By Samantha Erickson Pigott
Americans consume huge quantities of coffee every day; no arguments there, right? Some companies even claim that America runs on coffee. Maybe. But where does coffee come from? A gas station, the grocery store, a cafe? Those businesses are the last stop on a long journey before the coffee ends up brewed, in a cup and ready to drink. The story ends in a cup of brewed coffee, but where does it begin, where do the beans come from, and how do they become the coffee that so many people consume everyday? They were grown, harvested, sorted, pulped, dried, bagged, shipped, distributed, roasted, ground, and finally brewed.. . . .
to yield a cup of coffee.
Coffee is the second largest traded commodity, behind oil, in the world.
The coffee economy affects the livelihood of approximately 25 million individuals worldwide. The way coffee is traded has been under scrutiny for over two decades. The current movement of Single Origin Traceable sources of coffee beans is popular and gaining momentum. Some may wonder why Single Origin coffee is important — because millions of people’s lives depend on the income from coffee. When large corporations dictate low prices, many people in developing countries live in poverty while working continually to produce a commodity that has a fluctuating price and offers no security for the farmer. Single Origin takes out the dominating, price-dictating middle man and helps farmers and roasters connect.
Not long ago I was in Cordial Coffee waiting for the barista to whip up my draft cold brew when I overheard a conversation Brandon Belland, the owner and roaster, was having. It sounded like something between a family reunion and a business transaction. A young professional woman was translating what Brandon was saying into Spanish to her companions. The conversation progressed from coffee to weather, to bags of beans and travel. It did not take long for me to insert myself in the conversation out of unbridled curiosity. Brandon was quick to introduce me to the folks he was meeting with, Yolima Taborda Rojas and her parents Jario and Stella. It turned out that these people — this family — had grown the beans that Brandon roasts to make the coffee I was waiting to drink. This family in front of me, standing here in Berryville, Virginia, had planted the trees in Paisa, Colombia. They had watered and cared for those trees, harvested the beans, dried beans, bagged them, and sent them here to the United States to be roasted in Berryville and drunk by me! I had an instant connection to these people. They produce a product that I basically cannot live without. Here they are standing in front of me. Needless to say, I had never before met a coffee farmer.
The story of Rojas
Yolima has a poignant, important story to tell. Currently she is an independent coffee broker working out of Baltimore, Md. Her story began, though, on her family’s coffee farm, Finca La Vega in a rural Colombian village on the side of a mountain hours from a city or modern conveniences. Throughout her childhood, Yolima worked alongside her family as they diligently farmed coffee year round, only to sell at a loss or a profit margin that was below a working wage. They were not the only farmers who suffered, many in her village were forced to sell at prices that meant they had worked the whole year for no profit. They were left scrambling for survival and looking for any kind of work just to be able to keep their farms and eat. “My father worked in construction and did any job he could to make money and support the family,” Yolima remembers of those difficult days.Yolima’s parents wanted more for their children. They valued education above all else; Yolima was the first person in her family to finish high school, and then the first to go to University and graduate. This goal was exceptionally important to her parents, who encouraged and insisted that she pursue an education. “Many of my cousins and friends left school early to start working and making money, helping to support their families,” Yolima explained. “My parents had a vision to see me and my siblings off the farm and having better jobs, and they knew that meant more education.” For Yolima to go to college, her parents had to put the farm up as collateral to pay tuition. After graduating, Yolima realized that learning English would give her a competitive edge for a job. She considered a Masters in International Business, but was very conscious of cost. She didn’t want to have to mortgage the farm again, and put that kind of pressure on herself or her family. She was looking for an alternative. “After I finished college in Colombia, one of my professors suggested I go through an interchange program called AupairCare. The program allowed me to live with an American family, work as a nanny, and get paid around $200 a week, which I then used to pay for English classes,” said Yolima. As she became immersed in American life, Yolima was surprised and enthralled by the specialty coffee culture and economy here. As her wheels started to turn, she knew she was in the right place at the right time to help her family and the other farmers from her village.
Yolima became a Q Arabica Grader of coffee beans. This certification gave her the tools to evaluate coffee bean quality and determine how the coffee will taste when roasted — to know what notes will come out of a particular type of bean. This opened doors for Yolima as she began to make connections with roasters in the specialty coffee market. “I was able to start an import business, Paisa Coffee LLC, and that provides me with an income and at the same time allows me to pay a better and fair price to my immediate family and other families and farmers in our village for their coffees,” said Yolima. “The fair price I can pay provides them stability and independence. Now they can plan and budget how much they will make based on their harvest production projections.” Yolima is excited about the future, and building her business to bring more single origin coffee to a greater number of roasters, and to help more families in Colombia earn a living wage.
The Story of our cuppa
The story of this cup of coffee started on a mountainside in Colombia, and now continues at Cordial Coffee. Brandon is adamant about quality. Single origin, traceable coffee is paramount to his roasting process. “Yolima’s knowledge of her family’s coffee farming practices extends their vision to our roastery,” he said. “Our goal is to honor their hard work and dedication by roasting and serving their coffees with great intentionality.” Brandon and his partner Kaitlyn Bell are so committed to the process that they visited Colombia and took part in the harvest at Finca La Vega in 2018. And so this story of my cup completes its journey here in Berryville, where Brandon gives his attention to detail in the roasting and brewing process. This is a true single source, traceable coffee experience. If you have not experienced single source coffee, I urge you to give it a try. It’s not just a great story. In my opinion, it’s the best coffee, no matter the roast, light medium or dark that will ever pass your lips, and worth every cent.