Knowing where your coffee comes from

When you buy coffee from speciality roasters you know where it comes from. This is so important because it creates a link between the consumers and producers, which helps in the battle towards fairer wages and working conditions for those at the start of the supply chain. But currently less than 1% of farmers sell into this market, so what can be done to improve the coffee industry in general?

Traceability (creating physical links along the supply chain so that you know where a product has come from) has always been a positive factor associated with the speciality coffee industry. Speciality coffee roasters pay a premium for coffee deemed speciality grade scored by the SCAA (Speciality Coffee Association of America), and whether this is sourced “direct” or through speciality green coffee merchants, they will often note the specific attributes of the coffee, including location and farming practices. It’s this level of detail, along with others such as quality, which really differentiates speciality coffee from commercially traded coffee. But wouldn’t it be great if this approach was industry wide and not just in the speciality market! So how should we widen the net so that transparency is improved on a larger scale?

Well firstly, obtaining accurate, reliable data is key. And having a place where this data can be shared, reviewed, analysed and passed onto the end consumer, either directly or via the roaster. Data may include (but is certainly not limited to):

  • Accurate farm size and production data so that yield can be calculated. This can then be used as a baseline to assess the impacts of certification programs, e.g. how has a farmer training programme objective improved farmer yields by year 2, 3, 4 etc.

  • Identifying and recording processes and practices that affect bean quality. This may include the type of ‘inputs’ being used (e.g. insecticides, pesticides, organic, fertilizers etc.), the quality of water used for irrigation or the agricultural practices, such as pruning, soil condition etc.

  • Recording and evidence of premiums paid, which can be trickier. Origin visits can help but this isn’t sustainable on a larger scale. The improvement of technology can help increase transparency in this area but it’s the partnership of those involved (producers, exporters, roasters, retailers, consumers) that will ensure this data is credible.

In some cases, the roaster is in the unique position of bridging the gap between consumer and producer. They can also act as the messenger for much of this data and information. A somewhat simplistic view is that the key difference between a speciality and commercial roaster is the desire to understand, validate and pass on that information to the end consumer.

Keeping a close eye on friends at Geotraceability, I still very much have the belief that it is their type of tools and technology that can increase levels of transparency in both speciality and commercial markets. As the speciality market grows with an increasing number of speciality green bean merchants, roasters, cafes and drinkers, and as technology becomes more affordable, reliable and accessible, there is an opportunity to develop more credible data and more credible partnerships between the people who help to create the brew we all love.

But what will bring about this change and what can we do? Well maybe the simplest place to start is for us as consumers to start asking where our coffee has come from when we buy it. This will send the message that we are interested and would like the large commercial roasters to be able to tell us. 

 
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Authors: Dan Webber, Hannah Hobden

From the field…

Month 9 of Chimney Fire Coffee has entailed a return to East Africa to identify potential sourcing options from small estates and smallholders through well managed cooperatives, as well as working with exporters so that the coffee can make its way to our roastery in Kingston Upon Thames. I focussed on two areas: Nyeri in Kenya and Arusha in Tanzania, both renowned for high grade speciality Arabica coffees due to their relatively high altitudes, rich soils and well established processes. Friend, ex-colleague and agronomist, Robert Thuo has been an absolute gem and ensured a fruitful (and fun) trip and made it all possible on a startup budget!

 

It’s good to be back in the field and remember what gets me inspired – seeing how this coffee can be such a valuable livelihood to rural coffee farmers. I tell myself this as I sink into my $20 a night, gold lame, faux silk bed with a foot to spare on either side.

 The batian variety is being cultivated in Ngoe Estate, potentially generating greater yields with reduced agrochemical usage due to its natural resilience to pests and diseases.

The batian variety is being cultivated in Ngoe Estate, potentially generating greater yields with reduced agrochemical usage due to its natural resilience to pests and diseases.

I have known Robert since 2011, when we worked together implementing traceability programmes in coffee and cocoa supply chains for coffee roasters and cocoa manufacturers. We’ve spent many long days schlepping coffee fields, GIS mapping farms and collecting farm and farmer data to enable companies to tailor farmer intervention programmes and secure ethical, quality coffee. I learned the complexities of this challenge from Robert and other colleagues and from seeing for myself.

Robert is now my trusted agronomist, sourcing agent, local fixer, etc. Robert works for the Nyeri County Department of Agriculture and Livestock Development as his day job and when I tentatively asked him if he’d help me source direct from Kenyan coffee farmers, I was hesitant, knowing that he enjoys his time at home with his family and cows on the ranch and knowing that we are such early stages that it may not be interesting to him. I was very wrong – Robert got on board with our vision instantly, is interested in how the speciality consumer market is growing and is proud as punch that coffee drinkers are enjoying Nyeri coffee.

