I’m often asked something along the lines of “what puts the ‘special’ in speciality coffee?”. My explanation varies depending on who’s asking, yet there’s always a constant. Embedded within my pontifications will be a strong emphasis on the richness of the coffee’s origin and story. But where should these stories come from, and who should be telling them?
Stories like how the farm came about in the first place. What made the owner decide to produce the best beans they could and enter into speciality coffee realms. What coffee means to them. What is special about their coffee.
When asked how speciality coffee differs from commodity grade coffee, Jeremy Abadi, a Colombian coffee farmer who runs Finca Atikvah near Cali, explains “People have become more aware than ever of what they consume and the way it impacts them and the environment. Specialty coffees are cultivated under extreme care and attention to detail and quality. I feel like before, coffee was seen as just an everyday drink, now people appreciate the history of the people, places, and moments that led to their specific cup.” Jeremy also has an associated instagram page, which shows the daily tasks and processes involved in coffee production. You can follow your beans progress from start to finish and witness the care and attention given at each step.
If other coffee producers followed suite, this would empower the farm, educate and enlighten consumers, promote their coffee to buyers, and possibly increase income through higher prices and demand.
While roasters largely take on the role of storytellers, the ideal would be hearing from those that are closer to origin sharing their passion and experiences. Coffee farmers know that the demand for better quality coffee and the processes involved are high. I hope they also know that a glimpse behind the scenes is worth a great deal to enthusiasts like myself. Anecdotally, just last night my father, who’s taste buds prefer dark roasts found in commodity grade coffee, sent me a photo of some Nespresso compatible pods I’d bought for him to try. In the photo, he included the card that was sent with these speciality coffee pods, and told me “It’s so nice to be able to read about the coffee before you drink it”.
In summary, this opinion piece is a call for farmers to scream louder about their product and give us their stories first hand. Whether this is through media channels or a piece of printed paper or any other method, I feel this could be a key way to close the gap between origin and the final cup. Coffee roasters (particularly direct trade) do a great job of telling the farmer’s untold stories with clever packaging styles and informative cards, but why do these stories remain largely untold? Let’s get some personal stories in there and really hear the thoughts and feelings from the producers directly. If this happens, it could change consumer habits and get us all fighting for a particular farms crop, regardless of the roaster; rightfully shifting the balance and placing producers in a better position going forward.