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A look at Let's Talk Coffee® 2011

Posted by Wynne McAuley on October 27, 2011 at 2:36 PM

This year’s Let’s Talk Coffee® was everything we hoped – a great mix of familiar and new faces and discussions about the most innovative ideas in specialty coffee – and it also included some things that we did not expect: tropical storms, torrential rains, and floods. (For more info on contributing to relief efforts for families affected by the flooding in El Salvador, write us) Despite the seemingly never-ending rain, our 367 participants from 22 countries pulled through the event with smiles and camaraderie.

Everyone has returned to their home countries now, and we’re excited to look back on some of the stand-out features of the Let’s Talk Coffee® 2011 program:

Risk Management Workshops

The Finance and Innovation Days preceding Let’s Talk Coffee® were comprised of financial literacy workshops for all different levels, put on by the various finance institutions involved in the supply chain, such as Root Capital, Oikocredit, Global Partnerships, Alterfin, and Working Capital for Community Needs. Sebastien Lafaye, Director of the Sustainable Trading Company, taught an introductory course on risk management in one morning session. Sebastien focused on the producer side, explaining the basics of the coffee futures market as well as giving a framework on managing risk internally at coffee producing organizations. Sebastien explained the different factors to consider when putting together a basic risk management plan. One factor is as simple as receiving daily information on how much coffee the organization is collecting from members and at what price. From there, one can determine the minimum cost that has to be recuperated by selling that same amount of coffee. Participants were especially interested in how to apply the risk management principles to small cooperatives that produce fairly small quantities of coffee. Sebastien explained that for them, risk management is even more important as they are extremely sensitive to changes in the C market price and small changes can have a great effect as they have fewer contracts amongst which to spread the risk.

Inauguration of the Cuppers Guild

Let’s Talk Coffee® 2011 marked the launch of the Cuppers Guild, a network of cuppers in Sustainable Harvest’s® supply chain. Cuppers Guild events will continued throughout Let’s Talk Coffee® to encourage calibration between roasters and suppliers, a refresher course on the SCAA scoring form, and demos of Sustainable Harvest’s® iPad cupping app. Over 35 cuppers, both suppliers and roasters, were present for the launch, which also included a few stories from cuppers. Kattya Portuguez from Costa Rica told us the story of her entry into coffee eight years ago,  Ivan Vasquez, known as the “Coffee Romantic” for his poetic cupping descriptions, explained his efforts to improve cupping lab infrastructure in his home country of Honduras, and Peruvian Jose Altamirano noted that coffee comes down to three letters: PAN (bread, in Spanish). Every day he puts bread on the breakfast table, and so it is with coffee. P stands for Padre (father), for coffee provides a living for us so we can feed our familes. A is Adulto (adult), because we must be responsible to work in coffee; we must plan and make goals that we follow up on to produce the best coffee possible. And N is for Niño (child), because coffee is fun – it allows us to meet new people, learn, and play.

Technology in the Supply Chain

Technology was infused throughout Let’s Talk Coffee® 2011. RITS Ed, Sustainable Harvest’s® training tool for iPad produced in partnership withExprima Media , was one of the most popular topics of conversation. Attendees of all kinds were excited about using RITS Ed to educate the supply chain in agronomy, food security, quality control, and finance. Currently, it hosts video trainings on beekeeping, composting, cupping, and more. Meanwhile, the Cuppers Guild used iCupCoffee, another Sustainable Harvest® iPad app, to collect cupping scores and facilitate discussions about coffee quality. We’re excited to be sharing both of these tools throughout our supply chain in the coming months, as the mobility of the iPad allows it to be easily disseminated into the field for trainings.

Performance by World Barista Champion Alejandro Mendez

Sustainable Harvest® was proud to host Alejandro Mendez, the 2011 World Barista Champion, at this year’s Let’s Talk Coffee. Hailing from the event’s host country of El Salvador, Alejandro is the first World Barista Champion from a coffee-producing country. His win represents a growing focus on specialty coffee culture in producing countries, an important theme of Let’s Talk Coffee.  At the event, Alejandro replicated a part of his WBC performance and brewed his signature drink, which incorporates the pulp, parchment, and flower of the coffee plant, for each participant.

Creative Brainstorming

This year at Let’s Talk Coffee®, we invited Artie Isaac, a creativity consultant, to teach us all how to think outside the box and brainstorm new ideas to tackle the issues facing our industry. Artie gave us insights into how to be creative in life and work, and taught us how to brainstorm freely and effectively to truly redesign the coffee supply chain. (“What do you do after you have a great idea? Have another,” says Artie). After hearing from Artie, all the participants split into small groups. Settling in around a small tables, we asked ourselves how cooperatives can better help small-scale farmers gain access to markets. What should co-ops do about microlots, marketing, and certifications?

Everyone brought a unique perspective to the discussion. Across continents, cooperatives are facing similar challenges, but how often does a co-op manager from Ecuador get to exchange ideas with one from Guatemala? The brainstorm session created a space for this cross-continental brainstorming. The groups may not have hit upon magic bullet solutions for market access, but the ties that everyone made during the conversations will serve to strengthen the supply chain from the ground up.

This post was written by Laura Tilghman, Communications Director 

Topics: Alejandro Mendez, Cupping, El Salvador, Events, Flood Relief, Let's Talk Coffee, Relationship Coffee, Risk Management, Technology, Transparency