A decade of learning


If you read the last newsletter you'll know that I've just been away on a course called 'Plant to Port' in Colombia, organised and hosted by our import partner Raw Material. The pic below was taken on the first day walking around Raw Material's own development farm and community wet-mill El Fenix, where the group spent the first three days. There is no filter applied. The cherries were really this vibrant red.

Over the 10 years since starting Crankhouse I've taken part in a number of courses and events: SCA green and sensory, CRG Sensory Summit, Roasters Guild's, Coffee Sensorium online courses, Lucia Solis’s week-long fermentation camp and various Coffee Knowledgehub courses. In addition I’ve been on a number of origin trips and most recently completed the ZHAW post-grad certificate in Coffee Excellence. I know I’m still on a high but I can say that this one-week immersive and structured course was up there with the very best. As the name suggests the material covered aspects of coffee production from the necessary environmental conditions for the plant to thrive, through to farming methodologies, post-harvest processing and fermentation techniques, the importance of drying and the final milling and quality checks at the mill before export.

My fellow students were a mix of roasters, producers and an 'enthusiast' considering a career change into coffee, and a delight to be with over the week long course. Our instructors were some of the best producers, processing instructors and educators in the Colombian coffee space and the level of knowledge and information shared was at times quite overwhelming in volume and detail. Raw Material's own Miguel Fajardo Mendoza hosted the course and what a power house of a human being. Miguel is a 4th generation farmer, RM’s head of Colombia operations, an Industrial Engineer and has a wealth of knowledge (and is a super nice guy to boot). He was joined for separate specialist areas by an array of Colombian big-hitters Mario Gonzales, Henrando Tapasco (aka Tingo-tango man), Juan Felipe Aristizabal and Edier Ramos. Together they have the combined knowledge that all the books, google searches and online classes can no way match. The level of knowledge and information shared was at times quite overwhelming in volume and detail, but it’s a testament to these incredible instructors and their engaging styles that we lapped it all up and asked for more.

We were very lucky with the group dynamic and having the three Colombian producers at different stages of their coffee journeys Avelino, Harry and Natalia made it all feel so much more important than simply an educational coffee course. It was so much more.

During the course I had a couple of light-bulb moments and I'll share this one in particular. The producers were a mix of ages and experiences. Avelino from the ASOCAFE TATAMA Association was in his early 40's and is well known in Santuario as one of the best producers in the region. Harry (in his late 20's) had recently graduated as an Agronomical Engineer with ambitions to one day have his coffee served in speciality coffee shops inside and outside of his home city of Pereira. Natalia (in her early 20's) was waiting for her first harvest on her parents farm. They were excited to meet roasters from the UK and IRELAND on our trip who had customers who might one day drink their coffee. They see us (roasters) as one of the most important players in the supply chain. I see it completely reversed. The amount of work, care and attention that goes into growing, harvesting and processing this incredible psychoactive seed is way more detailed and involved than the final steps we take once we receive the green coffee, roast it and put it in a nice bag. But we are the buyers, we have the money, and the power. People in the industry frequently talk about the power imbalance and it really hit home on this trip.

To change the balance of power is not easy. It's not just a matter of offering to pay the importers more, without understanding where and how the moneys are distributed. We talk in speciality coffee about being divorced from the commodity 'C' market through which 'cheap' coffee is traded but we're absolutely not. Speciality is intrinsically linked to the C market since all producers, Avelino and Natalia alike will produce a range of qualities meeting different standards. Some might go into the speciality market, but you can be sure that a majority will not and will be sold into a coop, association or directly to Coyote's in the local market. That will be the majority of their income and our small contributions via their special 'anaerobic sleeping bag Pink Bourbon' will only contribute a small part.

All we can do as a speciality roaster is to tell their story and market their coffees to the best of our abilities, so that our customers feel engaged with them and their hard work. I hope you feel that our little speciality roasting business goes some way to achieving this.

There were other lightbulb moments which I'll happily share over a coffee or a beer sometime.

I feel privileged to have been a part of this course and I can honestly say that’s one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life either in or out of ‘coffee’.  Thank you Raw Material and thank you Brian, Phil, Joe, Mike, Harry, Avelino, Natalia and of course Miguel and the other instructors.

I've already secured a few test lots that Miguel had undertaken before the course, as well as something special from our fermentation guru Hernado Tapasco. I have expressed 'significant' interest in coffees from Harry and Avelino. Miguel told me I might have to wait a few years for Natalia's first coffees, but that's perfectly fine with me. Gracias amigos.

Here are a few picture highlights of the 8 days to give you a little taster of the experience (some images courtesy of Andrea Jimenez).


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