It has been a week since my return from Peru, and although it was good to get back to the normal routine of roasting and brewing, a small part of me wishes I was still visiting farms and getting to know the true source of the coffee we work with every day. Being able to see the process first hand, and to interact with the people responsible for the incredible coffee we serve was not only an incredible learning opportunity, but an emotional experience as well. I was prepared to learn all about the coffee growing process; it was the emotional connection with the producers that perhaps was the greatest takeaway for me.
Visiting origin has always been a major goal for me since the specialty coffee world grabbed ahold of me almost 10 years ago. To completely understand how the coffee grows, and to see the terrain of the land and remote locations where the plants thrive would be an incredible learning opportunity, and may afford some insight to the roasting process for me. Seeing first hand how the coffee is harvested and prepared for export is to better understand the end product as a whole.
Another motivating factor behind origin trips for me is to get to know the person beyond a name printed on a coffee bag. We often promote our coffee based upon origin, farm name, and producer name. We feel that it helps us to connect us all to the story of the coffee, and to show why these offerings are truly unique. We use photographs of these farmers to show that there are real people that cultivate these coffees, and they have families and stories to tell. It tends to make the relationship more real, and the appreciation for the coffee more authentic.
Authenticity. Something about this arrangement still felt somewhat artificial to me personally. Every “third wave” roaster around the world would do the same thing. Name the farm, name the producer, and show a picture. Beyond the photo was a whole story that we were telling, from the words of someone else. Our importer would tell us the romantic story and we would parrot that to our customer base. I wanted more, I wanted to experience the story for myself.
I expressed this desire to Chris Griffin, founder of Farm to Roast. Chris was a nano-importer from Pittsburgh who was traveling to micro-roasters in the area to promote his current green coffee offerings. Chris and I had a lot in common, we were both had new businesses, and we were the “little guys” in an ocean of big names. We both had a passion for bringing truly exceptional coffee to the area, and to tell the stories of the families who worked so hard to make that coffee available to us.
Chris did one thing a little bit differently than many of the other importers who would court us for our business. He visited the farms for himself, and he established relationships with the farmers. These relationships were designed to form long-term commitments between farmers and roasters. In essence, we would support each other as we both grow. This model appealed to me, and to the model that we were trying to grow with Branch Street. The familial nature of this structure hit a chord with us.
Not long after we met Chris, I asked him if he would be willing to take me to origin to meet the actual people behind the coffee we were buying. He immediately agreed and told me to plan for August, which was still 6 months away. I immediately updated my passports and began to get ready for what would become my first origin trip.
Over the next few weeks, I will delve deeper into the experiences that came to define this week in Peru; the people, the terrain, the knowledge and the relationships that were formed. This trip was an unforgettable experience that has helped to foster a much greater appreciation for every step along the coffee process, and I can’t wait to share these stories with you.