The reality of the specialty coffee farmers, volunteering at a coffee farm and reasons to drink good enough coffees

Like it often happens to me, a cup of nice coffee, calm morning, listening to the podcast and to the birds tweeting – and out of nothing some ideas fall into place, all of the pieces of the puzzle, and finally I have my answers.

Or better said, I have the reasons of my answers. This post most probably is not gonna be talking about some popular ideas regarding the coffee chain – quite the opposite. 

Being honest, I have been feeling uncomfortable for while with the idea, or goal, or I’ll even dare to say “the lifestyle” that many coffee shop owners and coffee professionals in the coffee consuming countries have – about “educating the customer”

Try me, if you know where to find me in person – and mention this topic, and enjoy the way my face changing. Honestly. 

I have been feeling this for a while, and today I finally understood why. 

I’ve been explaining it to myself before the other way – that people enter the coffee shops to enjoy the coffee, feel relaxed, welcome, at ease. And who meets them? An eager to teach them everything about coffee barista. I would feel like running away, for sure. Or sometimes clients enter – and the coffee shops looks like the museum, or hospital – unknown machines, all shiny, 1000000 types of brewing, millions of coffees to choose from – and a serious barista watching them. 

Sorry, got taken away XD

Tell me it’s not true. Tell me it is not happening.  The truth is there is just a few coffee shops where you’ll feel properly welcome. 

The situation is sad and urgent, but the real reason of my inability to accept the “educate the customer” vibe I found out today. 

In my opinion the mission of the coffee business in the consuming countries is to create a connection, between people who produced the coffee and people who are drinking it, for them to know the realities of each others lives. 

coffee farm in Panama

“Educating” (oh how I hate this word) is about showing how much damn effort goes into each single bean. How much effort it takes to carry those damn canastas. How much effort it takes to pick the cherries. How it is to live as a coffee picker, when you have the job only for the 3-4 months of the year, and then you are forced to move looking for a place to earn extra. With kids. With families

Let me ask you something. You are drinking coffee that you know is picked, carried, processed, dried, with care and dedication, coffee touched by innumerous hands, coffee that has multiple faces – will you really care if it is 80 points, or 83 points, or 85 points, or 87? Will you feel significantly less satisfied?

This is a proper education for me, in every product – to value the effort. You’ll never treat a tomato differently if you know how much time and effort it took for it to grow. You’ll never see a cheese the same way as before when you understand that some of them take years to produce. Bread will never be the same for you if you ever waited for the dough to rise for 8-12 hours.

“Educating the customer” in our era means for me one thing – opening up the curtain a bit and showing what’s behind. The people behind. Their work. 

What do we have instead of that?

Our baristas don’t want a mere 85 coffee anymore. Too simple. Too boring. We started a race for the complex taste profiles. Baristas are selling these coffees to the customers, customers get picky, demand only that. Only 87. Only 90+. Coffee shops are opening that serve only 87+

Rosters demand these type of coffees from the green buyers. 

Green buyers demand from the producers. 

Producers… 

Most of them are merely surviving. They rely on the crop as the means to survive through the next year. They produce a nice clean 83-85. It was enough before. Now it is the bottom of the ladder. And in 10 years? In 20? 

The fashion randomly changes in the consuming countries, now everybody wants “carbonic maceration” not even knowing what exactly it is – and the producers may follow. 

And if you may think they are gonna get richer because of that, I can assure you, no. Because you’ll take some years to find the right processing profile. Or you’ll need to hire a professional. And then you’ll be able to sell. After some years of investment and improvement of something that was initially good – but not good enough. And then another fashion hits.  And if you are depending financially on your crop… It simply doesn’t work this way. 

I haven’t seen it in any other area, being honest. Consumer dictatorship. We are playing with the fire. Not helping. 

We are talking so much about bean-to the cup philosophy, telling the stories. What are the stories that we are telling, exactly? Are they showing the reality? 

I think one of the best things any coffee professional or enthusiast could do is to volunteer at the coffee farm. Not a specialty coffee farm – a regular coffee farm. As a way to help, for real, and to learn how it actually is. There are some programs constantly appearing in the Central America, in some cases you just need a plane ticket and some money to pay for the accomodation/food. 

For me it worked miracles – volunteering in Costa Rica made me a much more humble coffee professional. Like, a lot. Two different people, before and after. It got out of me all of that snobbishness of a newbie in specialty coffee (2,5 years in the profession backthen), and made me a proper human being instead.

Waking up at 5. Working in the field. Pruning the trees. Cutting those ones damaged with roya (I’ve seen cases when 70% of the plantation was destroyed). Picking the cherries (all the cherries, not just perfectly ripe), constructing drying facilities, etc. 

I get that it is hard to talk about the things you have never seen. But there are opportunities now. To actually see.

I am a coffee taster, yes, it is true. I am a Q. Tasting coffee, different coffee, is one of the favorite parts of my life, not even just a job. But there is a thing that you learn early on when you start doing it professionally. Respect. Knowing the points is important. Being able to give them accurately, describe the coffee properly is important. Being calibrated with other fellow professionals is important. 

But what is even more important is afterwards to be able to drink and appreciate every single cup. 

And I wrote all that after I had a wonderful, clean, sweet 84 guatemalan that some would claim as “too boring”. And how good that coffee was! How perfect it felt!

So… It shouldn’t be this way. 

It just doesn’t stop to bother me.

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