Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 5

Part 5: Asking the Right Questions

Now that we’ve unpacked context on what goes into pricing coffee, from terms and language to production and operating costs to purchasing models and value added, it’s time to talk about how to ask the right questions. As a roaster, it’s important to find out if your coffee purchase represents an investment in a resilient supply chain, so how do you take that conversation deeper than asking about prices?

One good starting point is to ask importers how they go about setting prices for producers, in general and in specific. How do those prices compare to the C market, Fair Trade, and Fair Trade Organic prices? Do they use the C market as a starting point, or decide on baseline rates that are consistent season to season outside the C market? Do baseline prices (prices before producers receive additional quality premiums for exceptional coffees) ever go down from year to year due to the C market, or are they consistent?

Another question to ask is whether an importer’s baseline rates allows producers and producing groups to meet their costs and reinvest in their farms and infrastructure. No matter what they pay for quality premiums, if the baseline rate doesn’t allow producers to survive and thrive, it’s not sufficient.

While asking these questions of your importer, it’s equally important to check in with yourself, your business, and your customers. How much are you willing to pay for a healthy, resilient supply chain where everyone meets their costs? Can you still meet your costs if everyone gets paid fairly? Will your customers pay what they need to in order to make it happen? If not, why not? What can change their minds?

It’s crucial that people learn more about the supply chains they work within. The more questions you ask your importers, the better. To ask us a question, email us at info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com, or contact us on twitter or instagram.

To learn more about the complexities of coffee pricing, take a look at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

By: RJ Joseph

If You Haven’t Tasted Kolla Bolcha Yet, It’s Time

Kolla Bolcha is the newest jewel to be unearthed in Agaro, and if you haven’t tasted it yet, it’s time.

We’ve been after this cooperative since we learned of its inception three years ago, one year prior to ground being broken on the washing station construction itself. Why? Location, location, location. A short walk over the hill from Biftu Gudina in the southern end of Gera, Kolla Bolcha’s altitudes soar into the forests, and those of you who’ve tasted Biftu enough times are aware of the quality potential. We believe that Kolla Bolcha will become as sought after as Nano Challa, Nano Genji, Biftu Gudina, and the very small handful of washing stations that headline Agaro.

With a ripe red fruit character (think cherry and currant), a heavy cola sweetness, and a lustrous, honeyed mouthfeel, Kolla Bolcha brings the heat on any brew method, at any roast level. Building on the wider history of Agaro, where an investment by USAID’s Technoserve project helped bring brand-new processing equipment to this previously underserved and undifferentiated region, Kolla Bolcha’s immaculate processing leads to an incredible showcase of the coffee’s natural potential for a ridiculously long time off harvest. The secret? After Penagos processing equipment mechanically removes most of the fruit and mucilage from the seeds, they soak overnight in fiberglass tanks, allowing any remaining sugars to be fully removed from their surface so that the coffees are perfectly clean by the time they hit the drying beds for the eight-plus days they’ll need to dry.

Since its inception, Kolla Bolcha has been a Red Fox staple, a perfect representative of everything Agaro has to offer. It’ll go fast, so get in touch now to pick some up. To learn more about Red Fox and Agaro, read about it in our journal.

Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 4

Part 4: Not Just  What You Pay, But How You Buy

Historically, many have viewed importers as middlemen, a gateway through which coffee passes on its way from the farmer to the roaster, adding nothing much but hassle and costs. While the direct trade movement has done a lot for promoting healthy supply chains in specialty coffee, it has inadvertently reinforced this narrative, downplaying the role of importers in sourcing, logistics, and overall quality. Depending on the importer you work with, they can play a major role in your coffee’s quality from start to finish, and when you buy coffee from an importer, you’re also buying into their supply chains and the roots they have—or haven’t—put down in a particular region.

How Does Your Importer Set Coffee Prices?

Many importers fix their prices around the C market, paying a certain amount over it at any given time. It’s good to ask if your importer does this or not, because the C market is extremely volatile; importers who price coffee that way may beat the C market price, but they’re still subjecting producers to a fluctuating income, leaving them vulnerable to not recouping their costs in a given season, much less being able to reinvest profits into their farm.

Other importers pay just slightly above average baseline rates for the lower quality brackets they purchase, then pay out premiums for higher quality brackets in an attempt to incentivize higher-quality production. It’s important to remember that no matter how talented most producers are, the main bulk of what they produce will still live in the lower quality brackets, so the baseline price an importer pays is essentially who they are as a coffee buyer.