Given our backgrounds and what we know about the coffee supply chain and importance of provenance, setting up the right arrangements with the right producers from the outset is key for us. Certification is a good place to start but we see this as a minimum standard rather than an aspirational standard. We want to ensure that premiums paid reach farmers and benefit all those involved in producing the coffee.

Large companies with complex supply chains find it difficult to make commitments that they know they can deliver on and in this sense small, artisan roasters have a key advantage if they use it for good. These will be key issues for us to consider as we grow, and indeed when considering how much we would want to grow.

 Othaya Farmers Cooperative is Fairtrade certified.

Othaya Farmers Cooperative is Fairtrade certified.

Having a trusted friend who is local has also made this trip possible on a budget which is great as it’s really important to us to solidify legitimate direct sourcing agreements early on as the foundation of our business. Another key objective of Chimney Fire Coffee is to ensure that coffee is treated as an experience, not just a commodity. We are continuously learning and we want to others to experience this passion through our Labin Coffee Tour.

It’s exciting times, with my wife Amy also coming on board on a part-time basis. We’ll be linking up on Zanzibar after her work trip in Tanzania supporting local start-ups to scale up and address the big development challenges facing Tanzanians.

You can follow some of our live updates on our Instagram page.

 

Coffee Mumbo Jumbo Joins The Labin Coffee Tour

In December 2016, Chimney Fire Coffee became a trial host as part of the Airbnb Experiences launch. Over the past 6 weeks guests have visited our Labin to learn about coffee production, roast their own beans and 'cup' different coffees.

We were fortunate enough to have Elizabeth Furth from Coffee Mumbo Jumbo join one of our tours last week. Elizabeth is a passionate coffee explorer, drinker and enthusiast who has setup an innovative way of documenting her experiences with coffee through live audio recordings.

Elizabeth certainly added to the experience for our other guests on the tour through imparting her own experiences in coffee, as well as bringing some home-made coffee marmalade and some products from her healthy fermented tea drinks company; Thirsty House Kombucha

Chimney Fire Coffee believes in authentic experiences and Elizabeth has verbalised her experience of the Labin Coffee Tour via the 'off-the-cuff' interview below.

Great to have you Elizabeth - you are welcome anytime!

Come visit our 'Wined and Grind Pop-Up' in battersea (15-18th dec )

Chimney Fire Coffee and Marchisio Wines will be bringing coffee and wine to the Square Gallery from 15th to 18th December. Aptly named ‘Wined and Grind,’ the coffee is locally roasted and both businesses source directly from small, non-commercial farms. Chimney Fire Coffee will also be hosting a special launch party on Thursday 15th from 6-10pm. Email dan@chimneyfirecoffee.com to join the coffee making, tasting and espresso martinis.

Chimney Fire Coffee

Earlier this year, Dan Webber setup Chimney Fire Coffee; an independent importer and roaster run from a hand built back-garden laboratory-cabin, nicknamed 'The Labin.'

Having worked all over the world on coffee sourcing and traceability, Dan understands quality and what it takes to produce it: ‘I love coffee and like with all consumer goods, there is increasing emphasis on provenance and ethical standards. Our dream is to source high quality, single origin coffee directly from people we know and trust’. Chimney Fire Coffee’s ethos is not to simply sell a product but to give coffee drinkers the tools and information they need to enjoy the experiential art of coffee tasting and the same way we would wine tasting.

Chimney Fire Coffee also offers ‘The Labin Coffee Tour’ where you can learn the art of coffee cupping and hand roasting a blend to your taste. This will be launched on a new Airbnb platform: Airbnb Experiences in November.

Go to www.chimneyfirecoffee.com to learn more about Chimney Fire Coffee, order some of their products, or book a Labin Coffee Tour.

Marchisio Wines

Italian family winery, Marchisio from the Piemonte, are in their third generation of producing delicious wines. The grapes are grown and harvested in the traditional way, producing a portfolio of superb wines including Barolo DOCG, Barbera DOC, Roero Arneis DOCG, Prosecco DOC and Spumante Rosa.  

Launching in the UK for Christmas 2016, London’s wine enthusiasts now have the chance to taste this exciting selection. 

Marchisio wines are available at selected events and on their UK online shop. (http://www.marchisiowines.com/) Contact Max Baker on 07792257372 or max@marchisiowines.com for further information or to arrange a tasting.