From a recent response from Joseph on coffeed.com...
Five months straight in Ethiopia have me reading this with different eyes.
An estimated 10,000 genotypes of coffee still grow wild in Ethiopia's disapearing indigenous coffee forests. Walking among these trees is surreal, and it will make you want to know what each of these distinct seeds could do in a cup when cultivated for quality.
One-hundred-year-old moss and lichen covered coffee trees with girths pushing 10 inches in sections reach through holes in the canopy for the sky or, alternatively, dive to the ground in shade-loving adaptation. Fruit, flower, rest - literally thousands of slightly different life strategies are pursued in every instant by our beloved Coffea Arabica or, more appropriately, Coffea Aethiopica.
Coffea Aethiopica has competed with itself for hundreds of thousands of years and been forced to diversify. Yet I've been here for five months with the primary task of finding unique coffees that score over 90, and I've only found three.
What's wrong with this picture?
I like to refer to Ethiopia's great potential of aromatic gems as dusty diamonds. If only the dust were so easy to remove as that from a gem pulled from grandma's closet.
Here in Ethiopia, coffee is largely grown organically out of necessity - smallholder farmers can't afford the chemicals or even the funds necessary to expose them to such worldly conventions. This is a densely populated agricultural society that is as diverse as the coffee in Kaffa, where travelling a few kilometers from Chichu Coop in Sidama to Bale Kara Coop in Yirgacheffe sees a complete change in local language and culture. A single family of smallholder farmers might produce enough cherry to yield much less than 10 bags of clean coffee.
The last thing on the smallholder farmer's mind is a special cup prepared in a lab that scores over 90 points. Especially not with small and large scale cherry buyers, millers, Akrabis, coffee exporters, commercial buyers, and, yes, $2 paying high-quality coffee buyers shopping around in the capital city hundreds of kilometers away (not to mention the rest of us tuning in from computers in home offices).
The $2 coffee buyer is not exempt from problem perpetuation. It will take a lot more than $2 to get the dust off of these diamonds. And it will take a team effort and a collective vision that looks beyond our frantic scrambling to put together this year's most stellar green inventory.
$4 gets us much closer.
The three coffees I've cupped over 90 have come to the table from unprecedented investment in quality from the typical bad guys - the coffee exporters who are (often justifiably) seen as abusers of their role as middle-men, with no historical interest as a group in making things more equitable for the small farmer.
These Ninety + coffees have been no accident and these exporters are quite different, having invested huge sums in purchasing and upgrading mills. Nearly double normal prices were paid to farmers and cherry buyers to incentivize them to come with ripe cherries. Instead of the typical blending of bad coffees with good - improperly dried or otherwise slightly faulty coffee was continually removed in quantities of up to 20%. Moisture (and soon sugar content) was continually monitored. Vigilant storage, transportation, and sorting was undertaken. These are enormous costs to incur.
But in the end, I taste diamonds.
If we show the consumer, he/she does too.
I believe an increase of 50 cents is more suited for the cup than for the pound of green coffee. When one does the math, one sees that we can dust off a whole lot of gems with the dollars pumped back into the chain by increased cup price.
So, to conclude, I love the clarity, proximity to the farmer, and adaptability of the Direct Trade model. I also love the willingness that roasters have shown to pay up for coffee they love in auctions. I think if we take a leap forward we'll see that auction prices might be what it takes to sustain truly equitable trade in Ninety + coffees. So instead of calling CoE a relationship builder, I'd call it a price setter, and I call on all of us to pay up for supreme quality when we taste it. Maybe $50 won't work very soon on a large scale, but $4 is certainly foreseeable.
I don't see too many $1.75 bottles on display at my favorite wineseller. How good would the wine be if that is all anyone would pay? There wouldn't be much incentive for visionary and fair-minded winemakers.
In Ethiopia, coffee forests - unread books that threaten to end undiscovered - are being turned into firewood, and even our favorite cultivated coffeelands continue to deliver mishandled coffee.
Discovering and realizing the value of Ethiopia's great coffees is a process in which we all need to contribute, whether while on the ground in the land where bunna was born or writing checks from afar for coffees that dance on our palates.
I look forward to working with all of you.