From time to time, we get asked about our role as an importer within the coffee supply chain. On the surface, it seems fairly straightforward: we work with coffee producers to help bring their coffees to market and then sell them to roasters around the world. While this is one dimension of what we do at Sustainable Harvest, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
As a coffee importer committed to building lasting relationships between coffee roasters and producers, all while furthering sustainability and prosperity across the supply chain, so much of our work extends beyond simply buying and selling coffee.
But what does that really look like? Well, we thought we’d take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on our incredible supply team at origin. Without our supply team, we wouldn’t have the close connection that we do with our producer partners. In fact, many of them come from producing families, and deeply understand the lives of coffee farmers. Based in Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Rwanda, our supply team oversees and coordinates every coffee we ship from Latin America and Africa, and truly form the foundation of everything we do at Sustainable Harvest!
Read on and get to know our Supply Directors: Claudia Rocio Gomez in Colombia; Oscar Gonzales in Peru; Chabela Cerqueda in Mexico; and Eric Rukwaya in Rwanda.
Supply Director, South America
After nearly 30 years in Peru’s coffee industry, producers far and wide throughout Peru know Oscar “Oscarin” Gonzalez, and it’s safe to say that he’s one of the most respected and beloved figures in the Peruvian coffee industry. Oscar has been a key member of the Sustainable Harvest family for over two decades, and to say that we are lucky to have him would be an understatement.
Oscar is based in Lima and oversees not only our Peru supply, but is also in charge of Ecuador and Brazil's supply. He works closely with around 40 cooperatives and producer organizations providing invaluable training and feedback harvest after harvest to help our producer partners improve the quality of their coffees.
When possible, Oscar visits the producing regions a few times a year. He is basically the eyes and ears of Sustainable Harvest in South America!
Oscar: "I usually start my day with meetings or phone calls with the cooperatives to follow up on contracts, answer their questions, coordinate with different offices and listen to new offers. Early in the afternoon, I start cupping with the team and evaluate all the samples we’ve received; in the late afternoon, we usually have another round of cuppings. We work with a lot of cooperatives, so we get a lot of samples! Besides meetings and training, I do a lot of follow-up on contracts, logistics, and paperwork to make sure coffee leaves ports on time.
My job is the best part of my day! Why? Because every time we close a contract, I get to share the news with the co-ops, and I know I make them happy. I enjoy visiting the cooperatives, sharing a meal with the producers at their farms, and sharing stories. I love it. I know that with every visit, farmers feel valued. We are walking beside them and that they can count on us.
I feel proud whenever people refer to me as "Oscar from Sustainable Harvest."
To me, Relationship Coffee is a real feeling: we are connected through a real relationship with producers and buyers. There is authentic transparency and trust. Producers know we work closely with both ends of the supply chain, and that it's more than a mere business relationship. We truly work towards helping producers grow. As David Griswold always says, 'without them, we wouldn't be here.'
I want to convey the impact that our roaster partners have in producers' lives and in the environment. It worries me that coffee could disappear, so we need to do our part. I am grateful for the trust that our partners have in us; we'll do our best to keep providing quality coffees. We are here at origin to keep training, providing feedback, working with the co-ops, helping them renew their farms, improve their soils, and take care of their lands and water."
Isabel "Chabela" Cerqueda
Supply Coordinator, Mexico and Central America
Chabela joined the Sustainable Harvest team in 2002 and has been cupping for around 16 years. She’s a qualified Q grader, heads the team at our Mexico offices in Oaxaca, and is a well-known leader in Mexico’s coffee industry.
Chabela is the bridge between our producers in Mexico and Central America and the rest of our team, and is in constant communication between both sides. Like Oscar, she and her team receive and evaluate all of the coffees from Mexico and Central America, provide feedback to producers, and make sure all coffees are in the right place at the right time before shipping them.
Chabela: "The best part of my job is being able to give good news to the producers. After that, I love leading the trainings with producers. We haven't been able to do many live trainings recently due to the pandemic. Still, now that we can cup together more regularly, it's inspiring and exciting to discover new coffees and different profiles.
For me, Relationship Coffee means transparency, constant communication, attention to detail, and trust. It really feels like we are a big family! The relationships are real. I’ve made some real friends in coffee, especially on visits and trips to farms. I know every cooperative and every region we work with in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and, of course, Mexico. I know their work and quality, and I can guarantee transparency with those groups."
Claudia Rocío Gomez
Coffee Quality Manager, Colombia
The first thing that Claudia,—or “Claudy” as we call her—does every morning is brew a pour-over or french press with Liliana and Leonardo (other members of our Colombia supply team) while she goes through their to-do list: check the status of coffees and contracts, seeing what's available for our customers, reviewing offers and orders and getting the day’s cuppings lined up.
Claudy has a background as a food engineer specializing in coffee. She’s also spent much time as a cupping trainer for Colombian coffee professionals. Claudy has been a part of the Sustainable Harvest team for more than 10 years! As the supply and quality control manager for Colombia, Claudy is the person we go to when we need to get in touch with our Colombia producer partners.
Claudy: For my work in coffee, I believe that what I really do is work for the producers. In the end, if the producer is doing well, we are doing well and we all grow; it's a team effort. It makes me happy knowing that what we do really does help farmers have a more prosperous life.
I am always thinking about how else we can further our impact and make real change in the lives of coffee producers. Through our contracts and good prices, we can support them, and with support from others, including roaster partners, we can create projects to give them the tools they need for a better future.
I am so fortunate to be able to develop real relationships, full of trust and transparency, with the managers of the different organizations we work with. Our goal is to keep strengthening them and showing them we are there, not only when things are okay but also during tough times like the one we are in now.
"It's not just about buying and selling coffee; it is also about impacting lives."
My role is to be the eyes and ears at origin. We look for the best coffees to offer our customers according to their needs. We are always talking with our producer partners so we can share updates about their coffees and share their stories with our customers. It's part of creating that relationship. It's not just about buying and selling coffee; it is also about impacting lives."
Commercial and Logistics Manager, Rwanda
Eric has been a key part of the Rwandan coffee industry’s specialty coffee development since 2005 when he began working for the Rwandan National Coffee Board as a Coffee Quality Controller. From there, he’s spent many years working with producers to install coffee washing stations, expanding producer capacity for coffee processing, and improving quality control. He helped to organize the first Rwanda Cup of Excellence. Prior to joining the Sustainable Harvest team, Eric actually helped us to establish Sustainable Growers in Rwanda!
In 2018, Eric was hired by Twin Trading to support their operations in East Africa; when Sustainable Harvest acquired Twin in 2019, Eric became an official member of the SH family as our primary connection with all of our suppliers in Africa.
Eric: "My role as the commercial and logistics manager is to bridge the sales team and our producer partners. Much of my work involves receiving coffee offers, reviewing prices, evaluating samples, and providing insights about market trends. I also help facilitate access to finance applications. In addition, I manage all export logistics to bring coffee to ports and support producers organizations troubleshoot any issues that arise.
I love working with all of our producer partners! I find fulfillment in helping them develop their sustainable coffee business, gain greater access to the market and achieve their goal of moving up and out of poverty.
Relationship coffee for me means that all of us in the coffee value chain, from coffee farmers to end consumers, can work together for a better, more transparent, and sustainable supply chain to support the growth of each other's businesses and the prosperity of each other's communities. I look forward to building strong relationships with more coffee farmers in Africa, and to help grow Sustainable Harvest’s footprint as a leading importer of sustainable African coffee."
From sales, to story, to impact and quality control, we'll be featuring many more faces on the SH team, so you can truly get a sense of the journey that your coffee embarks on, from producer to us to you!