Here’s an update we just received from Sustainable Harvest, the great coffee importer that aided in the implementation of the Divisoria Cupping Lab Project sponsored by some of the proceeds of Divisoria Growers’ Blend this past Winter.
This week, Sustainable Harvest at Origin talked with Julian Aucca Echarre, the head of coffee quality control at the Divisoria cooperative in Tingo Maria, Peru. Julian leads the quality training efforts, including the mobile cupping laboratory sponsored by Bridgehead and Cafe Mystique, and gave us an update on the cooperative’s training efforts. With the help of four young cuppers who were selected last September, the cooperative has expanded its efforts to teach members about quality and cupping via its mobile cupping laboratory.
GRANDMA KNOWS BEST
One of the biggest challenges has been teaching Divisoria farmers to recognize what high quality coffee is in its roasted form. Though the producers dedicate their energy to producing quality coffee beans, they are unfamiliar with the attributes of a good cup of brewed coffee. When Julian and the four cuppers began training farmers, they would begin the session by tasting several coffees of varying quality and asking which one the participants liked best. In the training session recently with about twenty farmers from the community of Margarita Miguel Grau, the only participant who preferred a higher quality cup of coffee was 70-year-old Angelina Eduardo. She participated in the training, while several of her children and grandchildren looked on. At the end of the exercise, one of her grandsons shouted out, “Abuelita [grandmother] is the only one who knows good coffee!”
After a lifetime of drinking low quality coffee, most of the farmers are accustomed to the lower quality coffee to the point that it has become their preference. Through training sessions and increased exposure to high quality roasted coffee, Julian and the other young cuppers at Divisoria are pushing the farmers to develop a new taste for higher quality coffee, so they can understand the important quality control components in cupping.
INVOLVING YOUNG PEOPLE IN COFFEE QUALITY
To accomplish the cooperative’s goal of a rigorous training plan for quality control and cupping at both the community and cooperative levels, Julian realized that he and the other Divisoria cupper would need help. For that, he turned to a small group of young men and women – Antony De la Cruz Damian, Katty Natividad Barreto, Benjamin Carrillo Arvildo, and William Arango Leyva. Antony is the son of a Divisoria member in the community of San Augustin, and he worked with Julian over the past months to develop his sensorial and physical analysis skills. During the harvest this year, Antony will not only continue to help with training farmers in quality control through the mobile laboratory, but he has also earned a position on the cooperative staff helping to manage the collection of coffee from members. He will work predominantly from the central warehouse in Tingo Maria starting in March, analyzing the physical and sensorial characteristics of the green coffee as it is turned in by member farmers.
The other three young cuppers remain with the mobile laboratory, working at the community level to assist with quality evaluation during the harvest. Katty, an agronomy student at a local university, is concurrently researching her thesis on ideal fermentation time and processing for the Tingo Maria region, and will help the farmers identify areas to improve in their processing. Through cupping at the community level, the farmers will have something like an early warning system to catch defects or problems occurring at the farm level. Since late 2008, the young team of cuppers have been giving training sessions on cupping and post-harvest processing to community-level committees.
A RIGOROUS TRAINING PLAN FOR 2009
From January through March this year, the four young cuppers helped the Divisoria quality control and agronomy teams with farmer outreach to ensure that every member has adequate infrastructure for wet processing their coffee at their farm. Specifically, the group was ensuring that the equipment was installed properly on each farm. They also verified each farmers’ environmental management of waste water and pulp. All of this advanced preparation has an enormous value for the cooperative’s organic inspection program. Thanks to the prior preparation, the members did not have any observations of infractions during the April internal organic inspection.
Beginning in May, the team will resume basic training sessions on quality control with the community committees. The first communities to receive training in May will be Juan Velasco, San Agustín, and Miguel Grau. In the month of May, the mobile cupping lab has fifteen basic cupping and quality training sessions planned at the community level. During August, September, and October, the team will continue training directed at the more advanced cuppers as well as local students from universities.
Other measures are also planned to further educate and inform the producers about quality control. The cooperative’s quality control staff is developing memos on best practices that they will circulate at the community level through local meetings. The topics for these memos include harvesting, depulping, fermenting, washing, drying, storage, and transport, as well as physical and sensorial analysis. The team hopes to reinforce the face-to-face training they have done by distributing this information on quality control measures in each of the critical stages for the farmers. They will begin circulating the memos in May and continue through November of this year, handing out the information a bit ahead of when farmers are carrying out the specific stages addressed.
As the year progresses, the mobile cupping lab team and the Divisoria quality control staff have a rigorous schedule of activities planned to ensure that their members meet their customers’ quality expectations. As the Divisoria farmers learn to recognize and evaluate the characteristics of high quality roasted coffee, they are becoming even more committed to quality in their production. They understand that improving quality is the key to growing their business in the specialty market and earning a solid income to support their families.