This discussion was part of an ongoing series of educational events organized by the Equal Exchange Action Forum, the citizen-consumer arm of the fair-trade company. Equal is known for its leadership in coffee, but now sells cocoa, tea, cashews, and other products on behalf of small farmers throughout the world. The Action Forum allows its customers to think deeply about the entire food system and to collaborate on making it healthier and fairer for people and the planet.
So please listen to the conversation in which we explore these connections; for those who have not given much to how high quality is achieved in coffee or why it matters, I think we provide a worthwhile introduction. As we explain in our discussion, an important aspect of improving coffee quality is the selection of better-quality coffee at various stages. From picking the coffee through roasting it, the best beans can be separated to get increasingly high-scoring results in the cup (coffee is scored much like wine).
|Mild spoiler alert: I went looking for an image like this on|
Instagram while watching one of the videos below. I should
not have been surprised that the first good example I found
was posted by the same person! It is part of a series of slides that
presents his case about microlots in a different way.
My co-presenter Mike Mowry begins to explain this during our conversation, and afterwards he shared two videos from Colombia that explain why high quality being good does not mean that extremely high quality is better. In two segments that are part of a series of videos about coffee economics on the Cedro Alto Coffee channel, Karl Weinhold explains the math of microlots and how that math tends to work against farmers, and especially farmer cooperatives. Hint: it is not simply a matter of only a few farmers getting the premium prices; even those getting the premiums might not fare well overall.
To be honest, I had not thought seriously about the potential downside of microlots until we began to prepare for our presentation. I remember the thrill of visited a mill specializing in microlots during my January 2018 visit to Estelí, Nicaragua. For a coffee nerd who cares about the farmers, the land, and the cup, it was exhilarating. So learning about the potential downside of ultrahigh quality was sobering.
|Africa-bed drying of microlots in Estelí, Nicaragua. These beans are being|
dried with extraordinary care, in lots as small as 5 pounds (nanolots).
Long before I knew anything about quality in coffee, I read and re-read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (Phaedrus, #1). Much of the book concerns Robert Pirsig's maddening (literally) pursuit of the meaning of the word "quality." The rest of the book concerns a long ride on a motorcycle.