Ray: I’m Ray.
Kandace: I’m Kandace
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week…
Kandace: Oftentimes on the show, we are talking to a coffee roaster. But today, we have a really special guest.
Benjamin: My name is Benjamin Paz. I work for San Vicente in Honduras. It’s a coffee exporting company. And I’m also a coffee farmer.
Kandace: This is the first time on the show we’ve been able to talk to somebody that is a part of the producing.
Benjamin: My father started in the late 70’s. He had a coffee background because of my grandfather who was a coffee farmer who started from zero, from nothing. That was my dad’s biggest inspiration.
My grandfather was a dreamer and he didn’t have any resources. And, when he had his sons, he wanted to share his dreams. He saw in coffee a great potential for success. Sadly, he couldn’t do it.
My dad, at a very early age, took over. My father started buying coffee from farmers and selling these coffees to exporters in the city. Because coffee, in our area, is not a traditional product, he was able to also start promoting it with the new farmers that were coming to town and planting coffee.
Peña Blanca is not like other areas in Central America like Antigua or El Salvador where you will find farms that are a hundred years old. Most of the farms here were planted in the 70’s or 60’s, so he got here right when things were starting.
And, he got a lot of support from people, from farmers, who wanted to sell coffee to him because he was a hard worker and a smart man and he was able to grow. And he became a coffee exporter almost twenty years later.
I got involved after I graduated from school, but I was pretty much working during vacation or whenever I had a chance.
We were able to grow. We were able to connect with people outside of Honduras. We opened the market and, with the great coffees that the farmers have produced, they are giving us those coffee and we find buyers for those.
And, this guy buys my coffee.
Xavier: Hi. My name is Xavier Alexander. I’m co-owner of Metric Coffee in Chicago, Illinois and I have the great benefit of working with Benjamin. Prior to working with someone like Benjamin, like many roasters starting out, you work with importers to purchase SPOT offerings. Rarely do you get the whole picture by purchasing coffee that way. Not that you are getting bad coffee; you can get excellent coffee that way. But, it really meant a lot to me to be able to connect the dots and understand how the supply chain works within the contact of what we do.
In Santa Barbara, in his region, people look to San Vicente. They look to work with them. There are still new producers that are coming down from the mountains with new coffees each year. So, he’s got other roasters that are lining up just to work with him. If something interesting or excited comes through, he can connect a particular roaster with that producer.
It’s definitely a magical place. Really good coffees are born there. I was really honored that he was able to say, “Hey, I think you would be a good fit for this producer.”
A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats
Kandace: If a farmer starts to do well, they are very interested in sharing that information with the rest of the community.
Benjamin: We want everyone to do good. We want to see farmers succeed…more now because the C-Market is very low and not everyone has the access to sell the coffee at a really good price.
We are trying to collaborate with many farmers as much as we can and help them grow and get better. It’s not only my job; there is a big group of people around this like all the people that came when we first got started and taught us how to do this experiment, and process this way, dry this way. We learned from sharing. People came and shared those things, making sure the whole process from farming until the coffee is finished and ready to be delivered – all these details are being done really, really well.
Us as a company, but also the farmers willing to do the right thing in coffee, which is very helpful for us because they collaborate and they make things super easy for me.
Basically what we are doing is to just try to guide them in the right path to produce coffee. They already have the farms, they already have the land, they already have the varieties and growing conditions. The coffee is good already. So, it is just a matter of showing them how to be consistent, how to maintain that.
Kandace: Oftentimes, when we are interviewing roasters, they are bringing up the issue of the C-Market price and so we set down and talked to Benjamin about what the C-Market price is and why it is such a huge issue right now.
Ray: I mean, so that we are drinking good coffee. There will be planting of BLEEP coffee either way.
Kandace: That’s not actually true.
Kandace: Yeah. It’s a crisis. It’s not just about the specialty coffee market. It’s about the coffee market overall.
Benjamin: People think about specialty coffee all the time. But, specialty coffee is only 10 or 15 percent, probably less than that in terms of the whole coffee production on the planet. So, it is very little. So, the impact is very hight when the C-Market is down.
Ray: It’s less than a dollar. We learned that.
Kandace: Which is not great.
