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Destination and Discovery under the Spotlight

Here at Cafédirect, we are honoured to allow our subscribers a unique tour around the world of coffee. Our coffee subscription offers the opportunity to visit a different country every month and experience what makes that origin special and distinctive. We extensively explore the world for the finest specialty coffee we can find. Although the flavour and quality of the coffee are paramount, we also look for inspiring stories of farmers and co-operatives who battle adversity, support their local communities and lead the way for sustainable farming methods.

Discovery Plan This amazing plan offers you a new coffee destination every month. We generally want to have distinct coffees that showcase contrasting flavours and aromas each month so that you are experiencing the complexity of different origins. We believe what makes this journey special is that we are often trying new origins and unique processing methods at the same time as you.

Our customers can also choose from our destination offerings named Bright & Aromatic and Rich & Chocolatey.  We source a new coffee every few months and aim to find micro lots with the highest quality from some of the best producing countries in the world. The offerings have specific flavour profiles that we try and match with regions that best showcase what we are looking for. There are many factors to coffee producing that allows for specific characteristics and nuances to shine through the coffee. These include climate, terroir, variety, altitude, and processing. Each combine to strongly influence the flavours associated with that origin. For example

Bright & Aromatic We generally look for coffees from East Africa. The Great Rift Valley has the perfect terroir to produce complex coffees, with the most distinct & nuanced flavours, bright acidity and clean body. Often the flavour profiles are fruity, floral and tropical.

Rich & Chocolatey – We generally look for coffees from the Americas. South America has the terroir and varietals to produce full bodied coffees, with rich chocolatey flavours that are well balanced with sweet notes of caramel and nuts and often with subtle citrus acidity.

Altitude

Generally speaking the higher the altitude a coffee is grown the more superior flavour it will possess. In hotter climates at lower altitudes trees will thrive, especially in tropical climates. Yet higher temperatures make coffee plants grow more strenuously, increasing the amount of fruits you will harvest. This comes at a consequence to the flavour, becoming diluted through higher leaf quantity. Fast maturing fruits means less sugars can develop within the cherry leading to a lower quality and lack of complex flavours.

Alternatively coffee grown at higher altitudes means colder temperatures. Trees produce less growth and fruit yet they ripen slower and harvest denser beans with concentrated sugars and organic acids that create clear and distinct flavours. Higher altitudes comes with difficulties such as steep slopes and soil erosion making it difficult to hand pick the cherries and manage the fields. Yet those that persist and dedicate to growing at higher altitudes reap the rewards as they produce some of the finest coffees in the world.

Climate

Although coffee originated in the heart of Africa where the climate is tropical and hot, as previously mentioned, the hotter the climate does not equate to better growing conditions. Arabica coffee actually needs a variety of temperatures in which to flourish. Too hot and the plant can languish, making them susceptible to pests and diseases. Too cold the whole crop can be lost. There needs to be an equilibrium of micro climates for coffee plants to thrive. Ideal conditions are warm days with good sun, allowing the sugars inside the fruit to develop. This is combined with cold nights, which prevents the process from happening too fast and underdevelopment occurring. These optimum conditions occur around the equator, which is why East African and Central American producing regions are considered to be the perfect climates to produce the highest quality coffee.

Rainfall

Rainfall is another important element to coffee producing and quality. Arabica requires around 60-100 inches of rain across a period of nine months. After the first rainfalls, the flowering of the plants follows. Rain is needed throughout the growing season as the coffee develops. Once again the equilibrium of micro climates is prevalent as a dry season is essential whilst the coffee is harvested and dried. Countries such as Colombia have such diverse rainfall that they are able to harvest their crops twice a year. Some countries like El Salvador however, have had disastrous harvests in recent years as rainfall has ruined their crops.

Soil

Soil is the last element of what makes the ideal terroir for coffee producing. Each origin has a specific type of soil with different amounts of acids. For example, malic acid is more common in Kenyan coffees which leads to more blackcurrant and apple notes. Coffee needs light soil with gravel or stones to help the plant stay cool and drained from excess rainfall. It also needs an ideal amount of acidity with a pH of 5 to 7 and good levels of nitrogen and potassium. Many of our favourite tasting coffees have been cultivated on volcanic soil, which is considered ideal soil conditions as it possesses special chemical properties, rich in nutrients and high in acidity.