At Red Fox, we see our prices as a key part of our sourcing strategy, allowing us to access the best producers and producing groups while allowing them to do their best work year after year. To do this, we set our baseline rates not against the C market and not against the local average, but at a rate that incentivizes producers selling their coffee to us rather than someone else, which benefits all parties. Beyond that, producers also receive quality premiums for higher-scoring lots, allowing them to allocate resources toward producing special microlots without being afraid to lose money in the process. Since we also think of this as a retention strategy, we pay more to producers over time, especially when their work is stellar. For a frame of reference, the average FOB price of our coffee in 2018 was 200% above the Fair Trade floor price, and the highest price we paid for a coffee in 2018 was almost 700% above the Fair Trade floor price.

How Does Your Importer Build Supply Chains?

One of the things that’s important to know about your importer is how they work within a supply chain. While the myth of the importer as useless middleman is largely just that, that doesn’t mean that all supply chains are created equal, and it’s important for importers to speak honestly about the role they play.

Many importers, especially ones on the smaller end of the spectrum, receive samples from exporters, cup them, and buy their favorites. While this is a perfectly legitimate way to buy coffee, it doesn’t take up nearly the same amount of time and energy that it takes to seek out new farmers and try to close gaps in market access. It also doesn’t constitute the same investment in developing resilient supply chains.

If that investment matters to you as a consumer, it’s important to talk to your importer about how they buy coffee; things like how much time they spend at origin, what they do when they’re there, who hosts them when they go, who coordinated the hosting, will give you some clues as to how vested they are within a region.

At Red Fox, we work very particularly in regions where we can work within our ideal purchasing model: deep investing in regions that are hard to reach, that have historically lacked market access and differentiation from the larger pool of regional coffee. While we’re very much focused on curating quality, we’re also deeply embedded in the supply chains we work within.

How Does Your Importer Add Value?

When you think about the price paid to the producer, it’s important to think about what kind of value an importer adds to the producer’s work.

For instance, at Red Fox we spend hours each day cupping samples. We might cup hundreds of samples to put together a bulk regional lot, separating out extra high-quality offers along the way and reporting our results back to each producing group. To make sure our cupping protocols are accurate and unbiased, we use a double-blind cupping system called signal detection where samples are randomized with multiple cups placed apart from each other on the table. To make sure our roasting protocols accurately represent every coffee that comes through our door, we do countless Ikawa experiments, tweaking our profiles constantly in order to find the profile that will show us who the coffee really is. And, once coffees arrive at the warehouses we work with, we taste every coffee every 30 days for as long as we’re in our position to track their quality over time and use the information to keep getting better.

Beyond that, people may not find logistics very exciting, but they can have a huge impact on quality. It takes a lot of work, but we make sure that coffee gets from origin to here in as timely and direct a manner as possible, ensuring that it lives up to its full quality potential from start to finish.

Importers come in all shapes and sizes, and even more than asking how much a producer got paid, it’s critical to learn about yours and how they work.

To learn more about the complexities of coffee pricing, take a look at Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  Stay tuned for part 5, which will cover how to ask an importer the right questions to make sure your purchases fit your values.

By: RJ Joseph

 

New Fruits You Should Try: Nariño and Inzá

If you haven’t bought Colombian coffee from us yet, the time is now. We have delicious, versatile coffees from Nariño and Inzá on both coasts that shine on the cupping table and absolutely stun at production roast levels. Just as important as their quality, Colombia is home to some of our oldest relationships, and these coffees represent the absolute best of what community leaders can do from a local to a global scale, in terms of both impact and quality.

Our relationship with Inzá-based ASORCAFE dates back to 2006, when Geovanny Liscano farmed just one hectare of land with his wife and father. The coffee was superb and the infrastructure was humble, but over time, Geovanny reinvested profits back into the land, bought surrounding plots, and built up processing infrastructure into a thing of beauty for the whole community. ASORCAFE is incredibly well-organized with a laser-focus on ethics; they don’t allow corruption in their ranks, and this value shows in the cup. The coffees they produce are some of the most complete coffees in the country, bringing to the table a succulent sweetness, a juicy, ciderlike mouthfeel, and bright, clean acidity that can be malic, pear-like, and even kiwi-like. They’re perfectly structured and essentially flawless.

In Nariño, we’ve been inspired since 2007 by FUDAM leaders Raquel and Jeremias Lasso. With soaring altitudes and ideal varieties, the quality was always stunning; even more importantly, Raquel is an innovative leader that inspires the best work from her community and gives it in return. More recently, she’s formed a group within FUDAM called Manos de Mujeres, focused on the empowerment of women growers within her community, with projects ensuring they see a fair 50% of farm profits and a goal of opening an organic fertilizer facility. Currently in the process of becoming certified Fair Trade Organic, FUDAM is a perfect example of how community investment can and should represent an investment in quality. Flavor-wise, we see Nariño as the proverbial fruit basket: the best lots run the gamut from ripe, succulent stone fruits on the yellow flesh side (peach, apricot, nectarine) to tart, refreshing white grape and Granny Smith to perfectly sweet citrus of the most coveted varieties (tangerine, satsuma, and even sweet lime).

