The most exciting thing about sourcing coffee in 2019 is how utterly mundane the process can be. There’s a reality show version of what coffee sourcing is (preserved for history by a television program showing a man running around hacking through bushes with a machete) and then there’s reality. Developing relationships, buying directly from farmers — these are tenants of coffee buying that are usually pictured as handshake deals on a rocky mountainside framed perfectly from a vista over a misty, green valley. Sourcing coffee, mostly, relies on commitment, patience, and communication.
Some of the biggest hurdles in coffee sourcing are logistics. A farmer might have amazing coffee cherry, but how does it get to the wet mill? A mill might have high quality standards, but how easily are those applied to large quantities of coffee as they're being processed? The best quality green coffee might be waiting, bagged, at a dry mill, but how will it get to the coast so it can be loading into a shipping container, starting a journey that will go by boat, train, and a series of trucks, all the way to the roaster's front door?
As a coffee roasters, our specialty at Ruby is roasting coffee. Relying on import/export specialists allows us to focus our time and investment on the core of our goals: delivering freshly roasted, high quality coffee as responsibly and sustainably as we can. With that in mind, we're very proud to work with export groups and import groups that can bridge the gaps in the coffee sourcing chain that allows Ruby to have direct connections to coffee producers without needed to travel internationally on a regular basis.
We believe that traveling to meet farmers and producers to build relationships is important, but developing relationships with importers and exporters can be just as important, if not moreso. Earlier this summer, we were able to launch three new coffees from farmers and farmer groups that Ruby has been introduced to through three different sourcing partners. As we evaluate our practices from a sustainability standpoint, traveling to coffee farms utilizes non-renewable resources, and can mean a significant financial investment that impacts the amount of money available to pay higher premiums for green coffee, among other items.
Over the next few months, we'll be examining our sourcing process in this space, and hopefully help break down why traveling to visit coffee farms isn't always responsible, when traveling to coffee farms might be necessary, and how utilizing the full scope of the supply chain can help coffee farmers create value for their coffees.
Colombia Omar Torres
Last year, Ruby founder Jared Linzmeier and Operations Specialist Jesse Myers were able to travel to Colombia. That trip helped connect Ruby to the coffee producers behind Colombia San Antonio, the base for Creamery Seasonal Blend, but also connected Ruby closer to our longtime partners at Aguacate, and introduced us to Duvan and Over Rivera, which allowed Ruby to buy coffee from both brothers this year.
Another key factor on that trip was being able to better establish a relationship with Pedro who helps run Pergamino, a coffee exporter based in Colombia who focuses heavily on farmer education, paying high prices, and connecting remote farmers to roasters. Through our connection with Pedro, Ruby was sent samples of Omar's coffee, which blew us away, and landed his coffee on our menu by way of Pergamino's efforts.
Guatemala Porfiria Martinez
Porfiria's coffee comes to us by way of our import partners at Shared Source. Though Shared Source's main office is based in Australia, they also have offices based in Colombia and the United States, and spend a large amount of time sourcing coffee on the ground in countries like Guatemala, where they were introduced to Porfiria Martinez, a farmer based in the remote coffee growing region of Huehuetenango.
Porfiria doesn't belong to a farm group, which makes it hard to connect to specialty coffee buyers. Her son has helped introduce ceramic tiles to the fermentation tanks and advanced shading techniques, but those quality improvements could bankrupt a farm if Porfiria and her son aren't connected with a buyer willing to pay higher prices for coffee. Thanks to Shared Source, Ruby gets to be that buyer.
Mexico San Pedro Yosotatu.
This is our second year offering coffee from the San Pedro Yosotatu village in Oaxaca. The Sierra Mixteca group, who produces this coffee, took a major risk in 2013. As part of a large farmer co-op, their coffees were guaranteed price minimums, but by breaking away and forming their own group, Sierra Mixteca was able to push for high prices to be paid based on the quality of their coffee rather than the quantity produced. With heavy investments in worm-based compost farms and moisture/water-activity testing, Sierra Mixteca has greatly been able to increase the quality of the coffee they're producing, but at a higher investment cost per pound.
Ruby has connected to Sierra Mixteca through Red Fox Coffee Merchants. Coffee in Mexico has had a long history of varying quality, and mostly organizations in Mexico have pushed to gain higher prices through certifications, like Fair Trade and Organic across large quantities, rather than quality incentives. Because these operations are large, beautiful coffees often were lost in massive bulked lots sold through traditional trading channels. By working intently on connecting smaller, quality focused farm groups with roasters, Red Fox has helped those smaller farm groups be paid what their coffee is worth.
San Pedro Yosotatu garnered a huge response last year. When considering our options for 2019, Ruby was able to commit to 20 bags of coffee — around 3,000 pounds — doubling what we purchased last year. With a budding relationship connected by Red Fox, Ruby hopes to become even closer with Sierra Mixteca in 2020.