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Field Report: Yacuanquer, Colombia

Like a lot of us traveling to family or friends' this season, Xavier (our co-owner and green buyer) is visiting the homes of our coffee family. Exercising our direct trade philosophies, X is currently in Ethiopia. Just a couple weeks ago, he was in Colombia, the heart of some of our longest standing relationship. Xavier stopped back by Chicago briefly in between the stints leaving us with the following story and images:

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"Field Report: Yacuanquer, Colombia

Let's go back to the future (or past). It was 2016 when I first met Nelson Chavez. Then, Nelson Chavez struck me as most producers in Narino do; he was laid back, humble and somewhat skeptical of my fellow travelers and I’s presence. But still being (somewhat reluctantly) hospitable, he showed us his work sharing what it means to him and farm aids.

The setting dominated my first impression of Yacunquer. It is majestic; a hybrid of Shangrila and a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, it’s definitely cinematic from sunup to sundown. There, Nelson’s farm, La Esperanza, is by far one of the steepest climbs I have ever managed to scale. I climbed slowly losing my breath at every step-- all the way up--, unlike Nelson who I witnessed ascend to the summit as if he levitated to the top without breaking a single drop of sweat.

Now, three years later (or present), I’ve seen Nelson grow, not only with his operation but also in the warmness. Seeming less skeptical and more optimistic all the while breaking side smiles as one does when surrounded by people he truly cares about. This to me, this development, is the meaning of the honest, equitable relationship coffee." -X

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Enjoy the following photo-essay and commentary for a visual of Yacunquer's majesty:

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Farm Gate! Literally, we pull up, and it was as if the gate opened to another dimension, nirvana, a place where peace and beauty both live in perfect harmony. Wish you were here! -X

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In Yacuanquer, there aren't too many places where most folks can stay. Lucky for us, we connected with some of the most hospitable farmers that let us stay in these sweet little cabins where the background noises are composed of birds, dogs, and a waterfall. -X

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Farm pups! -X

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Heaven is a place on Earth! -X

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These clay objects were found on site, which is possible to be an ancient tomb. Yacuanquer stands for “land of the tomb and sepulcher” in Quechua (the language of the Inca empire) which makes sense why they find clay pottery and bones in these parts. -X

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Wherever the home is that you're headed this season, all the Metric humans wish you happy holidays. May your travels be as beautiful of an experience as X's in Yacuanquer.

Subscription Spotlight: Pineda Pack

This blog is the first entry in what will be an ongoing series highlighting a unique group of special-release coffees. Before making their way to other avenues, these especially radiant and limited coffees will be available to our coffee subscription humans; this new perk allows us to offer a special thank you to all our immensely important subscribers!

Introduction aside, let’s get to what’s important, the coffee and the humans behind it.

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Over the last several years, we’ve been lucky to develop a relationship with Alma Pineda. The matriarch of a talented coffee family (her husband Evin Moreno also a prolific producer), Alma runs her own, small farm in Honduras’ Santa Barbara department.* This year in particular though, Alma and her colleagues have decided to push the boundaries of her Paraneima coffees.

In the past, Alma has focused her resources into producing delicious washed coffees. Washed in this context refers to the coffee’s processing, i.e., the process in which the coffee seed undergoes from coffee cherry to bean. To wash process coffee is to rid the coffee seed of any residual mucilage entirely, i.e., the fruit sediment remaining from the coffee cherry. Asking what if..., Alma decided to venture down other routes opposed to simply continuing to fully wash all her coffee.

To walk us down the two innovative routes Alma took, we had Xavier (co-owner and green buyer) write up his first-hand account of Alma’s work:

Experimental, aka Weirdo Fermento--

The Weirdo Fermento's impetus sprawled out from a conversation between Evin Moreno, Alma’s husband, and Benjamin Paz. Their question: What happens if you bag up a cargo of cherries and dunk it into cold water? Further, what happens after milling them? Paranima’s profile verges on the bright and usually yield citrus/lime notes when washed. Understanding this trend allowed Alma to imagine where they could take her coffee with experimentation. After 2 days floating in water, the coffee was pulped and left in its own mucilage for up to 72 hours. This experimental semi-washing developed an aroma reminiscent of rose water and pineapple. The final result, a really clean and complex cup that exhibits a cornucopia of fruity depth.”

