4 Minutes Read
Melanie Ann Leeson
Europe Sales Director
The green coffee business is infinitely multi-faceted and there is no one-size-fits-all formula to ensure that everyone involved in each coffee’s supply chain has their needs met. It is also far from being a secret that green coffee trading is infamously poor at meeting the needs of its producers. Specialty coffee, with its emphasis on quality, traceability, higher farm-gate pricing, has always been well-intentioned in overcoming the shortcomings of trading coffee on commodities markets. While its efforts have so far led to mixed results, its values and principles have only seen an increasing buy-in from producers, to roasters, to consumers all over the world.
In my still nascent career in the specialty green coffee trade, I have nonetheless been a part of many different approaches to trading green coffee as a result of having worked with many individuals at 10 different origins spread across East Africa and the Americas. Each origin partner, whether a farmer, processing facility, or exporter, has had a unique approach to green coffee, but underlying all these approaches has been a similar belief that the principles of higher quality, greater traceability, and better producer empowerment will lead to a coffee trade that works better for everyone involved.
As part of my introduction to joining the Caravela team, I spent all of January touring five of our operations: Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Nothing replaces experiencing things up-close when you’re learning the ropes of a position within a company that works in eight different producing countries. This last point—that all five origin operations I visited are a part of Caravela—was one of the most intriguing elements of my trip. While each origin is indisputably unique, there is an underlying and unifying model at work.
This model is successful because it is based on high quality standards, comprehensive work with its contributing producers through the PECA program, and standardized traceability metrics. Being able to focus on being consistent within these areas does not mean having to sacrifice flexibility, which is a simultaneous necessity to meet the unique challenges of each origin.
Being that Caravela is a green exporter (first and foremost) with three sales offices (in the US, Europe, and Australia) brings about unique rapports between the export and sales offices. As the manager of the European sales office, I am simultaneously a colleague and a customer of each origin’s team.
Writing from the perspective of a customer, a role I am intimately familiar with, having spent my green coffee career working at an importer, I came away from my tour with confidence that when my roasting clients visit our origins, they will similarly find Caravela origin operations to be professional, transparent, and deeply knowledgeable. Our operations are built upon operating procedures that are quantifiable, quality control measures that are extensive and traceable from local buying station to sales office, and a farmer extension program (PECA) that is staffed with educated, knowledgeable, and local (team members most often coming from within the farming communities they serve) people.
To finish, I want to share some highlights about the unique qualities of each origin I visited that I believe roasters will appreciate.
Being Caravela’s first origin, it has the advantage of being its most established; its operations more finely tuned. We work in four regions: Cauca, Huila, Nariño, and Tolima. This means that coffee is being harvested almost all-year-round (so there’s always fresh crop available) and an abundance of variety in cup profiles.
Currently our second-largest origin operation. Unlike the other origins, coffee is delivered wet (a long-standing tradition), which means that our team has full control over the drying process (always on raised beds, unlike the general practice). These measures lead to a longer, more controlled drying time and ultimately, a more consistent quality control. Combined with strong producer partnerships through PECA and relatively low prices, our Nicaraguan offerings can be viewed as being the best overall deal for its price range.
Caravela’s second origin and one of its most intriguing due to an abundance of interesting varieties and processing traditions. As a coffee origin, it is famous for being the birthplace of the Pacas variety, coming from the bourbon family, and Pacamara, a hybrid of Pacas and Maragogype. Both are known to provide very tasty cup profiles indeed. Salvadoran producers are known to embrace experimentation in processing, which can be a double-edged sword, but which we appreciate for in terms of their ambition to innovate.
The coffee origin with the highest proportion of coffee considered to be “high quality”. Coffee is grown all over the country, given its rich volcanic soils, altitude diversity, and continuous rainfall. These environmental factors make it ideal for producing quality coffee. Producers range from smallholder to big and industrial. Our team is focusing on developing partnerships with small scale producers, which we believe will lead to a greater variety of offerings to suit each taste and market.
Our newest origin and the one that several on our team believe has the most potential due to the relative underdevelopment of producer knowledge about specialty coffee contrasted with the still great abundance of heirloom varieties being grown at very high altitudes. A hidden gem with lots of small-scale producers eager to learn and to get paid better prices for their coffee.
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