The story of a thousand samples: how allocating lots to different products allows Has Bean to buy everything one family produces
7 Minutes Read
Low Incomes, Low Quality
Six years ago, Pedro Claros was so worried about the low international coffee prices, he didn’t have time to worry about investing in the infrastructure of his farm and wouldn’t take any risks because he had no security of what would happen to his coffee. Every year, despite producing a detailed forecast of how much coffee he was going to produce each harvest, he lived with the constant sense of uncertainty of how much income his coffee would bring him. He just had to hope his hard work would guarantee good prices, and that the base level of the market wouldn’t drop.
Pedro used to sell his coffee through a coffee grower’s cooperative in the region. The cooperative would buy his coffee and then sell it to the FNC or other exporters. However, the cooperative not only paid him a very low premium, but they also took a portion of that money as a commission, which was usually around 50,000 pesos per ‘carga’ (125 kg). Additionally, the cooperative would receive all his coffee and would pile it up with the other coffees of the region, without analyzing the quality of the coffee. This meant that Pedro was barely making any profit and he was not receiving any incentive to focus on high quality coffees.
Caravela started working with this cooperative in 2010, purchasing coffee from their members and paying them premiums for the quality. We analyzed the quality of every lot in the cooperatives’ warehouses and separated the ones that stood out among the others. This was when we met Pedro Claros and his wife Nelsy, a couple who run a family business in Pitalito, Huila: Finca La Chorrera.
William Ortiz, former QC Analyst in Pitalito (and today our Nicaragua Country Director) remembers: “Their coffee was good, but it was not a big deal. I remember that when he started selling coffee to Caravela, his coffees usually scored 83-84 points. But we sure knew that the guy had very high potential.” When we visited Finca la Chorrera, we saw that he had what it took to be a specialty coffee producer: traditional varietals, a proper drying patio, a strong family business, and great passion for coffee.
Around 5 years ago, we invited Pedro to be one of our PECA promoters. This meant that we would train him on best practices for producing specialty coffee and that he would hopefully implement these best practices on his own farm. As a promotor, he also had to spread the message to his neighbors and continue educating other coffee growers in the region who were not familiar with the process of specialty coffee.
Learning Makes you Richer
A few months after that, we started to notice a tremendous improvement in Pedro and Nelsy’s coffee, and they started selling directly to Caravela. Pedro gained access to more information about his quality and began to use that information to improve his farming and post-harvest processes; he also learned cupping basics so that he could cup his own coffee when he delivered it. He started to deliver better quality, with some lots reaching AAA grade. But most importantly, his coffee quality and profile became more consistent. Not only was the quality increasing, but so was his income and his productivity; he had more money available to invest in his farm and he bought more land. “What I admire the most about Pedro Claros is how he works with his family at the farm. If you go to the farm, you can see the work of a united family. He managed to inspire love and passion to his whole family, and today, they do an incredible job.” says William. Pedro and his three sons take care of the maintenance of the farm; pruning and caring for the coffee trees, fertilizing, controlling pests and diseases and the harvesting processes. Nelsy and their three daughters take care of the cooking, cleaning, and post-harvest stations, as well as managing the drying process. “Together as a family, we produce good quality coffee, and, luckily, it caught the attention of a buyer abroad” says Pedro.
The Beginning of a Fruitful Relationship
Pedro Claros and Stephen Leighton, Managing Director of Has Bean Coffee, met for the first time four years ago in Colombia. “When he first visited me, he seemed like a very formal and serious businessman to me. He told me he was interested in my coffee and that he wanted to do a long-term business with me,” said Pedro. This was the beginning of a long-standing relationship. He continues, “That day, when I first met him, it was a big experience for me because I could finally meet the person who bought my coffee. I will never forget it!” “I think we first had Pedro’s coffee in a mixed lot of producers from Pitalito back in 2011.” Remembers Stephen. “We found his coffee from this Pitalito lot that we wanted to drill down into finding a more longer-term relationship, and Pedro and Nancy’s coffee tasted amazing, and so it began.” Over time and through continued investment in their farm, the quality of the coffee from Finca La Chorrera continues to improve. Stephen continues, “I love the way we get each day’s picking from him. […] but also finding coffee for our decaf blend, meaning we can now buy everything from Pedro that is specialty, and that we can pay higher prices to him based on his hard work.” A fixed price contract between Has Bean and Pedro Claros was the turning point for Pedro’s farm and family. Today, Pedro, Nancy and their whole family don’t have to worry about market prices; they now only care about producing coffee and improving the quality. As Pedro says, “I have had the opportunity to improve and fix many things in my farm and my home. This means that everyone in my house benefits from this relationship. When Stephen comes back to my farm, he will find a much better place.” Now, Pedro and Nancy are not only receiving better prices, they can now plan in advance, control their costs and administrate their income. As he summarizes, “the quality of life for me and my family has been improving as we now receive fixed prices, and when we have more income, everything gets better.”
In the year 2011, Pedro Claros delivered only 4 lots of coffee, with a total of just 1,000 kg of parchment. In 2016, he delivered 56 lots that add a total of 16,633 kg parchment. This means that Pedro Claros’ deliveries to the Caravela warehouse in the last six years have increased by 1,563%. And it’s not only the volume that has increased; the quality has dramatically improved from what was already a good starting point. Stephen considers that’s what makes Pedro and Nancy Claros so special. “The family work so hard. […} and I think both they and my customers can see how much his coffee has improved in the last 4 – 5 years.” Meanwhile, Pedro and Nancy know that they have a big commitment to Stephen, and the most important element of their work is satisfying their customer. The relationship between Pedro, Nancy and Stephen is one where everybody wins, and where we have all created a long-lasting relationship. When we asked Stephen how this relationship has benefited Has Bean, he answered: “I have learnt so much about the variance in daily pickings, and how good Colombian coffee can be, and I have personally benefited from this. But the main thing I have learnt is what a good man Pedro is, and how lovely his family are and what good friends they have become. None of this would have been possible without Caravela. I have benefited from better coffee and an amazing relationship.”