A Sense of Pride

Once again, we’ve made the trip from New York to Hong Kong to Singapore to Medan to Takengon to Gegarang to spend time with our G28 farming friends and the mill that processes their coffee.

This trip, we brought our special friends from Think Korea, Shin and Fun.  It was important to us that our Korean counterparts understood the complexities and challenges involved with having real personal relationships with our farmers.  They experienced first-hand the interminable meetings and repetitive dialogue necessary to maintain real and personal relationships and the highest coffee quality.  They experienced the six flights and grueling 30 hours of mountain road travel required to get one to Gegarang.  They experienced the obsessive tenacity of the Think Coffee purchasing team in getting the relationship right and practicing truly fair commerce.

Our G28 project consists of 28 families in Gegarang.  We are teaching them how to increase quality and develop their own relationship with the mill, PUSKUD, so they can sell their own coffee on the international market and market it as GEGARANG coffee rather than the more general GAYO or SUMATRA.  The farmers are developing a sense of pride in their own coffee. Slowly.

To change from being people who just pick coffee to being people who produce a high-quality export product, the G28 need several important things to change:

-They must pick and deliver to the mill only red, ripe fruit.  They are struggling with this and it is costing them money, but once again we explained the importance of red fruit to quality and profit.  We hope it starts to sink in.  Supratno, the leader of G28, constantly reminds member families of the importance of proper picking, but a generation of poor practices does not change quickly.

-They must constantly refer to their agreement with us and take responsibility for their part.  Again, struggling, but this is a pilot project, designed to act as an educational tool.  Each time we visit, we remind the G28 of this.  They sometimes forget this is not a one-time coffee purchase.  It is a project that can be replicated so all of Gegarang can provide high-quality, high-priced coffee to market.  It was their idea.

-They must follow the recommendations of an agronomist to ensure production and sustainability.  They have hired their own agronomist and are awaiting soil sample laboratory results.

-The mill must greatly increase the quality capacity of their operation.  We have studied their procedures several times and are creating a mill improvement manual with them.  Hendro and Apra, the managers of PUSKUD mill are also new to quality practices. We will be patient with them just as we have been patient with ourselves as we learn how to form long-term relationships with farmers around the world and interact with the complex coffee supply chain that brings Think Coffee to your cup.

Our 28 farmers did not produce as much coffee as we had hoped from this harvest.  This is primarily due to poor picking practices.  This means they are in danger of actually making less money with Think Coffee than they did before we ever formed the relationship.  It can be painful, but we all must learn from our business successes and mistakes.

We will return in April of this year to see how the improvements are going.  If improvement is made, we can bring other international buyers with us who can greatly increase the volume of the Gegarang product.

We would be remiss not to mention that the coffee coming to our New York and Seoul stores is amazing. It’s fruity and earthy, creamy and smooth.  By continuing to educate the farmers they can benefit more and more from their coffee.

We look forward to incorporating this coffee into Think Blend.  We will also offer it as a limited edition Single Source coffee so everyone can share in the unique flavors of Gegarang.

The G28 Summit

Gegarang, in Gayo, Sumatra was built during Indonesia's civil war.  The village was built, coffee was planted, and people were relocated there about 18 years ago.  They didn't know how to grow or produce coffee.

A group called Highland Coffee formed in order to help these people. They were concerned because Gegarang is the type of village targeted by human traffickers.  Highland Coffee Company hoped to increase the capacity of this village to make it less susceptible to the wiles and lies of traffickers who offer "job training" to children.  They then take the children and sell them onto fishing boats or into the sex trade.  Highland Coffee Company's efforts to curb this has resulted in a more secure village, and now with help from Think, an amazing source of Grade 1 Gayo Coffee.

We spent July in Sumatra with our 28 families of coffee producers who are learning to export high quality coffee. We are showing the Gegarang 28 what international buyers expect of them with the hopes that they can use this knowledge to remove themselves from the traditional model of selling coffee fruit to collectors at whatever price is offered to them.  We're using one shipping container's worth of coffee (42,000lbs), as a pilot project to show how to pick quality, ripe fruit and interact with the mill, exporter, trucking companies, and bureaucracy. We want the G28 to change from a group of coffee pickers to a proud organization that produces high quality traceable coffee on the international market. We want to increase the farmers' income and capacity for self-determination, higher education, and growth.  The village has elected a leader named Supratno to represent the 28 families producing coffee for us.

We've passed a lot of time with these families from Gegarang.  Our first trip involved showing them the math necessary to understand the benefits of quality picking.  This trip focused on word problems:

"If I pick this much coffee and this much of it is exportable and I pay the mill this much, I pay the trucking company this much, I pay the exporter this much, and Think Coffee pays me this much, how much did I really make?"  

"Did I make more than just taking whatever the collectors offered for any coffee fruit?"

"My contract says that if I pick this percentage of perfectly ripe fruit I will get paid for this percentage of it as an exportable product, but I picked this percentage of perfectly ripe fruit resulting in this percentage being un-exportable.  But I still get to sell the rest of it domestically for this much, so did I actually do better picking whatever fruit I felt like?"

These questions are hard for people to answer even when they have a lot of experience exporting high quality specialty coffee.  The people of Gegarang have learned how to understand the formulas and options available to them to make smart business decisions as a new organization. In our agreement, we have included a guarantee clause that states, yes, they will make more money with us than without. Their largest source of improved income will come as they market the rest of their high-quality coffee to other buyers around the world.

The first picking was in. The percentage of exportable coffee was too low.  But they understood. They're facing the problems a lot of us do with effecetive communication.  They are trying to establish an effective management structure that will allow for training, follow-up, and accountability.  The coffee that made the grade, we cupped.  Awesome.

We're confident that Gegarang will be able to replicate the process in coming years and attract  larger buyers than us.

Our G28 coffee will arrive in December.  We'll remind you.

Only Good News

We recently returned from Kellensoo. We have been receiving fruity and aromatic natural-processed Ethiopian Sidamo coffee from this village for several years.  Our contract pays for a library, school supplies, and feminine hygiene products.

Our price of coffee includes finances for the village to build a library.  In October, we saw that the school left the library largely unused and unstaffed.  This trip, we only got good news.  The people of Kellensoo have taken the library over from the school, hired a full-time librarian, and created a real lending system.  We're going to get them more books now that we know the library is in use.

A lack of feminine hygiene products prevented many girls from returning to school after hitting puberty.  760 girls have now received their own personal reusable materials, with instructions. And these girls are all thrilled to be in school.  The Kellensoo Girls' Club formed to distribute these kits. The Club is now organizing a kit-manufacturing company with hopes of selling kits to neighboring villages and NGOs across the continent.

This trip we brought our exporter's son Biniyam out into coffee land.  A long long ways. We're not sure he thoroughly enjoyed himself, but we thought it was important he see how far his farmers carry coffee on their backs to pay for his lifestyle.  It's important for all of us and that's why we go often:  to make sure the farmer's lifestyle gets closer to what they would prefer every year.

What we experienced during this trip to Kellensoo lead us to further believe our efforts are both valuable and necessary to the sustainability of our trade and the farmers' right to work for themselves.  Nobody needs to get rich off their backs. They should be in control. They are in control.

Questions?Email matt@thinkcoffeenyc.com