How have direct farmer relationships changed your business?

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Postby roastmag » Tue Apr 03, 2012 11:40 am

Mike Perry of Klatch Roasting answers: How has your direct relationships with coffee growers changed your business?

For Klatch, our Direct Trade coffee has been an important part of our business model with many advantages to our wholesale and retail operations.

First off, we feel by sourcing at origin we get access to coffees that are often pre-sold and not available using only importers.

Second, we can work with the farmers to improve quality by picking and processing to standards we have learned will result in higher quality in the cup. To this end we often sponsor experiments with producers such as honeys or naturals or raise beds or Kenya fermentation. Sometimes even long term experiments with varietals like SL 28, Pacamara and Geisha.

Third, we can understand the farmers’ challenges and needs and work together to make farm improvements together that result in a better cup.

Forth, we often work with the farmer on social programs to help not only his workers but also the local community with housing, medical, sports, education or other programs. Much like Fair Trade Co ops or groups, this helps not only the workers and community but allow our customers to feel more a part of the process.

Fifth, and most importantly, we build a Direct Trade Relationship based on just that, a relationship. More than a buyer and seller relationship, we consider each other friends. We have shared meals and stayed at their farms. We have had farmers visit our wholesale accounts and retail stores. We have taken employees to origin who have come back with a new passion which they share and infuse into co-workers and customers alike.

While Direct Trade does not save us money and often costs us more with travel costs considered, the first hand experiences, personal rewards, relationships, memories and end quality make it more than worth it to us.

As an example, read today's blog from my visit to Honduras last week:

I quickly learned that Honduras is a large country with coffee spread in many areas that required long days and much driving on windy crazy roads to get from one coffee region to another. Rather than provide a daily diary, I would like to highlight a memory I will forever remember and cherish.

It was our experience in the relatively unknown region of Cangual. We first heard of this region by its success in Cup of Excellence Competition and next from our friends in Japan who scored a coffee here 97 points. From cupping at the dry mill with its overflowing patios we headed up the mountain, past the many coffee covered roof tops, to winding dirt roads. We drove through pine trees and past creeks and cliffs for 30 minutes to the tiny house of #4 COE Winner Rufino Benitez Carcamo of El Roblon. We enjoyed homemade chicken soup while overlooking the valley below. Before leaving, a group of 15 or so farmers had gathered to meet us and talk about their coffee. On Rufino’s property near his mill we had a town meeting of sorts as they shared their passions. I felt they were as excited to meet us as we were honored to meet them. All had small farms high up the mountain but milled their coffee at their homes and dried on patios or raised beds. Based on our visit we are planning some special projects in this region and with these farmers. More info will follow.

But the highlight of highlights was still to come, meeting Arcadia Maria Bejayano of El Borbollon and visiting her 97-point coffee and farm. She walked from her farm 5 km down to the meeting and was happy to head back up and show us her joy. We drove her the 5 km back till the road ended and the hiking began. Past the horses and up the steep trails toward the top. The side of the mountain was covered with small coffee trees growing between large lava rocks. Off to the side was a large waterfall and the view was spectacular. A group of us including myself, Martin, Chuck, Maria, Saloman, Douglas, Carlos and other farmers headed up the hill. I was breathing heavily while Maria, with her leather sandals and hand purse, looked like she was on a Sunday hike. As we reached what I thought was the very top, I looked back to take in the awe and beauty of it all. But as I turned back to the others they were gone, having climbed the last few steps of the trail over a blind rise to another trail and climbing further back up the mountain. And finally after what seemed like forever, there it was, Maria’s farm. While primarily Red Catuii, there was also Yellow and Orange. Below near another small creek were pickers at a neighbor’s farm. The moment, the view, the experience were surreal and spectacular.

Here at this magical place and moment we talked coffee and business. It was here, at 1800 meters that we negotiated a price for the best of her coffee. It would not all go to Japan as three roasters from California would share her coffee and those of neighbor Saloman as well. The experience should definitely be on the credit card commercial. The road, the hike, the trees, the waterfall, the people, little Maria, the memory …… Priceless!

Mike Perry
Posts: 38
Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:07 pm
First Name: Connie
Last Name: Blumhardt
City: Portland
State: OR
Zip Code: 97232
Company: Roast magazine
Occupation: publisher
Roasting Since (Year): 2003

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