Processing

After the cherries are picked and sorted for under ripe cherries, the coffee bean needs to be removed from the cherry it has developed in and then dried. There are a few different ways farmers approach this process, each one giving the coffee its own unique characteristics, distinct flavours and different balance Most of this stems from allowing the coffee to ferment in either water or its own intensely flavoured cherry skin.

Natural  – The skin is left on and taken directly to the drying beds. Producing countries use this process due to a lack of fresh water supply. In Ethiopia where the method was first implemented it is commonly used with outstanding results and complex flavours that are recognisable around the world. We often look for an Ethiopian natural for our Bright & Aromatic offering. As the natural profiles are often wilder in nature, syrupy sweet mouthfeel, with fruit tones being more like stewed fruits that can resemble a booziness in their structure.

Washed – The skin is removed first, then the bean is left to ferment in a water tank before being dried. Removing the wild and intense fruitiness of the cherry skin leaves you with a coffee that has clarity, clean body and highlighted acidity. Washed coffees tend to have lighter bodies, and more citrus fruits tones shine through which is a natural expression of all the sugars and acid development inside the bean. Our Rich & Chocolatey offerings are generally washed as we want the natural expression of the coffees origin to be exposed without any masking from additional fruity flavours from the cherry skin.

Female farmers and their fight for communities and equality.

Since the dawn of time throughout many cultures, there has been a deeply rooted stereotype of what makes a farmer. From the first farmers in ancient Mesopotamia to the cowboys of 1800s America. Farmers were said to represent patriarchy, stoic masculinity and be the providers for the family. The role of the farmer has always been looked at through a male gaze, with prejudice towards their female counterparts. We believe it’s time to shine a light on the incredible work women do producing outstanding coffees, and the gender inequality they still face as farmers.

There is a common misconception surrounding female farmer’s participation in the coffee industry. Women ‘’make up around 43% of the labour force in the developing countries’’ according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO). Moreover in coffee fieldwork that number is 70%, where farmers often hand pick and sort the cherries. This is one of the most important jobs as a farmer, as it decides the level of quality and consistency of the final cup.

Although women are heavily represented in fieldwork, they are massively misrepresented when it comes to land, training and business. With little influence in decision making, crop analysis and trading. Women own just 15% of land for farming, of which 25-35% of all coffee farms are run by women and in terms of training. Women receive only 5% of the relevant training available.

According to the FAO “Just giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase production on women’s farms in developing countries by 20 to 30 percent’’.  A study by Mckinsey & Company states ‘’if every country match the progress toward gender parity of its fast moving neighbour, global GDP could increase by up to £12 trillion in 2025’’.  As these studies have highlighted if the equality for female farmers continues to improve, the impact of empowering women will stretch past economic and farming improvements and into the community with massive sociological developments.

Kofi Annan stated ‘’When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately, families are healthier, better fed, income and investments go up, and what is true of families is true of communities and eventually whole countries’’. This statement refers perfectly to the positive impact of the Sholi co-operative in Rwanda, our latest destination from our coffee subscription.

Abateraninkunga ba Sholi Cooperative translates to “Mutual Assitance’’and Sholi was borne out of a women’s association called “Kundwa”, which means “love” in Kinyarwanda. Nearly half of Sholi’s 386 members are women, including two of the five board members. Since it was established in 2008, the cooperative has worked closely with its members to improve both their coffee and the greater community. In 2016, Sholi received grants to build health and community centres for its residents. It’s great to see in this female cooperative continue to grow in size, quality and give back to the people.

There is still a long way to go until gender parity is achieved. Many coffee producing countries are still underdeveloped and belong to the 40 countries who have extremely high gender inequality, according to The UN’s human development report. However, there are many outstanding initiatives and alliances across the world that are enabling women to prosper and achieve incredible results in the coffee industry. The International Womens Coffee Alliance was set up to ‘’empower women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives […] to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry’’. Many of these initiatives are global networks connecting women in coffee to share, support and learn from one another.