We have a ton of history with these coffees, and we want you to as well. Flavor profiles are diverse, so get in touch and we’ll help you find the perfect coffee for your menu.

Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 3

Part 3: Sustainably Meeting Costs—Why Context Matters More than Numbers

Without context on cost of production and other costs throughout the supply chain, the price paid for coffee is just a number. Think of it like rent: if I told you what I pay for my apartment, the number would be meaningless without knowing more about its size, location, and the general cost of space in my region. The same is true for coffee pricing.

The main factors that affect cost of production for producers are the size of the farm, the varieties and yields on a particular farm, transportation costs, processing costs, and the labor laws that govern the region. Towards the middle of the supply chain, similar factors apply over top of this, namely the costs faced by importers (often affected by their size and operating costs) and how much margin they make over top of those costs in order to sustain their business.

Farm-side, the size of the farm has a huge impact on cost of production. Most farming equipment expenses are fixed, costing a certain amount upfront regardless of how much coffee the farm produces, so large estates benefit from economies of scale that smallholder farmers (most of the farmers we work with) can’t access. On top of that, certain varieties yield more coffee per year than others, meaning that for the same amount of planting and harvesting work, farmers get a smaller volume.

Transportation costs also change from region to region, adding significant cost to producers in more remote areas (again, most of the farmers we work with), and similarly, milling and processing costs vary depending on producers’ setup and infrastructure.

Last but not least, labor laws have a huge impact on producer costs: for example, in Ecuador where all full-time employees are paid a minimum wage in addition to health care and paid time off, costs of production (rightly) go up.

Towards the middle of the chain, size and operating costs have similar impacts. Smaller importers face higher overhead through lacking the same economies of scale; for instance, importers who don’t have their own warehouses pay for warehousing through third parties, costs that are significant and that larger importers don’t incur.

Another factor that affects overhead is how much work goes into coffee selection. For instance, since we work primarily with smallholder farmers, we might cup through as many as 250 samples to form a container, whereas other importers will have cooperatives or producer groups bulk smallholders’ coffees into larger representative samples and may only need to cup one sample to put together one (or even more than one) container. On top of that, just like producers, importers have to set a margin around total costs so that they have money afterwards to pay other expenses and invest back into their business.

To learn more about the complexities of coffee pricing, take a look at Part 1 and Part 2, stay tuned for part 4, and part 5, which will cover the diversity of purchasing models and the influence they have on cost, and how to ask an importer the right questions to make sure your purchases fit your values.

By: RJ Joseph

Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 2

Part 2: Farmgate, FOB, EXW, and Beyond—Terms for Pricing and the Factors that Complicate Them

When people in the coffee industry talk about green coffee pricing, they use a variety of terms that can often cloud how much buyers actually pay for coffee at various stages of the supply chain. Because no official term acts as a standard point of discussion, it’s important to unpack these terms and the context they require for proper discussion and build a shared lexicon with your importer.

The main terms used for coffee prices are farmgate, FOB, and EXW, which refer to prices paid at different points in the supply chain.

Farmgate price is a general term for what the farmer actually makes on the coffee after the exporter takes their cut. When accurate and based on solid data, this number is helpful in understanding whether or not producers are making ends meet, but unfortunately there are no official standard for determining farmgate price—often, when you ask people for the farmgate price of a coffee, the answer you get is actually the FOB price (defined below) inaccurately framed as the price the farmer got paid, or a general estimate based on an adjusted FOB, which can present various levels of accuracy about what farmers are actually making.

Unfortunately, since this isn’t standardized, asking for farmgate price doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting a number accurate to what the farmer made—much less once you factor in context of cost of production (which we’ll cover later in this series). For this reason, it’s critical to build a shared lexicon with your importer and make sure you’re having the same conversation.

FOB price stands for the free on board price, which means the price of the coffee at the time when it’s delivered to the boat at the port of origin and ready to ship. This is the most commonly used payment term between importers and roasters, but it doesn’t tell you how much the farmer got paid, nor does it tell you about costs incurred by the importer once the coffee lands.

EXW price stands for the ex-warehouse price, which means the price when the coffee gets delivered to the warehouse in the country of consumption. Between the port of origin and the warehouse, the coffee has to land at the port, go through customs, and enter the warehouse. Since each of these processes costs money, the ex-warehouse price is higher than the FOB, further from what the farmer got paid but slightly closer to an actual cost estimate for the importer.

