Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quality Coffee

So just exactly, what is quality? Is it not in the eye of the beholder? To the importer or roaster quality is the beans that sell the best with the highest profit margin. With some customers it is the package, the name, the taste, the region, the roaster or some designated attribute. To the cupper, there might be a combination of taste and a few of these other factors such as: the coffee trees, the region, the method of cultivation, organic farming, the harvest and disease.

Customers look at quality from three perspectives: taste, the environment or social justice.
  • Taste as the cupper and many customers see it, involving taste, region, organic, disease free, the year of the harvest, the altitude etc.
  • Environment: Is the cultivation sustainable? Is the planting within the forest or on denuded hillsides with slash and burn agriculture. Does the processing pollute the water?
  • Social justice: Are these family farms or are they plantations / estates with exploitation of labor with the wealth siphoned off to the city? 
All three of these considerations come together fortuitously in the high volcanic mountains of Guatemala, Ruanda or Thailand. They harvest the best tasting coffee beans with the highest cupping numbers and quality rankings such as SHB. Family or tribal farmers grow the best Arabica trees, stick to sustainable environmental practices and retain much of the value of their product for themselves and their culture.