We have also been regularly supporting the Muungano co-operative throughout the years. A women’s co-operative in DCR Congo. Muungano is a beacon of hope in a region that struggles with social turmoil, epitomizing its name which means “togetherness” in Swahili. The co-op set up the GALS initiative (Gender Action Learning Systems) where female and male members have the opportunity to work together highlighting the imbalance of their roles and benefits of addressing it. Empowering women to take equal part in the responsibilities and management of their households and finances gives them a voice and confidence to take equal part in the cooperative. 

Red de mujeres is another female co-operative that we return to year after year for their outstanding coffee. This producers group is made up of all 830 women. All with inspiring stories of hardship and abandonment of spouses after the civil war and coffee crisis. With the help of ACODIHUE, they trained in organic farming methods and marketing techniques. Empowered and united they became a stronger business. All whilst improving community services and protecting the farms, forests and livelihoods of everyone who stayed during adversity and who are now flourishing.

There has never been a more important time to support female farmers. Especially in an industry that will struggle with the problems posed by climate change and the ageing community of coffee farmers. Training women within the coffee industry and raising awareness for gender equality will increase productivity and could unlock an extra 30 billion cups of coffee per year, as suggested by the International coffee organization. However it is about much more than coffee productivity. It is teaching farmers about diversity, gaining second incomes from small holdings, environmental conservation, leadership skills and sustainable farming practices.

All reasons why Cafédirect will always support females whether they are workers, farmers or producers. We not only pay Fairtrade we also donate to Producers direct, an affiliated charity. This money and support is reinvested into not only the farmers and their development but also the wider communities and nations as a whole.

Climate Change – its effects on coffee production and the industries response.

Coffee production from farmer to consumer comprises a huge industry and provides livelihoods for around 100 million people worldwide.  In the UK alone we drink 85 million cups of coffee a day. With the industry being valued at 10 billion per year. On a wider world-scale coffee production is a crucial proportion of many countries export, that without could mean devastating economic consequences for those nations. In recent years there have been vast problems with coffee production due to issues such as disease, pests, droughts. These issues are rapidly rising as a result of climate change.

Kew Gardens have been at the forefront of wild plant conservation and research since the mid-1800s and have been researching wild coffee species for over two decades. Most of their research has been undertaken in Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica coffee. Dr Aaron Davis has recently published a journal outlining the drastic effects climate change will have on the production of coffee across the world. Dr Aaron Davis states that Arabica coffee is now considered an endangered species as are 60% of all known wild species of coffee. This is due to the effects of deforestation, climate change and increasing severity of fungal diseases. Kew gardens research also found ‘the current conservation measures for wild species are inadequate to ensure the long term future of coffee’.

Due to the unique collection of exclusive varieties that reside in Ethiopia, several case studies have been undertaken there by Kew. In 2012 they projected ‘climate changes effects on wild species in Ethiopia would decrease them by 85% by 2080’. This has severe ramifications when finding new species that are climate tolerant to crossbreed. Past species that have become successful in mainstream coffee production have all come from Ethiopia, the chances of this happening again are becoming less probable.

In 2017 this projection became even gloomier for coffee farmers as the Kew team predicted ‘climate changes effects on Ethiopia’s coffee production would mean 60% of the land used could become unsustainable for use by end of the century’. These are stark warnings of the effects rising temperatures, rainfall shortages and deforestation will have on the industry. Yet this is nothing new as Asia has in recent history suffered complete devastation to its coffee production due to warmer climates allowing fungal diseases such as leaf rust to thrive and wiping out plantations.

What are the experts, farmers and buyers of coffee doing to restore and maintain the sustainable production of coffee?

Kew’s research and projections are trying to ‘help (farmers) better understand the risks so that appropriate intervention and planning measures are put in place such as assisted migration, forest preservation and regeneration’. One farm that we have regularly supported in Ethiopia is Kayon Mountain. The farm, owned by Ato Esmael, was established with the aim of producing coffee that is socially and environmentally responsible. The farm is organically certified where only animal dung is used for fertilizer. The heirloom coffee trees are planted under a natural canopy of protected trees, which creates a vital ecosystem for all surrounding wildlife to flourish.

