By Rachel Beebe
Regular Steampunk Coffee drinkers will know that we’ve been roasting coffee from our importer Falcon’s initiative in northern Peru for several years. The reason why revolves around the cupping table.
Tasting coffee and assessing its quality is a cornerstone of the specialty coffee industry. It’s the biggest factor in how raw green coffee is priced (in the specialty market, that is. Low grade commodity coffee prices are set by the financial market and not related to quality at all.) Coffee is scored on a 100-point scale according to its attributes: aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, sweetness, acidity, etc. Specialty-grade coffee is defined as scoring 84 or above.
Our latest launch from Peru, Elvis Tineo Rafael’s coffee is a good case study of what this means for farmers. Five years ago coffee farmers like him (some other farmers we’ve featured are Regulo Mejia Cordova, Herminio Romero Ramirez and Freddy Bermeo) sold their unprocessed cherry to middlemen who weren’t concerned with quality and would pay a relatively low price for the raw material. The middlemen would then sell the cherry on to exporters, who sold it to importers, who sold it to roasteries. Falcon saw that if they could forge relationships directly with these small producers, cutting out the middlemen, they could support practices to increase crop quality and therefore import coffees that would fetch higher prices and funnel those gains back to the farmers.
This theory has worked out 100% in practice. We’ve tasted first-hand the year-on-year improvements in the coffee Falcon is bringing us from Peru. In fact, Rafael’s coffee stood out on the cupping table last year, but didn’t quite make the cut. This year, it was hands down the best coffee on the table.
Because Falcon works directly with farmers to bring their coffee to market they can also be fully transparent about the prices the farmers receive for their crop. This is really exciting for us on the consumer end because prices in the coffee industry have historically been shrouded in mystery. This is especially true of prices paid to farmers, who are usually separated by several steps from the end roaster and consumer.
And finally, economic sustainability is only possible for farmers if consumers buy their coffee consistently year after year. Farmers are exposed to the risks of weather, labour shortages and defects caused by pests and widespread disease (coffee leaf rust, for instance). One way roasters and consumers can take a more equitable share of the risk is to mitigate the vagaries of the market and buy the same coffee every year.
All this is to say that learning why we cup coffee and how we do it will give you an insight into the workings of the industry generally and Steampunk specifically. Also, it is by far the best part of working in a coffee shop - you get paid to taste delicious things! So, we’re thrilled to be able to share this part of what we do with our customers.