Coffee Transaction Guide

If you saw the word “coffee” on page 8 of the newspaper recently and instantly thought “this is a must-read” you’re probably aware of the coffee price crisis that’s been an ongoing challenge for the past 2 years.

However it’s often treated as a niche story, so let me give you some background from my perspective, just in case.

For many years commercial coffee has been traded on something called the “c market”. This commodity coffee is often sealed by a paper transaction between traders to offset risk of under or over supply. This market is often driven by what happens in Brazil (there’s a saying that if Brazil sneezes the coffee world catches a cold) and earlier this year there was some frost damage in Brazil that saw that “c market” price jump overnight. As soon as this was assessed and it was clear that not too much damage was done it then dropped again to its current low level.

Brazil supplies around 33% of the world’s coffee providing somewhere between 45 and 70 million bags depending on the yield from a harvest. Over the past two harvests Brazil has exceeded its expected outturn of harvests which has forced the already volatile and low “C” price down.

Because of the huge automation (mainly due to the commodity market) in Brazil, the cost of coffee production is kept low. Big scale farms often exceed other entire countries production, with tractors that strip pick flat, easy to harvest farms with very little human interaction, meaning that coffee can still be profitable even during low C Prices.

But take a look at somewhere like Ethiopia that’s at the other end of the spectrum. They have little to no automation, with small-holders picking their own harvest themselves on hilly terrain, with lots of hands between picking the coffee and roasting it.

The current market price is below most coffee producers’ cost of production and has been for a number of years.

Some people will say that this has nothing to do with specialty coffee as “specialty roasters like us pay more than the C price”. Whilst this is often true, every farm will produce some commodity grade coffee sold at the C Price, and this will have an impact on their overall profitability, even if they are primarily selling to specialty coffee buyers. More importantly, many specialty roasters connect their contracted prices to the C-market as a reference point, ie C-price +80c, which means that when the c-price goes down, so do the prices being paid in these contracts.

What we see here is the consuming countries holding all the cards whilst producing countries have little to no control. Coming from a country that has a colonial past, I can’t help but see similarities in this unfair and unjust time.

So what can be done?

The SCA (Speciality Coffee Association) has created a task force to investigate how we can help producers to become empowered and there are some great resources here which show their findings:

This is definitely a step in the right direction, but as an individual roaster, I began to think about how we could do more. Researchers at the university of Emory in the United States have begun collecting data from Roasters like us, as well as coffee importers, to gather and collate information around our annual green coffee transactions.

Data donors provide detailed contract data covering their specialty coffee transactions from recent harvests. The researchers then use this data in an anonymised format to create annual Transaction Guides that report on the distributions of recent free on board prices for green specialty coffees.

What this does is provide another source of information, separate from the “c-market” price, to coffee producers so they can see what the market is willing to pay for coffee from their country’s coffee, and allow them to approach negotiations with more information. Knowledge is power.

This also puts pressure on importers and roasters to pay more for the coffee they are buying by providing a clear benchmark other than the C price, encouraging them to pay more, and stay in line with their competitors. Eventually documented prices from this data could be used as the reference point rather than the C-market, removing a number of the risks to producers from the vagaries of markets.

The data covers contracts totalling 287 million lbs of shipped coffee. It includes average pricing as well as clarity on price variation based on factors such as cup scores and purchase volume. We’re super proud that the newly revised version contains all the numbers from our direct purchases over the last two years, as well as the broader data from partners we’ve worked with for years such as Caravela, Cafe imports, Mercanta, Nordic Approach and more.

This is just one part of a solution to a huge problem, a baby step, a start. It’s a tool that can be used by roasters and coffee producers alike, as a check and balance and as a platform to do more. I’m incredibly proud to be part of this project and see where it leads.

You can view the transaction guide here:

Organic Certification

A few months ago, we made a decision at Has Bean to be Organic Certified, after a number of years of letting our previous certification lapse. I’ve had a few people ask me why we have done this, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and ideas on this with you.

Many of our producers are not organic, but follow organic principles using sprays only when its the last resort. This is because some farms its not possible to be organic, due to climate reasons, plant disease and whether changes. But I’ve never meet a coffee producer that likes to spend money on sprays they don’t need, or to put chemicals in the ground of the farms they love.

But we do have some lucky producers who can use 100% organic certification, and pay a yearly charge to maintain the certification. It seems silly that the last part of the chain cant sell it as organic.

Added to this we also import green coffee for other roasters who expressed an interest in offering that certification too was the final push.