Each of these terms constitutes an important piece of the coffee pricing puzzle. If someone gives you a farmgate price, do you know what their process is for determining that number? The accuracy of their answer hinges on this question. Or, if you know the FOB but not the EXW, you may not have a good idea of how much warehousing and domestic transit costs affect smaller trading companies as opposed to giant multinationals. This, too, is an important piece of the puzzle of how much the producer got paid and how those costs echo up the supply chain.

To learn more about the complexities of coffee pricing, take a look at Part 1 and stay tuned for parts 3, 4, and 5, which will cover the importance of cost of production in coffee pricing, the diversity of purchasing models and the influence they have on cost, and how to ask an importer the right questions to make sure your purchases fit your values.

By: RJ Joseph

Three Forests: The Guji Uraga Story

At some of Ethiopia’s most extreme altitudes lies Guji’s Uraga region, a dense, mountainous forest that spans almost a thousand miles. Within this huge forest lie three smaller forests, and from these three forests—Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro—come some of the most extraordinary and sought-after coffees on our menu. These coffees are coming in soon, with our first containers having arrived, and they’ll go fast, so if you’re interested, get in touch.

Despite the incredible quality found in Guji Uraga, you wouldn’t have found these coffees on the market ten years ago—at least, not as Guji. Back then, Guji coffees lived under the Sidamo subhead, and the stellar coffees of Guji Uraga were trucked across the border into Yirgacheffe, where they could find a slightly higher price due to better name recognition. In 2010, Aleco tasted these coffees and recognized that they were unique, second to none, and worthy of differentiation. Now, eight years later, the three forests themselves and the distinct coffees within them deserve their own differentiation.

In Southwest Uraga lies the smaller Ugo Begne forest and Yabitu Koba village, where the Hana Asrat washing station produces a truly singular coffee. Managed by lifelong coffee trader Feku Jebril, Yabitu Koba brings with it incredibly ripe red fruits, blazing acidity, and classic Ethiopian florals like bergamot and jasmine. Originally hailing from Dilla, Gedeo’s capital, Feku sold the huge wet mill he used to own in order to move deeper into the forest, managing coffee production at Yabitu Koba with a laser focus on quality.

Heading northeast towards the center of Uraga, sky-high at 2510 masl, lies Larcho Torka forest. Managed by Feku’s brother Abdi Jebril, also a lifelong coffee trader, Larcho Torka coffee brings with it elegant flavors of candied lilac, a balanced lemonade acidity and dense, sugared sweetness. Abdi’s work at Larcho Torka is characterized by the same quality focus as Feku’s.

Towards Northeast Uraga lies the smaller Bire forest, a newer producing area where the coffee trees are young, only four to six years old. High up in the mountains at 2300 masl lies the Harsu Haro washing station, producing a coffee that offers the dense sweetness of raspberry and currants and the ripe, balanced acidity of clementine and yellow peach.

In all three forests, absolutely meticulous processing puts its signature on these coffees: first, they pass through McKinnon depulpers, then move into washing channels where they lose the rest of their mucilage. They move into soaking tanks for another 12 hours overnight, and in the morning, they’re laid on drying beds for eight to ten days.

The next step is key to the incredible shelf-life of Guji Uraga forest coffees: after drying, they move into the warehouse and rest for a week after drying to condition and stabilize. After that, the washing station teams hand-sort through the parchment, selecting only the cleanest coffee. Because of their incredible potential, consistently realized through meticulous processing, Guji Uraga Forest coffees not only come in sparkling, they continue to bloom and get even better over the course of the year. In coffee, there are two ways to do business: produce the most coffee, or produce the best, and Yabitu Koba, Larcho Torka, and Harsu Haro produce the best. These coffees will be here before you know it, so get in touch.

Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated: Part 1

Part 1: Paying for Coffee—It’s Complicated

“How much did the producer get paid for this coffee?”

This is a question we’re excited to be hearing more of. Thanks to an epic and sustained dip in coffee’s C market price, more and more roasters are thinking about how much it costs to produce coffee and wondering if the producers whose coffee they work with are meeting those costs.

While it’s crucial that roasters interrogate whether or not producers are getting paid enough to survive and thrive, it’s even more critical that the answers they get are informed by the proper context. While asking about prices paid to farmers can be a great place to start, without the frame of reference about those farmers’ costs, how the importer is calculating that number, and what the middle of the supply chain looks like, those numbers can be all but meaningless. For real change to come from this conversation, we need to unpack the context that informs what coffee prices actually mean: we need to go further.

In this series, we’ll talk about why coffee pricing is complex, why context matters, and why it’s important to go deeper than asking for farmgate price.

