I am currently writing from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Because many of you asked questions about this part of our work, I decided to talk more about our purchasing process (searching for rare batches, visiting our partners'farms...)
We recently received an invitation from our partner Coagricsal : we decided to visit its plantations.
I consider that in 2019, it is not necessary to go to the "origin" of the beans, because the current means of communication and shipping are effective enough and the costs related to a visit are high. I much prefer to buy more coffee or cocoa from producers, or to pay a higher price per kg if the quality is satisfying, than to go to the plantations and act
Because, honestly, they do not care about the visits. They are aware that most of the "small" roasters do not even have the capacity to import the beans directly from the farms : they usually buy from north american brokers. Farmers know that most of the visitors only intendance to take photos in a plantation for publicity and marketing goals. The roaster will publish his photos, and will lie to his customers that he buys "from the origin", and often goes to the farms to buy their coffee/cacao. But in reality, the roaster will contact a Canadian broker. Because, once again, very few roasters import their beans. Some have vacations in some expensive hotels and resorts, and booking an organized tour of the plantations. It is caricatural, but very widespread in the coffee and cocoa industry. And it's worse in the tea business.
So I feel bad about all the lies that some roaster are feeding their customers.
Buy the coffee is nothing glamorous and is the marketing to the water. For the buyer, and for the seller. In general, it is very cold, with the evaluation of the sample and the negotiation of the price. Of course on win-win relationships but this is a case where there is a lot of fraud. It is therefore normal for a small player to buy from a broker. This is of course, more stable, and you do not run for 5 months for coffee paid somewhere in East Africa. Lived.
So I'm irritated when I see companies telling stories that are far-fetched, and it looks like everyone is getting into it. So I have the taste to present my version.
The idea that a North American roaster arrives in a plantation to supposedly help producers to make quality is monumental hogwash. This speech was widely used at the beginning of Wave 3 to show consumers that they were dealing with a new wave of roasters. Of course, this marketing, unconscious or not, has made its way and has become viral.
You can not come to an organization that has been growing coffee for over 100 years and tell them how to do their jobs. Coffee producer associations are highly organized around the world. They have well-built structures, Q Grader experts, agronomists, trained business administration departments. And they manage millions of dollars in transaction.
I like to draw parallels with some of our agricultural structures in Quebec. Maple syrup producers, for example, are a little bit the same thing. They ensure that the reputation of Quebec maple syrup continues to be excellent by managing and accompanying producers. Coffee and cocoa growers work a lot like maple syrup producers.
There are those who have land, who harvest maple water, and who turn their water into their facilities. Some producers share facilities to produce their syrup that they can then sell to the federation and in certain niches that are regulated (a little too much according to some) by the federation.
Same thing for coffee and cocoa, some have their land on which they grow coffee and cocoa, and have their own pulping, fermentation, drying, sorting, and so on. Sometimes they get together and share some facilities. Subsequently, they also have the opportunity to sell in different niches, through the federation, directly to an importer, etc.
So, imagine a French chef, who loves and uses maple syrup from Gaspésie in his recipes, and who says he is buying his syrup directly from a small Gaspesian farm that has been making syrup for 4 generations. And who will visit them? He tells everyone that he helps them make the best syrup and that he educates them about the use of syrup in the kitchen ...
In short, you understand the idea.
You are not going to visit experts with the pretense of showing them how to do their job well.
That's why I think that "at the source" trips are a waste of time and a shame. A kind of relent of colonialism, which is amplified x 1000 if we mix with that the concept of fair certification. My approach is therefore full of respect for all that agricultural production requires. And it's the same thing with us. Southern coffee farmers and our agricultural producers are living in similar situations. And if you tell me no, the working conditions in the south are very different, I would say that it's different, but I would also suggest that you go talk with Quebec agricultural producers. You will see that it is not easy and that their situation is not very enviable.
And with this in mind, I try to respect the work of the land as much as possible, and not to land somewhere with the arrogance of the 3rd wave roaster.
Because at the end of the day, the producers want to make transactions, transform their harvest into dollars, like any other company in the world.
So why go to Honduras if I can buy and do my transactions remotely?
Well, because they invited me. The cooperative Coagricsal will inaugurate their new cocoa and chocolate processing workshop. As an entrepreneur, it will also be very stimulating because starting and running a business in Quebec or Honduras is basically quite similar, except that the context of Central America is very different from Quebec. And I certainly will not tell them what to do because running a business in Central America is a challenge.
It's a bit like being in a relationship and giving unsolicited advice. Usually, it's not very constructive for the relationship. We listen, and if you ask your opinion, you give it. Otherwise, you listen, you smile, you enjoy the experience, and you try to learn new things and other points of view.