But theres something else that really interests me. Followers of old will remember that we used to be Biodynamic certified too. Whats Biodynamic mean ? Well let me give you the official and a more understandable approach.

Biodynamic agriculture is the oldest consciously organic approach to farming and gardening, and is one of the most sustainable in existence. It is founded on a holistic and spiritual understanding of nature and the human being, and builds on the pioneering research work of Rudolf Steiner.

I’m going to give you my Has Bean Steve summary of what biodynamic is in one short sentence. Biodynamic means the farmer gives a stuff about the farm, the land, the animals on the farm and the people that live and work on it. Like the sound of it? Yes, me too, and that’s why we are involved at the ground level. Ignore the hooky cooky stuff you may or may not have heard about (burying cow skulls and spreading small vial of lavender over many many acres), remember this – as long as growers follow the good principles of biodynamics then that’s good for the cup, the environment and everyone involved. If they want to pick when the moons at a certain part of the sky. Thats all fine with me is people, animals and the environment are looked after.

Lovers of natural wine will already know about biodynamics, and it has a very positive taste in that sector, so I’ll be interested to see how we can develop this with our coffee.

I’ve already started work trying to source some great Bio Dynamics, but already we have found some great organics that have started and will continue through the year.

This doesn’t mean that organics are better, or the non organic is terrible, its a step towards giving you some options and choices.

Steve and Roland Top 10 of 2018

Every year for a while both me and Roland sit down and remains about coffees of the previous year. This year is no different, and we argue, we agree and go through some very special coffees of 2018.

Please excuse the length (we love talking) and don’t ask about the horse, it wanted to be involved and who are we to ignore its requests.

I hope you enjoy and happy new year.

Ethiopia Single Farmer Coffee

We believe in knowing the producers we work with. Our aim is for you to know the names of the people whose farms your coffee is grown on. In some cases this has been super easy – in other cases, not so easy! One of the most difficult places to get information on has been Ethiopia – but we’re seeing a change and it’s an exciting one for us to share with you!

In 2008, Ethiopia implemented a Commodity Exchange (ECX), through which agricultural products like coffee are traded (take a look at a post I did here back in the day) . There were lots of positives of this modernisation, but one of the downsides was that it became a lot more difficult to trace where the coffee we bought had come from.

There were some little opportunities to work around these issues and the Ana Sora Natural which we’ve shared with you for a few years now was exciting for us as we could get to know the producer – Israel Degfa – and begin to build a relationship. Now, reforms introduced last year have made this easier for more coffees, funnily enough reforms that Israel has been involved in at governmental level, as an advisor.

There’s quite a few different components to the reforms, but one key feature is allowing producers a window to arrange a sale before their coffee goes to the ECX. The ECX is still involved – it’s where the contract is signed – but there’s more traceability and more opportunities for buyers to connect with individual producers, as well as a streamlined process.

For speciality coffee roasters like us, this is great news! As the first harvest after the announcement has now reached us, you’ll be seeing a few new Ethiopian coffee names appearing on the website – although many of these are very small, so they may not be around long.

The first is from the family of Tadess Roba. In fact – it’s the first two of these coffees, as we have both a Washed and Natural from them! We found these two totally separately on the cupping table, but I think you can imagine my excitement when I realised one of our favourite Natural lots was from the same family as one of our favourite Washed lots!

Well, enough from me! They’re available on the website now so go ahead, enjoy and don’t forgot to let us know what you think!

Ethiopia Tadess Roba Washed

Ethiopia Tadess Roba Natural

I’m Board

Time for a moan blog post, its been a while.

I decided this year I wanted to stand for the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) board. I wanted to join the board to represent the interests of the groups of people I work with – producers, baristas, and small coffee businesses.

Some decisions have been made in the past years that I don’t think have been in the best interests of members – missteps and mistakes that could have been avoided. I think we should have more voices on the board that are listening and close to the existing membership, and not allow a group of people who are currently on the board select people they think are closest to their beliefs and values.

The way that the nominations for the board work is anyone can apply, and then the nominating committee decide who goes forward to the voting slate. I don’t think this is a democratic way for an organisation to behave, and can breed a system that only selects the people who want the same things as the current committee. I think the board has become a narrow group of people who have similar goals and beliefs and this is unhealthy for a large organisation with a large amount of different members involved in it, all with very different needs.

As it works out I didn’t get accepted on to that voting slate.

I believe members should be able to select from whoever fits our desires and needs regardless of how large that makes the voting options.

I feel my experience as being the past UK chapter Chair taking over at a very difficult time, and the amount of time I have given the organisation as a volunteer should of at least allow me to be considered for the vote, along with my experience. Let the members decide.