This social and environmental awareness is crucial in today’s climate, as mass deforestation for farming and industry has destroyed many communities and habitats, this none more so than Brazil. Edio Miranda, a producer we have recently supported, is concerned about making his coffee production as sustainable as possible. Caring for the maintenance of the soil, preservation of rivers and local species by keeping “green runways” along the property. It is vital that future generations share this focus and objective to become a sustainable business in all three aspects: economic, social and environmental.

Rarely do we hear or see the incredible work experts around the world are doing to resolve the possible threat of coffee extinction. It is important to understand the threats climate change poses to coffee. Coffee needs an equilibrium of hot days and cold nights to increase and then extend the development of sugars inside the cherry. Crops can withstand the predicted rises in temperatures resulting from climate change, but only if there is enough water available to the crops. This is where the problems arise.

Warmer temperatures and longer hot seasons result in less rainfall and varying seasons needed for coffee production. The majority of wild species adapt to survive their environments. Developing climate-resistant attributes due to dry conditions, shorter wet seasons, or their adapted to humid wet conditions and are tolerant to disease. This is where the idea of ‘crop wild relatives’ was introduced. Using wild species and related plants that have genetic resources capable of providing disease, pest and climate resistance. Once found cross-breeding these genes into the vulnerable Arabica species can take place.

This has already famously happened within the coffee industry with the introduction of a wild species from Ethiopia named Coffea Canephora. The species ‘possessed certain genes that were utilized from wild coffee diversity to resolve production issues’. They found the wild species had adapted to warmer climates, lower elevation, and easier production with high productivity.  Its resilient attributes and strong taste inspired its industry name of Robusta. There have been some less successful attempts of cultivating wild species. Coffea Liberica species showed all the signs of an incredible equivalent to Arabica with great yields, good climate and diseases tolerance, however, it tasted horrible. The one consequence to the introduction of Robusta is that it was such a success (now equates to 40% of all coffee production). The desire to keep researching and finding the next Robusta was neglected, which the industry is paying for now.

There is some hope as an elusive species Coffea Sterophylla which was last seen in Sierra Leone in 1954, and deemed extinct has been found by Dr Aaron Davis in 2018. One of the last known plants was rescued from an area severely threatened by deforestation. Although not known how much it can help with cross-breeding or cultivation for coffee production, it is deemed an exciting discovery as the species is famous for exquisite flavours that surpass Arabica.

Knowing what farmers and experts are doing, what can us as consumers do to help?

Although we may feel far removed from the situation, problems and solutions, it is important as consumers that we are more aware of where our coffee comes from. The environmental impact its journey to your cup has had on the planet is vitally important.

See if the company you buy from has full traceability back to the farm or producer. Look out for organic certification and whether any deforestation has occurred in the coffees production. See if the farmers have taken any initiative to improve their environmental sustainability. Coffee is forest grown so there’s a natural incentive to retain the forest and bio-diversity it contains by planting shade trees. Most importantly see if the company you buy from are paying fairtrade. The lack of profitability is another huge issue for farmers and means they are unable to invest in not only environmental and sustainable farming practices but also their families and communities.

Here at Cafédirect, we are 100% committed to buying Fairtrade coffee that is largely organic certified. We give 50% of our profits to our affiliated charity Producers Direct. Who support farmers to improve their organic sustainability and farming methods, in the hope that improving their quality, means increased profits and income, that can be reinvested into their farms and surrounding environments. We also take great pride in showcasing the amazing work the producers we buy from do for the wildlife, ecosystems and natural environment on their farms.

How we decide on your new coffees?

What is our philosophy?

There are many stages and variables when deciding on which coffee we want to buy and present to our customers, with most of our offerings representing a certain philosophy of sourcing coffee:

Origin Based – London Fields Range. Focused offerings from a handful of origins, highlighting the range of flavours from each origin and exploring their specific attributes and characteristics.

Profile Based – Bright & Aromatic, Rich & Chocolatey. Quality and flavour profile expectations independent of origin, expect the coffee to live up to these standards without certain origin restrictions.

Seasonality Based – Discovery Subscription. This is a self-imposed limitation, by offering a new coffee each month with a coffee subscription, we have to make sure the coffee is freshly harvested and in season.

Producer Based – Machu Picchu. Develop your coffee offerings around specific producer relationships, they will take on your feedback to improve the coffee to match our desired flavour profiles.

