kundi Gagi has produced traditional, natural sun-dried coffee.  This method is relatively simple and requires fewer resources and labor than washed coffees.  Cherries are harvested and then sun-dried, on mats or the ground.  The dried cherry pods, called jenfel at this point, would then be sold to a merchant at low market prices, and lost in the blending and trade that followed.kundi harvest

Then about 4 years ago, the game changed.  TechnoServe, a Washington DC based NGO began a project in western Ethiopia with the goal of increasing the income of coffee farmers by providing technical and business assistance.  At the advice of TechnoServe, Kundi Gagi took out a loan to by a Penagos 1500 Pulper and began construction of a new wet-mill.  Now, equipped with the means necessary to pulp, wash, and sun-dry on raised beds, the flavor of their coffee was transformed.   Concurrently, marketing opportunities arose from this partnership with TechnoServe and a sample of Kundi Gagi’s coffee was placed in front of Caffe Vita, on a cupping table in Jimma.DSC02955

We were immediately charmed by the perfumed aroma and intricate sweetness.  Since then, we have become the primary buyer of their coffee and couldn’t be happier with the relationship.  As a result of the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, Kundi Gagi has paid off all loans and posted record profits for their members last year.  30% of this will be set aside for cooperative projects such as the construction of a health center, paving the road to the mill, and purchasing a vehicle, with the remaining 70% distributed among members based on their contribution. DSC02987

With our recent visit to the cooperative, we were able to confirm all of our criteria for Farm Direct designation.  Through meetings with cooperative leadership and members, we were able to verify traceability of payment and we witnessed a strong sense of economic and social responsibility.  Though not certified organic, it was observed and confirmed that all farming is completely organic.  In fact, much of the cooperative’s coffee is basically growing wild, in an ecologically stable and undeniably natural environment, with numerous species of birds, monkeys, and insects buzzing through the shade. DSC03329

Kundi Gagi is available now at all Caffe Vita locations and online.

From the Road : Ethiopia

| December 10, 2013

 

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Every trip to this incredible land deepens our appreciation for coffee. It permeates the fabric of society and touches the hands of so many, treated with respect and admiration. In no other country can one pull over to the side of the road, just about anywhere, to a tantalizing ‘jebena bunna’ – traditional cup of coffee. Freshly roasted and prepared with pride, the cup reflects whatever region you are in.  The top three so far:

Kulubi, East Harar

Kulubi, East Harar

Yirgacheffe

Yaayoo

Yaayoo

We began in the east, Harar, home to the fabled sun-dried (natural) coffee that can smell of blueberries and exotic spices.  The landscape was awe inspiring and we witnessed fascinating farms with sophisticated terracing and irrigation.  Harar remains a challenging region to source coffee from, due to the decreasing land utilized for coffee, the convuluted system of trade, and lack of cooperatives.  Some feel this coffee could be headed towards extinction.

Coffee farmer in East Harar

Coffee farmer in East Harar

Member of Wotono Bultuma Cooperative, Sidamo

Member of Wotono Bultuma Cooperative, Sidamo

The second leg of our journey took us south, to Sidamo and Yirgacheffe. Every five years or so there is an excessively wet year – this happens to be one.  The downpours were impressive, but have delayed the harvest and made drying the coffee a concern. Still, by all accounts most are anticipating a good year, both in quality and quantity. I was able to visit a number of groups that Vita has purchased from in the past few years: the Yirgacheffe Union cooperatives of Konga, Idido, Koke, and Bele Kara.  These are among the finest coffees in the world!

Waiting for the rain, Bele Kara Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Waiting for the rain, Bele Kara Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Coffee drying at Koke Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

Coffee drying at Koke Cooperative, Yirgacheffe

After Yirgacheffe, I set off to Amaro to visit Asnakech, the incredible woman behind the well known Amaro Gayo coffee.She welcomed me into her home where we prepared a tasty treat of freshly plucked Moringa leaves for dinner.  The next morning Asnakech showed me her plantation and processing center. The meticulous drying technique left me impressed.  Her attention to detail and dedication to quality have earned the respect of coffee professionals worldwide. A long ride back to Addis was followed by a day visiting friends and exporters before I set off for the final leg, way out west.

Asnakech inspects the drying coffee cherries

Asnakech inspects the drying coffee cherries

Zerihun, of Kundi Gagi

Zerihun, of Kundi Gagi

After another early morning departure and the long windy drive to Jimma, I met with the cooperative business advisor, Girma, who would accompany me to Illubabor.  Until recently, this part of Ethiopia was only known for low grade coffees, but in recent years a number of cooperatives have been established or revitalized through the assistance of Technoserve, an NGO aimed at increasing farmer’s capacity for doing business through improving quality and access to the marketplace.

Kundi Gagi leadership: Bifkadu, Ibrahim Hussein, and Zerihun

Kundi Gagi leadership: Bifkadu, Ibrahim Hussein, and Zerihun

Kundi Gagi is one such cooperative and in our evaluation of the region last year, their coffee was the finest.  We have purchased this coffee for two consecutive harvests and after my meeting with co-op leadership I feel confident our relationship will continue to grow.  Thanks to the premium Caffe Vita has paid for their coffee, the cooperative has paid off its loans and will be using profits to improve road access to the washing station and build a health center for the community. After this visit we are pleased to report that Kundi Gagi now qualifies as a Farm Direct coffee !

Cherry being delivered to Kitaber Cooperative

Cherry being delivered to Kitaber Cooperative

Though the harvest is just beginning throughout the country, I am already eager with excitement at the prospects of this upcoming crop.  We will be closely monitoring the coffee quality in the coming months and will be sure to bring you the finest Ethiopian coffee for 2014.  In the meantime, you can enjoy the current crop from Bele Kara and Kundi Gagi, both of which are available at our cafes and online.