In Part 2, we’ll talk about the terms for pricing coffee and the factors that complicate them: the meaning of farmgate pricing, the real numbers that underpin it, and the impact of shared lexicon—or lack thereof—on discussions around pricing.

Part 3 will discuss cost of production and sustainability, as well as why context often matters more than numbers.

In Part 4, we’ll talk about purchasing models and why what you pay sometimes matters less than how you buy.

In Part 5, we’ll explore how to ask the right questions about how coffee was priced and get real answers about your importer’s purchasing model.

As coffee lovers, we need to continue having that conversation and delving deeper; it’s absolutely critical to the future of coffee. To do that, we need to unpack all the context we can on what these numbers really mean, so that consumers at all levels of the coffee industry are able to make informed decisions about where their coffee should come from.

By: RJ Joseph

Newsletter: Ethiopia Agaro 2019

Agaro’s Back and it’s Better than Ever

It’s time to get excited about Ethiopia, and right now it’s all about the coffees we have coming in from Agaro—not just because they taste amazing, but also because they’ll be here soon, first of all our Ethiopian offerings.
Agaro coffees have always formed a core of the Red Fox menu, but our relationship with Agaro extends back far before Red Fox was born. Back in 2009 when Aleco first traveled to meet the Yukro, Duromina, and Nano Challa cooperatives, their coffees were flowing into the marketplace undifferentiated and undervalued. Once USAID’s Technoserve project, which focused on improving African coffee farmers’ lives by helping them get better prices for their coffee, established these washing stations, Aleco saw the unique character of these coffees and invested in developing relationships with their producers, which have grown stronger to this day. Two years ago, we were excited to welcome Kolla Bolcha, a newer cooperative neighboring the Biftu Gudina cooperative, into the Agaro family. All of these coops live under the umbrella of the Kata Muduga cooperative union, whose leadership makes all these coffees possible.
This is an especially exciting year for Nano Challa and it’s new sibling mill, Nano Genji. The members of Nano Challa have historically produced one of the most, if not the most, coveted coffees in all of Western Ethiopia. Doing such a great job with production & process has lead to receiving tremendous premiums, swelling membership to a level that pushed their capacity as far as it could go. This year, they opened a new facility a few miles away with brand new Penagos equipment along with dozens of drying beds to accommodate their growing membership.
While these coffees all hail from the same region, the Agaro portfolio offers an incredibly diverse array of flavors. At their most iconic, Nano Challa and Nano Genji bring an intense, lively sweetness like candied ginger and a sparkling, champagne-like finish, whereas Kolla Bolcha is perfectly complete bringing ripe red fruit character (think cherry, currant, etc), a heavy cola sweetness with a lustrous, honeyed mouthfeel. Our Yukro offerings are juicy and refreshingly tart like currants, both red and black, while Duromina offers ripe, sultry melon and apricot sweetness tied together by vibrant Meyer lemon acidity.
These coffees are special, and we want you to try them. We’ve worked together with Asnake and Efrem, Kata Muduga’s leadership, for ten years now, which affords Red Fox first right to lot selection. With mighty effort from our strategic trade partners in Addis, we ship these lots first as well—so, look for the first Ethiopian containers arriving on the east coast March 15 and on the west coast just a few weeks later. Get in touch with your contact over here, or reach out to info@redfoxcoffeemerchants.com to book some!

Newsletter: Ethiopia Guji Uraga

We all know the highest grown coffees at altitude are the last to ripen, meaning they’re most often last in the queue at the dry mill, and they’re the last to ship. In the case of Ethiopia, they are also the coffees that need some extra time to compose themselves and shine in the cup. After a handful of years experience with Uraga coffees, my personal favorite area in Southern Ethiopia, I am confident that this is essentially fact.

This season’s Yabitu Koba and Layo Teraga out-turns prove that. It’s been just over a month since they arrived into the Port of New Jersey, and these coffees are beginning to reveal themselves. The journey from the southern interior of Ethiopia to Addis to Djibouti, up the Red Sea and across the Mediterranean, finally traversing the Atlantic is an arduous one. It stresses the coffee. In the case of these higher altitude coffees, I think they become tight and need time in the warehouses to acclimate. Let’s say that they’re now getting comfortable in their new surroundings.

Our Uraga lots typically hit their peak flavor potential fall through winter and we’re tasting the onset of that concept just now. Some of my favorite emails of the year are those I receive from roasters in Jan/Feb, when I’m selecting new crop lots in Addis, telling me that Yabitu is better than it’s been all season.

Don’t miss out on top lots that will carry you safely through winter until new crop arrives next spring.

We’ve made allocations of all three of today’s offerings in both Continental Terminals NJ and The Annex CA.

