Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A coffee supply chain battle cry: Coffee As a Baton.

The article Edwin Martinez wrote about Baristas visiting coffee farms inspired a new analogy for describing the coffee supply chain: coffee as a baton in a race. The farmer does the very best he can to produce coffee that is good enough to pay its own bills, and hands the coffee via exporters then importers to the roaster. The roaster does the very best he can and hands it to the barista. The barista is the anchor in the race and has every chance to make or break all that went before him. I think it is really important that people respect the teammates that ran before them. The reason I like this analogy is that the importance lies in the total transfer of ownership from Farmer to Wet Miller to Dry Miller to Exporter to Importer to Roaster to Barista and finally to the Consumer. Not all coffees follow the hand offs described above. For example, co-ops typically fit in between the Farmer and the Exporter. Coffee is utterly complex and each coffee has its own story. Even Direct Trade coffees often follow those steps above. Remember Roasters are not Millers, Exporters or Importers. They are Coffee Roasters.

It happens often enough that the coffee baton is dropped. For example, the farmer allows some under-ripes through or the wrong Jute bags are used or the green coffee sits in the port too long or the roaster "sleeps" on the roast or the barista doesn't dial in the grind or any number of reasons. At those moments, it is important to realize in this small Specialty Coffee Industry we are all on the same team. We have to deal with what is at hand, not every coffee can be mind blowing-ly good. I personally don't believe in bad people. People do bad things, and sometimes coffee can suffer the consequences. If we are handed a sub-par coffee, we have to deal with what is at hand, no amount of complaining or finger pointing will actually make that coffee better. The coffee supply chain operates in a one-way transfer of ownership. Once a product is sold, the prior owner has no control over it. That would be like selling a bicycle and then telling the new owner how it can be ridden! When I sell my green to a roaster, I have no recourse if he roasts it poorly. Now, if we decided to change the dose weight or shot volume or pick up the phone and call the teammate before us, coffee will get better, and I guess that is the point of Specialty Coffee.

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