Honey--

“No, Alma Honey is not the follow up to Pablo Honey (though this coffee certainly is a jam). Much like Weirdo, Alma Honey was born out of a desire to push the boundaries of this lot-- to see what other flavors they could muster from this Melado, Honey process. The result, amplified sweetness, which would usually be expected from a natural process, remaining balanced with creaminess and floral notes. This year, Alma and Evin produced only about a bag’s worth of raw coffee. But with how well this coffee is cupping, we’re eager to see them produce more honey processed lots in the future.”

 

*Santa Barbara is an area near and dear to as its the home to other partner/friends of ours, such as Benjamin Paz and Denis Enamorado.

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Due to both coffees having an experimental nature for Alma, as X mentioned, she only produced a tiny yield. We’re proud to have secured one bag of each (only approx 150 lbs), and we’re now excited to share them with you.

Whether you sign-up for a subscription or risk waiting for them to hit our website next week, make sure you give yourself the gift of tasting these special-release micro-lots!

Part of a Process, Chapter V: Buying Green Coffee

“The truth of the matter is, if you know a thing or two about connecting with people, chances are you will get to work with people that will make positive contributions to the buying process.”

Xavier Alexander, Co-Owner of Metric Coffee

Being able to connect with people and discuss what about each coffee is preferred or less-than-preferable allows true collaboration (and calibrations) to take place. Importers can understand what coffees might suit your needs. When buyers are cupping at the farm level, producers can present lots that are more to a buyer’s specifications, and get buyers to bid for the most alluring coffees on the table. When organic relationships grow into partnerships, there can be a beautiful exchange of information that can help both sides develop their coffee knowledge. 

There are two major methods in purchasing coffee: Buying spot coffees, and buying direct. Buying spot coffees, or coffees that have already been imported and are resting in a warehouse in the States, is something that is pretty common among small- and large-scale coffee roasters. 

“Most folks, especially in the beginning, can’t dole out thousands of dollars to build relationships at the farm level, which is why it is industry standard to seek out reputable importers for quality green,” says Xavier. 

Quality spot coffees, those that score well above specialty coffee’s minimum of 80, exist in abundance via big-name importers, and working closely with professionals who import those coffees is a sustainable way to get a roasting business off the ground.

The other way to buy green coffee is direct trade, or working with farmers and producers to taste and purchase coffees. This typically results in a financial benefit towards the farmers, and a quality and personal benefit towards the buyer.

“The best moment is tasting a cup from a producer no one has ever heard of and the flavors are magical and isn’t committed to another roaster,” says Xavier. 

After locking down a great coffee, a buyer like Xavier will start working on determining a price. Often, a fair deal is what can make the difference between continuing to grow coffee, or being forced to sell the land of pursue some other crop. It can mean that the farmers are able to send their kids to school, that a family can eat a little more, or can simply invest in themselves. It is not to be forgotten that farming is not an easy or high-paying job. It is difficult and often the best way for folks to live in objectively less-affluent regions than where buyers tend to hail from. Ideally, in paying higher prices for a luxury beverage like coffee, companies can unite under the ideal of doing everything possible to pay as much as possible, and to raise the quality of life for all humans involved. 

“The single biggest reason why buying directly, knowing the dollar amount that lands in the producer’s pocket, matters is because you know without a doubt that producer isn’t operating at a loss that year which often happens when producers are paid commodity pricing,” says Xavier. “The term ‘Direct Trade,’ while somewhat loosely defined, is still the way our industry, collectively should strive to accomplish buying,” says Xavier. “To me, Direct Trade means paying a higher price for quality coffee and knowing the producers by name.” 

For Xavier, everything returns to the importance of building relationships. From personal partnerships within large-scale importing entities like Ally and Olam, to friendships with farmers like Juan Carlos Chen in Guatemala or Denis Enamorado Moreno in Honduras, buying great coffee involves a commitment to understanding one another, and to hopefully mutually benefit from that understanding. Buying coffee is an exchange of resources, but it is so much more than that. It’s educational, it’s a growing experience. It’s respect and understanding and compassion coming forth in unexpected ways. It’s an experience worth having, worth remembering, and worth sharing.