OFFER
*units are available as 60 kg grain pro lined jute bags.
*all units are now SPOT The Annex CA/Continental Terminals NJ

Yabitu Koba #728 FTO fragrance: spice (clove, allspice), ripe plum — cup profile: fresh blueberry, root beer, pear, cherry tomato, cider-like mouthfeel — 88/89 points.

Yabitu Koba #729 FTO fragrance: stewed peach, wildflower honey — cup profile: crisp and refreshing malic acidity, white pineapple, rhubarb, fresh milk, cacao nibs — 90 points.

Layo Teraga: fragrance: peach, brulee’d sugar — cup profile: white grape juice, meyer lemon, refreshing/piquant acidic character, almost ethereal cleanliness in the finish, hints of macadamia in the aftertaste — 88/89 points.

Cheers,

Aleco

Newsletter: Secure Source: Rwanda

Rwanda makes up a smaller portion of the total volume of coffee that we buy at Red Fox, but in many ways it represents best the potential for the work that we do as specialty coffee buyers. First, there is the coffee itself: nearly 100% heirloom Bourbon, grown in the volcanic soil of Rwanda’s abundant hills. Elevation across the country ranges from 1,500 to 2,000+ masl, and rainfall is ideal for coffee cultivation. The cup profiles in Rwanda are unique and varied, with saturated sweetness and full-bodied mouthfeel, as well as complexity, brilliant acidity, and vibrant fruit. And the fully-washed, centralized processing in Rwanda is meticulous, some of the best of any origin we work in.

But the story of coffee in Rwanda was not always so. When the reshaping of Rwanda’s coffee sector began in 2000, only six years after the utter devastation of the genocide, 90% of Rwanda’s coffee crop was classified as low-quality ‘ordinary’ coffee.’ There were hardly any centralized processing stations in the country and almost no washed coffee was produced at all. The history of coffee cultivation in Rwanda, inextricably linked to colonial policies from the 1930s, included enforced planting of coffee, restricted cherry prices, high taxes on exports, and tight control over who could buy and sell coffee within the country. After the genocide, the government lifted restrictions on trade and on farmers, and then began a sustained and focused effort to develop a high-quality, specialty coffee market in Rwanda.

In a collaborative effort, donor-funded NGOs, like PEARL and later SPREAD, formed and trained cooperatives, supported the building of hundreds of new washing stations throughout the country, invested in training and technical assistance for farmers, agronomists, cuppers, and quality control professionals. These long-term investments across the supply chain in Rwanda dramatically increased the supply of quality coffee in the country. Demand for high-quality Rwandan coffee has increased globally, farmers have access to higher prices for the fruits of their labor, and many skilled jobs have been created throughout the supply chain, from accountants and managers at washing stations, to cuppers, agronomists, quality control personnel, and positions in dry milling and export.

There are still challenges, of course. Washing stations are costly to operate and often struggle to remain solvent. Government regulation over cherry prices can be destabilizing year to year for washing station owners, millers, and exporters. But coffee in Rwanda has come a long way, and we are glad to have a small role in that process. Quality continues to improve and the coffees are beautiful, stable, and a welcome addition to seasonal coffee menus everywhere. Our Rwandan coffees arrive to the US in the late summer and early fall.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Kanzu

Aleco first set his heart on coffee from Kanzu at Rwanda’s Golden Cup in 2007. The coffee came in fourth in the competition, but the sweetness and profile blew him away, and he set off to go about buying it. At the time, the washing station’s owner struggled to stay in operation from year to year, and buying coffee from Kanzu in the subsequent years was a rollercoaster. In 2012, the washing station was purchased by C. Dorman and for the past five years they have made investments in infrastructure, trained farmers on agronomic best practices, and improved quality control. It’s a well-run operation and the quality of the coffee is superb. Elevation at the washing station is 1,900 masl, and most of the coffee is grown on the steep hills above, where the high elevation and cool climate slow down the cherry ripening and make for very dense fruit. Lots are separated by week through the harvest season and we cup each separation to select the top lots. Kanzu is our longest-standing relationship in Rwanda.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Rusizi, Western Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: asian pear, blackcurrant, concord grape, honey, date syrup, fresh cream

Nyamasheke District, Western Province – Gatare

The Gatare washing station is just a few ridges beyond Kanzu, also in the Nyamasheke district, which lies between Lake Kivu to the west and the vast Nyungwe Forest National Park to the south and east. It began operating in 2003, when it was one of just a handful of washing stations processing fully-washed, speciality coffee in the country. Elevation at the mill is 1,765 masl and they receive cherry from upwards of 2,000 farmers from the surrounding hills. Red Fox bought coffee from Gatare for the first time last year and the incredible floral characteristics, layers of sweet stone fruit, muscovado sugar, and gingerbread won us over immediately. The washing station has the capacity to process a large volume of coffee and we hope to see our relationship grow here.

