Category Archives: source trips

The Harvest in Honduras

| January 20, 2012

Last week, Caffe Vita travelled through Honduras in the midst of what is set to be their largest harvest on record. Our time was focused in the western departments of Copan, Ocotepeque, and Lempira, and as we met with producers, cupped coffees, visited co-ops, and spoke with farmers, we gained a greater understanding and appreciation of how excellent Honduran coffee can be.
Historically, Honduran coffees have been sold as a cheap alternative to the more established coffees of its neighbors, Guatemala and El Salvador. In fact, coffees from Honduras were sometimes smuggled into Guatemala to be sold as such, or poorly handled and stored, leading to inferior cup quality and shelf life.  The truth is that Honduras possesses all of the ingredients necessary to produce some of the finest coffees in the world — lushly forested, ecologically diverse, high-altitude terrain with rich soils and tropical climate.  Some of the more progressive exporters are now taking the necessary actions to identify the best producers and handle their coffee with care every step of the way from branch to port.
Most of the coffee in Honduras is grown on small farms, typically ranging in size from 2-15 acres, making the formation of cooperatives a necessary means to centralizing processing and providing the structure necessary to sell their coffee.  Some of these cooperatives purchase cherry from their members, while others accept both wet and dry parchment. 
We met with farmers such as Pancho Villeda of the Capucas cooperative, who is a shining example of the kind of progressive farmer that we aim to work with. In his backyard, he has built his own mini wet-mill, and he dries his coffee in a solar drier that he constructed as well.
In Mercedes, Ocotepeque, cooperative director Rosalio Ventura accepts only ripe cherry and processes the coffee entirely on the premises, which we believe will result in a very consistent and clean coffee. The harvest was just beginning during our visit, as the elevation was quite high (1400+ meters).
This trip also presented a fantastic opportunity to learn about how coffee lands can be suitable for migratory birds, as we were accompanied by Robert Rice, geographer from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.  We found the criteria necessary for their certification to be both excellent for habitat, and for quality as well.  In addition to organic practices, the farm must have diverse and varied native species for shade.  This kind of environment ensures a wealth of soil nutrition and the presence of helpful critters such as insects and birds.
Many of the coffees we cupped were impressive in their sweetness and tropical fruit flavors: mango, caramel, and lemongrass.  We are very excited to be working towards a shipment of beautiful coffees for late spring.  In the meantime you can check out some more photos from our trip here. 

Andy, Ethiopia, and Traceability…Part Four…Reflections…

| January 6, 2011

Editor’s Note: Our intrepid lead trainer Andy Kent recently spent three weeks in Ethiopia representing Caffé Vita while working on a project to shed light on the process of getting beans from farms to your cup. And will return to Ethiopia to continue the project one week and his dispatches will continue…

Now that I am home for the holidays, I am immediately looking back on the time I had in Ethiopia. There is no better way to learn about coffee and truly appreciate it then by experiencing first hand where it comes from. It is an incredible thing to witness all the hands that touch the coffees we drink daily. From our roasters at Caffé Vita spending the time and energy to highlight all the nuances in a certain bean to our baristas who scrutinize over every shot of espresso to the farmers who grow coffee – throwing 60 kilo burlap bags of coffee on their shoulders while they load trucks –  to the way men and women at source hand sorting beans for quality. Each step in its journey from seed to cup is fueled by the human touch. Have you ever thought about this? I did occasionally, but never really deeply contemplated it until I met the men and women who help create our coffee.

I am sure some people (talking about germ-o-phobes here) when thinking of their coffees being handled by hundreds of beautiful fingers might get a little nervous bringing the cup to their mouths. To those people – relax –  your coffee is roasted at temperatures from 200 to 400 degrees and then brewed in water anywhere from 185 to 212 degrees. To the people like myself who are fascinated by the steps from seed to cup, here is a little insight on our industry from our side of the world: find a roaster or a cafe that takes the time to perfect their craft. A roaster that travels to source to better understand where their coffee is coming from by building relationships and buying Farm Direct. A cafe that prides itself on quality and well trained baristas to help better educate their community and highlight the final step of the coffee chain. Find that unique, simple, and cheap (or expensive) brewing device that lets the coffee you purchase really shine. Step away from the instant/ k-cup fad (if you want good coffee prepared quickly see a well trained barista and have them pull you an espresso). And finally find a coffee that fits your pallet and drink the crap out of it, but don’t ever forget about all the other amazing coffees in this world.

All specialty coffee at one point or another has been (again) fueled by the human touch. This, in our world of cars that park themselves, is something we should not forget or brush aside; but instead, we should highlight. So the people who are ‘truly’ doing the hard work get the recognition they deserve: their just desserts.

