Improving coffee by the bucketload

Posted on Posted in Coffee, Direct Trade, Origin stories
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Our Grandmaster Roaster, Aissa, cupping La Girita from Toledo.

We talk a lot about making coffee a force for good. Only it isn’t just talk; We’re doing it. The coffee you buy from Pact comes directly from coffee farmers across the world, and by paying them more for the coffee they produce we’re all helping to make theirs and their workers’ lives better.

Here’s one example of how we’re doing it.

In January 2015, Will journeyed to Colombia in search of the best coffees the country had to offer. Until then, most of the Colombian coffees on our menu came from Huila in the south, and Will selected some fantastic coffees from that region. But since our guy has a maverick streak, he cupped samples from mills in less established parts of Colombia too (he’s always on the lookout for a hidden gem).

Colombian Coffee Cherries
Colombian Coffee Cherries
Exploring new territories

Among the coffees Will found something special from the north of Colombia, in Toledo, which is a sub-region of the much larger Norte de Santander coffee region. It was made up of coffees from a number of local farms and boasted incredibly rich dark chocolate flavours. Will ordered a lot from the Norte de Santander mill immediately and it proved to be a massive hit with Pact customers back in the UK. Kudos to Will.

Cut to November 2015 and Will is heading back to Colombia.

Following the massive popularity of our Norte de Santander coffee, he made his way north to Toledo. By this point, word had spread that Will from Pact Coffee had changed the fortunes of the farms he’d bought from and so local farmers were chomping at the bit for Will to try their coffees as well. Out of hundreds of coffee tastings, Will selected 13 lots from 13 different producers that really stood out. They were great but not quite good enough.

These 13 coffees had quality scores of 78 and 79, which made them really good commodity coffee but not speciality coffee. At Pact we only buy coffees with a Quality Score higher than 80, though most of the coffee we sell is much higher than that. You can learn a little bit about it here.

So Will had a quandary. How to buy the rich Toledo coffees he knew our customers loved, without compromising on quality?

It was time to get creative.

Will had once seen an inventive farmer in Huila, who’d created a method for making flotation tanks on his farm.

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Beautiful in its simplicity: Will’s lo-fi method for sorting cherries
Here’s how they did it:
  1. He filled a 100-litre plastic bin with water.
  2. He took a 50-litre bin with holes drilled into the bottom of it, and half-filled it with coffee cherries fresh from the tree.
  3. He got a couple of guys to plunge the smaller bin into the bigger one, allowing the water to seep in amongst the cherries.
  4. In a few minutes the less dense, lower quality cherries would float to the top, and could then be skimmed off and added to the commodity coffee lot. Only the best cherries are left in the bucket. Simple really. 

Will gave a demonstration and made a quick investment of $10 per farm to buy the bins. He promised he’d buy 20 sacks of any coffee that scored higher than 84. And with that, the 13 farmers gave Will’s technique a try.

Each of the 13 coffees smashed it.

In fact, their Quality Scores shot up by between 6 and 10 points. We now have excellent working relationships with the farmers in Toledo and this small, inexpensive change to the way they sort cherries has changed the lives of hundreds of people in the area.

Keen to try the fruits of their labour? Take a look at our Coffee Menu and watch out for coffees from Colombia.

 

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