Peak Harvest Season: April – June
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: plum, peach, brown sugar, candied ginger, orange peel, fine cacao, honeysuckle

Nyamagabe District, Southern Province – Kibirizi

Our Kibirizi lots hail from the Nyamagabe district in the southwest of Rwanda, which lies between Cyangugu and Butare, east of the Nyungwe Forest. Here the landscape opens up into seemingly endless dome-shaped hills, nearly every square foot terraced and cultivated. Coffee production is only recently becoming as widespread here as in the Western District, but it is growing quickly. This washing station was built in 2016 and last year was its first year in operation. Immaculate and Francine, the washing station’s owners, have also planted over 20,000 coffee trees of their own, some of which are not yet producing fruit. This season, they bought cherry from around 500 farmers in the region and doubled their production over last year. In the cup, the Kibirizi profile is full of intensity with fresh and dried red fruits, bright kiwi and lime acidity, and elegant hibiscus floral notes.

Peak Harvest Season: March – May
Shipping Timeline: July – September
Dry Mill Location: Kigali City, Kigali Province (5,000 ft)
Flavor Profile: red fruit – dried cherry, cranberry, cane sugar, crème brulee, hibiscus

Cheers,

Julia

 

Newsletter: Secure Source: Peru

Peru is our fastest-growing origin in terms of project development and coffee procurement, and it’s what we think about when we think of the future of Red Fox. As of July 2017, we are now operating out of a fully-functional cupping laboratory in Miraflores, Lima. And in addition to our Quality Director for Peru, Tibed Yujra, we’ve recently brought on Ali Newcomb to run the operation as Gerente General. We’re looking forward to hosting any and all of you at our new Lima lab for a cupping. We can also facilitate field trips out to the many different regions from which we are sourcing. A new chapter for Red Fox has begun!

My first ventures into the Andean interior of Peru as a coffee buyer were in the south, almost a decade ago. Most other buyers seemed to be focusing on the more accessible regions of the north — Jaen, San Ignacio, Moyabamba, and beyond. Naturally, I wanted to head in the opposite direction. So I set off south, to the Sandia Valley of Puno, which remains our largest source of quality coffee in Peru to this day. When Red Fox started, we trekked up from Puno into the La Convencion and Yanatile valleys of Peru to discover new regions. As of last year, we made the decision to buy coffee in the north as well, albeit in regions and with cooperatives that have yet to be accessed by other buyers. The Alto Mayo Protected Preserve and the deep interior of Cajamarca are where we begin that adventure.

We’d like to shed some light on what’s happening with each of our projects and on the producer groups we’re currently partnered with. You’ll find rough harvest and shipping timelines, price ranges, and flavor profiles for each region below.

PUNO — Cecovasa

The Cecovasa Coop in the Sandia Valley of Puno remains the largest source of coffee in Peru for Red Fox. We expect anywhere from 40-60% of our total purchase volume to come from the now illustrious Tupac Amaru, Inambari, San Isidro, San Jorge, Charuyo, and San Ignacio cooperatives. Coffees from this region are the ones that have changed people’s minds about the potential of Peruvian coffee, potential that will soon rival Colombia in terms of quality in South America. Not only are floral, Ethiopia-like producer lots from Wilson Sucaticona, Pablo Mamani, Juan Quilla Laura, and Ciriaco Quispe turning heads, but so is the sheer longevity of coop and bulk lots from across the valley, like the Aprocafe Coop lot I’m sipping on as I write this. These are not your grandparents’ Perus of yesteryear that were a roll of the dice in terms of arrival quality. These are coffees that last, like the most solid Guatemalans and Ecuadors.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: red apple, asian pear, red currant, dark honey, bittersweet cacao, black walnut

CUSCO — Incahuasi

My first adventure into the Incahuasi Valley was in the summer of 2006. It was a trek, almost 12 hours from the city of Cusco. Straddling the border with Ayacucho, which is now also producing coffee under the Incahuasi cooperative umbrella, the valley feels hidden and very off the beaten path. The potential for top quality on both sides of the border is undeniable. There’s as large a volume of 2,000 masl coffee production out here as I’ve seen anywhere on the globe. The cooperative leadership is open-minded and progressive, and since we’ve started working together we’ve seen annual improvements in drying, storage, and transport. Incahuasi has become a model relationship for us. Aromatics are intensely sweet, reminiscent of raw honey, ripe mango and baked cherry. Cup profiles in the valley demonstrate fresh stone fruit character, nectarine and cherry in particular.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: raw honey, ripe mango, baked cherry, stone fruit, nectarine, cherry

