Buying your morning coffee is as easy as a smile, a ‘please and thank you’ then you're away laughing. To us, buying coffee isn’t quite as simple.
It’s a complex chain of connections; working with exporters from multiple countries, negotiating trade, dealing with supply logistics, language barriers and then some. Even after 25 years, we’re still finding our way through the intricacies that surround it all and there is always something to learn.
Like any good story, it’s important to start at the beginning. The beginning of your morning brew is at origin which, simply put, is where our coffee beans come from; whether that is a single farm, estate or co-op from a certain country.
In July three people from our Roasteries around the world, Petter (Tokyo), Shane (Auckland) and James (London), jumped on a plane and visited two of our key countries of origin - Brasil and Colombia. These two countries make up two of the four origins in our core blend. The name of our core blend may differ around the world - you might know it as Rangitoto, Kiba, Carmelo or Redchurch - but the flavour stays consistent.
Anyone who has had the honour to visit origin knows that connecting over the cupping table with exporters and growers is much more valuable than an email or fax will ever be. Our purpose when we visit origin never changes; it’s about creating a personal connection, educating ourselves and inspecting farms. Each time we visit, there is always something to learn or discover and it’s a chance to find our own way, one step at a time, through the tricky coffee buying process.
When Petter, Shane and James flew home from Brasil and Colombia, we quizzed them, wanting to extract all their learnings and pass on their discoveries to you.
James, this was your first trip to origin? What surprised you most?
James: The biggest surprise for me was the high level of expertise shown by farmers. Those guys really know what they’re doing. Great coffee doesn’t happen by mistake!
Shane, as our Green Bean buyer, you’ve visited origin many times before. Is there anything that still surprises you?
Shane: The high yield some farms were projecting for next year even with it being an ‘on’ year - 90 bags per hectare when the average is about 30. New methods are always being tested; pruning, wet processing, new machinery – nothing seems to be common practice. And just because it was done one way do not assume it is the same on another farm.
What was your favourite discovery of the trip?
Petter: The big variety of coffee from Brasil as an origin. Prior to the trip, I found it a bit one dimensional in flavour compared to other origins but now I’ve experienced flavours I would never have associated with Brasil, like clean and juicy acidity.
J: Discovering that not all natural coffees have to taste fruity. That and caipirinhas.
What was the most memorable coffee you cupped?
S: A Bourbon espresso at a roastery in Santos. They were roasting internal consumption coffee full of defects and roasting very dark, so I was surprised by the espresso they served. A fine example of the Bourbon variety, well roasted, sweet flavoursome coffee
J: A very funky natural at Porta Do Ceu. Shane had been poking around a giant pile of coffee compost 10 minutes earlier and the smell was identical. Not nice but certainly memorable.
Who was the most interesting person you encountered?
P: João Staut at QualicaféX. A man with lots of experience such as former farmer, marketing director for the biggest coffee machinery company in the world and now an exporter. The Brasilian hospitality flows through him and he wanted to teach James and me everything he knew. A great start to our trip.
J: Ole from one of our main exporters, Stockler. We spent four days with him and his knowledge of the Brasilian coffee industry is amazing. Fluent in German, Portuguese and English. He is a fountain of interesting facts. Legend.
S: Valdir at Santa Rita / Santa Rosa. A small holder (20 hec) farmer near to Santa Alina who they assist with advice. He spoke English and it helped to get across his excitement and passion for coffee. Previously, he was an IT guy from Sao Paulo and had moved several years ago to his wife’s family farm to assist his brother-in-law. With no farming background, he was questioning all practices, and had very methodically mapped, sectioned the farm and was recording yields, cupping, soil analysis etc. This year he is President of the Association of Coffee Growers of Vale da Grama and his coffee had been placed in their competitions.
"Never would I have expected not being hungry and still being full while the next meal was served"
Were there any challenges?
P: I’m not a large guy but I do have quite an appetite. Never would I have expected not being hungry and still being full while the next meal was served. For me being spoilt rotten is an unusual feeling, so the beautiful local hospitality was pleasant.
J: We were often generously treated to lunch and dinner by exporters but by week two the sheer volume of meat started to take its toll. Sometimes lunches lasted for two hours. We were all often rolling into cupping sessions.