Sourcing

After deciding on what we would like our coffees to accomplish it is time to start sourcing. We have strong relationships with producers at origin who value our business and feedback and we will often receive a selection of their favourite harvested coffees. Often they have experimental processing methods that the farmer wants to showcase. If you do not have a direct trading relationship with a producer you have to start your search through your importers.

Importers will regularly release their offer lists. Here you will find a variety of coffees with prices, varietal, processing method and harvest date. All of which have a significant impact on the final price of a single coffee. Each coffee comes with tasting notes, helping you narrow down your search when looking for certain flavour profile. When we are looking for a specific origins characteristics we contact importers who specialise in that region as their expertise and knowledge are concentrated on quality over quantity.

Freshness

Freshness is a vitally important variable when deciding our destination and discovery offering. A coffees freshness is affected by the time it takes from the coffee being picked and processed to when it enters the roastery for sampling and cupping. The is due to the journey being long and arduous for all parties involved in the chain.

Often coffee can be waiting in sacks at origin, where heat can drain the coffee of its moisture and damage the quality of the bean. It can also spend large amounts of time at sea and stuck in containers at customs around various ports. This can lead to water from the ocean or moisture coming in contact with the sacks of coffee, creating an undesirable mouldy flavour.

There is also time coffee spends in warehouses waiting to be bought or released to customers. The longer the coffee spends inside its sack the more its exposed to moisture irregularity. Coffee can begin to take on the taste of the sack itself. This taste is often referred to as ‘bagginess’ and resembles cardboard. On a good run coffee takes around 3 months from processing and transportation to importer warehouses. Therefore we tend to look for coffees that have just landed in Europe or been in the warehouse for 2-3 months in order for the coffee to be fresh and untainted by unwanted flavours.

Sampling

When receiving a selection of samples in the roastery, we first have to evaluate the bean in its green form. This includes reading its moisture content, which should be between 9% and 12%. Visually checking the samples for defects, this is a good way to find out if the coffees journey has had a negative impact on the beans.

The next stage is very important with a series of decisions to be made. The two most important being; is the coffee any good? Is it worth the money being asked for by the producer? In order for coffee to be evaluated on a level playing field, we standardise the roasting on our sample roaster. The darker you roast will increase negative changes in coffees flavour and aroma, therefore we roast all of our samples to a light roast. This will expose the coffees flavours and aromas it possesses from its variety, process and terroir. This allows each sample to be evaluated on its own merit rather than on roasting.

Cupping

Cupping is a protocol that allows buyers and roasters to taste and compare many samples from different farms, regions and countries evaluating them in an objective manner. The samples need to be prepared in exactly the same way so that any differences between cups can only be due to the nature of the bean and not the brewing. First we dry evaluate the ground coffee. Next we add water for the coffee to brew, then break the crust that forms on the top. This process is where we best judge and score the captured aromas.

The coffee needs time to cool so that our taste buds can pick up the diversity of flavours. As taste buds are less sensitive at higher temperatures. This is one reason why specialty coffee gets more flavourful as it cools. During cuppings you will hear a range of slurps. This sprays the coffee over your palate and allows air to the coffee so that the complex flavours and aromas can be picked up by different taste buds in your mouth.

Over the first few sips you get a sense of the physical attributes of the coffee such as its smooth, light, boozy or heavy body. As it cools we begin to pick up nuanced flavour notes. This appreciation of the coffees is subjectively judged, we score each of the coffee out of 100. Any defects will decrease the score dramatically. Whereas clearly defined acidity and flavours, excellent structure and balance will make the coffee score higher.  An excellent standard is 84+ and is generally a benchmark score for our destination and discovery offerings. Any score below 80 is considered non speciality and tends to be a generic coffee flavoured drink that lacks sweetness and acidity.

Purchase and Testing

From this cupping a diverse discussion will follow and agreeing or disagreeing with one others opinions is incredibly valuable. If there is a coffee that we all love and find common tasting notes and characteristics and it matches our budget and philosophy this will tend to be the coffee we purchase. This is then where the fun part starts for us as roasters, we can take the coffee to our big roaster and start to test roast, which is followed by a repeat of the cupping process and discussions so we can innovate and improve until we unearth the positive attributes and flavours that we loved when first tasting and deciding.