CUSCO — Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is the final stop on the trek to Machu Picchu. Just 30 minutes from Quillabamba, the heart of the La Convencion Valley, Santa Teresa sits at the base of the Templo de La Luna on the Urubamba river. A handful of the farms we buy from are strewn along a hidden pathway that was used to evacuate the Inka during attacks on the community. Needless to say, the landscape is stunning and steeped with powerful energy. The coffees as well. Like many of the farms we work with in the La Convencion Valley, altitude soars from 1,750 to 2,100 masl. Slow ripening through October develops saturated sweetness and ripe fruit character. This will be our third season working with the group in Santa Teresa, and we expect to see great improvement in terms of processing and delivery over the past couple years.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: mango, peach, yellow plum, maple, muscovado sugar, creme brulee, toasted almond.

CUSCO — Grupo Calca

This year we will purchase a small volume of micro lots — less than a container load — from an old friend in the Yanatile and Lares river valleys of Cusco, Prudencio Vargas. Prudencio has done a miraculous job of organizing a loyal group of twenty farmers in this remote corner of Cusco into one unified association. Production from each producer rarely reaches 10 bags annual. Typica is the variety of choice, though Caturra, Bourbon, Mundo Novo, and the dreaded Catimor can be found in the region. These valleys are arid and desert-like, creating an ideal environment for drying and storing parchment coffee. Altitude in the area can reach 2,200 masl, and quality is utterly exceptional from the group, often exceeding 87/88 points. Think pure fruit nectar with high intensity of sweetness and acidity.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – November
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: white grape, lemon/lime, satsuma, bing cherry, fig, brulee’d sugar, yellow honey, cacao nibs

CUSCO — Rio Mapacho

Last season’s Rio Mapacho lots turned a lot of heads. It’s a region that hasn’t been accessed much by specialty buyers, and we intend to help put it on the map. The cooperative is located deep within the Calca province just outside of Cusco’s Sacred Valley. The coffees are juicy and complex, often reminding us more of Sandia Valley coffees than of what we expect from Cusco cup profiles. Dark fruits like black cherry, currants, and plum are redolent in character, accentuated by dark honey and panela. Production is low at the cooperative — we expect anywhere from 200-350 bags of exportable coffee this season. No more. Those with interest here should respond quickly.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Juliaca, Puno (12,500 ft)
Flavor Profile: black cherry, black currant, plum, dark honey, muscovado sugar, marshmallow

ALTO MAYO — Coopbam

The Alto Mayo protected forest spans the border between the San Martin and Amazonas departments of Northern Peru. It is home to a large cross-section of native Peruvian wildlife as well as some of the country’s last undiscovered coffee. We were initially introduced to the area as part of the Alto Mayo Conservation Initiative funded by Conservation International in an attempt to save the native coffee production. Altitude in the low-lying areas (1,400+ masl) is conducive to sweeter, balanced cups with finer levels of acidity. Altitude in the higher reaches (exceeding 1,800-1,900 masl) produces coffee of elegant quality. This is a very wet area, and we’ve put great emphasis on drying and storage since beginning with the group. It’s beginning to pay off. After purchasing just a small volume of coffee last year, we’re on the verge of something more substantial this season.

Peak Harvest Season: July – September
Shipping Timeline: September – October
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: prune, raisin, meyer lemon, cacao nibs, high percentage cacao, vanilla, toasted almond

CAJAMARCA — Rutas del Inka

There is a lot to be amped about in Peru this year, but I keep coming back to our newest relationship out in the deepest reaches of Cajamarca. The Rutas del Inka cooperative is only a couple of years old, but leadership is strong and potential for quality coffee is off the charts. Altitude soars up here, with the majority of coffee production hovering right around 2,000 masl. Farms are on the younger side and are very healthy. All indications point to very special coffees on the horizon. We’ve just begun cupping the early harvest samples and are still learning the regional cup profile. Our first take is that cups are laden with juicy, refreshing acidity and ripe dark fruits like currants, red grape, and plum. These are powerful coffees driven by bright high notes.

Peak Harvest Season: August – October
Shipping Timeline: September – December
Dry Mill Location: Chiclayo, Lambayeque (sea level in dry, stable, desert-like conditions)
Flavor Profile: red grape, black currant, yellow plum, wildflower honey, vanilla, toasted almond

Tibed has made a handful of additional visits to regions all over the north, from Jaen to San Ignacio and beyond. He’s been cupping in local competitions in areas across Cusco that are newer to us. He’s plotted coffee on his altimeter above 2,200 masl in the Selva Central. The seven relationships noted above are our core group, but we’re always on the lookout for something new and beautiful to discover.

Cheers!

Aleco