Benjamin: For example, in my personal case, as a coffee exporter and person that has been buying from small farmers producing low grown coffee, it’s really bad. Imagine that you are getting a salary and your salary gets cut in half. And people tell you, “Okay, this is what you are going to get right now.” And that’s your only source of income.
It’s sad that the commercial grade coffee doesn’t get the value that it deserves. We all understand that the quality is definitely lower, but at the same time there are people producing this coffee with the same values as the others, with the same conditions. And those are not being valued and they have to sacrifice a lot of thinks in order to produce coffee.
How things are right now, a lot of people are not going to sacrifice anything. They are just going to get rid of the coffee and try something else.
You have people that have been growing coffee for generations that are just going to stop right now.
We have different types of customers. We have customers that buy excellent, high-end coffee like Xavier and at the same time, we have people that buy low grown coffee base on C-Market. So, most of the buyers that are buying these coffees are clearly paying a lot less because the market is low, but the retain prices are always the same, it does not change.
Xavier: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say.
Benjamin: It’s not their fault. It’s great that they are doing business. But, there’s a responsibility from the roasters about supporting their suppliers. We have a lot of customers doing this. And, we get a lot of support from our customers. At the same time, there are a lot of people out there that don’t get this.
If big roasting companies decide to change a little bit and say “Hey, we’re going to fix the price and have the price be at this spot”…it doesn’t have to be double what it is right now, but at least something that can make farmers get some extra revenue and maintain the coffee. Because, the impact is going to be very negative next year. For exporter, for farmer, and in the meantime for coffee buyers as well, because the quality is going to be affected.
Right now, farmers are not interested in producing coffee because it is too cheap and the cost is too high. They cannot afford to produce the commercial grade coffee. And then, because they are not doing it and they still have the coffee, that coffee is going to be bad in terms of quality because they are not fertilizing, they are not fumigating against diseases, they are not taking care of the farms at all. Some of these farmers are going to still harvest this coffee and deliver it just because they want to save the coffee, but that coffee is not going to be good in terms of quality. We cannot reward that, so we cannot pay high prices for bad quality. So, it’s affecting everyone.
We are going to have a 30% loss of production next year. Or more. The coffee harvest is going to be less and the prices are going to go up because there isn’t going to be enough coffee out there to satisfy the demand. We don’t know exactly when that will happen, but it is going to happen at some point. But, sadly. It is going to cost a lot for a bunch of people.
We Couldn’t Not Talk Design
Kandace: We are hopeful here and there that we will be able to bring other people on to the show to highlight some of the issues that are coming up in coffee today. But, mostly we’ll still be talking about design, right.
Ray: It’s always good to get a design angle in there. None this time, but that’s okay.
Kandace: That’s not true. We did talk about design! And, I thought it was interesting.
Xavier: As a small roaster, I see what the large conglomerates, the large roasters are doing. They are doing a really good job of copying the narrative of the smaller companies. Even in design. You guys work in that field. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of big roasters are coming up with designs that are trying to model their business, they are rolling it back to cater to that audience. But, the quality of the product doesn’t match what they’re trying to put out.
What we can do, as a small roaster, is to continue to be genuine about the stories and the relationships that are forged and education. Bottom line, that’s what’s going to set the standard and help people understand the difference between what they are buying at the store-for the same price that looks fancy and elevated with gold leaf, etc- versus what smaller roasters…and that’s not to say that smaller roasters can do a better or worse job – it’s really the whole picture.
Kandace: Sometimes there are coffees out there that are in beautiful packaging that isn’t necessarily fantastic coffee. And then, you have coffee out there that are maybe not in as fancy of packaging but the coffee inside is beautiful and one of the struggles that we often see is…how do you get the message out about what’s inside? It doesn’t always match the packaging. Something that Benjamin was talking about making consumers more aware of is just making sure you know what you’re looking for, what you’re reading about so that you know whether the coffee you are getting is good coffee.
Ray: Yeah. You do that with hiring a good design studio.
Kandace: And then getting your coffee from…
Ray: …good people.
Kandace: Good people, yes.
Ray: On a related note, this podcast is brought to you by Needmore Designs. We do design for the coffee industry. These folks right here.
Kandace: But you gotta put good coffee in the bag.
Ray: That’s part of the deal.
Ray: Definitely a special thanks to Xavier from Metric who is in the shot. He’s the one who set this all up.