Andy, Ethiopia, and Traceability…Part Four…

| December 17, 2010

Update: This series is comprised of correspondence Caffé Vita’s lead trainer, Andy Kent, is sending back from the field. Andy is in Ethiopia for us working on a project to learn about how coffee gets from the farm to your cup, provide better transparency for this process, and ultimately make sure the final price paid for the coffee is distributed fairly down along the supply chain all the way to the farmer. This is the fourth installment from Andy’s trip…please enjoy (make sure to click “Read More”) and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks…

Spending time on the farm “is” all that its cracked up to be. Watching, learning, and working with coffee farmers is a inspiring way to better understand the importance these men and woman play in our industry.

Just as important, is the way we communicate and build relationships with farmers around the globe. By fostering communication and building relationships, we not only educate ourselves (consumers) of the trials and tribulations of everyday living as a farmer; but we also have the opportunity to help grow better coffee, source better coffee, and create strong bonds between grower and roaster. These strong bonds – these direct relationships – help create transparency through an industry that is forever changing. More importantly (as a consumer), these strong bonds and direct relationships help create high quality coffee by paying the farmer more for their exceptional product. At Caffe Vita, for example, we have built strong Farm Direct relationships with farmers and coops in Sumatra, Guatemala, Brazil, Panama, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. Through these Farm Direct relationships we’re not only be able to source exceptional coffees, but we also have an opportunity to break bread, share stories, and bring farmers to our community in Seattle.

Now that Caffé Vita is back in Ethiopia to help support a new traceability program, we are fortunate enough to be able to start building new relationships with co-ops and farmers in Sidama. Creating new bonds and new stories over shared coffee and the shared sweat of loading bags into trucks.

These bonds and direct relationships need to be forever growing and continuing so our industry can can maintain its positive forward momentum…

Andy, Ethiopia, and Traceability…Part Three…

| December 15, 2010

My friend, his team, and I have now traveled south. We are in a beautiful city called Hawassa which is just south of Sashamene in the Sidama region of Ethiopia. The drive from Addis Ababa south was quite the adventure. If you have not gone on a long drive in a thrid world country yet, let me be the first to tell you it’s a freaking blast! Leaving Addis by road is like stepping into a blender of exhaust, stock animals, daredevil drivers, dogs, pot holes, bikes, three-wheel scooters, motorcycles, semi trucks, horses and buggys, and people streaking across the road (occasionally without clothing). Now turn that blender on high and hold on…

I believe the team and I almost lost our lives 3 separate times, and then there’s the drivers. If our drivers had cat lives, they would be well into the negatives with the stunts they pull. But, don’t let my joke deter you, everyone should try a long drive in a third world country. It might just put hair on your chest or at least a lot of exhaust in your lungs. 

I believe a big thing we should all realize is taking daily risks like driving through the blender above is a part of everyday life here in Ethiopia. Picture our green coffee making a crazy four or five hour – if not longer –  drive through a roller coaster of variables. At any minute the semi truck carrying our container of coffee could go through a number of imaginable scenarios causing our coffee to be delayed or potencially destroyed. Could this scenario also affect cost or payment down the chain? Could it effect coffee quality? Could it affect the environment?  I don’t believe I’ve ever once had this thought until we were face to face with a coffee-weilding container truck playing chicken with us in our lane.

I am not in Ethiopia to discuss shipping green coffee containers or the wild roads of Addis. To be honest, it’s just hard not to throw another light onto how many people and variables that are involved from seed to cup, especially when you find yourself in the thick of it.

It all makes me realize there are many lives touched by coffee or that touch coffee everyday; and I would say that many who do the touching often get ignored. That thought alone is a big reason why Caffé Vita sent me to Hawassa. In more or less words (less since the project is not yet finished), I am here with a team to work on a project that can help give the farmers in Sidama and their co-ops an identity that is more accessible to the people at home. In hopes that the consumer (which includes everyone not growing the coffee) can better trace the supply chain to help us understand the roller coast of events that takes place from the ground to your lips. Tracing the supply chain can also help to better educate (again) the consumers by continually increasing the amount of sustainable buying practices and giving credit to the ones that are already on board. In a nutshell, traceability creates transparency in the supply chain and in return can create a higher selling price for the farmers who grow, harvest and process exceptional coffees by giving us all better access to who these people are.

So, now that I am off of my small soap box, it is time to head to the farms. I will be visiting two or three co-ops today, so the team and I can start laying down the ground work for the project.  I promise one thing, the first coffee tree I find will mostly likely get my arms rapped around it…

Stay tuned for more posts from Andy in Ethiopia…