I work not just within the UK, but my partnerships in Drop Coffee in Sweden and in 3FE in Ireland give me perspectives on different markets. I also have an involvement in other markets, including New Zealand following the merger of my company with Ozone there and my travel to producing countries and links with coffee producers gives me a perspective of members thats wide and broad. Sweden, UK and New Zealand, all without a voice at board level.

I have vast experience of running meetings as a chair and participant (outside and inside of coffee), I had the time and desire to dedicate to the many unpaid hours of a board member, and felt that I could have really give something to the organisation and help repair some of the recent damage thats been done, and be a voice of the entire membership.

I’ll keep my free time and energy for another project. But when I give out about the actions of the SCA in the future, please don’t throw at me that then you should stand, the gatekeepers wouldn’t let me in.

Shipping Container Season

Many people have a favourite time of year – perhaps it’s the beautiful oranges and reds of crunchy leaves in autumn, or seeing the first bluebells of spring, but for me 1 of the most magical times of year is right about now -> shipping container season! No I don’t head down to Felixstowe and watch big ships unloading (although I am partial to an episode of Mighty Ships if I see it’s on the TV!) I’m talking about when my containers of fresh crop coffees really start to roll in right about now : D

As you might have seen on social media recently we’ve had a bit of an influx of coffees from Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica + have more on the way from other parts of the world too – EXCITING! This arrival of many, many coffees means lots of work for us here in Stafford from offloading all the bags by hand (thankfully only for the 2 that arrived not on pallets!) to getting them onto the website for you to enjoy.

We’re working hard to get them to you as soon as we can and the first wave of new coffees has already gone live, with more from El Salvador and Kenya due to appear over the next few days too. Here’s a quick update on the new coffees that have gone from HGV to website so far this shipping container season…

ARBAR Finca Manantial Red Honey
Lourdes de Naranjo, Western Valley, Costa Rica
Melon, lime, lemongrass
In the cup expect to be refreshed. It kicks off with honeydew melon and watermelon, with a squeeze of lime juice over the top. Throw into that a shoulder of pomegranate and an elbow of lemongrass before it gets to a sweet fruit finish and aftertaste. Super complex and delicious.
£8.00 for 250g, £30.40 for 1kg

Vista al Valle Finca La Casa Yellow Honey
Naranjo de Alajuela, Western Valley, Costa Rice
Lime cordial, malt, sultana
In the cup expect lime cordial, but with a malty sweetness. That malty sweetness grows as it cools and brings a dried fruit flavour to the finish that reminds me of sultanas.
£7.50 for 250g, £28.50 for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Pulped Natural Ethiosar
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Orange, mango, brown sugar
In the cup expect oranges mashed up with some almost overripe mangos. Add a sprinkle of brown sugar to it all and you’re done – a gloopy, zingy fruit juice medley.
£7.50 for 250g, £28.50 for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Funky Natural Red Pacamara
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Morello cherry, yoghurt, funky!
In the cup expect an up front dose of sour Morello cherries. It’s in your face all the way through to the aftertaste, but there’s also a creamy, yoghurt like body and sweetness that comes in to balance it all out.
£8.50 for 250g, £32.30 for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Elegant Natural Red Pacamara
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Dark chocolate, cherry, liqueur
In the cup, think of a Mon Cherie. There’s the dark chocolate, the hint of liqueur and then a tart Cherry that sweeps over you.
£8.50 for 250g, £32.30​ for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Pulped Natural Red Pacamara
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Tropical fruit, yoghurt, cherry cola
In the cup expect a tropical fruit medley with a big dollop of yoghurt. It’s sweet and gloopy, but there’s a little Cherry Cola kick on the finish that makes this complex and interesting.
£8.00 for 250g, £30.40 for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Natural Ethiosar
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Dates, bruised plums, green apple
In the cup expect bruised plums and dates, all sprinkled with some golden sugar. It’s rich and sweet, but there’s a delicate Green Apple acidity there which balances it all out.
£8.00 for 250g, £30.40 for 1kg

Finca Limoncillo Washed Ethiosar
Matagalpa, Yasica Norte, Nicaragua
Green apple, single cream, black pepper
In the cup there’s green apple backed up by a single cream type sweetness and texture. Hints of black pepper and tinned strawberries mingle in the finish.
£6.50 for 250g, £24.70 for 1kg

In case you didn’t see them on Instagram and/or Facebook a) why aren’t you following me? And b) here are some pictures of when our container from Guatemala Finca San Patricio El Limón arrived : )