This is a journal entry from our Director of Coffee, Bobby Wrigley, from his recent trip to Colombia.
The farmers who have a relationship with The Coffee Quest (TCQ) are sent daily prices via WhatsApp, and the pricing is broken down by cup score. The higher the score, the higher the price. The most difficult coffees to find are the 86+ micro lots, so farmers are encouraged to deliver these with pricing incentives. The buying stations perform QC on a sample of the farmer's lot and provide feedback the next day, and then the farmer can decide if they want to sell the lot.
We spent some time with Jessica who manages the Pitalito buying station, this involves maintaining farmer relationships as well as performing QC–sample roasting, cupping, and physical analysis–on all of the coffees that farmers bring there for a potential sale. This has to be done quickly because farmers want to sell their coffee! Feedback is provided the next day to the farmer, and price is correlated with quality score.
We don’t buy coffees that score below 83 points; these coffees lack acidity, sweetness, and clean cup characteristics. This is also the cut off point for TCQ. So where do all of these low scoring coffees go? There are many buyers willing to purchase any quality. In these instances the price is set, and there is no quality incentive–this is the commercial market. These coffees lose almost all traceability as they are scooped up and sold off by big export companies. Our relationship with TCQ helps us to avoid these coffees, and we get to be a part of a system that incentives farmers to deliver quality.
On our trip we visited a few more established specialty farms who produce a wide range of quality and have an established relationship with TCQ. Their high-scoring lots are sold under their farm name as a micro-lot, while some of their crop that scores between 83pts-85pts is blended into a grade 1 or grade 2 regional lot. We love these regional lots for our blends. The quality is the best we can find at a good value. The coffee is traceable, the farmers are still paid premiums, and the same attention to quality is given by TCQ for blending and milling.