Colleen is the Director of Coffee for New York-based roaster Gimme! Coffee.
Gimme! Coffee's award-winning Finca San Luis; Finca San Luis' producer, Omar, stands out in a crowd of coffee trees
Great roasted coffee is the end product of a long chain of intentional, time-and-labor consuming events. The start of which, believe it or not, begins with you, the coffee consumer. Your willingness to approach coffee with the thought that it can have amazing sweetness, rather than intense bitterness; authentic flavors from natural citric acidity and carbohydrates, rather than chemically-induced, artificial syrups; an impact on the livelihood of millions of producers world-wide, rather than a faceless commodity pick-me-up, are just some of the real catalysts for doing the work we do at Gimme! Coffee.
From the moment a coffee tree flowers, and the cherry develops with the embryo that will eventually become the seed that will eventually be picked, processed, stored, shipped, stored, roasted, stored, ground, stored, steeped, and served -- from that initial moment of growth, quality is only a potential outcome. In fact, quality is often degraded through these multiple actions in an effort to meet rigid productivity requirements at low cost. In order to achieve quality, every step in the cycle must be approached with the same intention and care as the last, every participant must receive fair compensation for their work, and constant collaboration and communication must occur to achieve the desired result.
Plump cherries sprout after the coffee trees bloom; an on-site mill allows cherries to be processed at their freshest
Our Finca San Luis coffee from Tolima, Colombia, a 2011 Good Food Award winner, is the quintessential relationship coffee. We first met producer Omar Arango in 2009, and when he asked how he could send us a sample of his coffee for our consideration, we directed him to our Colombian exporting partners, Virmax Café. We had been working with Virmax to develop relationships with Colombian coffee growers for a few years. At a time where we could have forged a direct one-on-one relationship with Omar and Finca San Luis, we put faith in Virmax to vet the sample for us, work out an adequate pricing structure, and continue to foster the relationship on the ground where we could not be.
Over the past three years, our support and involvement in Omar’s farm management improvements have achieved many successes and some failures. Still, to us, this is the nature of forming a relationship in an open market. We, along with Virmax, have purchased many beautiful, small lots, sent Omar to farm management school, and helped him maintain his Organic certification. We are currently working to improve his yields without sacrificing quality in the name of price.
Our relationship to this specific coffee product and supply chain is not a novel practice. Though it takes time and patience to develop new relationships with coffee growers, mills, exporters, and importers, we were fortunate enough to have done this with 90% of our offerings from Central and South America through 2012, and we are gearing up to do the same in East Africa. We do this in order to change the predominant thoughts about coffee, and to provide you, the coffee drinker (and cook and baker!), with an articulate and meaningful product.
Photos were provided courtesy of Gimme! Coffee. See more images of coffee production at Finca San Luis.
Want a chance to meet Colleen and win a few prizes, too? Enter our Best Recipe with Coffee contest by October 9. Learn more and enter.